Mustering Gratitude

Everything was perfect… a sunny afternoon in August, the scenic-byway along the Mississippi, light traffic making the drive even more leisurely, blissful solitude. All foretelling my destination… three unencumbered days basking in the silent, spacious rhythms of the Trappist monastery.

Then she appeared — mature, strong, beautiful, lithesome, her stature confirmed in the confidence with which she cocked her head. How can anything so graceful be a threat? How can a creature so singularly at one with her environment possibly be a danger?

It happened so fast, no more than a few seconds. Ballerina legs coming to an abrupt stop. Bulbous eyes signaling fright, foretelling terror. A frantic pause to let the first car pass. Then an impulsive choice amid confusion, an instinctive response to fear, a fateful leap toward her final destination.

A resonant thud was the sole consequence of my desperate efforts to break. In a split second all the mirror reflected was a whirlwind of gray gravel on the far shoulder. A flash of self-inventory overtook the shock of the moment. “I’m fine. Everything’s okay. What’s there to do but keep going? Did this really happen?”

Now, it’s a week later. Perhaps this majestic deer was not a danger, never a threat any more than I am a danger or a threat. Certainly there is a hint of Eden lurking along the Mississippi in mid-August. Places of spacious solitude are there to enfold and refresh us. None of this is of our own creation. It’s all given. Everything is gift, everything!

Each nanosecond before my impact with hard reality has been replayed many times. Yes, I would choose the scenic-byway again. Yes, I’m a good driver — even the insurance company agrees this was simply an accident for which I am not culpable. But ultimately we all come to learn, begrudgingly, that we are not in the driver’s seat.

It’s an illusion to believe we are in control of our lives. That’s not to say we do not have tremendous potential, talent, skill, abilities as well as obligations and responsibilities. But one of the hardest lessons we must learn is that we are not God. Such myopic delusion only leads to exhaustion or failure — a living hell.

Yielding our fates to the impetuosity of roadside deer, even acknowledging our inherent powerlessness, runs the risk of fatalistic resignation or nihilism. Doesn’t have to and it shouldn’t! That’s only the result if we fail to recognize beauty, embrace love and celebrate the majesty of creation — if we choose not to take the scenic-byway! If we fail to see everything as gift; yes, everything!

It’s all so much grander than our puny egos deluding ourselves with whatever we can muster. It’s all so much bigger and better when we yield control, when our most heartfelt prayer ends up becoming, “You’re God. I’m not. Thank you!”

 

 

 

 

Long Reach of 9/11

Renown spiritual writer, teacher and master of Centering Prayer, Cynthia Bourgeault offers an insightful interpretation of social realities leading to the election of Donald Trump. She makes a connection between 9/11 and voters’ motivations I’ve not heard previously:

Viewed from a slightly longer range and slightly out-of-left field perspective, I keep seeing that this election of Donald Trump in a way completes an octave that began on September 11, 2001. In the last fifteen years our country has struggled under a pervasive and growing sense of vulnerability, impotence, helplessness, of having been subjected to a collective rape which still paralyzes the resolve, the gout de vivre, as Teilhard calls it. It expresses itself across the board: in the obsession with guns and gun violence, the very real threats to life and wellbeing in marginalized communities, and in the more privileged classes with the almost hysteria around food, security, and child safety. I really believe that at a subliminal level, Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” speaks to that sense of releasing the paralyzed, hang-dog fear which is the only America we have come to know. It’s not really about economics. It’s about something way deeper. . . .

Bourgeault may be onto something!  You may access a her fuller reflection on the election results and where we go from here at her Center of Action and Contemplation [link]

Aspiration, Promise, Destiny

Nothing original today, only aspirational…

As a human, I’m just a tiny moment of consciousness, a small part of creation, a particle that reflects only a fragment of God’s glory. And yet that’s enough. In the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022):

What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as One,
Received not in essence but by participation.
It is just as if you lit a flame from a live flame:
It is the entire flame you receive. 

It’s really that simple. If we have not experienced that connection, knowing that we are indeed a fragment of the Great Flame, we will most certainly need to accumulate more and more outer things as substitutes for self-worth. This, of course, is the great spiritual illusion. We needn’t acquire what we already have. Our value comes from our inherent participation in God.

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From: Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for October 19 which is adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 168-169, 172-173.

How Men Feel

Men rarely risk sharing their feelings with other men or willingly acknowledge vulnerability. We’d rather polish a persona of strength, self-confidence and invincibility. This seriously constrains our capacity to live a full life — not to mention that it gets really exhausting!

Recently, an opportunity to risk presented itself. It was as if my friend and I had reached a certain tipping point — we’d either go deeper, admitting the truth of our lives, or we’d stall-out and our friendship would flounder amid trivialities. Thankfully, my friend risked honesty, transparency, vulnerability within the safe parameters we’d put in place over years of light-hearted banter.

As with all forms of human intimacy some details are simply too personal, private, even sacred to be shared outside the relationship. That’s the case here. In fact, safe parameters built over time create the very trust needed for transparent honesty and deep human intimacy. Rare and difficult as all this may be, it’s wonderfully priceless when it occurs.

A couple lingering ruminations from our conversation may be shared, however. They certainly are not offered as incontrovertible “truth”. Rather, they are offered to stimulate curiosity and a sense of wonder about what happens when we risk honesty, share feelings and admit vulnerabilities.

Prescinding from the specific emotions or “secrets” men generally try so hard to keep hidden, my friend and I asked how we might disengage from the straight-jacket in which repressed feelings hold us. Acknowledging that we had such a problem appeared as the necessary first step — allowing what’s buried alive to see the light of day!

Then, what? That’s where our curiosity and wonder remain piqued. Though typical males often find it difficult to reveal a full spectrum of deep emotion, feelings unexpressed remain very much alive beneath the surface! How do we disarm their seismic force while tapping into their potential power, strength and capacity to transform our lives? Sounds so simple, even prosaic, but it comes down to letting go of control. 

Most folks often confuse control with power. They are not the same thing!  Risking honesty and transparency my friend gave-up control, or even more explicitly, disarmed the paralyzing control his fear, anger and repressed emotions had over him. By relinquishing control my friend paradoxically found true strength, real power and abilities beyond his imaging.

All of the great wisdom traditions of the world seem to proclaim in one way or another what we experienced. The Apostle Paul provides a Christian expression when he writes: “…power is perfected in weakness… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9f).

It’s one thing to praise these words from the safe distance of pious platitudes or Sunday sermons. It’s a whole other thing to get them into your bones, giving them flesh. Of this I am more than certain.

 

 

 

 

Antidote for What Ails America

“Vulgar! He’s simply vulgar.” comments my neighbor from the driver’s seat of her car as we enjoyed a spontaneous conversation in the alley. Shocked, appalled, outraged are equally good words to describe our reaction to the rise of Donald Trump. Now I’m getting scared, simply scared!

Polls suggest the actual election of Trump to be our President is still remote. But as improbable as that may be I’m still feeling overwhelmed, grieved and frightened. Why? Because that which Donald Trump personifies will not be resolved on Election Day. Neither will resolution be achieved by the election of Hillary Clinton.

It will likely come as a profound disappointment to the man, but what we are witnessing ultimately isn’t about Donald Trump. No, this isn’t about slapping the “Trump” brand across 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! Rather, it’s about the deep pain, festering resentment even, that resides in homes across America. And this national despair cuts across gender, race and socio-economic groups.

So what are we to do? Build higher walls to further insulate ourselves? Move to Cape Brenton Island, Canada? Buy a gun? Fear, resentment and desperation may be the source of such considerations. But they merely exacerbate the problem we must address.

So, what are we to do? Well, first of all we must never give up. Somehow, we simply must restore trust in one another to reweave the social fabric of our nation. There is no easy fix. This will not happen on Election Day 2016. No, our work is much more arduous and will take more than our lifetime. But begin we must.

But, what? What can we do that will make any difference? Yes, vote! But that’s hardly enough to counter the vulgarity that has overtaken America. Yes, it would be easy — but an abrogation of personal responsibility — to assume this is about an election and the “majority” expressing its collective will on November 8. That’s simply delusional.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has his finger on the pulse of America and points us in the right direction:

…first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable.

As is often the case with matters that really count, our answer resides within a huge paradox. Rather than building walls, leaving the country or buying a gun our way forward opens by doing the exact opposite. The antidote for what ails America lies in tearing down walls, reinvesting in our communities, disarming ourselves.

Sounds a whole lot like once again becoming brother, sister, neighbor to one another; caring for the orphan, widow and outcast; welcoming the stranger; loving our neighbor as ourselves.
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You may read David Brooks’ insightful and provocative much more extensive analysis at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/opinion/if-not-trump-what.html?_r=0 

It’s a Dog’s Life

Jeb the Dog occupies center stage in our lives. We have become the dog owners we vowed never to become. Jeb knows he’s loved and reciprocates in kind. Not only is Jeb a terrific companion. Those who have pets, especially dogs, will understand that he is also a great teacher of what’s important in life.

One consequence of being so loved is that Jeb is a very happy, content animal. If you look in the dictionary for “a dog’s life” you will find Jeb’s photo next to the definition. Jeb doesn’t bark. Yes, he can and it’s quite robust. He just doesn’t. In fact, we do not recall hearing him bark any time during 2015.

Among the many virtues Jeb models exceedingly well are patience, forgiveness and gratitude. This morning his barking habits, or lack thereof, converged with something I was reading to shed new insight and some much-needed wisdom…

“Dogs bark at everyone they do not know,” says Herakleitos [Greece, 530-470 B.C.] — a ritual played out with liturgical precision over the airwaves every morning, filing not only radios, but hearts and minds, “with static.”

We desperately need more wisdom today! Thomas Merton wrote in 1968:

Instead of taking care to examine the realities of our political or social problems, we simply bring out the idols in solomon procession. “We are the ones who are right, they are the ones who are wrong. We are the good guys, they are the bad guys.”

Senseless, obnoxious and continuous barking supplies a perfect metaphor for our toxic Presidential campaign, unconscionable shutdown of naming a Supreme Court justice, and the intractable horror of all that ISIS symbolizes. We are in a perilous position and our “best” seems to be incessant barking like a pack of junk yard dogs. We are living with a cacophony of paralyzing static!

Christopher Pramuk perfectly frames our predicament: “Why the rhetoric, machinery, and obscene liturgy of war — with its collateral damage of rape, torture, imprisonment without trial, destruction of cultures, infrastructures, and hopes for future generations–ad nauseum? Pramuk cites Merton’s prescription:

[Because] we do not have mercy, or yielding love, or non-resistance, or non-reprisal. …We do not see the Child who is prisoner in all the people, and who says nothing.

Jeb the Dog embodies patience, forgiveness and gratitude. He reads his situation really well. Yes, Jeb can bark. He just chooses not to. Rather, he chooses to meet everyone who comes his way as a friend with the expectation they will have a treat to give him.

There is great wisdom to be learned from Jeb the Dog. He really knows how to live!
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Merton and Pramuk quotes are taken from Sophia, The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton by Thomas Pramuk, A Michael Glazier Book, Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN (2009) p 200. Original source for first Merton quote is Faith and Violence, p 154. The second Merton quote: Emblems of a Season of Fury (1963), p 63.

That Persistent, Inconvenient Necessity to Yield

Those who know me know I like to be in control. Those who love me do so in spite of my controlling tendencies. Call it Lent or simply “getting older”, whatever the reason, I’ve recognized it’s exhausting — even more, it doesn’t work!

Those of us in recovery of one sort of another are familiar with the adage: Let go, let God. It’s wildly popular and often repeated. But how deep do these facile references actually go? Nice words. Wise words. They give the illusion of actually doing what they suggest.

Somewhere in the last day or two I read something that has nudged me, became a burr in my saddle, won’t leave me alone. Adding intrigue to this insistent recollection, I cannot recall where it came from. Reviewing likely sources on various blogs or online sources has been to no avail. All that’s left is its recurring, persistent nudge.

The nagging invitation is quite directive: move from control to consent. Yes, it’s as plain and beguiling as that! Maybe this is what my brother Jerry came to know in his later years. His continuous refrain, almost to the point of annoyance, was: Life on life’s terms!

My husband — one of those people who loves me despite my propensity to be controlling — often repeats a favorite phrase that gets at this same hard-won wisdom: It is what it is! Here, too, his refrain captures the simple necessity to let go, to receive life on life’s terms, to move from control to consent.

This year the convergence of Lent and the fact of growing older seems to be conspiring to teach that there really is no alternative. Yielding, letting go, consenting to all that life brings our way ought not be done begrudgingly, reluctantly, fighting life’s natural progression at every turn.  That’s exhausting and doesn’t work in the end.

Surely the ultimate expression of inconvenient necessity to which Lent nudges us is Jesus in the Garden: Not my will, but yours be done. Yielding, letting go, consent to diminishment that appears even as death!

But this is only half the story. We also need to be reminded that this sort of consent is within human capacity and profoundly life-affirming. No one challenges or consoles us more than Denise Levertov in her magnificent summation of Mary’s singular fiat, her “let it be” —

She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Maybe this year we can each take one more courageous leap — yielding control, giving consent, letting go, saying yes to life on life’s terms.

If you are in any way like me, you may recognize this inconvenient nudge as an invitation to more fully embrace the fact that God is God and we’re not. Finally, we might yield sufficiently to see this as a good thing — in fact, as our very salvation.
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Levertov’s quote is from her poem, Annunciation in A Door in the Hive, New Directions, New York, 1989, pp 86-88.