I am because we are
A young woman with a very serious case of hives went to a specialist for relief. She had suffered for some time, living in continual pain because the hives covered much of her body. She needed healing, and hoped that the doctor could prescribe a cure. But his diagnosis surprised her. “There is no medicine I can give you,” he told her. “You see, your skin is crying because you cannot.”
We have all experienced pain. And it has appeared on the doorstep of our heart in a variety of ways; our life (or our world) takes a left turn, or we find ourself emotionally overdrawn (literally heart-weary), or for whatever reason, we continue to feel small. From this tug of war, our hives can be a metaphor for any number of things that afflict us. But in the end, we run or we shut down, because we see our pain and our brokenness as blemishes—our fault line and our shame. Something to hide.
But this I know to be true: Whether it is conflict or sorrow or grief or anxiety or self-pity, I cannot bury pain without mortgaging something else to keep it hidden. In the end, I live life “shunting back and forth between my pain and my defenses.” (Merle Shain)
Or, as Richard Rohr reminds us, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
This week I’m watching the ways we all carry pain, in a week where the news can leave us feeling heartbroken, helpless, fearful, enraged or disgusted. Or, just dizzy. And it doesn’t help if I see pain only as my enemy or source of shame.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he tells the boy. “It is a relentless fight that takes a toll, and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil – he is rage, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continues, “The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. And this same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thinks about what his Grandfather tells him for a minute and then asks, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee replies, “The one you feed the most.”
Yes, there are parts of ourselves that we do not like, or do not understand, or avoid, or bury. There’s nothing new about that. Except that we fuel the fire with an assumption that our priority is to fix the problem. Or at the very least, to look good trying.
Sometimes we hide. Sometimes we pretend. Sometimes we get busy being helpful to others. And sometimes we go to a specialist for advice.
I have nothing against specialists. (I’ve spent a fair amount of money on a few.) It’s just that when we believe the solution is disease-removal, we tinker and trade one infomercial or Bible verse or well-intentioned guru for another, believing that there is beauty only after the fix.
It sounds like the Islamic parable about the man who loses his camel, but spends all of his time looking for the rope.
I know the fight to be impervious (heart in a fortress and picture-perfect. To be chagrinned by my pain and by my tears. So, I worked so hard at unruffled theology and emotional solutions for that pain, and I unwittingly transmitted it.
Because here’s the deal: I missed the beauty. I did not see the power of the gift.
This isn’t easy, to embrace pain, or all that is vulnerable and broken within us. But that, Bryan Stevenson reminds us, is when healing begins. “I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity… But simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity… Embracing our brokenness creates a need for mercy.” (Bryan is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and author of Just Mercy.)
Today, I choose to feed the good (life-giving) wolf.
I liked this, from Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger, “My mantra this year has been the Hebrew words, Lev Basar, which means ‘a heart of flesh,’ from the biblical verse, ‘I will take from you a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, ‘There’s nothing as whole as a broken heart.’ In these traditions, you cultivate a broken heart which is very different from depression or sadness. It’s the kind of vulnerability, openness, and acute sensitivity to your own suffering and the suffering of others that becomes an opportunity for connection.”
I did not see the power or the gift.
Today, I choose to invite this self, this vulnerable broken Terry, to the table to speak. This sacrament of the present becomes a place for honesty and confession and learning and empathy and healing.
When I do this, I see that we are not on this journey alone.
Do you know the word Ubuntu? A Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity” often translated as “I am because we are,” and also “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a philosophical sense “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” As chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Desmond Tutu used descriptive words to speak about Ubuntu intimately binding it within Christian principles of goodness. He describes the person true to Ubuntu as one who is “generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.” He says it as a state in which one’s “humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up” in others. Tutu says of Ubuntu “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.”
“I’ve told a lot of people about you all,” I tell the sheep this morning on my walk. And I tell them the story of the young woman with hives.
“He sure talks a lot,” I hear one of the young ones say to his momma as I start to leave. “And I don’t understand anything that he’s saying.”
“That’s okay,” I think I hear her say. “It does his heart good to talk to us. And we’re good listeners. That’s what matters most to him right now.”
Rose season has begun here in the garden. It’s like Holy Week, and every day is Easter. Constance Spry. LD Braithwaite, Felicite Parmentier, Darlow’s Enigma, players in an all-star British drama.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Hello Terry, as always your words of wisdom brighten my day. Being black in America is one of those “stories too heavy to carry alone”. I can try to lighten my load by seeking support from others. But to carry another’s load you do not fully understand might be asking too much. It is God that takes me through. We are all living in trying times. The more we are open to the needs of others then the light shines through. When I get tired of being tired, someone is always there if only in thought or like you with words of encouragement. Peace & Thank You! Jo
–Terry, I love your sheep and I want you to see my “sheep”. A dear friend, Linda and her husband went to Israel a few years ago and she brought back some sheep for me. They were made from wool from sheep in Israel–I even have a black sheep. I keep them near the TV. I see them in a “different light” now and even might start talking to them. SM is like having a quenching drink that refreshes the soul and jump starts my day. Sally
–Thank you Terry. Your daily moment brought 9/11 all over again. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I believe we’re all still grieving and processing that moment. The first responders and the people that rang that bell with all their might were “unplanned” heroes. Again, we’re walking each other home. So grateful to have you in my life. Every day I look forward to your message. Blessings Maria
–Terry, Thank you for the messages you share with us. You give me hope for a better world by Loving and accepting others, by taking the time to stop and smell the roses and by being grateful for the blessings God has given me. Love your garden God bless, Toni
–Terry, thank you so very much for these daily writings. So many of them hit me in the right spot at the right time, as I’m afraid the isolation of what’s going on now will continue in my life. As I’ve come to realize it though, I realize there is joy and peace in the world that I can find as well, through your words and blessings. And such a time where everything is so negative and everything you look at and see and read is negative, it’s just a joy to be able to see your positive messages. Thank you again so very much for everything; take care God bless. Peggy
–Terry, this filled my heart this morning. Thank you. I need help when the social issues make me want to hug everybody and social distancing means I can’t. Ron
–Hi Terry, Saw that you watched the movie Just Mercy. If I may suggest, please read the book. It’s filled with many more stories, including the injustice of incarcerating children, those with limited mental capacity, and the mentally ill. These past few weeks have been challenging for all and it’s time for all of us white folks to stop watching from the sidelines. Prayers for courage for all of us! Madeleine
–Beautiful contemplation this morning. Some days we’re the lost sheep. Some days we’re the shepherd. This time we’re living in is too heavy to carry alone. Rita
–Thank you Terry, Monday’s used to be the “oh no day”, It’s Monday and I have to go to work. Now because of SM has changed that to “yea it’s Monday” and I will have words of encouragement from the Bard of Vashon! Today’s I am realizing that we as white folks are saying to our black and brown sisters and brothers, we will carry your story also and protest, No More White Silence. Thank you Terry, Yea, it’s Monday
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. George Washington Carver
For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
Here is my prayerful intent:
Lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth;
from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our lives, our world, our universe.
Peace. Peace. Peace.
(Universal Prayer for Peace.)