Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peace in a troubled world

Last night was for the birds -- literally. Just as we left the house to walk the dog, the sun was setting and a total of 24 geese had lined up along the edge of the lagoon, resting and preening themselves as the tide rolled in.

Once the pup had pooped I went back into the house for my camera and came back to photograph them in the dying light, watching as the tide rose around their feet. Eventually the land they were sitting on was totally underwater, and at some unheard signal they floated off, paddling idly in a straight line past my kitchen window.

It was a little eerie -- I found myself wondering if they were gearing up for some sort of catastrophe. I know they don't all live here (we only have two families of Canada Geese, one of which has 4 or 5 goslings still in the latter stages of yellow fluffiness) and it's obviously not time to fly south for the winter, so what brought them here? There was a solemnity to their linear paddling, as if they were performing some sort of wake...

But we went to bed without further incident, leaving the windows open because the night was so warm. (Hey, you east coast and midwestern friends: did you know we don't need to use SCREENS out here in the PNW? The first night I spent in Seattle I found that absolutely astonishing (having grown up in the midwest and east with mosquitoes and black flies -- not to mention June bugs and cicadas!))

And then, at about 3:45 am, we were awakened by an angry heron, who circled our house squawking indignantly and continuously for several minutes. Just when we thought he had stopped and we'd rolled over to go back to sleep, he started up again, so finally we gave up, got out of bed, turned on the lights and went downstairs -- my husband to indulge in a bowl of cereal; me to my computer to sort through yesterday's photos. He went back to bed after the cereal, but I wasn't able to sleep again til almost 6.

And now here we are, several hours later, with no geese, no heron, and no natural disaster I'm aware of, just a bit sleepy and cranky. I'm not sure what all those birds were about, but I realized this morning, reading Eckhart Tolle's New Earth, that my reaction last night was very much in tune with what he has to say: "How do you know this is the experience you need?" asks Tolle. And his reply? "Because this is the experience you are having at this moment." For some reason we were supposed to be awake; I have no idea why. But it didn't anger or frighten me -- it just... WAS.

I believe now, at this stage in my life, that there is a rightness to what goes on in our lives, however wrong -- or just odd -- it may feel at the time. And this morning, when we were having our final class on Freeman's Jesus the Teacher Within, the passage that came forward for me when I wanted to summarize what the book meant for me was this one:

Faith is not the dream but the felt conviction that things will eventually work out for the best. Without denying the reality of evil or innocent suffering faith knows that the broken can be repaired, the meaningless can be understood, the wounded can be healed, and even that what is dead in us can be raised to new life. Faith knows that despite all signs to the contrary, and there are many, life has constructive meaning and beneficial purpose. The mystery of life is that even its tragedies and setbacks, its disappointments and failures can serve to awaken and deepen faith.

It seemed a perfect match for the quotes we heard today from Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish thinker, mystic and writer whose letters and diaries, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life under Nazi rule in Amsterdam during the German occupation of World War II. It seemed to me that everything she said was a testament to faith in times of adversity:

"Suffering has always been with us, does it really matter in what form it comes? All that matters is how we bear it and how we fit it into our lives."

"Never give up, never escape, take everything in, and perhaps suffer, that's not too awful either, but never, never give up."

"If one finds the strength to deal with small things, one finds it to deal with the large ones as well."


"One should want to be a balm on many wounds."

"Even if there is only one decent German, they would deserve to be protected from the barbarian rabble, and for that one German's sake one should not pour out one's hatred for the entire people."

"Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning."

I'm hoping neither you nor I has to suffer or see what Hillesum saw and suffered. But if we do, I sincerely hope that our faith holds up, and that we can find in us the compassion which she so beautifully exemplified. And just because I found these, I think I'll close with two final quotes from her:

“Become simple and live simply, not only within yourself but also in your everyday dealings. Don't make ripples all around you, don't try to be interesting, keep your distance, be honest, fight the desire to be thought fascinating by the outside world.”

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

1 comment:

kimquiltz said...

“Become simple and live simply, not only within yourself but also in your everyday dealings. Don't make ripples all around you, don't try to be interesting, keep your distance, be honest, fight the desire to be thought fascinating by the outside world.”

Great, great quote. I'd like to read more of her.

That has been a focus of mine lately...actually, it has been what I would LIKE to be a focus. I would like to listen more, clown less, turn down the volume. It is surely a work in progress...