As Alexander the Great was passing through Corinth, he sought out the famous philosopher Diogenes, and found him sitting under a tree, dressed in rags, with not a drachma to his name. When the most powerful man in the world asked the philosopher if he could do anything, or give anything to help him, Diogenes replied, “Yes, if you could step out of the way I would be grateful. You are blocking the sun.”
I’m not big on bumper sticker theology. So even if Bob Marley is singing it, this story goes beyond “don’t worry, be happy.”
Although a little happiness—a stimulus to our wellbeing–wouldn’t hurt.
In my conversations these past weeks (including the ones that assiduously spin through my mind), it’s clear that we desire to stop excess noise. All that derails and dislocates and depletes us. And here we are, in this season of Advent, which is all about the invitation to make space.
But here is what I find interesting: we assume that something outside of ourselves will improve our lot in life. Which caused Pascal to ask (a long time ago), “If our condition were truly happy, why would we seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy?”
Advertisements fuel the fire, no doubt. I just saw the new statistic that to be “truly happy” in retirement, it would be good to have 5 million dollars set aside. Wow. So how much will I need to save just to be mildly unperturbed?
Blame it on age, but I tend to lose a lot of stuff. Misplace. Forget. And every time, it unnerves me. I forget things when I pack for my travels; my lecture notes, a tie, a shirt or my socks. Thank god for e-tickets and cell phones with memory dial.
On a recent trip, I left a sweatshirt on the plane. I lost my glasses. My favorite glasses. The ones that made me look young, handsome, desirable. I lost one of my favorite pens. I lost my cell phone. After looking for an hour, I found it, hooked onto my back jeans pocket.
Where was I? Oh yes, talking about losing stuff. And wondering why losing or misplacing ordinary stuff exacerbates and depletes us?
There is something about the significance we attach to stuff, and how that stuff affects our well-being. I just finished Alain de Botton’s fine book, Status Anxiety, about what happens when we need to keep up with someone, or something, or some perception about the way life should be. Always something just beyond our grasp.
Think about the stuff we collect: accouterments, titles, opinions, belief systems, unrealistic expectations, toys, and retirement funds. Somehow, we need this stuff to be somebody.
We can learn the hard way. Don Shula, famous former coach of the Miami Dolphins was vacationing (with his family) in a small northeastern town. A one theater town. The family wanted to go to the afternoon matinee. With tickets in hand, they entered the theater. A young man near the back, stood, faced Shula and applauded and cheered and shouted.
Shula was taken aback, but duly impressed. He approached the young man and shook his hand.
“Thank you,” he told the young man. “Not many people recognize me up here, and not many are as effusive in their appreciation.”
The young man said, “Sir, I don’t know you from Adam. But the theater owner said he would not show the movie unless there were ten people. And you are number ten.”
Who are we without our stuff?
There’s a story that Socrates saw a heap of gold and jewelry being carried through the streets of Athens. Seeing it he exclaimed, “Look how many things there are which I don’t need or want.” Impressive. Imagine him walking through Best Buy.
In John’s Gospel Jesus has died. Mary is despondent. She visits the grave, but Jesus is not there. I understand her anxiety or panic… I’ve lost something vital. I need it. Where did you put it?
At this, Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
One word. Mary. In saying her name, what freedom did Jesus give? We know that Mary has a connection with Jesus that is profound and life altering. But notice this: the power of the relationship-which Jesus triggers with a simple affirmation of her name, Mary-is no longer outside of her self.
Or of myself.
Mary, (Jesus is saying) that which you seek is already here.
Already inside of you.
She hears the truth when she is stopped from her frenetic search.
Here’s my invitation to you this Advent and Hanukah season: We need to be challenged to sit still long enough…
to know that to see,
to be present,
to be aware,
and to be responsible,
comes from the inside.
It is from this place that we make choices, work, create, relate, give and receive.
I had an interesting week. A good weekend with the folk at St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Catholic Church in Las Vegas. Let’s just say we gambled on the benefit of creating sanctuary.
I also had some phone calls shook me, and made me wonder about my own sufficiency and value. I hate it when that happens. So I’m on my back deck now nursing a little self-pity. The sun is shining, and the placid clouds of August visit us here in early December, on a cool blue sky. Raindrops from last night glisten in the sunlight on leaves and grass and patio. I hear the Dixie Chicks from my sound system, “The easy silence that you make for me.”
But even here, in my anxiety, I need something. I’ve lost something. Like Mary, “tell me where it is, I’ll go find it.”
And through the trees, I hear one word: Terry.
I don’t know if there is a patron saint for this kind of afternoon. But I say a prayer nonetheless.
Quote for the week…
Without solitude of some sort, there is and can be no maturity. Unless one becomes empty and alone, he cannot give himself in love, because he does not possess the deep self which is the only gift worthy of love. Thomas Merton
POEMS AND PRAYERS
May the deep blessings of earth be with us.
May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul.
May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths
to open us to wonder
to strengthen us for love
to humble us with gratitude
that we may find ourselves in one another
that we may lose ourselves in gladness
that we give ourselves to peace.
J Philip Newell “Praying with the Earth”
Watching the Sunrise During Dark, Mornings of Advent
Thank you. What a gift this morning from you as I watched the blazing sunrise through a cloudy winter sky. It is hard getting up these dark mornings, Lord, and yet you gift me with a sight that I miss at other times of year, when the weather is warmer and the sun rises before I get up. I stared out the window at the red and purple light, gloriously framed by the gold of the rising sun. “Be still, and know that I am God” was the only thing that came to me. I watched in silence, filled with a sense of your presence in my life.
I am filled with gratitude this day for such a treasure and could feel it and see it as a gift from you. Thank you for your love. Today, let me carry a sense of how much you love me to send me such a gift. Let that awareness of your love change the way I treat others today. Let me be more reverent in the irritations of the day. I ask your help to move through my errands and holiday preparations today with peace and a sense of your sunrise in my heart. Your glory fills my spirit and I want only to give thanks with my life this day.