Yoda’s mentor

Yoda

When I read these words of St John of the Cross I figured I’d met Yoda’s mentor.

To come to the pleasure you have not,
you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not,
you must go by the way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not,
you must go by a way in which you possess not.
To come to be what you are not,
you must go by a way in which you are not.

As Yoda would say, “Understand or understand not – there is no try.”

[image cropped from photo by Michael Li per cc 2.0]

Uncle Zach (again)

Zachariah

In this Advent season, I am reposting this piece.  You can listen to a wonderful  audio version of this story, narrated by Boyd Barrett, a dear friend.  You may also want to explore his other podcasts – you’ll be glad you did.

 

“Tell me again, Uncle Zach, tell me the story of the angel, when you were in the temple.” Jesus is staying over for a few days and is helping his uncle with his work.

John rolls his eyes and looks at his cousin. Not again. John is intimidated by the story. It is his father’s story, but the weight of it rests on him. ‘The spirit and power of Elijah’ the angel had said. Sometimes, in the quiet, John felt inside himself for the stirrings of this prophecy, fingering his own soul, looking for signs of Elijah or of any real power at all. Nothing. So, he hides a secret fear that he will fail the prophecy. Hearing the story only makes it worse.

Jesus and John are eleven, old enough to know that their stories are both unique, not old enough to understand what that difference may yet mean.

Zechariah begins the story and Jesus settles in beside him. John is across the room, finishing up his chores so he can leave as quickly as possible. They have both heard the story before, but not often. It is hard on a family to hold the weight of such a story and Jesus’ siblings aren’t very fond of it, or of the other story that follows. But today it is just Zechariah and Jesus and John inside, so the time seems right to tell it again, in detail.

Zechariah takes a deep breath and begins. When he starts the story he is looking straight at Jesus. “You know how it works,” he says. “When it is time for my division to bring the incense into the Holy Place, we draw lots. It is our way of letting God pick the servant. It is an honor for the lot to fall to you. And when I was chosen, I felt, as I always do, a slight rush of pleasure that I am the one that God wants this day. God’s call to the priestly tribe is a precious gift. God’s call to a single one . . . to me . . . or to you . . . is . . . a wonder.”

By now Zechariah is no longer looking at the boys. John and Jesus are both listening, pulled by what he is saying, by its echo in their hearts. There is deep quiet in the room. “I went into the Holy Place, into that place that God has chosen to be present. You think you are prepared when you go in – but the Presence hits you and, every time, you know that there is no way that you will ever really be ready for that place. It always takes me a moment. Like letting your eyes adjust to the darkness when you enter a cave on a bright day – or more – how your eyes adjust when you go back into daylight from the cave. So, I wait at the doorway for my soul to catch its breath. And then, when I find my legs again, when I can move, I take the incense to the altar.”

“The Presence is most strong that day. It is as if I am not the only one touching the Presence. The Presence is always magnified in my heart when someone next to me is touching it, as well. It was that sense, but more, that day. As I approach the altar, I suddenly know why. There is an angel standing there. Once he appears, he is powerfully real . . . as if I were the vision and he the substance . . . but even more, he is touching the Presence so powerfully that I am overcome.   I start to tremble, almost to fall. He reaches out and catches my arm. He takes the incense from my hand and places it on a bench next to the altar and tells me not to be afraid. I wonder why he says that . . . it’s not fear that I feel. In fact, I hardly am aware of myself enough to feel anything at all. But his words draw my attention back to myself and I can see that I am trembling.”

“We sit together on the bench, with the incense between us. He looks me in the eye and waits till I have calmed myself a bit. Then he speaks to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.’

“He says my name. My name. He was waiting there specifically for me. Now I do start to feel the fear. He sees my eyes widen and he takes my hand, “Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.”

“Now, boys, you have to know that I had not really been praying when I came into the temple. I had been too busy with the preparation, with the responsibility. I was sitting there, wondering what prayer he was talking about.”

“‘Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son,’ he says, quietly, waiting for the words to sink in.”

“My heart shakes itself. Oh, that prayer! The prayer that was on my lips for so many years, but had slowly, with age, become just an echo in the deep recesses of my heart.” Here Zechariah stops and looks at John, saying, without words, how much the boy had been their prayer. John looks away, feeling the weight of one more burden, one more way to disappoint.

“And then,” Zechariah continues, still looking at John “then the angel smiles. ‘You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.’ The angel bends forward. There is a joyous urgency to his manner. ‘Your son will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.’ By this time the words are feeling triumphant.”

“My own heart is on a double track. Part of it surges with new hope, eager to receive this news and take it to Elizabeth; thrilled to think that the power of the prophets might return to our poor land. The other part, well, I’m not sure. How can I be a part of such a plan? We both are old. And Elizabeth . . . oh, my . . . if I were wrong, and raised this hope to dash it once again . . . I’m not sure she – or I – could bear it. So, I yearn for the promise while I fumble in fear that it just cannot be so. ‘Are you sure?’ I grasp the angel’s sleeve. ‘I’m not . . . Elizabeth is not . . . we are both too old.’”

“The angel pulls away, looking suddenly stern. ‘Am I sure? Am I sure? I AM is sure, is giving you this promise! How can you doubt the word of God?’”

“I am looking at my hands. ‘It’s not that I doubt God; it’s that I cannot trust myself. I know, too well, my frailty.’”

“Gently now, the angel takes my hands. ‘It is that very frailty that reveals the power of God. Can you not see? It is the barren womb that shows God’s power most clearly. Will you fail to go to your wife? Will she fail to conceive? Will the baby refuse to be born, to grow? Do what you can do. God will do the rest. Your very frailty will show God’s presence in this gift. You were not chosen at random, but carefully nurtured into your role. And now, because you need to see how frailty speaks, you will be mute until his birth.’”

“Some thought it was a punishment for my lack of faith, that I was mute. But really, boys, there were no words to capture what I’d seen. Who would have believed me, anyway? My loss of words told them I had seen a vision, yet it let me save my secret for Elizabeth. We savored that time alone with the secret of God’s power, till it could be hidden no longer.”

“Your circumcision, John, released my tongue, released the story into your life. I know you feel its weight. But do not fear. It’s like the angel said, frailty does not matter. God requires nothing but our obedience. You do what you can do. Then, you wait to see what happens. You let God shine through your frailty. And you rejoice.”

Zechariah is smiling. John comes round the table to stand for just a moment beside his father. Then he pokes Jesus in the arm and chases him out the door. They shake off the quiet and melt back into their eleven-year-old lives.

 12 5 03

[photo cropped from ‘the Rabbi’ by Rafal Kiermacz under cc 2.0 ]

too much armor

Harness by Seamus Moran

At what point do you become so self-protected that you can no longer do the thing you were created to do?  How much protection do you need—and how much can you bear before you stop being able to grow, or fly? – Quinn Caldwell

What is God’s will for a wing? Every bird knows that. – Saint Teresa of Avila

What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly? – Rumi 

I wanted to write that this rich conversation between artists helped to fortify my soul … but fortification is the problem, isn’t it?

Freedom is a scary, precious thing, calling life to life in all its tender vulnerability.

May we all be brave enough to fly into the face of fear with thundering wing and gentle feather.

 

[The photo is of the sculpture “Harness” by Seamus Moran, as posted to his  Facebook page.  You can also view his work at www.seamusmoran.com. Used with permission.]

 

 

 

the whisper

mysteryThere is a holy whisper in the universe.
Sometimes it is hard for my heart to hear it.
Sometimes I even doubt its presence.
But then, I am overcome by beauty.
And I am reminded.
It is so.

Sometimes it seems I will be pulled apart by chaos.
So much in disarray.
So much violence and anger.
So much pain and terror.
But deep below it all, there is an anchor of truth.
It holds me, still.

I often wish for a different reality.
I even try to make it so.
But my small fictions cannot do the trick.
The real is real.
And the very deepest real,
Is a call to unity – even in the midst of chaos.

Much of that struggle and pain
Is created when my fictions strike up against yours.
Even so, the struggle and the pain are real,
They stretch and tear and bind.
They do hurt – immensely.
But they are not eternal.

How can I release myself to the seeming chaos?
How can I become a part of that deep unity,
Without loosing myself?
So, I continue to construct my fictional self
Out of the rubble of my efforts.
All to no avail.

I fight the inevitable
Like a small child fighting sleep.
I whine and struggle, rock and fidget.
I push against the embrace
Until I can resist no longer
And I fall into peace.

And here is the wonder of it all
I am held in the arms of truth.
The chaos is not random.
It tumbles into patterns of fractal beauty
Where I am both lost and found
And my heart at last can hear that holy whisper.

[photo ashokboghani by per cc 2.0]

[Thanks to Richard Rohr, in his meditation blog, for helping me begin to see.]

A blessing for this birthday and beyond

sweet little one

As you snuggle into sleep at night,
May you be wrapped in a deep sense of peace,
Grateful for the day’s challenges and delights.
May your dreams be touched by the heart of God,
Filling you with hope and courage and purpose.

May you wake to the assurance
That you are fully, deeply loved.
May you live each day in the knowledge
That nothing can separate you from that love,
No matter where you go, or what you do.

May your smile continue to light up a room.
May your eyes crinkle with delight and wonder
At all the beauty of the world around you.
May you add your creativity to the larger dance of life,
And receive with joy the gifts that come your way.

May your hands be quick to help.
May your words be full of kindness.
May your friendships be true.
May you embrace your life with grace and gusto,
Giving and receiving joy along the way.

 

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]

my reflection

reflection

They say I am made in the image of God.
It is true that I do have some beautiful feathers.
There is an iridescence in some of what I bring to the world.

Of course, there is also a strange awkwardness.
The image I present contains only the smallest hint of that Holy Three.
And when I study my own image, even that becomes blurred.

But none of that changes the gift of the creator
Which rests upon my being
And pours itself into the world.

Would that I could celebrate that gift and simply let it flow
Then, perhaps, I could turn my eyes from a static reflection,
Reflecting, instead, on the greater dance of love.

More than my own image is reflected in this pool.
Even looking down, I can see the trees, the sky.
If I look closely, I can see your smile.

[photo used with permission from Mike Bizeau’s beautiful blog – nature has no boss]