Archive | July 2012

A Well Deep Inside

For me, the summer is usually a time of rest, relaxation and joy. Being outdoors day in and day out restores my spirit after the long winter and tenuous spring. I have been blessed to have more “free time” in the summer and to be surrounded by beautiful places, even our garden which this year has become a total wild place of flowers and weeds.  Of course life, with its sorrows and challenges does not stop and set aside while I sit here grinning in sheer pleasure. But for me, the glory of the summer season makes the rest of life not only tolerable but full and deep.

I know that this is not so for everyone. A very good friend of mine once told me that both spring and summer were her hardest seasons. Depression gripped on tight and it was incredibly painful for her to watch the rest of the world enjoying ourselves in the sun when all she felt was darkness and despair. Today I read a short meditation that gave me pause, in this summer season, to remember the sorrowful and those who struggle to find themselves deep in the bottom of the well of life. Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, who lived in Amsterdam and died in a concentration camp at age 29 years of age wrote the following. “There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.” Sometimes I am there too, says Hillesum, but sometimes not only she but God is buried under the rubble of pain, violence, or despair. When I read her words I remember my dear friend and how she too, with the grace of that same buried God, was able to start digging ever spring and every summer.

Hillesum wrote a daily diary for the last two years of her life. The struggle to find herself and the light of God is there in the diary for sure. But remarkably, the diary on the whole reflects a soul that was intimately connected with God and that was thick with gratitude for life itself. Hear her words and imagine, as I am imagining, how much she loved.

“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” “I must admit a new insight in my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation…. They are out to destroy us completely; we must accept that and go on from there…. Very well then … I accept it…. I work and continue to live with the same conviction and I find life meaningful…. I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short. And that is why I must try to live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.”

Etty lived her brief and intense life full of conviction that she, and every other being, of every race and creed, is a child of God and that her calling was to preserve and hold safe that place of God that is deep within, even when God was hard or impossible to find in the well that was her life.  Where does such faith and strength come from? How is it nurtured? And how can just knowing about someone like Etty, help guide the rest of us who falter on a regular basis? I have just ordered Etty’s diaries from my local library as I am now hungry for her words. Her words and her life are not only an inspiration but a confirmation that, as she so eloquently said “There is a really deep well in me and in it dwells God.” And if God dwells in our well, then somehow, we, the container for that well and for that God, must be there too.

May I, standing in my own patch of life, recall the well, recall the God who dwells there, and recall that this same God is in love with me and you and Etty. May all our souls rest in peace in every season of our lives


All About Water

We got home from “island life” last night and the first thing I did was jump in the shower, rinsing off the salt water and the silty mud and relishing in the hot water. Next I tossed in the laundry load upon load of clothing, bedding, towels and other soiled sundries (remember we have been on an island for almost 2 weeks!) After dinner and cleaning out the refrigerator we ran the dishwasher and finally crashed out in front of the fan. The crisp dry air of the Maine coast quickly became ancient history as the humidity rose to 86% before we got a summer rain. And all during this reentry into civilization of Amherst I turned my head back to the island where we had none of these appliances and where still everything was all about water.

If you have lived on an island and pretty much camped (which is what our cabin most closely resembles) you may understand what I mean when I say it is all about water. We “shower” in sun heated rain water so if there is no rain, we conserve what is in the rain barrel as much as possible. We get our drinking water from a spring on the island so again, if has not rained much (and it did not) we are always watching how low the water in the spring box is. We are on a tidal cove so our beloved swimming “pool” gets emptied and filled twice a day with the tides, so swimming is timed with the tides. High tide is the best of course! The tides affect how easy or hard it is to motor off the island and we need to keep a long line and anchor in our little skiff when we head out in case we decide to stop on another island and need to tie off the boat. And back at the cabin we heat up water to wash the dishes and again notice how much water we have, where it comes from, and how long it will take to get more. It is all about water.

From my vantage point now in Amherst, reflecting back on the island, it sounds like a tremendous amount of work and not even much fun. But in fact for me living that close to the land and that close to the source of cooling, cleansing, thirst quenching, life saving water was a blessing that I will never forget and that I look forward to returning to, sooner rather than later. To know just where my water comes from and to know how precious it is humbles me like nothing else. It is not convenient. It does not flow hot or cold from a tap the moment I want it. But living this way, even for a few weeks out of the year, shows me why water has been used for sacramental purposes all over the earth. It teaches me about want and waste, about need and desire, about soul sickness and healing, about true refreshment and about my place in the living chain. There are so many stories in both testaments of the Bible and now I know why. Water that covered the face of the earth. Water that flooded and water that disappeared into draught. Women gathering at the wells and sick and disabled people being held in pools of healing water. Water bursting out of the rocks and cool drinks of water shared between strangers. Walking on water and walking across the muddy floor when the waters were pushed back.  In my sacred scriptures it is all about water because water is truly life giving and misused it can hurt more than heal.

This summer I met a woman who lives in Arizona during the winter. Her Quaker meeting and the local Unitarian Universalist church have a shared ministry of bringing bottles of water to the boarder every night. They know that they cannot make a safe passage for folks trying to cross back and forth the Arizona Mexican border but they can offer life saving water.  Sometimes they come back the next night and see that the bottles have been smashed open and the water spilled on the dry earth. It is not the work of the migrants but another group of people, some who call themselves religious, who have purposely hurled the bottles to the ground in order to make a statement of their own. Water misused can not only deprive but can kill; kill the spirit and kill the body. And then the Quakers and the Unitarian Universalists double their efforts because they know that in the end, it is all about water.

Today, back home in Amherst I go to the tap and fill a glass of cold clean water and I remember the island and I remember Arizona, and I remember the personal and religious stories that have filled my life for so many years. It both gladdens my heart and sobers me to know that water really matters.

Means of Grace on the Island

Dorrie and I are settled in our island cabin, midway now in our July vacation and hoping for more time here in August. We do not have running water or electricity but we do have the sound of the ocean lapping in the cove, the company of my brother Michael and sister-in law Denise just a walk through the woods away, and a seemingly endless amount of time to just be. And yes, we can run our little boat across to a comfortable spot in the library to use the computer and recharge the phone. What more could we ask for?

All that we have here in Maine, and all that we have pretty much wherever we live, are gifts. Gifts from God, from the universe, our families, our genetics, our neighbors, our “station in life.”  Earlier this summer I was meditating on the idea of joy being happiness that does not depend on what happens. What I left out in that equation and that resonates with me today is that “the key to joy is gratefulness.” When I am grateful for what is, and for being able to notice what is, I can live for at least a moment in deep if fleeting joy. To be joyful is not to be thinking about what has already happened or what might happen or should happen. To be joyful is not even just to be “in the moment” but to respond in gratitude. Thank you God, for this.

Today I read a commentary on a passage in the Biblical letter from James, in which James encourages the early Christians to lean into the means of grace and in doing so to open themselves to God’s steadfast love.  The commentator talked about some of the traditional means (or routes) of grace that the Church recognizes; prayer, confession, the sacraments, scripture, works of mercy – all leading to healing and restoration of the spirit, or in more traditional language, salvation.

What was left out of that definition of means of grace, was the direct experience we have of God’s grace poured out in creation itself and our spontaneous grateful response.  Here on the island, surrounded as I am with the bounty of creation and experiencing my heart and mind being lifted out of anxiety and fear and into the swoop of the eagle’s wing as it soars above my head, I am leaning into another means by which God is quickening, strengthening, and confirming my faith and yes, saving me, one day at a time. Maybe what I am experiencing in this time-out-of-time on the island is a deep experience of prayer; the kind of prayer we call awe.

Thank you Michael and Denise for your gift to Dorrie and I of this time-out-of-time on the island in Maine. Thank you Spirit of Life that has swooped down this morning and lifted me up on eagles wings. Yes, the key to  joy is gratefulness.

Help My Unbelief

We are on the island in Maine now for almost two weeks. It is such a blessing to be in the quiet, dependent for the most part on candles, starlight, or last night a lightning storm, to give us light. Rain water washes off my salty skin after a dip in the cove. We had a hot and delicious dinner cooked over the fire. I am already loving the slower pace of life and I think that the blogging will be taking a back seat to the musing and gazing.

Yesterday I sat out on the dock and read the Scripture for the day and found there what I consider the most human, most faithful, and most truthful prayer in the Bible. In the Gospel of Mark the disciples have been out practicing their calling of healing and witnessing. They come back to Jesus frustrated because they have not been entirely successful. They were not able to drive away the evil spirits from a young man who had suffered from these seizure-like episodes most of his life. Jesus then spoke to the father of the man who asked Jesus if he is able, could he please just do something. Jesus is pretty affronted that the father doubts the power of faith and says basically that with belief, all things are possible. The father burst out “Oh Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” And Jesus calls out the spirit and heals the boy. When the disciples ask  they why were unsuccessful Jesus tells them that healings like this one need prayer.

So what was the prayer that made the difference? “Oh Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!” A prayer of testimony to the power of God “Oh Lord I believe” and at the same time a prayer of confession “I do not believe” and finally, within those two paradoxical statements, the deep trust that God, here manifest as Jesus, could in fact do what the father did not believe.  The prayer speaks of the deep faith that is manifest when we do not believe (and what human being does not live in that lack of belief/trust most of the time?) and still we somehow have enough trust that we can ask for help. In this prayer we see that belief and trust are interlinked, and maybe are even the same thing under a different name.

That prayer is what the disciples needed to pray. Sure  they could go out in the world and do what they were called to do but they needed, at least in this situation, to stop and admit that they were really as powerless as the afflicted people who they were called to heal. They, and we, could not heal on their own. Like the AA slogan, “fake it till you make it” the disciples needed to pray as the father did, faking their belief, while making their trust stronger by bringing it all back to God, in whom all things are possible.

Oh God I believe. Oh God I trust. Help my unbelief. Help my lack of trust. This is a prayer that I can pray every day, whether I am blessed to be on the island or back at home.

An Explosion of Light

A church friend in Winchendon is studying and living into Taoism. She suggested a collection of meditations (365 Daily Tao) for me to read so that I might get a glimmer of what Tao is all about. In the introduction to the book, Deng Ming- Dao reflected on people like me who are trying to explore Taoism. He said “365 Tao is an invitation to enter Tao every day. If you succeed in that, books and companions fade away, and the wonder of Tao is everything.”  In my own daily Christian spiritual practice of tending to my body through yoga, reading the morning lectionary, and on a good day writing a few words of my own, I too have experienced books and companions fading away and being left in awe. I decided to add a Taoist meditation to my morning devotions to see if there is any overlap or if the two religious traditions were miles apart.

Today the meditation was on pure light.  “Pure light is all colors. Therefore it has no hue. Only when singleness is scattered does color appear.” Think about the strong and overpowering light of the sun. We cannot stare into the sun but when the sunlight explodes into our atmosphere and strikes on any object, we can suddenly see the object clearly. This is not only true for life-giving light of the sun, but also for the Light that is the source of our very being. “Only”, says Deng Ming-Dao, “only when Tao enters our world does it explode into myriad things. But really, these things are only refractions of the great Tao.”

In reading this meditation I thought about how the Christ Light too was manifest, or refracted, when Jesus came into the world. Suddenly the Source of light was visible, tangible, and almost bearable. The singleness of what many people call the Divine, or God, or the Spirit of Light scattered and incarnated in time and space. In many Christian traditions the Light is understood to not only reside with the historical Jesus, or even the cosmic Christ, but in each and every one of us. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” But even more than us us choosing to let our own little light shine out on to the world, we, by our mere and glorious existence shine. And we shine, in a multitude of colors. “When light strikes the gossamer wings of a dragonfly, or when it shines through the misty rain, or even when it shines on the surface of our skin it is polarized into millions of tiny rainbows.”

The Tao enters our world and explodes into things.  Tao may or may not be another name for the Reality that is God, full and diverse and endlessly changing. I am too ignorant of Tao and God and cosmology and optics to be able to say. But somehow this morning when I read about the full spectrum of Tao I saw and heard the Light of Christ breaking through my meditation in a rainbow of color; alive, vibrant, and totally approachable. I saw and heard that light during the day as well as I walked through my world conscious that the Light is shining through the darkness of our days. That explosion is still being felt.