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Archive for December, 2019

‘SEARCHING’ QUESTIONS. . .

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. –Seneca

As I sit here on 30 December, 2019, I pause.  I reflect.  I consider.  As I look back on this past year I have experienced more ways closing than opening.  As I look ahead to the new year that will present itself to me in two days I find myself searching — searching for. . .for what?

I am thinking of a Quaker concept: Way Opens & Way Closes.  Am I searching for ways opening and am I open to embracing ways closing?  Am I open to discerning ways opening and am I open to discerning ways closing?  Is being open enough?  Is there something(s) that I must do?  What will guide my search – or is it ‘who will guide my search?’

I love questions so perhaps there are a few questions that might help guide me today.  Let me think. . . Here are four; I call these essential life questions.  These have no final answer; they are companions that travel with me on my life’s journey.  As I hold them I am thinking of Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to the young poet: ‘Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’ 

Some ‘perhaps.’  Here are my four questions:

Who am I?  What is my ‘essential’ nature – my ‘true’ nature and how do I find it?  I have choice so: Who am I choosing to become?  Why am I choosing this becoming?    

 What do I love?  What I choose to love will help shape who I am and provide the threads that weave my inner and outer life together into a seamless fabric.

How shall I live, knowing I will die?  From my first breath I have been traveling a life journey that will end, now sooner rather than later.  Someone once determined that a long life is about 744,600 hours thus far I have lived more than 664,000 hours.  Have I lived less by ‘accident’ and more by ‘purpose’?  A disturbing question for me to hold.

 What is my gift to my world? I am unique. My contribution, my gift, to my world therefore is also unique.  What is it?  What is the gift or legacy that I am called to give to my world?  What have I received from my world?  How do I balance the two – giving and receiving?  Some think of this as ‘life’s purpose’ or ‘life’s call.’  Some liken this to the sowing of seeds as in: What are the seeds I have sown these many years? This is another disturbing question that I hold.

Gentle reader, as you live into this last days of this year, what questions emerge for you?  What are the questions that you are holding that will be your companion as you open the door and prepare yourself to step across the threshold into 2020?

And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. –Rainer Maria Rilke

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In Islam the Sufis, during their lengthy periods of prayer, choose one of ‘ninety-nine most beautiful names’ for Allah and then repeat the divine name as they pray.  I do not know many of ninety-nine names but of the few I do know the one that resonates deeply with me is that of ‘Al-Fattah’ the opener.  As one Sufi mystic wrote:

Al-Fattah is the Opener and the Solver, the Easer of all that is locked, tied and hardened.  There are things that are closed to one.  There are states and problems that are tied in a knot.  These are hardened things that one cannot see through and pass through.  Some are material things: professions, jobs, gains, possessions, places, friends that are unavailable to one.  There are also hearts tied in a knot with sadness, minds tied up in doubts or questions they are unable to answer.

Allah al Fattah opens them all.  There is nothing unavailable to the beloved servant of Allah, for whom al-Fattah opens all gates.  No force can keep those doors locked.  But if Allah does not open the doors. . . , no force can make those doors open. . .

As I have noted in earlier postings, I am a Christian (one who follows Christ).  And when I spend time with the New Testament it becomes clear to me that Jesus exemplifies an opener.  He clears the eyes of the blind: Then he touched their eyes. . .and their eyes were opened (Mt 9:29-30).  He opens the ears of the deaf: He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be Opened.’ And immediately [the deaf man’s] ears were opened (Mk 7:34-35).  Jesus frees the hearts of seekers: The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14).  Jesus also expands the minds of those who are confused: Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening scriptures to us? (Lk 24:32).

It is easy for me to seek Jesus as Al-Fattahthe opener.  And when I read what the Sufi mystic wrote I think of Jesus the Christ; I also think of Allah the Merciful.  Am I willing to surrender to the Opener?  Do I invite the Opener into my life?

Do I allow the knot(s) within me to be opened by the Opener?  I am now thinking of Alexander the Great as he was faced with the Gordian Knot and his response – simply to cut through it rather than try to unravel it.  Am I willing to allow the Opener to cut through the Gordian Knot that I have woven?  Unlike Alexander who cut through the Gordian Knot in order to invade – he was not invited in; Al-Fattah will only come and cut the knot if invited – and I must extend the invitation.

As any of us who have woven Gordian Knots understand that this is no easy invitation to proffer – it requires faith, trust, vulnerability and courage (to name a few).  If I wait for Al-Fattah to ‘invade’ me uninvited it will never happen. . . I have choice; this is the freedom I have been given as a human being.  What will I choose today?  Today, will I choose to invite Al-Fattah, the Opener, into my life?  Today, will I add another piece to my inner ‘Gordian Knot’?  What will I choose today?

Here is one representation of the Gordian Knot:

the Gordian Knot

 

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WAKE UP! BE ATTENTIVE, BE DILIGENT

As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. –Anthony de Mello

WAKE UP! BE ATTENTIVE! BE DILIGENT!  My life – your life – is resplendent with wake-up calls.  These certain types of wake-up calls alert me to the moments that reveal a different or deeper dimension of who I am and of who I am called to become.  I cannot hear, much less respond to, these calls if I am not vigilant.  I must be attentive to what lies ‘in here’ and to what lies ‘out there.’  This type of attention requires deep listening.  Paying this type of attention is challenging for me (and perhaps for you, gentle reader) as each hour of each day (or is it each moment of each hour) I am being whelmed over by the tsunami called ‘distraction.’  The poet Ted Kooser once wrote that, What seems like a simple discipline turns out to be quite difficult because, by habit, most of us go through our lives without paying much attention to anything.’ 

My inability to be vigilant and attentive is, I believe, both a cultural problem (that affects many of us) and a post-modern human trait (our fore-fathers and mothers had to be vigilant and attentive or they would become lunch for some beast).  The great thinkers and mystics have admonished us in many ways for not be vigilant and attentive (to listen deeply).  The great wisdom and spiritual traditions have also encouraged us to be vigilant and attentive (to listen deeply) and have chided us for not doing so.

I know all to well that illness, depression, certain traits of my personality, and certain responsibilities contribute to my lack of being diligent and attentive (I assume, gentle reader that you too have your own list of ‘distractors’).  Oh I know, being busy in itself is not a terrible thing AND it becomes a stumbling block to my ability to be diligent and attentive and responsive more than I admit.

Because I am so easily distracted I must consciously attend to being awake and aware each day so I might be more diligent, attentive (deep listening) and responsive.  I cannot live my life and expect that I will be diligent, attentive and responsive; I cannot take these for granted – this I have painfully learned.  I must be disciplined – I must choose to be awake and aware – I must choose to be diligent, attentive and responsive.  For me, this means that I must commit time each day to being so disciplined.  My holistic development requires me to be disciplined or I will miss the transformational opportunities that are hidden within my daily experiences.

Basil Hume (an English cleric) suggests that we take deliberate pauses of quiet each day in order to help us develop our capacity to be diligent and attentive (he believed that this time is essential to our health); he writes: Each of us needs an opportunity to be alone, and silent, to find space in the day or in the week, just to reflect and to listen to the voice that speaks from deep within us.  Our search is our response to that which searches for us; too many of us are too busy to even hear the call of the one searching for us.

So, as I sit here this morning I ask: Today, what will most distract me and hinder me from being diligent and attentive and responsive to the voice from within and from the voice(s) without that are calling me to be the person I am meant to be? 

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DIVIDED — I AM!

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

I often feel divided within myself and I also feel divided against myself.

The first expresses for me the living paradox that I am; that we all are as human beings.  As a fully human being I am called to embrace the whole of who I am – the light and the darkness, if you will.  When I experience the second, I find myself doing violence to myself.

These two experiences are also manifested globally.  It seems that for our global community the second seems to occur so often that we experience it as the ‘norm’ – this is the way the world is.  The second is manifested by families being torn asunder, by countries emphasizing their differences – and not honoring them; by ‘Red’ states and ‘Blue’ states demonizing one another, by the rich becoming more and more fearful of the poor (and vice versa) and by people who proclaim ‘peace’ using violence in order to obtain it (and then being stunned when they receive violence in return).

Gene Knudson Hoffman [1919-2010] founded the Compassionate Listening initiative [‘We must listen to both sides of any conflict before we take action.’]; she was also a long standing member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  She was a Quaker and a peace activist.  She believed that as humans we have become experts at ‘enemy making’ – the inability of people and groups of people to ‘manage’ the differences between them.

‘My mother used to take me to all kinds of different churches while I was growing up,’ she wrote, ‘and she told me there was truth in all of them, and it was up to me to find it.’  What Gene found, as she traveled the world listening, was that there was no one truth – what there was were stories.  ‘If each side can listen to the stories of the other, the suffering of the other, the history of the other, then reconciliation is made much easier.’  The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that if we could read the secret history of our enemies ‘we should find, in each person’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities.’ 

If I-you-we can hold paradox, Gene believed, we can hold tremendous energy within us and be a force for mediation in our lives; perhaps in the world.  Equanimity is an ability that naturally mitigates against tyranny – beginning from within us and then moving outward.  By embracing the paradox of who we are we actually belong to one another in the world; our paradox is one of our common grounds.   I know that one of the toughest challenges for me (and perhaps you, gentle reader) is admitting that ‘good and evil’ reside within ‘me’; they don’t always co-exist but they do reside together.  I am courageous and cowardly; I seek to know myself and I seek to deny who I am: I want to be awake and aware and I want to go to sleep and be left alone.

This is hard work; demanding work; exhausting work – the work it takes for me to stretch myself, to open my heart and soul wide enough, to encompass BOTH sides of my paradoxical self; to understand that two powerfully contrary stories do coexist within me.  This also means that I have to engage another inner paradox: hope and despair.

The violence I do to myself and the violence that is running amok in my world lead me to despair.  The love I have for others and for myself and the love others have for me and the love I also see being expressed in the world lead me to hope.  When I listen to my own stories I find more reasons to embrace my own self as a living paradox and when I listen to another’s story I also find that I am more able to embrace him/her as a living paradox – as a fully human being.

You must not lose faith in humanity. –Gandhi

Here’s a photo of Gene Knudson Hoffman:

Gene Knudsen Hoffman-Peace Activist-Quaker

 

 

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Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see. –Mark Twain

Gentle Reader, as you know, I love stories.  I embrace all stories as teaching stories.  Yesterday I was reflecting up this season of giving and the following story emerged into my consciousness.  As with many teaching stories this one is more than two thousand years old; closer to three thousand years old I think.  Among other things this story is a story about kindness across the boundaries of faith traditions.

A young woman, not Jewish, married a Jewish man.  This man and his family had left to find work in the Diaspora.  The man’s brother died, his father died and then the man died.  The two sisters-in-law and their Jewish mother-in-law survived, now alone.  The elder woman decided to return to her home in Israel.  Her two daughters-in-law offered to go with her.  She refused their offer.  Israel was her home, not theirs.  If they went with her they would find themselves strangers in a strange land.  Better for them if they remained where they were and remarried.

One daughter-in-law agreed.  The other, however, persisted: ‘I will go with you and make Israel my home for you have become like a mother to me and I will not let you go alone.’

So they went together.  The neighbors who had known the older woman years before could hardly recognize her.  Time and grief had done their work.  She was no longer the woman that they had known.  The woman and her daughter-in-law experienced challenging times.  They had no work, a bit of money, and meager possessions.  There was a distant relative that opened his doors and heart to them.

He provided them food and gave the young woman a job.  This young woman intrigued him.  She was obviously not Jewish by birth but by adoption.  She had also left all in a familiar land to be with her mother-in-law in a strange land.  She was the embodiment of kindness and faithfulness.

The man came to love the young woman and finally asked her to marry him.  She accepted.  This is an old and wonder-full story.

The story found its way into the Hebrew Bible.  The young woman was called Ruth.  Her mother-in-law was called Naomi and the man was called Boaz.

Ruth gave her name to a biblical book and also added a word to the English language.  The opposite is still in use – ‘Ruthless’.  The word ‘Ruth’ means ‘Kindness.’

Ruth (Ruth 2:10) asks Boaz a crucial question: ‘Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you recognize me, a stranger?’

There are a few words that are called ‘contronyms.’ – two meanings; one the opposite of the other.  For example, the English word ‘cleave’ means both ‘to split’ and ‘to join.’  In Hebrew the root n-k-r is a contronym.  It means ‘to recognize’ and it also means ‘to be a stranger’ – someone who is not recognized.

Ruth uses it in both senses in the same sentence: ‘I am a stranger; why have you treated me like a friend?’  A single Hebrew word spans the continuum of human interaction between recognition and estrangement, compassion and indifference.

The question posed by the Book of Ruth is: ‘Do we, or do we not, recognize our common humanity across cultural and religious divides?’

Ruth’s story is about people whose kindness transcends difference.  Perhaps the subtitle of the Book of Ruth would be ‘The Kindness of Strangers!’

The consequences were immense: The marriage – Ruth-Boaz – to which that kindness led, three generations later, to King David.  For Jews, this will one day lead to the Messiah to come; for Christians this led to the Messiah who came.

Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in giving creates love. –Lao Tz

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