This week… To love at all (anything in life) is to be vulnerable. I get it. I do.
What troubles me, is that when I feel unnerved or unsettled or afraid, I become wary of the very gifts—thoughts, feelings, desires, passions, yearnings, creative impulses, callings (to be peacemaker and healer)—that God put inside of me.
So, as I protect myself, I hide these gifts.
Or, I decide that robotics is better.
The Hebrew word that we translate as holy is qadosh, often defined as “set apart,” but which could be accurately translated as “life intensity.” I was raised in a tradition that frowned on passion or any form of a passionate life, preferring all things sedate or impassive. (After all, passion may invite vulnerability… and who knows, maybe dancing.)
Preferring sedate is unfortunate, because a holy life is intently dynamic, ever evolving, a rich and passionate life (even if quite untidy and cluttered) to celebrate and savor.
To nurture and contribute.
To heal and reconcile… and dance.
No, this is not easy in the world in which we live. Remember the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) invitation to allow God’s gifts to bubble up (yes, life intensity). And I love the line his guardian angel asks, “Is he sick?” “No, worse. He’s discouraged.”
I get it… I’ve been there. And yet, even there, we can give ourselves fully to this moment, knowing that this moment is not a race or contest or beauty pageant.
I cannot promise that all our fears will be abated. But I do know this, they will not be nearly as clamoring as they were earlier in the day.
As I write this I’m on my way from Tampa to Seattle, where I see that the temperature will be a good wee bit cooler.
I am a football fan. And have always enjoyed following (and cheering for) my teams (both college and pro). I know some of you can relate…
Now enjoying the playoffs, as we prep for the Super Bowl. (And it’s easier—less stressful—to watch when your team isn’t in it… just saying’)
Football language is telling. As an offense, you want to learn the “soft spots” in the opponent’s defense. Why? Because a soft spot is vulnerable. Meaning, it is a place “to attack”. Hmmm. In other words, vulnerability is a weakness—and you don’t want anyone to know about those places.
I think about this, because this week we’re talking about being vulnerable. Remembering that to love anything at all is to be vulnerable.
And this is where we can go sideways. It’s all about the paradigm we choose. When we adopt the mentality—vulnerability is always and only a weakness—in our emotional and spiritual life, our self-talk is loud and clear, “Whatever you do, don’t show your soft spots.”
Hide them. Toughen up. Be “strong”.
But what if those areas of “vulnerability” are not a weakness, but a strength.
I do know this, when I feel the pressure from that paradigm shift in my heart and spirit, my go-to is a conversation between a Rabbit and a Skin Horse. And I needed them today…
“Does it hurt?” the Rabbit asked the Skin Horse (about “becoming real”).
“Oh yes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “Sometimes it hurts a lot. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (The Velveteen Rabbit)
To love at all (anything in life) is to be vulnerable. I get it. I do.
What troubles me, is that when I feel unnerved or unsettled or afraid (in other words, when I feel real and vulnerable), I become wary of the very gifts (thoughts, feelings, desires, passions, yearnings, creative impulses, callings) that God put inside of me.
So, as I protect myself, I hide these gifts. And here’s the trigger, the impulse to hide: as soon as I label vulnerability as a weakness (something to be overcome or fixed), something inside shuts down.
Jacob, almost 70, finds himself in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. For over 20 years a clinical psychologist and mediator, Jacob is now acutely aware that his faculties are deteriorating. On occasion his mind and recall are totally blank. At times he needs help with rudimentary physical tasks. Even so, Jacob’s spirit does not break.
At a retreat with Tara Brach, Jacob is asked, “How can you be so accepting toward your disease?”
He said simply, “Because it doesn’t feel like anything is wrong. I feel grief and some fear about it all going, but it all feels like real life.”
Jacob told Tara a story about an experience at an event–which happened in the earlier stages of the disease–when he traveled and gave talks about Buddhism. On one occasion, a hundred meditation students gathered alert and eager. He looked out at the expectant faces, and suddenly didn’t know what to say or do. He didn’t know where he was or why he was there. With his heart pounding and his mind spinning in confusion, Jacob put his palms together at his heart, and began naming, out loud, what was happening inside; “Afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I’m failing, powerless, shaking, sense of dying, sinking, lost.” In time he relaxed and grew calm. He lifted his head. And apologized to the audience. Students were in tears. “No one has ever taught us like this,” said many.
Which begs the question, “What exactly did he teach?”
Authenticity is strength.
So… Let us be awake to the invitation to make a space, to embrace what is authentic, and to embrace the gift of being beloved, even in our vulnerability, yes, even in our brokenness.
We all have our sad places. No matter how we “clean up,” we all have our cracks in the façade.
As if that’s not bad enough, we live in a world that expects us to apologize for any weakness or sorrow. “I’m sorry,” the young woman told me, wiping away her tears. “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
Excuse me? Sorry for being which? Being normal? Or human? Or real?
(Just a reminder: anytime the word should—or shouldn’t—is added to a sentence, things turn sour in a hurry.)
Life is difficult, Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled.
Yes. And sometimes it feels like it takes us to the breaking point. Place where we feel in harm’s way.
I wish our world didn’t have such places of vulnerability.
Reminders of how easily we can break or can be wounded.
And yet… we forget what’s underneath (and bigger than) the brokenness.
We are, every single one of us, wounded. That is a gift.
We are, every single one of us, broken. And that is a gift.
We are blessedly human, and no one of us is on this journey alone. That too, is a gift.
Yes, I know. It doesn’t always feel that way. I look, but don’t see any gift. Because I see brokenness and woundedness as impediments or disabilities, to be tidied up, overcome or prayed away.
What I don’t see, is the invitation to befriend my brokenness, and embrace the beauty and wonder, and the connection I have with those around me.
I will admit that there is comfort donning my cape, morphing into Mr. Tidy OCD, an emotional life fix-it hero. And I know why. It distracts and protects me, because there’s a part of me that is afraid to pause, to befriend my scattered and wounded self. To let myself be loved for being this wonderfully messy imperfect me.
Grace, it turns out, is WD40 for the soul.
Speaking of vulnerability, as I write this, I’ve been watching the news about the storm and cold front settling in over the north eastern states, with temperatures likely well below zero.
In other words, hazardous. And our friends in Texas have felt the brunt of the front over the past few days. To all in the storm’s path, please stay safe, stay inside, and stay connected.
Let’s give the last word to María Branyas Morera, the world’s oldest living person (age 115). She was recently asked about the keys to longevity. “Staying away from toxic people,” she answered. You go girl.
Prayer for our week…
Eternal pilgrims we,
on the sometimes broken
we call our lives.
Longing pilgrims we,
stones and rocks
all shapes and sizes
to point the way.
Blessed pilgrims we,
when the stories of our lives
are deemed cairns
by he one who truly listens.
Photo… Sunset last night on Manasota Key, Florida… I’m so very grateful for your photos, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org