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Speaking of death in autumn…

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Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726:
“Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”

Some things we do not talk about.  In each of our families, certainly there were things we did not talk about.  And as we grow older, those ancient rules for what cannot be spoken  – truths which have guided our lives and which guided the lives of our ancestors – continue to set the boundaries of what is acceptable.  We think of them as noble truths, and we are disgusted and alarmed when we hear others speak aloud of those forbidden things.

We do not talk about death in our culture.  We do our best to head off death – more medicines, more treatments, another face-lift, a never-ending list of medical procedures, and more in laboratories, prepared to save us from death.

At  Halloween, we find it easier to be frightened by ghosts and witches and skeletons than to be frightened by death.  As for death, we do not speak of death.

At the time of Dia de muertos, The Day of the Dead, the people of Mexico go to the cemeteries, all the ages drawn together to honor the ancestors, to remember the dead.  The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey (wikipedia).

“On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit.  November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit.  November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives.  The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.” – Frances Ann Day, Latina and Latino Voices in Literature.

“Now my soul is troubled… and what should I say?   God, save me from this?” – John’s Gospel.

Yes, our souls are troubled, and we do not want to face the reality of death, although all of us have lost someone we love dearly.  We honor them with our memories, we tell their stories to one another, and we continue to grieve, but still, we do not want to face the reality that we will die.

I think about my life differently, now that I am ensconced in the wisdom years.  It has been part of my own life to have walked with others through the journey to the door of death, to walk with them as they have faced that moment.  I have been fascinated, in a particular way, with death.  But now, as I trace the years of my life, I have fewer years ahead of me, so many in the past.  Where did those years go, those years when I was losing others, holding on to the last moments with the beloved, cherishing every moment?

And haven’t human beings always longed to know that death is only an entrance to another portal, another reality, perhaps even another life?

I am not writing  about beliefs.  No, what I want to touch is that place in us that fears and honors death.  I want us to remember that we will die.  I have the thought that when we truly honor death, when we live with the ever-present reality of death, we truly live.  Then, we are grateful.  Then, we see the beautiful.  Then, we love those we are given.  Then, there is no fussing about what is important and what is not important.  Then, we go all out for what we want, we speak freely, we love.  We drop our denial – and we all live in a bubble of denial – and walk courageously into the day we are given, this day, this moment, these people, this place, this hour.

Some of us will remember the beautiful movie, “The Trip to Bountiful.”  Carrie Watts lives with her son and daughter-in-law.  Carrie is restless, and to the younger folks, she is a burden.  She longs to be free from her confinement, confinement because of her age and health.  She wants her son to take her home, to Bountiful, her home.  He refuses, and so Carrie takes her own journey to Bountiful.  The sheriff, called by her son, helps her on the way to Bountiful.  She returns to see the place, although everything has changed.  Bountiful is not the Bountiful of her memories, but still, she has returned to Bountiful.  Then, she goes home to her son and daughter-in-law, and sits contentedly in her place.  She has seen Bountiful.  Now, she is free.

What longing are you carrying?  Go – go to it, now! Live completely, live into your whole self.  Do it now.

 

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Exquisite moment, this moment

Life is simply, in its purest form, one exquisite moment – this moment, this moment, this moment, this…

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A few days ago, I captured one shining moment, right here, in my own backyard!

I happened to go into the bedroom, just as the sun was bringing to autumn life this tree.  I saw it!  For that, I am grateful.  I was enraptured by this tree, this shining, exquisite partner in the creation.

From Thomas Merton:  ‘As if the sorrows of this world could overwhelm me now that I realize what we are. I wish everyone could realize this. But there is no way of telling people they are all actually walking around shining like the brightest sun.’

When I think about my life – our lives –  our one wonderful, pain-filled, deep and rich life, I sometimes have the glory of knowing that life is one shining moment after another.  Mostly, I don’t see the shining moment.  I am preoccupied.  My inner state takes precedence over what I could witness if I became present.  I am busy.  I have too much to do, and so little time.  I am sad.  I have better things to do.

Sometimes, though, I witness one shining moment, and I remember that all is “shining like the brightest sun.”  This is a joy.  I don’t want it to end.  It is rich and deep and – ordinary – all at once.  I can only be present to it.  That is all I can do:  be present.

How difficult!  And how simple!

After I took this photo, I ran to the front of the house, to see how “my tree,” that wonderful witness to my later years, was taking in the shining moment of the setting sun.  Her west-ward leaning branches were shining, too.  I almost left the room to hurry to the back of the house to get my iPad so that I could take a picture.  But I didn’t.  Because of the witness of that shining tree in the yard, I plopped down on the sofa, instead, and watched, as moment to moment, one leaf after another, shone, and then dipped into twilight.

Sometimes life is so beautiful that I can hardly bear it.  I am grateful.

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In the morning distance, a train

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rumbles, marking work and action.
Here, hummingbird darts at the red feeder,
chases the giant sparrow away (chuckling, of course).
Squirrel hordes nuts and things for winter.

The small creatures of earth move as if there is no train in the distance,                                          as if this moment is all there is, which is truly true,                                                                                    busy, bursting bodies, breath.

A siren roars , cuts through silence in which the creatures  thrive,                                               part of the mystery, also.

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Reflections, autumn morning, city

 

 

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Imagination, a key

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In my experience, imagination is one portal into the spiritual journey.  As a child, the idea of Jesus captured my imagination, and I held onto that idea as I slogged my way through fundamentalist confirmation classes.  When I had been confirmed and had the time and the inclination to question what I had been taught, I realized that those narrow beliefs (add your own adjective) did not jive with the Jesus who had captured my imagination.

And I will say, also, that my inclination to question has not ended – it is as alive as it ever has been!

A few years later, I was lonely.  I often pray for the lonely, because I have known loneliness, a deep, tearing loneliness. Alone in my small apartment, I spent many evenings turning the pages of my address book to find a friend to call.  I wanted someone to relieve my loneliness, but that loneliness still tore at me.   I soon discovered that a friend could not relieve that loneliness.  Now, I see that even my loneliness has become a gift.

During those times, I began to search, and I looked to the Bible – since that was my own tradition – as a place to search.   I read, again and again, the words of the Sermon on the Mount.  We don’t know what words Jesus really spoke as he taught the crowds who were following him, in the story.  We don’t know for sure whether he spoke those words at all.  We are not even certain that anything written about Jesus is true or ever happened. We do know it’s a darn good story, and stories – including our own – have power, simply by being stories.  There is more power in the story than in its historical fact, or not.

As I read those words, those blessings, again and again, Jesus re-captured my imagination.  Now, he was there, with me, present with me.  Jesus was there, present to my loneliness.  I didn’t see him in the room with me, but I knew his presence, the beginning of a long walk with Jesus.  This is not the Jesus who judges those who do not follow, no, this is the Jesus who loves, loves simply and completely.  I knew that as a child, I know it now.

What has captured your imagination, what has lived just outside the limits of your conscious awareness?  What lives, now?

A few months ago, I re-connected with a a friend who knew me in the years that followed.  She reminded that I had spoken to her often about “jogging with Jesus.”  The one who captured my imagination was with me, in the most ordinary moments of my life.

Maybe you are imagining a life different from the one you have.  Maybe you are lonely, and your imagination takes you over long paths that magically bring an end to your loneliness.  And when you take those long paths, you find out, again and again, that you are still lonely.  Maybe your imagination cannot conjure up what life, what different life, you’d like to have.  All you know is this:  you are lonely.  You are here.  You don’t want to be here, but if not here, then where – and when?

A dear friend of mine told me that she married her high school sweetheart when they were both 20.  Within a few years, they had a home together, and life was unfolding as it was meant to unfold.  As it was meant to unfold, except for the days my friend spent in her kitchen, tears running down her face, something in her knowing that this was not the life she was meant to live.  Something else was capturing her imagination, although she couldn’t name it, wouldn’t name it until years later.  She did not know it until she lived it.

What captures your imagination, now, here, at this moment?  What flickers on the edge of your awareness, what lights up deep inside you?  Who – or what – fascinates you?  Who comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions?  Who?  What?  What comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions?

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,                                                                                                       the world offers itself to your imagination,                                                                                                     calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – ”   – Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

How interesting, that loneliness and imagination should so often walk together.

I can say this now:  it is good that I had my loneliness.  I call it mine; it was/is mine, mine to be named, mine to be felt, mine to be feared – and mine to be known, even to be loved.  It is good that I had – and have -my loneliness.  My loneliness allowed me to fall into the truth of who I was, of what life I had, and my loneliness allowed me to imagine, to imagine someone or something that could carry me out of that loneliness, even if I wasn’t sure where I was being led.

I still think that something that Jesus said may be exactly what the world needs.  I still think that other prophets who spoke to peace, who speak to peace, are what is needed. What they say sounds so simple, too simple. Who are the prophets now, while wars rage, while refugees walk in search of a safe place, while children are dying, without food, in our cities and in far-off places?  Who is speaking truth, simple, profound truth, now?

That which speaks to peace spoke also, to my loneliness, and to my imagination.  It speaks to yours, also.

I still long for a just world, for all people – a safe place to live, food, for everyone, not a world where justice means getting what we want, but in the old, old, old sense, the dream of enough, for all.   The possibility that  there is enough captures my imagination, although everything else shouts that there is not enough to go around. Still, that possibility captures my imagination.

 

 

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Four Rules for Living, #4, Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome

The anthropologist and spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien, is credited with these four rules for living:  show up, pay attention, tell the truth, don’t be attached to the outcome.

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Not one of these “Four Rules for Living” is easy.  Simple maybe, easy enough to understand (we think we understand, anyway), but not so easy to actually live.  If we are honest, and if we are looking to live a life based on our deepest self, we know these rules are not easy.  We find them challenging.  We know them to be a daily practice, a hard practice of letting go.  We know we do not choose to live our truest Self – instead, we fall into that Self, by letting go of ego.  Hard practice.  Hard – and life-giving, ultimately.

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Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Now, this is a tough one! “Don’t be attached to the outcome.” Do your part, speak your truth –  and let it go. In other words, do your part and trust. In other words, do your part and watch what happens. In other words, do your part.

This matter of “letting go” is so often misunderstood. We do what we can. Sometimes what we choose to do will have noticeable results, and sometimes what we choose to do won’t make a significant ripple. What we “let go” of is our ego-involvement. “Let go” of controlling the outcome. Let go of your ego-attachment to what happens.

Fall into it.  Don’t swim against the tide of your ego.  Fall into it.  And what you will discover is this:  when you fall, you fall into your Self, your True Self, the Holy.

So much of life energy has been wasted – and destructive – by forcing itself on others.  Tribes force themselves on other tribes, nations on other nations.  We are critical of Russia’s military action in Syria; Russia is critical of the military action of the U.S. in Syria.  We see this waste of life energy in our own lives, in the lives of others, and we see this waste of life energy in the world.  And we know this:  life is not honored, truth is not honored, life is not nurtured by force.  And yet – we are all complicit in this waste of energy.  Not one of us is better than another.  We all act destructively, even doing so in the name of love, or honor, or nation, or religion.

If we’ve each done our work, the work of showing up, paying attention, and telling the truth, the possibility is that our work will succeed, although maybe not in the way we’ve imagined.

So often when we have ego-attachment to our actions and choices, we look for particular results. We think we’re in control, so if things go as planned, they’ll go the way we expect them to go. In that case, we also think we know what is the best way for things to work out.  We are strategists, and life does not allow for strategists!  To believe so is a kind of insanity!

Trust is the word here. Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. Trust as if your life depends on trust. Trust as if you understand that all the control in the world, all the care-ful-ness in the world, cannot assure the results you want. Trust that there is Something or Someone or Some-Other out there that is in charge of the results.  And that Something or Someone or Some-Other is not only “out there,” but animating you, bringing you to life – as you let go of your attachment.

This is the hardest work in the world.  More than ever, our world needs  people who have grown up, who have done their real work – which is the work to become adult.  And that work is the work of letting go, of “don’t be attached to the outcome.”

Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”