Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ours to choose

Reading Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters this morning, I encountered this fact I had not known: "The Greek word for Devil is diabolos, which means split or divided, literally 'thrown apart.' "

It struck me for several reasons.  There is, first of all, something I learned early on in my faith, that sin is separation from God -- and that image of God hurling Satan out of Heaven, that comes, I think, from Milton's Paradise Lost.

But I also heard echoes from a passage in Byron Brown's Soul Without Shame, which we were reading in my spirituality book group earlier this week: "When your hurt is treated by others as something to be avoided or gotten rid of, the implicit rejection and hostility support a state of disconnection inside you."  Again -- it is that sense of separation that can be destructive.

The other awareness that struck me was a little sillier -- a friend read my Tarot for me yesterday afternoon, and though we giggled all the way through the reading (the coincidences and connections to the conversation we'd just been having were pretty amazing) I was struck by the card for wholeness and connection which appeared as the answer to "What's inside you that will save you?"

So when, finally, I read in Desmond Tutu's Made for Goodness that "when we recognize the goodness hidden behind the harm others have caused, we will be able to forgive them and "re-member" them.  We will be able to reclaim our common humanity, our membership in one family -- the human family."  So here we learn that if we are to end the diabolical divisions in our lives, we need to travel the road to forgiveness -- not just to forgiveness of others, but also to forgiveness of ourselves.

... which then reminds me of Logion 72 of the Gospel of Thomas:

A man said to Yeshua, "Speak to my brothers so that they will divide my father's belongings with me." Yeshua replied to him, "Sir, who has made me the divider?"  And he turned to his students and asked, "Am I here to divide?"

The answer, of course, is "No."  We are not here to divide, either: which is made clear later on in Thomas, in Logion 106:

Yeshua says, "When you are able to transform two into one, then you too will become a 'Son of Humanity,' and it will then be possible for you to say to a mountain, 'Move," and it will move."

There is, he says, extraordinary power in unification.  And diabolical, destructive power in disconnection and separation.

It is ours to choose.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Listening for the voice of guidance

"Our noisy passions," says Desmond Tutu in today's reading from Made for Goodness, "are like an unruly kindergarten class.  Each hope, fear, ambition, dream, and desire tries to shout louder than the others to make itself heard.  

The voice of God guides like a gifted teacher.  The experienced teacher does not address the class with a booming voice to be heard above the din.  He speaks quietly and calmly, a steady current beneath the noise.  To this child a word and a touch, to this one a look and a murmur, until each child -- curiosity piqued -- hushes so he or she can listen.  The calm and constant presence below the undisciplined tumult of our ideas and emotions is the voice of God guiding us to goodness.

We can continue to react to the insistent demands of our unruly passions and remain tone-deaf to God.  Or we can use the practice of prayer to help us hear, ever more perfectly, the guidance that God offers.  God is our constant companion, and can help us to choose, from among the plethora of paths that are spread out before us, the one that leads to flourishing.  The guide who becomes known to us in prayer steadies us when we stumble and cradles us when we fall.  That guide can show us the way back to goodness, however far from the path we stray."

"Child, do you not know my voice?
... Have you not heard me yet?
I am very near.
I breathe in your breath, 
I pray in your prayer,
Have you not heard me yet?
Stop and see.
Look, listen.
That is me."

-- Desmond Tutu

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On patience and prayer

Yes, the mountains over the weekend were lovely, but, as if to welcome me home, the mountains we face here put on a lovely show on Sunday evening: everywhere I looked there were glorious cloud formations to photograph.

I suppose it could be just that my spirit of appreciation had been awakened; that happens sometimes.  For me, it has a way of going dormant in winter, so that I just don't feel like photographing anything for months at a time, and then, all of a sudden, as if someone flipped a switch (and of course it has to do with the shift in the light) everything seems fresh and beautiful again.

I used to be terrified by those dormant periods: would I ever want to pick up my camera again?  But that of course is one of the gifts of age and experience: we come, in time, to understand that everything moves in cycles.

Failures and forgiveness move in a cycle, too: Richard Rohr, in his prayer this morning, refers to it as "the wondrous loop of your forgiveness and mercy."  And sometimes what it takes to stay in that loop is simply -- patience.

Patience to sit through the darkness, knowing that dawn will come.
Patience to sit through the winter, knowing that spring will come.
Patience to wait through the periods in life when God seems far away and zest and joy are only memories.
Patience to wade through the muck of life, trusting that eventually we will return to shore and find again the firm ground beneath our feet.

... and what sustains us, I think, is what Desmond Tutu calls the practice of prayer.  "We address God in the quiet of our hearts, in hymns and psalms, in dance and chant, with tears, with pleas, and with rejoicing.  Each day as I return to the practice of prayer I learn new ways to hear God.  Each day I learn new ways to address God."

Practice, in this case, will never make us perfect.  But it will help ease those long transitions from darkness into light.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Doing the work of reconciliation.

I rose early yesterday morning, packed up most of my stuff (other than art supplies), and stepped outside my cabin to take the first load to the car.  This was what I saw when I rounded the corner: I was SO grateful I'd thought to put my camera in my pocket!

We can see lots of mountains from our house, but none of them are this close; it's really quite amazing to watch the mists drifting back and forth across the snow all day.  Sometimes you wouldn't even know the mountains are there, and then the mist thins and for a moment this enormous presence is exposed...

It's really quite a mystical (or should I say Mist-ical?) experience.  It's even a bit like the way most of us go through our lives, just sort of drifting along in a haze, and then, with a shift of the wind, we sense this incredible divine presence...

What saddens me -- always -- is that there are so many of us who have experienced that presence, and yet we cannot seem to share that awareness with each other without wandering into dangerous territory.  Never talk about sex, politics, or religion, the pundits say, and why is that?  Because people tend to get very opinionated and argumentative about those subjects, and talking about them forces us to face into our differences; we can no longer paper over them or hide them in a mist of alcohol and cocktail chatter.

Sometimes I just hunger for an end to our tendency to obsess about our differences.  Which is really a hunger for reconciliation.  "The word itself," says Desmond Tutu, "indicates a restoration.  It implies the restoration of cordial relations that existed before the breach.  But in many places what existed before... was something else that was less than ideal."  Which is why, he says, the Biblical writers of the creation stories needed to imagine a Garden of Eden, "at time when all creation lived in harmony with God... When we reconcile, we inhabit that territory conceived by the hope-filled imagination.  We meet again as for the first time.  Eden is not an unattainable ideal.  It is a place that most of us have seen, even if only fleetingly."

"Even in South Africa," he goes on to say, "where the 'before of our experience was apartheid, a reality we have no desire to reinhabit, we had glimpses of Eden.  Disparate organizations worked together with common purpose.  People of faith from across the religious spectrum set aside their differences to oppose the evil machinations of the government."

It seems to me that our culture cries out for reconciliation on so many levels -- especially in these three areas.  It seems particularly sad that religion, which, as Richard Rohr says in today's reading, "was supposed to be life and healing for the world... has too often become death and boundary-keeping for the few."  But reconciliation is not a task that will ever be completed: it's really the work of a lifetime, executed on infinite levels by infinite numbers of people making infinite numbers of choices -- choices whose outcomes and principles may not always be totally clear to us.

But that doesn't mean we cannot continue to try to choose wisely: to choose inclusion rather than exclusion; to choose to discuss rather than to argue or shut down; to choose to reach out rather than to shut out.  It can sometimes be frightening to disagree, to hear a contrary opinion about something which matters to you on a very deep level.  We just have to trust that wisdom and hope will be revealed when we do this very important work.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Circle of Compassion

My readings this morning, in Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters and Desmond and Mpho Tutu's Made for Goodness, both address the fact that it doesn't matter where we start.

Desmond Tutu calls it the Circle of Compassion:

"We may learn from the practice of forgiving others how to forgive ourselves.  Or we may extend the same forgiveness we offer ourselves to other people.  It does not matter where we first set foot on this circle of compassion.  The better we are able to forgive ourselves for our faults and failings, the better we are able to forgive others.  The more we forgive others for their sins and shortcomings, the more we learn to forgive ourselves."

I like the image of the Circle of Compassion, and this concept that it doesn't matter where you begin; you just have to step in.  It feels a bit like a hug to me -- which is why I chose this image today -- an approximation of the Divine Embrace.  And it ties in with that terrifying word, "AS," from the Lord's Prayer -- you know the one: "Forgive us our sins, AS we forgive those who sin against us..."

It's all wrapped up together -- our own faults, of course, and then the faults of others, which are so often the faults we find hardest to forgive in ourselves.  It all gets tangled up together -- which Desmond Tutu not only articulates beautifully, but also personalizes:

"The hard tangle of emotions that I bring to the memory of my father's acts of violence stretches its tentacles over my inability to fully forgive myself for not letting him speak to me that last night.  The more my heart softens toward one, the more it softens toward the other.  Compassion combs the knots of pain out of my memories.  Increasingly I face the man I was and the father I had with forgiveness.  In time we will both be free."

But forgiveness, of course, can be challenging.  You can understand with your head that this person had reasons for their behaviors, but still carry resentment in your heart.  And, oddly enough, you can have let go of the sense of betrayal you felt in your heart and still be carrying the catalog of slights and wounds circling around in your head.

Richard Rohr, in his usual blunt fashion, has a wonderful prayer for that challenge this morning:

"God of Spirit and Truth...I know that no change of heart happens without a change of mind, and no change of mind happens without a change of heart.  Get me started in one place or the other!"

It doesn't matter where we start.  We have only to choose to begin, and we will be led to where we most need to go.  We just need to step into that circle of compassion, and the warmth of love will begin to surround us, awakening a tender heart for both others and ourselves.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The plan was always Love

Meet (if you haven't already) the lowly skunk cabbage. For some reason this plant has always delighted me, so when I found a huge patch of them yesterday outside of Monroe, I just laughed out loud -- they just make me smile.

Photographing skunk cabbage is every bit as counter-intuitive as photographing the sides of rusty metal buildings or (as I also photographed yesterday) weird patterns in the cement floor of outhouses: these do not appear to be God's favored creatures.  For one thing, they really do stink.

But something in me just delights in them.  Just as something in God delights in each of us -- no matter how much our actions stink sometimes.  I know; you were hoping I wouldn't go there; it seems so sort of obvious and tacky.  But both books I'm reading took a look at the Prodigal Son story today, so you know I just had to talk about it. 

Maybe that's why I like the skunk cabbage so much: doesn't that little green stalk inside the yellow remind you a bit of a jack-in-the-pulpit?  So if this cabbage is preaching to you today, well -- I suspect that's the message: God delights in us.  Even the lost and the lowly are precious. 

Which is a little odd, actually: usually I spend my Lenten periods feeling guilty and depressed.  But reading Desmond Tutu as a Lenten discipline doesn't really let you go there: it's just so uplifting!  I'm sure I've mentioned before that I once gave up worrying for Lent.  But this year, it looks like what I'm called to give up is a lifelong habit of guilt and self-recrimination  -- you know the deal: punishing myself so God doesn't have to?  That was really never the plan, you know: the plan was always Love. And doesn't that just flip this whole business of being a "good Christian" upside down?

Here's Richard Rohr's prayer for today; somehow it seems appropriate (his response to the Prodigal Son story):

"Well, good God, if this is true, I've had it all wrong up to now!  Who are you?  And who am I?"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Resisting joy

I'm headed off to the mountains this morning to spend a weekend exploring art: collage, multi-media, acrylic -- it should be fun!

But I'm feeling a bit guilty about it: I had already paid for the weekend when my printer, after some 8 years of robust and uninterrupted service, decided to give up the ghost rather suddenly.  Given that its replacement is costing me twice what I've spent on this weekend, that part of me that is the responsible parent/conscience is shaking her finger and saying, "See, I TOLD you you shouldn't go off and enjoy yourself!"

Thinking about that this morning, I realize there is a very persistent voice in me that is always trying to stifle joy.  I understand now where it comes from, but understanding doesn't seem to stifle the voice, it just helps me resist it -- sometimes.  Which means that whenever joy arises some part of me still gets very anxious and I have to spend a little time talking it down.

Desmond Tutu tells a story in my reading in  Made for Goodness this morning about a time when he was too tired to talk to his father, who then died suddenly later that night.  Bishop Tutu is discussing the guilt he still feels, years later, for having lost that last conversation with his father, and he points out that there is some part of him that feels God shouldn't forgive that mistake.  "If I forgave myself, would it mean that I had taken my transgression too lightly?  Would it show that I hadn't understood the gravity of my fault?  I almost feel annoyed with God.  'How can God forgive me?  God just doesn't understand.  These things are serious!' 

'I know better than God,' says my unforgiving arrogant heart.  When I hear my thoughts, I recognize the disapproving voices of the religious leaders and teachers of Jesus' own community.  Like the critics and carpers described in the introduction to the story of the prodigal son, I am surprised and annoyed that Jesus is welcoming a sinner.  I am especially surprised because that sinner is me."

What unforgiving arrogant hearts we have, to insist that though God forgives others, our own sins are much greater and therefore unforgivable; to live always under the shadow of fear that our particular challenges are surely deserving of guilt and punishment. And how sad it is, that for so many of us those disapproving early childhood experiences and voices -- especially the ones in the "children should be seen and not heard" camp -- have instilled in us a lifetime, not only of guilt, but of resistance to exuberance. 

Those voices are a little louder in me than usual this morning.  But I plan to ask them to quiet down and step aside.  The workshop is bought and paid for; it's time to let it go and just ... enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heavy metal thoughts

Those of you who know me well know that I get a little ecstatic over old broken down boats and rusty metal; I find both truly beautiful, and love to explore that beauty with my camera.

I think it has something to do with my awareness of God's all-embracing love: I take heart, I think, in my own positive response to the old, the rusty, the broken down, because some part of me feels that if I can love those things, God can love me when I am broken and tired.  If I can see the beauty in them, God can see the beauty in me.

Not that it's conscious or anything; I don't have to MAKE myself love these things -- there's something inside me that leaps with joy when I see them.  What's amazing is to think that I am not alone: this particular rusty tower is part of Seattle's Gasworks Park, which is basically a huge rolling green lawn littered with enormous rusty structures: someone -- many someones -- must have agreed that these ancient useless metal creations had value, and should be cherished.

Desmond Tutu's poem in my reading for today speaks to God's determination to cherish us all -- broken, ugly, useless, sinful... whatever we find irredeemable in ourselves or in others is never a deterrent to God.

"Why are you running, running, running?
Why are you hiding away?
You may think that what you have done is beyond my power to forgive.
You may think what you have said makes me shrug and turn away.
You may think that you are lost.
But you are not lost to me.
How could you ever be?
Where are you that I cannot go?
Where have you been that I have not been?
What did you see that I have not seen?
What did you do?
No, it cannot be undone,
The pain cannot be unmade,
The life cannot be un-lived,
The time will not run backward,
You cannot un-choose your choice.
But the pain can be healed,
Your choices can be redeemed,
Your life can be blessed,
And love can bring you home."

I find that all immensely reassuring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Love is the only bridge

The most common substitute for the legitimate suffering of self is the illegitimate suffering of others.

That's the heading of today's offering from Richard Rohr in Wondrous Encounters.  And who wouldn't feel (as we used to say in the fundamentalist church I attended briefly in my late 20's) "convicted" by that?  Is there anyone alive who hasn't at least once responded to personal attack by turning around and either attacking back or attacking someone else?

"Well, God," says Rohr in today's prayer, "I sure do not like to hear this, but show me how it might be true in my life.  Do I also "kill" others as a substitute for those necessary deaths to myself?"

Suffering, the Buddhists tell us, is universal: what matters is how we respond to it.  Sometimes we respond with vengeance and with anger.  My mother always used to say "It takes two to tango."  She was careful to remind me that feelings of injustice are rarely one-sided; that whatever anger we may feel toward others is often masking a reluctance to accept our own culpability; our own unwillingness to change.

But that can be a slippery slope: those of us who were raised not to value ourselves, and to believe that anger is wrong, might find ourselves repeatedly thrust into situations in which the anger and the violence are being directed toward us, though we do not deserve it.  And if we do not have a strong sense of our own value, we may allow that to continue rather than taking a stand and extricating ourselves from the situation.

And then, of course, there is that temptation to be too forgiving, to defend or justify the inappropriate actions of ourselves or others by pointing out the real or imagined slights that drive the behaviors.

This, I think, is one of the trickiest aspects of living: how can we hold that steady path between self-righteous anger and excessive humility?  How do we know when to accept and when to resist?  It's a difficult task, to scan your life, to seek out whatever anger and injustice you might be feeling,  and to examine your conscience and actions for your own contributions to the situation.  Whether we are too quick to anger or too easily cowed, our resistance to seeing our own culpability can blind us, our weakness and self-recriminations can disable us, and the guilt we feel when we finally see can be crippling.

The only solution, really, is love.  If we understand at a deep and complete level that we are loved, it can be easier to accept our own responsibility when we make mistakes, to express our objections to others' behaviors without condemnation, and to understand that each of us -- both the attacker and the attacked -- deserves to be treated with respect.  Love can provide the bridge to healing, both the bridge that allows us to re-connect and the bridge that enables us to walk away.

Though, as a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has heard some of the most devastating stories of human brutality, Desmond Tutu nonetheless continues to reassure us that God's love is universal and unlimited; that there is enough love to create whatever bridges we may need to ease the suffering of the world. God loves and forgives each of us -- both the vengeful and the victim.

"Right now, 
in this moment, 
I hold the hand of my beloved child
My dear one who is blinded by suffering.
In my other hand
I hold the hand of my beloved child
My dear one whose savagery and shame
hide me from sight.
But I am here
beside you both,
Between, within, and all around you both.
I AM."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trusting the journey

"What I discovered was that failure could be a bridge across the chasm that pride had created."
-- Desmond Tutu, Made for Goodness

I loved this quotation this morning, and love, too, the way it pairs with Richard Rohr's prayer this morning from Wondrous Encounters:

"Humble God, make us like you.  You do not lord it over us, but wait patiently for us to change.  May we do the same with our brothers and sisters on the journey."

Having spent time both last night and this morning admonishing my husband for his involvement in a organization which I cannot trust, I finally realized that our roles are perfectly reversed from a similar discussion we had some 20 years ago when he questioned MY involvement in an organization HE couldn't trust.

In the end each of us has spoken out of love, and a genuine conviction of the other's honesty and innocence.  He was certainly proven right -- my organization left me with a sense of failure and betrayal, and I have little doubt that his organization, too, will give him that unwelcome experience of failure and betrayal.  But for me that experience brought with it huge gifts; I just have to trust that will prove true for him as well.  We are learning to be patient with each other on the journey; I suspect that's all that we can ask...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mirroring God

I spent much of last Thursday staring, transfixed, at this lovely wall hanging.  I'm not quite certain why I found it so delicious -- I am notorious for not liking that mustard color that forms so much of the background here -- but I just loved it.

It helped, of course, that it was hanging behind Cynthia Bourgeault as she delivered, first a workshop on Centering Prayer, and then an amazing presentation of her work on Mary Magdalene.  I would have been spellbound anyway, even without the beautiful wallhanging.

But beauty helps; it definitely helps.  I can taste the lovely colors and enchanting details of this design in my heart, though I don't quite understand how that works.  And as an artist, I like to think that some of my art can create that warming awareness of God's delicious presence in the hearts of others.

I forget, sometimes, that that's the job; get caught up in the fun of noticing and shooting "cool stuff."  But when it's right, when it's something that feeds the heart of the viewer, it feeds my heart as well.  It's as if, looking at it, we can see the presence of God, and that awakens in us the feeling of the presence of God within us.  Perhaps it's our mirror neurons at work?  I found myself wondering about that as I read Richard Rohr's prayer for today's Lenten Lesson in  Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent :

"Mirror me like a magnet, good God.  Don't let me be drawn into false, unhappy, or accusing faces.  You are always and forever the Good Parent, and I long to see your face."  Perhaps this is the root of how we choose our friends, how we treat our families, how we choose the art with which we surround ourselves: we know how natural it is to mirror our surroundings, and so we do our best to fill our immediate surroundings with images of God's goodness and beauty.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Changes, changes...

I came downstairs early yesterday morning to find the supermoon beaming through my living room window; quite lovely.  It was there again this morning, though partially hidden behind the trees.  It didn't capture my attention quite as much, however, as the discovery that we had a high tide, a low barometer, and a strong north wind -- a particularly challenging configuration for our beach.

I'd slept through the worst of it, but even an hour later the waves were crashing over the logs.  Normally I ignore the fact that my camera can actually take videos, but this morning I decided to shoot the effects of the wind and waves, just to see if I could. 

The results were not all that arresting,  but I spent the rest of the morning teaching myself how to edit video and pair it with a poem; fun!  It does mean that most of the insights I might have gained, either from today's sermon or my readings, have dissipated; they only appear briefly in the poem you see at right.  Today, I believe, as we deepen our journey into Lent, is about change; about what might be lost or gained when fate subjects us to the change we never quite seem capable of choosing for ourselves.

I'm particularly conscious of this today, as the transitions in our household have speeded up considerably in the last week: in a very short period of time my daughter has changed her primary relationship, found a job, and found an apartment; she and her former boyfriend (now simply her best friend) will be moving out within the week to their new digs in Seattle.  I'm thrilled, and sad, and curious, all at the same time; wondering how she will deal with all these seismic shifts in her life; wondering, too, what changes they herald for those of us who are left behind...  Time will tell!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On the connection between attention and goodness

My photo files were open to images from Shaw Island this morning, and this one caught my eye: the light, I thought, was lovely: it speaks so clearly of drowsy summer mornings.

I am thinking today -- inspired, of course, by my readings in Desmond Tutu and Richard Rohr -- about goodness, and specifically about the difference between being or doing good, and goodness itself.  It's really like they're on different planes: goodness itself has an extra dimension beyond being and doing.

It's a bit like the difference between natural light and artificial light, I think.  Both are light; and artificial light can be beautiful.  But it doesn't have the depth we see here -- partly because the source is never as distant and pervasive.

Perhaps that's the key to goodness as well: being or doing good are conscious human acts, and we are the source.   But the source of Goodness lies outside -- or perhaps inside -- our selves, in God, which gives it more depth and dimension?

We humans, however much we may have been born to goodness, are inclined to put ourselves and our pleasure first.  As Richard Rohr says, "Unless there is some pressure, social or parental, pushing the infant beyond the pleasure principle, human nature tends to largely take the path of least resistance.  We really do need prods, goads, ideals to help us think outside of the little boxes we all create for ourselves."

But Desmond Tutu takes those prods and goals beyond mere laws and rules and connects them to that larger dimension of goodness:

"The practices of goodness -- noticing, savoring, thinking, enjoying, and being thankful -- are not hard disciplines to learn.  But they are disciplines, and they take practice.  The habits that allow wrong to become entrenched  -- mindlessness or tuning out, inattentiveness, the busyness of doing to distraction, and an ungrateful heart -- can take hold so easily.

Each habit that allows wrong to become entrenched feeds from the others.  Our lives are busy and active.  There is barely a moment to rest.  Doing feeds the distraction that makes us inattentive.  When we carve out time to really rest and be restored, we also restore our ability to be attentive."

And downtime in front of the television, he adds, does not count as rest and restoration.  "Zoning out -- an activity usually accomplished with the aid of a television set -- does not reinvigorate us... We think, "I am busy, tired and stressed, so I am entitle to a respite.  I will zone out in front of the television."  And we continue to be tired, busy and stressed.  Real respite and restoration foster gratitude.  When we allow ourselves to really rest, we can be thankful for the blessing of honest fatigue.  When we experience full  restoration we have the energy to honestly enjoy -- to think and to savor.  Rest and rejuvenation allow us to really pay attention.  And this attention is a key discipline for the practices of goodness."

Hmm.  I had not quite realized that was where this post was going.  And I confess, though I mostly only watch one or two shows a week and a few Netflix, I'm reluctant to give them up.  But I suspect these are important words to ponder: what new spirit of goodness might be awakened in me if, instead of spending an hour in front of the tube, I spent that hour just... resting?  And what would that look like?


Friday, March 18, 2011

The challenge behind the choosing

One of the intriguing side effects of Lent -- for me, at least -- is that I become very aware of my choices.  I mean, let's face it, we're all making hundreds, maybe even thousands of choices a day.  Every minute there's a choice, though of course some are more obvious than others.

I can choose to leap out of bed and rush downstairs to feed and walk the dog, or I can choose to linger long enough to give my husband a hug before I leave.  I can choose whether or not to meditate (though the chances are slim these days that I would choose not to meditate: I need all the practice of letting go that I can get!).  I can choose to greet this beggar, to offer her food, to offer her a coin, to take her picture or to pass her by; it's all my choice.

I can choose how to spend my time, my money, and my energy -- and hearing the stories of Japan, I am forced to realize again just what a luxury that is.  So with this gift, what is it that I choose?  Are my choices good ones? Bishop Tutu is speaking to this in my reading from Made for Goodness this morning.

"Not all our choices are ... historical.  They are, nonetheless, consequential.  Choice is a freedom each person has.  God invests each of us with the freedom to choose.  It is a very real freedom.  We have the freedom to choose right.  But that would be meaningless if there were not also the possibility that we would choose wrong... We are not the props of a celestial puppet master.  We are creatures with agency.  We are creatures who can affect the course of creation."

I don't know about you, but I've spent much of my life finding this whole concept a little scary: what if I choose wrong?  How many wrong choices can I make before God just gives up on me and turns away?  I've become conscious of that underlying question this Lent, as well.  And I seem to have decided, this time around, to have made the walk through Lent less about the choices (though I can't help observing them) than about paying attention.

And what is it I'm learning to attend to?  It's not just about the choices.  I'm trying to awaken to the emotions around the choices; trying to re-pattern myself to step beyond the fear (what if I make the wrong choice?) to the trust that lies beneath.  Partly that's a trust in me -- that I am basically good, and wise and thoughtful; that if I make a choice that some part of me deems self-indulgent, I can evaluate that wisely and assess the truth of that.  And partly I'm attempting to train myself to trust (a) that God will still love me if I occasionally screw up, and (b) that God gave me the power to choose because God trusts and respects me.

Which brings me to Richard Rohr's prayer in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent  today:

"Creator God, could it be true that you give my my human dignity and significance by asking so much of me?  Do you respect me so much to hope that I could actually be like you?"

The freedom of choice is a huge gift.  But it's time I let go of this sense that God is an angry and vindictive parent, just waiting to punish me for bad choices.  It's time to invite this feeling into my heart and bones: that God is in fact a loving and wise companion, walking beside me, watching, encouraging, and rejoicing as I accept responsibility and learn to choose wisely; learn to act out of love rather than out of fear.

Some part of me wonders if that's enough of a challenge for Lent -- but of course that's the same fearful child in me that fears I might be doing this wrong.  I think it's time to tell her to take a nap and stop worrying...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Seconding the motion

"Did you know that you only ask for what you have already begun to experience?  Otherwise it would never occur to you to ask for it.  

Further, God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give it to us!  We are always just seconding the motion, but the first motion is always and forever from God  The fact that you prayed at all means God just started giving to you a second ago  Isn't that wonderful to know?"

-- Richard Rohr, Marvelous Encounters

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The only way is love

Most of us humans, I suspect, have ingrained in us a predilection for signs and omens.  We are, by nature, a superstitious lot. So it shouldn't be surprising that many conversations these days center, not just around the horrific devastation in Japan, and how best to help, but also about the implications of that disaster "for us" (whoever "us" might be).

There are so many questions here: Are we as well prepared as the Japanese people were?  Probably not.  Would we handle it as gracefully as they have? Probably not.  Do we really get how incredibly vulnerable we all are?  Probably not.  Do we have any idea what to do with what we're learning here; any idea where to go or how to proceed?  Probably not.  And how can we possibly help?  Could anything we offer or do even begin to make a difference?

Jesus says, in Luke 11:29, our Bible reading for today,  that the sign of Jonah is the only sign that he will give.  "This is indeed unsatisfying," says Richard Rohr in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, "For it is not a sign at all, but more an anti-sign.  It demands that we release ourselves into the belly of darkness before we can know what is essential.  It insists that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control... that we get to the right shore by God's grace more than right action on our part. It is clearly a very disturbing and unsatisfying sign."

This idea of the sign of Jonah seems all too relevant as we mourn all those thousands of bodies washed out to sea by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  What on earth can we do with this knowledge?  How can anything we do even begin to assuage this terrible loss?  And how can we possibly hope to protect ourselves and our loved ones when faced with the reality that we are not in control?

Perhaps the most important message for all of us who have no idea which way to turn, who stand paralyzed with fear and helplessness in the face of this calamity, is that there really is only One Way to cope with this or any other aspect of life.  And that way is Love.  "Ask me any question," says Desmond Tutu in Made for Goodness, "My answer is Love."

"Ask me any question.
My answer is love.
When you want to hear my voice,
Listen for love.
How can you delight me?
I will tell you:
The tough, unbreakable, unshakable love.
Are you looking for me?
You will find me in love.
Would you know my secrets?
There is only one:
Do you want to know me?
Do you yearn to follow me?
Do you want to reach me?
Seek and serve love."

Ask me any question:
The answer, my friend, is Love.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The love is already there

I am always drawn to faces -- our house is filled with masks -- so when I spotted this one in a garden shop, I immediately grabbed my camera.

What I like about it is the directness of the gaze: I see neither condemnation nor adulation, but simply... acceptance.  Mercy. A spark of humor. And maybe a little expectation, as well.  Which makes me think about my readings this morning.

First, of today's prayer from Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent: "Good God, keep me forever inside of your abundant and generous flow of mercy, toward me, through me, in me and from me."

And then, of these words from Made for Goodness:

"I know that the space is very small between "I am doing it in response to love" and "I am doing it to be loved."  But in that space resides the difference between joy-filled peace and anxious despair.  ... When we slide across the threshold from living our goodness to "doing good" in order to "be good," we work in the mistaken conviction that what we are doing will enable us to merit God's love or that it will, perhaps, increase God's love for us.  But God already loves us perfectly.  There is no task we must complete to earn God's love.  God already loves us perfectly, God cannot love us one iota more."

I was pretty cranky yesterday -- mostly due to lack of sleep -- and yet, for my book group, I had to read a chapter about joy and curiosity.  And all I could think was how far from joy I felt.  This morning, with a record nine hours of sleep under my belt, I can see I'm in a much better place: better able to feel and remember joy,  and better positioned to ask myself: how much of what do I do is in response to love, and how much is in order to be loved?  I am thankful I can say that meditation and blogging are pure response -- which must be why I love them so much.  Photography is a response as well -- and equally satisfying. 

But there are other things, the things that sometimes have a way of overwhelming me, that may not have such pure motives. Perhaps we should all be more conscientious about asking that question:  Am I doing this in response to love, or to gain love?  Because Desmond Tutu is right -- we just forget: the love is already there.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today I am a goat

Today's prayer in Wondrous Encounters is this:

"Loving God, allow me to be a sheep at least once in a while, and never let me forget that most of my life I have been a goat."

Rohr is referring here to our Lenten Gospel reading for today (Matthew 25:31 - 46), particularly the part about God dividing us into sheep and goats and the sheep getting to sit at God's right hand.

Today there is no danger of forgetting my goatish nature, because yesterday I screwed up.  I had gone to rehearsal Thursday evening for Schola Nova, the women's compline choir that sings once a month on the island.  I had even written down our scheduled performance time on the calendar for yesterday.

But it was a busy weekend -- I had an article and a paper due and stories to edit for a friend, and surprise guests off and on all day yesterday -- and, well... I completely spaced the performance.  Didn't even think about it until I glanced at the calendar at around 11pm to see when the vet appointment was for this morning.

It was bad.  And moreso because our numbers were already thin for this performance.  So although I sent an apology to the director (who is a dear friend -- let's just add to the guilt levels here) and fell asleep around midnight, I woke at 3:30 and tossed and turned until finally at 6 I gave up and came downstairs.

I hate screwing up.  Hate being a goat.  And even Desmond Tutu's words today -- "As human beings we may tarnish the sheen or rend the fabric of our own goodness... But because we are human, we cannot completely rip out and destroy every vestige of the godliness by which and for which we were made.  We cannot alter our essence. We are made by God, who is goodness itself.  We are made like God.  We are made for goodness." -- fail to reassure me.

So I went into meditation feeling pretty grumpy and uncentered; riddled with shame and distaste for my goatliness.  But there were gifts to be found.  The first was a memory from my song bank -- the tune and lyrics from an old song called "I'm yours, Lord:"

"I'm yours Lord
Everything I've got
Everything I am
Everything I'm not.

I'm yours Lord
Try me now and see
See if I can be
Completely yours

Somehow, hearing that song in my head, I was reminded that we bring everything to God, not just our good parts, but our bad parts, too.  Which somehow made it easier to remember that God doesn't kick the goats away, he just puts them on his left side; they're still loved. 

And then I found myself thinking about sheep and goats and... well, frankly, I really have always been more of a goat.  I think of sheep as obedient, timid, not particularly bright... but goats -- well, goats are crazy and fun to watch and unpredictable and irritating.  I'm not even sure I'm wild enough to be a goat.  But I'm not all that proud of my more sheepish moments.  So maybe being a goat isn't SO terrible.  Maybe it's a good thing to be a blend of both.

And finally I came to this picture -- which I've always loved.  Yes, this is a goat.  But who could resist that face, that direct gaze, the innocence and honesty and, yes, a little stubbornness there.  So if I can love this little goat, doesn't that mean that even at my goatly worst I am still loveable?

So, yes, I screwed up.  And there will be consequences, I'm sure.  But I can't just give up and toss my goatly self into the briar patch.  For one thing, goats probably LIKE briar patches!  But the important thing is to accept, apologize, and move on.  Yes, we all have our goatish moments.  But we just have to remember: nothing is irredeemable, and nothing is unforgiveable.  And nothing ever separates us from the Love of God.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Made for good -- or evil?

Today, in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, looking at the stories of Jesus' temptation in the desert, Richard Rohr points out that "We can only be tempted to something that is good on some level, partially good, or good for some, or just good for us and not for others.  Temptations are always about "good" things, or we could not be tempted... Most people's daily ethical choices are not between total good and total evil, but between various shades of good."

So the issue, he says, is really about discernment, and his prayer prompt for us today is this: "God, help me to distinguish my wild beasts from my angels.  Help me to see how I often confuse one with the other."

Since we're talking about goodness, then, it seemed appropriate to go again to Desmond and Mpho Tutu's book, Made for Goodness.  And there, despite all the horror he has seen, Desmond Tutu asserts, "We are fundamentally good.  When you come to think of it, that's who we are at our core.  Why else do we get so outraged by wrong?"

"You and I," he goes on to say, "... are tuned to the key of goodness.  This is not to deny evil, it is to face evil squarely.  And we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word....To be hateful and mean is operating against the deepest yearnings that God places in our hearts.  Goodness is not just our impulse.  It is our essence."

"What difference does goodness make?" he continues.  "Goodness changes everything.  If we are at core selfish, cruel, heartless creatures, we need to fight these inclinations at every turn and often need strong systems of control to prevent us from revealing our true (and quite ugly) selves.  But if we are fundamentally good, we simply need to rediscover this true nature and act accordingly... What is the quality of life on our planet?  It is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions.  Each kindness enhances the quality of life.  Each cruelty diminishes it."

One of my projects for my class on Metaphor at Antioch was to read and report on George Lakoff's book, The Political Mind. And probably the most significant learning I got from that book is that people -- at least in this country -- have a tendency to view the world, and especially government, through one of two filters: a strict father filter, or a nurturing parent filter. At the heart of these filters lie some basic beliefs about human nature.

If you believe that humans are born selfish and evil, then the responsibility of the parent (and government) is to be, as Tutu says, an authority figure: to fight evil inclinations at every turn, and to teach our children rules about right and wrong, to insist upon obedience and discipline, to punish them when they stray, and to instill in them the importance of self-reliance.

If, on the other hand, you believe humans are born to be good, then the responsibility of the parent (and government) is to nurture: to respond with empathy, to awaken our children to their true nature, training them to be aware of our mutual interdependence and to take responsibility for their own needs and those of others; raising them in an atmosphere of mutual respect and empowering them so they can act for good.

There are a lot of tangents I could embark on at this point, and most of them have to do with the polarities around good and evil.  But the question I really want to ask here is this: how do you view yourself?  Do you trust, with the Tutus, that you yourself are essentially good?  Do you nurture yourself, respond with empathy and respect to the challenges you face within yourself?  Do you empower yourself to act for good?

Or are you your own most powerful authority figure?  Do you insist on obedience and discipline; do you persist in punishing yourself for your mistakes?

And how much of that attitude -- the one with which you treat yourself and your temptations -- emerges out of your understanding of God?  Is your God a strict father figure, or a nurturing parent?

I ask these questions because -- well, if we're dealing with issues around temptation and discernment; if we're trying to learn to distinguish between the angels and wild beasts  -- especially those that live within our own interior deserts -- our answers can make a significant difference in our choices.  Is Lent, for you, about deprivation and sinfulness; about self-denial and punishment when we succumb?  Or is it about awakening to our own essential goodness?  You get to decide.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Finding peace in incarnation

In today's reading from Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent , Rohr talks again about "fasting from the right things" -- because today's passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 58: 9b - 14) echoes yesterday's questions about what we need to be releasing in our lives.

After talking about fasting from unkindness and choosing justice, he moves to the Gospel passage (Luke 5:27 - 32) and explains that Jesus is reminding us that any "definition of 'holiness as separation from' is entirely wrong."  Jesus, says Rohr, "has come to transform people, not to exclude them.  He has come for the seeming losers, and not to create a country club for the supposed winners."

I like this: I hear echoes of the Ash Wednesday sermon; this important concept of oneness and connection.

But then our prayer prompt for today is this: "God, where am I trapped and unable to see it?"

For some reason I couldn't quite seem to make the transition from the readings to the prayer.  I sat with it for a few minutes, and then, because I still had half a cup of coffee left, I decided to pick up the book my church and our diocese are reading for Lent: Desmond and Mpho Tutu's Made for Goodness.

And there it was again, this issue of separation, in the preface: "In the past our survival depended on recognizing and being suspicious of difference.  If people were in and of our group, we could assume good intent.  If people were not in and of our group, we would be safest to assume evil intentions.  Vestiges of that belief are retained in our behavior... but the atomized homogeneous groups that existed in the past are no longer the truth of our world.  Our planet will not survive if we cling to the verities of the past.  We must recognize that we are part of one group, one family -- the human family.  Our survival as a planet depends upon it."

Somehow Tutu's words help me understand that we build our own traps; that we are trapped by our own sense of separation, of "other-ness," by all the ways we exclude or denigrate  or avoid those who are "not like us." Exploring this further in my meditation, I could see that I am trapped by my fears of "not-okay-ness," by my own shoulds and constraints, which keep me from understanding fully how deeply I am loved, and how much I, too, am a part of the universal oneness.

But some of that is also entangled with the fact that I struggle with a sense of otherness inside myself.  If I look at yesterday's post, I can clearly see that the parts of me that strive for calmness and oneness, the Buddha parts, are almost contemptuous of what I think of as the incarnate parts of me, the parts that are fully engaged in the world and therefore susceptible to fear and longing and snideness and all the other challenges of being human. 

And now I understand why I was so drawn to this little Buddha yesterday.  It's because I am so used to seeing buddhas -- and Buddhism -- as a way of finding peace through separating from the petty worldly concerns that make up such an important part of my life.  But it's not really (or doesn't have to be)  an either/or proposition.  The tenderness implicit in this image unites that Buddhist piece with the concept of incarnation.  Perhaps I need to be less ashamed of my humanness.  And perhaps the Holy Spirit -- "who broods over creation like a mother over her children" -- is every bit as present when I am exploring my Buddha nature as when I am pursuing the path of Christ.

Somehow I need to integrate these important facets of my faith life -- Christianity and Buddhism, "in the world and not of the world," incarnate and other-worldly.  I suspect that in working toward that integration I may finally come to realize at the very deepest heart of my being, as Joyce said in her wonderful comment yesterday, "If you knew Who walked beside you at all times, on this path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again."

Friday, March 11, 2011

I can't seem to give up worrying...

Today's reading from Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent invites us into this prayer: "God, what is it that you want me to let go of this Lent?  Is it other than what I think?"

Any meditation at all on this question immediately brings me to a sort of self-check for ... well, maybe not sinfulness.  Weaknesses?  I do find myself asking what are those semi-secret vices that get in the way of faith... Television, the computer, junk reading...

But all that lovely introspection got interrupted when my daughter came downstairs to tell me about the tsunami warning.  And, of course, it being morning and me not being really fully awake yet, I panicked. 

On an intellectual level I get that the risk here is low; a simple look at the geography of Washington State tells you any waves would have lots of time to calm before finding their way to my little house on the beach.  But my emotional responses were rolling in like those waves we weren't likely to get, so I found myself insisting on driving one of my housemates in to the ferry (he usually takes his car).  Just so I could be on higher ground.  I couldn't convince my daughter or my husband to come along.

And my housemate wasn't pleased.

And of course the waves still hadn't hit the coast by the time I returned -- and there's still no sign of any shift in the waters here. 

But I am immediately reminded of a conversation with a friend earlier in the week.  "What kind of faith is this?" she asked.  "I talk about cultivating calm and peace and being centered and trusting, and yet -- at the slightest shift I go off the deep end."  Yup.  Me, too.  And it's hard not to flagellate myself for not trusting -- or at least, for not trusting the intelligent voices (including my own) that tell me I have nothing to fear.

My husband and I both remember the year I gave up worrying for Lent.  Everytime the fear started to kick in (our girls were very young at the time) I would close my eyes and picture myself wrapping up the fear and carrying it to the feet of Christ.  It actually worked wonders: 40 days of practicing that one and I was pretty much a changed person.

Umm.  Looks like I've regressed: maybe I should try that again for Lent this year...

In the meantime I need to gather up what faith and trust I do have and use it to fuel some Tonglen practice.  I think I need to do some serious praying for the people of Japan...  And it's hard not to worry what this is going to do to world economy...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On making choices in a non-dual world

The message at yesterday's Ash Wednesday service seemed clear: Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust is not just a death sentence: it can serve as a gentle reminder that we are part of the earth, and the earth is part of us; that we are connected to all of creation, not only now, but also before we are born and after we are gone from life as we know it.

It's really one of those both/and concepts: yes, life is short and we will die, AND life is infinite, and some part of us will always be connected to all that is. Richard Rohr's words this morning in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent touch on that curious tension.  He's talking about the importance of choices, but also about non-duality.  It doesn't seem like those two things can co-exist, does it?

For me, I think, these concepts are operating on different levels.  On the one level, I am making choices all the time, every day -- and I would like to hope that for the most part they are good choices; choices that contribute to my own growth and to that of the people whose lives I touch.

And on another level, I am trying to hold a vision of non-duality; to avoid polarizing around issues, and to refrain from demonizing those whose views seem opposite to my own.  I do my best (and this is a choice) to remember that we are, at heart, all one; all connected.

Thinking about this in meditation today (still thoroughly under the influence of my course on metaphor, for which I'm now writing my final paper) I found myself thinking about left-wing and right-wing.  As a fairly left-wing sort of person, both in religion and politics, I often find myself shaking my head at the theory and theology of my right-wing compatriots.

But I don't know of any birds that can fly with one wing.  So doesn't that mean we should accept that we need both wings, and that we are connected to the same bird?

It's a bit like this image, I suspect.  It looks like two roads are diverging in this wood.  But it's the same wood, the same grass and earth and trees and skies.  And I happen to know (because I created the picture) that the reality is that these two paths are exactly the same -- the right formed from the left as a mirror image, rather like the way Eve was created from Adam.

The one significant difference, that bench, was revealed when I erased a part of the path on the right: does that mean our differences only show up when some part of us has died, or is not realized?  That each of us has all the pieces, but only some are visible?

Hmm.  Something to ponder...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stepping into the fog

It's Ash Wednesday, and this morning I am embarking on a new set of readings: Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent

Today's reading says this: "You are the desiring of God.  God desires through you and longs for Life and Love through you and in you.  Allow it, speak it, and you will find your place in the universe of things... Make that deep and hidden desire conscious, deliberate, and wholehearted."

And then he invites us to pray, beginning with this phrase: "God, give me the desire to desire what you want me to desire."  So I took that phrase into my meditation -- and ended up in tears: so much longing, and such a deep-felt yearning to know and be what I was born to know and be...

And so today the poem came first, and came as a prayer.  Because there are days when the road ahead looks like this one: lovely, but very foggy; indistinct.  It's hard to stand at the top of what may prove to be a downhill slope and step out into the unknown.  But if you notice, the immediate way is actually quite clear: just stay open and listen -- it is enough to just take one step at a time: don't rush, or you may lose your way.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From pancakes to relationship

Growing up Presbyterian, I don't remember much fuss being made about Lent.  I understood the idea of Mardi Gras, of course, but never quite knew why or when that night of revelry was taking place.

Episcopalians , on the other hand, take Lent very seriously -- which means that, tomorrow being Ash Wednesday, all over the world there are Episcopal (and probably Lutheran and Catholic, too) churches holding pancake suppers tonight in honor of Shrove Tuesday.

I believe the thought is that having pancakes for dinner is ridiculously indulgent, and this is our last chance to indulge our appetite for sweets before giving them up for Lent.  Because, of course, that's what people mostly give up for Lent.

Not that that's a bad thing; it never hurts to give your sweet tooth a break, get it back under control.  But I do remember someone explaining once that the point of Lent is to build a closer relationship with Christ.  So you might think about giving up things that get in the way of that relationship -- which could be candy, but also might be other kinds of indulgences: retail therapy, drugs or alcohol, romance novels, over-eating, worrying, watching ESPN, always being busy or in a hurry, workaholism... all the things we do when we're bored or lonely and don't want to deal or even think.

Or you might take on things that enhance that relationship (like reading the Bible, or some other inspirational book, or walking the Labyrinth, or meditating, or volunteering ... or going to church).

Uh-oh; I feel you getting restless.  I said those C words -- Christ and Church.  Okay, so hang in here a minute longer.

If you're one of the zillions of people who may have been raised a Christian but ... well, even the word "Christ" makes you feel a little queasy and anxious -- well, that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the idea of a little discipline.  You could think of it as an opportunity to release some bad habit -- at least you'd be in the company of lots of other people who have taken ona  challenge: there must be some sort of cosmic support energy out there when all that giving up is going on.  Or you could think about taking on a good habit.

I'm thinking that maybe instead of building a relationship with Christ specifically, it could be just about building relationship; about setting aside the things that get in the way of our being caring and attentive to those around us.

Maybe we could hang out in the living room after dinner instead of running back to our computers to check our email -- or even spend a day a week away from the computer.  Maybe we could invite someone to coffee, or to go on a walk.  Maybe we could go to church and stay after for coffee hour.  Maybe we could notice that a neighbor, or someone we work with, seems unusually upset or stressed, and offer to listen or help. Or maybe we could even work on our relationship with ourselves; give ourselves some conscious quiet time, and listen to our own hurts and dreams.

So, yeah -- tonight is for indulging yourself: have pancakes for dinner; maybe ice cream and brownies for dessert.  But tomorrow -- that's your chance to step outside your comfort zone, try something new, take on a new habit, build a new relationship or nourish a faltering old relationship.  And if that happens to be with Christ... well, that's okay, too.  But shhhhhh -- don't tell anyone!

Monday, March 7, 2011

In a world without love

When I came across this photo this morning, it reminded me of an aspect of Hell that CS Lewis described in his classic book, The Great Divorce. Lewis postulated that the residents of Hell would have a tendency to get irritated with their neighbors. And each time that happened, they would pack up and move farther and farther away. 

I was left with an image in my head similar to this one; a flat world, stretching on into infinity, sparsely populated, with the houses close in all abandoned as people created increasingly isolated existences for themselves.

It is inevitable that people living and working in close quarters will find themselves getting irritated by annoying habits. It's all too easy to react by closing off and shutting out that which we declare to be intolerable; to leave the relationship, the neighborhood, the church or the job (ignoring, of course, the all-too-likely possibility that what we find distasteful in others is merely an echo of what we despise in ourselves). 

There can be extraordinary grace and growth when we can step outside our petty differences to forgive and accept the foibles of others.  But the only way we can do that is through love: love of both ourselves and of others.  Which brings to mind something I read long ago in a short story of JD Salinger's entitled "For Esme with Love and Squalor." 

I don't quite remember the context any more, but there was something about a soldier finding a copy of a book or story by Dostoevski, with lines reading, "Fathers and Teachers, I ponder: What is Hell?"  And scrawled in the margin beside those lines were the words "Hell is the suffering of being unable to Love."  Yes, we can shut out all those who do not think and act as we would prefer them to.  But in cutting ourselves off from others we may also be cutting ourselves off from love -- and, over time, that can lead to a pretty lonely existence.

Uh-oh: the lyric machine in my head just went off again: guess I just have to share this video...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the Awesomeness of God

Today, this last Sunday before Lent begins, is traditionally the Feast of the Transfiguration; you know, the one where Jesus and his disciples go up to the mountaintop and Moses and Elijah come to stand on either side of Jesus and the voice of God booms out and all the disciples throw themselves to the ground in terror and Peter is, like, ooh, let's build three booths, one for each of these Holy Dudes...

Years ago I heard a sermon on this subject that focused on Peter's ridiculous attempt to try to contain and manage all that power, and still today I hear that part and I grin: so typical, I think, and so human, and so foolish; he SO doesn't get this.

But today's sermon did a wonderful and somewhat terrifying job of reminding me that I am not so different from Peter.

So much of my work these last few years has been about honoring what Alice Howells calls "the Divine Guest," the Divine presence that lives within each of us.  I do believe that's important work; we need to become aware of that Presence within, and need to release the entailments of that old assumption that God is wholly Other, some big white-bearded guy way far away in the sky.

As I sat in my metaphor class on Friday, listening to all the presentations in which people were exploring the metaphors in use in their own lives, I kept hearing these themes around polarity, separation, and reconciliation.  We grow used to thinking -- and most of us want to think -- that there is one single answer; that there is a right way and a wrong way; that once we "get" it, somehow everything will fall into place and become clear; that it's an either/or question. 

But the problem is that there really isn't One Right Answer.  Because really it's a both/and.  The beauty of it is, it's ALL TRUE.  God is big and out there AND Jesus AND Buddha AND in me AND in you -- even though sometimes that doesn't seem to reconcile and we can't make sense of it.  That's the glory of the Trinity -- it reminds you that there are more dimensions here than we can ever fully comprehend.

But of course I've been (after a lifetime of living in that God is Other and All-Powerful space) busily building a little tent within myself for Godness.  We could characterize that as a noble enterprise, and worthy, which it is; we need to be attentive and attuned to that inner voice of Oneness.  But sitting there in church this morning, picturing the hugeness and terror of a giant thunderstorm, immediately overhead, I got again the awesome power of the God who terrified me so as a child.  And realized my little tent of Godness bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Peter's booth: I've been hoping to contain something that cannot be contained, trying to shelter myself from the scariness of all that power.

I grew up thinking I must be truly blessed.  Because the Bible says "Blessed are those who fear God" -- and I've have always found God to be a terrifying concept/being.  Listening this morning, I realize I still do.  But the good news is this: it's okay to be scared.  It's okay if you're not always in control.  Terror carries gifts with it that I am only beginning to understand.  The tender hand that caressed my cheek into being also hurled these rock cliffs into the waters and split them asunder; it is totally appropriate to find that awesome and overwhelming.

But look at the beauty of this rock, and know that beauty to be grounded in you as well.  We are the rock, and the lichen; we are the leaf that flutters into the crevasse and the surf that pounds the granite into smoothness.  There is power out there, and there is power in here, and power everywhere in between. 

A friend sent me this breathtaking slideshow from the BBC this morning, which helps to clarify how very much otherness and likeness there is in the world.  And watching it, I could hear Rich Mullins singing "Our God is an Awesome God,"  so I went to YouTube to see if I could find it for you.  The videos that feature the original recording are kind of tacky, so at the risk of losing the musical clarity I will post instead a video of one of his live performances: what it loses in musical quality it gains as a reflection on today's learnings...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A wing and a prayer

Wandering through my files this morning, I found again this wonderful image, taken a year or two ago of the reflections in my neighbor's window.

I think it calls to me today because I've just been listening to Desert Spirit, a long-favored recording of Native American flute music.  That music awakens in me a hunger for the stark intense colors of New Mexico -- which then in turn reminds me I spent most of yesterday in class, seated across from a woman who flies up from Santa Fe to attend our courses. 

Yesterday she was wearing Santa Fe colors, and her scarf and earrings fed my eyes as I sat listening to all our final projects, my classmates' explorings of the workings of metaphors in the arenas of faith and education, marketing and activism, environment and corporations.

It was a wonderful day, and a delightful and inspiring conclusion to an amazing course.  And as usual -- I'm learning not to be surprised by this -- I suspect I learned way more about myself than about the subject.  Going back to school has been an incredible blessing... but I confess I'm grateful I have only one course to go: this work is really intense and challenging, but I'm itching to carry my learnings into some other sphere.

But in the meantime, let me share with you this wonderful quotation from Annie Dillard (in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book I read and loved some 30 years ago): My teacher sent it to me after reading my final paper, and I think it perfectly captures what I have come to know and love about my excursions with my camera:

"I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.

I think one of the biggest blessings of my time at Antioch has been the way it has worked to unite all the disparate parts of me -- past and present, left and right brain, heart and mind, masculine and feminine....  I feel as if I have been tucked under that enormous wing; been cherished and adored and taught again to fly; as if the promise of those wonderful lines in the Episcopal Compline service have finally been realized:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit;
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.

Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye;
Hide us under the shadow of your wings.

... which brings me to this, my favorite prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Consider the lilies

I loved these words today, from The Dove in the Stone:

"I plucked at the grass and heaved a big sigh.  Why was it all so hard, so difficult?  Why the wars and killing, the drugs, pollution, and AIDS?  What could any one person do to help change things for the better?

It was hard to grasp what seemed to be the answer: 'You can only work on yourself.  Start there.  Your consciousness or that of anybody else's is like the widow's mite -- it is all you have to give.  Nothing is wasted!  But that little bit gets added to all the other little bits, and slowly and inexorably, the light increases and feeds the aura about the earth.  It is absolutely true that by working on your own shadow, you withdraw it from the collective pool of destructive and unconscious energy. So take heart!"

And this, too, I found encouraging:

"We might be mistaken in always thinking that we have to struggle and achieve our growth.  The secret of inner growth might be better seen as an allowing rather than a frantic fighting for perfection -- a cracking or perforating of our shell, allowing the light to begin streaming out through us... I picture being sort of a sieve for God.

This would mean a surrendering of arrogance and a submission of the conscious ego to the Divine Guest within us.  After all, Christ did not choose perfected people to be his disciples; quite the contrary.  And he was the one to remind us to 'consider the lilies -- neither do they toil nor spin, yet surely Solomon in all his glory is not clad like one of these.'  

In other words,, trust the process; don't put so many unnecessary obstacles in the way.  Look, even at yourself, with a humorous tolerance and a loving eye.  A loving eye then would extend to people and situations, to seeing beauty in the very fragility and even the ugliness in the world.

Take heart, allow the light to flow through your cracks, and have a good day...