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Archive for February, 2021

THINKING ABOUT ‘BEAUTY’?

Never lose the opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting. –Emerson

Once upon a time my friend, George, emailed me and asked: ‘Did we invent beauty?’  George’s question stimulated my curiosity and as I tend to do with all such questions I ‘held it’ for some time.  Over time I began to emerge some responses.  I noted them in my journal.  Following is some of what emerged for me as I was holding George’s question.

We humans have a natural capacity to appreciate beauty AND naming beauty is highly personal.  How is it that I find nature to contain beauty?  How is it that I find a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a play, certain music to be beautiful?  As I thought about these things and some other things I think to be beautiful I slowly discerned a pattern that I follow. 

I then discerned that I follow the same pattern when it comes to naming most things as having beauty.  Here is my pattern:

I find it ‘interesting.’  I also find that I experience physical, emotional and intellectual ‘tingles’ as I experience it; at times I also experience a spiritual ‘tingle’ but this ‘tingle’ does not seem to surface with each experience.  I then find it to be ‘memorable.’ And then I find that I have a desire to experience it again and when I do I find that I have a deeper experience and/or a ‘new’ experience — an ‘affirming’ ‘tingle’ or a different/new ‘tingle.’ 

At times, I immediately experience the ‘I find it interesting’ emerging and then I become aware of the ‘tingle.’  Later on I find myself re-imaging the experience and find that the ‘tingle’ also re-emerges.  Still later on I find that I, again, seek to re-image the experience for it has become memorable; I then find that I want to have the experience again (or to have an experience that I believe would be ‘like’ or ‘similar’ to it).  So, for example, I love the fall colors and will seek them out during that time of the year; I will stop and savor them and I will also drive to places where I believe they will be most revealing.  I will also re-read a poem, perhaps even memorize it so I can access it whenever I so desire.  I will do the same with certain plays or with certain passages that my favorite authors have penned.  I will listen to the same music when I am in a certain mood.  There are works of art — paintings, for example — that I have photographs of and I will look at one or more of these and re-savor them.  I also have photographs of people, animals, nature scenes, and gardens that I find to be beautiful and will look at these as my mood inspires me. 

I became aware, thanks to George’s question — that with each of these I follow the same pattern.  And my conclusion is also the same: This is what beauty is all about or this is beautiful. 

I am curious, Gentle Reader, how do you discern beauty?  Do you have a pattern also? 

There was an experiment conducted a number of years ago.  Folks from different cultures were shown a number of photographs and were asked to choose the one that represented ‘beauty’ to them or that they would call ‘beautiful.’  One interesting thing was that each person, not matter his or her culture, chose the photo depicting ‘nature’ as the one that represented beauty to them or that they found to be the most beautiful.  The other interesting thing was that each choose as the most ‘ugly’ photos that were starkly ‘geometric’ in nature — sharp line images.  I am also put off by sharp line images.  How about you, Gentle Reader, what types of ‘lines’ are you drawn to and what types of lines ‘put you off’?  It seems true that ‘Beauty’ is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. 

In life, as in art, the beautiful moves in curves. –Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

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THE BURNING UNASKED QUESTION. . .

There are a number of medieval European stories about Parsifal.  Parsifal had been taught the importance and value of silence and of ‘holding his tongue’ during his years of preparing to become a knight.  He developed his capacity for silence such that it became second nature to him.  Also, as a young man he became aware of an aching, burning question that resided deep within his heart and soul.  Like his silence, this question he carried with him as he traveled through life.

What Parsifal had not learned was that there was, indeed, a time — a crucial time, a necessary time, a ‘one time’ when one must speak the question. 

Each knight was sent on a quest — often the quest was only revealed to him as he proceeded along.  The knight came upon many paths and had to choose which to follow and trust that eventually the one path chosen would lead him to his destiny.  Parsifal wondered and chose.  Eventually he came upon a wasteland.  As he traveled deeper into the wasteland he came upon a castle.  He was welcomed into the castle; he brought his silence and his aching, burning question with him. 

After some rest and some nourishment he was led to a door; the way opened and he crossed the threshold.  There was a bloody spear propped against the wall.  There was a large four posted bed covered by a muslin cloth.  Parsifal approached the bed, pulled back the cloth.  His eyes met the eyes of the king.  The king had an open wound and was in great distress.  Although the king was well attended no one paid much attention to the wound for it was a wound that could not be healed.

As Parsifal looked at the wound he was reminded of his own aching, burning question.  He began to speak the question but his second-nature of silence took over and he did not speak the question.  He left the room and retired for the night.  In the morning he woke with great purpose, “I will speak the question!”  He went to the room, opened the door, but the room was empty. 

As one account put it: ‘And woe to him who failed to speak the question burning in his heart.  For had he but spoken, the king would have been healed from his most grievous wound, and the waste land made whole.”

If we, searchers and seekers, remain open to our own journey and if we travel long enough (for some it might be a short walk) we will come to our wasteland and if we have the courage to enter into our wasteland we will eventually meet our own wounded ‘Fisher King.’  AND, if we then are able to speak our own aching, burning question then, indeed, the King will be healed and the wasteland will once again be nurtured into life. 

Gentle reader, you might want to search out the stories of Parsifal and the Fisher King.  Also, many years ago, there was a wonderful, powerfully moving movie made titled ‘The Fisher King.’ (1991) and you might want to find it and immerse yourself in this version of the story.  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to continue to search and seek for your wasteland and your ‘Fisher King’ awaits you. 

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WHAT IS ‘THE FIRST RULE’?

Robert K. Greenleaf asks: ‘When I speak, how will that improve on the silence?’  Hidden within this simple and powerful admonishment is a guideline and I call this ‘The First Rule.’ 

Before I speak, I wait; I pause; I reflect. 

I am reminded of the teaching story in the Gospel [it doesn’t matter your faith-tradition or no faith-tradition, the story is a great teaching story — my belief, of course].  Jesus had just finished teaching about compassion and all of a sudden a noisy crowd burst upon the scene.  The crowd parted and a woman was thrown at Jesus’ feet.  Someone in the crowd wanted to know what they should do — he had just spoken of compassion and the speaker also reminded Jesus of ‘justice.’  The law said that this woman, caught in adultery, should be stoned to death.  ‘Well, Jesus, what should we do — show compassion or demonstrate justice?’  ‘Well, teacher what is your response; what do you have to say?’ 

I can see myself ‘shooting from the lip’ and taking up the taunt and the challenge.  I can see others I know also react quickly; no real pause to reflect — ‘They want a response and by God (interesting choice of words here) I will give them a response!’ 

What Jesus did was masterful.  He waited.  He paused.  He reflected.  He knelt down and wrote in the dirt [it might do each of us well if we carried some dirt with us so we could always pause and write in it before we spoke].  Then, and only then, did he speak.  His answer was perfect — he responded in such a way that the burden would be shifted to where it belonged, to those who brought the woman to be judged.  They were the ones that were judged — or rather, they were challenged to judge themselves. 

The First Rule is to wait, to pause, to reflect.  For me, it involves waiting to see what automatically emerges within my consciousness — and generally, this is not the most helpful response especially when I am faced with ‘life’ questions or ‘life’ situations or ‘life’ experiences.  I have learned that if I ‘wait’ then I will begin to discern potential responses that cut against my automatic responses.  What helps me is to make sure that ‘I see’ the other as a person. 

I am remembering the African nation where when two people meet they say to one another ‘I see you.’  ‘I see YOU!’  Do I really, truly, see the person who is attempting to obtain a response from me?  Can I begin to feel what he or she might be feeling?  Can I at minimum, ‘see’ that he or she has pain, joy, fear, courage, doubt and hope residing within them – just as I do. 

Do I have the courage to pause, to wait, to discern more deeply?  Courage comes from the French root meaning ‘heart.’  Wonderful.  Do I have the ‘heart’ to wait, to pause, to discern more deeply?  Do I care enough about the other and about myself to pause?  Does the other deserve my ‘best’ — do I? 

How can I know that my response connected?  I might learn so immediately.  I might never learn whether it did or not.  I might only learn years later.  I have had each of these experiences. 

I must build my ‘waiting capacity’ (it is also a discipline?) in order to honor ‘The First Rule’ — on my good days I can honor it with ease on my not-so-good days it is a challenge for me to do so and on my ‘really-not-good days’ I end up shooting from the lip.  How about you, Gentle Reader, what do you think about Greenleaf’s question and ‘The First Rule?’ 

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A UNIFIED BELIEF. . .

Our founders (i.e. of the United States of America) are referred to as our ‘Founding Fathers.’  Now we know from our careful reading of our history that there were a significant number of women who deeply influenced our founding; however, we have become accustomed to focusing on the men who gathered together and wrote policy.  What we know and at the same time don’t remember is that this gathering was composed of men who were quite diverse: in age, some were theists and some were not, they represented different interests (some agriculture, some fishing, some manufacturing, etc.), there was a diversity regarding ‘thinking styles’ and ‘problem-solving’ styles, there was diversity when it came to their education, there was diversity regarding where they lived — urban, country, region — and there was certainly a diversity when it came to their political thinking.  They also had some things in common — they were ‘white,’ male and free.  Although they all eventually supported seeking independence from England they certainly did not begin unified in this way and when it came time to adopt the Constitution some did not want to ratify it (the first States’ Rights folks — some wanted each state to be a country and others saw regional affiliations as the pathway; the Federalists won out, sort of). 

Our founders also held one other united belief: ‘We the People. . .’   For the first time in history, a large nation, geographically if not yet in population, was going to be turned over to the people — not to a parliament, not to a king, not to a dictator and not to the armed forces.  ‘We’ would hold the power and we would elect those to whom we would delegate the power — and these folks would all be civilians.  The armed forces, for the first time at this scale, would be subject to civilian control and civilian oversight — unheard of. 

The implications were — and are — significant.  Our founders did not want a standing, national armed force.  They believed that state and local ‘militias’ would suffice.  Thus they wanted each male (mostly white and certainly ‘free’) to be able to have at hand a single shot musket, perhaps a single shot pistol, a knife and a hatchet.  Each would automatically become a member of the local militia.  These local militias were to insure that no military force, nor a single person, would take over the government and, if needed, they would be called upon to protect the nation.  There is no way, of course, that they could foresee that this would be adulterated and become transformed into the ‘guns-rights’ debacle that exists today. 

‘We the People’ also required that all voting citizens (then, free and mostly white males), be educated enough so they could become responsible and response-able citizens.  This would mean that voting citizens needed access to public education.  Citizens must be educated so they could carry out their duties as citizens.  So they could become informed as to the issues that faced those they elected and so that they could then lead these elected officials; the citizens would be the leaders and those elected would ‘serve’ the citizens.  ‘We the People’ required this if democracy and our Country were to survive and thrive.

To what extent have ‘We the People’ moved to ‘Those in Office’?  To what extent have we (myself included) given up our being responsible and response-able citizens and taken on the ‘you-take-care-of-us’ role?  How many of us truly seek to be educated Citizens?  How many of us have actually taken on the mantle of ‘We the People’ — the number of folks that don’t vote and don’t care and ‘feel powerless’ seem to increase with each generation.  We are powerless because WE have given up our power to those we elect — simple enough to understand.  We now serve those we elect and we certainly don’t hold them accountable.  We have lost the ‘We’ of the nation for the ‘We’ of the district (thanks in part to gerrymandering).  We do not engage in civil discourse — our founders showed us the necessity for and the power of such discourse.  They feared partisanship and sectarianism. 

Are you and I willing to recommit to our founders’ powerful phrase and all that this phrase implies?  Do we truly have the courage to commit to being a United Nation, a Nation of . . . ‘We the People’

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‘CONTROL’ – YA, SURE!

Recently a friend of mine was in what we call a ‘fender-bender.’  My friend is fine – no injuries.  The fender?  The fender performed its function like the secret service agent throwing himself in front of the president; it took one for my friend.    Later on I began to think about ‘Control.’  The person whose car hit my friend’s car had, the driver claimed, ‘lost control.’ 

How often do we, you and I Gentle Reader, feel we should be able to control the world — the world should cooperate with us.  ‘I can only accept so much trouble today,’ I pine, ‘so please don’t whelm me over today,’ I plead.  The world doesn’t care. 

Regarding ‘Nature,’ the world is indifferent — what is, is and what will be, will be.  So the earthquake, the rain, the cold cloudy skies of late February will or will not occur.  Nature doesn’t care about you or me or us; nature is indifferent AND we can’t control her and most of the time we can’t even predict what she will offer up to us (I have said for years that the perfect job is that of weather-person; you don’t even have to be correct for the winds of nature will blow where they will; not as you predict). 

Now I can hear myself saying in response to the world not behaving as I want it to behave, ‘Life is not fair!’ And, so, it isn’t.  ‘Life’ is impartial, at best.  Moreover, how can I expect to control the world when I can’t even control myself?  I can’t tell my blood to flow a certain way; I can’t tell my heart to beat more slowly and I certainly can’t scream ‘RELAX’ when I am whelmed over by stress and expect that I will then, indeed, relax.  I can, however, influence many of my body’s functions and at times that suffices.  I know, intellectually, that ingesting whole grains and fruit and fiber will not guarantee me immortality. 

I also can’t control my mind.  Mindfulness partly involves coming to understand and accept that my mind is not an object to be controlled.  If I try to think only one thought my mind will wander.  If I try to ‘clear my mind’ I will imagine the weirdest things.  All sorts of things continue to bubble up no matter how much energy I put into controlling them — thoughts, impulses, feelings, sensations, etc. 

To add to my control woes, I also attempt to control others.  I coerce them, I manipulate them, and at my best I will attempt to persuade them or influence them.  I even find myself trying to control those who are in cars; I did this today.  I found myself yelling at the ‘car’ in front of me: ‘Speed up you dolt!’ ‘Don’t leave such a big space between you and the car in front of you,’ I yelled.  No luck — no compliance on the other car’s part.  The space was left and lo-and-behold another car moved into that space. 

Sadly, I have learned — mostly — that the more I attempt to control all of this stuff the more I become obsessed with control and hence the more I become vulnerable to the pain when I experience that I, indeed, cannot control the world.  So, when all else fails, I return to Reinhold Niebuhr’s ‘Serenity Prayer’ (he wrote this in 1937 and it has been used by and attributed to a number of other folks — but it was written by Reinhold):  Here is his prayer:

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.  Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.”

Amen, indeed!

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