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 we wrestle with the reality of George Floyd’s murder. The film calls me as a white person to see the truth straight on, ask the hard questions and work toward conversion and acts of justice. It calls every race to do that by holding a mirror to the consequences if we continue to ignore our inner work. 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 toward a woman of color. 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 trust and vulnerability.
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 George Floyd’s death and how we each carry the seeds of racism buried deep or edging to the surface. Spirituality is to be born in acts of justice. We must not hoard it for self-gazing.
I just listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast “on being.” This interview with Stephen Batchelor,”Finding Ease in Aloneness,” is an excellent tool for me in making sense out of an enforced life in solitude during this covid-19 pandemic. You might also find it helpful. Here are two quotes to whet your appetite.
…solitude is the practice of creating an inward autonomy within ourselves, an inward freedom from the power of these overwhelming thoughts and emotions.
It was totally enforced — 27 years of his life, his most active adult life, in solitude, and yet, he’s the kind of person who, rather than just becoming lonely and depressed, which I suspect would’ve been a very reasonable way of reacting to that incarceration, he saw it as an opportunity. And what he discovers in the silence and the solitude is the power of words and how powerful words are, because this is what he’s been cut off from, is the capacity to be able to speak. And rather than just feel frustrated and limited, he reflects back on how valuable words are in being able to address people’s real needs and concerns. And so he seems to have transformed that imprisonment, at least at one level, into a deeper resource within himself. And I think when he is released from jail, and you hear him speak, there’s a gravity and a maturity and a depth — it almost doesn’t really matter, almost, what he says. There’s something in his tone of voice, something in his whole being that has been nurtured and enriched, it appears, from this long period of enforced solitude and reflection.
This is Mandela. He says: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact upon the way people live and die.”
Our thoughts and feelings have an electromagnetic reality. Manifest wisely
A good spiritual practice for these stressful moments of pandemic: remember that we are energy and we are called to direct that energy intentionally for the greatest good.
Before I unconsciously spew out my hurts and frustrations on others, I ask myself these questions from a Buddhist tradition: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Does it improve on the silence? This practice is one way of intentionally and responsibly directing our energy.
Blessings on us all.
Photo Credit: 4329116 Man with conceptual spiritual body art by
I stand here
Outside of myself
And watch as I commence
Into venerable vulnerability-
At least that’s what the young call it;
It doesn’t feel venerable yet.
I watch with surprise
That this old body that once
Could stave off
All manner of ailment
Bouncing back stronger,
Now fights a succession of infections
On a pilgrimage to commune
With the bones
Of my once stately cathedral.
I stand here
Outside of myself
And watch as I
Cry through the loss
Like an ancient willow wailing
Over limbs taken by thankless winds.
I feel the phantom sensations
Of my coveted limbs tingle
With strength, endurance and joy.
If I stand here
Outside of myself long enough
I will see green-leafed limbs
Poke through the paneless windows
Of my bone cathedral,
patience, acceptance and resignation.
I stand here
Outside of myself
Awestruck by this holy episode
We call life.
A good blessing possesses something of what Celtic folk have long called a thin place, a space where the veil between worlds becomes permeable, and heaven and earth meet. In a thin place, God is not somehow more present, more there than in other places. Instead, a thin place enables us to open our eyes and hearts to the presence of God that goes with us always.
Jan Richardson The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for times of Grief
In the introduction to her new book of blessings (The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for times of Grief) Jan Richardson reminds me of another encounter I recently had with this concept of “a thin place.”
The author noted that another Celtic tradition holds that some persons are themselves a “thin place.” I know these persons to be the true deep listeners among us. We come away from an encounter with them knowing that we have been seen, knowing that we are known.
During these dire times of pandemic we must find the thin places among us and seek and call on them. They are the ones who can hold space for our fear and sorrow. Find them. If you are yourself a thin place ( you know who you are) step up. Be the listener who holds that space for others.
To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.
At some point in our spiritual journey we may feel the terror of falling into empty space without a net. Without landing. Just falling, falling, falling. Until we hear that voice of the divine, “I’ve got ya.”
I experienced this dream as a child, plagued by the fallout of PTSD. I can’t identify when I heard the voice or how it manifested, but the dream stopped. Instead of falling into empty space my spirit began expanding to reclaim it. No doubt my daytime world had become safer. No doubt I had discovered the Divine.
Sometimes the voice has to rise above some unhealthy ego chattering and I don’t hear it, but I know it’s always there. Perhaps the spiritual journey is a journey toward embracing the fall. Like the nimbleness of a child whose muscles and bones relax into a fall, we train our spirits to be nimble and let go.
Something for us to ponder today. Blessings on you and yours.
I love Rilke because he responded with integrity to the call he heard from the country of uncertainty. We have no control over that call. We especially have no control over it in this time of pandemic. I am, at least sometimes successfully, choosing to embrace the uncertainty and the lessons it offers me. It’s a good end-of-this-life practice, I think. Luke’s story of the prodigal son is here
The Departure of the Prodigal Son
To go forth now from all the entanglement that is ours and yet not ours, that, like the water in an old well, reflects us in fragments, distorts what we are.
From all that clings like burrs and brambles— to go forth and see for once, close up, afresh, what we had ceased to see— so familiar it had become. To glimpse how vast and how impersonal is the suffering that filled your childhood.
Yes, to go forth, hand pulling away from hand. Go forth to what? To uncertainty, to a country with no connections to us and indifferent to the dramas of our life.
What drives you to go forth? Impatience, instinct, a dark need, the incapacity to understand.
To bow to all this. To let go— even if you have to die alone.
Is this the start of a new life?
Rainer Maria Rilke in A Year with Rilke Translated and Edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows