Saturday, August 1, 2009

Standing, centered, in the heart of God

One of the reasons we ended up taking our vacation trip in the Midwest was a purely selfish desire on my part to return to Chicago's Millenium Park.

I had been there once before, but at the time I only had a tiny little camera with me: having grown up in Chicago and even worked downtown for a spell, I was quite certain there was nothing there I could possibly want to photograph.

But Chicago has changed since I lived there, some 40 years ago: the river's been cleaned up, there's an open liveliness to downtown now, and they've installed Millennium Park, which is simply delightful.

So I carefully arranged to spend the last night of our trip in the hotel closest to the park, so I could get up in the morning and spend some time photographing this structure from as many angles as possible.

I'm not sure what its official name is, or what the rationale for it may be but this structure is essentially a giant chrome kidney bean. And the artist who conceived it must have been an amazing visionary, because the bean is vastly entertaining, and swarming with people during daylight hours, all of them touching it, standing under it, lying down under it, photographing themselves and each other: it's incredibly fun to watch.

So, yes, Chicago has changed. But then, so have I; over time, everything changes, even our belief systems. "We needn't be afraid of this," says Thich Nhat Hanh. "In the course of our study and practice, as we touch reality more and more deeply, our beliefs naturally evolve and become more solid...If ten years pass without the growth of our belief, one day we will wake up and discover that we can no longer believe in what we did. The notion of ten years ago is no longer sound or adequate, and we are plunged into the darkness of disbelief.

"Our faith must be alive. It cannot be just a set of rigid beliefs and notions. Our faith must evolve every day and bring us joy, peace, freedom and love."

I wonder, reading this, if that's why my faith seems to keep cycling through these dry desert periods. Is it because I get comfortable, complacent, with whatever set of constructs I've currently accepted? Is it because my faith has gotten stuck again, has ceased its essential evolution, because I've not been paying attention, practicing, growing?

We all know the saying -- "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But what if adhering to that on the level of faith means that a sense of brokenness is inevitable? Because if we are paying attention we are always fixing, evolving, changing, and growing; it's a kind of maintenance, upkeep, that's always going on. And if we stop, if we get lazy, if we think we've got it all now and can begin to focus on something else, then things begin to break down again. Which then, of course, presents another opportunity for healing. So it's all good.

Faith, like the city, can be rebuilt and resurrected, cleaned up and made new and inviting. And even when what we remember seems to have little of value, when we re-visit that renewed and restored space, we might even rediscover that marvelous sense of wonder we feel, when we're standing, centered, in the heart of God.

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