Beauty…Vulnerability

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It was just a splash of red against the gray asphalt. It was like a marker at the crossroads of a busy intersection. Like all those traveling north, south, east and west, my foot was to the metal and my eyes only took a single moment to see that this scarlet spot was not an abandoned candy wrapper or a soda can flattened in the surrounding haste. Instead, laying on the ground was a fully formed male cardinal, its exquisite life cut short by a wind that took it off course or a car whose speed matched the velocity of its outstretched wings…just so. I wondered if the driver even saw the impact and was now feeling the sadness I felt at witnessing its dead body. I breathed a sigh…a sort of prayer.
This moment in a summer day is still traveling with me. It has now been more than six weeks if not longer and I can still see the fallen bird, its brilliant red shining forth one last time. I have thought about this winged one more often than I would like to admit. Its beauty. Its vulnerability. Its untimely ending, an ending I glimpsed in just a second of my own beautiful and vulnerable life. In the briefest and yet deepest of ways, I felt connection to that bird whose flight was cut short as it headed for food or its nest or wherever it is cardinals fly to in an ordinary day that turned out to be not so ordinary.

Summer now gone, this is the season when birds and people are changing their patterns. Some are heading south and others are turning inward in anticipation of the winter to come. It is a time of great beauty…colors are turning in tree and plant…some animals are storing up food and growing warmer fur or feathers…some people are preparing their homes for colder days and storing up projects for longer nights. The summer days are past and autumn, the time for letting go and preparing for the journey of winter is upon us. 

An attention to these seasonal patterns can be a great connector, I have found. As humans we can often believe we are the center of it all, the wiser of all the creatures. But all we need do is observe the squirrel carrying multiple nuts as big as its head up a tree at lightning speed, jumping between precarious limbs, and we know the same feat would be impossible for us. Their winter prep makes ours look quite feeble and it engenders awe in me. I am blessed to watch their work and to feel a strange connection to knowing we will both go into the winter and, hopefully, will emerge intact when spring arrives again.

This attention to the connection and the patterns of ordinary days turned extraordinary is holy work. It is, at least for me, the recognition of a deeper Source that runs through all life…that holds us all…and for some reason I feel it more acutely this fall. Perhaps it is because fall so tenderly holds the beauty and the vulnerability. Perhaps it is because the image of the cardinal is still shimmers in the recesses of memory.

I am not sure when the sight of the dead cardinal will leave me. When it does it is likely to be replaced by another reminder of connection with Creation, the joys and the loss that are the waves we all ride. At least I hope that is the case. In being a steward of the red bird’s memory, I was reminded of how singer/songwriter Peter Mayer writes about his experience of seeing a red-winged bird. He describes it as “shining like a burning bush” and “singing like a scripture verse”. He goes on to say the sight makes him want to bow his head because everything is holy now. 

Beauty. Vulnerability. Connection. Ordinary. Holy. A bowed head seems just right for this autumn day.

Strong Rope

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There are books that seem to call me back. Books I have read more than once…some several times. Since I am a dedicated underliner, I find phrases that have meant something at one time, their words sitting atop a red, blue, black or even green line reinforcing their meaning., giving weight to the various letters that have come together to forge their identity in the world and in the sentence. Sometimes I understand what the phrase meant to me when my pen put its signature under it. Other times, I furrow my brow with the ‘what was I thinking?’look.
Over the last days I picked up again A Hidden Wholeness:The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker Palmer. I must have read this book, or at least parts of it, at least three times. My underlining got started early with the his first short quote from Leonard Cohen that begins the Prelude to the book: “The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul.” I had not simply underlined this sentence but created a box around it with blue ink.

I do not know what was happening in my world or the wider world that caused me to box this collection of words. I cannot remember the year or the time in my life. But as I reread the Prelude to this book of invitation to wholeness, I was drawn in again to the lure of their beauty and truth. The blizzard of the world…even in these summer days…crossing the threshold…piling up wind and storm…overturning the order of the soul. Have you ever had this experience? 

Our lives can often become divided by any manner of things. Our work. Our health. Our life circumstances. The workings of the world around us. The pain and pull of others both near and far. Some days it is simply easier to create little compartments where one part of ourself goes…worry, here…pain, there…joy, in this box…grief, in this slot in the back. We divide ourselves into little squares of emotion and thought, mind and spirit, creating hard edges that threaten to crack and peel at the least appearance of vulnerability. It can be a difficult balancing act to maintain.

Parker Palmer uses these words of Cohen to tell the story of how, at the threat of an impending storm, the farmers of days gone by who lived on the Midwest plains would run a rope from the house to the barn. This rope became the lifeline that kept the farmers connected between the shelter of their home and the shelter they were providing for the animals they cared for and that brought them their livelihood. This way, when the winds blew, the snow fell and their vision became obscured by all that swirled around them, they held onto the rope and found their way between their responsibilities and their home. The rope became a way of not getting lost in the storms of the world.

These days we have many stormy words and sentiments flying around us. Our political climate and the rhetoric filling our airwaves can become overwhelming. What to believe? How to think? What to say…when to remain silent? For me, this can be upending to the order of my soul. And so I have been tying my rope from home to the places that help me maintain a soul order… beautiful words that don’t mean to harm or coerce…listening to the chattery sound of the morning birdsong…observing the particular color and shapes of the evening, autumn sky… spending time with the people whose hearts are kind and gentle…and embracing the gift of silence. These are the knots along the rope that, I hope, will carry me through the storm that is likely to be the next two months. 

Whatever storm is crossing your threshold, may the rope you tie be strong and sure.

Seasons

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Sometimes it is good to take a break even from the things you love. Sometimes it is good to know when to be silent, when to be still, when to listen more than speak, when to step back from the things that pull at your heart. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wisdom writer says it well…”to everything there is a season”. The last several months have found me in a season of withdrawal from this world of words I so dearly love.
Instead, I have found myself in a season of silence. It has been a season that has taken me to places of deep listening. It is a season that has also taken me to places of letting go and simply being. Without the need to interpret or make meaning. Without the need to share musings with anyone other than my most inward self. In many ways it has been a season of confusion even numbness. But it is a season I can feel is ending or at least changing. As someone who puts the world together and makes sense of its experiences through the gift of words this feels like a homecoming.

This past week I saw the first flock of geese headed to their next season. I was driving by the airport hoping for the experience I so love of having a plane fly directly over my car as I drive by. Feeling the sheer weight of one of those massive machines fly over your toy-sized vehicle, hearing the pounding power of it as it makes its way up into the air or back to Earth again, always thrills me. I try to time my driving with the plane’s take off or landing, so I am situated in a connecting tunnel of energy not only with the flying machine but also with those who are doing their own travel. It is a quirky little thing I do.

But that morning it was not a plane that rose off the runway. Instead it was six amazing geese making their own kind of energy, their own kind of flight. As they approached their take-off to fly directly over the road, I watched them and something shifted in me. And I knew a season was changing…for the winged ones…for me…for the landscape and place I call home. I smiled at the noticing and its promise.

Our lives are made of so many seasons. There are the life stages that define our living. There are seasons that create the space for our work, our learning, our playing. There are the seasons of creativity and fallowness. There are the seasons of being a child, being a caregiver and the way those seasons seem to fall back into themselves over the years. They are seasons in our relationships. There are the seasons of the year, their gifts and challenges, the beauty they offer and the sometimes boredom they lay at our doorstep. So many seasons…

The season I have been in has been a season of silence and suspension above some of the creative acts that bring me life. But just like the geese who have been pecking at the earth, filling their bellies with food-fuel that will allow them to do the hard work of getting to the home of their next season, I, too, have been storing up. It is something we all must do at times. Because life is filled with many seasons. 

Of course, in seeing those geese rise into the clear blue sky of the impending autumn I immediately thought of my soul-teacher Mary Oliver’s words:

“Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

Whatever season you are in, may you rest gently in its wisdom. May you listen and learn its lessons. And may we all rise up and hear the call, announcing our place in the family of things.

Grounding Footsteps

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The events of the last weeks have had me reaching out for what is grounding, what has withstood the tests that have inevitably challenged humanity throughout time. Questions like ‘what really sustains?’ and ‘ what brings courage and wisdom?’ have floated in between the anguish of troubling newsfeed that can be our constant companion if we allow it. Trying to keep a balance between being responsible and informed and staying calm and sane can be a difficult.
Recently I have returned to a devotional book given to me as a birthday gift from a friend. It is simply titled Celtic Daily Prayer and is a rich compilation of scripture and reflection from throughout the swath of writings of those who have been shaped by the faith of those who have made a home in or near the British Isles. Each month in the book is themed and July is devoted to pilgrimage…pilgrimage to places held holy by those who lived and traveled there. In yesterday’s reading I found words that soothed my soul.

July 14 was given over to the pilgrimage site of Assisi, Italy. “In Assisi the past is not history, but the life of Francis is now, just as Christ is now.” writes Norma Wise. These words had me swirling back in memory to my travels two years ago and the experience of beauty and strength that permeated the streets of Assisi. While all the modern amenities we have come to hold so precious were present in this ancient city there was also the sense that time was fluid and that the living presence of the humble teacher we have come to call St. Francis might appear around the next corner. His gifts of simplicity and wonder at the fullness of Creation seemed to shimmer in the very air. 

Further in the devotional reading were these words: “There have been thousands of footsteps around Assisi, but through them all the footsteps of Francis seem freshly there, unaltered,calling out for us to walk in them,and learn.” writes Brenda Grace. The days we walked this tiny Umbrian town, the place was filled with pilgrims night and day. Languages floated by in conversation, words unfamiliar, unknown. Faces shown forth with characteristics of those from a variety of countries and national origins. Our own footsteps made one more groove in the stones there and left their image in the dusty paths. It was easy to image our footsteps mixed with those of Francis and his followers…calling out to us to learn.

Learn? Learn, what? Certainly, the value to the Holy of each created being from tiny insect to upright human. Perhaps, the joy of the simple things of the every day…the sunrise and sunset, the trees swaying in breeze, the rain falling, the light twinkling on water, the smell of a freshly bloomed flower. All gifts of Creator…all which we had no hand in bringing to being. Our only work is to receive them in our presence, exclaim our wonder and enjoy. Our deep connection to every part of the world…the poor, the lonely, those on the margins, those we name other or least…all these are kin. These could be just a few of the lessons Francis might teach us for our day and time.

This mental pilgrimage, these memories helped me find the grounding I needed to walk out into the day and I was grateful. The words and the challenge to walk in the footsteps of Francis once again helped center me for the work of the day. I thought of how in a sense I had brought his footsteps with me across an ocean and into my own land. This thought helped me to walk more gently with yesterday’s experiences…to hold someone’s gaze more fully…to breathe more deeply of the beauty that still exists around me…to offer blessing to the strangers who pass our way…to make my prayer constant, unceasing. These can be things we abandon when life gets tough.

Today, I am sure, pilgrims from all walks of life are showing up in a little town in Italy, a place where only their clothing and the cars rushing by gives indication of the year. But history is not past there. It is now…just as Francis is now…just as Christ is now. This brings me comfort and peace for the journey of my own present. What is bringing you comfort and peace these days?

Under Appreciated Words

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Surrounded by the pain and astonishment, a common phrase heard over this last week has been “There are no words.” There are no words that can make sense of the loss, the grief, the despair we see seeping into all the cracks and crevices of what we thought we knew, what we hold dear, what we value. There are no words that seem adequate for our anger and disgust over lives, dreams, possibilities cut short once again by the strength and power of bullets, of racism that runs so deep in the rivers and tributaries of this nation and our very veins that we fail to see it, own it, claim it. There are no words that seem to be powerful enough to jar me fully awake to the white privilege I embody every day even when I desperately do not want to admit it. There are no words that speak enough truth. There are no words that will bring enough comfort. There are no words that will help any one of us believe that this time, this time something can be done to stop the insanity. There are no words.
I have found myself not knowing how to pray. The words don’t come and so I simply breathe…and in that breathing hope beyond hope that I am connecting with the More that holds all the wordless places. The More that is known in the silence and the ancient time before words defined us and helped us try to bring meaning to what we experience in this big adventure called life. Inhale. Exhale. Hope. No words.

A few weeks ago I heard the author Sara Miles speak. She has given her life over to helping feed the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless on the street of San Francisco. She posed the question: “What is the most important word in the Bible?” The room being filled with church types, professionals at scripture reading, I imagine thoughts like salvation…redemption…God…Jesus…resurrection…even love perched upon the lips of those around me. We all wanted to appear to be good students who knew the right answer.

But before any of us could raise our hand and receive her approval, Sara answered her own question. “With.” With is the most important word in the scriptures, she said. When she said this simple word, one we use over and over every day, I felt that place in my chest open that is the home to what is soul. I felt myself breathe more fully and allow the goodness of the moment and the gift of this under appreciated word rest in that heart place of my deepest knowing. With..I whispered to myself. With..liking the way it seemed like breath itself.

“Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” “Noah walked with God.” “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you.” “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” “God is with us.” “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

This great preposition, with, is the under appreciated word that reminds us of the invisible lines of connection that exist throughout all Creation. ‘With’ is the bridge-builder, the hand-holder, between us and them, you and me, this and that. In the scriptures this four letter word is a wake up call to the ways in which we can never be separated from the Spirit’s movement in our lives, in any given situation. Ever. 

And so, maybe there are no words for what we have seen unfold over the last week. No big, important words that will make it all make sense or make it better. At least until we embrace fully the power of ‘with’. I am with you and you are with me in this time of crisis in our nation and our world. We are with one another regardless of the color of our skin. We are with the families who suffer today because a loved one will never come home again. We are with those who have chosen a profession that seeks to serve and protect and is filled with experiences most of us could never imagine, experiences filled with fear and misunderstanding and rapid decisions. We are with our privilege and our racism and pray we can break its hold on us. We are with one another in the hope and promise of change and a brighter, safer future for all God’s children.

And when there are no words, may these bring a balm…”And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Makers

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Yesterday I posted a blog about an experience on a beach on Whidbey Island. I hoped that the image of a creation called ‘Tristan and Ryan’s House. There was a technical glitch…so here it is.

Makers

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In the first and last analysis, we human beings are makers. From the beginning of time we have been tasked with the work of making. Making shelter. Making fire. Making food. Making art. Making other people. While animals also are makers…nests…hiding places…other animals…as humans we have a big job of being makers. I was reminded of this when I noticed the business card of a friend’s daughter who creates amazing statues and fanciful art inspired by her Australian heritage. Her business card did not read ‘artist’ or ‘painter’ or even ‘sculptor’. It boldly stated her name and then ‘Maker’. I have kept this card to not only remind me of her work but also of my own.
Last week my family and I meandered along a beach on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington state. This particular beach is the recipient of all manner of washed up logs, branches, even whole trees stripped to a clean, near-whiteness by the ocean’s push and pull. These gifts from the Sound litter the sand for as far as the eye can see looking like skeletons of large sea-faring mammals that have met a treacherous demise, washed to land by a violent wind.

And yet…because we are at-heart makers, these abandoned ‘bones’ had been gathered by beach walkers of all ages to create something more, something whimsical and magical. Several places along the beach held the visible frame of a shelter for perhaps a small child to hide from the sun’s rays or the too eager eyes of a parent. The wood leaned in triangles and rectangles and structures resembling a Lincoln Log playhouse. The creations, now with no other maker in sight, begged for attention and the addition of one more log here…another right there. And so I obliged, adding my own twist of creativity that said ‘I was here.’

But the piece de resistance was one creation that took its inspiration from the many ships that sailed the nearby waters. Log upon log had been piled until a two story pirate like ship had been made. Towels hung on one of the walls, perhaps left behind by the architects, used to dry off after a cooling dip in the frigid waters near by. Looking up, I saw a long piece of flat wood with the words “Tristan and Ryan’s House”. I laughed and wondered who these lads were and how long it took them to be the makers of this remarkable creation.

With the beautiful work of Tristan and Ryan still swimming in my brain,that evening I came back to hear the news of the shootings in Orlando. Once again, what seems impossible had happened. Lives lost. Hearts broken. Families crushed. Possibilities cut short. Hatred and misunderstanding, fear and phobias littered a place that had once only held the sounds of laughter and the beat of music and dancing feet. Like most people, I felt the despair of yet another such tragedy.

And now in the aftermath of such destruction, such pain, here we are. Again. What to do? How to feel? What does it all mean? How can we stop it? There are calls for prayer and moments of silence. There are shouts for control of our nation’s fascination…love…of guns. Once again sides will be taken and lines will be drawn in the sand, political rhetoric will roll off tongues and fall on mostly deaf ears. We will say the names of these young people as we did the children of Sandy Hook and in all the other times in the hopes that this time might be different. And we will mean it and yet it know it is inadequate.

But perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this will be the time when we remember that we are all born to be makers. Makers not of destruction but of shelters. Makers who take the raw materials of what gets washed up on our shores and who build something beautiful and filled with hope. Makers who stake a claim on a house we have built, a house built in understanding and kindness and goodness and the promise of a future. A house that welcomes all and refuses to allow hatred and fear to have the final say. We will put our name on this house and baptize ourselves in the cooling waters that flow outside its door. We will call this house, Love.

As a maker, this is my prayer.

Makers

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In the first and last analysis, we human beings are makers. From the beginning of time we have been tasked with the work of making. Making shelter. Making fire. Making food. Making art. Making other people. While animals also are makers…nests…hiding places…other animals…as humans we have a big job of being makers. I was reminded of this when I noticed the business card of a friend’s daughter who creates amazing statues and fanciful art inspired by her Australian heritage. Her business card did not read ‘artist’ or ‘painter’ or even ‘sculptor’. It boldly stated her name and then ‘Maker’. I have kept this card to not only remind me of her work but also of my own.
Last week my family and I meandered along a beach on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington state. This particular beach is the recipient of all manner of washed up logs, branches, even whole trees stripped to a clean, near-whiteness by the ocean’s push and pull. These gifts from the Sound litter the sand for as far as the eye can see looking like skeletons of large sea-faring mammals that have met a treacherous demise, washed to land by a violent wind.

And yet…because we are at-heart makers, these abandoned ‘bones’ had been gathered by beach walkers of all ages to create something more, something whimsical and magical. Several places along the beach held the visible frame of a shelter for perhaps a small child to hide from the sun’s rays or the too eager eyes of a parent. The wood leaned in triangles and rectangles and structures resembling a Lincoln Log playhouse. The creations, now with no other maker in sight, begged for attention and the addition of one more log here…another right there. And so I obliged, adding my own twist of creativity that said ‘I was here.’

But the piece de resistance was one creation that took its inspiration from the many ships that sailed the nearby waters. Log upon log had been piled until a two story pirate like ship had been made. Towels hung on one of the walls, perhaps left behind by the architects, used to dry off after a cooling dip in the frigid waters near by. Looking up, I saw a long piece of flat wood with the words “Tristan and Ryan’s House”. I laughed and wondered who these lads were and how long it took them to be the makers of this remarkable creation.

With the beautiful work of Tristan and Ryan still swimming in my brain,that evening I came back to hear the news of the shootings in Orlando. Once again, what seems impossible had happened. Lives lost. Hearts broken. Families crushed. Possibilities cut short. Hatred and misunderstanding, fear and phobias littered a place that had once only held the sounds of laughter and the beat of music and dancing feet. Like most people, I felt the despair of yet another such tragedy.

And now in the aftermath of such destruction, such pain, here we are. Again. What to do? How to feel? What does it all mean? How can we stop it? There are calls for prayer and moments of silence. There are shouts for control of our nation’s fascination…love…of guns. Once again sides will be taken and lines will be drawn in the sand, political rhetoric will roll off tongues and fall on mostly deaf ears. We will say the names of these young people as we did the children of Sandy Hook and in all the other times in the hopes that this time might be different. And we will mean it and yet it know it is inadequate.

But perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this will be the time when we remember that we are all born to be makers. Makers not of destruction but of shelters. Makers who take the raw materials of what gets washed up on our shores and who build something beautiful and filled with hope. Makers who stake a claim on a house we have built, a house built in understanding and kindness and goodness and the promise of a future. A house that welcomes all and refuses to allow hatred and fear to have the final say. We will put our name on this house and baptize ourselves in the cooling waters that flow outside its door. We will call this house, Love.

As a maker, this is my prayer.


Heart-Hope

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A week ago, I sat in a meeting with our bishop as we grappled together with the action and the inaction of the every-four-year gathering of the people called United Methodists. This event happened in Portland, Oregon and brought with it what now seems like its quadrennial dose of angst and hand-wringing. It is not an easy task to be human. To be the church. To be a church dedicated to living in a global way with people whose life experiences and understanding of the Holy are so very different. A kind of difference that most often draws lines in the sand rather than compelling hands to reach out. 
As the bishop gave his opening remarks that would set the stage for what we hope would be healthy, helpful conversations, he said something, two words really, that grabbed me and have not let me go. It may have been a throw away two words for him. I don’t know. Maybe they were specifically chosen for their impact. All I do know is that after he said them I was unable to really listen to the next few minutes of what he was saying. Instead, my thoughts, hung on this statement: “It is my heart-hope…” 


It is my heart-hope. I thought of what it means to have ‘heart-hope’. This is not the hope that can be grounded on what sends a person to thinking…to believing..all things done with mind-hope. In my way of seeing, I can hope in all kinds of ways. Mind-hope is often based in knowledge, in angling with statistical probability. “Given what I know and the odds in this situation, I hope this will…turn out well…will solve the problem…will prove I am right. ” This hope stays floating someplace above the shoulders in a foggy, cloudy presence waiting to land on whatever will receive it.

Heart-hope is also not an experience that finds its roots in what can be defined by creed or doctrine or even good old common sense. The right words rarely feed heart-hope and do not give it wings to fly. Saying whatever seem to be right words, even multiple times and for years, also do not give birth to heat-hope. With heart-hope, it is never a recipe of do A, then B and, hopefully, C will inevitably happen.

No. The kind of deep longing we can call heart-hope finds its home in the very depths of who we are. It finds its home in the muscle that sits in our chest and throbs with our very lives. It is moved by passion and love. Yes, it gets broken over and over again and yet we work like anything to mend it, one beloved breath at a time. Heart-hope is fueled by faith, however we name that, and is the stuff of miracles…those acts that confound us and have us looking over our shoulder for the More who must have shown up without our seeing, without our knowing.Heart-hope is the riskiest of business because, in it, we have the most to lose.

What are your heart-hopes? I have heart-hopes, deep, enormous heart-hopes. Many of them surround my children and those I love fiercely. Other heat-hopes are directed toward injustices I witness in this world…those that bump up against the lives of other people’s children, young and old alike. Still other hear-hopes are held for our nation, the world, this beloved planet and even this church to which I chose to hitch my star. So many heart-hopes.

The desert monk and wise one, Abba Poemen, gently warned those wrestling with their own ancient heart-hope: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” As I continue to hear the bishop’s words ringing in my ears, I pray that I may have the courage to allow these deep hopes to settle into that place of Wisdom that travels with each of us if we have presence of heart to listen.i pray that his heart-hopes lie gentle in his chest as he offers his work and his very life to this church he visibly loves. I pray that I may allow the heart-hope that beats deep within to be true and authentic and that I honor that in each person I meet even if our respective heart-hopes do not seem to want to dance with one another. Perhaps when we each hold our heart-hopes as sacred we might move to a place of satisfying the Heart of All.

Patience

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Do you have the patience to wait till the mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

~ Lao Tzu

I am a pool swimmer. This does not fit well in my once-adopted, now-home state that boasts more than 10,000 lakes. When I moved here I was not prepared to be expected to jump into any body of water without notice…or fear…of what lurks below the surface. I am not given to want to swim with anything that doesn’t also walk upright. For years, I avoided this confession and tried as best I could to get into the water and remove my mind from the fish, the turtles, the weeds…all the things ‘I could not see.’ I tried not to pass this dislike of lake swimming onto my children and the fact that I succeeded pleases me. 

This week I saw this quote from the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, and began to think about the notion that maybe my aversion to swimming in lakes may go deeper than the recreational pursuit of swimming. This week I read these words of the founder of Taosim as both real and metaphor. Do I have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear? Do I have the patience and the courage to move when I do not have the ability to see what also moves around me? Do you?

Like most people, I want to believe that I am more flexible than I probably am. I like to have things neatly decided, following a path I have carefully constructed based on good sense, desire, hope,set goals and a large dose of optimism. All that works out well when that path is nicely marked by both light and a long view of what is ahead. It is when the path twists and turns or when the shadows fall across the way that I get antsy. It is then that control is threatened and rigidity rears its ugly head. It is when the waters are muddy that I want to pull inward and protect myself and those I love at all costs. And at times like these, my initial reaction is to begin flailing against the muddiness, doing anything possible to clear the water and the path of any obstructions. Which, of course, only makes things worse…and more muddy.

The wisdom of Lao Tzu is to stand still. To practice the art of patience. And patience is an art, make no mistake about it. To stand still and wait for the particles of whatever is creating the inability to see the clear way ahead to settle, until the ‘right action arises by itself’. Patience. Waiting. Stillness. Hope. The arrival of right action. An action that has a wisdom of its own and will arise out of the mud if we have the ability or the sheer will to await its coming.

There are so many places in the world right now that seem steeped in mud. The very air seems full of particles that prevent us from seeing clearly. Mostly it seems we are all doing a lot of stirring up rather than standing still. We are creatures given to action, after all, and sometimes to our own detriment. I see this in our nation, in our world and in our organizations and institutions. The muddiness makes us so fearful and causes us to feel so out of control that we use our words and our actions to make something happen…anything happen. And this often only makes us unable to see clearly.

I wonder if these are days calling us instead to stand still, to have the patience to wait for the mud to settle. St. Augustine said “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” And above all, it seems as if wisdom is what is called for most in the living of these days. Don’t you think? 

So, today, at least for this day, I am going to try to be still enough to wait for the mud to settle. I am going to have faith in the Inner Wisdom of all that lives and breathes believing that right action has the power to give rise from where is lies hidden in the weeds. I will swim with all I cannot see and have courage. If you, too, are swimming in places that seem unfamiliar or unwelcome, I invite you to join me in this prayerful patient, waiting.