Archive for July, 2020

When you speak, how will that improve on the silence? –Robert K. Greenleaf

Speaking – begins in silence.  Silence is a gift.  Silence creates space for us to reflect and consider before we speak.  Silence helps us limit our shooting from the lip.  I often shoot from the lip; I speak the first thing that comes to my mind.  When I pause and reflect I more often than not then speak from my heart.  This type of silence is a discipline of the mind, heart and soul.  A discipline, by its very nature, requires commitment, repetition, time, focus, practice, stumbling and getting up, and consistency.  This type of silence, often referred to as ‘reflection’ by some, is crucial for me the speaker and for the one who will be listening. 

As the one who will be speaking, I pause in order to look inside (to seek out and search) in order to discern what I want to say or perhaps what I am called to say from a place of knowing as well as from a place of not knowing.  As the one who will be listening, I pause in order to prepare myself to embrace the voice and words of the speaker; I prepare myself to seek to understand.  The Quakers know the value and importance of ‘silence’ and they know the value and importance of ‘speaking.’  In his Journal, Johan Woolman quotes a Quaker elder: It is a sin to speak, if you’re not moved to speak.  It is also a sin not to speak, if you’re moved to speak.  The key, of course, is to be able to discern who is doing the ‘moving’ – for the Quaker, the ‘mover’ is the Holy Spirit (not a bad ‘mover’ if you ask me).  So I hold a question: What is the spirit that moves me to speak? 

Those who know me, or those who have participated in sessions I have guided, know that I love to frame questions – especially questions to ‘hold’ and questions that seek ‘clarification.’  Of course, I also ask questions that are not really questions – they are statements in the guise of questions; they move my agenda along.  I catch myself asking such questions when I preface a question with Don’t you think that. . .?  The purpose of questions, I think, is to help provide space for silence, for reflection, for searching and for seeking.  The purpose is to help tap into the wisdom of the other (of course one must believe that the other has wisdom to offer). 

As the one who will speak or as the one who will listen, it is also crucial that I seek to become aware of my deep assumptions, beliefs, core values, guiding life principles, prejudices, stereotypes and life experiences for all of these will influence me both as speaker and as listener.  Socrates’ admonition of Know thyself is helpful at this time.  Even when I am aware of some of these (I cannot be fully aware of all of them) I still project them onto the other and when I do my speaking and my listening are ‘contaminated.’  The antidote is seeking clarification and this requires more silence (reflection) and more questions that seek clarification. 

All of this takes time.  Because we live in a culture where it is the norm to speak first, and then think (if we think at all), the disciplines of silence and reflection are not honored, dare I say, they are not valued?  Hence, most of us do not listen well and most of us are ‘misunderstood.’  I will end today with a quote from the great Quaker William Penn:

True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment. 

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If the doors of my heart ever close I am a good as dead. –Mary Oliver

Last week I had an appointment with my doctor.  In order to get to his waiting room I had to open and pass through a number of doors.  This, opening of and passing through doors is not uncommon in the ‘real world.’  We quickly open, pass through and close many doors each day. 

However, when it comes to my ‘spiritual world’ this quick movement is not the norm.  When I encounter a door in my spiritual world I often hesitate; I pause and ponder.  Sometimes I discover that I do not have the right key for a particular door.  Sometimes I wonder if I really have the time [or is it ‘am I really willing to take the time?’] to spend on the other side of the door. 

Once in a while, I am so eager to enter that I leap across the threshold and zoom into the room that I believe contains a new truth for me; when I do so I then discover how much work it will take me to be able to accept the truth.  I also might rush in when I believe that within the room there is something that will enable me to change, if not transform; here too I discover that in order to change – certainly in order to transform – I will be required to do a lot of work. 

I have learned, although I don’t always remember, that trying to induce my inner growth generates great anxiety and self-doubt; am I truly capable of such change or transformation?  My spiritual transformation is much like the birth process; it takes a great deal of time and nurturing.  The disciple in me is awakened slowly and is developed slowly; I am not St Paul (I don’t even own a horse). 

Opening my spiritual doors requires that I embrace patience for I am not able to force my own spiritual development.  It is like the person who is holding the first rose of spring, a rose that is not open and the person out of a need to hurry the process forces the petals open and the rose dies.  So it is with my spiritual growth; I cannot force it for my spirit does not respond well to force.  My spiritual gardens come about only with patience, nurturing and time. 

Or if you want another metaphor, Richard Rohr provides us a nice one (if you have not explored his writings, gentle reader, you might seek him out): ‘Don’t’ push the river.  Don’t get ahead of your soul.  The goal isn’t to get somewhere.  The goal isn’t about forcing something to happen.  The goal is to be in the flow with the gifts already given to you.  The goal is to fall in love with your own life.’

I know that there will always be tension; some tension will exist between engaging in spiritual growth while living in the ‘real world.’  At times, like the ones I am now in, I want the process to speed up and I push and rush my journey; I quicken my pace.  The result is that I easily fall into being despondent and discouraged; sometimes I feel defeated.  If I stay with these feelings for long I soon give up and I forfeit my longing to grow.  This occurs when I do not experience immediate progress (remember I am speeding up a process that naturally – or is it ‘supernaturally’ – takes time and patience) and I feel like giving up.  I leave the room and shut the door behind me. ‘What’s the use, I ask?’ (a question I have been holding for many days now).  ‘I don’t see anything different; I am not different.’  ‘This isn’t getting me anywhere.’  ‘I don’t feel any better AND I am not able to do this anyway – it’s too hard!’ 

I know that my spiritual growth cannot be forced or hurried; I know I am to be patient and embrace the ‘process’ (sometimes I despise those words – patience & process) and stay on the ‘journey.’  Oddly, I am not without hope as I type these words this morning.  Quite the opposite, I am feeling quite hopeful.  I am awake and aware to how I have been ‘hurrying along’ and how I have been ‘forcing the process’ and I know that by slowing down, by breathing deeply, by using the gifts I have that ‘this too’ shall pass.  I don’t feel it, but I believe it to be true. 

Well, I must take my leave today and breathe deeply as I, once again, approach the door and pause.  I can see myself reaching out for the handle.  I can see myself slowly opening the door.  I can see myself peering into the room.  It is dark inside but there are little pieces of light illuminating the path across the threshold.  I pause again. . . I choose. . . . I take a step. . .

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Good morning, Gentle Reader.  You might remember that my son, Nathan, is an artist and I awoke yesterday thinking about him and about art.  The arts are activities that require specific disciplines, knowledge, risking-taking and skills. 

Some art forms require what we call ‘common sense’ knowledge; others such as the art of engineering or medicine require an extensive body of theoretical knowledge.  If I want to build a tall building I must build it according to certain principles of physics.  Actually, it seems to me in ‘all arts’ a system of objectively valid norms is required.  While there may be different ways of achieving excellent results in any art, norms are by no means arbitrary; their violation is penalized by poor results or even by complete failure to accomplish the desired end.

Consider that not only medicine, engineering, and ceramics are arts; living itself is an art.  It seems to me that this art is the most important and the most difficult and complex art to be practiced by we humans.  There is an ‘object’ to all art and in living, the object is to develop, via a process, into that which one is potentially.  To complicate matters, the art of living is also a paradox.   We are both the artist and the object of our art; we are the sculptor and the marble; we are the clay and the pot; we are the physician and the patient; we are the gardener and the garden.

One way of looking at living as an art is to view it through the lens of humanistic ethics.  Humanistic ethics, for which ‘good’ is synonymous with ‘good for man’ and ‘bad’ with ‘bad for man,’ proposes that in order to know what is good for man we have to know his nature.  In the art of living, as in the other arts, the excellence of one’s achievement is related to the knowledge one has of the ‘science of man’ and to one’s skill and practice.  Activities are chosen in relation to aims desired.  For example in medical science it is desirable to cure and heal.  The activities of the doctor are (should be?) directly connected with the desired outcome. 

The desired outcome for man is life.  The drive to life is inherent in every organism, and so man cannot help wanting to live regardless of what he would want to think about it.  Consider that the choice between life and death is more apparent than real.  When it comes to the art of living the real choice is that between living a ‘good’ life and living a ‘bad’ life. 

Why have we lost this concept of life is an art?  We seem to believe that reading and writing are arts to be learned; that to become a ceramicist, or a physician or a skilled wood worker requires considerable study and practice, but that living is something so simple that no particular effort is required; we can all do it.  In fact, we see ourselves as experts.  Even with the emphasis we put on happiness and individuality (especially in our culture), and self-interest we continue to learn that the aim (the desired outcome) of life is not ‘happiness’ (or ‘salvation’) but is success, money, prestige, power.  It seems that everything has become important to us except our life and the art of living.  As Eric Fromm notes, man is for everything except himself.

All organisms have an inherent tendency to actualize their specific potentialities.  While I share the core of human qualities with all other humans, I am also an individual; I am a unique being.  I affirm my ‘human potential’ by realizing my individuality.  I have an obligation to live and I have an obligation to become the person I am meant to be; to become the person I am ‘called to become.’ 

I leave us with two questions: How will I prepare myself to be the artist of my own life?  And once I am prepared: How will I use my knowledge and skill so that I can become my potential? 

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This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. –God

What is Love? 

I have been holding this question for more than 65 years.  Recently I again became aware of holding this question.  I was ranting about a certain leader and his behavior.  I became disturbed as I recalled the words of one of my spiritual guides: ‘Challenge the behavior, love the person.’  Then, as if that remembrance were not disturbing enough I recalled God’s commandment.  So, there I sat – holding this question.  I began to reflect and as I held the question a response began to emerge.  What follows is what, thus far, has emerged into my consciousness.

Is it possible for a flower that offers us a wonder-full scent to say: I will only offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people?  Is it possible for a lamp to say: I will only offer my light to good people and withhold it from bad people?  Or is it possible for a cool breeze to say: I will only offer my cooling respite to good people and withhold it from bad people? The huge, leafy tree will provide shade even to those who will seek to cut it down. 

So, Gentle Reader, this is the first quality of love: love does not discriminate.  This is why each of us is exhorted to be like God, ‘who makes his sun to shine on good and bad alike and makes his rain to fall on saints and sinners alike; so you must be all goodness as your heavenly father is all goodness.’  The flower, the lamp, the tree, and the breeze model for us this first quality of love. 

Many years ago my spiritual guide invited me to stop seeing/labeling people as ‘good’ or ‘bad/evil;’ to cease seeing them as ‘saints’ or ‘sinners.’  My guide upped the ante – as spiritual guides are wont to do – and invited me to consider that ‘sin’ occurs, not, in malice, but in ignorance.  ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!’  We love because we are called to love – and we are called to love each person.

This is the second quality of love: Love is self-less and is freely given AND asks nothing in return.  Do I love if I love in order to be loved?  Do I love only those who deserve my love – or worse, do I love those who earn my love?  Am I willing to see that this type of love is a camouflage for selfishness and greed?  Am I willing to admit that my love is ‘conditional’ – ‘IF’… ‘THEN’? 

This leads me to the third quality of love: Love is unselfconscious.  Love is blissfully unaware of itself.  Like the flower, the lamp, the breeze or the shade tree who provides the fragrance, the light, the cooling breeze and the shade even when no one is around – to do so is their nature.  Love, too, is forever present – it simply ‘is’ and hence is available to each sentient being.  Love is shared whether it will benefit the other or not [when I was young this type of love was called ‘unconditional love’].  In this sense, love is unaware: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty and help you?’

This leads me to the final quality of love (well, not really ‘the’ final quality, but the final one today).  Love is freely given.  The moment coercion, manipulation, control or conflict enters love is compromised.  The flower, the lamp, the breeze and the tree make no effort to change you – they simply gift you (you, of course can reject the gift).  How often do I love because I am fear-full of not being loved in return?  (I hate this question – it is too disturbing.)  Am I willing to love the person whose behavior I abhor?  Am I willing to accept that in loving this person – or any person – that love will not change them (I do not love in order that they change)? 

Am I willing to love because I embrace the commandment: Love one another as I have loved you?

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Yesterday I was reflecting upon the concept of ‘Courage.’  Our English word is rooted in the Latin, ‘cor’ which means ‘heart.’  As I was reflecting I remembered a ‘Blessing’ that John O’Donohue wrote and offered us in his book, ‘To Bless the Space Between.’  This morning, Gentle Reader, I will offer us O’Donohue’s ‘Blessing.’ 

For Courage John O’Donohue ‘To Bless the Space Between Us’

When the light around you lessens

And your thoughts darken until

Your body feels fear turn

Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft

Of any belief in yourself

And all you unknowingly

Leaned on has fallen.

When one voice commands

Your whole heart,

And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see

That it is your own thinking

That darkens your world,

Search and you will find

A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone

And that this darkness has purpose;

Gradually it will school your eyes

To find the one gift your life requires

Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning

Of every suffering

You have suffered.

Close your eyes.

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark.

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight festered in fear.

A new confidence will come alive

To urge you toward higher ground

Where your imagination

Will learn to engage difficulty

As its most rewarding threshold!

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