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Archive for December, 2016

Yesterday I was sitting in my favorite coffee-bakery store ‘noodling.’  What might I write about for my final entry for 2016?  I held this question and settled in with my coffee and bagel.  I opened one of my email accounts in preparation of sending my brother, Steve, his morning email.  I found an email in my inbox.  It was from my friend John.  As I recall, John and I met in 1997.  John is a remarkable man – I invite you, gentle reader, to check out ‘Creative Leaps’ [www.creativeleaps.org] and learn more about John, his colleagues and the ways they serve using their musical gifts and talents.

John sent me one of his ‘favorite pieces to sing.’  I read it, reflected a bit, read it again and then it occurred to me that for my final blog posting this year I will invite you, gentle reader, to reflect upon ‘CALL.’

For me, an ‘Invitation’ requires choice.  So, in order to provide you, gentle reader, with choice I have decided to provide you with a number of quotations or brief statements (mine).  The theme is ‘CALL.’  The following occur in no particular order, except the first entry and the last.  I decided to first offer us the song that John sent me and then to close with the words of a ‘Call-Follower’ – Gandhi.  Hopefully, gentle reader, you will find an entry or two that will provide the seeds for deep reflection – if not today, or soon, perhaps one or two of these reflective-seeds will lie dormant within until you decide to nurture them into life.

Thanks, my friend, John, for providing me yesterday morning the initial ‘seed.’

‘CALL’ – AN INVITATION FOR REFLECTION:

 The Call

Come, my way, my truth, my life
Such a way as gives us breath
Such a truth as mends all strife
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my light, my feast, my strength
Such a light as shows a feast
Such a feast as mends in length
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my joy, my love, my heart
Such a joy as none can move
Such a love as none can part
Such a heart as joys in love.      (1593-1633)
George Herbert (text), R. Vaugn Williams (music)

The place God calls you to IS THE PLACE where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. –Frederick Buechner: ‘Wishful Thinking’

YOUR CALL: The real question about your acceptance is not whether your life will be viewed a ‘Call,’ but whether your life will be viewed as ‘Your Call’.

YOUR ‘CALL’ – GUIDING QUESTIONS – Nosce te ipsum = Know Thyself! [The Oracle]

  • Who am I ?
  • Who am I choosing to become?
  • Why am I choosing this becoming?
  • What are my gifts, talents, skills, abilities and capacities that I bring and use in order to address the needs that exist in ‘my’ and ‘the’ world?

TWO FEARS I HAVE WHEN IT COMES TO ‘MY CALL’:

  • Fears about myself that prevent me from doing my best work
  • Fears about my reception by others that prevents me from doing my own work

 We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

 One of the truest tests of a ‘Call’ rooted in integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised!

Few are guilty, but all are responsible! –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 Be not afraid of life!  Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help you create the fact. –William James

 We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark.  The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

Once we have fully embraced our ‘Call,’ the words of Louis Aragon become even more meaningful: From now on there won’t be a gesture, nor a blink of the eye which doesn’t commit me irrevocably, which doesn’t’ change the course of my life.’

LIVE as if you were to die tomorrow.  LEARN as if you were to live forever. –Gandhi

 When it comes to my ‘Call,’ Tolstoy’s wisdom distilled is helpful [my thanks to my friend, Tamyra, for this distillation]:

  • Remember, there is only one important time, and that time is now.
  • Remember, the most important one is always the one you are with.
  • Remember, the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.

‘Call’ provides our life with meaning and as Viktor Frankl reminds us: More people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.  Frankl then continues: We can discover the meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a value; (3) by suffering. 

 ‘Call’ does not make the person, it reveals the person to himself or herself.

 My life is my message. –Gandhi

 

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Recently I watched one of my favorite movies, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (the original).  The viewer does not ‘see’ how the brainwashing occurs; the viewer experiences the results.  Simply put, a person is ‘brainwashed’ when one takes on and integrates (‘introjects’) an idea that is not his or hers – the idea is someone else’s.  Given this definition, we are all ‘brainwashed.’  Funny!?

Consider if you will, gentle reader, the ‘funniest’ thing is that some folks are actually ready to die for the other’s idea – not for their idea but for the other’s idea.  These same folks are also willing to take another person’s life for the same idea.  Not so funny.  Perplexing!?

Here is a perplexing question: ‘How do you know if your brain has been washed?’  Here is one indicator – it is not infallible though.  The ‘idea’ you hold is challenged or attacked by another and your defensive reaction is ‘over the top.’  Your reaction is so over the top that you might be willing to sacrifice your life or the other’s life for this idea that is not even yours.  We know that terrorists and saints take on such ideas and are ready to die or kill in defense of them.

Our washed brains trigger two things: a strong emotional response – an emotional response that is more intense and heated than the situation calls for; this is combined with an intense defensive response – which can morph into an attack response.  It is easy for us to apply this to a radical, a zealot or a fundamentalist; it is not easy for us to apply this to ourselves.

In addition to these two intense responses we add a ‘blocking response.’  We become anti-listeners.  The more emotional and the more defensive we are the less likely we are to listen.  Even when we are not intensely emotional or defensive we find it a challenge to listen to one who is ‘questioning’ our brain-washed idea.  Listening in order to understand is a bit beyond our reach.

Because of our washed brains we are almost always listening in order to refute or defend; we are seldom listening in order to understand the other.  If I listen in order to understand – if I listen with an ‘open-mind’ (‘open-mind’ = I am open to being influenced by you) I am actually taking a risk.  The risk is that I might have to reconsider my idea, or worse I might have to shift or change or transform or evolve.  If I have ‘become the idea’ my very identity will be threatened.

When we are threatened we become ‘fear-full.’  We might even become our fear.  What do we fear?  Well, we don’t fear the unknown.  It is not possible to fear the unknown for we only fear what we know.  In this case what we fear is ‘loss of the known’ – the ‘known’ is the ‘IDEA’ and for some the ‘known’ is the ‘Idea become Identity.’

I am not advocating that we give up our ‘idea.’  I am, however, advocating that we question our ‘idea’ from a tap root of ‘doubt.’  If my ‘idea’ is rooted in ‘surety’ then I will not be open to questioning my ‘idea.’  If I truly want to ‘own’ my ‘idea’ – that is, if I truly want to ‘unwash my brain’ – then I must challenge and question and listen in order to understand the other ‘idea(s).’

If one has engaged in this disciplined process one knows how challenging it truly is.  The consequences – intended and unintended – can be life-changing and life-affirming and identity threatening.  In a word, the consequences can be ‘Liberating’ – I am now ‘free’ to choose to embrace the ‘idea’ and I am ‘free’ to discard the ‘idea.’

 

 

 

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ART = INTERACTION. . .

Gentle reader, if you have been following my postings this past 4+years you might remember that my son, Nathan, is a ceramic artist.  On the morning of the 24th of December the usual suspects gathered together and Nathan gifted each of us with one of his creations.  A number of us knew that Nathan was called to be an artist when he was six years old.  ‘An Artist.’  How many of us, when we consider who an ‘Artists is refer to a person that interacts with stones, or canvas, or oil or words on paper or clay?

These artists are artists long before their creations impact the viewer, resulting in an interaction.  The interaction results in change happening.  The most powerful and the most visceral art is direct and interactive.  One-to-One.  Person-to-Person.  The Artist and the Recipient.  Anyone who has experienced this knows of what I speak.  A written or verbal description will not provide the experience; ‘words on the page or words spoken’ cannot engender the experience (unless of course you are Shakespeare).

On the other hand, if we are awake and aware and if we are also intentional and purpose-full most of us can experience the artist and his/her art in ‘real time.’  There is an art to facilitating a meeting, to counseling or consoling a child, to conducting an interview, to serving a cup of coffee, to calming the angry customer, to healing the wounded, to forgiving the trespasser.

Last week I was sitting in my favorite coffee-bakery shop and I watched an artist at work.  A mother had entered with a brood of children following her.  One quickly became upset – she was whelmed over with all of the choices she now had.  This ‘Mother-Artist’ deftly responded to the child’s concern and at the same time she helped keep the others in her brood focused and ‘on task.’  This ‘Mother-Artist’s’ calmness was infectious.  I found myself becoming calmer as I watched her ‘create.’

‘ART’ is an interactive human experience/connection that results in a human being shifting, changing, transforming or evolving.  Any person who is able to engender one or more of these responses in another is an ‘Artist.’  Most of us have experienced ‘Art’ in this way; many of us, I think, have also been the ‘Artist.’  I also believe that each human being is potentially an ‘Artist.’

 What if each of us were truly great at it? 

Here is a piece of art that my Son, Nathan, was commissioned to do for a restaurant ‘The Pillar at Tapastrie.’

nathans-pillar-may2015-copy

 

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In two days many of us are going to celebrate Christmas; a time of new or re-birth, a time of celebration and rejoicing.  So, why am I writing about ‘Darkness’ today?  Well, gentle reader, for many the holidays – and especially this holiday – ‘Darkness not Light’ covers their soul.  The reasons for this are legion.  Job describes this well: the land of darkness, and shadow dark as death, where dimness and disorder hold sway, and light itself is like dead of night.

Anyone who has experienced being in this ‘Land of Darkness’ knows intimately of what Job describes.  I know this land all too well.  I first experienced entering in and residing in this land when I was five years old.  Then I had no words for it – just the heart searing experience.

‘Darkness’ as I am thinking about it comes to us in many forms – ‘Darkness’ is not an easy visitor to have around.  The life experiences we have are diverse and unique to each of us – just as each of us is unique, so is our own personal ‘Land of Darkness.’

Webster can be of help in describing ‘Darkness.’  Webster notes that ‘Darkness’ includes: closed, hidden, not easily understood, obscure, gloomy, hopeless, entirely or partly without light.  We who have resided in ‘The Land of Darkness’ know that these words don’t even begin to touch the human experience.  The human experience also includes: lonely, shattered, dead, anxious, forlorn, bereft, despairing, discouraged, defeated, empty, bleak, damaged, fear-full, stumbling and aimless.

‘The Land of Darkness’ includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • An experience in which my energy and life-focus is almost completely funneled into physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual pain;
  • An experience of being deeply buried in a well of sorrows, grief and loss;
  • A discouraging and dis-heartening and depleted inner journey wherein nothing seems worthwhile;
  • A wilderness where God does not reside – God’s presence cannot be discerned nor experienced; it seems that even God’s ‘Spirit’ does not move about in this land;
  • A battleground where I fight with indecision for powerful unknowns and fears and anxieties are trying to engulf me and beat me down and I am frozen by my own indecision;
  • An inner garden of helplessness has been nurtured and sustained – and the awareness that I am both the garden and the gardener drives me to the edge of the pit of despair;
  • A growing belief that ‘ALL’ is lost – that if I live I will always be wandering in ‘The Land of Darkness.’

I am blessed for I have learned that ‘The Land of Darkness’ is not an ‘unnatural land.’  Because I am a human being I will, for many reasons, enter into this ‘Land.’  My challenge as a human being is to learn to develop the capacities I need in order to survive in this land.  I have also learned that I can – and do at times – choose to enter ‘The Land of Darkness.’  For example, I choose to enter this land when I compassionately and empathetically walk with another who is in deep pain or when I choose to sit with another who is already residing in this land.

Darkness can be cleansing and transformative – if I am willing to be open to its cleansing and transformative energy.  Thomas Moore (the author not the saint) captures this when he writes:

The Greeks tell the story of the Minotaur, the bull-headed flesh eating man who lived in the center of the labyrinth.  He was a threatening beast, and yet his name was Asterion-Star…  It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature.

The poet Caryll Houselander provides us with words of hope when she writes:

 God will enter into your night,
as the ray of the sun enters
into the dark, hard earth,
driving right down
to the roots of the tree,
and there, unseen, unknown,
unfelt in the darkness,
filling the tree with life,
a sap of fire
will suddenly break out,
high above that darkness,
into living leaf and flame.

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Gentle reader, if you have been reading my blogs these past 4+ years you know that I love ‘questions.’  I ‘hold’ many questions.  I follow the great German Poet, Rilke’s counsel – to hold the question and some day you might live into the answer.  A question that I hold emerged into my consciousness yesterday as I was watching the news and saw a person helping another get out of a ditch – literally, the person was helping the other get out of a ditch.  The question that emerged into my consciousness – a question that I ‘hold’ was: When is being charitable potentially immoral? 

‘WHAT?  What are you taking about?’ you might ask.  Consider if you will three types of charitable acts.

The first occurs when I perform a charitable act in order to please myself.  My hunch is that we all, at times, perform such charitable acts.  We call this being self-centered or ego-centered – it is all about ‘ME!’

The second occurs when I perform a charitable act in order to experience the pleasure that comes with pleasing the other.  The Christmas Season is upon us and for many that means that we will give gifts to others – in order to please them – and as a consequence we will experience the pleasure that emerges as a consequence.  My hunch is that we all, at times, also perform such charitable acts.

The third type of charitable act is the one that is most likely to answer my question: When is being charitable potentially immoral?

This type of charitable act does not result in my feeling good; it results in my feeling bad.  I really don’t want to do the charitable act AND I have a greater motivation – I don’t want to feel guilty; thus I will do the charitable act.  Nevertheless, the entire time I am engaged in the act I am feeling ‘bad’ (think: anger, frustration, spite, envy, etc.).

If I had a dollar for every time I engaged in such ‘charitable acts’ I would have bags of money lying about.  For me, this is how it might go (actually, this is how it went):

It is January 2, 1998.  I drove for hours immersed in a mid-west winter.  After reaching the conference center I unpacked and made final preparations for the four day learning session that I was going to guide.  Folks began arriving in the early afternoon and our first session began at 4pm.  After dinner we had another session which was followed by a time of ‘celebration.’  Now, it was late and I was tired.  As I was preparing to go to my room a participant approached me and said that he needed to talk to me.

Now, I am tired; I don’t want to meet with this fellow.  I want to go to bed – I have three full days ahead of me.  I smile.  I don’t have the courage (think: ‘heart’) to say ‘No.’ I don’t want to feel guilty for not ‘caring’ (think: for not ‘being charitable’).  For me, this is one of the worst types of charity – I am doing something so that I won’t feel bad/guilty.  I meet with the fellow and during our time together I am not fully present – in the background of my mind I am grumbling and complaining and blaming him.

The following morning at breakfast I approach him and ask him how he is doing (partly I ask in order to ‘cover myself’).  He smiles and says ‘great.’  He continues, ‘You really helped me last night – perhaps we can meet again tonight after our evening ‘celebration’…YIKES!

Anyone who is committed to serving others knows of what I speak.  Whether I am a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian, or a Humanist I, as an imperfect being; I am capable of ‘Being Charitable’ in a way that is potentially immoral.

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BLESSINGS. . .

In 1997 I purchased a book that remains one of my ‘go-to’ spiritual books. The author is John O’Donohue, the title of the book is: ‘Anam Cara’ [Soul Friend]. In his book, among other gifts, O’Donohue gifted us with a number of Irish Blessings (‘Blessings’ he authored). This morning as I was going through a pile of books sitting on a chair I came upon ‘Anam Cara.’ I spent some time thumbing through it – pausing to read, stopping to reflect. I then decided that I would share with you, gentler reader two of John O’Donohue’s ‘Blessings.’

A Blessing of Solitude

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light
of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone,
that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you
intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and
difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that
you have a special destiny here,
that behind the façade of your life there is something
beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride,
and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

A Soul Blessing

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of yow own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your
new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

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GOOD & EVIL. . .

The following question has been held and debated for thousands of years: Are we humans inherently good or are we inherently evil?  Folks have come to both verbal and physical blows in response to this question.  When this question is held as an ‘either-or’ question it is not resolvable.  When it is reframed as a ‘both-and’ question it becomes a paradox that can be embraced.

A paradox means that ‘both’ polarities exist and hence both must be embraced.  ‘Good’ requires ‘Evil’ in order to exist.  ‘Pure Evil’ does not seem to exist and hence ‘Good’ always exists – even if it is lying dormant waiting to be nurtured into life.  Here is a wonder-full story that comes out of Russia that I first heard more than 40 years ago.

THE STORY: God thought of a new creature, a marvelous combination of heaven and earth.  “Do not create him!” said the Angel of Truth sternly.  “He will quickly defile your Temple and will glorify fraud on earth, temptations will hold sway everywhere!”

 “Do not create him!” prayed the Angel of Justice.  “He will be cruel, hurting every one and loving only himself.  He will be deaf to the sufferings of others, and the tears of the oppressed will not touch his heart.”

 “He will steep the earth in blood,” added the Angel of Peace, “and murder will become his occupation.  Terrors of devastation will seize the land, and fear of violent death will enter every soul.”

 And the countenance of the All-Upholder became overcast.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth seemed mean and evil to the Ruler, and in His eternal fore-will a decision was ripening – “Not to Be. . .”

 But now before the Throne of the Life-Giver appeared, God’s youngest, best beloved Angel, Mercy.  She embraced the Father’s knees and begged:  “Create him!” 

 “When all Thy servants leave him, I will find him, help him, and change even his shortcomings into good.  I will guard him that he should not stray from the path of truth.  I will draw his heart to sympathy and will teach him to show mercy to the weakest!”

 And the face of the All-Upholder became radiant.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth came into being, and took His form and His likeness.

 “LIVE!” breathed on him the All-Upholder, “and know that thou are the child of Mercy!”

 This, for me, is a wonder-full and grace-full and blessings-full story about our creation.  My conclusion: We cannot be the outcome of ‘Evil.’  We are truly the outcome of the better Angels – especially of the better Angel we call ‘Mercy.’

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