Wednesday, August 30, 2006

tarnish on the golden rule

"Show me a place where hope is young
And people who aren't afraid to love."

Caedmon's Call, This World

There are times when we are even surprised at how out-of-joint with this society we discover ourselves to be. It is astounding to see such high thresholds of cruelty and uncivility that are taken for granted and practiced as the norm. People exploit one another, institutionally and interpersonally- and do so without notice. If you find yourself even slightly taken aback by such audacity, then that is a sign of a vibrant hope in the human capability for compassion.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

la différence

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live into the answer."

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Indeed this is a season of questions and contemplation. When the introspection wrenches and the night becomes too dark, it must be faith that remains more unquenchable than day light. And when such welcome consolations and embraces are gifted to me, I cannot but simply and gladly accept things as they are. Surely more than merely an ambivalent acceptance, it is a wholehearted quaff of giving my all to the moment- not just the obvious tedium that challenges patience, but the slivers of heaven- the substance of things hoped for.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

oases, covers, and books

"Je vous ai tant parle du desert qu'avant d'en parler encore, j'aimerais decrire une oasis.
Celle dont me revient l'image n'est point perdue au fond du Sahara.
Mais un autre miracle d'avion est qu'il vous plonge directement au coeur du mystere."

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Terre des Hommes

For those of us who risk the voyage of the inner life, our comprehension of explorations and places become unconfined by material space. In his Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen wrote of the contemplative life as the expression of something deeper and larger- and beneath the surface of our daily actions. But is the drive to understand just another over-analytical self-obsession? There is that danger, but not for Nouwen. His exhortation is to follow the impressions to their source, particularly the fears. Face them right down, and not run away. By following them through and understanding them, we can be liberated to find new ways when the tired old ways run us into the same barriers. All this self-confrontation has a purpose, and it sure better not be some kind of consumptive self-absorption. I engage the journey to learn, to not repeat what has wasted enough of my time, and to be unfettered by what has wasted too much space and energy. As Nouwen observed, "this confrontation should not lead to despair but should set you free to receive the compassion of God without whom no healing is possible." (p.83) I will add that such compassion is nothing I'd bottle up and hoard for secure storage, but is entirely meant to lavish wastefully on those whose paths have been destined to meet with mine.

Retreats seem to come in various shapes, and as aforementioned are indeed transcendent of place. My own favorites are either wilderness places which are exempt from societal trappings- and- large cities which are bubbling stews of societal trappings. Yesterday was a day to get away to a city big enough to get lost in the crowd. Being the Invisible Man in a maelstrom is preferable to the like situation in a town of eighty thousand. Amidst the captivating wonders of art museums, historic sites, and works of literature, it occurred to me how complex are our judgments of one another. Where do these "criteria" come from? How can our assessments be changed- or at least softened to the degree of mercy we would want for ourselves?

Surely, for those of us who write our reflections, and who read others' observations, we can say something about people-watching! We're looking and remarking all sorts of things to ourselves. Someone at the next table looks to have it all togther. Or the couples who appear not to have a care in the world. That homeless man may have had a prosperous career in his trail. Then there are the curiosities of those whose cell phones are surgically attached appendages, loudly regaling the public with their halves of their conversations. Another phenomenon are those who move about with earbud wires protruding from their heads, connected to pocket i-pods. Still another are the unlikely and abundant pairings of unkempt, boorish, slouching men with meticulously-groomed women on their arms. Even with the risk of judging books by their covers, I posed the observation about the latter to a female friend, to listen to her take on how the rude can attract so successfully. She said she was certain it is a matter of low self-esteem on the part of these women. That was surprising to hear, but in an odd way made sense. Inevitably comes the question of how well we know our own selves. How well do we know what we desire? For myself, such answers would be daunted by the distractions of wires running into both ears. Silence is the oasis that we all mysteriously fear.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

still small voice

"Take no thought for the morrow:
for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

Matthew 6:34

Perspective is put to enormous challenges when human hope takes root against the backdrop of fear and paranoia. Threats come insidiously, in both overt spectacles and as subliminal suggestions. How shall we proceed in a profound sense of forward-looking, without selling out to cynicism? This society is increasingly obsessed with a fortress-mentality. Not to be mistaken with public safety, and even apart from what has become popularly known the Post 9/11 World, intense energies are devoted to personal security: alarms, locks, ostentatious gates and vehicles. Perhaps were not even sure whether we have imposed this upon ourselves- or if this trend is something of a reaction against uncontrollable hostility. Whatever the case may be, we are fed daily doses of being told we are a nation at war. Like the Cold War had woven itself into our collective angst, so now we are acting out our anxieties even as we relate to one another.

The term balance, though it may sound cliché, represents the harder, humbler, higher road. The moments and todays are gifts of spaces in which we move and breathe, dispensed to us from a supply of unknown amounts. Engaging the challenge with courage is to resist the currents of hysteria. We have had to stand for a kind of societal masochism long enough. There are surely other choices. The offer of candor. The daring of confidence. The surrender of a loosened grip, in exchange for buoyancy.

You go outside
You see the Holy Spirit burning in your trees
and walk on, glowing with the same glow.
Still you tremble out and in.

~Brave, by The Innocence Mission

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

someday coming

"Pilgrim am I in a desert land
Wandering far and late,
In expectation every hour...

~Pant-y-Celyn, Pilgrim

The pervading sense of anticipation is a sign of hope. And if I am true to my perspective of seeing this life as a linear and provisional pilgrimage, then no two days or weeks are the same. Indeed, as we stand at the epicenter of the summer, I can already discern the changes even in the past month. Not that anything earth-shattering has happened, neither have I recently been on any noticeable mountaintops. Sometimes transition can occur far beneath the speed limit and under the proverbial radar.

When this recent heat wave broke, something distinct in the air- and the light- suddenly informs me the summer has (albeit slightly) begun to recede. It feels like it's about a month later than it really is on the calendar. Change is always that reliable and relentless constant. Often it is an exasperatingly slow process, sometimes the abrupt and the unexpected lets us see what our reflexes are like. Slowing with the elements of late has made for some release in my tendencies to linger, and reminded me of the way time itself has a forgiving power- even toward oneself.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

what is a circle worth ?

"Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold.

~ Sir Walter Raleigh

Having determined that Zero is not such a bad place to be, for the past several weeks I've embarked upon a full-scale scouring of my home. Many things are being given away, or are being recycled, in this cleansing process of sprucing up and paring down. It's been impossible to even embark upon something like this, over recent years- and this wintry summer of having to stay close-to-home because of work obligations makes this possible. If this must be the social-life-less summer, then it can also be the one during which I can reinvent my living-space and throw out the bad baggage. Indeed, housecleaning can be tedious, but this kind of undertaking is downright soul-searching. And purging. It is a purgation. A release. Who knew??

So, Zero is all right with me- in this context. It's certainly far more appealing, these days, than what can easily become a paralysis of analysis. While I'm trying to make sense of things, I'm getting some things done. One of my good and trusted friends asked me what I thought would get me out of this trench that I refer to as the liminal space, my best and most honest response was that I need to make sure the motivation came from within- as opposed to emanating from the approval of another person. I believe I have finally learned that lesson. In addition, while choosing the path of taking steps of faith, there is the preferable appeal of just moving forward, as opposed to analyzing the curiosities of the past and present- right into the ground. At least there are spotless floors and a cleared desk awaiting me at home.