Other Dimensions

 

I began my day with a 30-minute swim. A time when I lose sense of time and even space, except for the tiled lines of my lane. The gym complex is near, although its nearness doesn’t make getting there much easier. Now that I am retired inertia can prevent me from lots of obligations, including Sunday worship.

Faithfulness was a prized church behavior in the “old” days. Remember the gold pin we won for perfect attendance? I had several of those. Because of this obligation in our home, Dad turned up the temperature on the hot water heater every Saturday night so that all five of us could take a bath. (Baths, only once a week!) We’d polish our Sunday shoes, help to wash and vacuum the family car, then all drive together, sometimes picking up Mrs. Duchine on our way. Not all women then had learned to drive. As near as we lived to the center of town where the church was, we could easily walk. And Mom and I often walked to town to shop.

When I was ordained a Baptist pastor in 2000, Rev. C. Elroy Shikles, the minister who baptized me at eight, commented, “My, how many sermons you’ve heard!” I still remember some. I remember when he used my Howdy-Doody marionette to illustrate to us children that God does not operate us with strings from heaven. And he’s the one who taught me with a collection of various-sized sieves how to screen what I say to others: only what is true, kind, and necessary. I learned early that I made my own choices and was responsible for them.

Today twice-weekly swims keep me flexible. And the rhythmic strokes and breathing are calming. Weekly worship engenders less tangible results. But its very familiarity and repetition are like rest to a hummingbird. It isn’t my brain that worships. It’s my heart. When I keep my attention focused, I transcend time and space into another dimension. My breathing slows; my heart fills.

In the midst of song and silence something in me lets go. I remember I am not alone. I rejoice in the reminders of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of trial and loss. I lean into the everlasting arms and relax, rememberP1010168ing the examples of the many disciples I have known who have traveled ahead of me.

I miss those gifts when I skip church for the NY Times, which does not nurture me anywhere near the love that will never let me go. But the silence of the pool during my swim gives me similar time to reach and stroke, aware from shoulder to toe, moving in ways I cannot accomplish in gravity. I let myself down into the water trusting its buoyance in much the same way I let go into the silence of prayer.

Even though I have to make myself get out of the house, I am glad I have done it. I feel rested, refreshed, in the center of my real reality. The news that strikes fear in my heart during the week has somehow found a context. Less harried, less worried, I breathe deeper, and feel confidence I can’t always create for myself. It’s a dimension just a breath away.

The Flame That Lights Our Way

As you saw from my last post, I believe the tragedies of violence, war and loss must be mourned and honored. But there is more. We must work to step out of those shadows lest we be submerged under the weight of grief. I look to sisters and brothers to remind myself of the strength of a faith that hopes for things unseen–the abundant consolations of the Spirit. We need to look to the unquenchable flame that lights our way out of the darkness.

One of the most profound images of the scriptures is that light that shines in darkness.  In the Christian scriptures John writes that “In [Jesus] was life, and life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” [Jn 1.5] Science and faith tell us the origin of LIGHT is the Big Bang. The infinite cosmos reflects it. The Light is no less than the Mind of God that infuses everything that we are as well as our world of boundless beauty that beckons us toward God.

The Buddhist God Indra spreads a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. In each “eye” of her net is a single brilliant, perfect jewel that also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number, and each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel affects them all, light, dark, a moving panoply of color. We look for that light wherever we can find it. Sometimes it is simply the warmth of a smiling barista who hands over a double-tall latte at a low point of the morning. Or a viewpoint across Puget Sound that highlights the sunset over the Olympic Mountains, and the clouds that back-light the colors that flare out of the west.

IMG_0787 Last week I watched the sun set softly into a haze over the island of Lanai across the bay from Lahaina. The sun beamed rays toward Lanai and the sea as the earth continued to turn to the east.

Life is difficult. We reach to one another for strength and hope. But politically it appears we are being goaded into collective fear that has empowered several presidential candidates to offer us everything we think we ever needed while the details, how to “become great again,” for instance, remain cloudy and undefined. Each person who wonders if the promises are true, who questions whether any one politician can grant our every wish, needs only a fragment of mirror to reflect that question to others. And then, instead of huddling in fear with those who expect disaster, or want rescue, we can stop, recover perspective, and see the light shining for the common good. The light that sees all persons regardless of origin, faith, culture, or resources equal to the others from around the globe. It is the sign of a healthy nation that the least among us also thrive, not simply those with wealth.

Quaker Parker Palmer reminds us how easily we fall under the thrall of a “strong man” who promises to make us “great” again. He quotes from Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 advised how unlikely it is that the U.S. will fall under the attack of another world power. We will, in fact, fall because we become so fearful of each other, of the economic, cultural, and security threats we believe to be posed by “the Other”…that, ultimately, we will die by suicide.       http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer

One voice is a powerful thing—if we invest it with our full humanity. A question, a doubt, the risk of telling the truth, may stop one other person from falling in thrall to total power or, at least, from closing her mind to doubt. We must simply light one candle against the darkness, refuse to fall prey to demagoguery, and bear our flame in the face of our fear. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out. We are merely its bearers.

 

 

 

Carrying the World’s Grief

I have to wonder about “unintentional contemplation.” Parker Palmer, the great Quaker writer and leader of contemplative life suggested that even a busy life “provides moments of unintentional contemplation….in feelings of disillusionment, pain, dislocation, and unbidden solitude.”

I was surprised with the idea that the discomforts of our lives also give rise to contemplation. I’m rather a romantic. I like to think of green pastures and still waters enhancing my spiritual thinking, my prayer. I often imagine meadows on Mt. Rainier or the steady waves lapping at a rocky beach in Puget Sound to find the depth I seek. But I guess it’s also true that sudden, unexpected silence startles before it comforts. And when I am in pain, I am not fit to be with until I recognize, name, and do something about it. In this sense pain drives me inward which, I must admit, is a contemplative state. If I am thrust into a moment of reverie or loss, I certainly stop what I’m doing to breathe deeply, to plumb the image that prompts the memory, and to give thanks. When projects go well, relationships are rich and opportunities beckon us forward, we feel able to take on the world. But when progress falters, when we’re felled by a virus (worse: cancer) or a sprained ankle (while running for our health), when we are cut off from comfort, and when we feel abandoned, who among us welcomes the “contemplation?” Aren’t such moments, simply, ones we’d rather suppress? How likely is it we’ll accept the call to peaceful prayer?

I believe right now all of us are trying to cope with feelings too painful either to express or to withhold in this nation’s political rancor, the all-too-real videos of refugees streaming out of war, hunger and loss in the Middle East, the delicacy of diplomacy among our neighbor nations.  I try to “fast” from the news but am fascinated by it, looking for a break in the fighting, for fragile and tentative interventions, for champions to rescue thousands of innocents caught in political infighting, flight, suffering and death.

Anne Lamott promises, “Grace…eventually.”  Still I ask, when?!

I wrestle with darkness more and more. I cannot understand (or perhaps I mean accept) the hatred, hunger, displacement, and slaughter that assault far too many peoples of the world. Pernicious racism, the hoarding of money, exclusion and elimination of the have-nots, the flagrant displays of the haves. Is this simply the current state of development of humankind?

I have been reading the WW II diaries of Etty Hillesum. She reveals a curious and unexpected desire to welcome–I don’t know a better word for it–the horror moving closer and closer to her friends and family in Amsterdam and then their evacuation to a German “transit” camp near the German border.

The latest news is that all Jews will be transported out of Holland….the English radio has reported that 700,000 Jews perished last year alone….And even if we stay alive, we shall carry the wounds with us throughout our lives. And yet I don’t think life is meaningless. And God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another. We are accountable to Him!  [Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life 1996]

Hillesum, called a “Western Mystic,” writes that every situation, good or bad, can enrich us with new insights; what matters is “not whether we preserve our lives at any cost, but how we preserve them….If we have nothing to offer a desolate postwar world…if we fail to draw new meaning from the deep wells of our distress and despair, then it will not be enough.” Thus, pain and fear elicit her compassion and grief rather than anger and more hate.

I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has  been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place. And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter.

One person, one meeting, one step at a time. We cannot bring peace without embracing it ourselves. And so I breathe in war, pain and loss, and breathe out peace, love, joy and laughter. Joy and laughter…eventually.

Rev. Cathy Fransson keeps regular spiritual direction appointments.

Wandering on Purpose

It is true that media, over-programmed days and American work hours are hard to avoid. If we work hard, we also play hard. And judging from my recent retirement I know I am not the best person to suggest our work need not be all-consuming and endless. Before you jump to defend yourselves, hear me out. Twenty-four hours can also include the luxury of trying to wrest meaning within the chaos of busy-ness.

Of course, for me, days go by without meetings, or someone asking me to do something, or my contacting my friends or their me, doing some or no work at all (housework, laundry, gardening, reading, writing, grocery shopping), and napping when napping feels like the best thing at the time. I cherish separation from the world of work and relish the conversations that surprise me on the path.

I retired at age seventy-two. I can hardly remember when I didn’t work except when I hadn’t yet begun piano lessons: so I was 7. I worked in high school and all the way through college and university, and then after hours after I had begun to teach full time in public school. I taught English all day and played the organ for churches on weekends between shifts of taking evening and summer coursework toward advanced degrees. I’m one of the rare (old) persons who paid for their entire university career themselves. In these varied “careers” I learned many roles, some of them unawares, because I was a willing listener, too. As I became more skilled, listening itself became my vocation.

It was listening to my day at a deeper level that invited me to contemplate the larger realities in the many events I was thrown into. Parker Palmer admitted to no scripted contemplative techniques in The Active Life (1990). Instead he wrote, “life compensates…by providing moments of unintentional contemplation….life makes contemplatives of all of us.” He lists four such invitations: feelings of disillusionment, pain, dislocation, and unbidden solitude.

It is easy to turn to busy-ness simply to avoid facing painful feelings. In churches some people identify as do-ers because they’re proud they get so much done for the rest of us. While they’re indispensable, they rarely risk finding time to sit with others to discern a new path, or attend a small sharing group.

In the familiar parable of Mary who sits listening to Jesus teach, Martha has several choices. One is to continue to do what she’s doing and NOT complain, another is to join Mary so that the two sisters can get the meal together afterwards. Instead she triangulates with Jesus, asking him to get Mary to help her. Instead, Jesus rebukes her for her anxiety that prevents her from making a better choice.

If we spend all our time dashing about from home to work to errands and house keeping and back again ourselves, how can we be thoughtful about anything? When can we be quiet and solitary? When do we think? Or do we simply react to circumstances? Parsing over life stories and the dilemmas our lives so easily create can be done while running, or at the gym, or even occasionally, sleeping in. Watching less television. Squeezing one fewer activity into the day. It is not so much the way we choose to contemplate as it is to choose a way when we must.

I continue to find deep conversations, contemplation. A rest from action—a necessary balance to action in fact, lest in any calling I go off in all directions at once. Listening has been part of every position I have held. Many times, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, listening was my chief gift. When I felt called to seminary in my mid fifties, my whole life was walking toward this door. When I opened it I believed I would never need to retire again. The calling (a strong spiritual attraction to prayer, the interpretation of scripture, and listening) felt the most like me, the most appropriate of my gifts.

Now after nearly seventeen years serving the church, I am exploring who I am anew. My denomination calls me a “ wandering minister.” Imagine! Permission just to wander. Wandering I understand. Putting one foot in front of the other, often turning to draw near to a curious thicket of leaves in the eddy of a stream, or a knot of words among individuals, become walking meditations. Both require my attention to everything from dust motes floating in a beam of winter sun, to the half-heard sounds of laughter in the room next door and the inner messages that keep me tethered to the Mystery of living in this age.

So, I wander. Listening for sparks of thought, the messages that recreate me over and over again for the years ahead. Life beckons even as it grows shorter, tantalizing, summoning, gesturing, “Come here! Come and see!” There will always be time for our heart’s desires to spring forth, or burble up, or slowly dawn on us. Even death is a portal to the undiscovered.

           Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is emerging. Don’t you see it?