Stories take care of us. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. (Thank you, Barry Lopez.)
And yet. There are some days when we replay only stories that encourage us to live small. And when we live small, we live reactive. Diminished. Trapped. Afraid.
Last week in Anaheim, CA, I read the audience a story that I needed to hear. I know, because while reading it, I wept. (My best sermons happen when I need to hear them.)
Jean Houston writes, “When I was about fourteen I was seized by enormous waves of grief over my parents’ breakup. I had read somewhere that running would help dispel anguish, so I began to run to school every day down Park Avenue in New York City. I was a great big overgrown girl (5 feet eleven by the age of eleven) and one day I ran into a rather frail old gentleman in his seventies and knocked the wind out of him. He laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech, ‘Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?’
‘I will go with you,’ he informed me.
And thereafter, for about a year or so, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together often several times a week in Central Park.
He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which was ‘Mr. Tayer’ as far as I could make out. The walks were magical and full of delight. Not only did Mr. Tayer seem to have absolutely no self-consciousness, but he was always being seized by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things. He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time when he suddenly fell on his knees, his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, ‘Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhh!’ I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response that he was seized by the essence of caterpillar. ‘How beautiful it is,’ he remarked, ‘this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite! Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis.’
He then regarded me with equal delight. ‘Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?’
‘Oh yes.’ I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply faced teenager.
‘Then think of your own metamorphosis.’ he suggested. ‘What will you be when you become a butterfly, une papillon, eh? What is the butterfly of Jeanne?’ (What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl!)
His long, gothic, comic-tragic face would nod with wonder. Old Mr.Tayer was truly diaphanous to every moment and being with him was like being in attendance at God’s own party, a continuous celebration of life and its mysteries. But mostly Mr. Tayer was so full of vital sap and juice that he seemed to flow with everything.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Mr. Tayer was the way that he would suddenly look at you. He looked at you with wonder and astonishment joined to unconditional love joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one. I felt myself primed to the depths by such seeing. I felt evolutionary forces wake up in me by such seeing, every cell and thought and potential palpably changed. I was yeasted, greened, awakened by such seeing, and the defeats and denigrations of adolescence redeemed.
I would go home and tell my mother, who was a little skeptical about my walking with an old man in the park so often, ‘Mother, I was with my old man again, and when I am with him, I leave my littleness behind.’
(Jean did not find out until years after his death that Mr. Tayer was Teilhard de Chardin.)
I have often wondered if it was my simplicity and innocence that allowed the fullness of Teilhard’s being to be revealed. To me he was never the great priest-paleontologist Pere Teilhard. He was old Mr. Tayer. Why did he always come and walk with me every Tuesday and Thursday, even though I’m sure he had better things to do? Was it that in seeing me so completely, he himself could be completely seen at a time when his writings, his work, were proscribed by the Church, when he was not permitted to teach, or even to talk about his ideas? As I later found out, he was undergoing at that time the most excruciating agony that there is—the agony of utter disempowerment and psychological crucifixion. And yet to me he was always so present—whimsical, engaging, empowering. How could that be?
I think it was because Teilhard had what few Church officials did—the power and grace of the Love that passes all understanding. He could write about love being the evolutionary force, the Omega point, that lures the world and ourselves into becoming, because he experienced that love in a piece of rock, in the wag of a dog’s tail, in the eyes of a child.
Years later, while addressing some Jesuits, a very old Jesuit came up to me. He was a friend of Teilhard’s—and he told me how Teilhard used to talk of his encounters in the Park with a girl called Jeanne.”
I confess that I have always assumed I could outrun the messages of smallness that have looped through my psyche. (And that my inability to outrun, was simply another indictment against me. Lord have mercy.)
But here’s the deal: when any message invites the words “I am not enough”, we are practicing selective hearing. Meaning that we forget the power of the real story, that we are indeed, the “cluttered house that hides the holy one”.
So, today is a good day to pause, create space, and be bathed in a story of grace. There is power here. Let it sink in.
I spent this weekend with the good people at First Congregational Church in Guilford, CT. This faith community dates to 1643. When a few devout members of the Puritan Reform Party chose to settle.
My friend Jeff and I found places off the beaten path to walk and explore, including Hammonasset Beach State Park.
I fly home tomorrow, where my garden awaits, with a daffodil greeting committee, and an early spring pageant of Red Current, Aubrietia, Forsythia and Magnolia.
Quote for your week…
Recovering the sacred is remembering something we’ve forgotten, something we may have hidden from ourselves. It is about uncovering and discovering the innate wholeness in ourselves and in the world. —Dr. Naomi Rachel Remen
Note: Mr. Tayer from Jean Houston, Godseed: The Journey of Christ
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Gratitude dances though the open windows of our hearts.
We cannot force it. We cannot create it. And we can certainly close our windows to keep it out. But we can also keep them open
and be ready for the joy when it comes.
The dawn of Glory has come spreading its light
and the bird of my soul bursts with song
In the radiant sun the dust of my body settles
and the Beloved comes to sit at my side.
Touched by His grace my forlorn heart
stirs joyously and begins to dance.
The one whose back has been bent
by the journey springs back to life.
The heart is the light of the word
and the soul its brilliance.
One sets the beat for the other to dance.
We need to carve time for dwelling in the quiet places,
to discover our own inner landscape
and the landscape of God.
We must also pay attention
in the ‘cracks’ of our life
to see the ‘gracelets,’
the moments of meaning in the mundane.
Celeste Snowber, Embodied Prayer
Today’s photo credit — Springtime at the 9eRanch, Bastrop, Texas, Kent Bohls… Thank you Kent… grateful for your photos… send to email@example.com
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–Dear Terry, That you so much for your ministry. I always get some nugget of wisdom, and I have shared your postings with others. I have also bought books after reading quotes that you have posted. My heart, mind, and soul have been enriched by your willingness to share your ups and downs and in betweens. Blessings, Cindy
–Loved your talk on “Instructions for Living a Life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Really enjoyed it!! A whole theme for me this past Congress was joy and living more in the present moment. It was my very first Congress and was wonderful! Thank you for a beautiful talk! Looking forward to next year! Jessica
–Thanks again Terry for the bread and wine in your “heart words.” I’m taking this post camping this week. Much to ponder. Blessings! Dale
–Thank you Terry! I am really enjoying the eCourse. Having come from a 40 year career working in IT, where we strive to DO everything in the most proficient manner possible, I am now 2 years retired and trying to slow down and enjoy all of the blessings of life. It is slow progress but progress nonetheless and I am grateful for the time I am able to spend pondering. Have a wonderful day, Tom
–One of my favorite Sabbath Moments. As one of My Closest Friends said at Brian’s passing, “no words” followed by a long hug. She now rests with Brian. Her words forever give me comfort, as do the words of today’s sharing. Thank you. Words to live by. Take care. Pat
–I’ve asked a few people what made them smile today. After a moment of pause and them a brief stumble they thought for a moment and shared. Their answers then made me smile. Thank you for the challenge of asking this question vs. how was your day. I will be asking myself this question daily. It was a fantastic workshop and I’m so glad I was able to attend. Martina
–I’m so glad you referenced Leo Buscaglia! He was my professor when I went to USC. He was a hugger. Back then people were a little put off by that! But he was way ahead of his time. I’ll never forget that class. It was a special education class and we watched “The Miracle Worker” with Patty Duke in our midst. What a thrill. Still with me 50 years later. Leo was one of a kind. Blessings, Nancy
–Dear Terry, This powerful Sabbath Moment went directly into my overloaded soul. Reading your words seemed a personal prescription for what is the matter with me. A mother who made me and my siblings feel responsible to heal whatever happens to be within our reach and to feel guilty if we didn’t try. It has been exhausting. Your practical and enlightening words about this have reached me so well that I think that I may finally be able to shuck off this sentence. I feel lighter already! Thank you for your insightful sharing. Sincerely, B
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