I’ve posted some thoughts on Advent on the Community of the Incarnation blog.
I’ve posted some thoughts on Advent on the Community of the Incarnation blog.
Advent begins tomorrow. This season brings a certain peace if we’re willing to remember and define a peace for ourselves. We always have a choice: bemoan the hustle and bustle and commercialism, get caught up in the turmoil of finding the right gift or impressive holiday decorations or the fabulous party outfit or the best sale, or we can turn within to wait for rebirth.
The value of having a spiritual life, regardless of the religion or the lack of religion, is remembering and celebrating rebirth.
There’s no doubt it’s been a stressful and chaotic year—from wars and rebellion to drought to flood to an acrimonious election season that seemed never-ending. And it’s not just the external out-there world in chaos: families have grieved a death or divorce, children have been hurt, adults suffered. We’ve each had our share of aches and hurt.
A long year of endless change and turmoil, re-doing, re-evaluating, reviewing, and nothing ever seemed done-done. There was always another detail, another “hanging chad” to reckon with. The to-do lists have grown, the marking off of the to-dos has become elusive.
And yet. It’s Advent.
Each December we have four weeks to watch and wait: for Solstice, Hanukah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, the New Year. Regardless of our tradition, every year we have four weeks to reflect and welcome the rebirth of light. Every year, we have an invitation to open ourselves to the faith-filled journey that we, and the world, will renew, that we will go on.
In our house, we celebrate Christmas, but we also celebrate Solstice. The earth tips, even if we don’t notice, and begins its journey back to summer. We all have a chance to be rebirthed in light.
The pause in the earth’s tipping has been a sacred time of reckoning for people since ancient times, and in our family for a very long time. Perhaps it comes from being people of the land, attached to farm and sky and earth.
I remember my mother marking the place in the middle of the winter-bare lilac bush, lonely at the far corner of the yard. It was her yardstick in the march of seasons. As December progressed, she’d look out the west window to see the sun set, to watch its glow as it passed through the far edge of the twiggy bush toward the center. And then the earth paused, and she watched as the sun began its journey north again, out of the lilac bush and into open sky.
Dad, and those of us kids who worked outside (and all of us did at one time or another) watched the gathering stars as we trudged back to the house after evening chores. I don’t know which bright star we followed (Venus setting that year? Jupiter on the horizon? Sirius?) but we all learned to follow a star, our star, in one way or another.
Will you remind yourself to take time to enjoy these four short weeks? If the earth can pause, so can we.
Which star will you follow this season of December? Which journey will you make?
The first days of the New Year of 2012 have conspired to create a philosophical wondering trailing me as I’ve gone about the rest of my life. The first three incidents occurred on New Year’s Day with an essay, “On Modern Time,” by Espen Hammer in the New York Times; the second was a travel article by Susan Gregory Thomas on her silent retreat time at a Jesuit center in Pennsylvania, and the third was the silent service we held at church that day.
One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how to create more quiet time in my life when nothing needed doing, when I could simply be. And what that would look like anyway. This morning, I wrote in my journal, “Too many little undone pieces rule my life.” Rewrites on a book; email correspondence; repairs on the house; catch up with farm business and home business; and just recently discovering that my mother, dead these past ten years, has left a trail of “unclaimed property” in the states she lived in, all because I read a newspaper article on unclaimed property in Kansas and wondered, hmmmmm. Wonder if any of my family….. and yes, my mother had left behind a breadcrumb trail through the years.
But it’s January and much as we’d like to move into a new year fresh and clean, much is left over from the old year to clean up and complete. We all have tasks undone.
Espen Hammer wrote that before the advent of the pocket watch in the 16th Century, time was measured by the light slowing growing and in the sounds of birds. That’s still how I wake in the summertime. In winter, I’m more inclined to be the old bear slowing rolling over in her fur for another nap.
Hammer goes on to say that modern society is really unimaginable without clocktime and however we’d like to slow things down, not be ruled by a clock, we aren’t at the same time willing to give up the conveniences of modern life. Anyone want to return to living in the Middle Ages? No shower; no weather stripping or double sealed windows? Lots of cow dung?? I doubt it no matter how seductive returning to an earlier time may seem.
Our lives are ruled by time. Even at the Jesuit retreat center, Susan Gregory Thomas promptly arrived at 1:15 p.m. for her appointment with the spiritual director. But a line near the end was telling: “I did, indeed, have everything I needed–if only I would stay quiet long enough to remember.” Ah. Yes. To Be Quiet. To Remember.
On New Year’s Day, as we were setting up for our church service, we discovered that my husband Cliff, who never forgets anything, forgot the recorded music we use for meditation, offertory, and communion. A fast (and chaotic) dash home? he wondered. No. Wait. Make the service a silent service. And we did; and it was beautiful.
It was interesting to see how the unaccustomed silence unbalanced everything. Our community, like each of us individually, is used to a certain pattern to things, to a certain timing, if you will. Changing the pattern of music, which is a transitional marker in our services, set everyone to wobbling a bit. Cliff’s homily, on reflection as the new year begins, was perfect.
And then, a week later, we came to Epiphany. The theologian, Richard Rohr, wrote, “An epiphany is not an idea…but a truly new experience…” We can do anything with ideas, but an epiphany causes us to have an experience and an experience “demands that the whole person be present and active.” In being present and active, we interact with other human beings rather than just thoughts.
So here’s my New Year’s wish for you: may your year be filled with balanced silences–not measured silences necessarily although “time” for meditation is useful–rather silent moments to collect yourself, to remember you have all you need, to rattle the usual patterns of your life, and to absorb the epiphanies that come, calling you into action.
Up on the farm for a few days this week, I had time to stare out the window and be with the land and sky. I began thinking about something a reader posted a few days ago in response to my line, “Who will we be when we are no longer who we are.” Her response was “perhaps we will just be rather than do.”
I thought about being and doing. What does it mean to BE human? If I remember my anthropology more or less accurately, the use of tools, and more to the point, the construction of tools, separates humans from primates. While primates use items they find as tools, a stick, for example, to dig grubs, they do not build tools. Humans build tools.
Early hunter/gatherers chipped flint for knives and spear tips; they made bags for gathering from animal skins or reeds; they formed and baked pottery. Humans have learned, and evolved, from doing; the history of civilizations comes from humans doing. The history of thought, on the other hand, comes from being – although the philosophers, and the mystics, still had to “do” the work of writing to tell us what they’d learned. Plato distinguished his “duality” of reality as existing between the world of “being” and becoming.” In order to “become” one must “do.”
I spend a lot of time being when I’m here on the farm. I gaze out the window across the tallgrass prairie. Nothing to see, really. Chin in hand, I lean against the desk, stare out the window. The only thing that moves are my eyes, following the swallows zigzagging across the ripe grass heads. Swallows eat insects, mid-flight, so I imagine that’s what they’re doing.
Yesterday, as I was hooking up the water to the camper, I saw a young bull snake about two foot long, lying stretched out in the grass beside a tree, its head raised and resting on a piece of bark. Sunlight polished black skin and picked up gold-brown shades that wrapped under its belly. It didn’t see me coming, but when I dropped the end of the hose, it whipped itself back into pleats, head up, wary. Perceiving no other threat, it slid up the trunk of the tree and disappeared.
I was sorry, then, to have disturbed it. It was cute, really, lying full length in the sun, its head tipped up as a sunbather might, except with no arms to cup under its chin. It was, quite simply, being a snake. Both in its resting and in its movement.
Where’s the balance between the stretched out black snake and this human who’s busy hooking up water? I suspect it comes by each of us finding the integration between the two verbs, “to be” and “to do” rather than eliminating one or the other.
I wonder if that’s also the balance point between Martha and Mary. At a moment in their story, Mary sits and listens to Jesus, absorbing what he teaches, and Martha scurries around preparing food for the people gathered. Jesus tells Martha that she’s worried about many things. And he reminds her one thing only is needed. Even while she is doing, she only needs to be. Be present. Right now. With what you’re doing rather than worrying and fussing that something more is needed.
Many of us are scurrying around these days, fussing about things that need doing. Or that others are or are not doing.
Nature once more gives the lesson: the swallows have to “be” present and conscious in their flight to catch insects, themselves in mid-flight. Watching swallows swoop and soar, circle and swoop, is a perfect example of integrating being and doing. Swallows have learned the balance. The young bull snake, balanced in its self of being, was able to react in the balance of doing.
When we are conscious of what we are doing, we are able to be present. Be still, the Hebrew scriptures say, and know I am God. In other words, while you are doing, be present to your essential self.
That is our constant lesson: to be present in what we are doing. For example, as you are reading and thinking right now, feel your breath and feel it expand your body and your consciousness. Feel how wide your essential self expands beyond the boundaries of your skin. Think of yourself as soaring, mid-flight in your life, in balance. Doing what you need to do in this particular moment. You might even find yourself smiling.
“There is need of only one thing.” And the overriding and necessary thing in the world today is balance. And when you are in balance, your spirit soars and the sun rests lightly on your polished skin.
How much did you take with you when you last traveled? I have a tendency to take everything I might need: books, make-up, hair dryer, my special shampoo, Advil (I can’t buy Advil where I’m going??). I leave little to chance while at the same time, know I can buy whatever I forget. My consciousness is focused on want, on possibilities rather than on reality.
I’m reminded of the movie, “What The Bleep….Do We Know?” and of one scene where a young boy is playing basketball. When the lead character walks up, he tosses the ball to her and says, “take a shot.” She misses and he goes on to demonstrates how the frustration and tension she carries, along with the doubt of her ability, creates her inability to make the shot. In a moment when the woman turns away, the scene shows a multitude of basketballs bouncing between her and the boy; but when she turns around, she sees only one. Her observation changed the possibility of many basketballs into one. The film is about quantum realities, biocentrism, and how the mind creates what we observe as our reality.
When you think about it, our bodies themselves are only representations of what we’ve created in our minds – the brain can’t “see” through the bone surrounding it. Our eyes and our senses tell the brain what to believe.
We assume everything that we observe is “out there.” But our task is to become conscious of what we don’t know, of possibilities rather than realities. We must be conscious and observe in order to make things in any way real.
Think about the last time you had an argument with someone. Wasn’t it because the two of you weren’t really understanding what the other meant? We assume we know rather than remain in our own place of peace and consider possibilities.
Look again at what Jesus says: don’t load yourself down, offer peace; if it’s received, your peace includes the other person; if not, you can still retain your own peace. It’s your consciousness that creates which reality you live.
We know what tension does to our bodies – it hunches our shoulders, makes our stomach hurt, our heads hurt, our emotions flare. Why do we choose others’ tensions to create our own realities?
None of this means we need to allow abuse. At the end of this teaching passage, Jesus goes on to say that if y0u aren’t welcomed, walk away, shake the dust off your feet and move on. Retain the reality of your own peace and allow others to find their own reality.
As humans, we can’t change the world “out there.” The only world we can change is in here. And that’s the difficult message time after time. To change the world, we must change ourselves. To find peace, we must become peaceful.