Saturday, February 27, 2010

When the bags are packed

"All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

But the dawn is breakin', it's early morn
The taxi's waitin', he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go

Looking at this image made me think of this song -- which meant a lot to me, long ago, when I was going to school far away from my boyfriend, and had to keep leaving him in order to return to the life I was leading at the time.

But of course, these are sailbags: which means that as long as they're packed, this boat isn't going anywhere -- at least not under wind power. So then I wonder, why did I choose this image? It was next to the one I ended up using for this morning's rewrite of the Thomas meditation. And I really love the look of it: the colors, the contrasts, the ripples.

And it's true, we have a destination today, though it won't require a plane ride: we're heading off to a farewell party for some friends who are moving away -- which means I'll be on a ferry again, for the fifth time this week; very unusual.

But I'm more interested in what it means to keep our sails bagged up. Is there some part of me that isn't ready to unfurl? That doesn't trust there will be winds and currents to carry me along? Am I resolutely running under my own power, my own control, my own engines? Might they be running low on fuel?

And what about this song: did it just come to mind because it's about the bags being packed and ready? Yes, that's part of it. But another part of me is thinking of a friend who's hovering near death: her bags are packed now, for what it's worth, but I'm not all that sure she's ready to go, and I ache for her in that transition.

So maybe that's the heart of the image: the tension between the leaning forward of the boat, and the sails so resolutely still unfurled. There is a longing for what's next, and a resistance as well. And yes, this, too, is all part of the journey.

Time to open up those bags, and release the tight controls that keep us docked, and tangled up in lines. Time to trust the winds of spirit to take us where we need to go.

Friday, February 26, 2010

From preconceptions to conception: stepping to nowhere

Yesterday evening I went with a dear friend to a performance which featured, among other miracles, a tree made from two ladders and a host of suspended ladderback chairs. So when I read this morning, in Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, about the prevalence of ladder imagery in Christianity, it rang a bell.

"For the vast majority of the world's spiritual seekers, it does indeed seem that the way to God is "up." ... the image of the ladder is deeply imprinted in our human spiritual imagination. To ascend is to move closer to God, toward the freedom and luminosity of pure spirit; to descend is to move further away, toward the density and confinement of "flesh."

This passage speaks to one of my most deeply seated notions of God, the one hardest to overcome, the one that requires the most conscious effort to shift or ignore: that notion of God as "other," as "out there, somewhere," as "above." This notion is reinforced everywhere -- in our language, in our hierarchical religious organizations, our church buildings, our gestures in worship -- and very hard to dispel.

And though I get -- on an intellectual level -- that God is in and around all of us, I'm not sure that knowing is planted deep enough in my consciousness. I cannot seem to rid my unconscious mind of the notion that there are steps to godliness, steps which bring me closer to Oneness, or which lead me further away -- even though I understand that Oneness is already here; I only need step INTO it -- not forward, back, up, or down, but IN. Oh, wait -- see? I did it again: I don't have to STEP into it; I really only need to Be, here, and now.

On our way home from the theater, we were still talking about the magnificence of that tree; about how when the first put the ladders in the center of the stage we were wondering "why ladders?", and how as the chairs came slowly down and into place there was that joyful recognition; the sense of having been invited into a mystery. And we remarked on the remarkable creativity of vision that -- knowing a tree might be called for -- could imagine it created of chairs and ladders. Such creativity, I think, calls for a willful suspension, not of disbelief, but of belief; a willingness, an openness, a setting aside of preconceived notions. In a way, the notions that keep Christianity stuck bear a lot of resemblance to the limitations that keep my art from blossoming into some new, unknown dimension.

So how can we move into that dimension, freeing ourselves of past perceptions and preconceptions -- or, to play with those words in the context of my post from yesterday, how do we move from preconceptions to conception? How do we step away from thought patterns framed and imprisoned by the past into the fullest potential of possibility, of being?

It seems to me that that movement is best accomplished by two things: by learning -- however slowly -- to live fully in the conscious presence that is Now; and by the practice of kenosis, self-emptying, releasing, letting go -- or, as they say in AA, "letting go and letting God." Each time we find ourselves fully present; each moment we are able to disengage -- however briefly -- from that constant stream of thinking... those actions bring us more fully into unity with the Divine, that creative force or energy that forms and holds and fills us all, which is neither above nor below but rather here, and now.

So what steps do we take to get there?

Oh -- wait. There are no steps! It's not "there." It's already here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Art as healing, art as revelation

Having been on the ferry several times this past week, I found myself yesterday with a camera full of shots of the ferry floor, and I couldn't resist playing with them. The results have been fascinating (to me, at least!); full of rich strong color and a sort of mystical wondering.

The artist in me is thrilled to have a chance to express herself: it's as if -- after a lifetime of frustration because she "couldn't draw" -- she had suddenly been given that gift. The exhilaration of it reminds me of what happened when my oldest daughter began to read.

She had been having communications challenges: a huge vocabulary for her age, but no way to put sentences together, so she was really frustrated much of the time. Learning to read gave her access to the structural possibilities of language, so that, even though she still couldn't construct sentences on her own, she could use sentences she had read to express herself. As a result she was no longer trapped inside her inexpressive world, and the tantrums we'd been experiencing almost immediately began to subside.

I've been feeling some tantrums of my own lately, frustrations and longings I've been finding it hard to express, and somehow playing with these images has set that part of me free: I'm feeling much calmer now. And as I look over the images that emerged out of yesterday's playing, I see this odd pregnant quality in them, as if something is being birthed; some transition is being made. Which makes it lots easier to understand why I've been so frustrated and impatient lately.

It's as if some part of me needed to remind me that this waiting period I'm in is a prelude to rebirth, not just a stuck and stagnant place. And once I can see that, it's easier to be patient; to sit with the wonder and the hope, and to understand that this is a time for nurturing and grace, for nesting and dreaming. I don't have to be going somewhere or doing something or solving something: this is a process which takes place within me, beyond my control: my only job is to cradle it gently, as a pregnant woman cradles her own belly, and love this potential into being.

I think that will be easier now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Back when I was a librarian, eons ago in the 1970s (well, that was my FIRST tour as a librarian; I was a librarian again for a brief time in the 90's, on Shaw Island) there was a children's book by Remy Charlip called "Fortunately, Unfortunately". It went something like this:

"Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute."

There has always seemed to me to be a fortunately/unfortunately quality to life, but yesterday it accelerated a bit more than I was comfortable with. There were lots of fortunate and unfortunate moments to the day, most of which I won't go into here, but the key ones were these:

Fortunately, my exhibit went up beautifully at St. Mark's Cathedral. Unfortunately its appearance there was delayed for a week by another exhibit with a prior claim, and I learned yesterday that it may need to come down before Holy Week; I'm sad its time there has been shortened.

Fortunately the Cathedral Shop has agreed to sell the book versions of the exhibit for its duration. Unfortunately -- since they are self-published through -- they are pretty expensive. I wish I could make them available more cheaply.

Fortunately my friend Barbara lives nearby, so I was able to join her for coffee after hanging the exhibit. Unfortunately I was struggling with some personal issues that had risen earlier in the day so much of our time was consumed by that. Fortunately she restored "the light at the end of my tunnel," for which I'm really grateful.

Unfortunately I received a phone call later in the evening to say that the friend I visited in the hospital on Monday has learned that the challenge which brought her there was not pneumonia after all: it was more cancer, spreading to her lungs and kidneys. So I suspect the beautiful luminosity I saw in her face was not health but actually a closing in on the end. I wish I'd had, these last few years when we've been living so far apart, more time to spend with her.

Fortunately times like this have a way of reminding us -- again -- of what's truly important in our lives. It's a curious dichotomy, in a way that gets crystallized for me in this morning's Thomas passage:

"Miserable is the body that depends on a body, and the soul that depends on both."

Unfortunately, life is short, and all things pass away -- which is a reminder to cherish those whom we love while we have them in our lives. But it's also true that in order to survive the inevitable grief and loss we will encounter, we need -- or at least, I need -- to be in relationship with that which is timeless and formless, the hope and source that lie beyond.

Which, I suspect, is why this image called to me this morning. Because my heart right now is sitting with my friend at the fence between now and beyond. And I find it enormously reassuring to see that little patch of light shining through; it reminds me of the light I saw in her amazing eyes. And that reflection on the wall is the soft wonder of her presence; I suspect it will remain imprinted here -- and in the hearts of my daughters and all the other children whom she taught at the Shaw School -- long after she is gone.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Following the road

Almost immediately after finishing yesterday's post I received a phone call from an old friend on Shaw Island to say that another friend of ours who is coping with liver cancer had been taken to the hospital with pneumonia. So I found myself back on the ferry, and back on country roads, heading for what will always be my community home, to be with someone who might be heading for another sort of home altogether. And then this morning the meditation I'd written for the Gospel of Thomas was about home as well.


Or should I say "Hommmmmmm...."

Or maybe even "Ommmmm..."

The good news is that this was only a temporary setback. She struck me as beautiful: very vital and alive, alert despite the drugs; her color was good, and her eyes were just luminous. But it was good to have made the trip, good to see her again (it's been a while); good to get that reminder that there IS another place where I belong, even after a long absence.

So why this image? It's an attempt to duplicate something I saw in a dream last night, which in turn was based (I suspect) on a piece I saw in a gallery I visited on my way home yesterday. It didn't come out the way I expected it to, and I may work on it some more. But it's made of ferry floor images (and a cormorant from today's Thomas image); I can't seem to stop taking these pictures and playing with them.

I don't know what that's about, and don't have time to speculate at the moment: I've a busy day ahead of me -- a class to take and an exhibit to hang, and all the preparations to make both those things happen. Perhaps this is just to say I'm on a road; maybe I don't quite yet need to know where it's going, so I'm just photographing it as I go, keeping track of progress.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Whatever roads take you home...

I wrote a while back in this blog about the experience of becoming involved with the Community Singers, a group of people who sing at nursing homes and retirement centers around the island.

The singers have had several engagements over the last week or so -- yesterday's, in particular, was very well attended -- and so their music is (perhaps unfortunately) getting stuck in my head, as music has a way of doing. Today the song in my head is John Denver's Country Roads, which is, I suspect, why this image leaped off the page: not that it's exactly a "country road," but it's a ferry, which means it's taking me "to the place I belong."

I say "perhaps unfortunately" because much of what we do is folk music from the 60's and 70's, which is not my favorite music, but seems to work well for these audiences. So why do I love singing with these folks so much if it's not my favorite music? Because the joy of singing and the joy of bringing smiles to the faces of our patients more than compensates for the caliber of music we provide.

If part of my job during Lent is to release some of my perfectionist tendencies, I can't think of a better way to practice -- because what I experience, despite the imperfection of our performances, is a total outpouring of love. It's kind of like asking a mother why she changes her baby's diapers: we do this for love, and that sense of giving and receiving far outweighs any mild distaste we might have for the tasks involved.

... and there are universal truths contained in these songs, whether I like them or not. When I see these lines on the floor of the ferry, I know I'm on my way somewhere, either off to someplace fun, or home to my island -- the place where I belong. And isn't there something in all of us that wants to say, "take me home to the place I belong?" So what if it isn't West Virginia? So what if the best road to get there may not have the charm of a country road? We still -- all of us -- long to figure out where it is that we belong, and go there.

Which means we might already be out there looking for signposts, right? And it seems like love, that sense of blessing we get when we take on something to feed another soul along the way, is one of the best signposts there is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Step lightly, and keep breathing

Yesterday was such an interesting day. It began on a high note, and accelerated from there as I spent the day with my husband on a belated Valentine's Day trip to Seattle, visiting galleries and other fun places, drinking in the light and color of a sunny day spent with art and glass.

And then suddenly, still in the throes of joy, we were on the ferry heading home and I turned a dark corner and had to face some demons that had been lurking there. Some past concerns were not resolved, and though I had been resolutely not looking back, the "objects in the mirror were closer than they appeared" and had a way of piling up, to cast some bleaker shadows over the day.

Fortunately things were resolved by bedtime, the battles fought and won, but it was not without some casualties, and I found myself doubly grateful for Cynthia's words in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening this morning:

"Something in us is objectively strengthened by this patient willingness to let go of our own stuff, to do the practice in the face of almost unbearable psychological frustration." She's speaking, of course, about the practice of centering prayer, but the truth is that the lessons we learn in those meditation periods about letting go are lessons we also get to practice in our daily lives.

Having found such joy, I wanted to hang on, and resented the intrusion of the dark -- I had to let that go. Having found the dark, I wanted to stay clear, and resented the speed with which it overtook me, and I had to let that resentment go as well. And having -- I thought -- created an opportunity for escape from all the struggles -- if only for a bit -- I had to let that go, too; a bitter loss, but fair.

None of this was serious, or tragic: as my daughter said in a note this morning, "As it says in Ecclesiastes, 'Anyone who is among the living has hope— even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!' ... as long as we're still around, things can get better, as long as we try and believe they will. Bad things happen, but they always do."

But still -- it leaves an aftertaste, a ringing in the ears, a scent of danger in the air, a worry that by opening up to joy I might be creating a space for the darker emotions as well; like stepping onto a roller coaster: both thrills and fear ahead!

Step lightly, and keep breathing; release the worry and stay present. It's all good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When Martha and Mary circle into one

Each one of us has a Mary deep within us, glued to the feet of the Master. There are incredible luminous depths within in which we know how to listen and to whom we are listening. But the clarity of our listening is obscured because out on the periphery we also have a Martha who thinks that the whole world is riding on her back, and drowns out the inner music with her constant barrage of "I need," "I want," "Pay attention to me."
-- Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

This morning it was my Martha who walked into the kitchen, wondering what she did to her knee, reminding herself to make a note to buy more fish food, opening a new packet of syringes, giving the dog his insulin shot, and pouring a cup of coffee to set in the microwave. It was Mary, I think, who paused to look past the dishes in the sink and the blue bottles on the windowsill; who noticed the two geese carving lazy circles in the radiant lagoon beyond the window.

This, for me, has been the hugest blessing of being a photographer: my camera serves as a constant invitation for Mary to keep noticing the world, even if it is Martha who thinks, "Wow -- that would be a great photo for the blog!" and steps outside with the camera. Though we may describe these two aspects of our personality as separate, they work best when they are permitted to function as one; one noticing, one acting, one being.

As Bourgeault says, "It's not that Martha is "wrong" and Mary is "right." Both types of awareness are necessary for functioning in this world. But the idea in spiritual transformation is to integrate and reprioritize these levels so that our ordinary awareness is in alignment with and in service to our spiritual awareness (which in in service to the divine awareness.) In that alignment our being flows rightly, from innermost out. When something needs to be done in the outer world, we have sufficient ego strength to do it. But unlike ordinary awareness, which is always doing things to assert itself or fulfill itself, action grounded in our spiritual awareness merely flows out of the divine abundance without regard to outcome or any need to draw attention to itself."

I love that phrase -- action flowing out of divine abundance. And I think that's how it feels when I stop rushing forward or mulling over the past, but instead just stay in the present and pay attention. In those moments, when Martha and Mary are a perfect team, when the acting flows out of the listening and the attention, it is as if a healing stream is flowing through me.

And again I hear those words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peace and blessings

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
-- John 14:27

As I allow myself
to sink into this image,
these are the words I hear.
I cannot seem to think
of anything that needs to be added.

May this day bring you peace
and many blessings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Notice -- and follow the trail

I came to my computer this morning fully intending to use an image that had caught my eye yesterday, a lovely and very colorful photo of a delightful metal sculpture on a store wall in Taiwan.

But my Leaves folder was still open from yesterday's blog, and this image caught my eye and pulled me in. There's something very pure about it: as I look, I can feel my breath deepening, my heart opening, my shoulders dropping...

... and those have always been the characteristics of the photos I love most: they have a way of stopping me in my tracks and inviting me to breathe. Which now, I see, confirms the impression I was coming to as I was meditating this morning: that my job, this Lent, is not exactly to take on anything or to give up anything.

My job is to pay attention; to listen, and to notice -- to both my own responses and to those around me. And as I look at that long list of 40 I put together yesterday, I see that all the behaviors and thoughts I wanted to give up, and all the behaviors and attitudes I wanted to take on were really about paying attention.

Pay attention to what? Well -- everything! My list was asking me to watch my driving, watch what I said about other people, watch out for negative thinking and shoulds and self-criticism. Watch what I eat, notice what I'm hungry for, watch what I buy, and what I read, and how I spend my time. And then, too, to watch for opportunities -- for creativity, for generosity, for hospitality, for silence, for service, for thoughtfulness, for being present, for being kind to others, and to myself. Watch for the joy that wells up from within; notice where it comes from, and follow it to its source.

See? Watch! Listen! Pause a moment, breathe, and feel where this image takes you. Maybe it doesn't do for you what it does for me. But then -- notice your reaction to the paragraphs above: you know, you remember, what that good stuff feels like. What place or picture, scent, sound, taste or music would take you there and fill your soul that way? What will bring you back to the love that lies beneath? Notice, and follow the trail.

So that's what I'm taking on for Lent. Yum. I feel refreshed already, and I've only begun!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the way to grace

"This is how a human being can change.
There is a worm

addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever,
wakes him,
and he is no longer a worm.

He is the entire vineyard,

and the orchard too,
the fruit, the trunks,

a growing wisdom and joy

that does not need to devour."
-- Rumi, from A Year with Rumi

Last night my husband asked what I was planning to give up for Lent this year, and I ended up embarking on a whole explanation of how that process has worked in my life over the years -- and that it's not just about giving up in the sense of sacrifice. For example, one year I gave up worrying (best thing I ever did for Lent!)

One of the things I realized in talking about what Lent means for me (thanks to a question from him) is that the disciplines -- both the taking on and the giving up -- I've taken on over the years have made a significant difference for me; i.e., the ones I cared about and carefully followed through on, the really meaningful ones, actually sort of "stuck" -- and those altered habits and patterns continue over time to bring me into a fuller awareness of the grace that is my life.

Which means Lent brings with it an enormous capacity/opportunity to make some significant changes in my life. So this morning I decided to sit down and list some possible changes I might want to take on for Lent, keeping in mind that these are things I really want to fix, ways that Lent could actually make a difference. I even took pencil and paper into meditation with me, so I could jot down whatever occurred to me.



When the meditation period finally drew to its natural close, some 45 minutes after I started, I had 40 things on the list. One for each day of Lent, oddly enough -- and trust me, that was NOT the goal of this exercise! So here's the question: do I give up one (or take one on, whichever is appropriate) each day, and that's it? Or do I start with the easy ones and work my way up, trying to keep on with all the previous ones as I go?

You have to understand: I don't see this as a negative: repeat after me -- this is an OPPORTUNITY! Even if, for today, it's only been an opportunity to notice (and write down) all the shoulds my brain shoots at me in a given day -- which in itself has value. IT'S ALL GOOD!!!

I'm not sure yet exactly how to proceed -- and that's okay, too. I'll take the day to let this percolate, figure out where it all needs to go. As the Compassionate Eye blog said a day or two ago, "When we stop thinking, all the guidance we need flows from our center, and all the necessary circumstances come to us in our world, right on schedule: decisions make themselves."

But right now I need to head off to Pilates class and then the Ash Wednesday Service. Darn: I had hoped I'd know what I was giving up by the time the service started. Oh, well: perhaps that's the first thing to give up on my way to grace -- my need for perfection! Or maybe I just need to thank that perfectionist in me for offering up all these wonderful opportunities for growth...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When past assumptions veil the present

"All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul."
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

This image was built from a simple reflection of a metal chairleg in a polished floor; I suspect the reason it calls to me today is as a reminder that even the humblest sources have potential for beauty -- which is what my readings on Wabi-Sabi have to tell me today.

Taken in context of this quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which appeared in my inbox this morning, the image shares a broader truth: that nothing is irredeemable, and everything contains within it the seeds both of evil and of transformation.

Going a step further, and venturing into today's reading from the Gospel of Thomas, I am reminded also that whatever we see as truth is necessarily limited by our own perceptions and limitations, and may eventually endure transformation. Which means we may be forced to lose even our fondest visions and our boldest insights on this walk toward wholeness: We have to be prepared to release everything, even our most cherished beliefs about what is good or bad, right or wrong, if we are to give ourselves wholly to the Divine Path.

Perhaps that's why the ego is so reluctant to commit to living in the now. Because by doing so we take the risk that everything that went before may be lost; that all our hard-won insights and experience become mere pre-conceived notions: unfortunate filters through which we cannot fully see what is here and what is now, and which must therefore be discarded if we are to fully take in Presence. And, because each of us has labored mightily to bring those individual truths into being, letting them go can become supremely painful.

So perhaps as we move into Lent, the time has come to release some cherished notion that is blocking our access to Now, that is keeping us separate, divided and detached from some segment of humanity that we've been systematically judging?

Oh, wait: what if that cherished notion is not of someone ELSE's irredeemability, but our own? Can we release our tendency to judge and condemn ourselves?

Hmmm. Now THAT's a challenge!

Monday, February 15, 2010

What will you bring into the desert?

So. How was Valentines Day for you?

True Confessions here: I was a bit disappointed, though as far as I can tell I have only myself to blame for that. Which means I need a good dose of my own medicine; need to spend some time looking at how I was contributing to my disappointment, assessing what I was really hungry for, understanding the commonality of that hunger, and then counting my blessings and breathing those blessings out into the world.

So I've been doing some of that. And it helps. But this was the image that came up this morning. So I'm thinking I'm not quite out of the woods yet. Because you can immediately see how adorable and irresistible these mittens must have been in the beginning. You can imagine how thrilled the little girl was to have them. But the fact is that the bloom is off this particular rose, and there's a lonely quality to this little lost mitten.

So what's the story of this mitten? Is it shabby because it got lost, or did it get lost because it had grown shabby? And perhaps more importantly, why did I take this photo -- and why does it call to me now? Are these questions I am meant to wrestle with, or are they meant for you?

I love doing this blog; love the whole process: the reading, the meditation, the exploration; love what rises up to the surface and dances across the page; love the way the Thomas meditations and the concluding poems provide a frame for the thoughts that arise in response to the day's photo. It's all enormously satisfying. But the fact is -- well, I don't always have easy or uplifting answers to the questions raised by the images, the readings, and the meditation. And some part of me worries about that: is it okay to let that confusion seep onto the page?

I suppose that's ego talking -- either I need to look like I have all the answers (though we all know I don't) or I'm trying to keep my readers coming back and I'm quite certain they won't if I whine (and what does that tell you!).

I think for today I need to just allow the picture to sit on the page; need to allow the questions to sit on the page as well. And I need to give myself permission to sit with whatever loss and loneliness -- or promise -- rises up in response. There is a part of me that -- at the first sign of trouble or discontent -- wants to rush toward solutions, to fix whatever is broken and move forward; that has trouble allowing me to just rest in the questions and feel what they have to tell me. My guess is, that's the same part of me that resists staying in the Now.

So here I sit, holding this image of a lost mitten. And now, stepping back just a bit, I can see the larger picture and realize: it's a perfect image to carry with me into Lent. So here's your first reminder: Lent isn't always about what we give up. Sometimes it's about what we take on. Looks like I'm carrying this one into the desert with me. How about you? What will you carry?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Being present to Love

What a curious coincidence: It's Valentine's Day, and the Thomas meditation I opened for today was entitled "Heart."


More importantly, it referred to the idea of Presence, and that's a theme I really want to talk about today.

For the last several weeks there have been ads on TV for the new Valentines Day movie that's coming out. And prominently featured in those ads is a shot of a woman (I'm pretty sure it's Jennifer Garner) hacking furiously away at a heart-shaped pinata: clearly she has been "disappointed in Love."

For all that Valentine's Day is supposed to be about love, the fact is that all too often it DOES seem to be about disappointment. I'll take the liberty of restricting this next sentence to the feminine perspective, since, in my experience, men seem to get that this is "just a Hallmark holiday." The spectrum of Valentinian disappointment seems to range from "There's no man in my life" through a wealth of possibilities for failure: he didn't remember, or he didn't get me flowers, or he didn't get me the RIGHT flowers, or he got pink saltwater taffy instead of chocolate, or he got me a blender instead of a ring... I suspect we've all been there at one time or another.

So here's why Presence is important: we can choose to sit with that disappointment, be present to it. Instead of throwing things, or hitting things, or whining, shouting, crying or simply stuffing the hurt, we can be present to whatever level of discomfort is there, and sense the holy longing that lies beneath the pain.

Because each of us, no matter what sex, no matter how famous or humble, wealthy or poor, carries around that holy longing, that hunger for love. And the good news is this: if we allow ourselves to feel that longing, we can then begin to sense the deeper reservoir of love and longing that lies beneath, glowing like this beautiful rose. That rose, that reservoir of love and beauty, is in fact God's longing for us. Our longing is fueled by our separation from the Holy, and it is that very longing -- ours for God, and God's for us -- which ultimately pulls us back into the oneness which lies at the root of our craving.

And if we can be present to that longing, and be conscious about knowing that it exists in all the other souls whose lives we share, we can perhaps begin to find a way to assuage our own longing by dipping into the reservoir and offering love to those around us.

I know. This all sounds very preachy. But I do honestly believe it's true: it's a little like the Buddhist practice of Tonglen.

So stop.

Breathe consciously for a bit.

And when you breathe in, breathe in the longing of all the other beings in the world who hunger -- as you do -- for love.

When you come to the end of that in-breath, hold for a moment, and see if you can tap into the love and blessings that DO exist in your life.

Now. Breathe that love out into the world.

Repeat -- and begin to feel the Love that waits for you.

Okay -- I have to catch a ferry, so there's no time to edit this. If I'm full of it, just tell me. But otherwise, well -- just know that there IS love out there, though it may not always take the form you hope for. May you have a chance to feel that love today.

Amen -- and peace.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What matters?

"What lies behind us
and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to
what lies within us."
-- William Maran

At one point in my life I thought of writing a book about Decision Matrices. My love of decision matrices began back in the 80's, when the software company I was working for decided to introduce a new product called Model.

It was billed as financial management software, but it was essentially an Excel-like spreadsheet (Excel hadn't been invented yet), and in the process of putting together all the marketing materials, designing a demo, etc. I realized the spreadsheet could be used to make decisions.

I would write all the possible choices across the top. For example, let's say I was trying to decide which car to buy: across the top I could have several different car models, some used, some new. And then, in a list down the left side of the spreadsheet, I would write down all the factors of car usage that were important to me: low mileage, price, comfort, able to carry garbage cans to the dump, coffee-cup holders, air conditioning, automatic locks, ease of maintenance, reliability, looks -- whatever factors seemed worth considering as part of the purchase decision.

And then, to the right of that list, I would have a relative importance row, and assign a numeric value (say, between 1 and 3) which would indicate how important each item on the list was to me. Low mileage, for example, would get a 3, and air conditioning -- because we only get about 5 hot days a year here -- might only be a 1.

I would then go through all the models I was considering and assign a numeric value (probably between 1 and 5) to each factor. So a Honda Pilot would get a 5 on garbage cans, a 3 on mileage, and a 2 for looks while that 1972 red BMW my husband is lusting after would get a zero for garbage cans and air conditioning and a 5 for looks. After assigning all those values, I'd multiply each by its relative importance and then add up all the results for each car.

But here's the trick: the results almost NEVER told me which car to buy. What usually happened was that I'd look at the results and think, well, THAT's not what I wanted to hear! Which meant I'd then go back and rethink my numbers: usually the discrepancy between the results and what I'd wanted or expected to see lay in the relative importance I'd assigned to the various factors. In reassessing that, I got to learn a little bit more about what really mattered to me, what made my heart beat a little faster and got my creative juices flowing.

So why bring this up now? I'm not making any decisions at the moment, so why did I launch off on this adventure?

I think it's because, for me, the point of life and the living of it is sort of like the point of the decision matrix: it's not about what we do or what decisions we make as much as it's about what we learn about ourselves in the process. For me, a lot of the joy of photography is in watching the decisions I make around it. Not so much which camera I use, or which lens or filter I choose, but what makes me take off the lens cap, what I fill my frame with, and what I cut or emphasize in the post-processing: precisely because those things teach me something about what I hunger for, and what feeds my soul.

Which, as it turns out, is what my Thomas meditation told me this morning:

"Ah, my love --
can you not see?
It is not the pearl,
or even the finding that matters.
Listen for the treasure within:
hearken to the gentle undulations
swaying like seaweed
on the floor of your heart."

So: when you look at the photo above, is the bird taking off or landing? Is she skimming the water, looking for fish, or escaping a marauding eagle? And does it matter? Or is this just a chance to drink in a rich dose of color on an otherwise gray day?

A friend of mine called not long ago, and during the course of the conversation I asked her -- as a dear friend once kindly asked me -- what is it you WANT to do? What activity could you be doing that would make you leap out of bed in the morning, eager for a chance to get back to it? Because that, I said, as she began crying quietly on the other end of the line, is probably what you were born to do.

There are so many opportunities for us to listen for our longings. But we have this unfortunate tendency to get impatient, or too caught up in the deciding and the doing to listen for the longing that lies beneath. Which is sad, because that longing has a lot to teach us about what we were born to give back to the world.

I'll close here with a lovely quote from Living Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold:

"Revealing your inner gifts is not only for personal gain. The way of Wabi Sabi teaches that as you begin to manifest your full potential, everyone and everything around you will be positively affected as well."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blessings in unity

A friend of mine joined us for dinner last night after an afternoon spent making music together. I showed her the struggles I'd been having with yesterday's Thomas post, and she said it still wasn't right; that it ended on an odd note, stepping back into the past.

So this morning I was resolved to find another way to express that tricky notion which so many others have -- I think -- misinterpreted over the years; the notion of the narrow gate that only a few will enter. Because it's not "a few" that will enter; it's a single -- a oneness.

The solution for the problem was handed to me in my reading this morning, in which I was reminded of John Donne's famous quote: "No man is an island."

That's it, I thought: it's understanding that everything is connected that's really the key. Get in touch with that sense of connectedness, and that awareness becomes an awareness of the Divine.

And so I rewrote and redesigned the meditation yet again. And for this blog, today, I resurrected this wonderful shot, taken many years ago on the Oregon coast. Because I suspect that our country, too, will continue to remain troubled until we, too, can come to see that despite our many divisions -- some of them quite deep -- we are one, one rock, one earth, one country, one world beneath it all. Only then will we begin to experience true blessedness.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Acceptance begins at home...

This morning I began reading an intriguing little book entitled "Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers." Early on in the book, the author puts together a list of the differences between modernism and wabi-sabi.

Here are some of the differences that really struck me:

• Modernism needs to be well-maintained: Wabi-Sabi accommodates degradation and attrition.

• The expression of Modernism is made richer by purity; the expression of Wabi-Sabi is made richer by corrosion and contamination.

• Modernism is intolerant of ambiguity and contradiction; Wabi-Sabi is COMFORTABLE with ambiguity and contradiction.

Aha! I found myself thinking. Look at this obsession I have with photographing scruffy old boats: I am TOTALLY Wabi-Sabi!

Of course, it's never that simple, is it? I could just as easily make a case for myself as a modernist: only yesterday my printer was telling me that what he liked about my boat photos is their clean precision, their purity, their warmth, their emphasis on function and utility... all characteristics of modernism. Clearly I have bits of both in me, and they are (surprise, surprise) expressing themselves in my art.

Yep, we're back to where we were a few days ago: things are just messy. If, as Richard Rohr says, Everything Belongs, then we have to get wabi-sabi on a personal level; need to learn to be comfortable with EVEN OUR OWN ambiguity and contradictions; to accept that flaws and failures are okay, that inconsistency and imperfection and even confusion are all okay; that everything belongs.

And in a way, that's what my photos are saying: that it is possible to find perfection and purity and beauty even in the old and flawed and ugly. But have I internalized this yet? I like to think I'm there, of course, but NOoooo, I still have a lot to learn -- as today's experience with the Gospel of Thomas teaches me.

I had started off this morning as usual, with one of my Thomas meditations. I looked at what I had written, which was about the importance of tying up your loose ends, and was relieved to see it seemed to work and wouldn't require a (messy, time-consuming) rewrite, and posted it as is. I then began this blog, and left in midstream for my standing Thursday am coffee date.

But when I came home, I found my wise friend Maureen had left a comment on the Thomas meditation I had posted: "Who among us," she asks, "has not "loose ends" and "frayed connections? I understand the words and all they mean. I still feel them as saddening."

OMG. And isn't that what friends are for, to look at us and SEE all those unconscious assumptions we carry about our own imperfections?

And so I rewrote the piece, and though, in essence, I was writing about the same process, I came to see that Oneness doesn't have to mean cutting out, excluding, hating, or rejecting all the threads in us which are flawed, imperfect, embarrassing, or just plain don't make sense. Oneness comes rather from coming to accept and love ourselves and one another and life in all our/its messiness and frailty and inconsistency.

So silly; yet again, I needed to be reminded that the principles I believe about faith and community REALLY REALLY need to be applied on a personal level. I suspect true compassion can only come about when we learn to be truly compassionate with ourselves.

Yet another reminder: It's all good, and everything belongs. Thanks, Maureen!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In suspense and incomplete

"We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages,

We are impatient of being on the way to do something
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

our ideas mature gradually—
let them grow,

let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today
what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I don't know about you, but I long ago discovered -- during a long dry spell when I would have nothing to do with "church" -- that around this time of year I always seem to become rather painfully aware of my own deeply flawed nature. Lent, that period of wrestling with our particular challenges, seems to come in February and March whether or not I am involved in any sort of congregational life. So I shouldn't be surprised that these issues are starting to surface again: Lent is, after all, just around the corner.

A friend of mine who's been listening to my grumbling pointed out a few days ago that some of my current challenges seem to come out of my perfectionism -- something I definitely needed to be reminded of! So I was thrilled when I discovered this quote yesterday, sitting outside the room where my spirituality class meets. Of course, it's been sitting there for months -- I just hadn't noticed it until now.

And then, this morning, I was reading again in Richard Rohr's Everything Belongs, and he reminded us that Jesus' first image was about weeds and wheat, and letting the weeds continue. "Holding weed and wheat together in our one field of life," says Rohr, "takes a lot more patience, compassion, and forgiveness than aiming for some illusory perfection that is blind to its own faults."

The truth of it is -- we are none of us "there" yet. We all struggle with our shadows, and with unconscious fears and motivations; we all feel bouts of shame and guilt for "the things we have done and the things we have left undone;" and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who gets frustrated with the huge gap between what I believe and how I live it out. But the fact is that those struggles keep us honest, authentic, and they have much to teach us.

Here's the good news: it's all good. That struggle is our whetstone: it keeps us on edge, keeps us moving forward, and reminds us daily to return to that Divine well for sustenance, strength, encouragement, humility -- all those gifts which well up out of our own challenges, our awareness of our own imperfections.

And so I close with the gentle reminder that is actually the first line of that Teilhard de Chardin piece I quoted above.

"Above all, trust in the slow work of God."

It's happening. We're growing, evolving, improving, releasing, opening. And it's okay that we're not "there" yet, that we sometimes find we're still banging our heads against the same brick walls that blocked us before we started on this path. Have compassion on yourself and trust: the work may be slow, but it IS happening. And it's all good.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Night terrors and scary freedoms

"People who have learned to live from their center in God know which boundaries are worth maintaining and which can be surrendered, although it is this very struggle which often constitutes their deepest "dark nights"...Only when we rest in God can we find the safety, the spaciousness, and the scary freedom to be who we are, all that we are, more than we are , and less than we are."
-- Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

Yesterday's poem prompt from Carry On Tuesday
was a line from the Phantom of the Opera song,
Music of the Night:

"Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation;
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination."

It seemed like it would be fun to play with, so I went through some of my night-time shots to see what sang to me, and ended up with a rather disturbing poem about night terrors, those psychic beasts that haunt us in the wee hours of the morning.

So I was delighted when I read the above passage from Richard Rohr's classic, Everything Belongs: in a way, it felt like I was being given permission to HAVE those dark nights. Because that "scary freedom" we find in faith sometimes forces us to look at our life choices and wonder: am I doing the right thing? Is this where I'm supposed to be? And sometimes, like some of the saints who came before us -- St. Paul, Joan of Arc, and Thomas Merton, to name a few -- we find ourselves in the awkward position of defying the very institution we had thought to serve.

It's easy to get caught up in wondering where our gifts are taking us; easy to imagine both rewarding and nightmarish possibilities that could be waiting just around the corner. I suspect that's yet another reason to stay in Now; to be present to the Presence that lives within and around us. Then we don't have to ask "So what am I supposed to do next?;" we can just relax and be and watch what rises up.

Because -- as we saw yesterday in that lovely quote about madrona as mother -- we are, even in our fear and darkness, being protected and watched over. I thought of that immediately when I shot this image on Sunday's walk: this looked to me like a mother's arm, arching protectively over her children's hands, and brought to mind my favorite line from our Sunday services. The line comes right at the end, when we are being blessed in the name of the father, and of the son, "and of the Holy Spirit, who broods over Creation, like a mother over her children."

Have you ever cradled a child through night terrors -- held them, reassured them, calmed them back to sleep? I have -- many times. I like to think that the Holy Spirit is doing the same for us, holding us even as She invites us into that "scary freedom... to be all that we are."

We are not alone.

You are not alone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Growing into Oneness

Yesterday I followed a link from my friend Maureen's blog, Writing Without Paper, and found a delicious new blog to feast on: Diamonds in the Sky with Lucy. I spent some time poking around that site, and her other wonderful site, Lucy Creates, and then dropped her a note of greeting before heading off with my husband to see the new Jeff Bridges movie, Crazy Heart.

This morning I checked my comments before embarking on the blog, and found "Lucy" had sent me these lovely words:

When a madrona branch withers and dies, it is not in the nature of the tree to allow it to rot or drop off. Its mother tree refuses to abandon it. Rather, as the young, healthy wood and bark grow, they creep up around the aged gray appendage like a bandage, a second skin, covering and protecting it, welcoming it back to tree-ness. No wonder the word “madrona” means “mother.” -- Luci Shaw


Reading that, I found myself wondering if "Lucy" had been peering over my shoulder when I discovered this image last night! And looking at this image in the context of that note, I find myself thinking of these lines written by the Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel as part of the call to our upcoming ECVA exhibit: Recognition and Return.

We are beloved habitations for that Holy Spirit and Comforter who abides within us, awaiting the transfiguration of our awareness and our humble recognition and consent to let the Sacred possess, pray, and act in and through us.

It seems to me that as we grow into the light, parts of us -- behaviors, relationships, thoughts and dreams; good, bad and indifferent -- are always dying off or f
alling away. Yet somehow those things remain part of us, woven into the fabric of who we are becoming.

Perhaps this is how that works: that the mother tree, that holy oneness which resides deep inside us, keeps sending out new life, and that new life somehow wraps around and incorporates that which is lost or dead inside us, welcoming and enfolding it, so that we eventually come to see that everything falls within God's embrace; that "nothing there is, that is not God."

All of which makes me think of that movie we saw, Crazy Heart. The plot was simple, quite predictable, even: an aging country music singer, tormented by his own demons, finds redemption in a love affair gone wrong. And though he doesn't get the girl in the end, he writes some beautiful music, fueled by his struggles with alcohol and loss.

I suppose in a lot of ways that is the essence of faith: to believe that somehow, through all the pain and sorrow and suffering of life, good will emerge. Not necessarily the specific good you longed for or envisioned, but surely goodness is always emerging; new life is always creating, embracing, and growing into oneness...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What a beautiful mess this is...

Though I normally go to church on Sunday mornings, I elected instead today to take my worship time out with my camera; to go where it led me and see what there was to see: I just needed to spend some conscious time in the now.

There was a bit of a haze in the air, so I went down to Waterfront Park to see if the boats were calling to me today, but instead I ended up walking along the path beside the water, and found this luscious madrona tree.

As I continue building my comprehension of what it means to be One with the Divine, I cannot help but think this tree -- this image -- has something to teach me/us. There is the outer shell -- dry, gray, lifeless and broken, and yet, through its woundedness we see the glorious inner aliveness that flows through the tree, glowing, rich, connected, colorful, sinewy... And together they are one, whole inner and broken outer, arching over my path, providing shade in the summer and pleasing vistas throughout the year.

For my hymn this morning, I was given A Beautiful Mess, by Jason Mraz. Here's a sampling from the lyrics...

"You've got the best of both worlds:

... You are strong but you're needy, humble but you're greedy
Based on your body language and short cursive I've been reading
Your style is quite selective but your mind is rather reckless
Well, I guess it just suggests that this is just what happiness is

Hey, what a beautiful mess this is...

Although you were biased I love your advice:
Your comebacks they're quick and probably
Have to do with your insecurities
There's no shame in being crazy depending on how you take these
Words they're paraphrasing this relationship we're staging...

... And the kind and courteous is a life I've heard
But it's nice to say that we played in the dirt
'Cause here, here we are, here we are

Here we are, here we are
Here we are, here we are
Here we are, here we are
Here we are, we're still here

And what a beautiful mess this is
It's like taking a guess when the only answer is yes

And through timeless words and priceless pictures
We'll fly like birds not of this earth
And tides they turn and hearts disfigure
But that's no concern when we're wounded together
And we tore our dresses and stained our shirts
But it's nice today, oh, the wait was so worth it."

This life we lead... it's not tidy, or even remotely perfect; not always courteous or kind. But it's rich, and glorious, and we're still vibrantly, deliciously in the midst of it, wounds and all.

It's all good.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Work in Progress -- Again

"When you give birth to that which is within yourself, what you bring forth will save you. If you possess nothing within, that absence will destroy you."
-- The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 70

Yesterday my husband and I paid a visit to the Collective Visions Gallery, to see the Third Annual Washington State Juried Art Competition (into which the photo you see here had been accepted). The work displayed in this exhibit is phenomenal, and, frankly, I think I was amazingly lucky to get in: my husband and I both agreed that mine was one of the least impressive entries in the show. And interestingly enough (every visitor gets to vote for their favorite piece) each of us voted for a photograph, despite the fact that there were works in lots of other media.

So what made those photographs special? Though the subjects were appealing, they weren't things I hadn't shot myself at one time or another. What gave each of them impact was the presentation: the size, the shape, the section of image chosen, and the way it was mounted. They had authority, an assurance to them, that was impressive. These photographers believed in their work.

My image, on the other hand, though I do like it, was presented in a very ordinary traditional way, inexpensively matted and framed, and its story got lost in the telling of it; sort of died, stillborn. So while I sat in meditation this morning, I found myself wrestling with this issue: what -- of all the things I do -- should I actually be investing myself in, pursuing whole-heartedly? What was I born to do, and why do I feel I'm not living into that potential?

So then I came to my computer and found the Thomas Logion above was my lesson for today. It seemed amazingly appropriate. And the meditation I had written for that Thomas logion went like this:

Initially, upon reading this meditation, I felt reassured. Yes, I thought, this creative spirit is still tunneling through, trying desperately to emerge into the light; it's just not there yet -- and that's okay. I liked thinking that "Observer aches with me and sees...a pattern of delight."

But then I thought about an email conversation I had yesterday with David Ord, of Namaste Press, whose blog, Compassionate Eye, I have been reading lately. We were talking about all the misunderstandings that get perpetrated when we persist in believing God is Other; some remote being in the sky, and David mentioned his book, Your Forgotten Self.

When I went to read about the book I saw that his premise was this: "If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a glorious hope. You expect, someday, to be like Jesus—to be the loving, joyful, peaceful person you see in him. In the meantime, along with millions who hold this hope, you live with feelings of inadequacy, if not defeat, in the present. What, then, of Jesus' promise that we can experience a magnificent life here and now? What about the "peace that passes understanding" and "joy unspeakable" he promised us in our everyday lives?

Your Forgotten Self asserts that if you see Jesus as different from yourself, you have no hope of enjoying the fulfilling life he lived. It argues that, instead of being fundamentally different from us, Jesus was the embodiment of the essence of our humanity. In the view of Jesus' early followers, to be a believer is to see yourself as Jesus saw himself. To have faith is to become aware that you have already been "raised up" with Christ into a state of divine consciousness, and are at this moment blessed with "every spiritual blessing" the kingdom of heaven affords.

Your Forgotten Self invites you to see yourself with new eyes. When this happens, the power of the Christ floods into your everyday circumstances. You experience life as Jesus experienced it. You begin to live as Jesus in the present moment.

Letting that sink in for a bit, I begin to see that the meditation above actually operates out of the old worldview, that Observer is something separate and above. And, seeing that, I could begin to see that what is being birthed in me, in you, in each of us, is not some creative gift that needs to emerge and be displayed, but rather an understanding and appreciation of Who we really are; that Divine is not something other, but that it is us.

Once we have that understanding rooted in us, we can bring our gifts into the world with confidence and assurance, knowing Who we were born to be. Looking at my image in that show, and, later, watching the DVD of my performance in Peter Pan, I could see that, for all my bravado and faith, there is still something in me that doesn't believe, that holds back -- nay, SHRINKS back, in fear.

And what, I wonder, will it take to nurture that spirit into the light?

It's all part of the journey, I think: I keep being reminded of that Corinthians passage: "For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known."

I want to live in THEN. But living in then is really about living in NOW. And there's some part of me that seems to be having a sort of mid-life crisis, and worries that I won't live long enough to get to "then", that I will never fully realize that creative spirit that's being birthed in me BECAUSE IT'S TAKING SO LONG to get to NOW.


Clearly I had to rewrite the meditation. So I went to my image files, and what jumped out at me was a photograph of some graffiti found on a bunker wall on the south end of our island -- fabulous bright colors -- with the word NATIVE scrawled across it in black. Aha! I thought; what we're talking about here is nativity. And so I rewrote the meditation, with the result you see here.

And now to REALIZE that!

In the meantime, since I clearly can't THINK my way into presence, I'll have to trust that -- as David said to me yesterday, "When we stop trying, it happens."

Friday, February 5, 2010

His Master's Voice

"The true possession of God depends ... on an inward directing of the reason and intention toward God -- not on a constant contemplation in an unchanging manner; for it would be impossible for nature to preserve such an intention... 'You should be like men who are always watching and waiting for their master.' "

I read this line in Meister Eckhart this morning, and it reminded me immediately of the old RCA/Victrola logo of the dog standing beside the gramophone, ears cocked, listening for "His Master's Voice."

And somehow I found it reassuring -- this thought that though we may not always be HEARING the voice of the Divine, we might at least, like a hungry dog, be frequently reminded -- if only by our hunger pangs -- to listen, to watch, to reconnect. Somehow that seems easier for me to manage; more do-able.

Like a certain daughter of mine, I tend to have a low flashpoint (though I usually flame out fairly quickly). Though I'm better at containing the sparks these days, I have this unfortunate tendency to flare up, and then it takes me a while sometimes to pull away from the fire and think, oh, wait, where's the gift in this and what does it teach me about myself?

So it's reassuring to think that I do -- mostly, eventually -- remember to ask those questions, and that the asking brings me back to the feet of the master. It's a good sign, a sign that progress is being made. It's okay that I'm not perfect yet; having the intention, however slowly it might surface at times, is a good thing.

What's amusing to me this morning is that, thinking of this passage, I knew I wanted to use this image. But I still wanted to deal with the Thomas lesson first. And in the end I ended up writing and designing a completely new meditation for today's Logion. Why am I not surprised that it also required a new title -- and that that title turned out to be HUNGER?


After writing this, I signed onto my email and found another Divine reassurance from Camille and Kabir Helminski, via the Spirituality and Practice Course on InterSpirituality:

"Sometimes, we are not capable of being compassionate, or forgiving. Sometimes we cannot do what we know is right. Rumi suggests a way of seeing our own incapacity with compassion. Sometimes, the Divine may lay upon us chains of incapacity. Why? From the Sufi point of view, that we may realize our utter dependence on the Divine and ask for forgiveness and help."

How lovely, to see our weaknesses from that perspective -- as further opportunities to throw ourselves into the arms of the Divine!

I'm so there...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On the threshold of the invisible

I've never (to my knowledge) actually seen a muskrat, though I could, of course, google them to see what they look like. But as I was coming back from walking the dog on the beach a couple of days ago, I was greeted by this log, and somehow I just wanted to call it "Muskrat Log," after that old Captain and Tenille song.

What has always fascinated me about driftwood is the way so many different kinds of shapes and colors, ideas and expressions, seemed to reveal themselves in the logs. It was in my early efforts to capture that aspect of nature, I suspect, that I first discovered the joy of being present, paying attention to my surroundings; it was also the beginning of my love affair with the camera, which not only allowed me to pay attention, but also gave me feedback on what I was actually seeing -- because lots of times I didn't see what the logs were telling me until after the photos came back from the developer.

So this morning, when I was reading John O'Donohue's book, Eternal Echoes, and the section heading was "the invisible world is all around us," I couldn't help thinking of the driftwood; of the sense that it contained within it all the patterns of the world, and had the potential to be so much more than it appeared to be at first glance. But when I read further, I came to see that that invisible potential lives in -- and inspires -- us as well.

"Within us and around us there is an invisible world; this is where each of us comes from...When you cross over from the invisible into this physical world, you bring with you a sense of belonging to the invisible that you can never lose or finally cancel...You know your real life is happening here. Yet your longing for the invisible is never stilled. There is always some magnet that draws your eyes to the horizon or invites you to explore behind things and seek out the concealed depths...

This tension infuses your life with longing. Now you belong fully neither to the visible nor to the invisible. This is precisely what kindles and rekindles all your longing and your hunger to belong. You are both artist and pilgrim of the threshold...the invisible remains the great background which invests your every gesture and action with possibility and pathos. The artistic imagination brings this out."

That infinite potential lives within each of us; that longing to be part of that larger world that lies beyond the obvious. And it expresses itself, not only in what we create, but in what we project onto the lives around us -- which, of course, is both how we fall into love and how we fall out of it; how we fall into situations and later extricate ourselves: so much of what we see and do is colored by the invisible thought processes and longings that happen within us.

So then I went to the Thomas reading for this morning. And it, too, addresses the invisible. But it touches a different aspect of the invisible: that part of you that can't be touched, that is invulnerable and triumphant, even in the midst of persecution. And reading of that, I think of my blogging friend, Louise, whose indomitable spirit survived such a hideously abusive relationship; and of the stories emerging from Haiti, of the extraordinary faith and courage of these survivors who have lost so much.

It's a poignant reminder that there is much more to life than the either the simple comforts and pleasures or the painful challenges we face in the here and now.

Good to know.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I think it started with the shoes...

"People who seek peace in external things -- be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation -- however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and it gives no peace...People ought never to think too much about what they could do, but they ought to think about what they could be: if you are just, then your works, too, are just."
-- Meister Eckhart

On Sunday night I was fortunate enough to attend a contemplative worship service. There's a sizeable community of folks on this island (I am reminded again of how lucky I am to live here) who have studied under Cynthia Bourgeault and Lynn Bauman and Richard Rohr, and around once a month a group of us gather for contemplative worship --i.e., a service that includes time for quiet meditation.

In honor of the new year, a piece of this Sunday's service was devoted to letting go: we were given small pieces of paper and pencils, invited to write down whatever we wanted to release, and then there was a period during which we could rise, walk over to the fireplace, and toss in our papers.

I wrote down four things, behaviors that -- to me -- indicate that I'm not nearly as God-filled or enlightened as I would like to be. I wanted to release some of the ways I treat others that don't really seem to flow out of anything other than ego. So I was particularly struck by this passage I read in Meister Eckhart this morning: it's so clear that the signs of faith are not in what we do -- however spiritual that might appear -- but in what fills us; in who -- and how -- we love.

So then I went to put up this morning's passage from the Gospel of Thomas. It's Logion 67, and it goes like this:

Yeshua says: If you come to know all, and yet you yourself are lacking, you have missed everything.

This was a little weird, coming on top of the Eckhart passage. Somehow I felt like all this stuff was connected -- particularly so since the last dream I had before waking this morning was that I was on my way to a doctor's appointment, wearing a shiny new pair of shoes. For some reason I had to remove the shoes when entering the building, and then I set them down to greet some old friends. When I bent to pick up the shoes, they weren't there, and I found myself holding a mismatched pair of children's shoes. I kept tracing and re-tracing my steps, looking for my shoes, and completely missed the doctor's appointment.

There are lots of ways I could interpret this dream, but the first and most obvious was that my obsession with my own stuff was keeping me from healing. In the end, after mulling over the dream, the Logion, and the Eckhart piece, I drafted a completely new meditation for the Logion, drawing a parallel between the knowledge we collect and the stuff we buy or wear as just one more manifestation of ego. The new meditation reads like this:

I see that you have clothed yourself
in all manner of righteousness:
that you read all the right books,
and say all the right things;
that you know exactly
what appearances to cultivate
to look as if you belong in my court.

This knowledge you have is useless
if you yourself are empty
of compassion,
of gratitude,
of tenderness and forgiveness.

I’m not interested in seeing what you know.
I’m interested in seeing how you love.

I love how it all flows together; love also that there's still so much for me to learn. But I'm still struggling a bit with finding compassion for myself, for all the ways I don't yet live into my beliefs and knowledge. It's okay. It will come, in its own good time..