The Circle of My Arms

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Pentecost, the culmination of the Easter Season. Although saying the Easter season is at a “culmination” seems a strange way to express what for many is the high point of the church calendar. Okay. We’re done. No more Easter. No more transformation until next year. No more rebirth into new life. Words are such strange things and seldom express what is really meant.  I guess what I’d like to say is that Pentecost marks a transition point – a point of turning from looking at what happened to Jesus to looking at what has happened to us.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I began the idea of a blog by taking on the Lenten discipline, back in February, of writing a spiritual reflection each day for our community.  And for the six weeks of Lent, I wrote every day. If you’re interested in seeing any of those writings, go to The experience helped me understand, again, how important daily practice is to my well-being and it helped others through their late winter, early spring challenges.

During Lent this year, Cliff and I focused on the elemental forces in our lives – the elements being earth, air, water, fire. It seems fitting that this culmination of the Easter season once more focuses on elements – fire and air – and the power of those elements in our lives. Focusing on the elements also helped me focus and write about what was really elemental in my/our lives. What did we need, at base, to get through the changes and difficulties that faced us over a winter that would never end? The “element” changed, but the need to look at those pieces of our lives that are the most important to us remained. It’s interesting to note that on this day of writing about Pentecost, a hot wind is blowing from the south, the sun is bright, and our temperatures are reaching for the upper 80s. Up to today, we’d barely made it past the 70s. Fire and Air.

The traditional images of Pentecost are tongues of fire from Acts and Jesus breathing on his followers to impart his spirit in The Gospel of John. The author of Acts sees the presence of Spirit acting out in historical people and places. In physical action. The author of John presents Spirit working in the internal life. At the same time, all the gospels and Acts are “written from a post-resurrectional viewpoint,” as Ray Brown writes in Christ in the Gospels in the Liturgical Year. He goes on to say that “John’s gospel has the most pronounced post-resurrectional reinterpretation” of all the writings. In other words, none of these writings are eye-witness accounts, rather reinterpretations of the stories that had circulated about Jesus’ life and written with a particular audience in mind.

Forgive me for wandering away from musings and into hermeneutics, but I find the idea that “tongues of fire” and Jesus “breathing” on his followers is couched in terms drawn from the elements. Don’t we, most of the time, need to return to the elementals to make sense of words and experiences? It was as hot as fire;  it was as cold as ice. It was as hard as a rock. Sometimes we just can’t get much farther than that in our explaining.

How do we make sense of “send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth’? It looks, to our physical eyes, as if the world is more in a crumbling mode than a renewal mode. Each day, I scan the headlines of the NY Times just to keep abreast of what’s going on: oil spill in the Gulf; mining accidents; earthquakes; the volcano in Iceland – Iceland! – shutting down air traffic; an immigration law in Arizona that has people in an uproar; unemployment figures that don’t get any better; Wall Street having another meltdown; Europe now in a financial mess; the list could go on and on. Where is renewal in this? Where, one could even ask, is God in all this!

I’m reminded of an experience when I moved to Germany in 1973. I’d been active in politics, worked for McGovern, involved myself in civil rights and the woman’s movement, despaired at the Watergate mess that wouldn’t end. And then, our family was transferred to Germany. The only news I could get was in German on German television or in the Army’s newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. One could not call that a liberal news outlet. I despaired. I could not fight. I could not protest. I was removed from action.

I read. I read every book I could get my hands on in the military library system. And I remember reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, and while I don’t remember exactly what brought me to my breaking point, somewhere during that book, I decided I would no long man (or woman) the barricades, no longer fight, no longer protest. The world I would change would be the world within the circle of my two arms. I would change myself and those who came within that circle. I have held or been held to that decision ever since. Occasionally I inch myself out into some political cause or issue, but it never extends very long – or successfully.

I guess I could say I’m still changing the world that comes within the circle of my arms since my laptop, regardless of the wide reach of my readership, still fits within that space.

Which brings me back to Pentecost and to sending out Spirit. Perhaps the greatest gift we could offer the world right now is sending our own spirit into the world. Few of us can change what’s happening underwater in the Gulf or in Iceland or Afghanistan or in any of the other troubled areas of the world. But at the same time, I’m not suggesting apathy or disinterest. I’m not suggesting you get under the covers and wait all this out. I am suggesting that despairing the effects of others’ actions, of raging impotent at the world, is not effective. Too much rage against others’ actions turns to rage or despair against our own inaction or the actions of those near us.  It makes us blind to that which is around us. I’m suggesting that each of us can facilitate transformation where we are by our reactions and by simple, concrete acts of kindness. It is in those simple acts that we send out our spirit.

Think about it: how might the world change is we were to practice kindness? If we were to continue the transformation of the Easter season into transforming our lives? Now that’s an element we can all live with.

A red wagon

As the Holy One says, “Offer me an opening no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into openings through which wagons and carriages can pass.” Song of Songs 5:3

The morning is quiet and a heavy pall of clouds hangs over us although the day is forecasted to clear. We are, so says our favorite weatherman, to have several days of sunshine. A welcome change from all our rain. But at the moment, it’s quiet, no sirens, no birdsong, just a stillness as if the day is working to birth itself.

I feel the same stillness in me, am loath to begin the many tasks that I have ahead of me. Want to simply sit in this corner of my world and be in a place of waiting as the day waits. And so, I picked up a book from the top of a stack of books I have here at my side and read. This particular book is God is a Verb by Rabbi David A. Cooper. 

I picked it up because I want to NOT feel irritated today. There’s no reason for that feeling, I just felt a stubbornness in my body, a reluctance to address any other part of my life. And the section I opened to and read is titled “The Messianic Ideal.”

Isaac Luria, an influential Kabbalist who lived in the sixteenth century, taught that “the messiah comes through the continuous preparation of humans who constantly raise holy sparks until the world ultimately attains a higher consciousness.” I guess that’s what I’m reaching for today – a higher consciousness in the way I react to the day – and the continual clouds even after sunshine is predicted.

Rabbi Cooper then suggests to “imagine what would happen if the messiah were to come into the room.” And my body took a deep breath. Ah, now there’s a thought. How would the presence of loving kindness affect my body and my mind?

In these days, maybe in many days and times, we seem to be reaching for a future instead of being in the present. Waiting for peace rather than being in peace. What are we waiting for?

One of the many gifts of writing each morning, whether journaling or blogging, is that I’m brought back into the present moment. Words appear and with the words, a new understanding. And the reminder that I don’t have to wait, I can simply be. To be: the ontological present. Rather than shutting myself off to what is now by expecting a future, I can give myself the present of presence, and by opening myself just this bit, just this sliver the size of a needle, I’m able to laugh at myself – well, not out loud, but I am grinning. And if I’ve not yet gained the space for a carriage, perhaps a little red wagon would fit.

I’d like to have a wise and useful meditation for you this morning, but all I can give is the image of the eye of a needle. Find yours. See what comes through. Maybe only one hair – then two. And who knows, before the morning is over, you might even find your own red wagon – or maybe a tricycle.