Sitting on a remote New England hillside relishing the color of the season’s splendor, I am mindful of my privilege. I choose to live here, and I have the resources to live my choices.
I am grateful for all that surrounds me, beginning with the people and relationships that are most dear. At the same time, something inside nudges me toward a deeper awakening. Unlike the proverbial fish, presumably unconscious of the water it swims in, I seek greater awareness of my privilege, to what extent I “earned” it and what I owe for its exercise.
Responding to that nudge, I have taken a modest step and joined other leaders in our state in guided conversations about our privilege. Our focus is to better understand our advantages as white people and how those dynamics intersect with the realities of people of color.
The vexing dynamics of race will only amplify in the coming decades, as our country becomes a “minority” majority. There is no escaping this tide, even in a rural state like NH.
Each of us has choices in the face of difficult times. One of my morning readings provides me with grounding in the face of overwhelming challenges. May it center you as well for the choices you are making in your own life.
Empower me to be a bold participant, rather than a timid saint in waiting, in the difficult ordinariness of now; to exercise the authority of honesty, rather than to defer to power, or deceive to get it; to influence someone for justice, rather than impress anyone for gain; and, by grace, to find treasures of joy, or friendship, of peace hidden in the fields of the daily you give me to plow. – Ted Loder
Feeling the fissures in our nation’s economic, cultural and political life, I was reminded this week of a word I learned in seminary. Most often associated with religion, the word also applies to our secular life. It calls me back to basics. Maybe it will for you too.
The word is liturgy. Most often associated with rituals of worship, it refers to the ceremonies a community uses to convey the content of its faith and express its gratitude. Using words, music, movement and symbols, liturgy dramatizes core beliefs and behavior.
The Greek roots of the word liturgy literally mean – the work of the people – which extends beyond religion to society as a whole. In a democracy “the work” involves several tasks.
First, there is being true to one’s individual values and beliefs. Humility involves an accurate self-assessment of both strengths and weaknesses and the courage to show up with personal integrity.
Then, there is the recognition that we belong to a larger whole that includes people who are different from us. Our lives are inextricably linked. One piece of our work is to understand our differences and seek to find common ground.
Finally, in a diverse society our discourse and commerce require us to treat each other with respect and fairness. One place that each of us can begin to make a difference is to treat each other more kindly. When we do, rather than appeal to our worst instincts, we elicit the best in each other, even if and as we may disagree.
Few sources convey the work of the people more simply and powerfully than the prophet Micah.
…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)
I have just returned from a week in Colorado where I attended the annual gathering of a community of healers that I have been part of for several years. They partner with horses to coach clients. When they reconnect, their smiles, laughter and sharing wash over the arena like a tsunami of the heart.
While together they challenge each other and share best practices. They stretch themselves with renewed intentions that move them toward their respective horizons. It is not all easy. There are shadows and trolls en route for each of us. However, if you were a stranger who wandered into their space, you would be struck by the light of their smiles as a lingering impression.
Meanwhile, back on the east coast a friend enters hospice for his final chapter on this plane. As I hold him in prayer, I see his face and the twinkle in his eye that accompanies his smile.
Is it serendipitous that my meditation reading this morning framed the energy of the healers, my friend and each of us in terms of our legacy? We may find it modest and but one of many aspects of our lives, but we should never underestimate its impact.
Those who are beautiful – who can keep them as they are?
Unceasingly in their faces the life in them arises and goes forth.
Like dew from morning grass, like steam from a plate of food,
what is ours goes out from us.
Where does a smile go, or the upward glance, the sudden warm movement of the heart?
Yet that is what we are. Does the universe we dissolve into taste of us a little?
From Rilke’s Second Duino Elegy
One of the blessings of this week was a phone call with an old friend, a colleague from years ago. We caught up on each other’s lives, acknowledged the work we had done together and recognized that our connections of the heart cultivated long ago persist.
Each of us travels through life with cohorts. Circumstance brings us together but it is our choices and actions within those situations (or afterward) that create and sustain friendships.
Last weekend Peggy and I visited a college classmate and his partner. They surprised us with tickets to a Paul Stookey concert. Still writing songs at 78 and protesting the ascendance of our human failings, Stookey’s humor, insight and compassion seen in his days with Peter, Paul and Mary, triggered a chain of reflections that landed on this blog with a song from the same era.
Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends captures the wistfulness of this stage of life for me. Sung in their youth the lyrics anticipated a poignant marker: “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be seventy.”
Old friends come in two categories that sometimes coincide: the length of time we have known each other and the experiences shared; or the depth of the connection, like old souls who journeyed together in past lives.
Take a moment to enjoy the song and bring to mind your own friends. If you haven’t talked with them lately, it may be time to reach out.
Old friends. Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear.
Time it was, and what a time it was.
It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph…
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.
In an article this week, Why American Leadership Fails, David Brooks differentiates between a career and a vocation. While the main thrust of his commentary is to illustrate current political dynamics, the distinction applies to each of us on our own life’s path.
A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to. A person choosing a career asks, how can I get the best job…? A person summoned by a vocation asks, how can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?
A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.
A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur. As others have noted, it involves a double negative – you can’t not do this thing.
As one who coaches others to live their lives fully, I find the double negative compelling. The question becomes, how do we discover the thing we can’t not do?
One answer is to clarify what we value most and the things we do best. What pursuits yield our greatest joy? What activities bring us the greatest fulfilment? Who are the people and what are the situations that most attract us?
Students and grads of the equine coaching program with whom Peggy and I work have found their calling and are developing it. You are blessed if you can you say the same about your own path. If not yet, then is it not time to take your next step?
What is it that you long for? A relationship nurtured in love? A purpose that brings fullfilment? A work of creation you cannot ignore? A community that is just and compassionate? A planet that sustains the variety and interdependence of its living members?
Whatever our longings, they are bells of the spirit that we ignore at our peril. Krista Tippet’s interview with Joanna Macy brought this home to me last week. A scholar of Buddhism and systems thinking, Macy is a respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology. She is also a translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.
During the interview Macy shared one of Rilke’s poems (Book of Hours, I 59) that captures the link between our longing and why we are here. It challenges us to explore if and how we may be limiting ourselves, and it encourages us to press forward with our longings beyond what we might have thought possible.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
When the world of humans saps our sensibilities and we seek to escape the media’s gravitational pull, Peggy and I often turn to nature. This past week we sought a favorite cove on the Maine coast to reconnect with family and friends and to replenish our spirits.
A long open porch offers an expansive view of the bay in front of us. Throughout the day it beckons, hosting individual moments of solitude, quiet sharing with another, spirited ripostes when our numbers swell and of course the repartee and laughter of our meals.
Less than a hundred yards from the porch a sun bleached branch of a long dead tree looms over the cove, offering the perfect hunting perch for the local ospreys. The porch provides a protected but open view from which we track their coming and going, welcome their distinctive cry and marvel at their tutelage of their young. While we have seen it many times, their dive for the mackerel below followed by a telltale splash remains a basic thrill to witness.
This year the routines of the ospreys are disrupted by the arrival of two bald eagles who quickly establish their dominance over the perch and the fishing grounds below. While the ospreys percuss they reluctantly yield to their more powerful cousins.
The proximity of the eagles strikes a deeper chord of wonder, mystery and admiration. It’s easy to see how humans adopt them as symbols, hoping to appropriate even in small measure the strength and independence of these magnificent birds.
The eagles pay us little heed. And why should they? The question arises, who is the visitor here? My struggle for answers brings me full circle to the impulse that brought us back to the cove. Who is the visitor here?
The tendency is to turn outward – for validation, for reprisal or simply to vent. I guess it is a natural default for most of us. Expressing our happiness, affection, anger or fear affirms that we are not alone. We belong to a larger community that shares our history, values, perceptions or temperaments.
The physical and emotional violence on display around the globe each day can be overwhelming. Add to that cauldron the personal challenges each of us faces with our relationships, livelihood and health. Where do we turn for grounding?
A reading I came across recently suggests that an important part of the answer has to do with turning inward. It is a translation of words from Lao Tzu from centuries past found in M. J. Ryan’s collection, A Grateful Heart. I offer it as a reminder that focusing on calming our inner turmoil may be a first step in bringing our peace to the world outside.
Always we hope
someone else has the answer.
Some other place will be better,
some other time it will all turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.
At the center of your being you have the answer;
You know who you are and you know what you want.
There is no need
to run outside
for better seeing.
Nor to peer from a window.
at the center of your being;
For the more you leave it
the less you learn.
Search your heart
the way to do
is to be.
It is early Sunday morning. The candle burns without a flicker in the still air of the room. Rain begins tapping gently on the skylight, its arrival a surprise. As the tempo increases the mantra of my meditation yields to the refrain of camp directors I once knew. It is a silver day.
Implicit in that message were two expectations. On the one hand, it informed campers and staff that most activities would be held indoors or special gear was needed for being outside. At a more sublime level the announcement was a pivot to channel any potential disappointment into opportunity.
There are many silver linings to a rainy day. On our hillside the thirsty garden drinks, as do the parched fields. The empty brook bed sings again accompanied by the chorus of forest leaves deflecting the downpour. The bird baths fill. Outdoor projects yield to unfinished work inside. It is a metaphor for turning inward, and for those of us who are introverts inward is home base!
The greatest lesson of a silver day is a reminder about the power of expectations. They shape our attitudes and effort which in turn influence the way we show up. A quote attributed to Henry Ford says it all: If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!
What does a rainy day say to you? Do your expectations shift? Do you anticipate a rainbow?
My head and heart ache from the latest killings and what they represent. I understand that our divisions arise from separate realities. The daily barrage of our endless political drama only fans the flames of difference, polarizing us in our disparities of race, culture, education, income and opportunity.
As my head grasps, my heart recoils. Does human life mean no more than pop-up characters on a screen easily dispatched with the press of a button? Are the lives of other creatures and the planet’s resources nothing more than a means to a better bottom line? Will we ever reach a point of a collective NO, in order to affirm a more just, loving and sustainable YES?
One of the only things we do control in life, whatever our circumstances, is our attitude. Only when we change our attitude will we modulate our words and actions. I have been encouraged by a growing number of citizen voices and those of a few leaders who are summoning the better angels in themselves and reaching out to others to do the same.
As each of us reflects on what we can do in our own circumstances, may these lines from a prayer for world peace inspire our attitude.
We pray for the power to be gentle: the strength to be forgiving; the patience to be understanding; and the endurance to accept the consequences of holding to what we believe to be right.
May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred. We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence, a new world where fear shall no longer lead people to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.