For a Blessing

Tonight I will attend a Sabbath service with the local Reform Jewish congregation for the first time. A friend of my mom’s who as a teenager survived Bergen-Belsen died last week, and her name will be on the list of those for whom the congregation will say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning.

I met Bella and her husband Henry once, and I vividly remember Henry saying, “Who could have imagined all of this,” waving his hand around to indicate the Red Robin where we were eating, his and Bella’s entire life in the U.S., children, a home, “when we were in the camps?”

At a symposium on climate change this week, a communications professor said that if you want people to change their behavior, you need to communicate a sense of concern and also a sense of hope. If only the dire effects of climate change are presented, people will not act. They will feel powerless against what seems to be an inevitable and bleak future.

Hope and uncertainty are intimately related.

I wonder how or whether people maintained hope in the concentration camps, in that place where they didn’t have the ability to make choices that would change their situation, with uncertainty about whether they would wake up in the morning but absolute certainty about what they would wake up to.

The Kaddish makes no mention of those who have died. It is a hymn of praise to God and a request for God’s peace. It must have been spoken thousands of times a day during the Holocaust.

Bella returned to Bergen-Belsen once and gave a public talk while she was there. I cannot imagine the strength either journey demanded—the journey of survival or the journey of return, but the latter must have required a deep sense of possibility.

May Bella’s memory be for a blessing. May our lives be blessed with hope.

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.

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.

 

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.

A New Day Every Day

A friend shared something the other day that seems simple but that had never occurred to me before. Today, everyone you meet—including yourself—is encountering a day he or she has never encountered before. In other words, we are all, every moment, doing something we’ve never done before.

Of course in one way I exaggerate. Many things we’ll do today, we’ve done thousands of times. At forty-two, assuming (falsely) that I’ve brushed my teeth morning and night every day of my life, we’re looking at upwards of 30,000 brushings. But just because we’ve done something before doesn’t make it the same.

I can attest that playing a soccer game is very different at twenty-five, thirty-five, and forty-two, and simply walking changes from two to thirty to eighty—or the day after you pulled your hamstring at any age. We might find it almost unbearable to pour a cup of coffee the day after a loved one has died. Much of what appears repetitive is not simply because we are not the same day to day, nor is the world or the people we meet.

And that’s incredibly hopeful. “Behold, I make all things new,” God says in Revelation, but that’s hard to believe sometimes. It’s tempting to believe that my own fears and failings are stronger than the Creator’s evolutionary Spirit moving through all of us, but the odds are on God’s side.

Seeing each day with new eyes, we can be astounded—awe-struck even—by its unfolding beauty: a bright red leaf on a tree we see every day or the smile of someone we’ve known for years. At the same time, remembering that each step is a new step might help us go easy on ourselves and others. I don’t know about you, but the first time I do something, I don’t do it that well.

May this new day be a graced one for you.

Time to Di-verse-ify

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month! Rejoice!

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that every April I post wonderful, accessible poems to help us all remember that poetry can be more than something we suffer through in English class and then forget about. The poetry that speaks to us is our deepest connection to language, the closest words ever get to the unsayable.

I spent much of this past week stuck in my own thinking and annoyed with myself for being stuck. It seemed I would never progress past this particular way of engaging with myself and the world. Because thinking about your thinking is of course the best way to stop.

There are so many thought loops that I’m both tired of and apparently unwilling to give up. Here’s a poem by Jan Richardson that I find full of hope for this situation. It reminds me that life and spirit are always moving whether I happen to recognize it at the moment or not. And they’re moving in us.

Richardson’s blog, The Painted Prayerbook, features beautiful original artworks with each poem.

Risen
For Easter Day

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
here.

Here
is only
emptiness,
a hollow,
a husk
where a blessing
used to be.

This blessing
was not content
in its confinement.

It could not abide
its isolation,
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
of death.

So if it is
a blessing
you seek,
open your own
mouth.

Fill your lungs
with the air
this new
morning brings

and then
release it
with a cry.

Hear how the blessing
breaks forth
in your own voice,

how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
to say.

See how the blessing
circles back again,
wanting you to
repeat it,
but louder,

how it draws you,
pulls you,
sends you
to proclaim
its only word:

Risen.
Risen.
Risen.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

The Whole Death and Resurrection Thing in 360 Words

Spending time away from California reminds me that things die on a regular basis.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., I walked past a house with a bunch of pots in the front yard. Inside each pot was a dead plant, and I thought, “Why doesn’t this person remove some of these dead plants?” Then I looked around and remembered that this is what all plants look like in much of the world at the end of winter.

One of my least favorite parts of the Lenten and Easter season is this whole death and resurrection business. I’m OK with resurrection, but death—not so appealing. Do they have to go together? Couldn’t we all just agree that resurrection is far more pleasant and skip straight to that part?

Pretty much all of creation appears to answer no to that question. Nothing lasts, from flowers to humans to solar systems.

But this existence of ours also answers that death is not possible without resurrection. From stardust becoming humans to compost becoming next year’s garden, there are no permanent ends, only transformation.

I’m not trying to reduce Easter to the turn of the seasons. I am suggesting that separating death and resurrection is pulling apart two steps in a single process. Death is not a thing in and of itself. Death is step one of resurrection.

I suspect this is not going to make the small deaths that we endure as we grow in this life more fun. We won’t all be clamoring to go on the death ride at Disneyland (well, unless it’s really good). The peeling away of layers of our ego, the very real loss of health or dreams—we may or may not be able to weather these more gracefully knowing that they are not permanent. After all, as Jim Finley says about the Crucifixion, Jesus did not handle it well: he sweat blood, he felt abandoned.

So why does it matter that our endings and letting gos, our transformed re-emergence and everything in between are part of a whole? Because that means we are always, regardless of our present circumstances, heading toward Easter morning.