Warning: Prophet Ahead

Habakkuk is one of the more succinct prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. He thinks the world is pretty much of a disaster at the time he’s writing. I’d summarize his brief story this way:

Habakkuk: WTF? Seriously?

God: Wait for it.

Here’s the thing, God doesn’t say that Habakkuk (let’s call him HK from now on) is waiting for a five star meal and a cushy retirement. At the end of the book, HK basically says, even though I might starve, “I will rejoice in the Lord.”

What could inspire someone to say that? No fruit, no olives, no flock, no herd—not usually the moment people throw their hands in the air and shout, “Hallelujah!” But that’s what HK says he’s planning to do, no matter what.

HK is apparently a little more stable than I am. Some things that throw me off of the whole rejoicing in the Lord thing with remarkable ease and blistering speed: missing a deadline at work, wondering what my purpose in the world is, letting food spoil in the fridge (yes, seriously, planetary destruction starts with one rotten jicama).

Abraham Heschel suggests that HK sensed God and so encountered “infinite goodness, infinite wisdom, infinite beauty” (The Prophets, p. 183). That sounds good. I could go for that, preferably not while starving.

HK would tell me to get over the “preferably” part, that starving or not starving is not the most important thing. That doesn’t mean God wants us to starve. It does mean there’s something else going on all the time that we’re often not paying attention to.

Jim Finley says, “God protects us from nothing while sustaining us in all things.” According to that master of etymology dictionary.com, “sustain” comes from a word that meant “hold” or “uphold.” We are held in goodness, wisdom, and beauty all the time, regardless of our outer circumstances, regardless of whether or not we notice.

I react to this idea with resistance, but think how much it might transform our lives if we really, really believed it, if we took HK seriously. That’s why you have to watch out for prophets.

Joining Wholeness

Donna Eden, an energy medicine practitioner, says that when you’re depressed, energy isn’t flowing. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says that we are created to be conduits of the flow of divine love. And journalist and author Courtney Martin says that just to show up as a whole person is rebellion in our society.

A whole person, I think, is paradoxically one who is willing to admit she spends plenty of time being a lousy conduit. This is harder than it seems.

A couple of days this week all I could do after work was crawl into bed, not because I was tired but because I couldn’t seem to face anything. The next morning, I thought about what a whole person might be and said to myself, I’m just going to be honest if someone asks me how I am. I’ll say, “It’s been a rough week” or “Not that great.”

Spoiler alert: I completely failed. Not only did I continue to say, “Good” or “Fine,” but also instead of loving or honoring this lack of flow, I complained, that is, I tried to put the whole experience outside myself.

Sometimes we need to talk to trusted friends about something that’s bothering us. The release that comes with sharing is important and is built into us as humans. But this was something else.

My mom and I recently saw a fantastic production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Mirada Theater. In it, the bad guy is bad because he has the wrong idea about wholeness. He thinks it means to be perfectly pure, and so he convinces himself that he is, which has rather disastrous consequences for everyone, himself included.

In trying to follow a purity code, we attempt to create wholeness when God’s already got that bit under control. Our role is to join in, not to control it or make it over in our image because, among other reasons, our image tends to be a smidgeon self-centered and so rarely includes our failings.

Parker Palmer talks about a “hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world.” This wholeness, Rohr would say, can use our mistakes, our stuck times. They’re not separate; they’re part of the whole—that’s redemption.

And it’s there, even on the days all we can do is crawl into bed.

Note: This post needs some citations:
Energy Medicine for Women by Donna Eden
Daily meditations by Richard Rohr based on his new book, The Divine Dance
An On Being podcast with Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin recorded at a PopTech conference

And if you’re anywhere remotely near L.A., I highly recommend seeing The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

A New Day Every Day

A friend shared something the other day that seems simple but that had never occurred to me before. Today, everyone you meet—including yourself—is encountering a day he or she has never encountered before. In other words, we are all, every moment, doing something we’ve never done before.

Of course in one way I exaggerate. Many things we’ll do today, we’ve done thousands of times. At forty-two, assuming (falsely) that I’ve brushed my teeth morning and night every day of my life, we’re looking at upwards of 30,000 brushings. But just because we’ve done something before doesn’t make it the same.

I can attest that playing a soccer game is very different at twenty-five, thirty-five, and forty-two, and simply walking changes from two to thirty to eighty—or the day after you pulled your hamstring at any age. We might find it almost unbearable to pour a cup of coffee the day after a loved one has died. Much of what appears repetitive is not simply because we are not the same day to day, nor is the world or the people we meet.

And that’s incredibly hopeful. “Behold, I make all things new,” God says in Revelation, but that’s hard to believe sometimes. It’s tempting to believe that my own fears and failings are stronger than the Creator’s evolutionary Spirit moving through all of us, but the odds are on God’s side.

Seeing each day with new eyes, we can be astounded—awe-struck even—by its unfolding beauty: a bright red leaf on a tree we see every day or the smile of someone we’ve known for years. At the same time, remembering that each step is a new step might help us go easy on ourselves and others. I don’t know about you, but the first time I do something, I don’t do it that well.

May this new day be a graced one for you.

Nothing Less than Love

This week I learned something from the source of all ancient wisdom: Facebook. Well OK, from a quote from the Tao Te Ching that my mom posted. The part that jumped out at me said,

Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

That’s a gigantic claim. Using definitions from dictionary.com, it means, approximately, “Having deep sympathy for yourself and a strong desire to alleviate your own suffering, you can bring all beings in the world into harmony.”

How does that work? I stop getting down on myself for not doing the dishes and suddenly there’s a ceasefire in Syria? Sounds preposterous.

A couple of days later, I saw this quote from Jim Finley that I’d written on an envelope: “refusal to let anything less than love define who you are.” Ah-ha, instructions on how to be compassionate toward yourself.

We generally define ourselves by our internal judgments — by what we think we have and haven’t done well — or by others’ opinions of us, both of which are much, much less than love and will never lead to reconciliation. They’re designed to do just the opposite, to keep us off balance so that we’ll continue to lean on them for support. The problem is, they can’t bear our weight.

Love, on the other hand, is freeing and freely given. It doesn’t reserve itself until we’ve reached some self-defined and non-existent perfection. It is always and only present, always giving itself away as our lives, as Finley would say. When we let Love define us, when we admit that love is what we are, we can see it accompanying us through our suffering, we can have compassion.

But there’s still that bit about reconciling all beings. Looking with the eyes of love, we can see that preposterous things happen every day: a woman gives half of her last tortilla to a child traveling alone to escape violence, an alcoholic stops drinking, the Berlin Wall comes down. This whole compassion thing might be worth a try.


Which Show Is Going on?

This is the week it all falls apart. By which I don’t mean, this is the only week in my life things have ever fallen apart, but rather, this is a fine exemplar of the type.

Here are some possible distinguishing characteristics of this type of week:

  • The second week back from vacation
  • The second week into trying to establish new habits
  • The week I realize a deadline is much closer than it seemed only a few days ago
  • The week I get caught up in getting things done
  • The week I start to believe I can impose a routine of perfection on my life
  • The week there must be some cosmic explanation—like solar flares—for my moods because I sure can’t figure out why I’m being so difficult

Here is how the script goes: I think I am pretty on top of it, as in, walking around with my own theme music. For example, this week, a friend said she was feeling anxious, and I thought, oh, I have these great new habits that could help with that. Then reality happens. For example, I count the number of days until a deadline. Music changes to Psycho theme.

Act II: This could go many ways. I could look at the week’s distinguishing characteristics and realize none of them are actually a big deal. I could breathe in God loving me through and through and through, Psycho music and all, as Jim Finley would say. I could go for a walk or do something creative.

But I like to save all of that for Act III, heighten the suspense, build dramatic tension. Act II consists of confusing my self—hidden with Christ in God—with any number of exterior, ego-driven criteria. For example, why am I so bad at ironing or keeping plants alive or meeting deadlines?

If I choose to argue with the voice asking that question, I’m doomed. We’ll never make it to Act III because the voice will not have a logical conversation. It will simply place me again and again at the beginning of Act II.

If, on the other hand, I can remember that my life is not about me, that I am part of a much bigger Whole, then I can see that the show is already going on and inviting me to join in.

Spiritual Vegetables

Sometimes we would rather not do what is good for us—like eat our broccoli. I like broccoli, but the homemade hot fudge sauce I drowned my ice cream in last night was fantastic. I don’t recall ever applying the word “fantastic” to broccoli.

Here’s the thing, though: when I finally fix a spinach salad after a few days without vegetables, my body is so happy. It’s a little bit like that with living in and from a place of love.

There are days—a lot of days—when I wish that our achievement-oriented consumer culture told the truth, when I want to feel complete from finishing a project at work or finding the perfect dining table. There’s nothing wrong with either of these pursuits. Both of them deserve to be enjoyed, but that satisfaction is not going to last. Something will always come next.

Almost every day I reach a point where I think that staying present, reminding myself to approach everyone with love, and letting God lead are impossible and aren’t, after all, going to change the world. But you know what? They are.

We won’t be able to see it directly or prove it or explain it or predict it. That’s hard because we all want to be right. Maybe people can tell the difference between someone who is irrational and someone who is following a deep but invisible knowing, but maybe they can’t. Recognition is not the point.

Jesus asks the apostles whether they’re going to leave him, and Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy answer. Saying, “We’re stuck with you because you’ve got the best game in town” is not the same as saying, “We’ll never leave you because we love you and we think you’re great.”

But Peter got it right for once. We are told to love God and neighbor because only that will satisfy the yearning of our hearts, only that will allow us to see how we are already one, how our world—our universe—is already whole.

Teaching Love

At some unconscious level, we all know that our lives are “infinite love infinitely giving itself away as every breath and heartbeat,” to quote Jim Finley, because that is what is really going on in the cosmos. But I hadn’t heard it so clearly spoken aloud, and certainly wouldn’t have described myself that way, until I entered the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation.

If you’ve noticed a change in these blog posts over the last couple of years, that’s the Living School at work. In a world where religion often becomes associated with anything but, the Living School teaches love. Not Valentine’s Day love but something deeper and more demanding—a love that invites you to look at yourself and practice letting go of whatever in you resists loving, a love that accepts and includes that darkness without requiring any guilt or shame, a love that recognizes the interconnectedness of all being, a love that unites, a love that transforms.

And our teachers insist that the way to this love is by becoming more and more present to this world, to this moment. Wherever we are, whoever we are with, and whatever we are doing, that is the place God is concretely present—in us, in the person checking us out at the grocery store, in the tree growing in the parking lot, and in the relationships between us. Though we may transcend old ways of thinking and knowing, the purpose of doing so is to enter ever deeper into life, not to escape it. After all, the cosmos, as God said, is good.

I think the Living School is food for a—perhaps the—particular hunger of our world at this time. It doesn’t take more than a glance in any direction to see that we are in desperate need of a way to love each other, of a vision of spirit and life as inherently dynamic and unitive.

Next Thursday, our cohort will complete the formal course of study in the Living School, though of course this learning will never be complete. To all of those who have made this journey possible—faculty, staff, supportive friends and family, and most especially my fellow students—a deep bow of gratitude. Send us a prayer or a good thought or some positive energy that we might be good stewards of our mystical lineage, that we might keep growing in and sharing this love, that we might feed others as we have been fed.

Note the first: If you are interested in the Living School, applications are open until the middle of September.

Note the second: Blogging is discouraged during the ceremony, so the next post will be in two weeks.