When we are going toward someone we say
you are just like me
your thoughts are my brothers and sisters
word matches word how easy to be together.
When we are leaving someone we say
how strange you are
we cannot communicate
we can never agree
how hard, hard and weary to be together.
We are not different nor alike
but each strange in our leather bodies
sealed in skin and reaching out clumsy hands
and loving is an act
that cannot outlive
the open hand
the open eye
the door in the chest standing open.
This poem drew me into meditation this morning and I have strolled through its many nuances throughout the day. We allow the other’s difference to grow a wedge between us because we don’t understand it, and we can’t control what we don’t understand. We would rather muck around in the divide than risk the outstretched hand and the open door in the chest.
In their book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greewald describe their study which concluded that every human being fills in what we don’t know with what we think we know. In observing myself, I see that it is my ego that fills in what I don’t know, rather than the self that lives in divine presence. This self is strong enough to welcome that which is strange in the other, that which reaches out with clumsy hands.
My spiritual practice comes in the form of a pause. I pause before I judge. I breathe in respect and release fear. I breathe in love and release judgment. Once in a while it works. Our human instinct is to protect our ego, but the pause interrupts the knee-jerk impulse to insert it into the strange, unknown spaces of the other. The pause lets in the Spirit who places clumsy hand in clumsy hand.
Photo Credit: Photopin.com
photo credit: Michael W. May <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14609664@N06/5376777351″>o is for open</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
trans.Anita Barrows and Joanna Macey
I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.
Conflicting Images Emerge:
-No forcing, no holding back
-But rivers can overflow,.wrecking havoc on nearby communities
-“Let justice roll down like a river,” Amos 5:24
-The Colorado river carved out the Grand Canyon over a period of millions of years
-Rivers plunge over steep ledges into pools below. Hear the roar of Niagra Falls and Victoria Falls in Zambia
-The River Dee in Scotland meandering along peacefully, allowing fly fishers the luxury of patience.
I resist the drive to dualize by insisting that I act this way and not that way. What matters, in Rilke’s mind, is that my action be true to itself, authentic.
“Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Norman MacLean
photo credit: ShinyPhotoScotland N08/24432298457″>Mist in the Carse of Gowrie via photopin (license)
infant leaves emerge
tentatively from buds on stark white winter-limbs
like tentative souls
emerging from the dark night
© rita h kowats 4-7-18
In meditation on this magnificent Rilke poem given to me by my soul-friend, I realize that it is both an echo and a fulfillment of my own attempt to grasp the depths of our spiritual journey.
God speaks to each of us as she makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame,
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rilke’s Book of Hours
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”. Ruth 1:16
Imagine this. Your father is eighty years old and his wife of 55+ years has just entered a Memory Care Unit. Every visit to his wife is a painful death. The added stress of learning how to manage his household and care for his own aging body is quickly depleting him of energy.
Like the biblical Ruth you hear a call that is more than duty. The call to loving compassion sounds clearly and insistently across Badlands and Cascades: Uproot. Go. Your people shall be my people. So you leave everything to make a new home with your father.
Who does such a thing? I am in awe of the courage and aware of the challenges. May I someday learn to be this selfless.
vibrates along every vein in every root
pulsing and pulling
tapping the primal tattoo heard by Ruth before you:
You scoop up your scattered roots,
clutch them close and set out.
©Rita H. Kowats March 23, 2018
The Badlands Photo Credit: Thomas James Caldwell <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/81643710@N00/15497697471″>Erosive Effects</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Cascade Mountains Photo Credit: jcolman N00/3475838105″>The Olympic Mountains in morning sunlight via photopin (license)
Tree: Photo by Daniel Watson from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-trunk-green-leaf-tree-beside-body-of-water-762679/
(Drawing by Mervyn Peake)
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
I heaved my 27-year-old body onto the bed and sobbed until not a single tear could not be wrung from my soul. I had been cruelly abandoned by peers, and given no explanation. Even now at 73 I can say that I have never felt as alone as I did in that moment. I was terrified that I would lose my mind. In desperation I called out, “God help me!” A solution emerged and a sense of peace replaced the terror.
We had participated in a week-long Disclosure-Confrontation Marathon, one of the many experiments of psychologists in the 1970’s. This one later lost his license to practice anywhere in the United States. He had insisted that the way for us to grow was to hold “mini-sessions” among ourselves where we would disclose and confront one another. We held one session. I disclosed and became the target. William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies comes to mind. In it children are marooned on an island without adult supervision and the outcome is harrowing.
I survived. Sometimes I even thrive. In the years following this traumatic experience I practiced riding the waves of loneliness safely to the shore, buoyed by the trust that divine presence is a constant in my life. It has been important to me to identify spiritually advanced persons to guide me through these times. At Spiritual Directors International, http://www.sdiworld.org, one can connect to a spiritual guide.
We walk this human journey together. As I post this reflection I light my candle and hold vigil for all who experience being alone. Be well, my friends.
Relinquishment (I Kings 19:11-13)
You come to me
In the whisper that
Lures me out of the cave
Into the light.
Here I am. Send me
© Rita H Kowats May 21,2017, revisited 3-9-18
For a while now I have been yearning to hear mention of the Common Good in the media and on the lips of everyday people. Today, it seems, the Common good is often equated with political correctness in America and is scorned as a weak liberal conspiracy to rob people of their rights. But, plain and simple, it is just kindness. May we begin a movement of kindness right now, today, within our circles of influence. **
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
You can listen to Naomi read her poem here
You can hear the story behind Naomi’s poem here.
**Find an excellent explanation of a circle of influence here.
Photo Credit: HUFF POST.COM
When I heard Li-Young Lee read this stunning love poem I instantly dissolved in tears. It’s depth took me to regions beyond human love to that intense longing for the beyond, the more, to the inscrutable mysteries of the universe where I have found the divine in my old age. I can hear it whispered by desert mothers and fathers in the caves of Cappadocia and encounter it wafting on the notes of Hildegard von Bingin’s ethereal chants. This is the stuff of mystics. Enjoy.
Weekend All Things Considered February 24 interviewed Li-Young Lee. (Listen here)
I Loved You before I Was Born
I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing
for your every look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body.
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as this body wanes.
That longing will outlive this body.
I loved you before I was born.
It makes no sense, I know.
Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body.
And my share of time has been nothing
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly.
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.
In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light hidden and singing.
I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish.
I was dragging my body of spent muscles
out of the locker room at the YMCA when
I stopped in my tracks (plodding though they were)
before a big window displaying the Tai Chi class in motion.
There before me stood a twenty-something hulk of a man
Serenely engaged in the exercise, seemingly suspended from the ceiling
By an invisible wire attached to the bristles
Of his Lisbeth Salander Mohawk.
I giggled with delight at this delicious oxymoron
Placed along my one-size-fits-all path to wake me up.
Divinity lurks in the oxymorons of life,
Showing up where and how we least expect it.
© Rita H Kowats 2-8-18
photo credit: Thomas Hawk <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51035555243@N01/15801792012″>Punks Not Dead</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Two books which I have found very helpful in opening my wounds to let the light in:
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Heart of Forgiveness: A Practical Path to Healing by Madeleine Ko-i Bastis