Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Sacred and .......The Sacred

Sigh. I looked back over the past couple of days postings here and see that I have gone back and forth between beauty and cruelty in terms of what fills my eyes and heart. At first that seemed odd to me, but then, as I pondered what picture I might post today, I ran across this shot of dogwood blossoms that I took a few days ago. Here I am back at beauty -- back at hopefulness.

I think, when all is said and done, that if those of us who can be of use in the world cave in to hopelessness, then we may as well cave in to callousness for all the good it does the world.

Yet there are times I wonder what it is that allows us to hope in such a world. For me, as a Christian, I live in the world of the empty cross and the empty tomb -- a world where suffering and even death were overcome, despite every act to the contrary. And yet my hope can be as fragile as a thread.

Everyone has a place they go to "charge up" the personal and spiritual batteries. For some it is the company of friends, for some it is Nature, for some it is art or music or solitude and quiet. For some, prayer.

On the one hand some speak of it as the balance between contemplation and action -- or between the sacred and the secular. I have trouble with these distinctions as while I feel I can grasp the moments or experiences which are "sacred" -- at least enough to identify them -- I sure have trouble saying that anything is purely secular. Is not the attention of God everywhere? Is my spirit not engaged in all I do?

The Greeks did us no favors with the great body/mind dichotomy. We found ourselves catapulted into a world of cordoned off realities, bifurcated living. It has done the world no favors to see body, mind and spirit as separate "things", unconnected for all time. That kind of shabby thinking allows us to imagine that what we do may not have to be connected to what we believe. And it sets up peculiar dichotomies like the supposed division between sacred and secular.

In any case. I am looking at flowers. Tomorrow I may look at sorrows. It is all of a piece, all part of the whole.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Suffering and Platitudes: Lies About God

Please be forewarned. What follows is graphic and troubling commentary about human suffering.

What follows is also a rant.

I am so weary of gumball-machine faith -- insert a penny and out pops a sweet numbing treat.

I am tired of hearing false remarks about God in the presence of real pain. Here is my least favorite remark. "God never gives you anything you cannot handle." The hell, you say.

Tell that to any of the over 2 MILLION people left homeless (that is equal to the entire city of Houston, Texas) as a result of the genocidal wars of Dafur. Chad just closed its border with Sudan, leaving about a .5 MILLION (equal to the entire population of Boston) starving refugee people isolated from food aid.

Tell that to families decimated by AIDS deaths and unable to get medicine in the AIDS Belt of Africa. Africa has 12 MILLION AIDS orphans. (Imagine if every person in Los Angeles and New York City was a child orphaned by AIDS. Then add another 200,000.) Tell them that God made them orphans, and that they can handle it.

Of the 40 MILLION (equal to ALL of Canada PLUS New York City) people worldwide living with HIV, 33.5 MILLION are in Africa. Tell them.

Over 135 MILLION of the world's girls and women have undergone genital mutilation (equal to the TOTAL population of females in the USA - every woman and girlchild), and 2 million girls a year (equal to Detroit + Dallas) are at risk of mutilation - approximately 6,000 per day. You tell a nine year old screaming and bleeding girl to handle it. [And in the event you do not understand what it is - Female genital mutilation -- FGM -- is the term used to refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. The most severe form is infibulation, also known as pharaonic circumcision. An estimated 15% of all mutilations in Africa are infibulations. The procedure consists of clitoridectomy, where all, or part of, the clitoris is removed; excision, removal of all, or part of, the labia minora; and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape. This is often done with crude and unsterilized instruments such as kitchen knives or broken glass.]

These lists of atrocities and inflicted brutal pain could go on and on. And the victims of this suffering and these horrible injustices should never be told that "God never gave you anything they couldn't handle." Or that "God never closes a door, but that He opens a window." or "Think about it -- this is just part of His plan for your life." or any of the other slick and glib platitudes that we use to fend off reality, to blind us to our own responsibilities and to obscure and distort the real force of the Gospel. These sayings, when exposed to something beyond our own comfort are seen for what they are. They are lies about God.

People all over the world have much, much more than they can handle. Whether it is the 30,000 raped Bosnian women who were victims in the 1990's to the almost 1 million butchered Rwandans, to the 6 million slaughtered Jews in the Holocaust - there is too much for the victims to handle.

That is why God sent us - and the church, and every faith. That is why we who are Christians are called "the Body of Christ", a body that does not exclude the great "them", those who suffer. I refuse to believe that God WANTS his children to be starved, abandoned, mutilated and slaughtered as part of some obscure cosmic plan.

I do believe, however, with my entire heart that God is WITH the suffering and the victims. I believe that He is on their side. I believe that He speaks up for them. And I also believe that He is waiting for US to join Him.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Beauty and Foolishness

I am so thankful for the defiance of beauty. I saw these yellow blossoms this morning, just thriving in the cracks of a stone wall. I was busy making rapid analogies about being surprised by a small fragment of beauty, and how beauty can be solitary and alone and brave...and then I rounded the corner of the little road.

And there was a set of steps, all in stone, and positively overflowing with blossoms. I laughed to myself for my dramatic take on such a small part of the overall picture. There was clearly more to behold that I had missed. OK, time for a revision to the "solitary moment of defiant beauty" theme -- gone was the notion of one plant struggling into the light. I looked heavenward and gave God a small wink for teaching me such a lesson. Clearly the lesson was about a small community joined in an act of love.

Then I turned another corner. Apparently God was not done with laughing at my foolishness. Did I for an instant think that the beauty of the creation could be contained by my ability to understand it?

I ached from the sheer joy of what I saw.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I was asked why I am a Lutheran

I am currently "unchurched" in that I call no one congregation "home". I suspect that will change. But I still would define myself as Lutheran-- granted, a Lutheran who has been deeply influenced by both Judaism and Buddhism, but absolutely a Lutheran.

I address this because Lutheran Zephyr asked on his blog why any of us are Lutheran.

It was 1968 on the 4th of April. I was 18 and Roman Catholic. I was in my dormitory when I heard the news that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. I didn't know what to do and just started walking around the campus, really in a daze. I remember hearing singing -- hymn singing -- coming from the campus Lutheran church, and I walked in and sat down. A church felt like the place to be, and this would be as good as any, I thought - a safe harbor in which to pray.

The campus pastor had marched with Martin in Selma. He spoke of the tragedy and broke down in the pulpit. I had never seen such a thing -- such directness, such true emotion in a clergyperson. And the clergyman had been involved politically? The congregation sang, and they sang their hearts out. I had never heard such a thing -- people really singing in church because they meant it. As I left the church, people greeted me, asked me who I was, wanted me to come back. I had never experienced such a thing. I did go back again and again.

Fast forward a bit to my marriage in 1969. My (now ex) husband and I wanted a church in common. I was RCC; he was Congregationalist. I suggested the local Lutheran congregation in our home town. We walked in and the pastor's sermon was breathtaking -- clear and heartfelt -- educational and moving. On the bulletin board in the entryway was a small black and white poster of two small children. The boy was wearing toy holsters at his hip, but they were full of flowers. The caption said "No War Toys". I could not believe my eyes. Again we were welcomed and greeted in this church, 1,000 miles from my campus church. We were invited to take Communion. I had never experienced Eucharist with both elements. It fed my soul.

Then we took instruction and every session was more amazing than the last -- and the most amazing thing was the Lutheran theology of Grace. God loves and has redeemed me without me having to turn into a religious circus dog, or without me having to do things to "earn it"? Grace is given freely, without my ability to merit it?

This Theology of Grace, more than any other single thing (but in concert with many others) has anchored me to the Lutheran Church, come what may. I cannot imagine my life without viewing Grace in this way. It is like spiritual oxygen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Adult Orphans, Please Comment

As many of you know, my father died in December of 2005. My mother's death preceded his by almost 10 years.I find that one of the unexpected parts of my grief process is that I am deeply cognizant of being suddenly un-parented,even though my father and I had a relationship that was very complex and full of difficulties. I am shocked that at age 56 I should feel like an "Adult Orphan", but I do. It is a feeling not unlike being unmoored from a dock -- unhinged from a frame. I feel uneasy in my own skin in some basic way. I struggle to even find a phrase that fits, as I have not plumbed the depths of this yet, but I know that the depths are there.

I do not hear this talked about -- the grief that an adult feels when the last surviving parent dies. It amplifies the grief of losing my father -- but not in ways I can understand yet. I turned to the net and found this helpful article, but in truth there is not a lot out there. Here is quotation from that article that I found helpful in describing this reality:

“What we’re talking about here is disenfranchised grief,” says Chris Hall, director of the Centre for Grief Education at Monash Medical Centre. “It’s not a grief that tends to be appreciated,” he says. “The first question people ask is `How old were they?’ And because people can say the older parent had a good innings that grief can be disqualified by others.

“Parents are like repositories of memory. They’re the only ones who hold certain memories of you as a child. It’s like a mirror — we define ourselves in terms of our relationships so our parents’ deaths challenge us to define who we are.”

If any of you who are reading this have lost both parents and care to share with me what you have learned/are learning from the experience, I would be very thankful.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Looking Back Over Lent

"Life is an adventure in forgiveness." -- Norman Cousins

As I have mentioned out here, my Lenten discipline was to forgive each day -- someone else, myself, God, whatever and whomever. Now that Lent is over, I have been sorting out what happened as a result, and seeing if I am any different now from before.

I am seeing forgiveness differently.

I realize:

....that I had no real idea what forgiveness was -- except some sense that it restored the status quo that existed before the need for forgiveness arrived. And I was entirely wrong about that.

....that God is better at forgiveness than I am, and that I can take it better than I can dish it out.

....that some Big Forgivenesses take time, and that they evolve over that time , and that they take work.

....that forgiveness is more often me giving myself something, than giving to someone else. Like giving myself permission to not live out of a wounded space.

....that it is easier to forgive if someone is sorry for what they did, but even more needful if they are not.

....that the Gospel really is about forgiveness at every level.

....that it will take my life to learn about forgiveness.

....that God yearns for me to forgive.

....that most forgiveness is a process

....that Life without liberal doses of forgiveness is barren

Developing and honing the spiritual muscles of forgiveness, I am convinced, has to be a conscious task, a true discipline. Our world reinforces not forgiving at such a level of intensity that we must deliberately focus on forgiveness.

I had hoped that Lent would leave me less burdened with old wounds, and it has -- sometimes in ways I could not have imagined. Lent has also turned up some old ground that I had neglected that requires the nourishment of forgiveness. The lessons have been both massive and subtle. I have been left seeing my brokenness as must more graphic and at closer range than I might have liked. I have felt the urge behind the Great and Holy Unraveling that is Forgiveness.

People, dear and beloved people, both on and off-line have helped guide me to what I thought would be the conclusion of the journey, but instead to a place which is only the beginning.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Bargain

© Laura Marshall 2006. All rights reserved.

This intriguing painting of Laura Marshall's is called "The Bargain". It is so textured and mysterious - so full of portent, so dense with possibility and wonder. I've been thinking for a while now about the bargains I make - what I trade off for a sense of safety, what I ransom for some idea of security. It seems our lives are riddled with secret bargains - bargains with God, bargains with our fears, bargains with our hopes.

However, the more I look at my bargains, the more they look like bluffs.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Amen Amen and Amen

I just found this on the blog of a Slovenian Buddhist guitar player/poet. I love the net.

V vojski ljubezni lahko služijo samo ranjeni vojaki.

Only the wounded soldiers can serve in the army of Love.

What next????

I love my godson, Matt. He is a 22 year old senior in college and a jazz musician. He lives in Philadelphia. I live in NJ not far from NYC. His Mom,Barb,and I are best friends and have known eachother since we were 19. We went to college and grad school together. Barb has three sisters and a brother. (This gets important later in the story. Just hold that thought for a second.)

Last night Matt arrived. I was taking him out for a late birthday present -- dinner and a jazz performance in NYC. There we were sitting at the Village Vanguard waiting for the set to start, chatting. I mentioned to him that many years ago when I lived in Denver, I used to spend a lot of time with jazz musicians, some of whom (these many years later) have gone on to more acclaim as musicians. I mentioned a few names. The moment I said one of them, Matt stopped me saying -- "HIM --you know HIM??? My music teachers have been telling me that I need to go hear him -- he is HUGE in the Philly jazz scene." yup, I know him. Haven't seen him for 20 years, but sure knew him and his wife "in the day". We are sitting at the table, marveling over the odd coincidence as Matt says -- "Oh my God -- that is my uncle over there!"

We look a few tables over and sure as heck -- there is Matt's uncle, Barbara's brother. He lives in North Caroline, but there he is in NYC at this jazz club.

What are the odds? We all sit down and just laugh and shake our heads at this odd event.

Flash forward to home. I am looking in the computer and find a website of my musician friend. Turns out he has a gig coming up not far from here - a benefit for hurricane victims -- I check out the details --- and who is one of the organizers? A former grad school colleague of Matt's Mom's and mine from Ohio. Someone who had no connection with Denver at all.

So OK, in case you have not been counting the 2 hours of coincidence:

1. Coincidence #1 - We discover that a former friend of mine from Denver 25 years ago is now a hot musician in my godson's town of Philly, and that my godson has been told to see him by his professors.

2. Coincidence #2 - Matt's uncle from North Carolina shows up in a small jazz club in NYC the very same night that Matt and I are there for an 11pm jazz set.

3. Coincidence #3 - My old Denver musician friend has a benefit gig coming up where one of the organizers is a former grad school colleague of Matt's Mom and mine.

I'm thinking I'd better go to that benefit.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Realms We Do Not See

I birdwatch. I am dreadful at some of it -- the warblers and seagulls drive me mad when I try to identify them. The same seagull can look wildly different depending on its age and the time of year. And the warblers move so fast and are just different in subtle ways. But I love to birdwatch nonetheless. And I think the gulls and warblers get a secret kick out of my frustration. (I occasionally imagine that I hear them snickering amongst themselves, especially the gulls.)

The first time I went officially birdwatching was when my sister-in-law (who has been an avid birder since childhood) took me on a birding day in Colorado when she was visiting us during the time we lived there. I was prepared to be bored witless. But I love Nancy, so I went. Grudgingly.

Oh my how I loved it. Being with a birder who knew what she was doing made it so much fun. It gave me all the thrill of a great hunt, except (thankfully) I didn't have to kill anything. It appealed to my love of nature, my intellect and my affection for challenge. I was hooked.

I am a casual watcher. I have good binos, but not extreme binos. I have great field guides, but a sloppy "life list". I watch for the joy of it and as a meditative practice.

What? A meditative practice? Yup.

To watch birds is to become very silent, very focused, and entirely in "the now". Everything inside calms down and a serene sense of place-awareness kicks in. Suddenly you begin to notice the meta-world that surrounds you every day - the world of birds. Each day we encounter 100's of them and do not even notice them. They are barely blips on the oscilloscope of our consciousness. They live and mate and die and sing and soar virtually unheeded. Until we decide to watch.

Then suddenly this vibrant universe of flying beings comes into view. Oh, unheeded magnificence! Un-noticed drama! The background becomes the foreground and the world slips away. It is a remarkable sensation.

On a summer's day, to sit quietly in the woods and to notice the slightest flash of a wing amidst the leaf canopy -- ah, delight.

Birdwatching is also a metaphor for all the universes we do not see around us because we are focused elsewhere. For those of us who live in comfort, that universe could be the world of poverty. For those of us who live in countries of plenty, that universe could be starving, war-torn countries in Africa. For those of us who live selfishly, that universe could be the feelings of those around us.

The world of Nature is a profound and challenging gift from God. There in front of us is all this magnificence -- other entire realms of drama and beauty -- asking only that we protect and love it. Yet there are times when we do not even see it.

My wish for all reading this is that you can take some time this week to be still in Nature, whether that is the woods, a park, your backyard, the desert or a mountainside -- and allow its birds to teach you its intricate lessons.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Meanings Forming

"Traveller, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking." Australian Aboriginal saying.

You know, this may be my stumbling block -- I keep looking for paths when I should be making them. That saying made me look again at a poem by Roethke that I love.

"The Waking"

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance
from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree;
but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going
where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

[c] 1953 from The Complete Collected Poetry of Theodore Roethke

An Alphabet Meme

Tip of the mouse to Tawonda for this one :

Accent: Indistinguishable. I have lived too many places in the east/west/midwest. I sound like a radio announcer.

Booze: Sometimes wine. Rarely.

Chore I Hate: Let me count the ways. Ironing - ugh. Trash hauling - ugh. Vacuuming - ugh. (get the idea?)

Dog or Cat: Neither today, but I do want a big ole funky pooch.

Essential Electronics: computer, CD players (car and home), clock-alarm.

Favorite Cologne(s): Jaipur by Boucheron when I have $, Chanel 5 when I feel nostalgic, my own mix of body sprays that have peach/pear/citrus/melon in them.

Gold or Silver: Both. I particularly like silver and turquoise.

Hometown: I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts

Insomnia: I could sleep standing up on a bed of nails in a hailstorm.

Job Title: Executive Consultant

Kids: I was unable to have my own, but I have a superlative godchild!

Living arrangements: arranged nicely - homey and artsy.

Most admirable trait: Steadfastness

(Least admirable trait -- bonus question): snoring

Number of sexual partners: Oh sure, like I'd discuss that out here...NOT.

Overnight hospital stays: Yes,a few.

Phobias: Edges of high places, fear of drowning, loathe mice

Quote: Suffer what there is to suffer; enjoy what there is to enjoy -- Buddha

Religion: Christian, Lutheran with Buddhist and Jewish accents

Siblings: No

Time I wake up: 7ish, then back to sleep for a bit more.

Unusual talent or skill: I can bend my fingers back at right angles to my palms.

Vegetable I refuse to eat: Okra, lima beans

Worst habit: putting off paperwork

X-rays: oh yeah. lots.

Yummy foods I make: Polish ethnic fare; great soups - pea, lentil, pumpkin, chicken, minestrone, cold carrot soup, borscht; Portuguese fish stew; fabulous salads; my Mom's meatloaf recipe

Zodiac sign: Aquarius

Feel free to borrow for your own blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Give, Go, Be

Ellen Burstyn has long been one of my favorite actresses - ever since her role as the woman who could suddenly heal others in the film "Resurrection", a deeply moving film made in 1980 but which holds up perfectly over time. I saw her on television last night in a brief interview.

She was talking about her craft and said "If you do not express what is inside you, your personal gift, then the world will have to exist without ever feeling the benefit of that -- and also, if you do not express it, it will kill you."

It got me thinking -- what are the ways my denial of my own talents or gifts can hurt not only the world but me -- not only me but the world? I believe there is intent from God in gifting us with certain talents. His intent is that we should use them -- but I never had thought about the implications of not using them.

During seder, D, our seder master, asked us to think about the Israelites who had NOT gone into the Exodus with Moses - the Israelites who had stayed behind in Egypt, staying in slavery, never to experience the Promised Land, ruled by their fears. D. asked us to consider our own personal Egypts and to look at what keeps us from finding that place in life that we were meant to know.

That made me wonder about the fact that is everyone had been afraid to go, none would have found the Promised Land. Fear of expression, fear of movement, fear of finding and expressing our own true selves in the richness that God intended - we deny ourselves, those around us, the world and God's love when we hold back from giving and being all that God intends us to be.

Does this make sense? Talk to me about your Egypts and I will tell you of mine.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Home Again, Home Again

I just returned from Passover in Michigan. Although I have no blood-family left in my life, this trip reminded me of how rich my life is in extended family. I mentioned that I have been celebrating Passover with this gathering of people for over 20 years. The young man who read the section earmarked for the "youngest child" at my first Passover is now married and has a Ph.D. He and his wife hosted this Passover. I love the span of time this represents, the fullness of years, the seeing-through of events and life-changes with eachother that this stands for.

Many of us have settled into roles. J, as I said earlier, is always the Patriarch, the final arbiter. E always opens the door for Elijah. There are funny little quirks as well. At one point the town of B'nai Barak is mentioned. J will ask, every year, "And just where IS B'nai Barak?" And because we have answered this so many times before, we all now join in a loud exclamation of the phrase "it is a suburb outside of Tel Aviv!!!" This comes as a rather surprising point of emphasis for those guests at seder who have not been through this with us before, at which point we laugh and explain. This happens every year and is as much a part of the ritual as prayers or songs or cups of wine.

I treasure the familiarity of these nuances, the echo of years passed. I love how we laugh and sing and ask a thousand questions every year. Our seders are long - this year they started at 6.45 and went through til well after midnight. (Oh, Oh, Oh, what a blessing that I can call them "our" seders!)

I love that I have been given a place to fit there. That I have a role too. I am the Haggadah scholar of sorts,in that every year I will search out answers to unanswered questions from the past years - or find new ways to look at parts of this splendid liturgy. I also arrive a day early to help peel vegetables for a day, which I love doing - feeling "of use". It is a conglomoration of blessings. This year several folks said that they could not imagine a seder without me there anymore. Those who said that were all related by blood and tradition. I held back tears of joy that I have been so welcomed. Their gift humbles me, amazes me, and makes my life more meaningful.

The title of this entry is "Home Again, Home Again" because both ends of this journey were "home", each in a different way.

"Next Year In Jerusalem!"

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Part of the Passover liturgy is the singing of festive Passover songs, one of which is called "Dayenu" (pronounced Dye-AY-nu) in which the many blessings of G-d during the Exodus period and beyond are recounted with joy and thanksgiving - an acknowledgement of the startling abundance of G-d's love pours through these words - listing a total of 15 blessings, each one of which concludes with the phrase "It would have been enough." And then another blessing comes. That would have been enough, but then another and another and another come in a shower of huge blessings from G-d. The music is lively and can be heard in midi form by clicking here. It delights me to hear it and sing it each year. May it also bring you joy. Some of the translated lyrics are below.

...If He would've provided for us for 40 years, and not fed us with the Manna, it would've been enough.
If He would've fed us with the Manna, and not given us the Shabbat, it would've been enough.
If He would've given us the Shabbat, and not brought us to Mount Sinai, it would've been enough...

Passover Approaches - A Journey is at Hand

Today I leave on a 700 mile drive (for which I will take a leisurely 2 days) so that I may attend my 22nd Passover Seder with my extended family.

J. and E. are a generous couple who scooped me up as part of their wonderfully diverse extended clan about 24 years ago. I missed two Seders - one because I was in another country at the time,and one because J. was in the hospital having surgery. The Seders have become movable now that J and E's two sons are married and with their own households. This year the youngest son and his wife are hosting, so off I go, blissful at having been included for yet another year.

Passover has become a linchpin in my spiritual year, an important stop on every year's spiritual journey. For those of you who may not have ever attended a Passover Seder, it is a family liturgy written around a meal that tells the story of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and celebrates their freedom from slavery. This is written in a book that is called "The Haggadah". And what a beautiful liturgy. It encompasses every emotion -- from despair through rage to hope and boundless joy.

Every year we go through this liturgy, and each year brings some new observation or point of scholarship. J's Seders are lively events, full of commentary and questions and sage observation. And despite the venue, whether he wishes it or not, J is always the patriarch of the Seder. We all end up turning to him and his deep wellspring of knowledge and his lively approach to zesty dialogue.

And every year we note those who are no longer alive, with whom we have shared prior Seders. It is as though their shape lingers around the table, with us not entirely whole without them. During the year, those of us who attend this Seder tend to run into eachother at other events -- weddings and the like. Invariably some one of us will say "It looks like the Passover group is here!" It is as though we keep our shape even apart - with a sort of latent luminosity. However, since we seem to be more than the sum of our parts (like all lively families) when we are assembled, things feel different - more connected, more whole, more just plain right.

To gather for Passover is to put the key into the lock of a treasure chest that can be counted on from one year to another to be fuller than the past. My deep happiness at this splendid gathering of generous souls who have made of me extended family can be found echoed in the Hallal a beautiful recitation of joy near the end of the Haggadah.

"If our mouths were as full of song as the sea and our tongues could sing joyously like the endless waves . . . we still would not be able to give You sufficient thanks, O G-d, . . . for even one of the thousand thousands and myriad myriads of favors which You have done for our Fathers and for us."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just a Bird

© Laura Marshall 2006. All rights reserved.

I love the Middle Eastern tale about the little bird who was singing merrily while lying on her back in the middle of a country road.

A horseman came by, and stopped suddenly when he caught sight of her. He asked the bird what she was doing lying there in the middle of the road singing with her feet straight up in the air.

"I heard that the heavens were going to fall today," said the bird.

The horseman laughed at her. "I suppose you think that your skinny little legs can hold up the heavens?"

"One does what one can," said the bird. "One does what one can."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mystery Revealed

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. – Anon.

Yet both candles benefit.

Years ago I hard a lecture by a man who had worked with what then were called “juvenile delinquents” – kids in trouble. So often they would come to him complaining and hurting about the lack of love in their lives. They would tell him stories of abuse and scorn that had been heaped on them by families that made the word “dysfunctional” look like a day at the beach.

Every hurt they felt was real.

Every memory was searing.

What was amazing to me is what he told them to do.

He told them to find someone or something to love – to help someone else. And he helped them do it.

He didn’t just comfort them and send them on their way. He told them to GIVE love. He knew that as they loved another they would find the abundant nature of their own hearts. He knew love was not a limited commodity that must be measured out in small doses – it was infinite, ever renewing, inexhaustible. The more we give, the more we have to give.

He said that the deepest loneliness was not the absence of received love, it was the absence of expressed love.

The man was Peter Marin, who in 1975 had written the legendary article "The New Narcissism" in Harper's magazine.

Marin recounted a conversation he had with a man who had embraced a popular sort of pseudomystic spirituality.

He was telling Marin about his sense of another reality.

"I know there is something outside of me," he said. "I can feel it. I know it is there. But what is it?"

"It may not be a mystery," Marin said. "Perhaps it is the world."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

What Can be Sold - What Can be Bought

© Laura Marshall 2006. All rights reserved.

This is Laura Marshall's painting called "The Cormorant Seller". Whenever I post one of Laura's paintings, I always feel that I am introducing you to a dear friend. I point to her work and say -- "Look at what my friend sees! Here, here is her heart for us all to behold!"

Whenever I get together with Laura, I am greedy to have my eyes bathe in her work. She will ask me quite humbly if I am sure that I want to take the time to look at her sketches, and I fall over panting at the opportunity. It is as though she has this window that only she can look through, but she paints what she sees so we can all get a glimpse. That is the artist's gift and the artist's burden. To see beyond and to see rightly. And then to expose the seeing.

This is the same process as the process of faith and action - to see beyond - to see rightly - to expose the seeing.

I find myself using the language of faith and spirituality when I talk about art, whether it is Laura's or anyone else's. I talk about vision, and being true, and serving that truth.

But I am wandering from the Cormorant Seller, and I want to circle back to him if only for a moment. I love that he sells what is free. The birds, after all, are not bound. I wonder what he charges for one of them -- perhaps something, perhaps nothing - but for freedom? Perhaps everything.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye Oyasin:
This is a Lakota phrase that means "All are my Relations" and acknowledges that all beings past and present are joined and are inexorably part of each other. Of one hurts, we all hurt. If one is in joy, we are all in joy.

Romans 12:5
...We who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Isaiah 64:8
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

John Donne
...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee...

What will it take for us to understand our inter-relatedness?
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