Somebody done somebody wrong

Reading: Matthew 5:39

Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25

[Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 66]

The quote has a few more lines, taken from a larger writing. Without a context, these words wouldn’t make any sense to me. What does he mean, let him see to it?

Hanselman and Holiday put these lines in a larger framework – controlling how we respond to people who have caused us harm. Another way to say this: Somebody done me wrong? He/She has to live with it (not me).

In one sense, this isn’t true; if someone burns down my house or crashes into my car, I have to deal with the damage. Real consequences fall to me because someone else behaved badly. In another sense, it is absolutely true; my inner life doesn’t have to suffer because of this event – unless I choose to hold on to anger and resentment because of the damage. The one who caused the damage has to square himself/herself with the actions and results.

This is the kicker: if I choose to let go of any negative feelings the damage created, I choose to forgive the one who caused it. To save my inner life the turmoil and damage that resentment and revenge bring, I cannot exact revenge. My freedom comes when I free the one who hurt me.

There are always consequences to damage and hurt  – breaks need to be healed, reality restored. But whether the souls of the people involved are blighted by the experience is optional. I can choose to let it all go. The one who done me wrong? He/She will see to it with a better chance to refrain from harm in the future if I refrain from returning damage for damage.

But I’d be kidding myself if I said it was easy. Wise, yes, but not easy.

So Sad…

Reading: Matthew 5:1-11

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,

the more joy you can contain.

Kahlil Gibran

[Daily Peace, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2015, Feb. 23]

Sorrow is my recognition that whatever is absent from my life has left an impression behind, an almost physical cavity that will be filled by something; it could be joy, but it might be something else.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama talks about sadness as a part of life that can lead to a deeper life or a lesser life:

Focus only on the Self:

If your focus while grieving remains mostly on yourself – ‘What am I going to do now? How can I cope?’ – then there is a greater danger of going down the path of despair and depression.

Focus moving beyond the Self:

With the great sadness of the loss, one can live an even more meaningful life.

[the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy, New York: Avery, 2016, p.112]

Sorrow brings blessings, but only if I don’t cut myself off from the rest of the world. Recognize the loss, accept the sorrow, allow it to soften me, and remain part of the life around me.

Blessed are those who mourn…blessed are you and I when we mourn.

Blessed Peace

Reading: Matthew 5:1-11

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

You cannot find peace by avoiding life.

Sir David Hare, British screenwriter and playwright

As my friend, Bill Albritton, is fond of pointing out: it’s the peacemakers, not the peaceful who are called blessed and will be called the children of God. Not that the two are mutually exclusive – in the best of circumstances they reside together, giving a calm center to those who work for peace and spurring the ones living a serene inner life into public service and action. Peace isn’t the same thing as lack of contact with life in all its diversity. Hiding from my inner reality and shying away from the messiness of the world is a recipe for boredom and superficiality – not remotely the same thing as peace.

In the past few years, serving on a municipal board has brought its frustrations. The municipal leaders’ lack of a fruitful vision of and compassion for the people they were elected to serve has caused many a good person to throw hands in the air and walk away. Rude behavior at public meetings, refusal to recognize anything beyond personal likes or gain, and unwillingness to admit to mistakes and misjudgments are enough to make anyone angry, bitter, and exhausted physically and emotionally. No good deed goes unpunished runs through my mind at these times – not exactly biblical, but it sure feels like the truth some days.

Matching bad behavior with bad behavior won’t bring about change for the better – at least not in a permanent way. Hearts and minds are not expanded and opened by snide and demeaning comments. Sarcasm is a conversation killer, distressing to the one on the receiving end and revealing the user’s fear and mistrust of true conversation.  Even if verbal retaliation feels better in the immediate sense, it makes the encounter an act of war rather than peace. It will damage people on both sides. I’d rather have a conversation than a fight.

I don’t want to avoid life’s frustrations, and I don’t want to add to the conflict already alive and well in this world of mine. That means I have to seek peace as an internal state as well as work for peace in an all too flawed communal life. Perhaps this is the challenge of a lifetime. Perhaps it’s also a blessing…

[Quote from Daily Peace: 365 Days of Renewal, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2017, Feb. 17]

An Incomplete Truth

Reading: John 8: 31b-32

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (NRSV)

The truth will set you free.

But not until it is finished with you.

David Foster Wallace

(Daily Peace, Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 2015, Feb. 15 quote)

David Foster Wallace was brilliant, productive, and curious. He looked into the world, seeking its core and its cohesion: seeking its truth both in the physical sense and in a more societal and communal sense. Suffering from depression for many years, he hanged himself in 2008. He was 46 years old.

I think he’s right – the truth won’t set anyone free until it’s finished with him or her. No one seeking truth comes back unchanged because truth opens eyes and challenges the boundaries of personal and communal understanding and knowledge. It tears apart the partial to replace it with something larger, then tears it apart again in a never-ending process of expansion. For some of us, this is the adventure of a lifetime; for some of us, it is endless striving without relief. In the process, the reality of self emerges just as surely as the nature of the world does – in glimpses, flashes of insight, and hard won understanding. The truth of this whole process will set you free, indeed.

As much as David Foster Wallace was right, his quote is only partially right. The truth as an outer reality or as an inner reality is only part of the story, just as the truth shall set you free is only part of a larger sentence. If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples is the proviso almost always left out. Something critical is lost when the second part is removed from the relationship of seekers to God-With-Us/Jesus. It is perilous to the soul if truth is understood as a solo pursuit, or even as a communal effort, if it isn’t attached to another truth: God seeks us. The truth, or the Truth, isn’t a disconnected reality: it’s the gift of a creator who loves each living thing, each single thing from sub-atomic particle to universe. No one is alone, everyone is loved, and the truth frees us to live with the consequences of this infinite belonging. When truth opens our eyes and reveals us for who we are, we can see it as blessing only in the embrace of the God who created us, seeks us always, and holds us fast. Without knowing how infinitely precious and loved we are, how could we endure our infinitesimally brief existences?

Gracious God, hold my hand and set me free. Amen.

For more reading on this subject:

Heschel, Abraham Joshua; Man is not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951

Heschel, Abraham Joshua; God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1955)

Changed by Power?

Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

Hero or Nero? is a meditation from The Daily Stoic – a good rhyme as well as an intriguing read. The point made: whether power corrupts depends upon the character of the person who wields it. In the words of Holiday and Hanselman:

It looks like it comes down, in many ways, to the inner strength and self-awareness of individuals – what they value, what desires they keep in check, whether their understanding of fairness and justice can counteract the temptations of unlimited wealth and deference.

Lent is a time for taking stock of inner resources. Understanding my strengths can lead to a deeper sense of self, greater gratitude for God’s grace, and an expanded ability to serve others. Awareness of my shortcomings gives me a chance to accept my limitations instead of denying them, to remember that they cannot separate me from God’s love, and to refrain from hurting others because of them. I’m better able to act with compassion and love when I am aware of my inner state, with all its pluses and minuses.

At the end of the meditation, Holiday and Hanselman move the focus from those with political power and position to everyone, including me:

Both personally and professionally. Tyrant or king? Hero or Nero? Which will you be?

For Jesus and for us, there is no avoiding the temptation to exercise power to achieve recognition and to remake the world in significant ways. When tempted, Jesus recognized and acted from one eternal and central truth: God-given power can only be exercised properly if done with God’s help and guidance. If I forget this truth, if I act by and for myself, whatever power I have will harm others even as it crushes my spirit.

Guide my feet, dear Lord. Hold me fast. Amen.

Excerpt from: Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic (New York: Portfolio/Penguin Press, 2016), p. 11

 

Ashes to Ashes

In two days, crosses of ash will be drawn on foreheads. With the swipe of a finger and a few words, Lent will begin. Some people will give up desserts or alcohol while others will add daily devotional readings and service projects. Whether adding something positive or subtracting a negative habit, a change in behavior is how most people observe Lent. It’s what I’ve done for most years of my adult life. Sometimes these actions have brought about a deeper understanding of my faith and sometimes they haven’t. But each of them created the chance for me to live with greater intention, even if only in a single aspect of my life.

For the past four years, I’ve chosen a particular topic for Lent – specific prayers or poetry, parables, deadly sins or life-giving virtues have filled this blog with words and images. Others have been kind enough to add their art or words to the mix, giving everyone (most especially me) the gift of a different voice and different perspective.

This year, I’ll be looking at some of the word gifts I’ve received over the past couple of months: The Daily StoicDaily Peace, and The Book of Joy. The first two were surprises, the third one I requested. All three provide opportunities to get my inner house in order, see the world around me in all its glory, and thank God for the precious life I’ve been given.

I hope you come along with me through this path of words, and perhaps add a few of your own…

Resources:

Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living (New York: Portfolio/Penguin Press, 2016)

Daily Peace: 365 Days of Renewal (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2015)

Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery, 2016)

Uncovering the Pattern

I got a mandala scratch kit a couple of weeks back, complete with instructions, a wooden stylus, and 25 scratch squares stamped with mandala patterns –  a birthday gift of relaxation from my sister. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been tracing lines and uncovering mandala patterns as my 20 minute morning meditation activity, matching my breathing to my hand’s movements. Faithful to the tradition of mandala creation, I don’t keep the finished mandalas for very long – all things are temporary, and letting go of my own handiwork is a spiritual discipline in its own right.

It takes me three or four days to complete each scratch mandala. I take my time, choosing which shapes to uncover first, which lines to trace, what areas to uncover and what ones to leave alone. I pause every few minutes to see how my latest marks have changed the look of the whole. When the twenty minutes are over, I take some time to look at the mandala and reflect on how it served as a spiritual focus. It’s at this time that I see how my own work falls into a pattern. There’s a pattern to how I’ve uncovered the mandala pattern. If it’s a six section pattern, I reveal the same part of each section: six circles or diamond patterns standing equidistant from the center and the outer edge of the mandala. Six flower petals around the circles, six rays connecting the petals to the center, and so on. For whatever reason, this way of revealing the overall mandala pattern is satisfying to me, providing a balanced if partial pattern as I work to reveal the whole.

I shared this meditation activity with the class of high school learners I see every Sunday. At the end of the 20 minute exercise, everyone held up their mandala. Some had started in the center, working their way out of the pattern. Others had started by revealing the outer edges and working inward. One or two worked in wedges, completing one whole symmetrical section before moving onto another one. Within these overall work patterns, each person chose the order of individual elements to uncover. Each person’s approach was unique – not a single replication. Each way had its own peculiar beauty and sense.

For me, it was an illuminating experience in the literal as well as the figurative sense. Revealing the pattern by drawing out the brilliant color underneath the black surface produced an illuminated mandala; seeing each person’s unique approach to this spiritual practice revealed his or her particular embodiment of God’s grace and holiness. Being a part of such an extraordinary moment in time and space, how can I be anything but awestruck by this sacred place and these sacred people?

Snow(y) Day

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

It’s a snowy day, and a school-is-cancelled snow day. After an indoor morning of prayer, writing, and cleaning, I am happy to see that the winds and driving snow have given way to a light breeze and an occasional snowflake. I put on my winter clothes and walk into nature’s crystal white. My street has been plowed, but no one is outside. It’s just me until I turn onto High street. A mother and daughter are shoveling their driveway a few houses down, and the two little girls who live in the big white house are making angels while their mother and uncle look on. Once every minute or so, a car or truck passes. In between, there’s only the scrape of shovels and the crunch of boots to break the peaceful quiet of this place.

No one’s walked on the sidewalks in the past few hours, and only a couple of homeowners have cleared the sections in front of their houses. I think I see the faint print of a boot every so often – someone who walked early in the morning, perhaps. Just like Peter in Keats’ The Snowy Day, I make different patterns in the snow by pointing my feet in or out, or by dragging them to make two long lines. It’s one of my favorite children’s books, one I loved as a young child and I loved as the mother of young children. As I make my marks in the snow, I wonder how many other people have done the same because of Keats’ words and pictures – millions, I’d guess.

The wind has made snowdrifts across parts of the sidewalk and swept other parts almost clean. Mother nature seems happy to give my feet a varied path and my eyes a feast of snowy geometry and graceful evergreen. I’m so glad I came outside. I wouldn’t have missed the sharp fresh air, the joy of this walk, or the beauty of my blanketed neighborhood for anything.