Being the Light, Discovery, Fear of the Dark, Soul Work

Saving the Day

 

I scan the front section of the Seattle Times at breakfast to see the trash at a homeless camp in Montlake, saddened by both the need for such a “shelter” and the lack of support that results in such a mess. I read that the Dems “fumed” at the White House balking to supply their subpoenaed file. A trade war “rattles” our markets. Denver hosts the latest school shooting. And Boeing is suspected of obfuscating causes of an earlier failed altitude sensor in a Turkish Airlines crash in 2009.

Ten minutes of morning news eclipse my calm from a good sleep, delight at another warm, dry day.

I search for remedies to my grief, my dis-ease, at all the known conditions of the world we cannot fix. I used to think a lot of money would fix such things as the homeless camp with its despondent resident, city legislation and resources that could be deployed to fast track the clear necessity for housing. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the nation and cannot resolve the plight of homelessness. Politicians at loggerheads. Apparently naive and jaundiced political advisors. Businesses that are, after all, all-business with a bottom line and a fixed expenditure list.

The shooting? One more statistic to prove that nearly everyone has a gun or access to one, and it is trendy to “go postal” with one’s grievances and cut short the lives of innocent children…once innocent children. I grew up practicing bomb drills in a concrete hallway, kneeling on the cold floor with one hand protecting my neck, and one over my eyes to dodge an impossibly brilliant flash of ignition. I was afraid of the bomb. Today’s children fear the shooter.

Turning to the natural world restores my soul. But even that is under siege from earth warming and drought. Whales beach themselves to escape the slow pain of starvation. Whole species dwindle steadily from the rising temperatures. The wise aren’t taken seriously. The foolish play at government.

How can I escape the juggernaut of all that is wrong with our world? “This fragile planet, our island home.”

Robert Frost wrote    The way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree /Has given my heart / A change of mood / And saved some part / Of a day I had rued.

I look out the front windows. Three azaleas in bloom, lavender, dark orange, and white. A chickadee splashing in the bird bath under the coral-bark maple. The robins sitting in courage and hope over their turquoise eggs, looking out for the black cat who likes to perch on a cedar stump nearby and simply watch with her wide green eyes. She’s no problem. She’s too old to hunt and never was any good at it. Arthritis in her elbows slows her down. She naps on the flagstones in the front yard, soothed by the warmth from the sun.

“It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being: God, a Soul, and a Moment. And the three are always here.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel) I stop to find God in the world, breathe slowly, and promise to be God’s love in this world today.

 

Being Quiet, Discovery, Fear of the Dark, Loss

History, Architecture or Spirituality?

St. Anne’s. Built by Crusaders in  Jerusalem in 1130

What accounts for our fear of seeing Notre Dame ablaze? For the French it is the national symbol of their lives in the past, not least, its surviving World War II, but also recent births, marriages, burials, anniversaries, and Holy Days.

Do we fear losing the building itself? Its form through the last thousand years? Or will we lose our memories of walking through its doors under the vaulted roof, awed by its majesty, height, and vastness, while on a momentary stop with a ragtag group of college students on summer tour?

Does she capture the elusive Spirit who beckons each of us into communion with the holy? Is this true even for those of us who do not darken church, mosque, or synagogue doors, who claim spirituality only in being alive, who do not take time to listen to the silent heart? And true even for those who aspire to be in such a stunning, outrageously beautiful edifice that promises prayer when they cannot bring themselves to go to any old house for worship?

Yes, I was there, astonished. On first walking under the vault, I remember holding my breath, hardly able to see the roof so high above me. The vastness stunned me to silence.

How could we endure the destruction of such a place? A place that symbolizes…God? Could it be God who speaks in such grandeur? A god most of us cannot imagine, a god we blame because we attribute the state of the world today to “His” malpractice.  But could it be that the thought and sight of such a cathedral in mortal danger suggests to us the danger of losing a god we do not know at all? That something is there, even so? Some spirit?

What was it in 1160, when it had hardly a form? Or one hundred years later when it was complete. How did Parisians feel about it then? In those years, cathedrals were the center of the community…the Christian community that included nearly every person alive. Not only were prayers heard within, but just outside there were markets and celebrations, feasts and gatherings. It was where everything happened; the center of town.

I wonder how many of us understand the incredulity of the French people that such an icon could be destroyed. The dread that it really was burning. And then, how many of us can empathize with worshipers in our own country when their churches, mosques, and synagogues are burned? While not icons of a nation, they are icons of their communities, the center where births and marriages are celebrated and lives mourned, where prayers rise like incense as if we can hear them gathered in by God.

If you have no such sacred place, what symbolizes holy silence for you? Where does hope reside? How can others reach to celebrate your life and comfort you in death?

Notre Dame is all these things. The history of a nation since 1160, steadfast—like God—decade by decade, centennial to centennial. An amazement of design, creation, and story-telling for more than 800 years. And spirituality. Notre Dame captures the spirit of millions whether we worship with her or view her from afar.

Maybe church buildings mean more to us than we realize. Maybe that’s why some confused people try to burn them down.

Fear of the Dark

Welcoming Darkness

Welcome darkness? Not really. I turn on as many lights as possible trying to keep darkness at bay. I add candles, spotlights, twinkling garlands and bright lighted trees to assure myselfthat the dark is not disturbing.

As a child I was more afraid. I called loudly for Mom or dad to come into the hall and turn on that light so I could walk quickly to the bathroom. I insisted on that light so passionately that my tense cry awakened a parent who got up to turn it on.

Yet as time passed as I was in my room alone, I began to watch the moon rise through the east-facing windows and branches of a tall Oregon Ash. My own tree. From branch to branch, it rose, and soon I was fast asleep. Somehow the darkness there became comfort. I listened to a program of poetry recited to “Ebbtide,” with ocean waves tumbling in and out in the background. That, too, calmed me.

I later began to realize that in a darkened room, or an old church, I felt cloistered and calm. I seek out churches to go inside, and just sit. I have walked the shadowy Grace Cathedral labyrinth when the spacious nave was lighted only by candles along the aisles. I found my way down ancient stone steps to the very dark undercroft at France’s Vezelay Abbey lighted only by tall thin orthodox candles affixed to ageless stones they had dripped over for centuries. I fell to my knees completely captivated by the summons to prayer.

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I fall into every prayer offered in worship hungrily, my yearning to be closer to God met in the deep quiet. Darkness can enrich our search, as can the bright sun of Easter morning striking into the heart of the tomb and touching all Jesus’ friends and followers.

Yet where did they go next? Afraid, into hiding. Back into the darkness.

When those we see all around us snared in the ugliness of racism, isolation, selfishness, power plays, poverty–the angry taking from others who already have less than many–I wonder why I am not tempted to hide. Maybe I am hiding in my own time-worn ways of escaping anguish. I wonder if, walking the journey of Advent, waiting and watching for the birth of Jesus, we have forgotten that he is already walking with us without our noticing?

We may spend too many hours wishing God would do something, when God already has. That news is good. Good news brings peace to everyone who believes, and even in darkness the candles shine, reminding us that light defeats the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome it.

Be the light in the darkness. Light up in the sure and certain hope of God’s presence among us. Gathering together with our lights held high brightens us all with light we need, and Light we receive.

Welcome darkness? Not really. I turn on as many lights as possible trying to keep darkness at bay. I add candles, spotlights, twinkling garlands and bright lighted trees to assure myselfthat the dark is not disturbing.

As a child I was more afraid. I called loudly for Mom or dad to come into the hall and turn on that light so I could walk quickly to the bathroom. I insisted on that light so passionately that my tense cry awakened a parent who got up to turn it on.

Yet as time passed as I was in my room alone, I began to watch the moon rise through the east-facing windows and branches of a tall Oregon Ash. My own tree. From branch to branch, it rose, and soon I was fast asleep. Somehow the darkness there became comfort. I listened to a program of poetry recited to “Ebbtide,” with ocean waves tumbling in and out in the background. That, too, calmed me.

I later began to realize that in a darkened room, or an old church, I felt cloistered and calm. I seek out churches to go inside, and just sit. I have walked the shadowy Grace Cathedral labyrinth when the spacious nave was lighted only by candles along the aisles. I found my way down ancient stone steps to the very dark undercroft at France’s Vezelay Abbey lighted only by tall thin orthodox candles affixed to ageless stones they had dripped over for centuries. I fell to my knees completely captivated by the summons to prayer.

 

Fear of the Dark, Grace Happens, Soul Work

The Flame That Lights Our Way

As you saw from my last post, I believe the tragedies of violence, war and loss must be mourned and honored. But there is more. We must work to step out of those shadows lest we be submerged under the weight of grief. I look to sisters and brothers to remind myself of the strength of a faith that hopes for things unseen–the abundant consolations of the Spirit. We need to look to the unquenchable flame that lights our way out of the darkness.

One of the most profound images of the scriptures is that light that shines in darkness.  In the Christian scriptures John writes that “In [Jesus] was life, and life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” [Jn 1.5] Science and faith tell us the origin of LIGHT is the Big Bang. The infinite cosmos reflects it. The Light is no less than the Mind of God that infuses everything that we are as well as our world of boundless beauty that beckons us toward God.

The Buddhist God Indra spreads a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. In each “eye” of her net is a single brilliant, perfect jewel that also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number, and each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel affects them all, light, dark, a moving panoply of color. We look for that light wherever we can find it. Sometimes it is simply the warmth of a smiling barista who hands over a double-tall latte at a low point of the morning. Or a viewpoint across Puget Sound that highlights the sunset over the Olympic Mountains, and the clouds that back-light the colors that flare out of the west.

IMG_0787 Last week I watched the sun set softly into a haze over the island of Lanai across the bay from Lahaina. The sun beamed rays toward Lanai and the sea as the earth continued to turn to the east.

Life is difficult. We reach to one another for strength and hope. But politically it appears we are being goaded into collective fear that has empowered several presidential candidates to offer us everything we think we ever needed while the details, how to “become great again,” for instance, remain cloudy and undefined. Each person who wonders if the promises are true, who questions whether any one politician can grant our every wish, needs only a fragment of mirror to reflect that question to others. And then, instead of huddling in fear with those who expect disaster, or want rescue, we can stop, recover perspective, and see the light shining for the common good. The light that sees all persons regardless of origin, faith, culture, or resources equal to the others from around the globe. It is the sign of a healthy nation that the least among us also thrive, not simply those with wealth.

Quaker Parker Palmer reminds us how easily we fall under the thrall of a “strong man” who promises to make us “great” again. He quotes from Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 advised how unlikely it is that the U.S. will fall under the attack of another world power. We will, in fact, fall because we become so fearful of each other, of the economic, cultural, and security threats we believe to be posed by “the Other”…that, ultimately, we will die by suicide.       http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer

One voice is a powerful thing—if we invest it with our full humanity. A question, a doubt, the risk of telling the truth, may stop one other person from falling in thrall to total power or, at least, from closing her mind to doubt. We must simply light one candle against the darkness, refuse to fall prey to demagoguery, and bear our flame in the face of our fear. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out. We are merely its bearers.

 

 

 

Being the Light, Fear of the Dark, Soul Work

Carrying the World’s Grief

I have to wonder about “unintentional contemplation.” Parker Palmer, the great Quaker writer and leader of contemplative life suggested that even a busy life “provides moments of unintentional contemplation….in feelings of disillusionment, pain, dislocation, and unbidden solitude.”

I was surprised with the idea that the discomforts of our lives also give rise to contemplation. I’m rather a romantic. I like to think of green pastures and still waters enhancing my spiritual thinking, my prayer. I often imagine meadows on Mt. Rainier or the steady waves lapping at a rocky beach in Puget Sound to find the depth I seek. But I guess it’s also true that sudden, unexpected silence startles before it comforts. And when I am in pain, I am not fit to be with until I recognize, name, and do something about it. In this sense pain drives me inward which, I must admit, is a contemplative state. If I am thrust into a moment of reverie or loss, I certainly stop what I’m doing to breathe deeply, to plumb the image that prompts the memory, and to give thanks. When projects go well, relationships are rich and opportunities beckon us forward, we feel able to take on the world. But when progress falters, when we’re felled by a virus (worse: cancer) or a sprained ankle (while running for our health), when we are cut off from comfort, and when we feel abandoned, who among us welcomes the “contemplation?” Aren’t such moments, simply, ones we’d rather suppress? How likely is it we’ll accept the call to peaceful prayer?

I believe right now all of us are trying to cope with feelings too painful either to express or to withhold in this nation’s political rancor, the all-too-real videos of refugees streaming out of war, hunger and loss in the Middle East, the delicacy of diplomacy among our neighbor nations.  I try to “fast” from the news but am fascinated by it, looking for a break in the fighting, for fragile and tentative interventions, for champions to rescue thousands of innocents caught in political infighting, flight, suffering and death.

Anne Lamott promises, “Grace…eventually.”  Still I ask, when?!

I wrestle with darkness more and more. I cannot understand (or perhaps I mean accept) the hatred, hunger, displacement, and slaughter that assault far too many peoples of the world. Pernicious racism, the hoarding of money, exclusion and elimination of the have-nots, the flagrant displays of the haves. Is this simply the current state of development of humankind?

I have been reading the WW II diaries of Etty Hillesum. She reveals a curious and unexpected desire to welcome–I don’t know a better word for it–the horror moving closer and closer to her friends and family in Amsterdam and then their evacuation to a German “transit” camp near the German border.

The latest news is that all Jews will be transported out of Holland….the English radio has reported that 700,000 Jews perished last year alone….And even if we stay alive, we shall carry the wounds with us throughout our lives. And yet I don’t think life is meaningless. And God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another. We are accountable to Him!  [Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life 1996]

Hillesum, called a “Western Mystic,” writes that every situation, good or bad, can enrich us with new insights; what matters is “not whether we preserve our lives at any cost, but how we preserve them….If we have nothing to offer a desolate postwar world…if we fail to draw new meaning from the deep wells of our distress and despair, then it will not be enough.” Thus, pain and fear elicit her compassion and grief rather than anger and more hate.

I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has  been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place. And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter.

One person, one meeting, one step at a time. We cannot bring peace without embracing it ourselves. And so I breathe in war, pain and loss, and breathe out peace, love, joy and laughter. Joy and laughter…eventually.

Rev. Cathy Fransson keeps regular spiritual direction appointments.