I usually post a short reflection each day through Lent; this year, however, I’ll be posting it on the Community of the Incarnation blog. So if you, or others you know, would like to have a gentle reminder each day, please pass on the URL: cotikc.wordpress.com. Thank you. You’re welcome to join and welcome to unsubscribe once Lent is over.
In his book, Blessings in Disguise, Alec Guinness told the story of standing in line on Ash Wednesday, waiting for ashes. A small boy stood in front of him with an old man in front of the boy. Behind Guinness stood a young woman. And as each received the ashes, he or she heard, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
While in our community we prefer to use “Turn from your darkness and move to the light,” I appreciate the thought behind “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”
We are all components of the earth; our very bodies are made of the same elements. Though we’re all different from each other, we share, in common, earth, air, water, fire. Lent reminds us that we have a common bond.
So in this first day of Lent, pray that you remember you are not alone in your struggles and hurts. Pray to remember we have a common bond with the Earth and with all the people, animals, plants that inhabit this earth.
When you receive your ashes, be aware of all those around you who are also being challenged to grow and change. We have that common bond: the bond that says we are one; the need for each of us to change.
The world is whirling past as I sit here in my upper room, a square of window my companion. For the past several months, it’s been me whirling and I’ve not had much time for this companionable time just watching. This morning, conscious of having time to stop and sit, I looked out to see silver-white clouds dashing northward across a fresh blue sky and an airplane flying southward like a silver arrow through clouds to some target I can only surmise. A stray browned oak leaf whirls past in a wind-gust. And tree tops, light and feathery and freed of their burden, dance like a troupe of upside down ballerina legs on the sky, swaying to a song I cannot hear.
I am gifted by beauty, by quiet, by time.
A little booklet, “Advent Meditations from the Works of Henri J.M. Nouwen” sits by my side. From Monday, First Week of Advent, he writes about a meeting an old professor at Notre Dame who said, “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Each year when I read this meditation, I am reminded again of my own need to learn how complaints are my work. This fall, I’ve complained of being too busy, of being too tired, usually adding that life has also been filled with all kinds of gifts during this busy time – a book contract, working on a film, travel. And yet, the complaining, even if silent and to myself, seems to come more often than recognizing I had something to learn from the experience of weariness.
Nouwen goes on, “when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.”
Last evening I read a Facebook post from a poet-friend, Judith Bader Jones. She said she was clearing her calendar for the season to write poetry and bake cookies. Sounds like a plan.
Our tree is up, lights on the windows, and the semester coming to an end. If I grow tired in the coming weeks, I’ll practice understanding instead of impatience. I’ll practice watching and waiting for the rebirth of light.
The Creator of the Universe comes to us in these small ways – a dancing tree, a swaying leaf, a moment for reflection.
I’ve had some trouble re-anchoring after my visit to Hawaii. It’s the same trouble I have when I visit Mexico, both Mexico and Hawaii being lands where I’ve lived and where my spirit found peace and comfort. Even more, where the balance of feminine and masculine energies come together in a wholeness I don’t experience in many places.
When I lived in Hawaii in 1992, I’d already lived in Mexico for three years, and I felt confounded and amazed from time to time about how much I remembered Mexico in a sameness that nurtured me. The ocean and beaches of course, but also the craggy land and the cattle and goats roaming free across scrubby land. The wide-open and often barren stretches of land. And when I speak of Hawaii, I’m talking about Hawaii Island rather than the entirety of the island chain.
It’s taken some time of wondering and thinking to come to a theory of why it’s difficult for me to be back. The only one that makes any sense is to say that the strength of both feminine and masculine energies feeds me in a way I’m not fed in the center of the country.
People who visit Mexico and Hawaii, even New Mexico for that matter, have a tendency to say “how beautiful” without really considering what they are saying. Yes. Each of those three places is beautiful. But they are also each fierce and tough. And while I have lived in each place, and don’t want to live there full-time again, I do yearn for that balance of beauty and fierce that softens my shoulders and puts a glide in my step.
They are easy places for me, who is tough and gentle, to feel at home.
In Mexico, and in Hawaii, the sacred is an everyday part of life rather than an after thought or a Sunday church service. Perhaps because in both places, a ruling class came in and took over and the indigenous peoples held on to the sacred quality of their life as a refuge. But for whatever reason, the sacred is a part of the air and wind, a part of the scent of sea or desert or jungle. And the ancient sacred lives comfortably alongside modern religions. There’s no separateness. There is only a recognition of the whole.
In Palenque, in the depths of jungle green and misty clouds, the sacred rumbles just below conscious hearing.
And the divine feminine is a visible part of the whole.
At the famous Painted Church on Hawaii, the church building is justly famous for its colors and murals, and in the cemetery below, among neatly lined up white crosses, a lady stands on a natural rocky formation with a kneeling figure below her.
This is probably a statue of Mary although no name is given it on a plaque beside the rock. She could as easily be called the Lady of the Waves as she stands between the petitioner and the waves of the wide sea behind her. People have prayed to the divine feminine and asked for protection for countless centuries, long before Christianity.
Is the Protestant energy that founded this country responsible for the current “War on Women?” An anti-cleric, anti-Catholic history in this country may also account for the lack of wholly and holy feminine energy in all our lives, even today.
I wonder if that’s why a President’s wife is so important. She represents a feminine power source close to the top.
And that brings me to laughter. In Mexico and in Hawaii, laughter is close to the surface and bubbling over into conversations all the time. Laughter is a part of life. Laughter is a part of everyday living and conversations, sometimes just a conversation with self.
This man from Mexico laughed all the time as he talked to me and as I struggled to make coherent sentences in Spanish. He laughed in delight at my clumsy attempts and he laughed to encourage me. In Hawaii, people laughed all the time: while dancing hula, shopping for gas, dropping a bag – oh, oops. And we talked story. By buying a container of pickled ginger, a simple purchase, I also bought laughter and stories of family and grandchildren.
And maybe, at base, it’s the mystery I miss. A mystery of why and how, the mystery of being a human on this life journey with other humans, a mystery of jungles and sea, of craggy mountains, and hidden walks.
And maybe what I’ve learned in all this musing and looking at photos and wondering and writing, is that I ask why all too often. Too often I try to figure things out, a very American characteristic, it seems. Maybe I just need to live in the mystery and let all of the rest of it be as it will.