there is a great sense of homecoming.”
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 🙂
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt
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.” . . .
“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.” —Rumi
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.
I dreaded turning sixty. I dreaded it so much that I tried out different responses to ward it off—like lipstick colors for the desperate: red renunciation, violet veto, and ruby dark denial. Nothing worked. Sixty just kept on coming. For months before my birthday, I imagined a fire-breathing dragon lurking around the corner, waiting to singe off my eyebrows at the entry way to the inexorable downhill slide into that last third of life—a descent accompanied by smirky demons bearing images of medicine bottles, hearing aids, cataracts, sagging skin, and embarrassing forgetfulness.
But then I had an epiphany. A few days after I passed the dreaded threshold of 60 (eyebrows still intact), I walked along a summery tree-lined walking path in New Mexico—the cool shade blunting the full rays of the intense Southwestern sunshine. Could these lovely old trees, I wondered, offer some comfort or advice for a newly baptized 6-0 human being? After all, they were aged too, and they didn’t seem to mind. . . . .To read on click here 🙂
“I can resist everything but temptation.”
–Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan
Like most people, I strive to be reasonably fit. I walk religiously, eat my vegetables, and sometimes even do yoga. But I have a serious weakness, a secret yearning for what can only be called the dark side.
By dark, I am speaking literally, for I find that I can resist everything but chocolate. In more youthful, disciplined days, I would nibble only on small pieces of severely dark chocolate so bitter that I felt rather saintly; but as I mellow with age, I find myself drawn back to the sweeter confections that I loved as child, before saintly self-denial set in. I’m talking chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, gooey-filled chocolates, and that devil of darkness: fudge. Oh, sweet chocolate, forbidden one, how I yearn for you! I could write sonnets to your name, and I dream of stolen moments . . .
And then, one day, out of the blue, from some mysterious outpost on the internet, along comes a recipe for a relatively “healthy” chocolate brownie that tastes (surprisingly) delicious and can be eaten in broad daylight.
Devastating earthquake on Ecuador’s Coast, April 16, 2016.
Elegy for Ecuador
After the quaking and breaking—
and that eternal silence, begging for
sounds of life, everything continues to sway.
Everything still trembles: hills, trees, children, animals,
even the sky.
Life teeters perilously inside the invisible parts, where
the devastation is just getting started.
A skinny dog spreads her black body over the rubble
that was her home, clinging stubbornly
to the spot: a life raft on a treacherous sea.
She waits for humans who will never return.
A ceibo tree weeps in the distance.
The equatorial sun dips into the sea too soon,
abandoning the beleaguered mass of humanity,
while the swash
claims intimate pieces of
once well-ordered lives—
now flotsam and jetsam, swept away.
The tide groans on into the night.
At first light, snowy egrets spread their angelic white wings
over rivers of sorrow, like angels from some other world.
In the still-quivering shrimp ponds below the hills,
the cows catch a reflection of something large,
a heap of darkness, a sound, a whirl.
A helicopter flies overhead, and then another,
filled with hope.
And between the ruptured
blue hills veiled in grief,
caravans of healing and solidarity overcome buckled roads
and falling rocks,
pushing toward the coast and its sorrowful tale.
Ecuador’s collective pain rouses the old ways of indigenous
resilience, a tacit sense of connection in which all are
brothers, sisters, cousins: family.
Even the earth and the trees: family.
Family, faith, and that ancient embrace of sumak kawsay—
life at its fullest—
all rises to meet the devastation and death with
resilience and love.
This is Ecuador, the land of beauty and family
and irrepressible hope.
Ecuador lies in ruins, but
Ecuador can never, never be broken.
Patricia Adams Farmer lived on the coast of Ecuador (Bahia, El Matal-Jama, and Manta) from 2011-2015.