"I'm hearing right and wrong so clearly
there must be more than this
it's only in uncertainty
that we're naked and alive
I hear it through the rattle of a streetcar
hear it through the things you said
I can get so scared
listen to the wind
I want you close I want you near
I can't help but listen
but I don't want to hear
hear that voice again
what I carry in my heart
brings us so close or so far apart
only love can make love"
~ Peter Gabriel, That Voice Again
The desert of exile is so unpleasant a constant, that despite any familiarity it is entirely contemptible. And the very distaste of this refuse of rejection is enough to force my reach to higher levels of meaning and understanding. In so doing, I may have established a vital ingredient to turn the wilderness wanderings into a directed emergence. Though I may have an evolving comprehension of the ultimate destination, the way there is replete with the unknown. As surely as there will be users and vicious players, I know enough to leave room for the always-welcome serendipitous. There is more than what is past and immediate, it is ahead of me now, and I am regaining a sense that it is so well worth the reach there will be no nostalgia for the refuse pile of carcasses.
All the good I have wished and created for others is also worth sharing with my own self. For those of us who assure every civil right to the people around them, yet play the despotic tyrant upon self, we must stage the sort of revolution that forbids all persecution- even toward ourselves. If we believe that each of us are beings of infinite value, including ourselves, then our constitutions demand an amended charter of rights.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
“You will have nothing but love
Nothing but hope, blue sky above
You will find nothing but peace
Nothing but the sun shining on your face
When you open your eyes
You will feel nothing but free
Nothing but trust that's how it should be
And one who cares about nothing but you
Watching close by the whole night through
When you open your eyes.”
~Mike Oldfield, Nothing But
Indeed it is a gift not to be dismissed, to have the ability to see. Clear vision is an almost effortless ingenuity that allows us to recognize a situation and notice open doors and possibilities. For those whose perceptive skills are finely tuned, potential can be glaringly obvious. Conversely, visionaries have the added dilemma of respectfully comprehending those who, for their own reasons, cannot bring themselves to see what is good. Frequently, the limitation lies in forms of prejudice- an irrational unwillingness to acknowledge worthy promise. The prejudging can take on varying aspects of unchecked bigotry, as much as a constricting naïveté that has yet to be challenged. Still further, the formidable twin saboteurs known as apathy and lethargy serve as obstructions to clear sightedness.
A wise and trusted friend and I were talking about the two-edged gift of sensitivity. Amidst intense anguish, with a memory of how this culture frowns upon the sensitive and vulnerable, I denounced the worth of compassionate awareness. It all looked to me like a debilitating course of overconcern and so much more work than the average person should be subjected to assume. But the alternative state, that of insensitivity and neglect, is so much more detrimental to personal growth and to participation in this existence and in the lives of those around us, that one would find themselves in far worse of a disjointedness from this precious life through which we only travel once. My good friend pointed out that as much as those who are sensitive are open to the pains of rejection and misunderstanding, we are equally open to the sublime, to beauty, and to profound joy. The successive outworking is that we who choose not to be calloused and cynical are also those who freely and gratefully give.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
"When we were children,
we thought and reasoned
as children do.
But when we grew up,
we quit our childish ways."
~ 1 Corinthians 13:11
Growing up in the asphalt jungle of inner New York City amplifies the metaphor all the more. Schoolyards are nominal, hard-paved spaces between the school building and its neighbors: chain-link enclosed, inhospitable, littered, constraining. If indeed it really is our tendency to carry deeply ingrained childhood experiences into the collective mélange of our adult years, we may even find that we take some kind of twisted comfort in the familiarity of penned-in incarceration. Though known and seemingly safe, the vandalized schoolyard is the narrow world of irresponsibility which we must all outgrow.
Our school districts may graduate us, but truly we must each decide to graduate ourselves out of the confines of bullying, pettiness, and puerility. Such cultural phenomena as that which sees numerous individuals dragging their adolescence well into their grownup years demonstrates a bizarre pulling-behind of the schoolyard. The intersection of current and counterculture forces the choice between apathy versus awareness. The cutting edge is in the realization there are others around us in this world, and that our thoughts, words, and deeds actually have consequential effects on those whose lives we touch. But we can’t embrace this difference, this challenge to pursue an expanded life, until we boldly leave the schoolyard.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow however turns out to be not a state but a process."
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
It is Christmas Eve day, sometimes called Little Christmas. As it had been necessary in past times, amongst the polite festivities, I am seeking refuge in the constructive distractions of labor, assisting others and working at my employment with hopes of redeeming the time and just getting through the season. Notwithstanding, I can neither be immune to my grieving, nor dismiss the summons to offer prayers.
When I began writing, this medium so resembled the gesture of scrolling messages into corked bottles and setting them forth into vast waterways, not knowing where or how or if they would reach anyone or anything. The very act of prayer is itself the supreme gesture of faith, that my hopes and sorrows will be heard; they will not fall on deaf ears. Even to imagine human ears belittles the forces of creation and divine compassion. But my comprehension has its limits. So I send my prayers, albeit in my simple and imperfect words. And I know you are out there, reading this. Perhaps you are alone right now; perhaps you are at your employment while it seems the rest of the world is out doing their commerce and either tolerating or exulting in the pageantry. You read this because you may be curious, you may still value some connection, you want to see if I am enraged. But I am not. Last night I dreamed that I told you that when you used to prefer me, you saw and conclusively experienced that I put my creativity, energy, and genuine love right into tangible action. Action is not passive and compassionate action is not wasted. "Even if the truth is not heard," Mahatma Gandhi once said, "it's still the unmistakable truth." "Talking a good game," is something anyone can do, without risk. The cutting edge is to love and say it with one's life; to consider others. Such vulnerability reminds me of how breakable earthen vessels can be, but it also attests to the courage of the giving of oneself and the vitality of survival.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
"The labor, of course, is in the unrelenting struggle to banish the countless destructive thoughts that plague our minds and restrain them beneath that cloud of forgetting. This is the suffering.
All the struggle is on the human’s side in the effort he must make to prepare himself for God’s action, which is the awakening of love and which he alone can do."
The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 26
When those who have suffered- either individually or corporately- capably embrace their histories, the beneficiaries abound. The effect is likened to casting stones into a body of water, with the rings of rippled water reaching incalculable distances. Lives filled with generous acts affect those who reach others, and results become the kind of contagion that serves as antidotes to this culture fraught with disingenuousness and cruelty. Simply put, the benefits of learning from one’s (or one’s community’s) history opens doors to choose not to repeat it, and even to keep vigilance lest others not repeat tragedies we have known first-hand.
This seems so very elementary, yet barely anyone can assemble the simplest equation. Many descendants of the diabolically decimated population of European Jews are numbered among legal defenders of civil rights and liberties. One of the most noteworthy human achievements of embracing this principle in the past century was the humble perseverance of the French Huguenots of Le Chambon Sur Lignon, recalling their ancestors’ torture and persecution while openly defying the Vichy and Nazi regimes. It seems so basic and mindful, but hardly anyone will dare to practice a response to the injustices they have seen and known. As a result, the abused will abuse, the persecutors will persecute, and those who crave mercy refuse to offer it themselves. The tragic chain of neglect perpetuates as its own toxic contagion, leaving ripples of aggrieved human souls in its wake. The chain breaks when conscious choices are made to transcend malice. Having known only glimpses of goodness is all the more reason to make generosity one’s life mission.
But what of the unscrupulous? How about those whose relational burns have brought them to calloused, amoral cynicism? Whether unwittingly or knowingly, these become the carriers and spreaders of interpersonal disease. Those who have witnessed this can equate the experience with forms of addiction: individuals need either extraordinary personal strength, or the positive reinforcement of community, in order to stay "on the wagon" of healing and renaissance lest there be relapse and the all-too-inviting proverbial slippery slope pulls the person backwards. The betrayed too easily become betrayers themselves. Fear, it seems, is so much easier than faith. Sardonism sadly insulates us so much better than the disarming vulnerability of hope. My personal experiences of unjustified affliction bids that I comprehend and emerge in a spirit of forgiveness and confident hope. Optimism, but a cautious optimism. Assuredly the proof that I am not amoral is that I am completely certain that I would never dishonor another human with the weapons that have been fired on me. That, dear reader, is a promise.
Friday, December 22, 2006
"It’s funny how they put you down when your hands are held up high;
And you open up your heart and soul,
but that’s not enough for most."
~ Mike Peters (The Alarm), Going out in a Blaze of Glory
On the premise that all life and faith culminates in relationships, and still further that all relationships involve choices, I am determined to continue to develop my emotional fluency and spiritual articulation.
Even from the amplified vulnerability of abandoned ruins, this is still the course to take. It is a kind of responsibility. A response-ability, we could boldly say. To be a complete and self-respecting individual, and to be faithfully compassionate toward others, I insist on better comprehending how to love and how to enunciate it with the whole of my being. And I’m doing it. It’s palpable.
I prefer it that way.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"First, there is the psychological conscience, which is better called consciousness. It reports to us the actions we perform. It is aware of them, and through them it is aware of itself. Second, there is our moral conscience, which tells us not only that we act, and how we act, but how well we act. It judges the value of our acts. The psychological and moral consciences are both faculties of the intelligence. They are two kinds of awareness of ourselves telling us what we really are."
~ Thomas Merton, Nul N'est Une Ile (No Man is an Island)
Taking a bold look at the big picture of real life- of reality- can remind us of our joys and consolations, and can also reveal that which is injurious and incorrigible. Nonetheless, the renewal of realistic perspective is the strong medicine that will help carry a person to the other side of despair and grief. Like prospectors who seek precious gems in mountains, while foraging through clay and rock and dirt, the stouthearted and diligent will discover the reflectant colors that shine out from the Pearls of Great Price.
When the contrast is struck enough times, between what is genuine and what is fool's gold, it becomes easier to distinguish all the love and cherished intention that surrounds me, from the impetuousness of intolerant rejection. Not enough of us know that ill will produces ill consequences. At times we are forced to accept the verdict of reducto ad absurdum, but there is still never a reason to resort to it ourselves.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"But that won't be enough for me,
Not this year not anytime soon.
I have got to clean house,
Gotta make my bed,
Gotta clear my head.
It's getting kinda stuffy in here,
Smells sorta funky too,
Like monkeys at the zoo...
Spirit, come flush the lies out..."
~Charlie Peacock, Monkeys At the Zoo
Readers be assured, and certainly all my friends and neighbors know that my housekeeping skills are impeccable. My humble home is always hospitality-ready. Part of my own spiritual discipline, over the years, has been to open my arms and heart to others with meals and a peaceful atmosphere.
Now, I am in the process of adapting the environment to be consoling and hospitable for my spirit. This is part of regathering and recovering. Somehow, the strength must return- and it's got to be some kind of combination of the spiritual health I had last summer plus the painful learning experience since. When a venture depends entirely upon myself, such as graduate school, employment, self-improvement, being a friend to others, I can carry such things all the way through to success. It's up to me. Of course, the success of a relationship depends upon both people involved, thus even the very best I can offer- in the finest spirit of generosity and understanding- can be refused and violently pushed away. Perhaps all a compassionate soul can do, as a result, is accept.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
"Nothing is more perilous to your own destiny, more unworthy of eternity, or more hurtful to your ordinary happiness, than being content to abide as you are.
Our whole life is given us with the object of going boldly on toward what will endure forever. The world slips away like a deceitful shadow, and eternity draws near. Why delay to push forward?"
~ François de Fénélon
Wishing only to be authentic, to be truly courageous while still being gracious, I try to understand- even through my own limitations (and those of others). There is nothing naive or passive at all about being real or by choosing compassion and forgiveness.
Some nights I look from my windows at the empty streets, and then up into the dark skies. It reminds me that I cannot know what is immediately ahead- what foregone conclusions will be forced upon me -or- what joyful news may be in transit. (For the September 11th terrorists, that day was was planned so far ahead that for them it was a stoic formality. For much of the rest of the world, that day began a gut-wrenching chain of events.)
The grieving process also forces a choice to make that very liminal space into a launching point into a greater strength.
I send wishes into the air and cast them upon the waters in little chips of paper confetti. I choose to be a brave soul.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
"I have no fear of the future.
Let us go forward into its mysteries, let us tear aside the veils which hide it from our eyes and let us move onward with confidence and courage."
~Sir Winston Churchill
In times of crisis, such words as spoken during life-threatening warfare remind us of what bravery can bring out in us.What is courage, and what is cowardice?
Lately, I've begun to believe that hiding from enemies is nowhere as cowardly as shunning and running from what is good and what is benevolent. It is an action of fear- but not of reprisal from another. Instead it is the fear of the enemy within, and that life could actually improve- even if it means daring to leave the comfort zone of the known world of the substandard.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
"This overacted part from this never ending play
Is just her substitute
For reality anyway.
I've tried and tried to tell her
It's not what you do
It's what you've done with what you did."
~ Pray for Rain, Tried to Tell Her
Accepting loss and recognizing ineptitude forces a crossroad. One might choose permanent residence in the slough of despond, or choose the struggle to emerge from the trough. And this is not to attempt to build upon old ruins, but instead by reaching forward into the unknown I become aware I am no longer who I was a month or two ago, but am becoming newer and more improved. To be an appropriate steward of the life given to me, there better be improvement; otherwise it's back to the slough. In addition it helps to recall the transitory, provisional nature of the grand picture. It's a healthy sense of humility, the good kind of surrender, and the beginning of an openness to better things. But if the transition is growth in a positive direction, the invisible infrastructure of responsible love is revealed. Nothing in honest faith can be done at the expense of another soul.
Friday, December 15, 2006
"When I'm broken, see what happens
Arms wide open, see what happens
See what happens to me."
~ Vigilantes of Love, When I'm Broken (See What Happens)
With diligent and solid endurance, brokenness can gradually transition in the direction of wholeness. The steps are unpredictable, and there may be spells without any steps. One of the turning points I've found is in the recovery of our stance. Though violated, life and self are worth defending. Perhaps this is close to Henri Nouwen's stand in your pain statement. For me, this seems to evolve ahead of retooled life patterns and diet. There is power in articulation, especially for those whose spirit is accompanied by images and words- written and spoken. And this is to say real and palpable words, far more substantial than pixillated digital files and mugshots which can be deleted at the press of a button. The virtual world is just what it purports to be: figurative, evasive, and only a vague byproduct which cannot compare with the real world of pulsating souls, beating hearts, accented voices, personal histories. Our defensible lives require the collective boldness to seek higher things and not cop out on ourselves or on one another. Choosing to love, and love well, implies risk and imperfection; but to be true to this ethic means that the practice of compassionate love is to provide space for understanding, instead of dismissive judgment and intolerance.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
"Lack of interest leads to
Lack of knowledge leads to
Lack of perspective leads to
Lack of communication leads to
Lack of understanding leads to
Lack of concern leads to
This complacency denotes
This approval denies
~Caedmon's Call, I Ain't Standing Up for Nothing
It is egregiously despairing to experience at first hand how those whose passions have been sabotaged in turn become the undermining saboteurs themselves. It is reminiscent of the history-repeating abused who evolve into abusers, and the suddenly-unyoked-turned-oppressors such as in Animal Farm, or the real life Romanian insurgents replacing Ceausescu with Iliescu at the fall of communism. What can be done to reckon unreasonable hypocrisies with screaming realities?
Perhaps the beginning of an answer transcends events and individuals, and is found in patterns. So easily those whose experience has been that of suppressed liberties and cruelty can simply convey the sickness as a perceived status quo. Indeed, it takes great courage and strength to extricate oneself from the known and rutted routine, inferior as it may be. But the courage and drive to transition can yield tremendous vistas. Like Plato's parable about the cave, motioning toward the light carries with it an intimidating challenge, once we fully experience the riches of the day, we gain the possibility of choosing brilliance over darkness. Still, however, the choice to be made belongs to the individual. How much devotion does obscurity warrant? Is life's preciousness not worth more than inferiority?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
"Peter got up the nerve to ask, 'Rabbi, how many times do I forgive someone who hurts me? Seven?'
Jesus replied, 'Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.'"
Living conscientiously, when I say something from my heart, I mean it and back it up with my very being and movement in this world. I keep promises, even the small gestures and offers. And when I unintentionally transgress this ethos, with short accounts, it is instantaneous to ask pardon. Far from being a compulsion, it is really a refusal to ethically bankrupt myself. By the same token, rather than creating a claim to be all "high and mighty," it's actually choosing the inconvenient road of humility.
Now the heat of the spotlight takes effect when, amidst painful injustice, I come to desire nothing less dignifying than to be the forgiver. Pondering even the word forgive, it is indeed to fore-give: to offer compassionate acknowledgment and respect ahead of how it might be received. The giving is at the forefront. Once I get out of my own absurd sense of self-entitlement and forgive, relief sets in. I forgive those whose unkindnesses are reflections of their limitations. I have these, too. And, yes, for the time you chose me, though I ate and drank with you, walked, bicycled and traveled with you, laughed and sang with you, listened to your stories, hoped and planned with you, made gifts and meals for you, I forgive you. It is all for love and for the faith of the divinity of hearts that call to one another. In this spirit, situations, loyalties, and agonies recede beneath the torrents of the heavens. I forgive you; please forgive me. When the night becomes dark, divine love is a fire that never dies away.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
"It is a monstrous thing to see in one heart at one and the same time this sensitiveness to trifles and this strange insensibility to the more important things. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural slumber which indicates an all-powerful force as its cause... For when people choose to live thus in ignorance of what they are, without seeking enlightenment, their defense is that they 'do not know'."
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Here, Pascal's terms are strong and seem even excessively harsh. But on second thought, matters of conscience become the principles by which we conduct our lives and perceive circumstances and the souls of other people- not to mention our own selves. It's the eye of the heart that looks out towards what we regard as the highest. A caring conscience sensitively seeks to walk without offense, lest it become seared by wounds and setbacks- and what is destructive in this culture. What I've found to maintain a sensitive yet solidly grounded conscience is the continual habit of openness of heart and mind, inside and out, to be educated and renewed. An openness to the divine, and to the hearts of people around me. This stands the tests of trials.
Now my considerable challenge is to face adversity without toxicity, to hold fast to the generosity of spirit by which I always wish to cultivate and offer, and to daringly aspire with peaceful resilience. Something as seemingly trivial as a short period of time to consider what is healthy and what is avoidable, as a self-examination, is actually a bold and compassionate progression in the direction of vitality and freedom.
Monday, December 11, 2006
"My soul would choose strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon.
Shall we be ruled by the Giant Despair?
Be resolved to pluck up in heart and try your utmost to get out from under his clutches.
Let us be patient and endure a while. The time may come that may give us a happy release."
~John Bunyan, from the Pilgrim's Progress
This is the darkest, least sunlit, time of the entire year. What had been bleak in previous times is only made increasingly harsh at this time which carries a bizarre combination of holiday revelry and crepuscular pessimism. Opacity can blind what once had been clear. The murk of turbidity sullies the treasures we have in our very waters.
The protagonist in Pilgrim's Progress unwittingly stumbled into the lands held by the Giant named Despair, owner of Doubting Castle. He was tortured and left for dead in the dungeon, at least until it came to his thoughts that he held the key to his freedom in his vest pocket- metaphorically in his own noble heart.
A wise friend once told me that although hardships are inevitable, misery is still optional. And perhaps as much as misery is the effortless successor to defeat and discouragement, there is that key's worth of recollected adrenaline that bids us to persist with uncynical hope and keep the standard high. In the story, the key actually has the name Promise, and it gives the broken man a traversal through all manner of iron gates so that he can refuse the gutter and resume his way. Recollection allows me to look back at years of endurance and success, and be loyal to it enough to persevere.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
"It is indeed through our broken, vulnerable, mortal ways of being that the healing power of the eternal becomes visible to us. Therefore we are called each day to present the whole of our lives- our joys as well as our sorrows, our successes as well as our failures, our hopes as well as our fears."
~Henri Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy
We may fairly say that fear is the profoundest dividing obstacle. In suspicion, we fear the other, different, person or ideology. In fearing for our security, we threaten others. In fearing our own pains and confronting them, we condone the anguish of others; and the fright of being challenged by how our self-confrontations can potentially change us for the better, we fearfully withdraw. Fear is then the opposite of trust. It indicates the preference for neat and disposable packages over the acknowledgement of a humanity that can shine as it can be sculpted and polished and loved into an evolving brilliance.
Saturday, December 9, 2006
"Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause."
~Henri Nouwen, Love Deeply
The anguish of loss and rejection produces a crossroads, and that is the choice between a bitter refusal to love again- or- to stand straight up in my pain and let the soil I stand upon become richer and better capable to be life-giving.
By choosing the risk to love, my heart has grown deeper and wider, and in all my faltering maturity of fits-and-starts I find there is no end to the wellspring of genuine love from which I can joyfully give, receive, forgive, and continually give. Standing straight in my pain is extremely difficult, much like holding fast on the deck of a relentlessly listing ship in a rainstorm. But for me this is the way of emotional faithfulness, and I can continue living and speaking from the center, not just in easygoing times, but in the darkest nights of the soul.
Friday, December 8, 2006
"In times of darkness, when life loses its meaning and you are unsure even of your own identity, a flame still burns bright enough to lighten your night.The fire of forgiveness plunges deep within you, dispelling your own confusion; it calls you by name; and the fire burns away your bitterness to its very roots. That fire never says 'enough.'"
~ frère Roger, de Taizé
To forgive is to love to the utmost, and with a healthy sense of priority the finest spirit of forgiveness is to do so without pretense of changing another person. It is a gracious and free choice which recognizes the spirit of another human being without regard of action and injury. Forgiveness can be asked for, given freely, and even directed straight to oneself. How can there be peace or trust without forgiveness? And with a soul that experiences and receives forgiveness, I can then become a source of reconciliation and trust- even through pains that agonize the human body and wrack the soul. I wish for my heart to be open to the universal, without sparing myself, so that I can become capable of understanding everything in others, of sharing their pain and distress. To believe in renewal is to say nothing is impossible or irretrievable.And this is my choosing, and my desire is to embody this.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
"A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves."
The course of human events is rife with injustice and brutality. One would think we didn't really have free will, since we carry a penchant for the infliction of torment from the broad spheres of politics and warfare right into our homes and interpersonal relations. That it is the popular choice to select spite over and above compassion, on such a widespread level, is astounding and ironic. All of which helps clarify why generosity and compromise really do comprise what is truly counter-cultural. The way of understanding and agapé is the bolder, nobler, yet more demanding course of action. But alas the daring are few in number, and it is all so easy to slink back into the prevailing flow of careless indulgence. Again, that tide is societal, and it plays out in the microcosms of human rapports.
From a filthy and deathly Roman prison, the apostle Paul was able to find it within himself to pen some words of mentoring consolation to his protegé Timothy. They persisted against the double deficits of being Jews in the hostile Empire, as well as Nazarene disciples. And under his merciless arrestation, Paul knew what the younger Timothy must've been enduring out in the world. In that second epistle, in the second section of that letter, Paul succinctly begins to declare with, "Remember." This powerful word reminds us that we can console ourselves and others by compassionately reminding and reinforcing. Remember what Mom used to say. Remember how we used to do this, or go there. Remember the time this or that happened. Remember that I will always love you from the depths of my heart. Paul knows Timothy needs to be brought to recollection: "Remember the son of David who was raised from the dead; this is my very best news." He essentially tells his student that the glorious impossible actually happened.
But certainly to reassure and care are not confined to "religious"spheres. These are choices that are bestowed upon the human condition- to be practiced or refused. As with any discipline the practice is along the more humbling road, but it is so worthwhile that the sensitized see no other option.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Sénèque, Apprendre à vivre
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
"It's time for the soul to be patient.
And patience in adversity, far from being a passive virtue, is a rugged aerobic exercise that toughens the soul, muscles up the virtues one already has."
~Thomas 'A Kempis, The Garden of Roses (15th century)
When we ponder the unpaved roads of forebearance, it seems our initial thoughts turn to ideas of conscientious attentiveness to others- not to our very selves. But perhaps the harder and more confrontational practice is to view ourselves with the compassion that we wish for, and desire to convey to those around us. Once more, there appears a contradiction, that if I wish to consider the well-being of others around me, why lavish such attention on my person which needs instead to be humbled? So, will it be humiliation, or self-exaltation? Well, it is to neither extreme that I will find my home, but instead to aspire to view all life with a patience that allows room to breathe and prosper. Often the narrowest window of forgiveness is the one reserved for me. This will require some further exploration, and the answers will be discovered within a deeply rooted core. It will be very much worthwhile, not just to find but also to be lightened by the unburdening.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
"Show me a place where hope is young
And people who aren't afraid to love."
Caedmon's Call, This World
There are times when we are even surprised at how out-of-joint with this society we discover ourselves to be. It is astounding to see such high thresholds of cruelty and uncivility that are taken for granted and practiced as the norm. People exploit one another, institutionally and interpersonally- and do so without notice. If you find yourself even slightly taken aback by such audacity, then that is a sign of a vibrant hope in the human capability for compassion.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live into the answer."
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Indeed this is a season of questions and contemplation. When the introspection wrenches and the night becomes too dark, it must be faith that remains more unquenchable than day light. And when such welcome consolations and embraces are gifted to me, I cannot but simply and gladly accept things as they are. Surely more than merely an ambivalent acceptance, it is a wholehearted quaff of giving my all to the moment- not just the obvious tedium that challenges patience, but the slivers of heaven- the substance of things hoped for.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
"Je vous ai tant parle du desert qu'avant d'en parler encore, j'aimerais decrire une oasis.
Celle dont me revient l'image n'est point perdue au fond du Sahara.
Mais un autre miracle d'avion est qu'il vous plonge directement au coeur du mystere."
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Terre des Hommes
For those of us who risk the voyage of the inner life, our comprehension of explorations and places become unconfined by material space. In his Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen wrote of the contemplative life as the expression of something deeper and larger- and beneath the surface of our daily actions. But is the drive to understand just another over-analytical self-obsession? There is that danger, but not for Nouwen. His exhortation is to follow the impressions to their source, particularly the fears. Face them right down, and not run away. By following them through and understanding them, we can be liberated to find new ways when the tired old ways run us into the same barriers. All this self-confrontation has a purpose, and it sure better not be some kind of consumptive self-absorption. I engage the journey to learn, to not repeat what has wasted enough of my time, and to be unfettered by what has wasted too much space and energy. As Nouwen observed, "this confrontation should not lead to despair but should set you free to receive the compassion of God without whom no healing is possible." (p.83) I will add that such compassion is nothing I'd bottle up and hoard for secure storage, but is entirely meant to lavish wastefully on those whose paths have been destined to meet with mine.
Retreats seem to come in various shapes, and as aforementioned are indeed transcendent of place. My own favorites are either wilderness places which are exempt from societal trappings- and- large cities which are bubbling stews of societal trappings. Yesterday was a day to get away to a city big enough to get lost in the crowd. Being the Invisible Man in a maelstrom is preferable to the like situation in a town of eighty thousand. Amidst the captivating wonders of art museums, historic sites, and works of literature, it occurred to me how complex are our judgments of one another. Where do these "criteria" come from? How can our assessments be changed- or at least softened to the degree of mercy we would want for ourselves?
Surely, for those of us who write our reflections, and who read others' observations, we can say something about people-watching! We're looking and remarking all sorts of things to ourselves. Someone at the next table looks to have it all togther. Or the couples who appear not to have a care in the world. That homeless man may have had a prosperous career in his trail. Then there are the curiosities of those whose cell phones are surgically attached appendages, loudly regaling the public with their halves of their conversations. Another phenomenon are those who move about with earbud wires protruding from their heads, connected to pocket i-pods. Still another are the unlikely and abundant pairings of unkempt, boorish, slouching men with meticulously-groomed women on their arms. Even with the risk of judging books by their covers, I posed the observation about the latter to a female friend, to listen to her take on how the rude can attract so successfully. She said she was certain it is a matter of low self-esteem on the part of these women. That was surprising to hear, but in an odd way made sense. Inevitably comes the question of how well we know our own selves. How well do we know what we desire? For myself, such answers would be daunted by the distractions of wires running into both ears. Silence is the oasis that we all mysteriously fear.
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
"Take no thought for the morrow:
for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Perspective is put to enormous challenges when human hope takes root against the backdrop of fear and paranoia. Threats come insidiously, in both overt spectacles and as subliminal suggestions. How shall we proceed in a profound sense of forward-looking, without selling out to cynicism? This society is increasingly obsessed with a fortress-mentality. Not to be mistaken with public safety, and even apart from what has become popularly known the Post 9/11 World, intense energies are devoted to personal security: alarms, locks, ostentatious gates and vehicles. Perhaps were not even sure whether we have imposed this upon ourselves- or if this trend is something of a reaction against uncontrollable hostility. Whatever the case may be, we are fed daily doses of being told we are a nation at war. Like the Cold War had woven itself into our collective angst, so now we are acting out our anxieties even as we relate to one another.
The term balance, though it may sound cliché, represents the harder, humbler, higher road. The moments and todays are gifts of spaces in which we move and breathe, dispensed to us from a supply of unknown amounts. Engaging the challenge with courage is to resist the currents of hysteria. We have had to stand for a kind of societal masochism long enough. There are surely other choices. The offer of candor. The daring of confidence. The surrender of a loosened grip, in exchange for buoyancy.
You go outside
You see the Holy Spirit burning in your trees
and walk on, glowing with the same glow.
Still you tremble out and in.
~Brave, by The Innocence Mission
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
"Pilgrim am I in a desert land
Wandering far and late,
In expectation every hour...
The pervading sense of anticipation is a sign of hope. And if I am true to my perspective of seeing this life as a linear and provisional pilgrimage, then no two days or weeks are the same. Indeed, as we stand at the epicenter of the summer, I can already discern the changes even in the past month. Not that anything earth-shattering has happened, neither have I recently been on any noticeable mountaintops. Sometimes transition can occur far beneath the speed limit and under the proverbial radar.
When this recent heat wave broke, something distinct in the air- and the light- suddenly informs me the summer has (albeit slightly) begun to recede. It feels like it's about a month later than it really is on the calendar. Change is always that reliable and relentless constant. Often it is an exasperatingly slow process, sometimes the abrupt and the unexpected lets us see what our reflexes are like. Slowing with the elements of late has made for some release in my tendencies to linger, and reminded me of the way time itself has a forgiving power- even toward oneself.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
"Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh
Having determined that Zero is not such a bad place to be, for the past several weeks I've embarked upon a full-scale scouring of my home. Many things are being given away, or are being recycled, in this cleansing process of sprucing up and paring down. It's been impossible to even embark upon something like this, over recent years- and this wintry summer of having to stay close-to-home because of work obligations makes this possible. If this must be the social-life-less summer, then it can also be the one during which I can reinvent my living-space and throw out the bad baggage. Indeed, housecleaning can be tedious, but this kind of undertaking is downright soul-searching. And purging. It is a purgation. A release. Who knew??
So, Zero is all right with me- in this context. It's certainly far more appealing, these days, than what can easily become a paralysis of analysis. While I'm trying to make sense of things, I'm getting some things done. One of my good and trusted friends asked me what I thought would get me out of this trench that I refer to as the liminal space, my best and most honest response was that I need to make sure the motivation came from within- as opposed to emanating from the approval of another person. I believe I have finally learned that lesson. In addition, while choosing the path of taking steps of faith, there is the preferable appeal of just moving forward, as opposed to analyzing the curiosities of the past and present- right into the ground. At least there are spotless floors and a cleared desk awaiting me at home.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
"Our minds can make infinite discoveries,
sloth alone puts limits to its wisdom and its inventions."
One day, one of my photographer friends stopped into my studio and told me about her backlog of work. I still remember how she said, "I have so much work I could just stand still!" What a brilliant stroke of description. We can get so overwhelmed that our running-in-place causes us to freeze in our tracks.
Recent days have swirled into a blur (or have they blurred into a swirl), due to some employment related deadlines. Of course it is a distraction in this journeying season that eludes clear description. The project will have its day, and I will remain with my thoughts. I've never been one to savor languishing; if things are not happening, they must be made to happen- by hook or by crook. But the murky twist this time is that patience is forcing its way, and this summer- which feels so much like a winter- is creating the most peculiar hunker-down season. When what to do is unclear, what I can do is discover from within and simply abandon to the present moment. Reading, writing, talking, listening, being. It is something of a rebellion against elusive fortunes. Perhaps I might say that if my hopes are not materializing, then I'll ground myself well enough so that when they do, I'll be better prepared.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
"Venus," quod Saturn,"
My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne,
Hath more power than wot any man.
Myn is the drenching in the sea so wan..."
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)
These rainy days are such balm for my soul, they are conducive to turning in, and- both literally and figuratively getting my house in order. While exploring this transitory space, theres been time to be available to friends (and anyone else), and truly the gift is being recipient of their various insights and witnessing how they conduct their lives and challenges. Evidently the rare delicacies of romance have been knocked so far out of my reach, that striving only makes things worse. So I will have to trust in the unseen powers of providence and timing. It's a bit like guardian angels; you know they're around, but can never tell when or how something will happen. But, once again, as it has really assimilated into my belief by now: there is no cause for passivity. In the big picture, my consolations are really quite small as compared to the mission granted to those of us who will embrace it: to give as freely as we are given of the endless and incalculable fount of mercy. Further and deeper, can that pursuit of drawing and conveying of compassion transcend personal tribulation?
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
"The future belongs to the passionate and those who work hard."
Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota
...and perhaps the passion and hard work, things that have always been second nature to me, require rhythm breaks- specifically speaking times of recollection. Today was one of those days filled with opportunities to help improve others' circumstances. It's a whole lot less self-obsessed than torquing my own illusions of forcing the progress of my own fortunes. Harriet Beecher Stowe said something to the effect that "prayer is a long rope with a strong hold." Indeed, when our situations pare down to various extents, that rope- or perhaps something more like a rope-bridge- becomes all the more obvious.
Monday, July 17, 2006
If you want to have a spiritual life, you must unify your life."
~Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Hitting the road can remind us we are not alone, much as reading a good book and enjoying a conversation can. Somehow the solitude has a greater qualitative factor, when there are horizons and interactions, than in enclosed spaces. These recent days, coming to terms with my invisibility has allowed for some flexibility: it doesn't bother me much anymore. Not that this has never happened before, as times in our lives can be conspicuously cyclical, but regarding my solo flight as an indefinite given is letting me think about other things. Why let life's circumstances keep us on hold? Thresholds are not for camping out on; it's important to remember that if we are the cause of our own waiting, then we are best off taking ourselves right out of the queue. A mark of freedom is to be able to act upon the fact that there's always something to be done. Something that's been clear to me, over the years, is that the mind either expands or it dissipates- one or the other. Thus, stagnation equals dissipation. Transition is a curious thing that can neither be hurried through, nor a reason to stand still.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
~Saint Paul, Letter to the Galatians
Being one of God's squeakiest wheels, I am impatient for the proverbial grease: the heavenly balm of consolation and answered prayers. Being not just a noisy cog in the Great Works, but human to a fault, not seeing dividends brings out the little kid in me that says, Hey! What about me! No fair! Fairness was always about everyone getting their due turn. Kids are extraordinarily attuned to partiality. That awareness is supposed to make us into better adults, but we all know it rarely does. Some of us remember how to speak in turns, and defer to others (even on expressways), but a very scarce few of us truly embody patience.
Being thoroughly convinced I cannot force the powers of fortune, ironically speaking- patience is urgently needed. Waiting need not be synonymous with passivity; it is simply part of the process of growth and preparation. Indeed, one can live fully while also in a liminal waiting space. Motives can be refined. Summer is a nice time to travel the roads and smell the flowers. For how long? Nobody knows, least of all myself. It puts faith to a trying test, to say it will be worth it, just watch. For the time being, there's absolutely no reason to live a rehearsal life. If my heart is centered on what I perceive to be the delights of society, I will not find my treasure in spiritual life. What and who has my heart? I need a good road trip to ponder this one...
Friday, July 14, 2006
"The noble endeavor leaves no true thinker indifferent."
A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life
Friday night at the heart of summer, and indeed La Fête Nationale, and this invisible man intrepidly reports to this archival document known as La Vie Graphite from a very dimly-lit lounge. The place is aflutter with lively conversation, and there are, alas, just a few solitary beverage-sitters. I type by candlelight, and am grateful for some air-conditioning and a very well-chilled Sam Adams. Sure, I've taken myself out countless times, but this feels somehow covert, taking the venue into account. And speaking of context, with the news of current events sinking to further precedents, my own self-evaluations start to look, well, rather petty. Notwithstanding, the sun sets and rises again upon each and every one of us who walk this earth: the privileged, the wage-earners, and the unemployed- all ages and persuasions.
It was Saint Basil the Great who observed that as we find our being and moving upon this earth, our mandate is to reinforce a foundation of faith. He added that we need endurance, most of all, just as the earth needs water. The metaphors are beautiful in the Philokalia, referring to the clay of humility we do best to construct with. Now in my particular context of this wilderness- even in the strange juxtaposition of this fancy lounge- I am brought to ponder the ways in which I have used this time allotted to me. So much of what we are all brought through- and into- this society revolves around the carrot-and-stick of merit and punishment, about "being good and being bad." Indeed, there are moral concepts around "doing the right thing," but now many years away from elementary school, it's the motivation for doing honorable things that stays in my thoughts. That chase for grades becomes pursuits of things like credit and glory. We compete for recognition on so many levels, even the spiritual life is infected by such exacting conditions. My forays in the advertising art field gave me a front-row view of the "hero today, goat tomorrow" view of life. If my motivation, my propulsion for what I do and why I choose to be what I'm about, is for credit and glory, well then I am alas in a chained captivity. It's worth making my driving force that which is neither the hope of glory, nor the fear of punishment.
Now returning to this venue, in which I can scarcely see the keys on this laptop computer, it's actually really good to be here. Invisibility is surely nothing new to me, nowhere as new as blogging! Spending a summer like this is something rare for me, however. It's causing me to really wonder about the human condition, specifically in this society. Self-worth based upon recognition cannot be permitted. And, based upon that premise, I need not be the Invisible Man. My existence is given, no matter the fact that no-one who does not need me for some favor or other will notice my presence. I still am. If, for the sake of illustration, I was stranded in a physical desert, I would still be. Resisting a sense of resolve, as this days thoughts conclude (just because an entry ends, there needn't be some automatic resolution, Deus ex machina), I will take stock that I am, now turning my gaze away from all the coupled inside this place, to the panorama outside the windows with its harbor lights and night sky, and try to do better in living graciously. We all take too much for granted. For various stints, I was once a member of the accompanied, and I may not have thought well enough of those who must involuntarily grovel in the wilderness, shivering in their perceived and/or real ignominy.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
"Warm summer breeze blows endlessly, touching the hearts of those who feel."
~Jeff Lynne, One Summer Dream
At the end of a great conversation with yet another wise friend, he asked me a question he'd once asked me about a year ago, "what do you fear most?" Last year I heard myself say I had a trepidation about being unaware of errors and misjudgements I may have been making that I will only realize much later, and thus it was a kind of fear of regret. As with anything, these kinds of heartfelt answers reflect our own state of affairs at a given time. We are such fascinating composites of so many influences and responses! This morning, my answer to that question was a bit more telling- and actually a bit more troubling. But in this wilderness, these confrontations are what give way to major strides of progress. This time what I heard myself say was- not an anxiousness about not being skilled at tasks, or anything like that- but something to the effect of a fear of human failure. More specifically an apprehension over an unwitting extension of my own duress, something like a self-sabotage. Who would ever want to do that? But we all know that we are more than capable of sinking our own vessels. Inevitably, being that I have to maintain plenty of balance, in order to get things done and be my usual self to everyone, I've left this matter for thought, and continue to err on the side of not-worrying-so-much. Still another wise friend once told me that the opposite of fear is faith.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
"How do you know, what you feel- is it real, is it?
How do you know, what you see- is it seen, is it?"
~Jeff Lynne, Impostors of Life's Magazine
This liminal space has turned yet another corner. While I am striving for one notion, other possibilities seem to crop up- and the whole continuum of living never ceases to both bewilder and confound. In a conference last night, I heard myself refer to times of transition as provisional, and that rather than perceive the provisional as a downward spiral, consider the provisional as having a dynamism in its very fluidity. The context was something more on the order of a historic institution, but somehow this refers directly to my own condition. As my journeying again brings me to see scarcely any value to my solitary state, suddenly this present consequence starts to look like something very open-ended. I can attend to some polishing of some projects over which I have significant influence. I can continue to be available to other people- as I've been when able to get out of my own way. Of course, true to this wilderness which must be navigated, there are many dark moments. Life as an invisible man can just as easily bite hard into my viscera as it can become something I can really laugh at. "Listen," bade Dylan Thomas' unseen narrator in Under Milk Wood, "Listen. Time passes." Perhaps some day I'll be grateful for these days, and I must remember to appreciatively acknowledge the ones already past. In my interior debate about what is real, I am also pondering what is not real-- what is a false impression.
Monday, July 10, 2006
"Let your state of life motivate you."
~Erasmus, Enchiridion Militis Christiani
My Dad likes to tell me that every day is a mini-project. Today that idea has come to mind, with the fortunate circumstance of being able to tie together all of the days street conversations, phone calls, communications, patron queries- all of it- and see it as a large composite mosaic. At the café where I go on my break, their dishwasher overflowed and their roaster broke- and the clerk left in charge needed a cheer. (And I needed someone to talk to.) A traveling researcher needed to find the East End. A singer in a band needed French lyrics. An orphanage worker needed transportation, and then told me she had once tried to commit suicide- and had been mysteriously thwarted. I needed something for my home, and unable to find it in the mazes of the characterless world of Big Boxes, I bumped into a very wise old friend. This was just about an hour ago. Right in the middle of an apparently lifeless, vast and shadeless parking lot, I heard an elderly little voice say, is that you?
At times the search for mercy can be a foraging for a friendly face in a foreign airport. Other times its written on walls and sidewalks. Liminal space is impossible to calculate, and I'm beginning to see that part of the reason for having to dwell in the provisional- as out-of-step with everything around me as it looks- is for me to learn something about who I am and what I know. The wilderness, the desert, as the biblical metaphor goes, is prone to mirages- to false substitutes for what can only be found by holding fast to what is real. The added danger, of course, is not to leave such concepts in the abstract, but to specify what real means
Saturday, July 8, 2006
"I am a little world made cleverly of Elements and an Angelic sprite."
How good to exercise the grace of the ability to step back and regard the big picture. Moreover, what a blessing to have friends to listen to, who will also listen back. I am blessed to know some wise and humble people, who remind me to be patient, even as I rail against my slow progress (or at least perceived as such). They- individually and apart from one another- tell me to be patient, have faith, and take stock. This is teaching me something about trust. As usual, it's never quite so simple. This isn't convenient trust: trust that is something remote and of little consequence- something I'd call window-dressing trust. This is trust I must stake my life upon. Much as my reflection about what substantial hope really is- a knowing hope (as opposed to a keep-your-fingers-crossed hope). As I await for good things to materialize, for something I've sown to really take flight, I must also remember that if I've ever thought I had any influence on anything other than my self, I was entirely deluded.
Friday, July 7, 2006
"There are people who only graze the surface and go no deeper than flies in their walk. Others, on the contrary, leave traces where they have been, and store what they have touched."
~ Pierre Nicole
Hot summer nights- late at night- can be quite like late nights in winter. The elements bid us to interrupt our pace, be it to suddenly notice the air perfumed with jasmine and trees heavy with bloom, or to seek warm shelter and look out to the cold streets. We stop and regain our senses, which remind us that with just a bit of effort we can sense what is happening around us beneath that which is immediate. Daily life is surely more than what screams loudest.
It has always amazed me, even since my high school years, how many go through their motions and have no appetite for more than the immediate: the deadline, the paycheck, the sporting event. Certainly there is something commendable in living the moment, but that would be more like a full awareness of all that a moment of ones life encompasses and witnesses: a perspective of a slice of time which sees beyond the surface. Admittedly it is tempting to set up camp on the shallow surface, embracing that television ethos which shows no subtlety or ramification. Its all on the here-and-now surface. Even the way current events are presented to us, it is implicit that we will not care to delve. In this prevailing culture, we are encouraged to passively absorb what is set before us. How about if we challenge? Or weigh an issue in our consciences? It does shake things up, and invites opportunities to form personal views. There are a few of us left.
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."
The desert is not always tranquil. Sleep is not always rest and repose. It seems that among my challenges is an overcommitment to varied employment obligations, and this is creating a dangerously uninterrupted continuum without respite. The struggle is helping to clarify the purpose of my solitude; this is part of the apparently grander plan of solidifying my spirit, and galvanizing my instincts. I'm being readied for something as yet unknown.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
"A fountain of joyfulness will spring up in the desert of your heart.
Not euphoria, not just any kind of joy,
but jubilation straight from the wellsprings of eternity."
~ Brother Roger of Taizé, Fleurissent les Déserts du Coeur
The proving-ground of the soul is what the desert represents: the arid, the desolate, the barren. Relief is not immediate, and that is just what makes those mirages of false concepts so hazardous. If the night has a thousand fears, as we are told, the waterless desert may have a million, as we can squint toward the visible horizon, longing with trepidation.
But if hope is to be tried and proven, even the direst desolation must be made to bloom. The breaking-points must be as the ferment falling to the ground. In my journey, the desert times have been the stages for profoundest transformation; when life becomes an unpacified continuum, the desert reappears and I must confront my unmasked self. In so doing, it becomes immediately necessary, and inevitably a great relief, to discard old formulae and outdated notions. There is surprising liberty in the breaking. The desert must flower. I insist.
Monday, July 3, 2006
"It is one thing to recover from a fever, but quite another to regain one's health after it. It is one thing to remove a spear from a wound, but quite another for the wound to heal completely. So to begin the cure we remove the cause of the sickness, and this occurs through forgiveness."
~ Saint Augustine, On the Trinity
Much as web-browsing has become, t.v. is among this society's beloved guilty pleasures. It's people-watching without intimidating stares, proxy-living without personal risk. The peculiarity we call "reality t.v." is now an old fixture, script writing is supplanted by edited and subtly scripted supposed actual confrontations between who we are led to believe are regular folks like us. Tonight ABC's offering, How to Get the Guy aired, an oddly fascinating collage of cross-cut-editing, depicting "real life" travails of single women navigating their dates with behind-the-scenes "coaches," advising them as to their choices. And it's all "caught on tape," so to speak. Their situations shown barely depict the most superficial- but do seem to have something to say. And so I watched along, as a member of the entertained marketplace, curious for some insights, even if just to respond to so much of what seems disingenuous. For the women and their coaches, it's staged as a sporting event. (I've seen so much of what has disgusted me about the dating and impression-making dance as being nearly indistinguishable from the job hunting process.) How unfortunate that we are compelled to be so programmatic about something so sublime. Doing some homework, is it additionally strange that while there is a plethora of sites and publications and chick flicks about "getting the guy," nothing exists to sell some clues to men (who evidently don't need any). Apparently the women are throwing themselves at us men. Not. Maybe in San Francisco, but somehow not in New England.
Sure, I speak for myself and for my close male friends. Trying to close the day in a positive light, I'll say this liminal space is for rebuilding, for the strengthening that comes after the surface healing of past wounds. Indeed, fortunes cannot be forced, and as elusive as the singletons from San Francisco claim chemistry to be, so would I add abandonment of my own will.
Sunday, July 2, 2006
"Therefore it is written of the apostles that they rejoiced to be found worthy to suffer ignominy for God."
~Meister Eckhart, The Book of Consolation
The desert can be metaphor as well as a physical location. It may be places like the Sahara, the Gobi, or the Mojave. It may also be experienced on 5th Avenue, in an airport, or along an interstate thruway. We may quite tangibly endure desert times of which others are unaware. Until we start to talk. The desert saints and Saint Anthony may have braved the driest places of north Africa and Israel, but they could have just as well have been jousting with mirages in New York and New England. At times solitude has coasted across smooth roads, but in these times I fight the spectres which challenge such essentials as purpose, hope, and aspiration. Taking stock of that which is worthy and good, these days, is taking a whole lot of energy. But if this is indeed some kind of proving-ground, I've got to rise above this and summon all the strengthening things that have previously worked. New strategies will be needed. Perhaps by emerging from this desert there will be something valuable to offer any of you dear readers (and non-readers) whose green pastures may yet give way to provisional times of desolation. Surely there is purpose, and I believe I have begun to discern what that is.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, and philosophers, and divines."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the paradox of keeping things balanced, evenness of temperament gives place for taking some risks. No good thing can be cultivated in isolation. Once I got through graduate school, which had been so sharply focused and frenetically ambitious- studying, writing, teaching, publishing, traveling. The catharsis led to a sense that the goalpost had been widened and dropped. It is in our nature- at its healthiest- to strive. It is a sign of spiritual faith- at its healthiest- to hope. Hoping, in that generic societal sense carries the connotation of "golly, I think so," or "I'm keeping my fingers crossed." But the hope that separates from fear is a knowing and assuring hope: I hope, as in "I know things will improve with a good and hearty effort." The Psalmist muses aloud, and even bids his own heart, "why are you cast down, o soul of mine??" He resolves in a sweet dialogue, "hope in the Lord, my Saviour and God." One would think David might be reaching this realization while stuck in highway traffic, in one of those self-confrontational musings.
Friday, June 30, 2006
"Truth is commoner than articles of furniture.
It cries out in the streets and does not turn its back on us when we turn our backs on it.
Ideas emerge from facts; they also emerge from conversations, chance occurrences, theaters, visits, strolls, the most ordinary books.
Everything holds treasures, because everything is in everything, and a few laws of life and of nature govern all the rest."
~ A.G. Sertillanges
It seems the forces of creation have deigned, for this extended season, to render me invisible. Now this is not to say not present, either to people I help or those I work for. People who need me, or are affected by me, seem able to see to me. This vaporish state I evidently inhabit occurs to me as I cannot seem to be discovered, no matter the setting. It is a mystery and a paradox, whether I try to make myself noticeable- or if I can put it out of my thoughts and simply blend into the background (as usual). In something resembling a public opinion poll, I've tried drawing attention- and have exaggerated an aloofness. None of it "works." I'm unnoticed. That puts a negative spin on the aspiration to be transparent, doesn't it? Perhaps assuming the role of invisible man is a bit of self-flattery. There may be a lesson here, about trying too hard for something and thus making that hope unattainable. If that is so, then the not-trying has yet to help the opposite effect!
So, Friday evening returns, and in trying to redeem the time I am looking for the Good Purpose of this invisibility. The post-rain western sky presents drifting jigsaw puzzle-pieces of clouds. Tomorrow is the 1st of July. Each day brings the audacity of new hopes. Even Jeremiah the tragic prophet observed the mercies that are renewed with every morning. So with reflection and discipline (and thankfully the outlet of written expression) this time continues to allow a heavy tilt toward fulfillment without apparent consolation. Study is a prayer for truth. In these times, it seems wisest to focus on learning, preparedness to be fit and attentive to others, to be present to the moment, and to remember what little control any of us have over what's around us. The metaphor of gathering practical and philosophical knowledge as if filling a vessel is an endeavor I can fully exercise, and that is cause for gratitude indeed.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
"But I feel that my own life is especially sealed with this great sign... because like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox."
~Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas
Summer proceeds apace, and as I sat reading and writing at an outdoor cafe, on my supper break from work, the balmy breezy world of pedestrians, couples, solo-speaking-cellphone-strollers, and all sundry movers-about looked pronouncedly at ease. Portland is a town in which people hold doors for one another. The wafting maples carry a message of reassurance, and it is good to be at the receiving end.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
~ C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality
Ancients like Augustine and Eriugena would regard the whole creation as a wonder, as an overarching theophany- which is to say a revelation of the divine goodness even if that might be incomprehensible, invisible, and hidden. And today is one of those days in which that which may often be hidden is evident to me, to the point of blantant and obvious. Even the faces of those I've worked with and instructed today have been theophanies to me. It is good to reminded that one is part of something large and really quite incalculably grand.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
"What is the best comfort in suffering and tribulation?
It is this, that one should take all things as if he had desired and asked for them.
For if you had known that all things happen in the divine will, you would indeed have wished for them."
Of course, in attempting to find the good in the present, I accept each moment and can perceive what is positive and productive. But acceptance does not mean complacency, neither does it imply retreat from hope and ambition. And in this season of my life, I am not avoiding social situations- as it seems so many in this society are hiding from one another. We are alienated enough from contact with each other, what with teleconferencing, solo commuting, suburbs, and electronic chat. Might there be others like me, who are perplexed observers?
Further still, might there be others, like me, who have not grasped that last musical chair and find themselves the cheese that stands alone? I have decided to muse aloud (to this modest extent), open to the possibility that a kindred soul sees herself in some of these words. In this vast and abundant world, in a society fraught with emphases on relationships, couples, and family units, there may be a solo flyer who has yet to find her companion. It is like an exploration into outer space, looking for life forms. Is anyone out there amidst the stars and the interspersed darkness?
Perhaps someone can inform me as to where these earnest people go. Over recent years, it seems I have tried it all: web sites, books, advice, events, clubs, associations- even just plain socializing. Working with the public, living in a residential neighborhood, traveling, volunteering. Is there nobody left? Is there no-one who appreciates social graces and genuineness, albeit in the wrapping of plain looks? I talk with my closest friends about this. My lifelong best friend, who is ten years my senior, tells me he doesn't worry much about his singleness; in his words, "she hasn't found me yet." I like that. It cheers me up. Being a prisoner of hope is to simply be ready for the serendipitous and to know that the miraculous could manifest at any moment.
Monday, June 26, 2006
"All suffering comes from love and affection.
If I then suffer because of transitory things,
I and my heart still have love for transitory things and I do not cherish God with all my heart and I do not yet love what God wants to be loved by me and with him.
How then, is it surprising that God should allow me rightly to suffer pain and sorrow?"
In having been an army of one for so much of my adult life has provided settings for some real self-confrontation. Of course, no one asks to be tossed into the desert. We do not go gently into that good night. I am certain it is an unseen will that relegates a burgeoning soul who longs to love, to have to navigate an uncharted abyss. Weeks become months become years. But I have been making the best of what has not been enjoyable or consoling. Surely and undoubtedly, this world has known far worse, but indeed there is an element of the universal in the way every individual is inevitably brought to confront what it will be like to be alone. Alone and forgotten. Some of us yearn to be connected to others- many for the cause of love, many simply to belong somewhere in the world. None of us like the idea of living ignominiously.
Indeed, it does no good to stare at the ground. The benefits of having known the depths come in the forms of comprehension: we can better understand what befalls us, and can offer understanding and respectful witness to others. We can look out for those around us who suffer alone. My Dad used to tell me to do someone else a favor before they ask you. In these reflections I become certain that when my true love finds me, I will be reverently grateful for her, and to her.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
All right, this was the first weekend of summer. Yes, another summer, and the whole Noah's Ark thing becomes ever more obvious: everyone comes out 2-by-2.
Now that I've finished grad school (and my thirties), the challenge has intensified and I am considering my reluctant unattachment to be further time to improve my sense of this life and world. I was never "popular" in school, however my invisibility remains a matter of endless perplexity. It causes me to wonder if other single people go through that same mixture of wishing to be noticed- with a hope not to view oneself as more than they really are.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
After about eleven solid years (and counting) of journaling, it's time to blog. Writing is so significant an act, recording events, readings, and sundry speculations, that I've held back from writing about the Single Solitary Life. Then I oddly began to express the more provisional thoughts in pencil, considering graphite to be even more temporal than ink. But then to blog something that endangers to be so self-centered, it seemed to lend even more to an internet format. So here goes.
Note: for those who share La Vie en Graphite, the Pencil Revolution site (http://www.pencilrevolution.com/) is highly recommended.