Two brothers, living on adjoining farms, fell into conflict. In forty years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, providing mutual support and assistance whenever needed, it is their first rift. But it doesn’t take much, does it? (“I have no idea what happened, but I know it wasn’t me.”)
A conflict that begins with a small misunderstanding can grow into a major fracture.
Weeks (spilling into months) of hostile silence follow the exchange of bitter and spiteful words between the brothers. One morning there is a knock on the older brother’s door. Opening the door, the older brother encounters a man with a carpenter’s toolbox, eager to do odd jobs around the farm. After thinking for a quick moment, the brother says, “Yes, I do have a job for you.” Pointing toward the creek separating the two farms, the elder brother says, “Last week there was a meadow between our two farms until my brother bulldozed his way to the river levee, leaving this creek to divide our land. I want to go him one better. I want you to build an eight-foot fence between our properties. I won’t need to see him or his farm anymore.”
The carpenter responds, “I think I understand the situation. Provide me the wood, the nails and a post-hole digger, and I’ll get started.”
The older brother has errands, so after readying the supplies, he leaves for the day. All day, the carpenter measures, saws, planes and builds.
At just about sunset, the farmer returns home to see the carpenter completing his task. The farmer’s jaw drops, for the carpenter has not built a fence at all. Instead, he has created a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other. It is a fine piece of work, complete with handrails, but not at all what the older brother had asked for. Imagine the older brother’s surprise when he sees his younger brother standing on the bridge, his hands outstretched as he says, “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge, after all I’ve said and done. I’m amazed. Thank you.”
The two brothers meet one another in the middle, embracing in a spirit of reconciliation. Turning, they see the carpenter hoisting his toolbox on his shoulder.
“No, wait!” says the older brother. “I have many other projects for you.”
“I’d be glad to stay,” the carpenter responds, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
This story hits me at my core. It’s easy to be derailed, to fall off the wagon of well-being. And to give way to anger, division, bitterness, playing a victim, depression. And they become our narrative. All the above, have this in common; Scotoma… Selective blindness. We see what we want to see. With scotoma, we wall (or fence) off tenderness and grace and inclusion and healing and reconciliation.
So. What in us sees only a fence (or a wall) instead of a bridge? Is it that we need to guard or clutch something? There is something about a fence that makes us feel secure; as if we are in control.
Charlie Brown and Lucy are leaning against a wall.
“If I were in charge of the world, I’d change everything!” Lucy says.
“That would not be easy… where would you start?” Charlie Brown asks.
“I’d start with you!” Lucy tells him.
I know that the walls I build on the outside are reflections or mirrors of walls on the inside. Why? Because I am not at home in my own skin. Both brothers in the story needed that journey “home”. With walls, I live from a place of fear. Fear from a self that is too small. And we project this smallness onto others, and to the world around us. Smallness becomes an impediment… of distrust or shame or bullying or intolerance or self-reproach.
What does it take to build a bridge where there is none?
A bridge to those parts of our self, untethered and flailing.
A bridge to people in our lives where wounds fester and dishearten.
We begin here: Inside of us, each one of us carries the carpenter’s tools.
Each one of us can dismantle the message of shame or disgrace or humiliation.
Each one of us can tell others the truth, which is our truth… meaning that we return people to themselves and to the truth of themselves, that we are–in fact–brothers (or sisters).
Here’s the deal: Love (or worth, or value, or forgiveness, or reconciliation, or meaning) is not something you produce or achieve or acquire. It is not something that you even have. Love is something that has you.
You do not have the wind, the stars, and the rain. You don’t possess these things; you surrender to them. And maybe, that surrender begins with an unforeseen journey across a bridge. Across a creek that had separated and divided. As long as we cling, we cannot make this journey. If we cannot let go–of our need for certitude or control or resentment or vindictiveness–we cannot find our way back.
Robert Benson talks about Sunday School teacher Hazelyn McComas (“a kind and gentle woman, a teacher, a woman of prayer, a woman whose spirit bears witness to her having spent a life seeking for glimpses of and listening for whispers of God within the ancient prayer of the Chosen People”). There is always a kid in the class who considers it his charge to trap the teacher. Benson remembers one occasion when the teacher was challenged about the veracity of the Faith. “I remember that she drew a breath and straightened up a bit, as though she wanted to be firm and clear, but not harsh and critical. (She said,) ‘This is what I believe: We were with God in the beginning. I do not understand that exactly–what we looked like, what we did all day, how we got along, any of it. Then we were sent here. And I am not sure that I understand that very well, either. And I believe that we are going home to God someday, and what that will be like is as much a mystery to me as any of the rest of it. But I believe those things are true and that what we have here on earth in between is a longing–for the God that we have known and for the God that we are going home to.'”
Yes Ms. McComas… Love is not something you have. Love is something that has you.
Speaking of bridges, St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), whose feast we celebrate, received a vision of Jesus Christ as a bridge reaching from heaven to earth, forever joining “humanity with the greatness of the Godhead.”
I spent a good weekend with a group of men from Trinity Ecumenical Church (Hardy, VA). We enjoyed our days at Shrine Mont, in the shadow of the Allegheny Mountains.
Quote for your week…
Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “you owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky. Hafiz of Shiraz
Note: Robert Benson’s book, Between the dreaming and the coming true
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–Dear Terry, I listen to your audio Sabbath Moment reflections over and over again. They bring me peace, joy and laughter. Thank you. Darryl
–Terry, Kent and I agreed–we needed this and it was one of your best. Thank you–I always look forward to Monday! Thanks so much!! Joan
–Dear Terry, Easter Sunday would have been my daughter’s 66th birthday. Our hearts grieved but we were so happy to celebrate her life on this special Easter Sunday, the day of our Risen Savior. Now her brother has been diagnosed with cancer and again we are faced with sad moments. I so look forward to your Sabbath Moment. I look to enjoy, embrace and love life and your words enlighten my soul. Your last paragraph says it all “It is hope that helps us keep the faith”. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. R
–Mighty good work my man. Love the Coffin quote. I can hear his gravelly voice saying that. Keep up the good work my man. It’s a more hopeful world because of people like you “giving their stubborn ounces of weight” toward hope. Dick
–Terry, Another powerful Sabbath Moment. In particular I was hoping you would discuss Notre Dame Cathedral. As it was burning I texted my Spiritual Director, a Holy Cross priest out of Notre Dame University in Indiana. I asked what could I do and he said, “Pray in solidarity with all the people of Paris and all who have made visits or pilgrimages to this sacred place. Memories and stories do not burn, so those we carry and share are precious.” That helped ease the horror of the historic Cathedral burning. God bless! Joe
–There is power in thin places…wow! Thank you. Annie
–Broken open instead of just broken!!! Terry, you did it again! Great message… Diane
–Terry, thank you for every Sabbath Moment, each word, reminding us of the incredible God that loves us, beyond our capacity to understand! You invite us to accept what we do not understand, and be embraced by the love that will cradle us in our despair, lift us in our joy, and carry us always through each of the many stages of our life’s journey. Thank you Terry, may God continue to bless you with vision, compassion, humor, and the words…. that flowing through your spirit, we might all continue to glimpse the beautiful world that has been given to us by the God who holds us fast! Francine
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
To Say Nothing But Thank You
All day I try to say nothing but thank you,
breathe the syllables in and out with every step I
take through the rooms of my house and outside into
a profusion of shaggy-headed dandelions in the garden
where the tulips’ black stamens shake in their crimson cups.
I am saying thank you, yes, to this burgeoning spring
and to the cold wind of its changes. Gratitude comes easy
after a hot shower, when loosened muscles work,
when eyes and mind begin to clear and even unruly
hair combs into place.
Dialogue with the invisible can go on every minute,
and with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I
remember who I am, a woman learning to praise
something as small as dandelion petals floating on the
steaming surface of this bowl of vegetable soup,
my happy, savoring tongue.
We seek your presence, O God,
not because we have managed to see clearly
or been true in all things this day,
not because we have succeeded in loving
or in reverencing those around us,
but because we want to see with clarity,
because we long to be true,
because we desire to love as we have been loved.
Renew our inner sight,
make fresh our longings to be true
and grant us the grace of loving this night
that we may end this day as we had hoped to live it,
that we may end this day restored
to our deepest yearnings,
that we may end this day as we intend
to live tomorrow,
as we intend to live tomorrow.
John Philip Newell