He looked at me in the enigmatic way he had as he asked the question. I had been in great Sturm und Drang over something that thirty-five years later probably seems trivial. When my spiritual guide asked me, “Rather than focus on what’s threatening to strangle you, why not focus on what’s struggling to be born?” it opened up a new concept for me. It seemed that I didn’t have to be a slave to my problems after all. I could look at them, deal with them, and then change my focus. Later, Walter Brueggemann made it clearer for me when he offered us the concept of the prophetic imagination. Don’t just critique, although that is mandatory; we must create a new situation by first focusing on what COULD be. Buddhism adds such richness to this practice of changing focus by CHOOSING not to take on suffering created by ego. We are mindful of real suffering and give it its just- due. Then we change focus.
This practice of changing focus might be a helpful way of coping with the change of seasons. We may grieve the loss of warm, bright sunshine as more clouds move in, but we can focus on the germination that is going on in the safe hearth of our souls.
Mystic Muse has led me to this poem by a quote from Meister Eckhart in which he says that if God wants to act in the soul God BECOMES the place wherein God wants to act. Last month I had one of those tunnel dreams about re-birth camouflaged in deep, dark mystery. This morning I reentered that dream in a waking state and it changed considerably, giving me somewhat of a different interpretation.
Godplace in Dreamtime
In Dreamtime Dawn A demure little damsel Steps into a tunnel, wheeling a suitcase Behind her.
Like a Siren singing in foggy mist, Light Lures her from the lair, Its wispy tendrils lassoing embryonic innocence, Pulling it through the Omega Aperture To a new place, sans tunnel, sans suitcase.
Demure damsel no more, The woman stands all ablaze in iridescent light. Girlplace to Godplace
Photo Credit: Used and altered with permission “War Tunnel” a href=httpswww.flickr.comphotosemiliano-iko9005113709i k oa via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-nc-sa2.0cca
The year 2004 brought us an extraordinary film written and directed by Paul Haggis. Crash won three Academy Awards, Best Picture one of them. The film deals with every shade of the complex human experience of race in America. It is on my mind as I have watched the news out of Ferguson, a microcosm of our experience. The film calls me as a white person to see the truth straight on, ask the hard questions and work toward conversion. It calls every race to do that by holding a mirror to the consequences if we continue to ignore our inner work. I showed this film to seniors in a Social Justice Class and we had profound dialogue. It shook them to the core. Two scenes contain the seed of the whole film.
The first scene, “Pat Down by the Police” will ask you to be brave. It is not for the faint of heart, containing violent language and action. Officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) stops a car taking Hollywood director Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) home after an awards event. Its truth is stark and powerful.
The second scene, “Car Fire,” turns the previous scene upside down and we are forced to examine the meaning of forgiveness in an unforgivable injustice.
I invite us to gather in living rooms as adults and older teens to view this film for the first time or again. Open a discussion of how it relates to Ferguson and how we each carry the seeds of Ferguson buried deep or edging to the surface. Spirituality is to be born in acts of justice. We must not hoard it for self-gazing.
With this post I am happy to introduce the images of Deborah Koff-Chapin. The technique Deborah has created is called “touch drawing.” She calls them “SOULCARDS.” They come in two decks of 60 images and can be used alone or with others as reflection tools. They have enriched my meditation for years and have helped those I companion with. You can learn more at Deborah’s webpage www.soulcards.com
All of us who pray have wondered, at some point, if we were talking to ourselves. According to a 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll, 92% of Americans believe in God, although other surveys show that for some this belief is not exactly rock-solid, and for others this “God” is really “something out there,” not necessarily the kind of loving, powerful Being who listens to prayers and helps us out. Still, in the 2010 poll, 83% of respondents said they believe that “God answers prayers.”
What people mean by that is probably at least as varied as what they mean by “God,” but here are a couple of options. First, if I pray for my Great-Aunt Matilda’s piles, I can conclude my prayer’s been answered if the next time I see her she’s in a better mood. This is God “answering” intercessory prayer, or to be precise, God answering yes…
I have lived in the realm of academia and spirituality all my life. It is lofty living and I have loved it, but in my retirement years it is time to come down from the loft more often if I want to learn the lessons which down-to-earth life has to offer me. I do want to learn.
Yesterday was a bright, warm Puget Sound day and I had fixated on cooling off with an ice-cream drumstick. Pulled by the vision of hot St. Louis summer afternoons when my Hungarian grandmother gave me a dime to get a pop sickle at the corner convenience store, I headed to the nearby 7-11. Arriving at the door simultaneously was a curly red-haired giant of a youth who bounced in with me. We both made a beeline to the ice-cream freezer and dissolved in giggles at the synchronicity of our meeting. He gurgled with glee, “And they’re on sale two for $4.00! I bought my drumstick and he exclaimed in disbelief, “Only one? But they’re two for $4.00!” “I know,” I replied, “But I shouldn’t eat one, let alone two.” I continued on my way, grinning and wishing I had thought to buy two bars and give him one for a dollar. The simple gift of joy exuding from this young man pulled me into that ordinary space of unadulterated, lavish hospitality.
When I settled into life at my 55+ community, life events drained me of the energy to pay attention to the tasty slivers of ordinary life served up on a daily basis. Three years later I try to relish each morsel that presents itself. This morning I was greeted in the coffee-room by Marge and Louise. They both still work part-time. Marge and her sons catered our Christmas brunch last year. She shares treats baked by her aging hands and brought home to us on the bus. Out at the entrance to the Blakely at 7:30 a.m. I sit with my coffee waiting for the parade of smokers and dog owners to begin. First the smokers burst through the door. They have created an enviable tight-knit community held together by need and exposure to the elements of heat and cold and driving rain. Here come Victor and Jack. It was such fun sharing the excitement of the Superbowl with them in our communal theatre a few months ago. Often at 6:00 a.m. from my sixth floor window, I see Jack at the smokers’ bench sweeping around it. Now come the dogs walking their owners. Gordon’s prissy little Maltese urges him forward, but stops long enough to visit with a Shih Tzu tangled around its mom’s leg by its leash. Joan comes by at walk’s end with her neighbor’s Dachshund/terrier mix. She walks him because her neighbor is no longer able, but also because her own little companion has died.
The parade of life has stopped for now. I honor the different paths it takes in my neighbors. I am learning from the example of my Mennonite friends to wear plain clothes in my heart so I can see the plain truth of others and rejoice in it. Lest you think that I have this down, I report that a daycare contingent of toddlers has just arrived with their caretakers in tow. The toddlers are fine. The caregivers are loudly interfering with every other move the children make and in between complain about the parenting habits of others. This sliver of life fails to draw me in. Good-bye blissful beach.
As I take up pen today I see trees swaying with the wind that is bringing in more thunder and lighting, atypical of the Seattle area. It’s hard to wait for the fireworks to commence because the built-up tension from ninety degree temperatures and high humidity also builds in me, seeking release.
The tension in the pending storm mirrors the tension that lives in me and in many of you as well. We seek release from the horrors happening in our world. We stagger in our beings, bouncing from Israel to Syria to Ukraine to Nigeria to Iraq and back again, with little respite from grief and rage. Now life has become too much for Robin Williams.
Myriad media accounts have offered us much to ponder while emotion catches up to thought. Most meaningful for me is this quote from Robin Williams, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” What are we doing to our artists, and at what cost to our society? That spark of madness lives in the foreground for artists, mystics and misfits of all varieties. Their differences threaten a society which puts them into a cloven pine like Ariel in The Tempest, allowing them out only when a laugh or quick look into the soul is called for. Never mind the price artists pay for unveiling their holy spark of madness.
How different our world could be if we released the voices of our conscience and consciousness from the faux safety of the cloven pine and treasured their humanity instead of the roles assigned to them. In a society which valued the right-brain as much as the left-brain, and which taught its children to value it, war and suicide could become obsolete. Thank you Robin Williams and all your tribe for showing us how to be human.
See-Through-Church on a Hill Outside of Brussels, Belgium AP Photo
Today we hear in the news of the demise of an evangelical megachurch founder and pastor, Mark Driscoll. Mars Hill Church is located in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle WA, northwest coast of the USA. The “ungodly and disqualifying behavior” he is accused of is using church money to promote his book which denigrates women. It appears that his ministry is about promoting himself rather than true gospel values. American Evangelicals are not noted for publicly raising consciousness about the beliefs and behavior of their own church, but members of this church have come out strong, questioning Driscoll’s practices, especially his beliefs and treatment of women as second-class citizens. I find this very encouraging and it gives me a reason to respect them.
I came across this photo of a see-through-church after having read about Driscoll, and it hit me powerfully that what we really do need is see-through places of worship. A “What you see is what you get” policy would go a long way toward trust that furthers the ministry of every congregation. True community does not allow a loose cannon to dominate its life. I applaud the members of this church who stood up.