We went to the outskirts of Bourke (Mother Teresa writes), where all the Aborigines were living in those little small shacks made of tin and old cardboard. I entered one of those little rooms and told the man living there, “Please allow me to make your bed, wash your clothes, to clean your room.”
He kept saying, “I’m alright, I’m alright.”
“But you will be more alright if you allow me to do it.”
Then he allowed me, and at the end, he pulled from his pocket a little old photograph of his father. I said, “You are so like your father.” He was overjoyed. I blessed the photo, gave it to him, and it went back into the pocket near his heart.
After I cleaned the room I found in the corner a big lamp, full of dirt. I said, “Don’t you light this lamp, such a beautiful lamp?”
He replied, “For whom? Months and months nobody has ever come to me. For whom will I light it?”
So I said, “Won’t you light it if the Sisters come to you?”
And he said, “Yes.”
So the Sisters started going to visit him for only about 5 to 10 minutes a day. They started lighting that lamp. After some time the man got into the habit of lighting the lamp himself. Slowly, slowly, slowly, the Sisters stopped going to his shack (although they used to go every morning). I forgot completely about my first visit, and then after two years he sent word, “Tell Mother, my friend, the light she lit in my life is still burning.”
We are fortunate people. We do not live in shacks made of tin and old cardboard. But each one of us knows what it is like to let the light go out, or to leave the lamp unlit, or to bury the lamp (for any number of reasons, whether it be fear or shame or being just plain stuck) in the corner under the debris of disillusionment.
This email from a Sabbath Moment reader,
“I think my inner fire has gone out. I am normally a pretty out going, giving, strong, open minded and kind spirit. Lately I find I just feel tired and weary with people and my own life. Now I just feel numb. Has this happened to you?”
“Yes,” I write her, “it has.”
In this past year I have written about being off my game or about a struggle with depression. I’m grateful for the supportive and concerned emails.
But here’s the deal: Tussling with life’s enigmas is not an enemy to wholeheartedness. Not a resignation to unremitting struggle, but an invitation to learn to embrace all that is. Invitation toward change? Yes, of course. But we can’t change anything until we love it. And we can’t love anything until we embrace it.
“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become large and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but nerve bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.” (Thank you David Whyte)
Which leads me to Mother Teresa’s story.
And why it reignites something inside of me.
Even in (and especially in our vulnerability) we are reminded that very simple gestures can make a profound difference.
…to light a lamp
…to give hope
In the Holocaust Museum there is a story about an exchange in a concentration camp on the Day of Liberation (1945). The prisoners still alive in concentration camps were being set free. A young American Lieutenant, extraordinarily moved by the bleak and foreboding nature of the setting, asked one prisoner to show him the camp. As they approached a building, the lieutenant opened a door for the young woman, and she collapsed in tears. Certain he had offended, he did his best to comfort her. After some time, she told him, “I am weeping because it is the first time in years that someone has done anything kind for me. Thank you.”
With one simple gesture of kindness, a lamp is lit.
Sue Monk Kidd writes the story about her daughter, coming home from school in early December, telling her mother she got one of the great parts in the Nativity Play.
“What part did you get?”
“I’m the Star of Bethlehem!” the daughter says proudly.
“Well, what will you do?” Sue asks.
“I just stand there and shine.”
The little girl gets it.
At some point, from Star of Bethlehem to adulthood, we obstruct that light–with restrictor plates, with armor, with fear, with perfectionism, with prejudice.
I didn’t tell the story of the Holocaust Museum as some kind of motivational tool. As if there is an obligation to “be kind.” I told it as an affirmation and a reminder–mostly to myself–that within each of us there is a light. And that this light–of hope or dignity or delight or passion or justice or beauty or wonder or grace–still shines, regardless of the dirt that covers it. Yes, there are times we forget. However, there are also times when a simple act of kindness, or gift of compassion, rekindles the light in our own spirit. This gift we give to another, becomes a gift we gratefully receive. In the story, both–the giver and the receiver–are liberated.
Mother Teresa wasn’t in that shack just to be kind. She was there to shine. (In reading her book, you realize that she did so at a time when her own life was racked with doubt and frustration and moments of deep despair. Yes, even from darkness, the light still shines.)
Overall, this was a good year to turn off the TV, throw the phone out the window and pick up a book. Here are a few that made the top of my list… A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman, Consolations, David Whyte, Divine Dance, Richard Rohr, When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi, Waking the Spirit, Andrew Schulman, Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen and a book from my son Zach (who told me it reminded him of my greatest loves) The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart.
Tonight, presents are open, the fires still crackles, I’m reading a NYT piece on a group (CWSGlobal.org) in Lancaster, PA preparing homes for Syrian refugees, a reminder of the pain suffered by so many and of this season – small miracles and the coming of the light.
Speaking of light, we’ve added 21 seconds of daylight since solstice. That’s cause for a toast.
Note: (The Bourke story adapted from Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light )
Note II… I wish every one of you a blessed Advent and Christmas and Hanukkah (began Dec 24) and Winter Solstice and Holiday Season. I’m so glad you are a part of the Sabbath Moment community.
Not long ago I was asked on an airplane, “What do you do?” “I’m in the refueling business,” I told them. “Because we all need places to be replenished and renewed.”
Just so you know. Your gifts and your prayers and your thoughts and your notes make Sabbath Moment possible. I want to thank you. You make a difference.
And, Sabbath Moment will always be available to everyone.
Let’s look forward to new things happening in 2017. We all need sanctuaries. And we all need nudges. I’m creating new ways to make that happen, including two new Ecourses and audio Sabbath Moment.
Keep spilling the light…
Quotes for your week…
It isn’t necessary to blow out the other person’s light to let your own shine.
In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The snowy night lay still and silent,
a single star hanging delicately
in the dark, velvety sky.
It’s light began to grow,
until it blanketed the earth,
bringing soft, ringing hope
to those who craved it’s beauty.
A tide had turned, they said,
a burning darkness yearned to
engulf the strand of hope
that hung in the air.
It cast a gray pall on the landscape,
slowly and surely pulling it firmly
But Hope stood still,
then began to infuse
the gray-dark light with
each a splash of gold,
Together the strands entwined,
each skein stronger,
then wrapping stronger still.
Quietly voices of hope
started to whisper,
small sounds yearning
to find one another.
In a spate of sound
they crescendoed into a ringing
paean of joy,
a joy that can only be found
in chords and melody
of love and community,
a symphony of sound
and color that burst
onto the landscape ,
changing its color to
a multi-colored night
Of stars and love.
Hope still endures.
Dana is a SM reader, and sent me this poem she wrote after
attending an inter-faith event at a mosque. Thank you Dana…
I am Silent…and Expectant
the wondrous gift is given.
I would be silent now,
that I may receive
the gift I need,
so I may become
the gift others need.
Ted Loder – Guerillas of Grace