A world at war

Kalapana, Hawaii where sea meets lavaI’ve been studying the First World War from the point of view of the men and women who served and fought in it. It’s a devastating story that I never learned in school. My grandfather (whom I never met) served in that war. He went with his best friend and, lying about his age because he was only 15, he enlisted in the Marine Corps almost the same week that the United States entered the war in Europe. Within a year he found himself in the front lines of the Battle of Belleau Woods on the Verdun Front in the first major American offensive of the war. There he was gassed with mustard gas, lost a leg, and eventually was sent home with a purple heart and 2 bronze stars. He came home alone, his best friend having died on one of those battlefields in France. He was 16 years old.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the horrors of that war. I’ve read enough to believe that I would not have survived, neither body nor soul. My grandfather survived and went on to live a long life. He learned to dance on his wooden leg, to love a woman and to have children with her. I know almost nothing more about him, because the woman he loved and lived with was not my grandmother; that first marriage didn’t survive. But I think about him a lot. I think about how young he was, and how his youth was taken from him, and how hard his life was when he got back, and about the hell that war must have been for him. By every testimony I have read, what they called “The Great War” was an experience of hell such that we will never understand.

And here we are, still sending young men (and now young women too) to war, to different kinds of hell, but hell it is all the same. My heart breaks for what we all have lost in this never-ending march to war after war.

So I pray tonight for the tortured souls who are so filled with anger and hatred that they wage war on the innocent. I pray for the people in power – whether huddled in tents in desert places or sitting in great halls of powerful governments or in sterile corporate offices – who use their power to consign others to a hell of their making. And I pray for the innocent who suffer and for the merely confused who don’t understand what they are doing. I guess in the end, I’m praying for all of us. I pray that the Holy, Just, and Merciful God will deliver us all from evil, and that the peaceable kingdom will come soon.

Meanwhile, may the peace of the Lord bless you and keep you tonight. Thanks for listening.

Thoughts on a rainy day

Natural  bamboo fountainIt has rained hard since early afternoon. The window screens are matted with the rain, the back yard is soggy, and the weatherman tells me that the roads are flooding out there just beyond my neighborhood. But outside my window, in this sudden respite from the deluge a bird has begun to sing, loud and clear and beautiful. Now a symphony of other birds is rising in the distance, joining the song. I can hear the steady drip of water from my downspout and the rustling of a faint wind in the maples. Night has fallen and in this sudden quiet I feel quietly peaceful. There is something refreshing and cleansing in the rain, and something beautiful in the sudden quiet when it stops. It’s all good.

That’s what I’m learning and leaning into more and more these days: that it’s all good. Rainy days and warm, hot, sunny ones… clouded dark days and brightly lit ones… quiet nights and busy afternoons… it’s all good. I think that perhaps the only thing that is not good is when I fail to experience whatever the moment holds … when I “drop out” of awareness and forget to take in what’s happening now.

When I was much younger I tried gardening – very briefly – and stopped, because I found that when I worked in the earth, even for a short time, I seemed to lose all sense of time, lost all sense of myself, lost awareness of everything around me, the doing of it so captured me. I remember feeling uncomfortable about that. I read books with the same total absorption – but when I “wake up” from a book, I recall it completely and nothing feels lost. I’ve prayed many hours when I lost all sense of myself, but when I awoke again I didn’t feel lost but somehow “found.” So what is it about plunging my hands into earth and digging and planting that troubled me? It’s a mystery to me.

But for now, I’m going to count it all good. The mystery and the wonder, the forgetting and the feelings.

There goes the rain again, drumming on the roof and clapping against the windows. The birdsong has stopped again, until the next lull in the rain. I think I’ll stop thinking about it now and just listen for a while.

Blessing to you!

 

[Photo courtesy of paiche59 – Fotolia]

 

 

Fragile beauty

inked bananaI saw this picture and had to save it, wanted to ponder it. Didn’t know why, still don’t. There is just something about it that I find terrifically intriguing. Not least of it is this question:

Why did the artist choose to create her (or his?) art on something so fragile and transient as a banana peel? Did s/he understand that what this drawing was to become would be something worth keeping, or was s/he just playing with the whimsy of it? And what, if anything, was the artist trying to say in that lotus flower with the mysterious half-closed eye, in the ink that flows like tears to the bottom, in the stars and strange shapes and figures flowing together along the bending form of the banana skin?

When I see something like this (beautiful or intriguing, or even a bit strange) I want to hold onto it and keep it safe so as to be able to see it many more times, often coming back to it. I also want to share it, so others may see it. BUT… some art is by its nature ephemeral, fleeting, incapable of remaining except in the mind of whoever beholds it.

We treasure our Rembrandts and Picassos, our Michelangelos, our Rodins, and we try to keep them intact and undiminished for as many centuries as we can. But so much of what is beautiful can never be kept that way. That may be the point worth remembering. This will not last and is not to be mourned, but celebrated for the time we have it now. Hard for us to do. We always want to cling, to hold onto what is passing away.

It seems to me that the Creation itself is such a work of art – luminous beauty, sometimes sheer whimsy, inked on the most fragile and passing of mediums: the painted wing of a Monarch butterfly, the dappled leaf of a birch tree in sunlight, the reflection of the sky in a drop of rain, the smile of a baby’s toothless face, the sound of laughter at midnight. It all happens in a moment, a breath, never to be repeated in quite the same way again.

And it seems to me that this is the Creator’s way. The moment we experience something, it is already passing into memory. I am beginning to see that this is, in itself, beautiful and good. Why should we be sad to see the beautiful disappear, when another form of it is always emerging, laying before us an endless array of the Artist’s work?

Perhaps each of our lives is our work of art, our co-creation with God of something unrepeatable, written on the fragile human form, beautiful and good if we look at it closely, if we see it in the right way, with the right eyes. Our lives, like everything else in creation, are fragile and passing – but no less beautiful and all the more precious for that.

I still like to collect, as long as I can, beautiful things to keep around me, to inspire and warm my heart while I am here with eyes to see, hands to touch, ears to hear. That, too, is good. God, and God’s creation — it is all very, very good.

Just wanted to share these passing thoughts with you. Have a lovely day!

The beauty and the sorrow

I started thinking about the things I’m sad about: frozen butterfly

• the murderous rampages of Elliot Rodger and others who’ve stolen the young lives of innocent people in these past weeks – so many, so very  many!…
• the quiet, peaceful deaths of Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, and those like them who embodied so much that is beautiful and good in our humanity; the sense of loss such deaths bring…
• or the fact that we can’t see 98% of the stars that should be visible to us because we’ve so fouled the air with smog and spoiled the night sky with man-made light….
• or that so many men, women, and children are being violated and/or violently killed because of hatred and the wanton abuse of power and an inability to hold a human life sacred…
• that crass lust for wealth and power by some and indifference by too many are destroying the hopes and diminishing the lives of so many…
• or that the planet is being raped and destroyed by all of us — the very creatures that should be tending and caring for it…

I had to stop myself because the list began to grow too long, so grievously long and sad! I didn’t want to write a lament, even though that’s what my heart has been feeling. Then I took a call from a young pastor who is thinking about accepting an invitation to minister in a new church, and as we talked I thought about him and his remarkable faith and wonderful heart and the gifts he brings to people, and I thought about all the people I know who are hungering for and open to the nurture he can give, and I took heart again. I became suddenly very happy for him and for the people who will receive him.Seesaw

It’s been like that: a seesaw back and forth from happiness to despair, from horror to happiness, from depression to hope, all week. When I visit the blog site of Rachel Wiley (at The Red Tent), who so obviously loves life and the family she cherishes… or when I gaze at the amazingly beautiful and often poignant photographs of other people I follow who love to capture and share the pathos and beauty of the earth and its creatures through the lens of their cameras… or when I drink from the cup that a woman named Ino once gave me and recall her motherly generosity and gentle heart… or when I remember the laughter I’ve shared with someone I love – then I’m on the up side of the seesaw again, moved with joy in the sheer gift that we can be to each other, and the greater gift of this amazing living, breathing planet and the people who can take us back to Eden again.

I pray I may have the will never to take for granted the beauty that is offered to me every single day. But I also don’t want to give up being able to see what is wrong. Because the truth of life is full of both beauty and sorrow, and I need the truth more than I need a comfortable illusion. I sometimes wish I could only see the good. I’ve known people who try to edit out of their life anything that doesn’t build up and make happy, and I know that most people prefer to be around them, because it feels so much better. For a long time I could only see the down side of things. But I’ve grown up a lot and healed a lot, and I found that most of the time I can see both sides now, sometimes all too clearly. It’s a difficult way to live sometimes, I admit. 

So I may always experience my life as a kind of swinging between the counterbalancing movements of the seesaw, from high to low and back again, because there are both sides of that teetering board in life, in the way we’ve made the world. It’s a balancing act.  I know in my heart that it’s really all of a piece, that God is with us both on the downswing and in the upswing, and I believe the mystics who say that in the mystery of life it is all of a piece. But I still feel torn much of the time, carrying great sadness in my heart and yet capable of feeling great peace and even a quiet joy.

There’s a line I once read (I have no idea now where or who wrote it, it was so many years ago!) that I’ve never forgotten. It said, “In the days of the frost, seek a minor sun.”  Those words often helped me when I found it hard to swing up from the low points. Except it isn’t a minor sun I seek anymore. It’s the light of the Divine I seek, shining behind the fabric of all that we see. So when I can’t get the teeter-totter off the ground I look up, and there is always something that reflects the beauty of holiness back to me somewhere — as it did today. For that I give thanks and from it take encouragement.

Spring meadow of violet flower.

 

 

Blessings to you, whether you are up or down today. May you always know that at the other end of the teetering balance board (as it seems to us),  the world is still beautiful and good.

Seesaw Photo © Jareso – Fotolia.com
Sunrise © Andrii Salivon – Fotolia

 

 

 

 

This fallowing time

Summer Dry GrassLast week slipped away from me in a sudden rush of busyness. Now I’m back in the freedom of these sabbatical days, doubly grateful for them, knowing that they need to come to an end soon. I confess I’ve enjoyed being spoiled with a season of what has sometimes felt like irresponsibility. I haven’t been free of the constant demands of paid employment since I was 16 (not counting time later in schools and study that carried a different but equally high set of demands and obligations). This unexpected freedom in my life has been a blessing I never expected to have.

I confess I’ve found it hard not to feel guilty for being so free and unproductive. I intended it to be a very productive time, full of fresh energy and bursts of creativity. Instead, I’ve come to experience it as my fallowing time — letting myself, like a farmer’s unplanted field, lie at rest, replenishing, storing up nutrients in order to become more productive, and maybe to produce a different kind of crop when returned to work. Soon I think I’ll be re-seeded and put to work again, but all in good time. As the scriptures say, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

I rejoice in this season of freedom and count its blessings, which are many. For instance: I’m sinking my roots deep into the soil of prayer and finding little shards of truth emerging out of the solitude and silence. I’m re-connecting with my family and cherishing the time I’m spending with them. I’m having more time with my aged mother, whose life is not endless and whom I’m coming to know better now, just as her years are beginning to wane. I’m studying lots of things, some planned and some on a whim, spurred only by my curiosity and unhampered by the feeling that “I don’t have time!” I’m trying to craft a re-balanced life, caring for my health in ways I’ve long neglected, and for the most part succeeding, if slowly. I’m grateful for all of this.

But… I also find myself thinking more than ever of all the people in the world – most of the people in the world, if the truth be told – who never have the luxury of free time and rest, whose labor must be constant just to survive, whose lives are constricted by poverty and the unending need to find food and create shelter for themselves and their families, constricted still further by the demands that others lay on them, whether employers, or officials, or terrorists and thugs, or the faceless, soulless powers of bureaucracy. People whose lives have no weekends free, no paid holidays, and certainly no long sabbaticals. Why should I be so blessed to be free to pray for hours if I like, or read for hours, or write long notes to people I don’t know, or to dream, when others’ backs are breaking under the loads they must carry? They are, all of them, equally worthy of this freedom I enjoy, and I know that somehow in the unbalanced and interconnected scheme of things their poverty is the price of my freedoms.

It’s coming home to me, among the other gifts of this time, what the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have been telling me for years: that we who are given more than our share of the wealth of the world (whether money, or talents, or time and opportunity) are expected to use it to enrich others. That doing good works for others is not a gift we give but an obligation we owe. That compassionate works aren’t charity, but simple justice. So while I enjoy myself now, I know all this needs to issue somehow in giving back and “paying forward,” to use the wealth I’m receiving to help others find their blessing. The possibilities, large and small, for helping to lift someone else up and set them free are endless and all around me. I can’t do everything. But I can do something. Undoubtedly far more than I realize.101037411 greeting the morning

But then, while I think of all these things, and feel the weight of responsibility, I also keep hearing an insistent, nudging invitation to remember that joy is the first responsibility of life. To be joyful in life and to bring joy to others’ lives… to remember that the reason for working to relieve suffering is so that others may share in joy and all our joy increase.

I don’t exactly know where all this is going, or how it will play out in my future. But just putting it into words feels important. A first step.

Blessings and peace — and joy — to you! Continue reading “This fallowing time”

#Bring Back Our Girls

I’m so grieved that girls and women are treated with contempt that I’m speechless with an angry sorrow. What will it take for men and women to say no to the mistreatment of women and girls and hold the men who do this to account? Racists and misogynists are soul-sick people who need our prayers for deep healing. The world will never be a wholesome place until all women and men and boys and girls can live in dignity and peace. We all need to find a way to join action to our prayers, to find every way possible to bring an end to the arrogance of violence.

‘Nuff said. As I’m sure yours are, my heart is breaking.

Family lessons and legacies

family treeI’ve been sleuthing for the mysteries of my family. In our small nuclear family of four (now three) we knew nothing of my Dad’s paternal line, and even less on Mother’s side. So when I began digging into the family history after my father died, it was like beginning a journey of discovery for all of us. You might think there wouldn’t be much to find, with such fragmentary information to begin with, but in fact the search is yielding some unexpected, and sometimes moving, results.

It’s true what they say: some things run in families — and not just DNA, disease, and family resemblances. Attitudes, values, and perspectives tend to make their way down through the generations, of course. But behavior patterns and their consequences also show up. Emotional wounds, psychological coping mechanisms, and just plain quirky habits, run like an elusive but definitely present thread (now you see it, now you don’t) through both sides of our family tree, right down to where they meet and mingle in my generation. It has caused me to pause and think.

We receive and benefit from the best that our families give us. We also receive and suffer from the worst they pass on. But even if all they have to pass on is dysfunction and pain, we don’t need to be the victims of our families. We are imprinted with the patterns of struggle that the family passes on, with the nurture (or lack of it) that we receive, and with the sorrows and strengths that each generation has found within themselves. But are we indelibly imprinted? Or are parts of our inheritance malleable? Can the legacy be transformed, healed, or in some other way amended? I believe it can. That’s the story of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures: healing and hope. Healing and hope are meant to be part of our story too.

Some families inherit and pass on great love, blessing the next generation with healthy patterns of loving and commitment. Some families inherit a more difficult legacy. Most families pass through great suffering in one form or another and are faced with challenges not of their making. But in every generation, I see people doing the best they can, sometimes with very little help, wanting to be good. Wanting to love and be loved, and sometimes just not knowing how.

In the process of thinking about the people who have gone before me, I’m finding some singular blessings: growing understanding, a new birth of compassion, a new sense of connection and rootedness. But more than all that, I’m beginning to think more clearly about what kind of legacy I may be leaving behind.

I’m thinking that I want my legacy to be one that has healing in it. It will not go to my children, of course; I don’t have any children. But we each pass on something to everyone our lives have impacted. And I know that most of us need some help to heal from the wounds of living and from the judgments that are made about us. I know that healing begins in forgiveness, whichever side of the wound we are on.

I want to breathe forgiveness into this world so that someone, somewhere, can breathe it in as freedom and peace and then pass it on. That’s my hope.

Thanks for listening. Blessing to you in whatever hopes and dreams you are holding today!