Love All Beginnings (Even the Scary Ones) ​

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I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness and their uncertainty,
which belong to every commencement.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

 

When I begin a new adventure—a new project, a new job, a new year—I turn for inspiration to two Bohemian adventurers: my great-grandmother Lizzie Schwartz and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Lizzie was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) at the very same time as the poet Rilke, both starting life in the grand city of Prague.  I like to think of this:  They lived in the same city, shared the same space, the same air, the same streets.   Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to Rilke.  The river Vltava flows through my veins.

Rilke ventured into the world of feeling and words and beauty despite the chaotic state of the world, traveling to Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, and eventually to Switzerland, where he was buried.  Rilke, one the greatest poets of the Twentieth Century, knew a great deal about change, risk, new beginnings, and how to love them.

My great-grandmother left Prague about the same time as Rilke, but for different reasons. She immigrated to the US, married a German Jew—who died while her children were still young—staked out land in the Oklahoma Land Run, and sold diamonds out of a hotel she built by a railroad station.  She was not known outside her world of family and friends and train travelers, but she is famous to me.

Both of these Prague-born adventurers knew about beginnings and how to enter them with all the zest and wonder and vulnerability of a newly hatched bird. . . .  Click here to read the entire post 🙂

 

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Defiant Joy

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We must risk delight . . .
We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness
in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Jack Gilbert

CHRISTMAS is closing in on us, but my heart is not quite there.  During my morning walk in a sunlit city park, it feels more like a “mourning “ walk as I attempt to fend off dire forebodings about the future of our country, our world, our planet. The Herods of the world seem to be taking control; a black curtain is descending and joy seems like a distant memory, a faraway feeling—possibly an inappropriate expression at such a serious time.  

But then, as I look ahead on the tree-studded path, my eye catches a twinkle of blue, red, and purple—a kind of glittering gladness pirouetting in the sun.  Shortly I find myself standing before a young, spiky, reed of a tree, on which some courageous soul has hung a rainbow of glass ornaments, which appear like jewels, electric in the sun. . .

To read the entire post click here 🙂

The Sky Remains: A Meditation for Anxious Times

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Through the empty branches the sky remains.

It is what you have.

—Rilke, Book of Hours

It is late November in America.  Cold winds blow across the sky mixed with tears and fears and whispers of darkness to come.  And yet, the season of thanksgiving beckons us to find a shelter of gratitude where we can offer up some imperfect gesture.

Underneath a giant Cottonwood tree—a tiny yellow dot under the crisp, cloudless New Mexico sky— I stand, just a little awed.  Around me, the autumn light filters through crackling leaves into pools of warm gold.

In the trauma of our time, I take refuge in this safe place, under a great canopy of warm color, even while knowing that next month will be leafless and colorless.  Then, there will be no golden light, no pausing to stand in the bitter cold.

But for now, this arboreal refuge of change and beauty, rootedness and stillness, spreads over me like a golden fleece.

Winter is coming.  The world seems to be entering a season of darkness where goodness hibernates in caves high up in the mountains.

But “the sky remains.  It is what you have.”

What will we do with the sky in the absence of color and life and shimmering leaves?  The sky belongs to everyone, does it not?  The sky is universal and knowing.  The sky embraces all and weeps with all.

The sky is what we have.

The proud Cottonwood bows in quiet respect to the season, but resists letting go of its honeyed leaves— unlike the maple and the Russian olive trees, which shed their clothes at the first strong wind.  But the Cottonwood is stubborn.  The Cottonwood simply loves being yellow and shimmering in the sun.  It finds happiness in its own beauty, in its ability to shed pools of amber light on anxious beings below its branches.

The Cottonwood has made a pact with the sky:  to speak to the world below in elegant strands of flaxen light and quiet remembering.  These two schemers—the Cottonwood and the sky—remember for us seasons of darkness and anxiety, and how they are eventually overcome with spring.

They remember the poet Rilke, too, and how his resplendent words remain, and how his beauty survived the darkest century.  And how, through all the bare branches of loss and waste, the sky remains.

The sky remains, and reminds, and wraps itself around us—all of us under heaven.  We have only to reach up through the branches and take fistfuls of fresh imaginings and place them on our hearts like a pledge, our own pact with that spacious Heart of divine suffering and tenderness:

We will be that stubborn golden light in the darkness.  We will be that canopy of safety when the cold winds threaten.  Until our eyes catch the first tiny green buds of spring, we will be a filter of golden warmth around the anxious, the vulnerable, the traumatized.

And maybe even love our enemies who share the same sky.

It is what we have.

Beauty as a Spiritual Home 

“Once we awaken to the Beauty which is God,
there is a great sense of homecoming.”

—John O’Donohue

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My religion is BeautyThis may sound iconoclastic, but I don’t mean it that way. As an ordained minister and former pastor of two lovely, progressive congregations, I do believe in organized religion!  But not all expressions of my own faith, Christianity, can be called beautiful.  In fact, those which lean toward fundamentalism, or which seek political power and control, are, I believe, injurious to the soul and to the world at large—and even to the planet.
The Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and yet what is his religion?  He famously says, “My religion is kindness.”  Maybe it is time to think of religion in terms of these deeper human values such as kindness or compassion or love or appreciation of diversity or the planting of trees; maybe we should measure our particular faith communities by these points of light—like stars guiding us through the darkness as we seek our spiritual home.  . . to read the entire post, click here 🙂 

 

The Beauty of the Open-Ended Life

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I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
But I give myself to it.
 
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?

—Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours

 

Perhaps the spiritual life is not so much a linear journey, as it is a kind of unfinished spiral—an ever-broadening orbit around something greater than ourselves.  The poet Rilke seems to be saying that we grow larger by these ever-widening circles—and passionate and wiser, too; and most of all, we develop a humility about what we know.  And even who we are.

 

to read the rest of this essay, click here 🙂

Transcending Fear Itself: A Journey from the Personal to the Political

 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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When I was a young seminarian, I suffered from anorexia nervosa.  I learned to starve myself for sake of unnatural thinness.  And this was long before eating disorders became a contagion on campuses around the world.  I suppose you could say I was on the cutting edge of a deadly neurosis, a pioneer in taking things to extremes.

My absolutist-oriented anorexic mind was of the opinion that if you ate one cookie, it was like the Domino Theory of Vietnam:  “If Vietnam falls, so goes all of Southeast Asia!”  (We all know how well that worked out.)  Letting my guard down for even one cookie meant my whole world could fall into utter chaos, overrun by barbaric hoards.

Of course anorexia is not so much about food and thinness; it’s really about fear and control.  What did I fear?  I feared being fat, yes, but that was just the surface.  What I really feared was not being liked, not being loved, not being good enough—that deep, dark, basic human predicament that Brene Brown calls “shame.”  Only if I exercised rigid control over my food could I trick myself into feeling worthy—even special.  Starving myself gave me a false sense of superiority, a kind of self-righteousness characteristic of rigid people.

I felt imprisoned in a tiny cell.  Of course I wanted to be free—I could see happy people through the bars of my window—but I was too afraid to open the door and walk out into the wideness and sunshine.  What if I lost control?  Worse, what if I discovered that I was really just mediocre, nothing special?  Fear was starving me, body and soul.  And it affected everyone around me like an invisible poison infecting the air. 

When fear takes on a life of its own, it becomes contagious.  And when there is a contagion of fear, there is the danger of a full-blown famine of the collective soul.  You could say that anorexia is analogous to what’s happening in our own country and in the world today.  I see a form of social anorexia:  rigid ideologies, soul-shriveling theology, and thin-thinking Us vs. Them worldviews—all issuing from that dark place called “fear itself.” . . . 

Click here to read the entire post 🙂

An Antidote to the Ugliness of Trumpism

“Beauty is a life saving plank in the midst of the ocean.” —St. Augustine, De Musica  

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” —RumiPicture

We live in ugly times.  That is, if you listen to the political rhetoric of the  2016 US presidential election.  Most particularly, I refer to that ugly cluster of racism, Islamophobia, misogamy, and xenophobia, i.e., the Trump campaign.  Like a medieval ball-and-chain flail with deadly spikes, this psychic weapon is whipped about carelessly by Donald Trump and his followers, threatening to rend the colorful and delicate tapestry that makes up our American culture—the creation of our ever-evolving sense of social justice stitched together through 240 years of blood, sweat, and tears.

Who can save us from this peril of ugliness?  What can repair the torn places in the fabric of our society and restore a sense of justice?  I want to propose that beauty itself can save us.  Beauty can heal our society.  Beauty is an antidote to the contagion of Trumpism.


 

But isn’t beauty—the whole realm of the aesthetic—just a tangential quality of life, one best left to poets and philosophers, hardly relevant to the real world?  And how can it save us from Donald Trump?  Isn’t that asking just a little too much?   Click here to read the entire post 🙂