dusty gems

packagesAAAAugh! I am fighting desperately to dig myself out of the heaps of responsibility and dread and guilt which I feel. Too much, too much and no relief. All the burdens I pushed away yesterday, to make it through that journey, come tumbling down around me, today.

I am trapped in an aisle of the warehouse, buried on all sides by parcel, books and papers. There is no order to my life and, more than that, no hope. I juggle tasks like people juggle their checkbook when they don’t have enough to pay all the bills, selecting in turn which project to neglect, so that all are behind, dragged along with strings of apologies and regret.

In fact, as I extract myself from the pile and make way down the aisle, they follow me, tied to me with ropes and strings, thumping and bumping along. I pick up one or two to carry as they get stuck in crevices and up against the shelves, but I cannot carry them all. I am haunted by their presence, oppressed by their weight. I use all my effort and it is not nearly enough.

I have tried resolve. I have tried list making and inventory taking, but I cannot find relief. My deep and hidden fear is that in the midst of my confusion I will neglect those things that really do matter and fill my arms with the bundles of irrelevant effort that someone else has decided would be good.

My eyes fill with tears and my chest aches with grief and disappointment in myself. I am only a whisper of what I need to be. I am only fading ink upon a page, a thread and not a cable. I have no strength to do what I must do. I am leaning against the tall metal shelving of the warehouse, crying listless tears, with not even enough energy to cry aloud. I feel no desperate rush of strength and fury, for that, too, has been spent.

I crumble to the floor into a heap of dust, no substance left.

A wise Narnian dwarf comes down the aisle. He has a broom and dustpan in his hand and begins to sweep my rubble into a pile. He scoops it up, and singing to himself takes it off to the trash. “Wait!” I cry, “Don’t you see me here? Don’t you know that this is all that is left of what am trying to do, what I am trying to be? Don’t throw away the ashes of my effort so lightly.”

“They are trash,” He says. “You have declared them so.”

“But they are all I have.”

“And so you have nothing.”

“Don’t confirm my fears in this way,” I beg. “Don’t relegate me to nothingness.”

“It is not my doing, but yours. You created the heap of ashes, you pronounced yourself worthless. I am only responding to our words.”

“But is it true?” I whisper “Is it true, what I feel? Is there no hope? I do not wish to be useless.”

“Much of what you feel is true,” He says. He has set the pile of ashes and rubble back on the floor and sits crosslegged before it, speaking to it, to me, in earnestness. “But you have not seen all the truth. You must look beyond your narrow vision. All you have used to judge yourself are measures which you cannot meet. You, yourself, have set the measuring sticks and you have marked them far beyond what you can do. There is no way to win when you have set the goals at such a distance.”

“What can I do?” I grieve. “What now for me?”

“You must look to other truths. The measure of yourself is not the vessel, but its contents. You have stretched your wineskin so tight that it has torn, trying to gather up all you see into yourself. Now you spill yourself upon the floor. Let go, let go, the whole world is not your charge.”

“Help me to let go. Help me to find the wisdom to release what is not mine to hold.”

“If anyone needs wisdom, let them ask. He promises to answer. But you must be willing to listen. He has not promised to rescue all your little projects. Yet you are still looking to them, hoping to find ways to create time — that is beyond you. Give it up.”

I shift within my pile of dust and sigh. “Okay, I let go my tight grip upon this rubble. I ask for wisdom.”

The Dwarf jumps to his feet, grabs the dustpan, scoops me up and strides away. I stifle a protest, swallow down my fearful grief and prepare to meet humiliation.

But he stops on the way to the trash heap beside a large drum with a wire mesh cover. He pours the ashes of myself upon that cover. Then he shakes the drum and flakes of me fall through the wire to the refuse heap below. The charred remains of good ideas and grand schemes tumble through the grid. Secret plans of my own glory, ones that I have even refused to acknowledge, fall through as well. Noble aspirations, they go too. But when he is finished shaking, there is something of me remaining on the top of the sieve. A handful of gems, dusty, but true. He reaches out and gathers them up and wraps them in a velvet cloth that he has pulled from inside his waistcoat.

“What is there?” I ask. “Can you name the gems?”

“Oh yes,” he says, “I can name them all.” The voice is no longer that of the dwarf, but the voice of the Holy One. “I know these gems, for I have been mining them, crafting them within you. They include your love for me and, greater still, my love for you. You can see the red drop of my own blood with this diamond, here. Your relationship with Tim is here, and with your children. Your family and your friends are among your gems, the treasures of your soul. And they will remain regardless of the outcomes of your projects, large or small. They have true and lasting value.”

“I know and love those gems. I have been richly blessed.” But I cannot keep the next question from rising to my lips. “What of my work? Is it all to be trashed? Is it all dust and rubble?”

“It is not meant to stand on its own. Without other supports it crumbles into useless refuse. Built upon relationships, it can provide expression for the truth. Seek not the form, but the substance.”

“Your sayings are hard,” I reply. “I do not know how to live them. I do not know, when I turn from my meditation, how to pick up my day with discernment. I cannot see the difference between rubbish and treasure. Help me to pull your reality into my working day today, so that I can see, with your wisdom, the choices I should make.”

Suddenly we are beside the well of joy. He reaches to the well and brushes it surface with his hand, he dips out a palm-full of its water. With his other hand, he touches a finger into his palm and a single drop of water, he places on each of my eyes. “May the light of your body bring light to our soul. May My very Spirit, which grows within you, answer that light with light of its own, until you truly see.”

This blessing he pronounces over me and then is gone.

I’m not sure that my vision is fully altered yet. But today I vow to look at what I do with eyes that are being renewed. “Help me, Lord to see.”

He whispers, “You shall see.”

1/31/95

[photo by Tim Ellis per cc 2.0]

 

the crystal globe

rose preserved in resin globe.jpg

I walk slowly into the darkened room. A small, dim glow is coming from a table in the middle of the room, barely visible from the door. The room is large and it is quiet. So very quiet. I hesitate to move and disturb the stillness, but that little light is calling to me, ‘Come, come.’

So, I step cautiously forward, trying to keep my movements from disturbing even the air around me. I make my way to the table. It is a dark, rich wood. In the middle is a small ball or globe with something inside. That is the source of the tiny light.

I put my hands on the table for balance and lean forward for a closer look. It is a globe of crystal, perfectly clear, its rounded edges almost invisible. And there within the crystal is a rose, encased, preserved … imprisoned?

That final thought catches me by surprise, but then becomes unavoidable. A rose is a living thing. It cannot stay still, even in ‘perfect’ suspension, else it dies. As beautiful as this is – this crystal globe, this perfect rose, it is, somehow wrong. It is not meant to be preserved, unchanging. It is meant for life.

I reach out a tentative finger and touch the globe. My fingerprint mars the surface, making its edges clearer, defining the surface that keeps me separate from the rose itself.

‘Look, but don’t touch,’ it seems to say. But the message of the globe and the message of the rose are different. The globe wants to keep things in their current state – clear, pure, perfect. The rose wants to grow.

It is then I see the small dark hammer that sits beside the globe, almost camouflaged against the dark grain of the table. I look around. I cannot see anyone else in the room, but it is large and dark, so I cannot tell for sure. The quiet seems to speak of absence, as well, but, again, I cannot know.

So, I do what I know I must do. I pick up the hammer and, at first tentatively, I tap the crystal globe. It makes a ringing sound, but does not break. The ringing seems to crack the stillness and quiet of the room … but the globe is unchanged. It does seem that the light has grown a bit brighter.

I take a deep breath and strike harder at the globe. It is a glancing blow that slides off the side of the globe, but the ringing that results shatters the quiet and I hear a rumble of voices around me. I begin to see movement at the sides of the room and feel a current of … anger? How dare I strike this perfect thing?

Yet the rose, still trapped within, is calling to me again. Before I can change my mind, I strike the crystal with a focused intensity and it shatters with a scream. I drop the hammer and put my hands over my ears and crumple forward against the edge of the table.

The voices from the sides of the room become figures – tall and majestic and, yes, very angry. They rush the table and surround me. One grabs me by the collar and shakes me, hard.

But the scream has subsided and in its place there is a melody – a song of joy – that has erupted from among the shards of crystal that lie upon the table. The rose is singing. Strong and free at last, it unfolds its leaves a bit and shakes its petals and sends forth a song and a fragrance that fills the room.

The shock of this change takes the figures around me by surprise. The leader drops my collar and stumbles back a few steps. Then they all turn and run, their hands over their ears. It is as if the song, for them, is as piercing as the scream had been for me.

And so I am left alone with the rose. Or so I think, at first. I am leaning over the table, looking closely at the rose when I feel a presence beside me. It is, I can tell, a holy presence. It begins to sing with the rose – a lilting harmony that twines itself with the rose’s melody and almost paints a visible image in the air. I find myself singing, as well, softly, but in harmony.

Then other voices fill the room, coming from all corners and in all languages: thin, high voices and deep, low thunders that seem to shake the room to its depths. These others … other people, yes … and mythical creatures and even vines and flowers interweave themselves around the table, arm in arm, spirit in spirit.

And the rose begins to grow. It opens its petals to a light that seems to shine on it from … from all the crowd and from a source bigger, fuller, more real, that is just beyond perception. The light comes from the rose, as well. We are all bathed in it; encompassed by it; filled with it.

Then, to my dismay, the rose, which has fully opened, begins to drop its petals. They fall upon the table. It is part of a flower’s pattern of growth to bloom and then to die. But, even as my eyes well up with tears, I see the seeds fall from its center onto a deep loam that is there at the roots of the rose. My own tears and those of others standing near provide the water for those seeds, as they begin to sprout and grow.

The beauty of the crystal globe, the quiet solemnity of the room, are far surpassed by this joyous, melodic celebration of growth and change … and life.

My heart is full.

 

[photo by Sam Villaroman per cc 2.0]

deep wood

dark wood

I am in a dark wood, trying to find my way. All the trees look the same. What seems to be a path will disappear in a tangle of brush after just a few steps. The moon has not come up. The sounds of the night wear a menacing edge.

I try to keep from panicking. I tell myself to breathe. How did I get here? How can I find my way home? It is as if I suddenly came to consciousness in this place. It seems I’ve been here quite a while, but unaware. Which means, unfortunately, that I can’t retrace my steps.

There is no visible threat, but my heart is beating in my ears. I can hardly think. I’ve heard the stories of terror and all of them are breathing down my neck at once. My imagination fuels my fear.

As I cast to the right and to the left, I see the dark form of a large tree. I make my way there and, circling the bulk, I push aside a low branch, and crawl inside the canopy. I find a place where there is a bit of room and I lean myself against the trunk.

With my back to the tree and a large branch on either side, I feel my panic begin to subside. Here, at least for a moment, I can breathe and take stock of my surroundings. Here, cuddled up against the bulk of the tree, I release my frantic wanderings and whisper a prayer.

Then, to my surprise, I begin to notice other things. I feel the slightest breeze and it carries the scent of pine upon its breath. I notice that the ground beneath me is covered with a blanket of pine needles, softening its surface. The branches on either side are full of life, earning their monicker of ever-green. I raise my eyes to see the stars through the highest branches, punctuating the night sky with hope.

The moon sneaks out from behind a cloud. It had been there all along. It’s face wears a craggy smile as it sends its shimmering light upon the grasses down the hill. Turns out, this tree is at the edge of a clearing. From it, I watch a cautious doe lead her fawn out into the open space. She lifts her head at a sharp sound and sniffs the air. Then she resumes her grazing.

The wood is full of undeniable danger, but it is also filled with beauty. Now my prayer has turned from desperation to gratitude. For a moment I am in a wood that is deep with wonder. It is the same wood – mysterious, and whispering grace.

 

[photo by ShinyPhotoScotland per cc 2.0]

a bit of help

a path in the woods

I sit on a fallen tree trunk, which lies across the entrance to the path into the woods which flank the meadow. The day is bright and crisp and carries the cool promise of coming fall. It is a pleasant morning. Just rousing itself in the songs of the birds and in the rustle of leaves. The day stretches itself and yawns in the early breeze.

I’d like to sit and glean the tiny bit of warmth from the sunshine of the morning but my work calls to me from inside the woods. I stretch and, reluctantly, looking back toward the meadow, I prepare to start down the path.

As I rise, it is as if the branches of each tree reach out to grab me for the task they hold. They are all competing demands for action and for attention. I am taken aback by the way the pleasant morning has now become a barrage. Instead of stepping forward, I a compelled to step back and I almost stumble as I fall back upon the log. My projects greet me like a slap in the face, though individually they are things I really want to do.

Too much, continually too much, it is a burden. It saps the energy I brought to the morning. Each time I think I have begun to get a handle on my tasks, I turn and find them grasping me instead. This is not the abundant life, this is the life of — of what? I want to say over-abundance, because it seems to fit the flow of the sentence… yet I don’t feel rich, I feel robbed – of all energy and resolve, of all hope of quality in my endeavors. Too much leaves not enough….not enough of me.

A few desperate tears catch the corner of my eye and burn my cheek. I look at my life and see myself trying to tape dried fruit on barren branches.

I need a moment’s rest, and yet, even at the start of the day, I am exhausted. When I push away the burdens, they only scream at me louder on my return. Their voices echo even in my moments of attempted rest. Yet I cannot abandon them. They are obligations that I have owned, that I have taken on with my friends, and if I put them down, I make the burdens of my friends that much greater.

The priorities that I face now, I have taken on months ago, when my calendar looked empty and the breath of their urgency seemed far away. Now they breathe down my neck and sap my strength, leaving me with discouragement as an additional load to carry through my day.

“Help me,” I whisper. “Help me carry the burden of my day. Help me move this heap of effort forward. Help me gather the sticks of a thousand chores and carry them in my two arms one more day’s journey down the path.” I ask the impossible. I might as well ask for another set of arms to do my work.

Then beside me stands a little man, a Narnian dwarf not any taller than myself, but obviously strong and wiry, with a full beard and kind eyes. He nods his head and waits. I look up, look around me, unsure of what I should do. The dwarf smiles and touches me on the shoulder. “I am here to help you,” he says. “I have come come to provide that extra set of arms you asked him for.”

“How can you help?” I ask. “What among my load can you carry? They are chores which I have taken up and which require my effort.”

“There are some burdens I am very able to help with,” he says. “You must indeed carry your daily tasks, but I will carry other burdens. I can take your fear, your discouragement, and your frantic desperation. I will bring along the liquid joy of humor to strengthen you as we walk, and I will keep you company. Draw from my strength and the strength of those around you. We will make it through today. That much we can do.”

I start to rise, but with one small gesture, he bids me wait just one more moment. “Don’t forget your manna,” he says, and pulls out of his pocket a napkin which holds two pieces of the smooth, sweet bread. He spreads it on the ground and offers a brief prayer. We each take a loaf and eat. The bread, the company and the ceremony give me strength.

As we we turn to leave, he begins to hum a brisk walking tune. It cheers us on our way as we step over the log and begin the journey of the day. The dwarf smiles at me. I smile at him and I can actually reach to respond  to the branches which dip to demand my actions.

Today. We can do today.

 

[photo by benefit of hindsight per cc 2.0]

the donkey

gentle donkeyI am back on the floor of the canyon and see the path as before. I begin, again, to walk the path, not sure where it is leading. I walk and walk, but I seem to make no progress. The scenery around me is so much the same, from step to step.

This sense of futile movement only increases as I enter a bank of fog. Indeed, I worry that I might inadvertently step off the edge of the trail and fall into a ravine. A sense of fear joins my sense of futility and I am tempted to stop altogether.

But then, I am joined on the path by a wise and gentle donkey, who just appears beside me, as I walk. His step is sure and he seems to know this path well. His presence strengthens me and quells my fear. It is good to have this bit of companionship. Occasionally I reach out to touch him; resting my hand upon his back as we walk; steadying my step.

I continue to doubt that I am making progress, but there is really nothing else I know to do but walk. And so we do. At last the donkey takes me to an overlook, where we can catch a larger view. To my surprise, we have actually progressed quite a long way from the floor of the canyon.

Later we stop to rest. I ask the donkey who he is – he is so wise and benevolent. His name, he says, is Jesus – and, indeed, he is.

I am mortified that my meditation has cast him as a donkey. But he only smiles: that is the best I can do right now, and he does not despise the role. He is willing to lead me through the canyon and carry my burdens. Someday I will grow to the point where he is no longer a donkey.

4/28/82

[photo by Laura Wolf per cc 2.0]

The Gray Wolf and the Wind

gray wolf advancing“I COMMAND YOUR DAY,” he growls, that gray wolf of late assignments and neglected duties. “I will eat your life, will consume your energy, will wear you out for no gain.” He relishes his role. “I don’t even care if you succeed in your tasks. It’s your soul, your spirit I am after. I can throw you crumbs of accomplishment and you will eat them eagerly and still you will starve.”

I am beaten. I slump against a fallen log and sit with hollow resignation, waiting for his teeth to tear my heart. I can fight no longer. I have nothing left to throw up in my defense. He circles the tree, my form, with gritty pleasure. He licks his chops and chomps his teeth in anticipation.   I wait.

My heart faintly whispers a plea, helpless and with no faith to send it upward, it hangs upon my lips and drops to the ground. I am defeated.

“But I am not.” An angel has seated herself beside me on the fallen log. She removes her cloak and wraps it round my shoulders. It is warm and smells of adventure. It wraps my soul. Then she stands and plants her staff in the ground. She draws a circle in the dirt, surrounding me, surrounding the log, surrounding herself.   “This place is claimed as holy,” she proclaims.

The wolf is pacing now, angry, suspicious and with glaring eye. He charges at the circle, but at the last moment diverts his steps. He growls and throws his anger at the circle, at the two of us within it. He rails against the barrier and gnashes his teeth. “Why do come you to rescue this pitiful soul?” he demands of the angel. “Why waste your effort on one who has nothing to give, not even a whimper of resistance. This one is of no value to you. Leave her and let me finish my feast, it is no loss to you.”

“If she is insignificant, why do you want her so?” The angel asks.

“I gain pleasure in defeat… she is giving me what I desire.” The wolf replies.

“You want to extend your kingdom beyond its current boundaries, but she belongs to another kingdom, exists within another’s realm. You cannot claim her soul. You see, it is you that have been defeated already. Eating at her only feeds your fantasy that you can regain what you have already lost.”   The angel is calm and measured in her reply, but it is clear that she is on her guard. Confrontation with a wolf is not to be taken lightly.

“Fool, fool!” The wolf shrieks and paces. “You think your words can put me off, you think that you have strength against me when it is obvious that I have the power of this world. You cannot resist me.”

He cannot contain himself in his anger. But instead of charging the circle, as it seemed to me that he would do, he turns and charges off into the woods.

When we are alone, the angel turns to me and helps me to my feet. Her cloak is still wrapped around my shoulders. She grasps my shoulders in her hands and gazes into my eyes. “Do not give in to despair. The great wolf’s only power is deceit. Do not give in.” Her voice both pleads and commands. “Take this cloak, this staff and claim your ground as holy. Do not let him enter.”

As the angel turns to go, she slips a leather belt from her waist and hands me a pouch that was hanging from it. “Do not forget to eat.” She says, quietly. “Feed your soul on truth, on the words of hope, on relationship.” Then she is gone.

I sit upon the log, wrap the cloak around me and open the pouch. I eat the manna with a grateful heart. Around my heart I draw a circle with the staff. “I claim this as holy ground,” I whisper and hold the staff tightly in my hands.

My heart whispers a prayer of its own, “Save me from the wolf’s breath.”

The wind answers. “I will save.”

 10-20-95

[image cropped from photo by Kurt Bauschardt per cc 2.0]

rabbit’s question

rabbitOne day, there was a rabbit that came to the Master with a question. Being a rabbit, she really didn’t have words to ask, but she came close and thumped her back feet and looked into the eyes of the Master in a way that he understood. He reached down and brought the rabbit close and whispered in the rabbit’s long and very sensitive ears.

“I do love you,” the Master whispered. “I always do.”

And the rabbit, after realizing that was indeed the answer to her question, curled up beside the Master and went to sleep. And this was the rabbit’s dream:

She was in a rough country, stormy and dark, very little grass, no gardens. She wondered why she should be journeying in such a place and whether any good could come of it.

And the master whispered through the dream, “I love you, always.”

And the rabbit began to hop along the path that appeared before her, stopping, on occasion, to eat a lonely sprig of grass beside the dusty path. She hopped on, unsure of why and where she was going, only sure that the path was there in front of her.

She kept hopping along for quite a while, until finally, she noticed that the grass was a bit more abundant, the sun a bit brighter, and there was small stream beside the now-less-dusty path. She stopped for a drink and to eat her fill. There was a hollow log beside the trail, so she snuggled in for a nap.

And she dreamed within her dream that she was again beside the Master, that he held her close and whispered in her long and sensitive ears, “I love you.” And she realized this was still the question that she most desired to ask, and the answer she was seeking. This was the reason she kept hopping along the trail, and this was the destination.

And she slept on, with a rabbit-smile in her heart.

[photo by Robert Allen per cc 2.0]