Fear keeps me from you, my holy friend Not fear of you but fear of you seeing me, knowing me Fear of your disappointment and your deep sigh Fear of the recognition of myself within your eyes Ashamed and sad. How can I flee the love that would bring me to life? Why turn my heart from dear embrace? Like a small child, covering my eyes so you can’t see me I plug my ears and hum, forgetting that every molecule is sourced by you. Oh, hound of heaven, chase me down Until I turn at last to find you dancing in delight Until you lick my face in joy Willing, again, to humble yourself in incarnation Whatever form it takes to free my love.
“So then, lets go.” The traveler is beside me. He taps his staff upon the ground. I have my staff in my hand as well, and my pack upon my back. So we strike out together, toward the wild. He is humming to himself and I am holding my heart tightly in my hand, hoping and hoping not to fear.
We walk for quite a while. We are down the hill into the bramble. The call is before me and the traveler is striding quickly and I am doing all I can just to keep up.
At last we stop beside a small stream for a moment’s rest. The path is bathed in shade just here and we sit upon a fallen tree and rest our packs against a second log that has fallen just behind the first, forming a natural bench and a great place for rest.
After I catch my breath I turn to the traveler. I don’t quite know how to begin with all the questions that bubble in my heart. So, that is what I say, “I don’t know how to start – I have so many questions.”
“Begin with the first that rises to mind,” the traveler replies.
And I quiet myself to listen. Several questions vie within my mind, not fully formed. But I just wait until the confusion clears. At last I ask him what seems a simple start. “Where are we going?”
He smiles and nods and seems to fall into contemplation rather than to speak directly to me. “We are going to the heart of who we are; we are traveling to the unfolding of ourselves.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. This is too much a mystic’s answer and I was looking for something rather more concrete. I tell him so. “I am not asking about some mystical thing, but just the destination of this simple path within the wood.”
He smiles. “It goes just where I told you . . . and it goes to Silverton.” You are always walking a double path, you know – in your heart, into your self; and in this world to some concrete destination. It’s nice to be able to go two places at once, he muses and chuckles to himself as if he had just made a joke.
I sit befuddled. I can understand the symbolism in his talk, but it seems rather frivolous today, when I really need more substance than a koan.
“The seed and the kernel, that’s what they are,” he says.
“Aren’t those pretty much the same thing?”
“Yeah. They are.” He laughs again. He is having altogether too much fun this morning and I’m not catching any of his jokes.
I kick at a small rock on the path with my foot, and when it turns over, I am surprised to see light coming from beneath it. It startles me.
I turn to the traveler and he kneels down in the path and picks up the stone, which seems really quite ordinary. But in the space where it sat, there is a tiny beam of light. He places the stone in his pocket as if it were somehow a treasure. He pats his pocket and says, “Now you don’t see that everyday, do you?”
“No,” I say “What is that light?”
“It is fire-moss,” he answers, “and it carries its own luminescence, even when apart from the sun.”
“Is that a good thing?” I ask.
“What do you think?”
“I thought we should not seek any light apart from the sun.”
“Well then, lets just cover it up,” he says and begins to push dirt into the dimple in the ground left by the stone. The light is soon extinguished.
Now I am really confused. “Why did you do that?”
“I thought you said we’re to find no light but the sun. So, I covered that which you did not want to see.”
“But is it a matter of my wants or of truth?”
“Ah!” he says and shakes his head and seems once more to hold a private conversation between himself and his own thoughts. That is the extent of his reply.
“Enough of these one way jokes and musings,” I say out loud and start to go back down the road from where we came. But as I rise I know that I will not retrace my steps. I turn and shrug and kneel in the path and remove the dirt from the fire-moss. It takes a bit of effort but soon it is shining once more.
“It seems a shame to bury a wonder.” I say, almost as if it was an excuse, but he seems to need no explanation. He just smiles again to himself, and it makes me want to strike at him.
“Why so smug?” I mutter.
“Not smug,” he says, “assured. I knew you would not let the light stay covered. You wouldn’t deny what is because of a rule someone once gave. Rules are often made especially for the time of their creation, but they stay around too long, sometimes. That is when we wilt.”
“But letting go of rules, is scary.” I object. “What gives me the right to accept and reject the rules of the wider world, of life? How would I know what to keep and what to ignore? I am far too ignorant to be a rule changer.”
“Oh, that is true,” he says with deep seriousness. “You do not rule the world.”
This slight twist on my words reveals their true meaning. It is not mine to decide on what is. Or what is not. Mine is to offer an honest response.
“So, if you can’t rule the world, at least will you rule yourself?”
“Seems I should … If I could.”
“Ah,” he says and nods. “Ah. There’s the rub.”
“Yes, there’s the rub . . . So, I must trust the rule maker to make the path and trust myself to walk it? But how do I know when my mind is playing tricks or when I am following truth? How can I discern the right path from fiction or convenience or my own wrongheadedness?”
“Right path, wrong path . . . you must trust.”
“Such changeability makes trust hard.”
I am befuddled again. How do I trust, when it may be the wrong path, when I am so easily fooled? It is certainly not the path nor myself where I must place my trust. And with that realization, I find a kernel of comfort, of truth. In my mind’s eye I pick it up and turn it over and underneath the fire-moss glows brightly.
“It is ok to trust one who loves you deeply.” The traveler whispers in my ear and then is gone.
I am left on the trail, alone, holding in my heart a small stone of helpful trust; a small light both new and ancient. It glows within me. And suddenly my vision clears a bit and I can see myself, the trail, the stone, the light, all in Gods hands. And she is smiling. And so I am content.
Let me be an April fool if I am in your hands.
I am content with foolishness and mystery.
They are close cousins and my friends.
(republished as a way back in … and as a recognition that I’m still grateful to be an April fool)
4 12 15
4 1 02
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.
Could it be that you whisper within me
That every breath is your breath
That every hope holds seeds of your hope
That my love echoes yours
That my eyes are shaped by your beauty
That you are in me
And I am in you
More fully than I ever knew?
Could it be that you are training my eyes to see
The life that shines between all things
As they dance together in your hands?
All things, all things (yes, even that)
Are in your hands.
I see only dimly, now.
But, oh, I long for more.
How blessed I am to live a quiet life
To feel the brush of eternity in clay
To know your smile
To seek your heart
To leave a whisper of that joy
In the ears of the world.
My call reflects both my essence and yours.
How full of grace
That we could dance together now
I find I am still standing at the mouth of the cave. I tell myself I will go in; I will explore its depths. But then I see a shiny stone or a bit of grass or a tiny flower and I let myself be distracted. And here I am, still dawdling at the entrance.
Then the sky darkens and it begins to rain – a blowing rain that drives me into the cave. I step, at last, within the shadows and shake my arms and brush the wet from my hair. And sigh. With one last glance to the world outside, I turn to face the cavern that opens behind me.
I reach out my left hand to touch the cold stone wall beside me and use its surface as a guide to move a bit deeper into the cave. I move slowly, giving my eyes time to adjust; giving my heart a moment to still its racing.
I feel sure that there is something within the cave that waits for me – but I am not so sure I really want to find it. I am old enough to know that any encounter changes me. I have floundered enough to know that I am not always up to the adventure.
Yet, here I am. My hand plays along the wall. I press my lips into a hard, tight line and take the next step, mumbling a bit of a prayer within my heart.
‘Help me, help me,’ I mutter. It’s about the best I can do, these days, when it comes to prayer. I hope it is enough.
So, having braced my heart a bit, I move on. As I go deeper into the cave, I imagine that I will lose the ability to see. But my eyes do adjust and I find a small luminescence – some tiny bits of a lichen that seem to hold a light of their own, dotted along the path before me. They lead me deeper and deeper in.
I can barely see the step before me, but when I take it, the next one becomes clear. One step at a time; one small breath of hope; one by one, I move along.
After a bit, I begin to wonder, am I actually going somewhere? Is it somewhere I should go – or am I just walking in circles or wandering into trouble? What made me think the venture into this cave was right?
Ah, my mind is so very good at second-guessing. It’s almost as good as finding distractions to keep me from moving forward.
Trust is harder. But somehow I begin to realize that that it’s not the path that I must trust. It’s not even the sense of call or the tiny lights along the way.
It is the promise of companionship. I am not alone in this cave; nor was I alone at its mouth. Life is always in motion. There is no standing still.
But there is a difference between moving forward and just moving. And ‘forward’ is always toward deeper relationship.
When my desire is toward you, and I take a step (could it be any step, in any direction?) you are there. It is the direction of my heart, rather than the direction of my feet, that marks my progress.
I think I can see you smile. I reach out my right hand for yours and feel its warmth. I drop my other hand from the wall of the cave and trust your warmth to lead me. We walk the path of tiny lights together.
As we round a corner, we come into a space where the cave opens up from above in a cascade of light. I step into that flood of light. I have to close my eyes against its brilliance, but I lift my face and let it bathe me. I let it fall around my form. We both smile. We are both grateful for this small moment of connection.
I am at home. It is, as it has always been, within your embrace. You are my home, my path, my destination.
A friend recently asked, ‘Who – what – is God, anyway?’ The question rumbled around in my heart for days … and here is one response:
God is the life-force, the love-force, that (who) holds everything together and moves everything toward deeper and deeper relationship – relationship with God and, thus, each other.
Or, working backwards, as we often do, we seek deeper relationship with each other and, through that, a deeper relationship with God, herself. True relationship, true love, always points to and reflects God, for God is love. Thus, even feeble, faltering, messy attempts to love can be steps in the right direction.
We might as well ask, what is the universe? For, as we connect more and more of the dots, we find that they reflect a mysterious unity. This scattered, shattered beauty is being drawn together in love. It blossoms and grows where it can. It repairs and reconciles where that is needed. In the end, love triumphs by loving.
It seems so weak, sometimes, to wait on love, to yield to love, to refuse to use coercion, to leave yourself so vulnerable. In the end, it is the only thing strong enough to hold it all together. And, that is heaven: being held together in love – in God.
To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or say as well in another; and the more languages you speak, the more nuanced your understanding of life becomes. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi- lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro
And so, the tower of Babel is redeemed
When we build the conversation, together,
After, first, listening to the silence of true presence.
Somehow my heart knows the language
My tongue is loosed to sing
Before my mind can catch the melody.
Somehow, sometimes, if my mind will follow, rather than lead
I can wake to the deep reality
That is always, always, holding my true self.
And then the cascading voices,
The orchestra of life,
Is deep, and rich, and full.
All nature sings …
And we, as a part of the singing universe,
Find our tiny selves expanded within the One.
There are no words
And yet, I cannot keep quiet,
Not when that deep quiet within me stirs to life.
At the end of the day (or the beginning)
The heart of my faith rests in my heart.
It’s not the creeds or doctrines.
It’s not the smells and bells.
It is the hope (and sometimes realization)
Of the touch of the Holy on my soul.
That hope and promise of relationship,
My hope – our hope together –
Is what has held me firm,
Even as I question and struggle
With the forms and frames that have been dictated to me.
The path is not the destination.
“Spirituality is the moonbeam.
Religion is the box we try to catch it in.”
We need the box,
Else the real is too elusive for beginners.
And we are all beginners, to the end.
But the box is not a substitute for what gives life.
A God who loves me:
That is the source and joy of life.
An invitation to reciprocate that love,
(For love is full only when it is freely returned)
That is the mystery.
That holy circle of grace is all in all.
[The quotation about the moonbeam is from DR. KWEETHAI NEILL, PHD]
[Thanks to Timothy Luke Johnson for the insight that it is the experience of God, not correct doctrine, that is the abiding power of Christianity.]
[photo by Judy van der Velden per cc 2.0]
Faith has the ability
to hold on to hope in a world like this.
Faith resides in the whole self
and grows in community.
Faith is often shaped more by story than by fact:
Faith gives new eyes, new ears, a new heart,
to see the culture of love emerging.
I need this kind of faith.