Archive for January, 2013

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.  Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

— Thomas Merton

There are people placed in our lives so that we may love them.  Some are easy to love — some less so — and it is our task to discover the barriers we build that keep us from loving and to do our best to remove them.  When we make the decision to live love, we make the commitment to allow other people to be themselves and to love them before we have time to erect obstacles that stand in the way of living love.  That sounds simple enough!  After all, each of us wants only that — to be allowed to be our true selves and to be loved for who we are; but when we decide to love others the way we wish to be loved, we sometimes find that it is anything but easy.

Merton cautions us not to twist others into a mirror image of ourselves, caring to love only the ones who approximate our view of who we are.  We tend to turn away from those who do not, in our judgment, measure up to our own level of excellence as human beings.  What we discover when we begin to love intentionally — to live love — is that there are many mirrors placed in our path.  Some of these mirrors show us a more accurate reflection of who we are than the one we hold up to others as a standard for their acceptance.

Is there someone in your life who is difficult to love?  I chuckle as I write this, because I know that anyone who decides to live love — to be love — to others is going to face the harsh truth that we sometimes fall short.  What is it about that person who is difficult to love that makes loving him such a challenge?  Perhaps the difficult people in our lives are mirrors placed along our way who show us the things about ourselves that we keep hidden.  When the mirror is held before us, in the behavior of another person, we turn away and feel disgust.  That disgust has little to do with the mirror and everything to do with our reflection that bounces back from its surface.  Does someone’s greed get under your skin?  Look in the mirror.  Find the part of yourself that feels greedy under certain circumstances.  Does someone offend you with arrogance?  Look for the part of yourself that lets pride get in the way of your ability to love.

It is only when we learn to love our own shortcomings that we are able to overlook them in others and to understand that they are only obstacles that lie on the surface.  It is not the obstacle that needs to be loved.  It is the real person who hides behind the obstacle and fears that being open to love also means being open to judgment.  Only when we stop judging our own faults can we hope to be able to overlook them in others.  Only when we remove the barriers can our love move through the things that separate us and touch the true soul of another.  We must work at loving first and letting the barriers fall away.  We just may learn that the people we love are far more than we had imagined.  We just may discover that our own mirror holds more depth than we ever knew.

“There is delight in singing, though none hear beside the singer”
— Walter Savage Landor

I am a singer.  For as long as I can remember, I have sung my way through the delights, the sorrows, the joys, and the pain of my journey through life.  When I read Landor’s words, the first thing I thought of was how my family would likely chime in and agree that the most delight in my singing occurs when I am the only one who hears it.  I am not the sort of singer people would pay to hear.  I am the sort of singer whose heart simply opens and spills out the song of its deepest emotion.

Today is January 30.  After more than a week of frigid temperatures and wind chills in the single digits, we awoke to find our world blanketed in fog.  There is no fog on single-digit mornings, so I knew that warm air must have arrived while we slept.  I slipped into my boots and jacket, called the grand-dog, snapped on his leash, and laid aside my hat and gloves as we set out for our morning stroll.  There was such a feeling of freedom in walking with my face wide open to the mist.  I listened to my boots making squishing noises in the unfrozen mud, and I swear I could smell the first faint aroma of Spring drifting up from the thawing earth beneath my feet.  Before long, I was walking in time with the music that began to play inside my head.

For as long as I can remember, the early morning has been one of my favorite times to sing.  I have vivid memories of myself as a five-year-old child, throwing open the window in my bedroom at 5:00 AM and singing to the birds outside.  My favorite serenade at that time was one I had learned from an old 78 RPM record of Dale Evans:  “Have faith, hope, and charity.  That’s the way to live successfully…don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, just be real good today…”  And the birds would sing back, and my heart would feel full to overflowing.  The best part about early-morning singing is that most people are still under the covers or at least inside their houses.  I am not all that loud; so when I walk in the park alone, I can sing from my heart and not worry that I’m disturbing anyone.

Soon the song in my head took shape; and as my squishing feet set the tempo, I found myself crooning:  “I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm/ I’m as giddy as a baby on a swing/ I’d say that I had Spring Fever/ But I know it isn’t spring…”  I know the song is one about being in love, and it may seem as though the context was not correct; but as my heart swelled with the hope of Spring to come, it occurred to me that it was a perfect morning for a love song.  After all, I was in love with the warmer day, the promise it delivered, the scent of the earth as it shed its frozen surface, and the very desire to sing it all.  It is important, I think, to remember to sing.  It is one of the best ways we have of opening our hearts and giving voice to all the love and hope and gratitude that lives there.  It is a beautiful day for singing.  What song is playing in your heart today?

“I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.”

— William Allen White

I have a challenge to offer you.  I know life can be stressful; and, indeed, I could probably write several pages here about the stresses that have come my way in recent weeks.  I know we sometimes get caught up in that stress and let it define the way we live, and I am guilty as charged where that is concerned.  When I stop and collect myself, even in the midst of all that happens to knock me off balance, I always seem to find that life is pretty simple.  When we focus on the things that really matter, we discover that our big picture is one where being alive, having opportunities to embrace all the good that comes our way, far outweighs the stress.  When we focus on the things that last — the foundation for our existence — the problems that come and go seem to shrink in importance and move far into the background .

Yesterday is over.  It may have been difficult; but if you are reading this, you have survived that difficulty.  Congratulations!  The first step is to celebrate our ability to wade through the stress and come through to the other side, intact and ready to face a new day.  If we can focus on our expertise at coping, we become confident that whatever comes our way will not leave us defeated.  With this knowledge in hand, we can reach up at the end of a difficult day, erase the slate, and go to sleep knowing that there will be a fresh start in the morning.

Today is here.  It is now.  I have a habit that I use to remind myself that it is exciting to be alive.  When I open my eyes for the first time each morning, I say out loud, “I am here!”  I focus on the blessing of being alive and having the opportunity to spend another day striving, growing, enduring, overcoming, and celebrating.  This is the challenge of living fully — to embrace the mystery, to travel into the unknown, and to remember to let our past triumphs transform fear to excitement and dread to expectation.  Today is a gift.  If we can remember that, then we can understand that even the most difficult learning experiences will leave us better prepared for tomorrow.

Now I lay me down to sleep.  My slate for today is wiped clean.  My experiences have been cataloged and I have celebrated the blessing of a warm bed and a moonlit night that are perfect for the rest I need.  Tomorrow lies before me, and I will not be afraid; because I know that I will enjoy it more if I can come to it with excitement rather than dread.  All it takes is a few hours of sleep for time to work its magic.  Before we know it, tomorrow is today — and we all love today!

“I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

— William Butler Yeats

Dreams are powerful.  They tell us the stories that lie most deeply embedded in our hearts.  They carry us away from the mundane and call us to make a journey toward the essence of what is true and real.  They challenge us to grab hold of what dances in our sleeping mind and let it spin and twirl in daylight as well.  We are most ourselves when we open our eyes and look at our dreams in the light of day; and we are most human and connected with others when we ask them to join in the dance of our dreaming.

It is a three-step process, this dreaming while awake.  First we allow our dreams to take on the substance of our waking existence.  Then we allow them to spread before us and be seen by others, and then we discover a new way to walk that protects our dreams and the dreams of others who travel in our company.

We are all connected by our humanity, by our shared existence, and more than that, by our dreams.  When we allow our dreams to erupt from our minds and fill the air around us, it isn’t long before the mist of their essence lands on the ground at our feet and begins to define our path.  As our dream begins to grow and spread, it touches the paths of our fellow travelers, too.  The dream is the mist that becomes the rain.  It is the earth below and the seed that lies beneath the soil.  It is the path that springs into existence; and more than anything else, it is the traveler whose feet are drawn to follow something more real than the tangible into an ever-unfolding future.

When we allow our dreams to spread at our feet and offer them up to all around us, we begin to understand the meaning of treading lightly.  When our love is laid wide open and our hearts beat with each step we take, we cannot help but ask that others walk lightly on our dream — on our heart — and respect the holy act of opening ourselves completely to our oneness with the universe.  Only when we have taken the risk, opened our hearts, and decided to trust others do we suddenly notice that our feet no longer touch the ground.  When we understand deeply that our dreams spill out and meet the dreams of others to form the web of life, we finally grasp the importance of walking so softly that not one dewdrop is dislodged by our movement.  When we understand with our heart the value of each shining piece of each shining dream, our heart shows our feet how to walk on the air.  It is then that we truly are able to follow the path of our dreams.  It is then that we shed limitation and open ourselves completely.  It is then that we find we are never alone as we walk the paths of dreams.

“Faith is not simply a patience that passively suffers until the storm is past.  Rather, it is a spirit that bears things — with resignations, yes, but above all, with blazing serene hope.”

— Corazon Aquino

Faith is a fire that burns deep in our souls, and hope is the flame that kindles the fire.

We sometimes are encouraged to fall into thinking that faith is passive — that it sits idly by and simply waits for something to happen that will change our situation.  When we suffer pain or grief or face challenges, friends sometimes remind us to “have faith” and everything will turn out all right in the end.  It is important not to confuse faith with fate.  When we are fatalistic and see solutions to our life’s problems as beyond our reach, we become passive and ineffectual as we simply wait for life to happen to us.

When we are very young children, faith and fate are not far apart.  With little life experience and little chance to learn the difference between the two, we do wait for some external force — perhaps God, perhaps our parents — to arrive in their own due time and provide a solution.  It can be nice to sit passively and wait for our suffering to be resolved by someone else, but only if that other person is reliable.

What we need to do is to grow our faith.  If we can take those early experiences of passivity and learn from them that God, our parents, the universe in which we live, are trustworthy and want the greatest good for us in whatever situation might arise, then we develop hope.  Once hope takes up residence in our souls, we can begin to keep the fire of faith burning with a new sort of fuel.  When hope takes up residence in our souls, we are transformed; and our faith can burn brightly enough to rekindle the fires of others as well as our own.

This sort of faith is anything but passive.  It is the burning sort of faith that does not wait in pain for a solution but continues to go on living while we wait.  When we learn to actively wait, knowing that all the while we are suffering the greatest good for our lives is being worked out, then we discover what it means to blaze with serenity.  Tend your fire.  Let hope reside in your soul.  Let the serenity of hope enkindle your fire and increase its intensity.  Whatever might come your way, whatever your challenges might be, remember to blaze brightly and have faith.

“There are two ways of spreading light:  to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

— Edith Wharton

The past week has been cold and dreary.  The wind blows constantly and it seems that its only reason for blowing is to rearrange the clouds that are replaced by others as soon as they move over the horizon.  I want to tell the wind to at least be effective at clearing the sky if I have to bundle up against the bitter cold; but I know there is no intention on its part.  It simply keeps blowing; and instead of clearing the air and bringing change, it seems to leave us behind as it moves on its way.  In another week we will begin February, the longest month of the year.  In spite of its short days, February always seems to hold me captive.  I walk through the days feeling like I’m slogging through molasses, unable to make any more progress than the wind that pushes against the endless clouds.

In this deepest part of winter, when the days are short and we are sent inside for warmth, there is nothing more welcome than a little bit of light.  When the sun finds its way through a crack in the cloud cover, I find myself drawn toward the window and hoping for a touch of warmth.  It can be difficult during the darkest days of winter to remember that we are put here to shine.  It can escape us, as we allow our own clouds to gather, that we are made of light that travels the earth in the vehicles of our human bodies.

In this dark time of the year, as I crave a bit of light, I find myself drawn inward to the light placed in me by the Light that called me into existence.  It is a deep and holy feeling to be folded in on oneself until all that matters is reconnecting with that Light.  Even on the darkest days and even when the sun is obscured by heavy clouds, the Light shines into that holy space within each of us and asks only that we hold the mirror and direct it to the corners where darkness gathers.

In three days, the moon will rise full and round.  I love the moon when it is at its brightest because, like me, it is only a mirror.  Still I know how wonderful it feels to be touched by its light.  Sometimes I think that maybe I am made of moondust.  I certainly can relate to its reflected sweetness; and I like to think that when the light bounces off me and touches a bit of darkness that maybe someone is sprinkled with the same sort of magic I feel on a moonlit night.

I will hope for some breaks in the clouds on that moon-filled night.  I will look into the darkness, where the candle cannot be seen, and remember that sometimes it takes a mirror to send the light shining.  Sometimes we are the candle and sometimes we are the mirror.  Either way, we are here to shine.

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”

— Stendhal

I know there are people out there who just love snow and crave the coming of winter; but the older I get, the colder winter seems to be.  On a zero-degree morning, when my fur-covered friend and I step into the frigid air and I feel my nostrils freeze solid after only a breath or two, all I can think about is a warm fire or maybe the coming of Spring.  These cold days present a dilemma for me.  If I am to embrace every moment of living, then I must find a way to love the icy days of winter as much as I love the balmy days of spring; but when my fingers are numb and my nose is frozen, it is hard to find something to enjoy.

Sometimes, when our noses are frozen and our hearts begin to feel the same way, what we really need is just a glimmer of hope.  Today that glimmer came from a little feathered creature.  As I returned from my walk, with my scarf pulled up around my nose and mouth, I spotted a clump of gray among the bare branches of the lilac hedge.  At first, I wasn’t sure just who I was seeing.  Then I realized that the fat little bird who sat huddled against the bitter wind was none other than my sleek friend, Mr. Mockingbird.

I laughed right out loud and then reminded myself that I should be quiet if I wanted him to stick around and keep me company.  Mr. Mockingbird, usually long and lean and perched on the highest treetop, was all puffed up and pulled in and trying to stay warm, just like me.  The feathers that usually lay flat and showed off his slim frame now held the air he had let in close to his body and wanted to keep there on such a blustery winter day.  His usual raucous voice was silent, as though staying warm required great concentration; and I knew in an instant that he was a kindred soul.  As I hunched my own shoulders so that only my eyes appeared between scarf and hat, I could sense that he understood my mixed feelings about embracing the day and wishing it away at the same time.

‘Well,’ I thought, ‘if you can brave the cold and wait patiently for the warm days that will make you sing again, then I guess I can do it, too.’  Sometimes all it takes is a little bird on a cold winter day to warm my heart with thoughts of Spring.  Sometimes all it takes is a tiny glimmer of hope to restore the love that has grown cold.  I pulled my scarf away, whistled in his direction, and waited.  There was no answer today except the silent vigil he kept there in the lilac tree.  He seemed to want me to remember that before long it would be blooming again.

“I am only one, But still I am one. I cannot do everything, But still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
— Edward Everett

Last night I had a blast!  I love to drum.  Ever since the first time my hand made contact with the skin of a djembe, I’ve been hopelessly hooked on making rhythms; and there is little that is more fun that joining with a bunch of other people and making our beats connect.  The demands of our life the past year have conflicted with nearly every opportunity that has come along, so it was especially sweet to finally see some old friends and make some noise.  I wouldn’t have missed our annual MLK drum event for the world, because it offers a chance to do something we love and lend a hand to a shared cause at the same time.

This year our circle raised money to help rebuild a town in New Jersey that was all but obliterated by Hurricane Sandy.  How does drumming do that?  We turn our event into a charitable one by encouraging each person who comes to contribute in whatever small way she can.  First there is our leader, Moe.  Instead of pocketing the $5 participation fee, she throws it into the pot and begins the fund that will accumulate during the course of the evening.  She could not hand over enough to fill the pot, but her generosity is a beginning.  Some folks donate items for a raffle and silent auction.  None of them could fill the charitable pot singlehandedly, but their generosity provides a way for other participants to become involved in bidding.  Each ticket puts another dollar into the fund, and each bid adds a lump sum into the pot.

I don’t have a lot of money to give, even to the most worthy cause.  Neither do most of the people who came to last night’s event.  But what we do share is a love of music and a spirit of kindness that brings us together once a year and makes us want to reach out to others.  We could sit at home and bemoan the fact that none of us, individually, could hope to make a dent in the recovery effort; but when we take the opportunity to make the small contributions we are able to offer, something amazing happens.  By the end of the evening, we had raised hundreds of dollars toward our shared cause, and we had a great time doing it.

I am only one, and I am not known for doing great things; but when I join together with like-minded people and offer my humble contribution to the larger group, I discover that sometimes it is the smallest push that can put a group effort over the top and move a mountain.  We must remember not to sit idle because we feel inadequate to do something huge on our own.  We must recognize and value the small things we are able to do and do them proudly.  When we lay all our efforts end to end, it is amazing how far they can reach.

“Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.”

— Adolph Monod

Newton’s first law of motion teaches us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion while an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  The same thing is true of human beings, but the reason for that truth goes beyond simple Physics.  Where objects lie between moving and staying still, we sometimes get trapped in a sort of mental and emotional inertia that keeps us from making the contributions we might add to the world.

How often do we resist taking action because we fear that we will fail?  It is true that we need to be realistic about taking on jobs that are beyond our abilities; but how do we judge where the line is drawn between things we could rise to achieve and those that really are better left to someone else?  We need to stretch if we are to grow; and sometimes we need to reach beyond our comfort zone and see whether we can grab onto the next rung of the ladder.  Only then can we discover whether we have the strength to hoist ourselves up to a new height.  And sometimes, if we take the risk and reach for the stars, we will find another person perched on the next rung and waiting for a traveling companion to combine forces and address the problem together.

How often do we resist taking action because our inflated self-importance tells us that a task is beneath our ability or our dignity?  There are many small things that go undone because they do not get completed with fanfare and recognition.  When something seems simple, we may see it as unimportant; but when we stop and think of how our days unfold, we can see that they are made up of an infinite stream of small and seemingly inconsequential events.  It is only when we take time to see the big picture. and realize how integral each tiny part is to the whole, that we begin to understand that it is important to pay attention to the small things.  What matters is not how important a task might be, but the love that we bring to its completion.  Mother Teresa reminds us to do small things with great love.  If we walk that path, we will never see our actions as unimportant.  There is nothing the world needs more than love.

Today we celebrate the life and the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was a man who dreamed big, called us to join together, and expected great things.  He also was a man who did the things he was able to do with great love.  He was the catalyst in an ongoing reaction that calls us to leave inertia behind and live in motion.  Don’t tell yourself that something is beyond your reach and fail to act because you fear you will not succeed.  Don’t tell yourself that you are too important to do the small, loving thing that will bring a touch of healing to your world.  Don’t confuse balance with inertia.  Reach, strive, join with others, and work in humility.  Together we can move mountains.

“The generations of living things pass in a short time, and like runners hand on the torch of life.”

— Lucretius

We all are runners, making our way along the route laid out before us and living our lives to the best of our abilities.  From the time we take our first wobbly steps until the time they begin to wobble again, we run a marathon that defines how the world will change us and how we will change the world.  When I think of the crowds of people who have lined my path as I’ve carried the torch of life from adventure through adventure, there are faces that stand out more vividly than others.  There are voice that have cheered me on in ways that have filled me with wisdom and left me awestruck that they have the power to touch the spark inside of me and rekindle my flame when I am short on courage.  As I have accepted their gifts and taken advantage of the burst of energy that comes with their offer of fuel, I have been thankful that they take the time to cheer me on as I run by.

Some of those people still are with me and some have been left behind.  Still their voices echo in my soul; and on days when I would be discouraged, I go to their words and their actions and their deeds for strength.  When do we stop looking to the wisdom of others and begin to discover that what has been planted in us now begs to be shared?  When do we slow down a bit and take the time to cheer on another runner?

Earlier this week, I shared with you a piece about leaps of faith.  It was about my granddaughter, Ivy, and how she has become a central figure in our lives and our hearts.  I want to finish that story today and talk about passing the torch.

In the evening of Ivy’s birthday, after dinner was done and gifts were opened, I asked her to sit with me for a minute.  “I have one more present for you,” I told her.  “It’s something I wrote today about taking a leap of faith, and I want to read it to you.”  As the story unfolded — one she has been central to, but one that began before she could begin to understand its significance — her face became quite stony and serious.  Suddenly, she interrupted my reading:

“Grandma!  What kind of present is this?  This is a terrible present.  It’s making me cry!”  With that, I heard her finally take a breath and begin to let out all the deep emotion she had been holding in.  “Let me finish,” I told her, and I read to the very last sentence.  Today I celebrate how being someone’s “nothing” can make her everything to me.

“Happy Birthday,” I told her, as she tried to regain her composure.  “So that was a terrible present?” I asked as I got up and put my arms around her.  “You know what I mean,” she answered; and I did know.  “Those are some pretty deep feelings,” I said, “and I hope you will hold onto them.  It’s important to discover all the deep things that live here,” I told her as I pounded my fist into the center of my chest.  “That is where the deepest things live — the ones that one day will swell up and make you take your own leap of faith.  Remember that feeling, because you will feel it again one day.”

I am not yet ready to relinquish the torch of life; but on a special birthday this year, I was able to touch it to the tinder that waited inside some one I love very much.  In that moment, I could hear all the words of the wise ones who have touched my own fire with theirs and made it burn brighter.  It is not enough to simply run our race.  We must be sure to gather things as we run and store them up for the time when we will move to the sidelines for a moment and touch the torch to another soul.  We must always be ready to hand on the torch of life.