I confess that I haven’t gotten around to making any new year resolutions. I was reminded this morning in a marketing email, “Terry, What are you aiming for in 2023? What does success look like?”
I have nothing against lists, per se. (I have my own… somewhere on my desk.) My problem is with the marriage of lists and our need to define any spiritual quest by our productivity-fixated culture. By that measurement, everything we do must be results oriented, qualifiable, and relentlessly upbeat. So, we put a premium on public opinion and looking busy, so that no one will suspect we are loafing.
We live in a culture where we can’t get away from the notion that there’s just one piece of knowledge—or information or advice or prayer or instruction or divine intervention—between us and “success”. Or happiness, or life as it “should be”. And that’s not a helpful notion to lug around.
Some time back, perusing the shelves of one of my favorite independent bookstores, I found a title that gave me pause. “What if I wake up and discover I’m living the wrong life?” (Mercy. This is a good way to throw a monkey wrench into any fine weekend. I mean, should I cancel dinner reservations?)
Sensing the author could be right, this led to an uncomfortable scene in the bookstore, with me on the floor, being consoled by a well-meaning store clerk, who may or may not be living the right life, which seemed beyond my capacity to discern, although she was very helpful nonetheless, patting me on the head saying, “There, there,” and gave me the name of a nearby pub which specialized in soothing middle-aged angst.
What if I’m living the wrong life? Sadly, it is a question we all entertain. No doubt because it saturates the ether of our culture. “Whatever your life, something must be missing,” we are reminded. Daily. (And in world where more is never enough, there is a parade of lives on social media that we are prompted to envy.) But when we do this—you know, acquiesce and give in to a need to prove and obsess—we give up our best self… this self.
Which brings me to this life-giving story Dewitt Jones tells about visiting Marion Campbell, considered the finest weaver in all of Scotland. She lived in the Outer Hebrides. Jones visited to photograph Marion for The National Geographic. When she answered the door, she seemed surprised (no wonder considering that the Hebrides are a remote island chain, the whole string of 65 islands with fewer than 27,000 inhabitants. I expect she didn’t see a stranger very often.) Marion told Dewitt, “I’m sorry, but now I am taking care of my brother who is sick and near death.” Dewitt felt an understandable embarrassment.
“No wait,” she told him, “give me an hour. I’ll join you then.”
After the hour, he found her at the loom. She talked about her creations, and stories about scraping lichen from rocks for dye. Dewitt took a few photos. Still nervous that he had interrupted Marion, he started to leave. “Oh no,” she told him. She escorted him into her dining room where she had put out biscuits and tea. Dewitt wondered if he was in the presence of a great sage, and waited for pearls of wisdom. “What do you think about when you weave?” he asked.
“I wonder if I’ll run out of thread,” she answered.
She must have seen the puzzlement on his face, and added, “When I weave, I weave.”
There it is.
When I read, I read.
When I celebrate, I celebrate.
When I pay attention, I pay attention.
It seems that the nagging question, “What if this is the wrong life?” is not that important after all.
Have I done bone-headed things with my life? To be sure.
Have I miscalculated and misused talent or opportunity? Assuredly.
Have I wrestled with depression and the weight of life gone awry? Yes, I have.
Does it benefit me to wish that I were elsewhere and otherwise? I don’t think so.
What I know for certain is that starting down that path of determining “right or wrong” life, assures the fact that we will avoid (and definitely miss) this life.
So. My new year resolution is an invitation; the freedom to be awake and invested, in this life, in this moment… the very one I am living today.
As Dewitt Jones puts it, “To not only be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world.”
I love this. Not only is this the life to live…
In doing so, you bring your whole heart.
In doing so, you make a difference.
So… “Let us not darken the joy of resurrection,” Thomas Merton reminds us, “by remaining in captivity and darkness, but let us live as free men and women who have been called out of the darkness and into the light.”
That light may be obscured by tragedy and stress but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there and cannot spill to the world around us. Yes. In this life.
At my age, it’s common to be asked about retirement (well, to be honest, first you’re asked about aches and pains), and whether or not I can afford to grow old. “What have you invested in?” I am asked.
Granted, my portfolio may be undistinguished, but I’ll save my worry for later. I have other investments in mind.
Today, I want to invest in being present and wholehearted.
Today, I want to invest in being unafraid.
Today, I want to invest in bringing the better angels of this self to a world that needs people who care about making it a better place.
More than ever, I value being around people who live well in their own skin. Because they live unafraid.
And here’s the wonderful irony. Being fully present allows me to be present for others around me. You know, as in connected. As in face to face, eye to eye, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. Why? Because I have nothing to prove, no one to impress and no need to manipulate or denigrate anyone.
Our friends in California continue to face potential flooding, so we pray for safety.
Quotes for your week…
How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning? Mr. Rogers
Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, I share this reflection with you only because I believe that your Sabbath Moments have helped me remain open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This walk along, up and down the path of rocks and mud from recent rain, between the marsh and the long island sound was a huge shake-by-the-shoulders for me. It’s the first time I saw these bare skyward reaching branches and twigs as fully alive with gratitude for rest. It was incredible. Winter here, for me on the East Coast, has been a personal hibernation of sorts the past four years. I’ve walked in nature, but thought of her as silent, dormant and unresponsive. Now, au contraire. In fact, today, walking the short paths around the park, pond and wooded area a block from my home; I glanced up at a beautiful, bare tree and said aloud to her, ‘Yes! Praise fingers,’ and I opened my gloved palms and praised God for this new winter awakening. Peace,” Sheila Flanagan… Thank you Sheila… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
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Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Good morning! Happy New Year! Thanks for your Sabbath Moment! I look forward to it everyday as part of my morning routine! You always have such great insight and wonderful “food for thought”! I also forward it to a friend that especially needs your wise words right now. Thanks for being the special person you are! I’ll keep spilling the light! Brenda
–Grace was a concept introduced to me when I came into Alcoholics Anonymous nearly 38 years ago. Shame that 42 years of church-going prior to that, I didn’t hear the promise of grace. Grace is definitely my salvation, as it could be for all of us if we would avail ourselves of it. We must accept and acknowledge it, embrace and share it. So many stubbornly refuse to. I count myself among the most fortunate of God’s children. I’m loving this week’s topic and your meditations on grace. Peace, Jo
–I love “thin places.” When my wife and I drove up Deer Park Rd to Blue Mountain in the Olympics about five years ago, the ranger there said that many people believed that place was a “thin place,” and many people brought the cremains of loved ones to spread around there. It was indeed a place where we experienced a closeness to what is “Really Real”, as my Metaphysics professor called it. Larry
POEMS AND PRAYERS
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days. When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence, the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently. When the destination becomes gracious, the journey
becomes an adventure of beauty. John O’Donohue
This is What Was Bequeathed Us
This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
Left to us.
No other world
But his one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.
No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.
No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.
That, and the beloved’s clear
Turn me into song; sing me awake.
May God make you holy when you feel numb and immobile,
paralyzed by fear or anxiety, anesthetized by compulsion or trauma.
May God lift you up and out of your dead places with loving arms
and breathe into you hope and life beyond measure.
Held by the hand of God, may you see your life in a new way
and with new possibilities—
with the eyes of the Creator who sees the whole of you
and loves it unconditionally.
May the God of Vitality bless you.
Maxine Shonk, OP