Tuesday — This week, we affirm that the bottom is solid. An invitation to every one of us, to see and embrace the epiphany of the priest in Bernstein’s Mass. His eyes, transformed by God’s grace, suddenly notice the broken chalice. He looks at it for a long, long time. And then, haltingly he says, “I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.”
That if we have eyes to see, there are no unsacred moments.
And that God is alive and well in all things.
Even in our brokenness.
In one of her visions of Jesus, Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) realizes that Jesus is a “handsome mixture.” His face speaks of a knowledge of life’s delight and a knowledge of life’s pain. It is not a face that is naïve to the world’s sufferings or to the personal experience of sorrow. Nor is it a face that is so overwhelmed by sorrow that it loses its openness and wonder. It is a soul that has experienced the heights and the depths of human life.
A handsome mixture is the capacity to look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and its beauty. To glimpse a way forward.
Yes please. A handsome mixture.
Well acquainted with sorrow, growing in intimacy with disappearance, yet ever-determined to put the song back in the world. This is hard. Very hard. And the growing pains are acute. And oh, the terrible things I see. Things that try to crush and silence my song. (Thank you SM friend, Phoebe Dishman.)
I take heart, knowing that we can be ever broken, and ever restored. A handsome mixture, clear-eyed and sturdy to serve. It heals our heart.
Etty Hillesum (1914–1943, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz) shared this intimate glimpse in one of her journals, “I know that this too is part of life, and somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again.” We learn to trust the inherent goodness of reality.
Today I’m leaving the Carolinas, on my way to Park City, Utah, to be with the good people at St. Mary of the Assumption.
A family went out to restaurant for lunch. The waitress arrives, “What’ll you’ll have?” The husband gives his order, and then orders for his wife. The waitress turns to the five-year-old daughter, “And sugar, what’ll you have?” With a smile the little girl pipes up, “I’ll have a hot dog.” “Oh no she won’t,” interjects the dad. Turning to the waitress he says, “She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes, milk.” Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress asks, “So, hon, what do want on that hot dog?” As the waitress leaves, the father sits stunned and silent. A few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, says, “Mom and Dad, that lady thinks I’m real.”
Yes. Whenever God shines His light…
We’ve all wrestled with the internal dialogue about life’s unfairness. That’s old hat. And depending on what sort of beverage may be nearby, some of us have given in to a spell of melancholy or regret.
This much I do know. I spend too much of my energy running from my life as it is, assuming that answers are down the road, or around the corner, or (as I was taught in the church of my youth) buried in some Bible verse. If there is any unease, or mess, or brokenness, I spend a good deal of fuel—mental, spiritual and physical energy trying to appease it, dampen it, control it or manage it. It is like some political damage control public relations campaign. (I may be a mess, but I don’t want people to see it, or know about it.) And in the end, I confess that I wear this new persona (you know, the one trying so hard to look like he has his act together) like a hand me down suit, and carry myself self-consciously.
Ah, the wisdom of the Eagles, who reminded us, “Every form of refuge has its price.”And my solace? Came in what… my need for control? And with that control, a low-grade resentment at my life as it is. Mercy…But what if? Life carries plenty of brokenness, and we may not be at the bottom, but we can see if from where we’re standing… and yet (and still,) we learn through (are given the gift of grace through) someone spilling light our way. Yes, the bottom is solid.
I agree with what Maria Shriver wrote this week, “And the more you are willing to get in touch with your pain and allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more your words can pierce or inspire another person’s soul. I tell stories for a living, and I believe we can heal ourselves through stories. I believe we grow through stories and can be inspired by them. I believe our own personal stories, the stories of others, and the stories of our country can all make a difference. Stories of love, hardship, anguish, pain, sacrifice and triumph can change lives.”
I’ll give Jen Lemen the last word, “Hold your heart in all tenderness. Something healing this way comes.”
Larsen’s The Far Side puts things in focus. The comic shows Cowboys under siege by Indians. The Indians are shooting arrows with fire, burning the wagons. One cowboy says to the other, “Hey, they’re lighting their arrows. Can they do that?”
We live smack-dab in the middle of a crazy war about expectations about how life should be.
Sabbath Moment friend Cathy gave me a new word: Sisu. Derived from sisus (from Finland), meaning “interior” and “guts;” in other words, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery and resilience. At the core of sisu is the idea that in each of us there is more strength than meets the eye.
Whatever one calls it, I believe we each possess this deep down in our souls and when we reach in for it, that is pure grace.
Or, as we’ve been saying this week, “the bottom is solid.”
This week, Parker Palmer shared this invitation for finding solid ground, when our world or our spirit feels catawampus.
“I wrote this poem (Why should I ever be sad?) ten years ago while hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe. It comes back to me every year at this time…
Some might wonder, “What do you mean, ‘Why should I ever be sad?’ Life never stops giving us reasons to be sad.” I agree. As far as I can tell, anyone who’s a stranger to sadness just isn’t paying attention…
I was carrying my share of the blues on the day I made this hike. But about halfway up, in need of rest, I lay on my back beside the trail to look up into the trees and sky. Suddenly I was lifted on a wave of undiluted gladness. After a while, the poem started coming to me, and I started making notes…
I wanted to remember this moment when cosmic gladness lifted my spirits. Even more, I wanted to remember that gladness and sadness are interwoven threads of life, that living well means staying aware of the whole weave. When I find myself clinging to sadness, I need another dose of aspens and true blue sky.
P.S. No one has written more lyrically about cosmic gladness than Thomas Merton: “The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life…the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join in the general dance.” (“New Seeds of Contemplation,” pp. 296-297) What else can I say, except “Amen.” (Thank you Parker Palmer)
Tonight, I was with the good people at St. Mary’s in Park City, Utah, after a good day among the glorious aspens in Wasatch National Forest.
“I’ve lost my way.” One man confesses to his friend. “And it’s not good, because I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“I understand,” his friend says.
“I don’t know what is next, but I think I’m close to the bottom.”
“Well,” his friend tells him. “I can tell you this with all my heart. I have been to the bottom. And I’m glad to report, that the bottom is solid.”
Even when life is catawampus.
Even when, “After a while I wanted to come home, but I didn’t know how.” (Field of Dreams)
Yes, even and especially then, I am grateful for the power of friendship to deliver that gift of hope. And gratefully, we remember that no one of us is on this journey alone.
I’ll give Tish Harrison Warren the last word… “Assume that if you’re burned out, your brain needs the help of another brain. Your brain is not going to be OK until or unless you have the experience and opportunity of being in the presence of someone else who can begin to ask you the kind of questions that will allow you to name the things that you’re experiencing.
The moment that you start to tell your story vulnerably to someone else, and that person meets you with empathy — without trying to fix your loneliness, without trying to fix your shame — your entire body will begin to change. Not all at once. But you feel distinctly different.
I’m not as lonely in that moment because you are with me. And I sense you sensing me. That’s a neural reality.
It is also something that immediately begins to dismantle the neurophysiological response of shame. And when you begin to dismantle that, your sense of loneliness begins to be transformed. What you need is more practice revealing what’s hard about your life with people who are willing to do the same with you.
When someone comes to me and she’s burned out, it won’t help to give her five things for her to go do to fix her burnout. Remember, she doesn’t have fuel to go do those five things.
So I would say pick one person, pick two people, and say: “I would like to begin to meet with you once a week and just talk about where we are, talk about our stories. Let’s talk about what’s been hard, and not try to fix things but to be present with each other.”
Prayer for our week…
Be generous in prosperity,
and thankful in adversity.
Be fair in thy judgment,
and guarded in thy speech.
Be a lamp unto those who walk in darkness,
and a home to the stranger.
Be eyes to the blind,
and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.
Be a breath of life to the body of humankind,
a dew to the soil of the human heart,
and a fruit upon the tree of humility.