Follow the Song

through the plainI wake on the plain, beside the angel. The fire has died into ash-covered embers and the night sky has begun to fade to morning. The angel is sitting, back to the fire, looking out into the plain. He is robed already and has his staff in his hand. He looks at me and smiles. We gather our supplies, cover the fire, and begin the day’s journey.

It is a pleasant walk at first. He is humming softly to himself and the air is almost sweet with the fragrance of the wet grass. My feet are damp with dew. I shift the pack upon my back, balancing it on my hips, letting the shoulder straps lie slack.

The pack creaks softly as I walk. The weight of the backpack is so much easier to carry when it fits well.

On we walk, step, step, step, forward on the faintly visible path. If the angel were not guiding me, I would not really be able to tell the path from the ruts of dried streams and the passageways of animals who cross the plain in their daily search for food. My own path is hard to discern among the others. But the angel is confident and strides forward in even, unhurried, but determined steps.

“How do you know the way'” I ask, “since all these patches of earth look the same?”

He pauses on the trail and looks down. “The ground does look the same,” he observes. “That is not where the path is marked. It is written in my heart. I follow his call and not a path. Do you not hear it?”

I strain my ears, but I am not aware of any call, of any sound to guide my steps. I shake my head, a bit chagrined. It’s obvious that I am a novice here.

“Then I will teach you to listen,” the angel replies. He begins to hum. “This melody has been sung throughout the ages in response to the majesty of God. It springs forth when his presence is seen. Its tune, its cadence, its underlying essence is the pattern for your call. Learn the song. Sing it to yourself.”

“The song is my call?” I ask. “The same song of the ages, the same call?”

“No,” the angel replies, “the song only reveals the pattern in which your call will come and acquaints you with the essence it will bring. You learn from the song to recognize your own call when it comes. The song trains your inner ear to hear the call of God.”

“When will he call?” I ask.

“He calls you now.”

I feel desperate. “But I cannot yet hear it.”

“He knows and he will call until you hear. Be patient. Trust him to teach. As long as your heart is directed toward him, you cannot fail, for he is your partner in your journey. And he never fails. He is still creating you, with your cooperation. He tunes your ears, your heart, to hear the melody, to play the melody. Then you will find your purpose, and others will use your melody to find their own.   As long as you desire to follow, he is patient to lead. You demonstrate your desire; indeed, you fulfill your desire by singing the song that tunes your ears to his call.

When you have learned to recognize it, you will hear and know.”

“Teach me the ancient song.”

“Listen.” The angel begins to hum an ancient and intricate melody, a rich history of faith played out in notes of strength and assurance upon the air. There is an essence in the song that speaks to my ears. I strain to hear and learn. The angel smiles and we begin to walk again. He is humming, and I, once in a while, can anticipate a note and join the song.

Don’t look to the earth to find your path. It is not there. It is being called forth within you by the partnership between his creative hand and your willing spirit. It fits you well. Rejoice in the process and in the promise of its completion.

1/11/95

[the photo is my own]

Unwrapping a gift

unwrapping a gift

As a child I always unwrapped my gifts slowly,
Cutting the tape with a slender knife,
Trying not to tear the paper,
Preserving the ribbon.
It was my way of making the anticipation linger.

My sisters used to laugh at me.
Now, sometimes, they join me …
Extending the moment,
Making the process a part of the gift.

This morning, I hold within my hands
A small gift, as yet not fully opened.
Indeed, as I carefully remove the wrapping,
I find another layer underneath.

I cut a piece of tape
And the paper on that corner pops free.
I turn the box and touch the knife to the edge of the tape
Another corner, freed.

The gift, I realize, is the gift of attention.
To feel the crinkle of the paper,
The release of tension as it opens up,
To see, with sweet surprise, the beauty of each layer.

I look to the first wrapping, now at my feet.
It still holds the creases of the box,
Curled up, as it is, into a shape
That echoes its earlier embrace.

It is not the box, but it hints of its presence.
Just as the practices of my faith
Hold and convey a form that is very like the gift inside
They help me see its shape.

I am grateful for the wrapping
And the treasure, deep inside,
Not yet fully revealed,
But happily anticipated.

[image modified from photo by mob mob per cc 2.0]

a monopoly on reality?

monopoly gameI am the small tin dog in the Monopoly game, caught in the circuit of the board. Pass go, collect $200, buy a house, market and trade, weather the bad cards, revel in the good ones and then… go to jail. I sit for a moment concentrating on the board in front of me when suddenly the “jail corner” grows to envelope the whole board. There is noting there but jail.

I turn and trot on my little tin legs to the edge of the playing surface and, without warning, I jump. I tumble through the air off the edge of the board, off the edge of the table, falling into nothingness. Panic strikes my heart – maybe the game is all there is. Maybe I am wrong to believe that truth lies elsewhere.

But just as these thoughts enter my head, I am caught in a strong wind. It whips around me at first, tossing me with its turbulent edges. But when I find the middle, there is calm. I sit within the movement of its powerful direction, and because I move within it, it seems almost still, like the calm of a sailboat catching the wind and pulling forward. The waves slap and the sail billows, but the riders who follow the wind are not buffeted by its power.

The wind carries me along like this for a good distance, high above the surface of a country I cannot identify, high above the trees and cities, over wisps of cloud that sit below me as I move on the current of the higher air. Then I am deposited on a hillside. I shake my tinny legs and roll in the grass for a moment and then lie, panting with excitement, on the grassy slope.

I am met there by a child. He wears a sweater and some woolen shorts. He walks over to me and sits beside me and places his hand upon my tin body. As he does, beginning where his hand touches me, I slowly turn from tin to flesh and bones. The doggy colors of my new coat melt over me, almost anoint me as they replace the coldness of the metal that I was before. I lick his hand with a warm, wet tongue and he smiles and wipes his hand upon his shorts.

“I’m glad you came,” he says, and rises. He begins to walk toward the crest of the hill. I follow. As we reach the top, I can see, spread before me, a whole countryside of fields and forests, with a small town nestled at the edge of the woods. Scattered among the houses in the village, there are a few red plastic houses from the Monopoly set, full size but just as empty as they are in the game. They boy smiles at them when he sees where I have fixed my gaze.

“When they no longer choose to be empty, they will be transformed as well. It seems an easy choice, but it is not.”

“I know.” As I speak the words, I am no longer a dog. I am a child about the same size as the boy. He reaches out and takes my hand.

“I think we are ready to begin,” he says and he turns and walks with me on a path toward the village.

4 14 95

[photo by Barbara Friedman per cc 2.0]

the Afterlings

gremlinToday is too big and I am too little. I said ‘yes’ too many times, and now I’m saying ‘Oh no!’

The Afterlings – the menacing creatures that wear guilt and stress like fancy clothes and prance around my present tasks – those gremlins undermine my every effort and then fall to the floor in gales of cynical laughter.

I hate their presence and I despise myself for their creation. They circle me, taunting, laughing, threatening doom. Then they gleefully poke each other and egg each other on. I cover my head with my arms and cower in my corner, deep within my pit of desperation.

Suddenly their yammering is hushed. They look up to see the approach of a misty form, clothed in light. The earth vibrates with its coming. They scatter, racing with each other to fight their way into the deepest corners, pulling their comrades out of their way, stomping on each other in their stampede for the darkness. They retreat into the hidden edges of this pit, with only their eyes catching a reflection of the light and revealing their presence under the rocks and within the crevices of the walls.

light-comesThe misty form has approached us on the ground above, scattering rays of brightness and droplets of reflected sunlight into this hole. A misty hand reaches down and scoops me up out of the hole and places me beside the well of joy.

The whole congregation of angels who come to the well in worship each day, the whole group is covered with this shimmering mist and they begin to chant, slowly, steadily, with words that tingle with the energy that lies within them, impatient for release. “He comes, he comes,” they chant. “He comes.”

I am more than a little scared by their chanting, by the power that pulses in its cadence. Before long, the whole meadow is filled with a blinding, brilliant light. I cannot even close my eyes to mask the brilliance, for it shines as brightly within my eyelids as it does within the meadow. It permeates every living form, every leaf and blade. We are all filled, filled with light.

Though I can see nothing, I can hear. The crowd is singing an ecstatic chorus, almost beyond words themselves. The well has overflowed its brim and is sending a torrent of water out at my feet, tumbling over them, almost massaging them with its power. I reach and touch the water and then touch my eyes. The water strengthens my eyes so that I can see within the brilliance.

I see the whole congregation on its feet, full of awe, hands up lifted, seeking to bring light into themselves. Indeed, the light is everywhere. There is an overwhelming oneness in the congregation, in the meadow. All are light together, although, with my strengthened eyes, I can also see each separate form and hear each separate voice of praise.

All the screeching noises of my Afterlings have been hushed by the magnificence and power of this scene.   But, quietly, in the still-dark chambers of my heart I can still see them – the Afterlings – as they scuttle and vie for the opportunity to mock me again.

Why do I let the Afterlings cross the realm of meditation into my daily heart, the heart that faces the drudgery of my day?   (See? I use an Afterling term for my duties. Yet, the angels of light do not disdain the simple tasks that I have let the Afterlings claim as drudgery.)

What a battle rages in the crevices of my being! The light and the dark are at war. The power of the light stands against the overriding fear and mockery of the dark. Indeed, it is fear that rivets my attention on the dark – fear that my failures will sneak up behind me and devour my soul.

I fear that I have no power that is it’s equal. It taunts me with that message every moment. But it is not my own power that I must seek. Instead, I must learn to see the light. I must refocus my gaze from the Afterlings to the angels. Each proclaim a potential truth. I must choose which will be true in me.

“I choose light.” At first it is a whisper, but in hearing my own words I am strengthened and I say it louder. “I choose light.” It rises in my throat and becomes a shout. “I choose light!” The congregation is again on its feet. The Afterlings scatter and run. “I choose light.” It is a plea and a promise, made with my own lips. “I choose light.”

“And I choose you, too.” The light answers. The voice is deep, and full and resonating with love and power. “I choose you.”

3 27 95

[first image filtered from photo by dun_deagh per cc 2.0; second is a photo by Fabio Rava per cc 2.0; third is a photo by Martin LaBar per cc 2.0]

waiting for a friend

waiting here I am sitting on a log beside the edge of the woods. It is a cool, clear morning and I am waiting for something … the day? … a friend?

Yes, that’s right, I am supposed to meet a friend here, a good friend. As I remember, my heart warms and quickens. It is so easy to forget the comfort and completion friends can bring. They own a piece of you – take it with them when they go. It’s not that you begrudge it. It is a free gift and they leave a bit of themselves in exchange, but from that time forward, you are a little empty without them. Daily activities fill the void, and as you grow and change, that void may even fade, but a deep friend’s hole remains and only their voice, their smile, their presence can fill that particular hole.

So, who is the friend I am waiting for today? Whose presence will delight my soul?

After a moment’s quietness, I realize that the friend I’m waiting for is me. I’m a little embarrassed by the thought. How conceited to be waiting with such anticipation for myself! But deeper in, I know that there is reason to look forward to this return. The harried hurry of my days have emptied me of my better self, the one that had time to think, to contemplate, to let an idea rise and form itself before expression, the one who was connected to others and devoted to purposes which had depth. In dashing day to day I have lost that better self, have operated on scraps and vestiges of being, until this shell of me sits empty on this log.

At last my friend, this deeper self, approaches in the company of the Holy One. I find that I am sobbing, realizing how deep the hole has been. The Holy One and my friend stand beside me and place their hands upon my head. Their strength and silent power flows into me and suddenly I become one with that deeper self, standing beside the Holy One. The Holy One looks me in the eye and lightly brushes my cheek.

“There is time to be. Take it. Do not neglect your purpose here with busyness.”

Then she is gone and I am left alone – alone with myself, my full self – at least as full as I have come to be – and I rejoice.

4/8/95

[photo by Seth Wilson per cc 2.0]

tangle of anger

GRRRR!GRRR! I am so angry at myself, at the system, at the continuing unfairness of work to reward, at my own inability to control my emotions about this. I need a gift of grace. ‘Seek first the kingdom,’ you say. I must not have been seeking the kingdom very well, because “all these things” seem to be going to someone else.

I know, I have no room to gripe.  I know I have been deeply blessed. What right do I have to be mad? Still, I must admit that I am mad. I have poured myself out on an altar whose god does not care.

The greater irony – that false god did not make me do it. Once I gave him the minimum, he stopped even looking. So, the waste I have made of myself is all my fault. Now, I can’t seem to gather myself back together enough to find what matters.

This world’s prince doesn’t care about fair. In fact, unfair suits his purposes much better. Fairness will never be achieved through his means. And from God, the true God, I do not want fairness. I want mercy. I want grace.

So, why can’t I shake loose from this burden of anger? I reach inside myself an try to pull it from my heart, but it is wrapped too tightly. I fear I will pull my heart out, as well, if I tug hard enough to dislodge it.

It is not just clinging to me, it is consuming me; feeding on my heart, crowding out all else from my mind and my spirit. It is a cancer which must be removed, even at the cost of my heart. So, I do pull it out, and, along with it, the unconsumed fragments of my heart, bleeding in its claws. I throw it from me as far as I can manage and then I slump to the ground in a heap. I am hollow inside. All my energy, all my effort drains out onto the ground in a puddle of red.

Then, the Holy One is beside me. She gathers me up in her arms, wraps me in a cloth and carries me to the well. She washes me, wraps me again in a clean towel and sets me on the ground before her.

“This is not a battle lost, she says. This is a fruitless battle ended.”

“Listen to my voice. I have a better struggle for you to enter in. Not a battle, but a dedication of effort to something better than the tasks that others have selected for you.  Do not despair the efforts you have made, but do not trust them for the building of your life. Your life lies not in them, it lies in who I have called you to be.”

“And do not look for confirmation in comparison with others. Their path is different from your own. When you measure yourself, your success, by other’s standards, you are not measuring yourself at all. Such measures will never satisfy.”

With this, from another small towel, she unwraps a new heart. It is not like my old heart. Instead, it is a piece of her own heart that she gives to me.

“Listen. I have placed myself within you. Listen. You will begin to hear, to know, and then to follow.”

She turns to go. Then, almost as an afterthought she says, “Don’t worry about letting go of your anger. Let go, instead of your misguided heart. The anger clings so tightly to that, that when you remove it, the anger will be removed as well.” She smiles. “Listen for my heartbeat, deep within.” Then she is gone.

3 29 95

[image cropped from photo by Shawn per cc 2.0]

a Narnian encounter (4)

giant's hand[This is a continuing meditation. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here; part 3 is here]

I sit on the beach quite a while, absorbing the wordless lessons of the waves, watching the small shells wash in and out with the receding water. After a bit, the giant comes to join me. He sits down with a harrumph and digs his toes into the sand. He reaches out beside himself, smoothing the sand as if it were a blanket. He digs out a shell and turns it over in his fingers, admiring its beauty.

At last I turn to him. “I never asked your name,” I say with some hesitance, realizing that I have been happy to use him as a messenger and even as transportation, but I have not even stopped to reach to relationship. How often do I do that? How often do I place importance on utility over relationship? I turn my head to hide my embarrassment.

“They call me Cecil, they do,” he answers me.

I turn to him. “That’s very like my name,” I reply. He nods and smiles. He knows this. He seems to know my name without even asking. “Tell me about yourself.” I venture.

“I’m big,” he says, as if that is a revelation. “I’m not so good with words, but I know deep things. I feel them in my heart before they come into my head. The thinking part is harder for me than the knowing part.”

“We make a good pair, we do.” I say this almost before I think it and he smiles.

“We do,” he says. “Always, we have.”

With that reply, I find within myself a resonance. It is as if, for just a moment, I, like the giant feel it in my heart before it comes into my head. I give him a sideways glance and see that his smile has turned into a wide grin. He reaches out his hand on the sand beside me and drums his fingers. He is inviting me to play some kind of game with him that I do not know.

I put my hand on his and drum my fingers. I feel his movement beneath mine and feel its echo, its resonance, its strength as it is transferred into me. Again the knowing comes before the thinking. Cecil is not just a companion. Cecil is part of who I am – the part of me that touches deep.

The voices on the wind give conformation. Somehow I trust their truth.

This is me. This is the meeting.

[kudos to Jonathan Haidt with his metaphor of the rider and the elephant …]
[photo by Benzene Aseel per cc 2.0]