Perennial Wisdom

As I press on my journey, I find myself caught between not fitting comfortably into a given tradition and feeling connected to many traditions. My path seems to be as a Christian, carrying the backpack with a brand name of  Roman Catholic. The road is a winding one with hills and valleys, paved road and pig trail, desert, jungle and old growth forest. Just as with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, there are many “ways” which have many origination points. The path is marked with yellow arrows. Funny though — those arrows can be found in all sorts of places: on a tree, a sidewalk, a rock, the side of a building. Sometimes you miss one and get lost. Then, you find your way back to the last arrow you saw, or maybe the one you missed, and set off again carrying the experiences of the time lost with you. They all lead to Santiago de Compostela. And some pilgrims continue on to Finisterre and Muxia to see “the end of the world.”

On this Way, you often leave things behind as they become unnecessary to your journey. Maybe you find and pick up something discarded by another pilgrim that fills a need. You become a part of the journey itself.

I get a daily reflection from the Center for Active Contemplation (CAC — Richard Rohr). The above thoughts were brought to light after reading today’s reflection which included the following which came out of several meetings of people from different religious traditions:

The Snowmass Conference Eight Points of Agreement came into being. We include them here as a way of sharing a contemporary expression of perennial wisdom arising not from ancient texts but from the lived experience of contemporary mystics—women and men who, while coming from specific traditions, dare to step beyond them to see what is on its own terms.

The Eight Points of Agreement

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. [2]

Lessons from odd places

I know I have a problem — I like to play versions of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. I can get absorbed. I can use it to back off from the world (I’m a bit of an introvert and sometimes I do need to retreat).

That said, there are lessons to be learned from games. This morning’s “Aha!” is focus on the goal and let go of the unnecessary things — in games and in life. Were those 2 angry Red Birds that got left behind when all the bubbles tumbled down past an opened lock necessary to accomplish the goal? Uh — no, it turns out. But, I like using all of my special Red Birds (and Yellow Birds) and I didn’t get to make things explode with the 2 that got left behind! Let it go! They were distractions. Unnecessary to completing the goal.

And so with life. Sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my hurt, my sense of righteous indignation. I mean, that’s like letting the other guy win, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is necessary to leave these things on the table and walk away. Of course, I have to actually own the hurt, anger, frustration before I can actually lay it down and leave it on the table. I must admit that this person did indeed cause me a lot of pain and grief. I have to look at the present, and try not to let it be colored so intensely by the past. If he wants to converse with me now, and pretend it never happened, well — what am I losing by being present in the present and relaxing? I don’t forget exactly and I am cautious around him. But, not letting go (not forgiving) is really only hurting me it seems.

It’s hard to figure out sometimes why I hang on to some things: be they hurts or old tech, clothes that don’t fit or that I wouldn’t wear even if they did, photos that are out of focus and need to be deleted.  I just found a Garmin, an iPod mini and a Fitbit in a drawer. All dead as doornails.  Why do I keep them? I let negative reactions keep me from making contact with others. How are these things advancing me toward seeing/loving with God’s eyes? Hanging on to those clothes is a bit of hanging on to a past version of me.

Let it go!

 

Connections

Today’s “aha!”comes from a January reflection from CAC

…One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary. And as these two cells flow into one another, experiencing that one Life from the inside, they discover that “laying down one’s life for another” is not a loss of one’s self but a vast expansion of it—because the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self.

Love my neighbor as myself — that is ultimate connection. Lately I’ve been dealing with some personal interactions that are making that goal extremely difficult. I don’t even want to think of this woman as my neighbor, much less to love her. She’s done her best to make my life miserable. And, she seems to have no regret, or even acknowledgment of the pain she has caused. This is going to be a tough one. After all she seems to be saying that it’s all my fault and even after I made a sincere apology she is still out for blood.

My first step is to spend at least a part of Lent praying for her. Even that is rather difficult. I know it is necessary, but not in any way easy.

 

The Comma: Being and Doing

I read the numbers and understand that so many of my generation, and even more of those who follow behind, no longer attend church or ascribe to a particular faith. I, myself, while still attending mass on a regular basis, find that I feel estranged in many ways from “church.” It’s not estranged from God/Jesus/Spirit, but from this whole organized church thing. I find much peace, strength and connection through yoga, and reflecting on daily emails from CAC (Richard Rohr’s daily reflections) and from a small group of women who meet weekly to share our walk through life.

There was a time when “church” was a center point in my life. I’ve learned much, loved much, grown much through Christian community. Ah! That might be it — What I can’t seem to find in church these days is Christian Community. Perhaps I have simply withdrawn.

Recent reflections from Richard Rohr have brought to my attention “the great comma” in the Apostle’s Creed. In the creed there one says “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That comma is Jesus’s life here on earth where he walked among people and showed the way. I’m far more interested in the comma than what comes before and after. The birth and death, to me are not nearly as useful to me as what came between. One can certainly state (and believe) the words of the Creed (Apostles and Nicene) but never be transformed by the example shown in the comma.

I think the Church and society would do well to dwell on the comma more that the phrases around it. For example, when I come to my yoga mat for a practice, the focus is not what faith or creed I might follow. The focus is on the present: how does this body feel, am I anxious, just be in this moment and see where I am. Be. Listen. A good instructor (with a small class) can give pointers on alignment without judgement about how bad you are for not being in the best alignment. Encouragement to shift a bit closer to the goal if your body allows. Oh — and acknowledgement that people are built differently and will not all shape up the same way. Wow! What if the church took that approach?

What if the Catholic Church changed its tune about Communion? Maybe viewing it as Food for the Journey that should be offered to all who desire it? A gentle touch to help one get into right alignment? A chance to be in the Presence of a great teacher who showed the Way instead of a reward for checking off all the boxes of belief and external behavior. Something to receive when one is lost, or unsure as well as thanksgiving for the gift it offers. Then, perhaps, there would be a place for healing and transformation and a new way of looking at the world.

As John Lennon might have said: “you say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one…”

2019 — Looking Back, Looking Forward

Note: I don’t really expect anyone to wade through this long, rambling look at events in my life. I just need to write it so as to better see where I am.

My goal is to be in the present moment. But, sometimes life (and Facebook) pull up the past and tripper me to think how I got to the present moment. Then perhaps I can assess the present and rest there more easily.

Yesterday Facebook prompted me to share my status from New Years Eve 2015 (the day before New Years Day 2016). Here’s what I had written:

2015: No doubt I could have eaten less, walked more, run harder, prayed more and been more generous. But, I got to surprise a dear friend by turning up at a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination, the dogs and I have taken many walks, I’ve enjoyed biking the Gulf State Park, the house didn’t flood Christmas Eve and the tornado in Birmingham missed us by a few miles; I would have preferred to have a miracle for Molly over the miracle of Molly Praying for Molly Remmert Rossell,. It seems too many folks have left us this year. But, Henry turned 1 and there’s another grandson coming in the spring. A we still go out to dinner on Friday night with my mother. Welcome 2016! I’m sure the best is yet to come!

As I read this, I thought — “Wow! I was mighty optimistic about the coming year.” To be honest, 2016 brought a lot of changes. And 2017 even more changes and loss. 2018 has been a time to process and heal. I chose to look at the past 3 years as a period of growth. I choose to take the good.

When I wrote that reflection on the last day of 2015 much was different in my life. I had just finally taken a break from church music ministry.  I still lived in the same house where we lived for 31 years, and raised 3 children, several dogs and cats, survived a house fire and rebuilt. Less than 2 weeks later, on a dream trip to Hawaii to celebrate 40 years of marriage and revisit the place where we met, I stepped off of a banyan tree root and broke 2 bones in my leg (tibia at the ankle end and a spiral fracture in the fibula); The vacation was cut short, and it was almost April before I walked free again. 9 weeks of living non-weight-bearing on my left leg led to more changes. The realization that we could not grow old in that house because of accessibility issues was one of the things that moved us to move.

Letting go of my grounding on Windsor and moving was exciting. By August all was ready for closing and moving. In a space of 2 weeks we closed on the house we sold, found out my husband had colon cancer, closed on the new place and faced the surgery which fortunately removed all of the cancer — and moved. For the second time in a year, one of us was severely restricted for several weeks. By late October, I could ride bikes again and after a week of lots of riding down on the coast, my left ankle/foot finally gave up swelling. By Thanksgiving I realized I wasn’t panicking about falling with every step I took.

Just as JP got the “all clear” in early October, my brother in law got the bad news that he didn’t have appendicitis – he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He would begin chemo immediately, and do very well with it. JP and BIL had the same oncologist..

Not sure I would have evaluated 2016 as “the best!” Broken bones, 2 cancers, new house. We made it! We faced adversity with a semblance of grace. I understood within myself that my sabbatical from parish musician wasn’t a sabbatical. It was a retirement.

Enter 2017:  Gonna be calmer and better!!! Do want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans.

In February my mother’s cousin (more like a sister, Mama was an only child) fell and broke her hip. 5 days later they were planning her funeral. Mama wouldn’t go, probably mostly because of a fear of falling herself. She had been having problems with that. At about the same time, another of my mother’s cousins lost his wife to cancer.

In March, I watched family deal with a suicide of someone too young to die, and it seems, too broken to live.

By April, my step-brother had died of a massive heart attack. Mama went to that funeral. We had so much fun “driving Miss Martha” around Florence so she could take in the changes since she had moved away. The funeral service was a musical delight and the crowd in the church massive. 4 songs, all verses for communion. That was Mama’s last trip.

May found us saying “Good-bye” to Mama; a return to Florence for a smaller, low key funeral. By now I was feeling a bit shell shocked. But, BIL had been told he had reached the stage of maintenance treatment and should expect to live a full, healthy life.

June was full. Cooper, our 12 year old diabetic schnauzer  left us. When Cooper died I did shake my fist at the sky (at God) and holler. Too much! We left for vacation. My sister called: BIL had been feeling horrible. They were at UAB since his lymphoma had transformed into a double-hit lymphoma. He would spent most of his time for the next 4 months undergoing intense, debilitating chemo.

In September I retrieved him from the hospital after a round of chemo. We had to make several stops on the way home for him to relieve himself (diuretics are a bear!) and to buy him a hand dipped milkshake. He enjoyed it so much that he said I should have gotten him the big one. I had. He returned to the hospital less than 2 weeks later, where he died on October 8.

A part of writing this is to try to find my way through 2017. It is still a bit of a blur. You notice very few actual dates.

2018 must have been healing and loss. One of my son’s friends died suddenly at 32. We had known this child/boy/man since before he could walk. But his friends showed up from far and near for the day of remembrance. His mother is still reeling. A good friend’s husband passed in April. He was in his late 80’s and had been failing for a while. But, one is never truly ready to let go. We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday in May. Visited with her as she slipped out of consciousness in July and returned to RI for her funeral in August. And, by year’s end, our dear friend from church (and Sunday breakfast buddy) had gone home to heaven. On Sunday before Christmas, we said goodbye to Grace, our 15+ year old schnauzer (Cooper’s mother);

In the flow of life, 2018 was overall good. I went back to practicing yoga. I’ve continued trying to get back to a bit of running. I’m making peace with the music at church. We’ve ridden bikes. We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Birmingham with my brother and all of the remaining family. We spent Christmas in Florida with my oldest son and his family. Life is good. I find myself a bit more in touch with the eternal “I AM” and better centered in my day to day life. I do better at looking in the mirror and accepting and loving what I see.

For 2019 I pray for peace and grounding. My only resolution is that this is the year of purging [added] sugar from my diet. I’ll start right with cornbread, collard greens (for folding money), black eyed peas (for good luck and pocket change) and ham (hey! it’s pork for good luck just like hog jowls);

Happy New Year.

Leaving God for God

Today’s thought is brief, but incredibly deep and penetrating:  Leave God for God.

Let go of the the God I know, in order to know the God that is. If I can comprehend God, that’s not the full picture. It’s all so overwhelming. It makes me understand the “fear of the Lord” — not quaking fear of being punished, but awe of something, someone who is so far beyond knowing. Everytime I reach a place where I explain God, I come another edge of realization that I don’t know anything at all.

On a more concrete level, leaving God for God is something that Vincent [de Paul] seemed to understand. Leave church to serve and be church. That’s not to skip out all the time, but to realize that one must reach out and be church, and serve those around us. Sitting in church, going to mass, singing, etc can certainly act to ground us but then we must be moved to action or we’ve missed the point. Leave church and take care of the sick/poor/hurting/broken. Then return to give thanks. “Eucharist”, as I understand it means “thanksgiving.” Difficult to remember at times.

Off to the next edge of reality…