I’m on my patio. There is a slight lifting of the air so I can smell the earth and the roses nearby, and I take possession of my life here. (A shout out to May Sarton.)
And yet. I confess to a gnawing guilt. There is an implied selfishness and myopia by being absorbed with beauty and wonder and petite-miracles-wandering.
But there is an irony here. This path literally takes me away from self-centeredness, and toward gratitude – which is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without. I love David Whyte’s take that “Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness.”
So we’re back in the movie Joe versus the volcano, and the prayer Joe utters, “Dear God, whose name I do not know—thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG… thank you.”
The good news is that gratitude expands our world, and allows us to look out, beyond our anxiety or angst, to a world where we can create space, sanctuaries for mercy and wholeness and compassion and gentleness and empathy. Gratitude is a portal for an alternative orthodoxy, allowing us to quietly and firmly pay attention to the things that fundamentally matter.
As Richard Rohr reminds us, “Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”
Gratitude reminds us that we are wholeheartedly human. Because gratitude naturally repairs the tears and lacerations in our spirit.
And I do know this: Anxiety or angst makes our world smaller and harsher and crueler.
Without restoration that comes with a thankful heart, we give way to fear, judgment and exhaustion. This much is true: Fear and judgment never serve us.
I recently visited Mukai Garden, a historical landmark here on Vashon Island. Built in the 1920s by a Japanese family, who were shamefully forced off the island in the 1940s. A group of islanders is in the process of renewing its elegant design for historical preservation. There is a sign near an arresting stone water garden feature (now empty), “The garden has been severely compromised by neglect… and is in need of extensive restoration.”
(Sounds like some hearts and spirits I know.)
The practice of self care – soul care – is that we choose to say how the story ends. We are not victims. We are powerful contributors even when we feel weak or all alone or at the mercy of.
“In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty,” Simone Weil wrote, “there really is the presence of God. There is as it were, an incarnation of God in the world and it is indicated by beauty. The beautiful is the experimental proof that the incarnation is possible.”
Gratitude empowers us to spill the incarnation. Because beauty allows us to practice the sacrament of the present moment. And that which we have buried—mercy, gentleness, kindheartedness—comes to life. Let us never forget that.
However. I am easily derailed. I fall back under the spell of angst. And that unnerves me.
So I take heart in Jon Katz’s wisdom, “No bad news, no hateful and angry people shall every keep me from loving my life, or being grateful for every single day of it. I never expect a perfect life, only the grace and strength to live my life well and meaningfully. Today suggests I am on the path. I believe in small acts of love and kindness.”
Yes. That’s it. An invitation to participate in this life. To bring all that I am to the table of this moment. To invest my heart. What Barbara Kingsolver calls a conspiracy with life.
Several years ago, I sat in a meeting with talented, educated professional colleagues, and witnessed a lead—a man—verbally bully a woman colleague (to tears) in front of us all. There was silence. I left the room. On the patio of the house where we met, I couldn’t stop crying. It triggered something primal.
What makes me cry now, is that at the time, I said nothing. I didn’t make space for the generosity of presence, and I gave way to a much smaller world.
I know what it means to be shamed—to be belittled by someone. And to hide behind silence, fear and low self-regard with its covering of self-possession. So I pretend to be strong. And I’m very good at it. Like the garden, my soul was compromised by neglect, and because of that, I was not incarnational–present for those around me.
So you see, we are now back to the subject of soul care. In the chaos and upheaval on the public stage, this is about the kind of people we are, the kind of suffering we tend to, the kind of humans we want to be.
If I had my druthers I’d put down my pen (yes, I still write with a pen), and wave a wand, or transport you (ala Star Trek) to my garden.
Our agenda? Petite-miracle-wandering. Curiosity brings us to beauty, without which we couldn’t bear up under pain or chaos.
“I’m ready to be inspired, she said & I said that’s not quite how it works, so instead we sat in the garden, breathing & watching the bees until she smiled quietly & said, I forget it’s that simple.” Thank you Brian Andreas
Jim Harrison speaks my language, “Whenever life begins to crush me, I know I can count on Bandol (Rhone wine), garlic and Mozart.”
This is another way of saying that when life is heavy or unfair or chaotic, we don’t exit, we enter.
We enter because we can make a difference.
The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagin, leader in the Jewish world, 1838-1933) was asked about his impact and how he made a difference. He answered, “I set out to try to change the world, but I failed. So I decided to scale back my efforts and only try to influence the Jewish community of Poland, but I failed there, too. So I targeted the community in my hometown of Radin, but achieved no greater success. Then I gave all my effort to changing my own family, and failed at that as well. Finally, I decided to change myself, and that’s how I had such an impact on the Jewish world.”
My friend Phil Volker says that it takes one kind of hope to show up for life, and another kind to partake. I don’t think we are supposed to be casual observers here with our precious time.
One of the favorite parts of participating in our eCourses, is reading the stories people share. It’s not about naming or listing what has been learned. It’s about sacramental miscellanies, gifts of life bestowed when we stop long enough to see, taste, touch, find gladness (sunlight, birds, pets, conversation, sunset, random acts of kindness…)
This can be transformative.
Amen. Gratitude empowers us to spill the incarnation. Because beauty allows us to practice the sacrament of the present moment. And that which we have buried—mercy, gentleness, kindheartedness—comes to life. Let us never forget that.
So here’s the deal: to partake is to throw myself into the game of life wholeheartedly. Which means that I choose to foster and nurture, to mend and reconcile, to feed and tend, to proclaim and celebrate, to heal and advocate.
The temperature is perfect tonight. Join me in my garden. We’ll walk and look for mini miracles and we’ll feed our souls and we will go from here to spill the light of hope to a world severely compromised by neglect.
Speaking of gratitude, have a great and safe 4th of July celebration.
Quotes for your week…
Almost the whole world is asleep. Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement. Joe versus the volcano
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. e.e. cummings
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Enter Into a conspiracy with Life
Last May, I saw a dragonfly as long as my hand — longer than an
average-sized songbird. She circled and circled, flexing her body,
trying to decide if my little lake was worthy of her precious eggs. She
was almost absurdly colorful, sporting a bright green thorax and blue
abdomen. Eventually she lit on the top of a horsetail plant that sends
long slender spikes up out of the water. She was joined on the tips of
five adjacent stalks by five other dragonflies, all different: an
orange-bodied one with orange wings, a yellow-one, a blue-green one, one
with a red head and a purple tail, and a miniature one in zippy metallic
blue. A dragonfly bouquet. Be still, and the world is bound to turn
herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise
is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is to draw the
blinds and shut it all out, or believe.
What to believe in, exactly, may never turn out to be half as important
as the act of belief. A willingness to participate in sunlight, and the
color red. An agreement to enter into a conspiracy with life…
Barbara Kingsolver in “High Tide in Tucson”
In Beauty May I Walk
In beauty may I walk;
All day long may I walk;
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
Beautifully will I possess again
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk;
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk;
With dew around my feet may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me,
may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively;
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again…
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.