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Compassionate of heart

“Every Christmas I used to go home to west Tennessee.” (Fred Craddock tells the story in “Craddock Stories”.)
“An old high school chum of mine, I called him Buck, had a restaurant in town, every year it was the same.  I’d go to the restaurant, ‘Merry Christmas Buck,’ I’d say, and he would give me a piece of pie and a cup of coffee for free.  Every year it was the same.
I went in, ‘Merry Christmas, Buck.’
But this year he said, ‘Let’s go somewhere for coffee.’
‘What’s the matter?  Isn’t this a restaurant?’
‘He said, ‘Sometimes I don’t know.  Sometimes I wonder.  Let’s go.’
So we went for coffee.  We sat there and pretty soon he said, ‘Did you see the curtain?’
I said, ‘Buck, I saw the curtain.  I always see the curtain.'”
Now what he meant by curtain was this: they have a number of buildings in that little town that are called shotgun buildings (we saw them in New Orleans).  They’re long buildings with two entrances, front and back.  One is off the street, one is off the alley.  In Buck’s restaurant and other restaurants in town, the entrances were separated by a curtain, with a kitchen in the middle.  If you were white, you came in off the street.  If you were black, you came in off the alley.
“He said again, ‘Did you see the curtain?  The curtain has to come down.’
‘Good, bring it down.’
He said, ‘That’s easy for you to say.  Come into town once a year and tell me how to run my business.’
I said, ‘Okay, then leave it up.’
He said, ‘I can’t leave it up.’
‘Well then, take it down.’
‘I can’t take it down.’  After while he said, ‘If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers.  If I leave the curtain up, I lose my soul.'”

I don’t know how you do a moment of silence on paper.  But I do know that a moment of silence is called for after this story.  So, we need to sit with it, just for a spell.
And then ask, in what way does this story invite me to (borrowing from John O’Donohue) “live this day compassionate of heart, clear in word, gracious in awareness, courageous in thought, generous in love?” Even if it may be uncomfortable.

I confess my reluctance to use the story for a Sabbath Moment.  How can I do justice to a story that lays bare a wound in our history that has still not been completely healed? And in a world where we feel more disconnected and tribalized than ever.
But that’s what makes for great stories.  Great stories don’t make things tidy.
Great stories tend to make those who are comfortable, uncomfortable.
And they comfort those who have known both sorrow and heartache.
Great stories engage us–because they challenge the presuppositions and prejudgments we carry, about ourselves and the world in which we live–and invite us to personal and honest responsibility.
At the heart of this story, a man is torn.  A decision faces him (most likely, his decision had already been made, it’s just that it takes awhile for many of our decisions to find the light of our daily life).  We all know what it is like to be torn.
And this is the invitation (and our question to unpack) today: where is the reservoir that allows us to make life-giving, compassionate and redemptive choices?
And we so easily forgot how little that gesture needs to be.

Our world is full of curtains and walls.  Assuming somehow, walls makes us safer. So, we curtain people in and we curtain people out, both literally and spiritually. Regardless of our “intent”, it leads to grief, fear, division, and too often, violence.
So. I take this story to heart. And after re-reading it, I began making a list of the many reasons for curtains in my own life.  Lord only knows whom I’m trying to please.  Or what I’m afraid of.
But here’s the deal: I do know that when I am torn, I live anxious, and restless, and exhausted.  Which means I do my darndest to keep that curtain up, even though I can’t explain why.
Yes, this is story about moral responsibility.  But it’s also about the ways that we preclude or prohibit ourselves from living soul-full. Human. Alive.
Because curtains or walls cannot serve the purpose of Grace, or healing, or compassion, or the soul.
As long as there are curtains, I cannot receive.
As long as there are curtains, I cannot give.
As long as there are curtains, we cannot connect.
As long as there are curtains, I cannot be a place of sanctuary and grace and inclusion and sufficiency and healing.

All of this is good in theory.  I like things in theory.  There is the story told of the eminent philosopher who died and arrived in heaven.  He stood at a crossroads.  One sign pointed, “This way to the Kingdom of God.”  Another sign said: “This way to a Discussion about the Kingdom of God.”  I’m thinking that the discussion group sounds pretty good right now.
I wish it were all easier.  I can think of areas in my life where I need to take the curtain down–the curtain of suspicion, or anger, or public opinion, or fear, or old hurts and grudges unforgiven, or an unwillingness to trust, or simply the energy required pretending to be someone that I am not.  So, in the end, the curtain gets in the way of letting our light shine, of seeing those around us with compassion, of loving our neighbor–whoever they may be.
At some point we have to decide how conscious we want to be, how much truth we can take.  Because there will be a price to pay living this open or truthful or alive.  Speaking personally, I don’t know if I’m willing… to be that open or vulnerable or exposed.
Taking the curtain down is not about impressing anyone.  And yes, it is bigger than that.  It is about choosing what our heart calls us toward.  I cannot tell you what will happen.  But I can tell you that if we choose to follow our heart–to let more of life in–we will create the space to remember that love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn.

Enjoyed watching Olympics golf today. Congrats to Xander for gold. I get nervous just watching. I can’t imagine what it’s like on the course.
At our feeder off the deck, our own local Olympic games. We’re charmed by the Flickers that visit (a first for our feeders). They spend much of their time and energy fending off the red-wing blackbirds.
On my walk through the woodland, hedgerows of blackberry, just about ready for cobbler time.

Quote for your week…
My continuing passion is to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people–the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.  Eudora Welty

Note: Some insights on the curtain story from Rev. Eugene N. Nelson, Jr., The Community Church of Sebastopol 


Today’s Photo Credit: “I’ve been  intrigued to hear about your travels which I know you had enjoyed pre-COVID. I also appreciate the joy of learning to love being home during this last year. I am not as eager to hit the road as I had been previously.  Hopefully though the impact of the variants will not result in a complete reversal back to the full restrictions of 2020 and that you avoid any infections as you travel the country. We did drive to Wyoming for a friend’s  memorial service in Shoshone national Forest which was a blessed event surrounded by the awe of the national forest.  That was followed by revisiting our ‘old neighborhood’ of Montana where we lived for 12 yrs. Attached is a photo with the ‘bear’s tooth’ which is visible near the top of the famed Beartooth pass, the route from Red Lodge Montana into Yellowstone park via Cooke City. It is indeed a spectacular route, one of my spiritual places particularly as we were with longtime friends who live in Red Lodge now. Safe and life giving journeys as you spill your light as well.” Rev. Linda Marshall… Thank you Linda…  Keep sending your photos… send to [email protected]
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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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In the mailbag…
–Hi Terry. No need to reply. I just wanted to thank you for the smile you put on my face, and the giggle in my heart, when I read about your new word combo… rad slob frontside air reverse… and the fact that you are planning to use it in a random conversation makes me want to do the same! I am practicing saying it over and over so it will come out sounding natural when I do use it! Your joy for language is contagious… wish I had someone like you teaching when I was taking High School English classes, now wouldn’t that have been a Happy Journey! Thanks for shining your light. Kim 

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To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. Stephen Covey

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
Excerpt from the blessing, ‘The Inner History of a Day,’ found in the books: Benedictus (Europe) / To Bless the Space Between Us (US)

In order to be truthful.
We must do more than speak the truth.
We must also hear truth.
We must also receive truth.
We must also act upon truth.
We must also search for truth.
The difficult truth.
Within us and around us.
We must devote ourselves to truth.
Otherwise we are dishonest
And our lives are mistaken.
God grant us the strength and the courage
To be truthful.
Michael Leunig. @1991

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