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.

Still Life with Jello

I often ask my cat, Tux, questions he must be completely uninterested in, such as, what did I do with my keys? Others he may be tired of hearing, particularly, do you think I’ll ever get there?

“There” of course doesn’t mean to his food bowl; it means to that mythical place where I’ll have everything spiritually figured out. These days I ask it less often as I’m more and more aware that there doesn’t exist, but still, wouldn’t it be nice…

That question and I entered a new phase of our relationship this week. Intellectually I’ve understood for a little while that it’s not a useful question because “there’s no there there,” but in practice, I had just substituted “here” for “there.” Why not? Only one small letter apart.

I’ve been telling myself, if I could get really present, I would experience everything I associate with there—an uninterrupted state of peace, infinite reserves of compassion, an end to resistance, a better attitude toward the existence of jello. So being present came to mean being those ways. It became another there.

But that’s not it at all. There’s nowhere to go, period, and it doesn’t matter whether we get there, not even a tiny bit. On first blush, this sounds like a reason to eat a lot of jello, lime jello. Throw in the mini marshmallows and the pineapple bits. If it’s not getting any better than this, why not?

Considered in another way, though, it means that this moment is sacred, this one, right here, the one in which I am beating myself up or feeling annoyed or have just acted in a way that can’t quite be described as charitable. When the bathroom is dirty, when work isn’t going well, when failure or separation or despair threaten to engulf us.

That’s the miracle and mystery of it all. We are no further from God and God’s love at those times than when we are standing on the podium of life at our most shining and impressive. That’s the reason to be present—because our Life is here, right here.

The Movement of Light

If you’re longing for a “mind blown” moment, consider all the ways we’re moving every nanosecond of our lives. Earth spins around its axis and orbits the sun; the solar system rotates around the center of the Milky Way; the Milky Way travels through space. Our cells move and divide; molecules cross cell membranes; we cannot pinpoint the exact location of the electrons in the atoms that compose us.

Welcome to finitude, where being is a verb. No wonder there are so many coffee shops.

And yet, we constantly grasp for some sort of arrival. We want to locate ourselves on a continuum of achievement or progress, and we think there is a point, always in the future, where we will have enough of whatever we’re striving for, where we will be complete. We want to know we are getting somewhere, but inevitably when we reach that place, the “thereness” fails to satisfy for very long.

We are always works in progress, particles of a greater process that’s pushing fourteen billion years now. The scientific jury is still out on what will happen to the universe, but there’s no question that during this lifetime we will never come to a resting point.

Still, we yearn for peace, so how can we be at peace with the reality of never being at rest? Maybe, as with electrons, we can understand ourselves better if we stop trying to define ourselves as a particular point. Maybe we can think of ourselves as both particle and wave.

Right now, I am this moment’s self, with all my gifts and shortcomings, all I’ve done and all I’ve failed to do, but that’s not the sum of me. Considering my life as a wave, I stretch back to my childhood and forward to the unknowable future, and all of that is inseparable from all the rest of it. As a wave, I am—we all are, our lives all are—movement.

The movement of what? Energy. Light. Each of us embodies a particular frequency, so to speak, but we are all composed of Light.

This Gift We Are Living

Thanksgiving is probably the wisest of our national holidays. President’s Day can’t quite transform our outlook or way of approaching the world the way gratitude does.

Perhaps gratitude sparks such a profound shift because it puts us in touch with the truth that every moment and every molecule of this life are freely and mysteriously given to us. Here are a few of the innumerable things for which my heart breathes a deep thank you:

The repetitive and enduring nature of patience—all the times we choose not to take a mistake too seriously, every time we remember that people are more important than outcomes, each hopeful beginning again, the infinite grounding of the world in Mercy.

The expanse of Reality—the Earth, the sun, the Milky Way traveling through space at 1.3 million miles per hour, the billions of other galaxies shaped like ours, the personal imperfections we will never overcome, our incalculable and inexplicable generosity toward other beings, the presence of God in all of it.

The daily amazements—the cat’s ability to jump onto the countertop, the whir of the hummingbird’s wings, the welcome from the giant sycamore tree near the University Union, the refreshing burst of a good laugh, the reliable supply of food in the grocery store coupled with the economic means to purchase it.

This graced and charged existence we share—this breathing, this intertwining of lives, this shaping one another, this distinct being here amid the myriad possibilities that could have arisen.

The people who bless my life—family, friends, coworkers, writers who died years ago and left their thoughts behind, restaurant servers, my mechanic, you reading this.

Happy Thanksgiving. May we all live in the wonder of this gift of existing.

“Everything in the World is Waiting”

Astonishing freedom is available to us all the time. Really, I’m not making it up. As William Stafford writes in “A Message from the Wanderer,”

…Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

This week, the transformation of a simple question pointed toward one escape route: trust. Pulling into my garage one night, I thought to myself about some aspect of life, “What am I doing?” in a mental voice tinged with a Pig-Pen-like cloud of despair. Then I heard the question repeated in an excited, joyful tone, as if the asker couldn’t wait to discover what wonderful thing I was about to do.

Many of our social and religious constructs teach us to deeply mistrust ourselves. They subtly say that we must be hyper vigilant to prevent ourselves from running amuck, as if our failings were just waiting for that one relaxed moment to rise up and overpower us.

While healthy self-reflection is necessary for growth, we need to remember that we’re made in the image and likeness of God and to consider what that means. We have our weaknesses, but we are manifestations of God’s abundant love, of God’s abundant self, and though it feels risky, we can trust that Ground of our being.

God is not waiting to smite us. God is loving us into existence with every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley says. God’s love is our true nature, and it is infinitely trustworthy. The more we know this to be true, the more we will trust ourselves and the more we will embody that trustworthiness in all our relationships.

We are going to mess up. We will almost certainly hurt one another by acting unconsciously or from a place of fear, but those mistakes don’t define us. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” Finley says.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Everything in the world really is waiting. And it’s so excited to meet us.

Being Cosmic

One morning, watching the sun’s rays light up a tree and considering a new day, I realized I was literally looking at new light. The photons hitting the leaves had never been seen on Earth before, had not existed before forming in the sun’s core. The two hydrogen atoms that fused into helium to create the packet of energy that travelled almost 93 million miles had been around since a few minutes after the Big Bang, and after 14 billion years suddenly found themselves transformed.

This is cause for hope. We are an intimate part of this cosmic becoming.

We tend to hope for small things—that a presentation will go well, that people will like us. Sometimes we hope for larger things, such as a loved one’s recovery from illness or greater justice in the world. And at times we lose hope because none of these things come about.

Perhaps the times we live in call us to a wider vision of hope. That is not to say that the stuff of our daily lives is unimportant but rather that it is inextricably connected to something unimaginably larger than we are. We can learn about ourselves by observing how the universe works because we are part of the universe. What the universe is capable of—constantly being made new—we also are capable of; what is happening in the universe—unending change and evolution—is our natural state, too.

Our lives—our collective life—is sustained by these brand new packets of energy arriving in Earth’s atmosphere. If the very stuff that fuels our existence is ancient stuff in endlessly new forms, why would the pattern of our lives be other than that?

We will experience joy and heartbreak, our internal supernovas and black holes. Though we’re learning how galaxies form, it’s harder to observe how our own lives contribute to Creation’s unfolding, but they surely do. “Behold, I make all things new,” the Creator says. That is what’s happening through us, with us, and in us.


Note: Though I have no direct citations, this post undoubtedly results from reading Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beatrice Bruteau, Ilia Delio, and Cynthia Bourgeault, most recently in meditations by or quoting Delio and Bourgeault from the Center for Action and Contemplation.

You Are Trustworthy

How does one go from “God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, I am trustworthy” one week to “Everything I do is meaningless” the next? I’m not sure, but I might add “covering almost the entire existential spectrum at high speed” to my resume.

The trustworthy part arrived unexpectedly during my drive to work one day. Sometimes the universe gifts us a download of knowing after which, for a little while, we can perceive reality differently.

“Trustworthy” didn’t mean everything will be OK as we usually think of it—no pain, no loss—but rather that love fills all of life, even the hard stuff, so it’s already OK in a way we rarely notice. Also, creation has a “benevolent trajectory,” as my friend Markus says. On the cosmic, evolutionary scale, it’s all headed somewhere good, though again not necessarily good as we understand it.

I am trustworthy because God’s essential nature and creation’s essential nature is my essential nature. I’m not going to singlehandedly derail the cosmic experiment. As a matter of fact, I’m participating in its becoming, as we all are.

That was profoundly real for three days, and then literally a week later I understood why middle-aged people go out and buy little red sports cars—preferably a convertible, thank you. When all of the identities we’ve confused for our selves stop providing any sense of who we are, life becomes quite uncomfortable, and surely a sports car will relieve that discomfort.

How did I travel such an emotional and spiritual expanse so quickly? Humanity, I suspect, in the form of returning to my really healthy daily practice of not-enough-ness.

A vast chasm separates the person I think I’m capable of being from the person I’m actually capable of being. The imaginary person in my head maintains complete mastery over the physical and spiritual realms at all times. She always focuses on the most important task and completes it brilliantly, regardless of whether she got six or eight hours of sleep. At the same time, she’s riding the express train to nirvana, and it’s a straight shot.

Unfortunately, aside from being fictional, she’s missing the point. The world is already trustworthy; she is already trustworthy. There is nowhere to get to, not even nirvana. We don’t live to attain spiritual or any other kind of fulfillment. We are filled—and therefore fulfilled—by embodying loving kindness day by day, as my friend Bardwell once described his approach to life.

And we are already doing it. God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, you are trustworthy.