We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe – life is complicated enough as it is, after all. We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves… Buechner
Years ago, I worked as a chaplain in a Trenton, New Jersey, hospital. Part of the work: pick an encounter with a patient or staff member and write it up, word for word. These verbatims were designed to raise awareness of how our own assumptions and histories influenced how we interacted with others. Generally, most of us chose encounters that were particularly difficult or meaningful.
One week, my supervisor changed the rules. Pick an ordinary interaction – a quick hello in an elevator, a brief conversation at the nurses’ station. Something forgettable. And so I did. I doubt there were more than fifty words altogether, and none of them remarkable. But there was a holiness to it that I could only see because I took a second look at it.
A mystic is someone who sees that holiness at first glance – or at least knows it’s there, seen or unseen. And a mystic is willing to admit it.
[Frederick Buechner; Listening to Your Life; San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 168]
When we speak deep truths, something irrevocable occurs. We can’t unsay them, even if we speak them aloud to no one but ourselves. An I love you spoken and heard can transform the world well beyond the sayer and hearer. An I love you left unsaid may be deeply felt, but there’s a certain something it only gains in the saying. It may not be necessary, but it is vitally important.
The same is true for words of grief. To pick up the phone and tell someone that a beloved parent/friend/husband/wife has died is to make it real in a way it wasn’t beforehand. The words don’t change the loss, but they change it from an external reality to the heart’s own truth.
[The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman; New York: Penguin, 2016]
When I need to pray the most is when I’m least likely to do so. Life’s cares and woes knock me down because I refuse to rely on my soul’s source of strength. Eventually, I’ll return to prayer, but not before I try to carry on without it. It makes no sense and it does me no good.
It takes courage to walk the path of prayer, perhaps or precisely because I am fundamentally changed in ways that move me away from the person I was toward the person I am becoming. That kind transformation, living that kind of miracle, isn’t for the faint of heart.
[Sharon Salzberg is an author and teacher, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.]
[Daily Peace; Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2016. Image by ArTDi101(shutter stock)
Forgiving is an act of releasing someone else from the burden of causing us pain. It’s an act of will that can restore the inner peace of another.
Forgetting is an act of releasing ourselves from the burden of pain inflicted upon us. It is an act of grace that restores our own inner peace. Until we offer this grace to ourselves, we are only halfway through the forgiveness process.
[This is one in a series of writings. For more information, click Daily Meds above.]
Larry was on staff at the Evangelical Free church, but he was the youth pastor for the whole town of Canon City. He kept late hours and brought home a lot of teens who needed a safe place to land; the court system assigned troubled youth to Larry, giving them a chance to stay out of the criminal justice system. He had a good number of parents and non-parents who supported his work as chaperones, snack suppliers, and even a backyard pool for parties. He laughed easily and often. He said I love you, brother without reservation.
His love for Jesus and the people of Canon City changed the world. So many men and women grew in faith because Larry saw in them a child of God and a gift to the world – including my husband, Dave. His twenty-three years of ordained ministry began in Larry’s youth group.
How can someone ever trust in the existence of an unconditional divine love when most, if not all, of what he or she has experienced is the opposite of love – fear, hatred, violence, and abuse?
They are not condemned to be victims! There remains within them, hidden as it may seem, the possibility to choose love. Many people who have suffered the most horrendous rejections and been subject to the most cruel torture have been able to choose love. By choosing love they became witnesses not only to human resiliency but also to the divine love that transcends all human loves. Those who choose, even on a small scale, to love in the midst of hatred and fear are the people who offer true hope to our world.
[Henry Nouwen, Bread for the Journey; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, June 14]
The cruel insult. The shove out of the way. The hurtful exclusion. Wishing harm and ill to others for any number of irrational reasons. All these acts come from the same darkness that prompts hatred and violence. It is a fearful well that so many drink from, thinking it will quench the loneliness and unworthiness that is burning their lives away from the inside out.
The genuine compliment. The helping hand. The invitation to join the conversation. Wishing healing and goodness for no reason in particular. All these acts come from the same transcendent light that fosters all life.
Small or large in scale, there’s a holiness to adding light rather than darkness to the world.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
For most of my life, I assumed that the reason Jesus told Peter to forgive another was for the benefit of the other person. It seemed like a lot to require of anyone, and it still does.
The older I get, the more inclined I am to see how forgiveness benefits the forgiver as much or more than the one forgiven. To be released from that acid gnawing away at body and spirit that corrodes the very heart of my being until I forgive is a grace bordering on the miraculous.
Is releasing another from a burden of guilt, of restoring another’s inner peace, too high a price for the reprieve from my own suffering?
[Daily Peace: Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2015; photos by Marek Minch and Elena Alyukova-Sergeeva. For more on this series, click Daily Meds above.]
You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible – and no one can keep you from this.But there will be some external obstacles! Perhaps, but no obstacle to acting with justice, self-control, and wisdom. But what if some other of my area of my action is thwarted? Well, gladly accept the obstacle for what it is and shift your attention to what is given, and another action will immediately take its place, one that better fits the life you are building. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.32
[Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, June 8]
For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking different exits off the highway to get to work. Most all of them lead to another road I’m already familiar with, but coming in at different places by unfamiliar roads. Yesterday’s exit brought me to an accident scene. Flashing lights, several rescue vehicles, and a lot of orange cones diverted me onto an unfamiliar road going in the wrong direction. My first instinct was to turn around and get back on the highway, but that would put me at the accident scene again – a hindrance to the people working at the scene and likely a several minute wait to get through. Instead, I drove forward. In less than five minutes, I was back on a familiar road. I didn’t get to take the unfamiliar road I wanted to take, but I did end up finding a new route to work – one I may not have found without a forced detour.
It’s easy to forget that there are many ways to get where I need to go, and that my preferred way is not the only and may not be the best one. And what is true on the road is often true in life.
[This is one in a series of writings. For more information, click Daily Meds above.]
[Author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; excerpt from Daily Peace; Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2015]
What is unforgivable? It’s an important question that arises whenever harm comes into our lives. And an even more critical question: who cannot be forgiven?
The older I get, the more I am convinced of this: when I assign someone to the land of the unforgivable and unforgiven, I end up living there, too. Only by the grace of God can either one of us find release.