"I'm hearing right and wrong so clearly
there must be more than this
it's only in uncertainty
that we're naked and alive
I hear it through the rattle of a streetcar
hear it through the things you said
I can get so scared
listen to the wind
I want you close I want you near
I can't help but listen
but I don't want to hear
hear that voice again
what I carry in my heart
brings us so close or so far apart
only love can make love"
~ Peter Gabriel, That Voice Again
The desert of exile is so unpleasant a constant, that despite any familiarity it is entirely contemptible. And the very distaste of this refuse of rejection is enough to force my reach to higher levels of meaning and understanding. In so doing, I may have established a vital ingredient to turn the wilderness wanderings into a directed emergence. Though I may have an evolving comprehension of the ultimate destination, the way there is replete with the unknown. As surely as there will be users and vicious players, I know enough to leave room for the always-welcome serendipitous. There is more than what is past and immediate, it is ahead of me now, and I am regaining a sense that it is so well worth the reach there will be no nostalgia for the refuse pile of carcasses.
All the good I have wished and created for others is also worth sharing with my own self. For those of us who assure every civil right to the people around them, yet play the despotic tyrant upon self, we must stage the sort of revolution that forbids all persecution- even toward ourselves. If we believe that each of us are beings of infinite value, including ourselves, then our constitutions demand an amended charter of rights.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
“You will have nothing but love
Nothing but hope, blue sky above
You will find nothing but peace
Nothing but the sun shining on your face
When you open your eyes
You will feel nothing but free
Nothing but trust that's how it should be
And one who cares about nothing but you
Watching close by the whole night through
When you open your eyes.”
~Mike Oldfield, Nothing But
Indeed it is a gift not to be dismissed, to have the ability to see. Clear vision is an almost effortless ingenuity that allows us to recognize a situation and notice open doors and possibilities. For those whose perceptive skills are finely tuned, potential can be glaringly obvious. Conversely, visionaries have the added dilemma of respectfully comprehending those who, for their own reasons, cannot bring themselves to see what is good. Frequently, the limitation lies in forms of prejudice- an irrational unwillingness to acknowledge worthy promise. The prejudging can take on varying aspects of unchecked bigotry, as much as a constricting naïveté that has yet to be challenged. Still further, the formidable twin saboteurs known as apathy and lethargy serve as obstructions to clear sightedness.
A wise and trusted friend and I were talking about the two-edged gift of sensitivity. Amidst intense anguish, with a memory of how this culture frowns upon the sensitive and vulnerable, I denounced the worth of compassionate awareness. It all looked to me like a debilitating course of overconcern and so much more work than the average person should be subjected to assume. But the alternative state, that of insensitivity and neglect, is so much more detrimental to personal growth and to participation in this existence and in the lives of those around us, that one would find themselves in far worse of a disjointedness from this precious life through which we only travel once. My good friend pointed out that as much as those who are sensitive are open to the pains of rejection and misunderstanding, we are equally open to the sublime, to beauty, and to profound joy. The successive outworking is that we who choose not to be calloused and cynical are also those who freely and gratefully give.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
"When we were children,
we thought and reasoned
as children do.
But when we grew up,
we quit our childish ways."
~ 1 Corinthians 13:11
Growing up in the asphalt jungle of inner New York City amplifies the metaphor all the more. Schoolyards are nominal, hard-paved spaces between the school building and its neighbors: chain-link enclosed, inhospitable, littered, constraining. If indeed it really is our tendency to carry deeply ingrained childhood experiences into the collective mélange of our adult years, we may even find that we take some kind of twisted comfort in the familiarity of penned-in incarceration. Though known and seemingly safe, the vandalized schoolyard is the narrow world of irresponsibility which we must all outgrow.
Our school districts may graduate us, but truly we must each decide to graduate ourselves out of the confines of bullying, pettiness, and puerility. Such cultural phenomena as that which sees numerous individuals dragging their adolescence well into their grownup years demonstrates a bizarre pulling-behind of the schoolyard. The intersection of current and counterculture forces the choice between apathy versus awareness. The cutting edge is in the realization there are others around us in this world, and that our thoughts, words, and deeds actually have consequential effects on those whose lives we touch. But we can’t embrace this difference, this challenge to pursue an expanded life, until we boldly leave the schoolyard.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow however turns out to be not a state but a process."
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
It is Christmas Eve day, sometimes called Little Christmas. As it had been necessary in past times, amongst the polite festivities, I am seeking refuge in the constructive distractions of labor, assisting others and working at my employment with hopes of redeeming the time and just getting through the season. Notwithstanding, I can neither be immune to my grieving, nor dismiss the summons to offer prayers.
When I began writing, this medium so resembled the gesture of scrolling messages into corked bottles and setting them forth into vast waterways, not knowing where or how or if they would reach anyone or anything. The very act of prayer is itself the supreme gesture of faith, that my hopes and sorrows will be heard; they will not fall on deaf ears. Even to imagine human ears belittles the forces of creation and divine compassion. But my comprehension has its limits. So I send my prayers, albeit in my simple and imperfect words. And I know you are out there, reading this. Perhaps you are alone right now; perhaps you are at your employment while it seems the rest of the world is out doing their commerce and either tolerating or exulting in the pageantry. You read this because you may be curious, you may still value some connection, you want to see if I am enraged. But I am not. Last night I dreamed that I told you that when you used to prefer me, you saw and conclusively experienced that I put my creativity, energy, and genuine love right into tangible action. Action is not passive and compassionate action is not wasted. "Even if the truth is not heard," Mahatma Gandhi once said, "it's still the unmistakable truth." "Talking a good game," is something anyone can do, without risk. The cutting edge is to love and say it with one's life; to consider others. Such vulnerability reminds me of how breakable earthen vessels can be, but it also attests to the courage of the giving of oneself and the vitality of survival.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
"The labor, of course, is in the unrelenting struggle to banish the countless destructive thoughts that plague our minds and restrain them beneath that cloud of forgetting. This is the suffering.
All the struggle is on the human’s side in the effort he must make to prepare himself for God’s action, which is the awakening of love and which he alone can do."
The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 26
When those who have suffered- either individually or corporately- capably embrace their histories, the beneficiaries abound. The effect is likened to casting stones into a body of water, with the rings of rippled water reaching incalculable distances. Lives filled with generous acts affect those who reach others, and results become the kind of contagion that serves as antidotes to this culture fraught with disingenuousness and cruelty. Simply put, the benefits of learning from one’s (or one’s community’s) history opens doors to choose not to repeat it, and even to keep vigilance lest others not repeat tragedies we have known first-hand.
This seems so very elementary, yet barely anyone can assemble the simplest equation. Many descendants of the diabolically decimated population of European Jews are numbered among legal defenders of civil rights and liberties. One of the most noteworthy human achievements of embracing this principle in the past century was the humble perseverance of the French Huguenots of Le Chambon Sur Lignon, recalling their ancestors’ torture and persecution while openly defying the Vichy and Nazi regimes. It seems so basic and mindful, but hardly anyone will dare to practice a response to the injustices they have seen and known. As a result, the abused will abuse, the persecutors will persecute, and those who crave mercy refuse to offer it themselves. The tragic chain of neglect perpetuates as its own toxic contagion, leaving ripples of aggrieved human souls in its wake. The chain breaks when conscious choices are made to transcend malice. Having known only glimpses of goodness is all the more reason to make generosity one’s life mission.
But what of the unscrupulous? How about those whose relational burns have brought them to calloused, amoral cynicism? Whether unwittingly or knowingly, these become the carriers and spreaders of interpersonal disease. Those who have witnessed this can equate the experience with forms of addiction: individuals need either extraordinary personal strength, or the positive reinforcement of community, in order to stay "on the wagon" of healing and renaissance lest there be relapse and the all-too-inviting proverbial slippery slope pulls the person backwards. The betrayed too easily become betrayers themselves. Fear, it seems, is so much easier than faith. Sardonism sadly insulates us so much better than the disarming vulnerability of hope. My personal experiences of unjustified affliction bids that I comprehend and emerge in a spirit of forgiveness and confident hope. Optimism, but a cautious optimism. Assuredly the proof that I am not amoral is that I am completely certain that I would never dishonor another human with the weapons that have been fired on me. That, dear reader, is a promise.
Friday, December 22, 2006
"It’s funny how they put you down when your hands are held up high;
And you open up your heart and soul,
but that’s not enough for most."
~ Mike Peters (The Alarm), Going out in a Blaze of Glory
On the premise that all life and faith culminates in relationships, and still further that all relationships involve choices, I am determined to continue to develop my emotional fluency and spiritual articulation.
Even from the amplified vulnerability of abandoned ruins, this is still the course to take. It is a kind of responsibility. A response-ability, we could boldly say. To be a complete and self-respecting individual, and to be faithfully compassionate toward others, I insist on better comprehending how to love and how to enunciate it with the whole of my being. And I’m doing it. It’s palpable.
I prefer it that way.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"First, there is the psychological conscience, which is better called consciousness. It reports to us the actions we perform. It is aware of them, and through them it is aware of itself. Second, there is our moral conscience, which tells us not only that we act, and how we act, but how well we act. It judges the value of our acts. The psychological and moral consciences are both faculties of the intelligence. They are two kinds of awareness of ourselves telling us what we really are."
~ Thomas Merton, Nul N'est Une Ile (No Man is an Island)
Taking a bold look at the big picture of real life- of reality- can remind us of our joys and consolations, and can also reveal that which is injurious and incorrigible. Nonetheless, the renewal of realistic perspective is the strong medicine that will help carry a person to the other side of despair and grief. Like prospectors who seek precious gems in mountains, while foraging through clay and rock and dirt, the stouthearted and diligent will discover the reflectant colors that shine out from the Pearls of Great Price.
When the contrast is struck enough times, between what is genuine and what is fool's gold, it becomes easier to distinguish all the love and cherished intention that surrounds me, from the impetuousness of intolerant rejection. Not enough of us know that ill will produces ill consequences. At times we are forced to accept the verdict of reducto ad absurdum, but there is still never a reason to resort to it ourselves.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"But that won't be enough for me,
Not this year not anytime soon.
I have got to clean house,
Gotta make my bed,
Gotta clear my head.
It's getting kinda stuffy in here,
Smells sorta funky too,
Like monkeys at the zoo...
Spirit, come flush the lies out..."
~Charlie Peacock, Monkeys At the Zoo
Readers be assured, and certainly all my friends and neighbors know that my housekeeping skills are impeccable. My humble home is always hospitality-ready. Part of my own spiritual discipline, over the years, has been to open my arms and heart to others with meals and a peaceful atmosphere.
Now, I am in the process of adapting the environment to be consoling and hospitable for my spirit. This is part of regathering and recovering. Somehow, the strength must return- and it's got to be some kind of combination of the spiritual health I had last summer plus the painful learning experience since. When a venture depends entirely upon myself, such as graduate school, employment, self-improvement, being a friend to others, I can carry such things all the way through to success. It's up to me. Of course, the success of a relationship depends upon both people involved, thus even the very best I can offer- in the finest spirit of generosity and understanding- can be refused and violently pushed away. Perhaps all a compassionate soul can do, as a result, is accept.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
"Nothing is more perilous to your own destiny, more unworthy of eternity, or more hurtful to your ordinary happiness, than being content to abide as you are.
Our whole life is given us with the object of going boldly on toward what will endure forever. The world slips away like a deceitful shadow, and eternity draws near. Why delay to push forward?"
~ François de Fénélon
Wishing only to be authentic, to be truly courageous while still being gracious, I try to understand- even through my own limitations (and those of others). There is nothing naive or passive at all about being real or by choosing compassion and forgiveness.
Some nights I look from my windows at the empty streets, and then up into the dark skies. It reminds me that I cannot know what is immediately ahead- what foregone conclusions will be forced upon me -or- what joyful news may be in transit. (For the September 11th terrorists, that day was was planned so far ahead that for them it was a stoic formality. For much of the rest of the world, that day began a gut-wrenching chain of events.)
The grieving process also forces a choice to make that very liminal space into a launching point into a greater strength.
I send wishes into the air and cast them upon the waters in little chips of paper confetti. I choose to be a brave soul.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
"I have no fear of the future.
Let us go forward into its mysteries, let us tear aside the veils which hide it from our eyes and let us move onward with confidence and courage."
~Sir Winston Churchill
In times of crisis, such words as spoken during life-threatening warfare remind us of what bravery can bring out in us.What is courage, and what is cowardice?
Lately, I've begun to believe that hiding from enemies is nowhere as cowardly as shunning and running from what is good and what is benevolent. It is an action of fear- but not of reprisal from another. Instead it is the fear of the enemy within, and that life could actually improve- even if it means daring to leave the comfort zone of the known world of the substandard.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
"This overacted part from this never ending play
Is just her substitute
For reality anyway.
I've tried and tried to tell her
It's not what you do
It's what you've done with what you did."
~ Pray for Rain, Tried to Tell Her
Accepting loss and recognizing ineptitude forces a crossroad. One might choose permanent residence in the slough of despond, or choose the struggle to emerge from the trough. And this is not to attempt to build upon old ruins, but instead by reaching forward into the unknown I become aware I am no longer who I was a month or two ago, but am becoming newer and more improved. To be an appropriate steward of the life given to me, there better be improvement; otherwise it's back to the slough. In addition it helps to recall the transitory, provisional nature of the grand picture. It's a healthy sense of humility, the good kind of surrender, and the beginning of an openness to better things. But if the transition is growth in a positive direction, the invisible infrastructure of responsible love is revealed. Nothing in honest faith can be done at the expense of another soul.
Friday, December 15, 2006
"When I'm broken, see what happens
Arms wide open, see what happens
See what happens to me."
~ Vigilantes of Love, When I'm Broken (See What Happens)
With diligent and solid endurance, brokenness can gradually transition in the direction of wholeness. The steps are unpredictable, and there may be spells without any steps. One of the turning points I've found is in the recovery of our stance. Though violated, life and self are worth defending. Perhaps this is close to Henri Nouwen's stand in your pain statement. For me, this seems to evolve ahead of retooled life patterns and diet. There is power in articulation, especially for those whose spirit is accompanied by images and words- written and spoken. And this is to say real and palpable words, far more substantial than pixillated digital files and mugshots which can be deleted at the press of a button. The virtual world is just what it purports to be: figurative, evasive, and only a vague byproduct which cannot compare with the real world of pulsating souls, beating hearts, accented voices, personal histories. Our defensible lives require the collective boldness to seek higher things and not cop out on ourselves or on one another. Choosing to love, and love well, implies risk and imperfection; but to be true to this ethic means that the practice of compassionate love is to provide space for understanding, instead of dismissive judgment and intolerance.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
"Lack of interest leads to
Lack of knowledge leads to
Lack of perspective leads to
Lack of communication leads to
Lack of understanding leads to
Lack of concern leads to
This complacency denotes
This approval denies
~Caedmon's Call, I Ain't Standing Up for Nothing
It is egregiously despairing to experience at first hand how those whose passions have been sabotaged in turn become the undermining saboteurs themselves. It is reminiscent of the history-repeating abused who evolve into abusers, and the suddenly-unyoked-turned-oppressors such as in Animal Farm, or the real life Romanian insurgents replacing Ceausescu with Iliescu at the fall of communism. What can be done to reckon unreasonable hypocrisies with screaming realities?
Perhaps the beginning of an answer transcends events and individuals, and is found in patterns. So easily those whose experience has been that of suppressed liberties and cruelty can simply convey the sickness as a perceived status quo. Indeed, it takes great courage and strength to extricate oneself from the known and rutted routine, inferior as it may be. But the courage and drive to transition can yield tremendous vistas. Like Plato's parable about the cave, motioning toward the light carries with it an intimidating challenge, once we fully experience the riches of the day, we gain the possibility of choosing brilliance over darkness. Still, however, the choice to be made belongs to the individual. How much devotion does obscurity warrant? Is life's preciousness not worth more than inferiority?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
"Peter got up the nerve to ask, 'Rabbi, how many times do I forgive someone who hurts me? Seven?'
Jesus replied, 'Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.'"
Living conscientiously, when I say something from my heart, I mean it and back it up with my very being and movement in this world. I keep promises, even the small gestures and offers. And when I unintentionally transgress this ethos, with short accounts, it is instantaneous to ask pardon. Far from being a compulsion, it is really a refusal to ethically bankrupt myself. By the same token, rather than creating a claim to be all "high and mighty," it's actually choosing the inconvenient road of humility.
Now the heat of the spotlight takes effect when, amidst painful injustice, I come to desire nothing less dignifying than to be the forgiver. Pondering even the word forgive, it is indeed to fore-give: to offer compassionate acknowledgment and respect ahead of how it might be received. The giving is at the forefront. Once I get out of my own absurd sense of self-entitlement and forgive, relief sets in. I forgive those whose unkindnesses are reflections of their limitations. I have these, too. And, yes, for the time you chose me, though I ate and drank with you, walked, bicycled and traveled with you, laughed and sang with you, listened to your stories, hoped and planned with you, made gifts and meals for you, I forgive you. It is all for love and for the faith of the divinity of hearts that call to one another. In this spirit, situations, loyalties, and agonies recede beneath the torrents of the heavens. I forgive you; please forgive me. When the night becomes dark, divine love is a fire that never dies away.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
"It is a monstrous thing to see in one heart at one and the same time this sensitiveness to trifles and this strange insensibility to the more important things. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural slumber which indicates an all-powerful force as its cause... For when people choose to live thus in ignorance of what they are, without seeking enlightenment, their defense is that they 'do not know'."
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Here, Pascal's terms are strong and seem even excessively harsh. But on second thought, matters of conscience become the principles by which we conduct our lives and perceive circumstances and the souls of other people- not to mention our own selves. It's the eye of the heart that looks out towards what we regard as the highest. A caring conscience sensitively seeks to walk without offense, lest it become seared by wounds and setbacks- and what is destructive in this culture. What I've found to maintain a sensitive yet solidly grounded conscience is the continual habit of openness of heart and mind, inside and out, to be educated and renewed. An openness to the divine, and to the hearts of people around me. This stands the tests of trials.
Now my considerable challenge is to face adversity without toxicity, to hold fast to the generosity of spirit by which I always wish to cultivate and offer, and to daringly aspire with peaceful resilience. Something as seemingly trivial as a short period of time to consider what is healthy and what is avoidable, as a self-examination, is actually a bold and compassionate progression in the direction of vitality and freedom.
Monday, December 11, 2006
"My soul would choose strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon.
Shall we be ruled by the Giant Despair?
Be resolved to pluck up in heart and try your utmost to get out from under his clutches.
Let us be patient and endure a while. The time may come that may give us a happy release."
~John Bunyan, from the Pilgrim's Progress
This is the darkest, least sunlit, time of the entire year. What had been bleak in previous times is only made increasingly harsh at this time which carries a bizarre combination of holiday revelry and crepuscular pessimism. Opacity can blind what once had been clear. The murk of turbidity sullies the treasures we have in our very waters.
The protagonist in Pilgrim's Progress unwittingly stumbled into the lands held by the Giant named Despair, owner of Doubting Castle. He was tortured and left for dead in the dungeon, at least until it came to his thoughts that he held the key to his freedom in his vest pocket- metaphorically in his own noble heart.
A wise friend once told me that although hardships are inevitable, misery is still optional. And perhaps as much as misery is the effortless successor to defeat and discouragement, there is that key's worth of recollected adrenaline that bids us to persist with uncynical hope and keep the standard high. In the story, the key actually has the name Promise, and it gives the broken man a traversal through all manner of iron gates so that he can refuse the gutter and resume his way. Recollection allows me to look back at years of endurance and success, and be loyal to it enough to persevere.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
"It is indeed through our broken, vulnerable, mortal ways of being that the healing power of the eternal becomes visible to us. Therefore we are called each day to present the whole of our lives- our joys as well as our sorrows, our successes as well as our failures, our hopes as well as our fears."
~Henri Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy
We may fairly say that fear is the profoundest dividing obstacle. In suspicion, we fear the other, different, person or ideology. In fearing for our security, we threaten others. In fearing our own pains and confronting them, we condone the anguish of others; and the fright of being challenged by how our self-confrontations can potentially change us for the better, we fearfully withdraw. Fear is then the opposite of trust. It indicates the preference for neat and disposable packages over the acknowledgement of a humanity that can shine as it can be sculpted and polished and loved into an evolving brilliance.
Saturday, December 9, 2006
"Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause."
~Henri Nouwen, Love Deeply
The anguish of loss and rejection produces a crossroads, and that is the choice between a bitter refusal to love again- or- to stand straight up in my pain and let the soil I stand upon become richer and better capable to be life-giving.
By choosing the risk to love, my heart has grown deeper and wider, and in all my faltering maturity of fits-and-starts I find there is no end to the wellspring of genuine love from which I can joyfully give, receive, forgive, and continually give. Standing straight in my pain is extremely difficult, much like holding fast on the deck of a relentlessly listing ship in a rainstorm. But for me this is the way of emotional faithfulness, and I can continue living and speaking from the center, not just in easygoing times, but in the darkest nights of the soul.
Friday, December 8, 2006
"In times of darkness, when life loses its meaning and you are unsure even of your own identity, a flame still burns bright enough to lighten your night.The fire of forgiveness plunges deep within you, dispelling your own confusion; it calls you by name; and the fire burns away your bitterness to its very roots. That fire never says 'enough.'"
~ frère Roger, de Taizé
To forgive is to love to the utmost, and with a healthy sense of priority the finest spirit of forgiveness is to do so without pretense of changing another person. It is a gracious and free choice which recognizes the spirit of another human being without regard of action and injury. Forgiveness can be asked for, given freely, and even directed straight to oneself. How can there be peace or trust without forgiveness? And with a soul that experiences and receives forgiveness, I can then become a source of reconciliation and trust- even through pains that agonize the human body and wrack the soul. I wish for my heart to be open to the universal, without sparing myself, so that I can become capable of understanding everything in others, of sharing their pain and distress. To believe in renewal is to say nothing is impossible or irretrievable.And this is my choosing, and my desire is to embody this.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
"A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves."
The course of human events is rife with injustice and brutality. One would think we didn't really have free will, since we carry a penchant for the infliction of torment from the broad spheres of politics and warfare right into our homes and interpersonal relations. That it is the popular choice to select spite over and above compassion, on such a widespread level, is astounding and ironic. All of which helps clarify why generosity and compromise really do comprise what is truly counter-cultural. The way of understanding and agapé is the bolder, nobler, yet more demanding course of action. But alas the daring are few in number, and it is all so easy to slink back into the prevailing flow of careless indulgence. Again, that tide is societal, and it plays out in the microcosms of human rapports.
From a filthy and deathly Roman prison, the apostle Paul was able to find it within himself to pen some words of mentoring consolation to his protegé Timothy. They persisted against the double deficits of being Jews in the hostile Empire, as well as Nazarene disciples. And under his merciless arrestation, Paul knew what the younger Timothy must've been enduring out in the world. In that second epistle, in the second section of that letter, Paul succinctly begins to declare with, "Remember." This powerful word reminds us that we can console ourselves and others by compassionately reminding and reinforcing. Remember what Mom used to say. Remember how we used to do this, or go there. Remember the time this or that happened. Remember that I will always love you from the depths of my heart. Paul knows Timothy needs to be brought to recollection: "Remember the son of David who was raised from the dead; this is my very best news." He essentially tells his student that the glorious impossible actually happened.
But certainly to reassure and care are not confined to "religious"spheres. These are choices that are bestowed upon the human condition- to be practiced or refused. As with any discipline the practice is along the more humbling road, but it is so worthwhile that the sensitized see no other option.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Sénèque, Apprendre à vivre