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Archive for July, 2021

The Ancient Greeks didn’t have a word for ‘blue.’  The color didn’t exist for them.  Couldn’t see it without a word for it. –John Green ‘Turtles All the Way Down’

Gentle Reader, when was the last time you were at a loss for words

Yesterday I was looking through and savoring some of the many photos my friend George has taken and gifted me with.  As I was savoring George’s photos I realized that if I was asked to describe some of them that I would have no words to do so.  I found these photos to be ‘Ineffable’ & ‘Sublime.’

Here is one of George’s photos that, for me, captures both the ineffable & the sublime.

Ineffable = incapable of being expressed or described in words.

Sublime = impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur; inspiring awe

As I sat savoring George’s photo I began to think about these two concepts – the ineffable & the sublime.  I decided to put finger to key and see what emerged for me as I held these two concepts.  Gentle Reader, here is some of what emerged into my consciousness (I am not sure how many ‘Parts’ there will be – more than one I suspect).

All animals can, to some extent, express themselves and communicate.  What sets us human beings aside from all other animals is not only our ability to develop words and symbols, but also our being driven to draw a distinction between the utterable and the unutterable; to be stopped cold in our tracks by that which ‘is’ but cannot be expressed in words.  I am thinking of the Ancient Greeks who ‘saw’ blue but could not express the wonder of ‘blue’ for they had no word for ‘blue.’ 

As I savored George’s photo I realized that no work of art ever brought to expression the depth of the unutterable, the essence of the ineffable and the sublime.  Our attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is an everlasting theme and, at times, frustration for us human beings. 

It seems to me that the ‘sensitive’ dimension of each of us knows that the intrinsic, the most essential, is never expressed for we have no words for them.  The deep blue of the sea, the blue that stirs our hearts and calls to our souls, is something that no words can capture.  What awakens us – perhaps even disturbs us or frustrates us – is not that which we grasp and describe with words but that which lies within our reach but resides just beyond our grasp. 

I am not thinking of the quantitative aspects of George’s photo – or of the deep blue sea.  I am striving to discern and hold and savor what is beyond the quantitative; I am striving to savor and hold both the ineffable and the sublime. 

I was taught that I had to ‘master’ subjects.  But who can ‘master’ beauty or peace? –Kathleen Norris

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…at the end of the day, what’s more important? Knowing that a few meaningless figures balanced—or knowing that you were the person you were called to be? –Sophie Kinsella

During the past twelve days or so I have been thinking about ‘Ways of Being.’  Today I will share some of what has been emerging into my consciousness regarding ‘Being Use-full & Being Use-less.’

Too often our ideologies and institutions tell us that the worth of a person is equivalent to his/her use-fullness to society.  It also seems that, for the majority of us folks, we hold a hope, expectation or belief that others (persons and institutions) will not ‘recognize’ us (think: affirm and honor) merely because of our value to them – because we are ‘use-full’ to them.  We hope that we will be positively regarded as a ‘Being’ that is significant and valuable simply because we exist (think: even if we are deemed to be ‘use-less’). 

To put this another way: the grandeur of a human being is not reducible to the needs the ‘being’ is capable of serving, addressing, meeting, or satisfying.  A human being does not want to be treated as a means to an end – one who is subservient to the ‘other(s).’  Even the powerful folks want to be loved for their own sake – for being a ‘human being’ not a ‘human doing.’

Nor do the old, the sick, the infirmed, the disabled, the home-less, the poor want to be experienced as ‘burdens’ even though they might not be as ‘use-full’ as even they want to be.  We human beings do not want to be ‘ends’ or ‘burdens.’  We seek to be recognized and embraced and welcomed and loved simply because we are ‘human beings’ (that is: we, by our nature, have dignity). 

Anyone who has ‘served’ the high priority needs of another AND has been open to being ‘served’ by the other knows, by experience, the impact of being served by the one being served.  We are gifted, graced and grow when we are open to being served by those we serve. 

How do I look upon each person I meet?  Do I truly ‘see’ the human being (for Christians the ante is higher – Do I see the Divine in each person?)?  Or do I ‘see’ how ‘use-full’ or how ‘use-less’ the other is to me/us? 

Only ‘human beings’ can pledge: ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all.’  Only ‘human beings’ can strive to fulfill: ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’   Only ‘human beings’ can ensure that ‘community’ is formed and that ‘the herd’ is avoided. 

I need to remember that a ‘human being’ is not valuable because he or she is a member of the ‘human race.’  The human race is valuable because it is a community composed of ‘human beings’ not ‘human doings.’  No ‘human being’ is ‘use-less’ AND each ‘human being’ is ‘use-full.’  I can hold onto this idea if I can hold onto this: In the end, all that matters is love!

The only purpose of our lives consists in waking each other up and being there for each other. –Johanna Paungger

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‘SILENCE’ IS A THREAT

Consider, Gentle Reader, that ‘noise’ is normal.  Consider that paradoxically, or is it ironically, ‘silence’ has become the disturbance.  We have become addicted to ‘noise’ and we have become alienated from ‘silence.’  We are addicted to both the external noise of the world and our own internal noise.  We are so noise-full that we are not able to hear the sounds of silence (thanks S&G).

What are some of the sounds of silence that we do not hear?  Consider these: the wind murmuring, softly, the leaves rustling, quietly, the birds flapping their wings, rhythmically, the waves gently washing the shores, God speaking to us in whispers.  We also miss our own quiet breathing or the sound of our hands softly caressing our skin or the sound we make when we quietly swallow.  We have, in truth, become deaf to these and other sounds of silence.

In order to regain our hearing – our ability to hear and listen to the sounds of silence – we, like other drug addicts, must experience withdrawal.  As with all withdrawals this one can also be painful.  It is challenging enough for us to withdraw from external noise; the withdrawal from our internal noise is significantly more challenging. 

As we shut off the external noise we become more aware of our inner noise.  This inner noise arises from our chaotic and conflicting feelings – the feelings that scream for our attention.  We find ourselves engaged in an inner discussion (discussion = a heaving of sounds back and forth) and often this inner noise is greater than the external noise.  We become aware of the loud voices that demand we attend to unsolved challenges or that complain or that judge us for ‘not having attended to…’ 

Rather than providing us comfort, too often our silence reminds us of what we have been avoiding.  Often this reminder emerges as questions that challenge – even confound – us: What do I do when I have nothing to do?  Who am I if I am not my role?  Why am I here?  If I stay on this life-path where will I end up?  Where am I going and why am I choosing to go there?

It is not easy to hear these questions without engaging them; to hear them AND to sit quietly and calmly. 

Now, to be quiet and calm is not like sleeping.  Being quiet and calm means being fully awake and it means paying close attention to what is emerging from within.  It requires the discipline to recognize our addiction to noise calling us to ‘shoot up.’  Paying attention in this way offers us a freedom to discern the pathway to our heart; a pathway that requires our letting go of addictive noise while embracing the sounds of silence.  Another paradox. 

This new ‘silence’ is the silence of peace, prayer, contentment, joy and grace.  It is the silence that allows us to hear – and perhaps heed – our inner guide and the ‘Spirit’ that whispers to us.  It is the silence of the ‘poor in spirit’; the silence that enables us to see our life in a more proper perspective rather than to view our life through the glasses of illusion. 

I offer us this prayer: Dear God, speak gently in my silence.  When the loud outer noises of my life and the louder inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from you, help me to trust that you are still there even when I am unable – or unwilling – to listen for your whispers.  Help me open my ears and listen for and pay attention to your whispers: ‘Come to me, you who are burdened…I will give you rest for I am gentle of heart.’  God, let your loving voice be my guide and support.  Amen.

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Discipline = an activity that helps one develop one’s capacity.  Given this definition, ‘discipline’ is ‘neutral’ and becomes nurturing or depleting depending in large part upon what we choose and what we choose to do over and over and over.  Aristotle noted that we become our habits and so it is with ‘discipline’ – if a certain ‘discipline’ is habitual then over time we integrate it so that it can actually become ‘second nature’ to us. 

I am a pre-cradle Roman Catholic; I write ‘pre-cradle’ because I was baptized while I was in the delivery room for I was frail, sickly and not expected to live (surprise!).  I learned to ‘pray’ early in life and prayer became a ritual (not a discipline).  When I was 18 years old I spent a year in a Monastery and that is where I was introduced to the ‘discipline’ of prayer. 

Prayer = a devout petition to an object of worship; a spiritual communion with an object of worship.  For some the ‘object of worship’ is a transcendent being; for some it is truly an ‘object’ – e.g. money – that is worshiped.  We petition these via our prayers and we can also seek a ‘spiritual communion’ with them. 

As I noted, prior to entering the Monastery, my prayers were primarily ‘ritual’ in nature.  I prayed when I awoke, I prayed prior to breakfast, from the age of 6 on I attended daily mass and prayed some more, I prayed before meals, I prayed before formal games, I prayed at night and I prayed before I went to bed.  I also prayed during severe thunder storms or when someone was ill or when someone had died.  Some of my prayers were prayers of ‘thanksgiving’ but most of them, as I recall, were prayers of petition or ‘begging.’ 

My time in the Monastery transformed my idea of prayer [Transformation = a fundamental change in character or structure] – Now I need to be clear: I still offer prayers of petition and I am really good when it comes to ‘begging’ prayers; I have not changed my habit when it comes to these two types of prayers. 

What changed for me was that prayer went from being a ‘ritual’ to a ‘discipline.’  In addition, I learned the power of the prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude; I learned the power of prayer as ‘conversation;’ I learned the power of prayer as ‘connection,’ and I learned the power of healing prayer. 

I still pray at certain times of the day; some of these prayers can – and do at times – simply become ‘ritual’ prayers.  On good days, I catch myself and can move from ‘ritual’ prayer to ‘disciplined’ prayer [I am awake and aware of my prayer and I am intentional and purpose-full about the prayer itself].  I often prepare myself for prayer by imaging my walking with God – who shows up in a number of guises; sometimes God shows up as ‘light’ or as a wise woman, or as a man about my age, or as a breeze that is gently moving throughout the universe; sometimes God shows up as a mentor, or as a wise person that I have read about – a Socrates, for example.  I do not try and force God into a certain image; I allow God to come to me as God wishes (God is God after all and can show up as God wishes…if I allow God to do so). 

There are two other prayer disciplines that I have integrated: Meditation and Lectio Divina.  These help me to slow down, to become centered in my heart and soul and they are two disciplines that I use to nurture my spirit.  I learned the discipline and the power of both during my year in the Monastery.  Few things draw me closer to understanding who I am, to having a relationship with God, and to trusting that I really do not walk alone.     

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WORDS ARE POWERFUL. . .

Words are powerful.  Perhaps the most challenging agreement we can make with ourselves and with others is to always ‘give our word’ rooted in integrity.  Is your word your bond? – A simple question to ponder. 

Our words are seeds.  In offering these seeds we might prepare the soil-mind of the other or we might just scatter them about and see which ones take root.  Sometimes we are not aware that the words we choose to put out there actually have great impact on the recipient.  Sometimes we are intentional and purpose-full and we choose our words carefully and we deliver them with an intention that they take root in the recipient.  We know stories of how ‘ordinary’ folks were dramatically affected by words delivered.  Authors, dictators, prime ministers, educators, scientists, and parents have all used their words such that the recipients took in these seeds and nurtured them into life.  Because of Hitler’s words, ordinary, good folk, common folk like you and me perpetrated heinous acts. 

Words are powerful.  I am remembering a conversation I had with my son, Nathan.  As we spoke, he recalled his experience with ‘that guy’ who helped him develop a different self-image because of his words [and how he delivered them].  This event occurred thirty-five years ago, when my son was six years old.  It was clear that Nathan was well on his way to developing a ‘poor self-image’ – especially when it came to his formal education.  He was learning that he was stupid; at minimum he believed that he was not smart.  He struggled in school because the system was not able to understand, nor respond to how he learned best.  He was given a label and anyone who has been given a label (another word) knows how others then respond to him or her because of the label and they also discover that they actually live into the label; they become the label.  Because the ‘professionals’ had labeled him, I decided to take him to see a more powerful professional that I believed would speak different words to him; powerful words that would, over time, take root and enable Nathan to emerge a different self-image. 

I took him to see the ‘doctor.’  The doctor tested Nathan.  He met with Nathan and me and spoke the words – he even recorded the words on a tape and gave the tape to Nathan.  ‘What my testing showed, Nathan, is that you are an artist.  You have gifts and talents and abilities that the rest of us wish we had.  I have listed some of these for you and I have put my words on a tape.  When you are feeling low, listen to the tape.  Do your art.  Become the artist.’  Nathan listened.  School continued to be a struggle for him and he also experienced several teachers that adjusted their teaching to his learning style; they also reinforced his artistic abilities.  Today, Nathan is an artist and is a gifted teacher (he is, by the by, a ceramicist).  He also continues to be an avid learner beyond his discipline.  He is also intentional and purpose-full about the words he offers to his students and to others. 

‘Impeccable’ means ‘faultless and incapable of sin.’  How often are we – you and I – impeccable with our words?  How often do we seek to be impeccable when it comes to the words we choose to offer to ourselves and to others?  I am not talking about being ‘perfect’ I am, however, talking about being more consistent – that is, with being awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full when it comes to choosing (and we do choose) which words to offer. 

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to spend one day paying attention to the words you give, the words you share.  Then, near the end of the day I invite you to stop, step-back and reflect upon your word choice during the day.  Just notice…do not use more words to judge yourself…just notice.  Just Notice!

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