Welcoming Autumn

Autumn is always hard for me. From the end of strawberry season to getting up in the dark, nothing about this time of transition flows smoothly.

Toward the end of August I start to feel summer’s fullness slipping away. During the longest days of the year, I could sink into the world’s ripening with trust. Autumn, on the other hand, brings a death, and we never know what waits on the other side of dying, whether the small deaths scattered throughout life or the one that ends our existence.

A friend recently sent me a Rilke poem about this emptying time of year. At first glance, it’s not encouraging:

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

We may be tempted to run from the loneliness, but let’s not miss that this season invites us into the vastness of our hearts, a place we might not hang out very often. That vastness can scare us as it opens up the mystery of our selves, an uncharted territory whose exploration demands some solitude, some loneliness.

Perhaps all endings open up unforeseen space. They enlarge us in ways we could not have predicted; they tumble us into our surprisingly spacious hearts because suddenly nowhere else has anything relevant to say.

Rilke gives instructions for how to navigate autumn: “Be earth now, and evensong.” Though he warns that it won’t be pleasant—“The days go numb, the wind/ sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.”—I love the idea of being earth, that nurturing home that accepts everything back into itself regardless of what form a life took. Whether it was kind or harsh, generative or walled in, earth waits to receive it without judgment or exception.

Summer offers us a dwelling place, but in autumn, we must become the home for all that we have been the previous year, all that is passing away within us. We must stand on that vast plain and welcome our failures and endings and missed opportunities into the soil of our hearts. It is big enough to hold them and deep enough to transform them because there, as Rilke concludes, “he who began it all/ can feel you when he reaches for you.”

Visiting Reality

The present is a nice place. I would give it five stars on TripAdvisor. I visited there recently and hope to return soon.

The casual observer of the inside of my brain might conclude I own a time machine. A quick tour would reveal imagined futures that often affect my life as if they were real: fear about how current projects will turn out, conversations that will never happen, infinite lists of unfinished tasks. And of course a small corner reserved for the chocolate radar.

Driving to work one day, all of that fell away through no particular effort of my own, and for a mile or two, I inhabited the space and time called now. The reality of the same pine trees, the same ocean, the same freeway I see every day suddenly broke through the usual fog I hang over my mind and senses.

My version of the present is narrow, but the actual present is spacious. I tend to see now as a place I’m passing through on the way to somewhere better or somewhere I’m supposed to be, but it is all that is. It is the only thing that’s real.

The future of my own creating is a shadowland. Right now is a force, a power, a beauty that we miss going about our everyday lives trying to get to what comes next.

Of course we have to plan and work toward things. All animals do this. But we tend to focus on the destination to the exclusion of where we are, and the destination we imagine does not exist and never will.

May the present break through for all of us and may we dwell in the spaciousness of the real.

It’s Not Easy

With apologies to Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being human.

First of all, we’re incredibly complex biological organisms in which many things can go wrong and often do. Then there’s sexuality, glorious mixture of chemistry and culture that it is, which generally complicates things a lot.

We have thoughts and feelings, most of which we don’t know what to do with, and many of which do not promote our well-being. Not to mention that a large chunk of what motivates us is unavailable to our conscious minds.

And that’s just the internal world. Add other people into the mix and suddenly we’re dealing with differing pasts, conflicting cultural values, the vagaries of language. Our infinite personality variations mean no two people experience the same event in the same way, yet we long to be understood. It’s a wonder civilization formed at all much less continues.

So perhaps we could cut ourselves some slack and remember that we’re still evolving. According to the economist Max Roser, every day for the last 25 years, 137,000 fewer people lived in extreme poverty than the day before. A company is building a machine to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This doesn’t mean all is well—climate change comes to mind—but it is reason for hope.

The most profound hope comes from the reality that Divinity permeates this beautiful messiness—that we are, that creation is—in a way that we cannot comprehend with our rational minds. The Holy connects us all. No part of our lives or our being is separate from God or from the rest of existence.

To steal a line from William Stafford’s poem “A Message from the Wanderer,” “That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.” The divinity of everything is waiting for us to approach and recognize it with our divinity. That’s not easy, but it’s what we’re here for.

Texting Jesus

One day the autocorrect on my phone decided I needed to get in touch with Jesus instead of my friend Jessica. Simple as that, “To: Jesus,” right there on the screen. What if I could text the Son of God? What would I say?

In all honesty, my first thought was to ask for stuff, maybe lots of stuff. After all, this is a direct connection to the Almighty, and listing our desires is the first form of prayer most of us are taught. Plus, you know, a new dining table would be nice.

But maybe I could do better; maybe we could have a deeper, more meaningful exchange. “Thank you” seemed like an appropriate choice. A little vague perhaps, but there are infinite options for what to say next and nothing opens up a connection like gratitude.

Then I wondered what Jesus would want to receive in a text. What would make his face light up with joy when his phone binged at him? And while we’re at it, what’s his ringtone?

I decided Jesus wouldn’t care what the words said—he’d just be glad that I got in touch. The Divine wants nothing more than to be intimate with us. It’s just waiting for us to wake up to its presence already permeating our lives and shoot off a quick “OMG!”

Jesus would love for us to be as constantly attuned and attentive to the movement of God in our lives as we are to our phones. Just imagine if we checked in with our connection to Spirit as often as we check our messages. I am always conscious of where my phone is. What if I were equally conscious of where my attention is and whether it is focused on growing in unity God?

If we were that tuned in, we might just get a text message from Jesus.


Note: The blog and I will be on vacation next week.

Free Redemption, With or Without Coupon

I tend to think redemption requires a lot of effort on my part, but maybe it’s always already present, just waiting to be recognized.

When a sprained ankle ended my backpacking plans, I decided to take the vacation days anyway and hang out at home—my first ever staycation. To ensure the vacation aspect, I told myself no judgment was allowed on the basis of things done or not done. (Note that I didn’t eschew judgment altogether, God forbid.)

The gap between theory and practice was, not surprisingly, rather large. I chose to loop an internal video of returning to work and people asking, “So what did you do?” while I frantically attempted to create answers. After all, they didn’t get the “Terms of Judgment” memo, and clearly these people who genuinely like me will concentrate on finding fault above all else.

Then one day, I took a long drive up the Big Sur coastline with my friend Susan for no other purpose than beauty and joy taking form in nature, friendship, and food. It was a sun-tipped, ocean-clad drive along the cliffs, which put on their most dramatic show in that part of the world. We shared wonderful conversation, and though we had a destination—a restaurant—we relaxed into not having anywhere to be at any particular time.

During the trip I didn’t once think about tasks or the reporting of accomplishments, and when I got home, the whole scenario had lost its power to agitate me.

Redemption is as easy and accessible as enjoying a beautiful day. Redemption is not about suffering; it is about the transformation of suffering into joy. It is not earned; it is available. It is not coming; it is already taken care of.

I don’t know why sometimes we enter into it without effort and sometimes it appears elusive. Perhaps we can only recognize it when we stop trying to make it happen and accept it as gift.

Choosing the Depths

As I was running late to work one day, my mind calculated and recalculated the fastest route, as if I could predict where the slow cars would be or when the traffic lights would turn. Not to mention that the time difference would, in reality, be negligible no matter which way I went.

An interior voice wanted to take a route that I was sure was not the fastest. The voice insisted, though, and off we went. About halfway to the freeway, a blue heron passed overhead. Its majestic, unhurried flight took with it all the melancholy and anxiety that had been gurgling around inside me.

I won’t claim with certainty that I was meant to go that way to meet the heron. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it’s not, and generally speaking, the world is more complex than we can account for. But I will say that the experience made it clear that I so often choose a course of action based on the wrong criteria.

Choosing to go the way in which we will encounter the beauty of our fellow creatures or lessen the suffering in the world is so much more important than making it to work one minute earlier.

I spend a lot of time on the innumerable daily equivalents of that one minute. They come in so many sizes and flavors—which task to do first, which type of olive oil to buy, what the right answer is. Their very quantity makes them seem important when actually they’re distracting.

To make choices that are worthy of us, we need questions that will take us to the depths of our lives where we long to be—is it loving? Is it kind? Does it bring joy to me and others?

We need to remember that we are these depths and that we are here to keep falling more deeply into them.

Have Fun, Lots of It

I love birthdays because they remind us to have fun. For my forty-fourth, I decided to celebrate with four different activities.

The most well-attended was puppet making in the park. To pull this off, it helps to have a mom who makes puppets and has a studio full of colorful supplies, from yarn to fabric to sequins. Awakening people’s liveliness takes little more than setting the plastic bins full of crafty goodness on a picnic table and inviting everyone to begin.

No one hesitated. No one claimed she wasn’t creative. Everyone simply picked up a paper bag or a toilet paper roll and began to construct a being that had never existed before. We had dogs and cats, a mythical rainbow animal and a magician, even a fellow who could raise his bushy purple eyebrows.

When it came time to leave, every guest said, “That was so much fun.”

Our culture often limits fun, both in importance and variety. As adults, we’re told that our responsibilities take priority over our play time and that only a few forms of play are acceptable, some of them more harmful than enjoyable.

But fun is a powerful force. It awakens our souls. It puts us in touch with God’s creativity flowing through us, and so it connects us to our selves, to our divinity.

We are the result of God having a great time. The Big Bang did not arise from a sense of obligation. When divinity decided to have a party about fourteen billion years ago and see what this existence thing was all about, a great outpouring of love and joy set this universe in motion.

That outpouring hasn’t stopped. We are the current manifestation of the divine party that has always been and will always be. Let’s have some fun.