Allow the Moment

Every now and then, it would be a good idea for me to listen to myself. I often repeat Jim Finley’s description of our lives as “infinite love infinitely giving itself away as every breath and heartbeat,” but I rarely pause to experience this contraction of the ventricles right now, this surge of oxygen into the air sacs as infinite love.

Every day I find a thousand reasons not to walk around in complete awe of that reality. How have I convinced myself that passing concerns, whatever they may be, are more real than the miracle of existence?

I had some help, of course. Our culture teaches us to buy more stuff instead of being blown away by the gift of our lives. It urges us to have everything figured out and be right rather than discover what each moment is teaching us.

I don’t mean a lesson about what we’ve been doing wrong or how we need to improve; I mean an entry way into ever deeper love. We have to let our lives do the teaching, though. We can only bring what we already know and the limited world that we can imagine. If we continually look within our own narrow vision for the horizons the universe is offering, we’ll miss seeing anything new.

There is so much that we cannot imagine, so much that’s eager to reveal itself to us. We need to allow our gaze to be directed. If we can let the moment open for us, like an iris unfurling, rather than wrapping it tightly within our own ideas, the genuine newness of all that is will enter our minds and hearts.

Infinite love by its very nature must always be giving itself away, must always be and be making new. If we can allow it to open us up, we will discover ourselves.

 

Choosing What Is

I spend a lot of time with the “should”s and the “have to”s. They’re not the most fun group to hang out with, but they’re very insistent.

In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr wrote, “Trapped people have to do what they want to do. Free people want to do what they know they have to do.” I’m quite adept at turning activities I enjoy into tasks that carry some vague but ominous consequence if not completed. I have to go to farmers market. I have to email my friends. Or what? I’ll buy vegetables at the grocery store, God forbid, but I invest that event with such power to define me.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who are caring or cared for loved ones with various health problems with great good will. I’m sure they have their moments of frustration and despair, but they maintain and return to an underlying gratitude for the other person and for being able to care for him or her. Though they choose their actions, the deeper choice is in how they continue to live out these relationships in their hearts.

“You are only free when you have nothing to protect and nothing you need to prove or defend,” Rohr says. He is describing how to live in the present. Protecting, proving, and defending our ideas of who we are prevent us from showing up as ourselves. If we are trying to be someone or something else, we cannot enter into what’s actually happening.

What we are is freely given love, and what’s happening is a movement of love constantly creating all that is. The only true choice is to choose what is, a dialogue facilitator once said. When we choose the love that we are, we will see that all we have to do is love, and we will want nothing more.

None of us are capable of living this way all the time, or perhaps even much of the time, but we can practice, we can remember and return. “Admittedly, it takes a while to get there,” Rohr says. It’s a journey worth setting out on.

Blue Light Special: a Better Life on Aisle Three

Though it’s a little early, I’ve decided what to give up for Lent this year: comparisons. I’ll still price check at the grocery store, but I’m going to stop comparison shopping for my life.

I do this all the time. I have an impressive mental list of things other people have, or more importantly are, that I don’t or am not. I like to check this list regularly to keep myself a little off balance because that is clearly the straightest path to self-improvement. Though of course I wouldn’t dream of assuming someone else’s life is perfect while simultaneously being hard on myself. That’s silly. I mean, who does that?

Life doesn’t come with a shopping cart. We can’t stroll down the aisle and pick unlimited good health off one shelf and a love of gardening off another. No one person’s cart is full of all joy and no suffering, all talent and no failings, no matter what their Facebook feed says.

That’s not to say our actions have no effect. We can eat healthy and exercise. But we arrived in this existence as a particular blessed, beautiful, and messy bundle, and life will happen to all of us fragile and imperfect human beings.

Aside from the unpleasant mental anguish that comes with comparing ourselves to others, the deeper problem arises in our relationship with God. Any time we spend trying to be someone else takes us farther from God dwelling in us and in the other person. God loves us and everyone else as we are, so if we want to encounter God, we need to inhabit ourselves rather than search for someone better to be.

We strive to categorize a world that longs to be celebrated. I watch my mind struggle to find some assurance that I’m better than others—or worry that I’m not—by counting my and their accomplishments and mistakes, strengths and weaknesses. It’s such a poverty-stricken way to relate to the manifestation of infinite love that I am, that everyone else is.

Instead, I plan to hold the mystery of the coexisting wholeness and brokenness of myself and others and let God reveal each moment’s celebration.

 

Share the Music

My mom and I went to hear Itzhak Perlman play this week. In other words, the best violinist in the world played music for us this week—exquisite, rich, transcendent music. He gave us an astonishing gift by doing what he loves to do.

How remarkable that music is designed to be shared. No one practices an instrument with the goal of sitting in her room and listening to herself. Musicians play hours of scales and arpeggios so that they can perform, so that we can hear each perfectly formed note. They do all this work with the express intent of giving away what they create.

And they’re not the only ones. People don’t make scientific discoveries and keep them secret or develop medicine to heal only themselves. They don’t build buildings that no one else can enter.

My ego, on the other hand, operates in direct opposition to these examples. It has a single message, which it trumpeted loudly this week: I, or more exactly it, am the only one that matters. It’s much too smart to say this directly. It has learned the art of subtlety. It says that other people get everything they want and I don’t—during the same week I heard the best violinist in the world!—or it’s too hard to be loving and generous or I’m messing everything up.

At the concert, Perlman was joined by pianist Rohan De Silva. During the opening movement of the first piece, I thought the piano was too loud because I sometimes couldn’t hear the violin that well, but part way through, I realized that one has to listen to the two instruments together. The music is written for both of them—sometimes the violin is the main character, and sometimes it plays a supporting role. As I listened to the interplay, the relationship between the two strands of notes, a new and more beautiful whole emerged.

My ego doesn’t recognize that there’s a symphony going on in this life. It believes it can create security and control for itself, but there’s no music in that approach. Existence is shared.

I think composers must hear all the instruments supporting and taking off from one another as they write music. Symphonies must arrive as a package deal. And so do we.

Coming and Going

A friend recently texted a group of us a photo of her delightful new grandson not long after his birth. The previous text to this particular group communicated a moment of caring for her dying father.

Seeing this entering and leaving the world in such close proximity brought home to me how natural both stages are. We are not designed to stick around.

I once heard about an indigenous people—I don’t recall where they live—who instead of considering death the opposite of life considers it the opposite of birth. We arrive on this planet, spend some time here, and depart. We come into being, we exist, and we cease to be.

Richard Rohr says, “Your life is not about you. You are about life.” We participate in this cosmic evolution, this ongoing creation, but we are not the point. Perhaps getting this backward makes us reticent to even think about our own ending.

Of course the idea of not existing is terrifying because all we have consciously known is existence, but if we considered the significance of our existence differently, maybe leaving it would be less scary. We are not so much individual identities walking around as we are parts of a greater whole.

We can see it concretely in the DNA passed on from my friend’s father to his great grandson. In a very real way those genes form them but don’t belong to them. The people are expressions of the genes, which existed before them and will continue after them.

In a similar way, we are each expressions of Spirit. In her book God’s Ecstasy, Beatrice Bruteau likens God to the dancer and creation to the dance. Though a dance can be broken down into individual movements, it’s the relationship between the movements, the flow of movement, the giving way of one movement to the next, that makes it a dance.

Each movement is beautiful and necessary and significant. Without any one movement, the dance is not the same. At the same time, every bend of the knees and arch of the back exists only for the dance.

A dance is ephemeral, and so are we. It’s also beautiful, and so are we—in our being born, in our living, and in our dying.

Solidly Connected

Flying home from Colorado to California last week, I had a window seat over the wing, the perfect spot for observing the man who held the two red, plastic signaling devices aloft and walked backward, giving the pilots directions to back the plane up. It was cold in Denver—the wings needed de-icing—and it occurred to me that this man was willing to stand outside in below freezing temperatures so that I could go “up in the sky,” as the mom in front of me told her daughter.

I thought about all the people it took to make that flight happen: the engineers who designed the plane, the factory workers who assembled it, the mechanics who kept it running, the pilot, the flight attendants, the air traffic controllers, everyone who made the airport run, from the TSA agents to the baggage handlers to the custodians. All of them are willing to do what they do for me.

Granted, they don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “Oh, Rachel’s going to be on this flight. I’m so excited to help her out.” They may or may not think about the people they’re serving at all, but consciously or not, they scan boarding passes and mop floors for me. That’s astonishing.

People kill chickens, wrap them in plastic, and ship them across the country for me. They test toothpaste formulations in laboratories and design packaging for me.

I have a tendency to get abstract about this concept that we are all connected, but it’s as solid as it gets. We do nothing on our own. Every moment of our lives is supported by countless other humans, animals, and plants, all of whose existence relies on the Earth and the sun.

And we’re connected through time, too. If those two brothers in Kitty Hawk hadn’t been fascinated with flight, if this planet had formed farther from this star, if our universe had expanded any faster or slower.

Generosity pervades our lives to a degree our minds cannot hold. All we can do is recognize it and bow.

Giving Light

Every time I looked around yesterday, really looked, joy was present—in the light on the pepper trees, in my home office, in the soccer game at lunch. But surely, at those same moments, many beings on Earth felt far from joyful.

Some family friends, Bella and Henry, were in the concentration camps during World War II. They met and married after the war. I met them for the first time for lunch at Red Robbins when they were in their eighties.

At one point, Henry said, “I couldn’t have imagined all this,” he waved his hand, indicating his entire life, the restaurant, grown children, a career, “when I was in Auschwitz.”

We wait, during this Advent season, for the birth of Light in the darkness, the light that “draws us outward into the world and inward into the depths of our hearts,” as Barb Kollenkark says. It draws us to these places because it is there. We and all creation are the light of the world. We are waiting for our own birth, our awakening to the reality that everything is Christ.

A friend recently reminded me that the only way we can be light in this world is by showing up where we are as who we are. All we can offer is the gift of our own becoming responding with love and joy to the reality in front of us at that moment.

“The world is shot through with poverty,” Jim Finley says. Any person we meet today may need a witness to joy. That doesn’t mean false cheer or telling someone in pain that they’re OK. It means embodying “I couldn’t have imagined all this” while being present to their suffering.

“If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives,” Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts in Solitude. Our lives will contain darkness and light, and the darkness for some will be incomprehensibly deep. At the same time, “The people in darkness will see a great light.” May we be that light.