This week, we ask the question, “Instead of finishing the year strong, can we embrace the gift of finishing the year soft?” Rested and at home in our own skin. You know… Open to gratitude, and compassion, and gifts of tenderness, and the love found even in broken (or unfinished) places.
In other words, let us live “unfrozen”.
To do this requires a paradigm shift. And we quoted GK Chesteron’s observation, “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul; and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.”
So. Let’s check out one of Chesterton’s own “new soul” stories.
Chesterton (1874-1936) writes about his youth as “nightmare years”—at Slade School in London—where his outlook on life turned dark and despondent. He remarked later that (after those years) what remained of religion was the “one thin thread of thanks.” A thin line with two strands: wonder and gratitude.
Frederick Buechner picks up the story, “It was at this time also that he met Frances Blogg, whom, after a long engagement, he married in 1901. During the engagement, Frances’ sister Gertrude was killed in a bicycle accident, and Frances was so prostrated with grief that directly after the funeral she went to Italy to recover. At the funeral, all the flowers were white except for the ones that Chesterton sent, which were brilliant scarlet and orange and accompanied by a card that read, “He that maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.”
While Frances was in Italy, he also wrote her a remarkable letter that further reveals the near euphoria that followed in the wake of the Slade year’s nightmare. “I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me; the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud.”
Here’s why I love this story.
One. Chesterton chose scarlet flowers, for no apparent reason that we know of, save that he was definitely not frozen. (Proving David Whyte’s affirmation that “inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.”)
And two. The intensity of his passion for all things (fueled by his intoxication with wonder and gratitude) gave no heed whatsoever to public opinion. Life wasn’t about the need to impress or perform.
Let us remember… Grace is alive.
We can live, open to gratitude, and compassion, and gifts of tenderness, and the love found even in broken (or unfinished) places… and when we do, we know that hope is real.
So. Let us love one another into existence.
Spill your light my friends.
(Note: Yesterday’s Sabbath Moment Frozen Joseph story adapted from James Dittes, The Male Predicament)
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
(Thank you Mary Oliver)
This is my hope and prayer: The permission to be soft.
Okay… to “break open”—living life unabashed—is one thing. Sadly, we live in a culture that wishes to capture “it,” or tame it, or make it manageable (hoping that it comes with instructions). Leading us to wonder, “Am I getting it right yet?”
And as to New Year resolutions that beckon?
I’m partial to Parker Palmer’s take, that instead of resolutions we ought to follow Rilke’s famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a few wonderings…
Can I give myself the permission to be rested and at home in my own skin?
What is my next encouragement, in daring to be fully human and fully alive?
How can I let go of my need for fixed answers, in favor of aliveness (even in uncertainty or brokenness)?
How can I open myself to the gifts of beauty and wonder of nature, and in human nature?
Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?
Where can I be open to gratitude, and compassion, and gifts of tenderness?
Living these questions will stretch us. There is no doubt about that. And, the enticement of being “frozen” will reappear. No surprise, because if I’m honest, too often it’s not authenticity (aliveness) I want. It’s certainty (or security) that I’m after.
I’ll give Thomas Merton the final word, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.”
The end of the year brings with it the urge (and yes, maybe compulsion) to sort and remember, and make plans (resolutions). I have nothing against sorting or planning, but I do confess that my list-making skills have diminished in recent years. And I’m okay with that.
What I do know is this, how I frame where I’ve been, and where I’m heading depends on my paradigm. Because here’s the deal: As long as “success” (or arriving somewhere) is measured by keeping score, or being the strongest (the most “together”), or even acting “normal”, we lose track of most everything that makes us human, and soft, and therefore, wonderfully glad to be alive…
And we forget the really, really good stuff…
…small gestures of kindness (smiles, touch, hug, helping hand)
…acts of inclusion or community to someone left out, or someone on the fringes (we’re glad you are here)
…extending a hand of healing or acceptance to someone who hurts (you’re safe here)
…reveling in the gifts of the senses, and the joy of being present (sacrament of the present)
…resting in a moment of gratitude (yes… the gift of enough)
…sharing laughter, a smile, camaraderie, dancing (baltering), joy…
It helps us all to remember the reset button… to remind us about the things that really matter (when life makes us forget). Here is one of my “mantras” that does just that…
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” Kurt Vonnegut
Weather has been one of the pressing stories this past month, so many epic storms upending travel and shutting down roads, airports and power stations. I hope you’ve stayed safe and found places of sanctuary and replenishment. And connections during this Christmas and Hannukah season. And for those grieving the loss of a loved one, we hold you close.
I talked with the geese today. I tell them I marvel that they go about their rituals and daily lifestyle liturgies, seemingly unfazed by what often seems a crazy world around them, and that I like that. They don’t seem very impressed. And I like that too.
God of all time,
help us enter the New Year quietly,
thoughtful of who we are
to ourselves and to others,
mindful that our steps make an impact
and our words carry power.
May we walk gently.
May we speak
only after we have listened well.
Creator of all life,
help us enter the New Year reverently,
aware that you have endowed
every creature and plant,
every person and habitat
with beauty and purpose.
May we regard the world with tenderness.
May we honour rather than destroy.
Lover of all souls,
help us enter the New Year joyfully,
willing to laugh and dance and dream,
remembering our many gifts with thanks
and looking forward to blessings yet to come.
May we welcome your lavish love.
In this new year,
may the grace and peace of Christ
bless us now and in the days ahead.
Vinita Hampton Wright
I look forward to connecting with you all in the new year.
Let us savor our days my friends.
And let our light spill.
Prayer for our week…
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
Photo… “Good morning Terry, I captured a berry through a frozen water drop and it appeared to be a heart. Your topic about being frozen resonates with me. I instinctively became a ‘statue’ in situations in my life i.e. parents arguing when I was a child, bank robbery when I worked at the new accounts desk as an employee of a bank, you get the picture. They were always temporary until I felt safe again. I like your word frozen and being reminded to not stay frozen. This picture is of a round berry but when frozen it resembles a heart. I will remember, thanks to you that I must not live frozen because of the actions of others around me. I must be whole and unfreeze my heart daily. God bless you Terry you have an amazing gift of pulling wisdom from numerous sources including your own and empowering us to unfreeze ourselves and live,” Marguerite