Sunday, November 30, 2008

sharp points

“And you live life with your arms reached out.
Eye to eye when speaking.
Enter rooms with great joy shouts,
happy to be meeting.
And bright,
bright as yellow.”

~ The Innocence Mission, Bright as Yellow.

Recently, as part of a group of traveling musicians, I shared the joyful experience of welcoming hospitality. The last, and the lengthiest, of these road trips brought me to a small and elegant church in the Berkshires. The enthusiastic welcome actually began with thanks- just as we had all arrived. Our host’s exuberance- expressed at the outset, and not after any results of our presence- was especially touching, phrased as “there will never be enough thank-you’s, so I’ll start right now!” This brimming graciousness was disarmingly earnest and entirely pleasant. Now, in reflection, I can recall when I have either witnessed or felt this kind of abundant, overflowing, and extraordinary gratitude. Such profound expression may be occasional, but its roots are in everyday graces. Manifesting grateful acknowledgments may rest on the surface, with handshakes, written notes, and tokens. Unusual exceptions, such as I’d seen the other day, remind me of something beyond those fine and courteous practices. When a gesture seems closed-ended, we may decide to express our gratitude with our lives. Becoming our gratefulness needn’t necessarily imply overt emotion. More than anything, it is a communicating of this spirit in ways that comprehend the context of wherever we are- silent and festive alike. The depths of our own mysteries are visited, when gratitude overflows to the point that we sense the insufficiency of our words. It’s similar to the impatience we experience when we try to wish away worries or hasten a healing process with our intentions. Willing spirits find creative expressions.

The continuity that follows my desire to express appreciation, more than surface recognition, is the hope to live this gratitude. How do we carry ourselves and move through this world with a conscientious sense of reverence? Advancing from impressions, it is a challenge of faith to set forth from what we initially articulate. Living a spirit of gratitude imposes neither occasion nor space. Among other things, this means exercising myself to understand that which is difficult to accept. Cut loose the old grievances and grudges; shred the catalogues of misdeeds, and delete the read-only migrated files that take away space from the new. Part of the learning is posing the simplest questions, when noticing myself complaining in the face of goodness, asking “what’s good about this?” or “what’s good about today, this person, that job, this situation?” Graciousness may be expressed silently, and if we consider eternity as our goal, the need to be the last word dissipates and thankful intercessions for others will find their expression in our most unseen recesses. A gratefulness to God can be reflected as reverence and respect for all that lives and gives life. As acknowledgment for another person, it is compassion for that person’s sake- and for whom and what they may hold dear. Appreciation is openness and expanse of heart. We can be active witnesses to those who bear witness to us! And we can gratefully accept the unpredictable nature of our responses to graces we daren’t expect.

For the moment, I am very simply grateful for this time and space in which I can write at my warmly-lit desk, while outside the rain and wind pelt and beat upon the windows. As my thoughts turn through the topic of thankfulness, I think immediately of my friends. My companions and mentors are light-bearers along this broadening and humbling pilgrimage, and their influences transcend time. “So great a cloud of witnesses,” expressed so well by the ancient apostle Paul, encompasses us about such that we are freed by their inspiration to rise above all that weighs us down. To his friends in Philippi, he gratefully began his discourse with, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Remembering encouraging souls is a source of assurance. Progress comes through unity, not isolation. When I think of the kindred souls and guiding elders for whom I continually give thanks, there follows the wonder of the gifts of their accompanying presences- through the years and now. Even while writing in silence, I am aware of their company. A way of caring for those dear to me is to profoundly respect their lives, personalities, and memories. Always giving thanks, upon every remembrance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

call and answer

“Seek the face of the Lord,
and long for Him.
He will bring you His light and His peace.
I have loved you
with an everlasting love,
I have called you
and you are Mine.”

~ Michael Joncas, I Have Loved You

Sunday, November 9, 2008

lux in tenebris

“you chose to listen not to your doubts and fears,
but to your greatest hopes
and highest aspirations;
we mark the end of one historic journey
with the beginning of another...”

~ Barack Obama, speech- 3 June 2008

On my returns home from work much of this week, after what would seem an unbroken chain of saturated days and events, I’ve simply had to go back out for walks. Just a few blocks. Some days’ cumulative effects leave me consumed and with scarce reserves; these days have made for such occasions. These are grim times- save for our recent election euphoria, and night falls so much earlier quite suddenly. Thursday night I took one of these decompression walks, out in the dark chilled air. Across Longfellow Square and south onto State Street, passing the little floodlit shrine beside the convent, then west onto Spring Street. The West End now has as many leaves underfoot as overhead. Slowing my paces, I thought of how vital it has been to continue writing- even straight through my fatigue; even if the words don’t immediately amount to anything. Finding a bench near some street lighting, I penciled a few notes, finding a little verbal traction to strengthen my reach. When seeking new words fails me, I reach for the best ones I can remember. When my recollections are clouded to the extent that I cannot determine what is best to recall, I keep my feet moving forward. By proceeding, even without words, I am trusting they will emerge in time. If I only know to reach forward, that is sufficient.

Just as it was intuitively vital to take those after-work fresh air walks, I am equally grateful for perseverance in writing- albeit in fragments, lists, and all I could conjure up during ten-minute coffee breaks. In continuity, particularly the unspectacular kind, is found the essence of faithfulness. Indeed, there are seasons of any length that challenge us to continue in constructive motion, trusting the words will follow. But to prevent from being diverted or stifled by distrust and fear is a learned effort. The spiritual discipline of “fear not” causes me to consider what I can do to keep unfettered by apprehension and to cultivate trust. As I think of this as a learned practice, at this moment today, it means maintaining a consistent spirit of prayer at each and every turn. Be sure there are breaths of reflection interspersed through the day, offsetting the chaotic with lectio Divina and silence from the clatter and clamor that can encrust as barnacles on the side of a boat. Another is to continually think the best of others- even if I encounter intentions that are difficult to comprehend, or if I notice myself chafing with a pace far too slow or reticent for my sense of urgency. Still another, and a lamp to keep fueled by night, is to wholeheartedly embrace the spiritual gift of belief that the best is still yet to manifest.

But our road conditions and visibility will vary; we are not always navigating through adversity. And if we do regard vast tracts of this culture as spiritual wilderness, then we might consider fatalism to be the most corrosive of desert temptations. To practice a life of “fear not,” the challenge is to not capitulate to cynicism, and to transcend obstacles in our way that ignite fear and small-mindedness. It is a practice, because it demands constant application. Through minefields of doubt, and the margins along which many of us walk alone, perseverance allows us to explore the length and breadth of the meaning of faith. There is a danger in basing our prayers upon just the few things we can see. Without boldness, how would anyone know humility? There is more than this, far more than one could ever see in the distance.

Looking forward needn’t mean losing the moment. I spent years out of my life grudgingly wishing for what I did not have. An attitude like that diverts from taking stock in blessings immediately at hand. But it is worthy to aspire. One might ask what is worth accumulating, or what sort of yearning is healthful. Wishing for something more can be a sacred calling from within. To comprehend more and to provide better. To know the strength of the new life, in its fullness, was the wish articulated by the ancient apostle Paul. He also wished this for his friends and readers: to live as one who is risen from the dead, and to know love that surpasses understanding. The pressing forward, and the drive to persevere, is the high calling that becomes our lighthouse through dark nights at sea. And in this transformative journey I sense my wearily limited perspective very gradually broadening as it dissolves into that risen life. Evidence of simply the motion itself is a light to me. The action of reaching hopes we saw from afar is assurance of renewal.