A friend shared her recent conversation with a four-year old.
“Happy New Year Julian.”
“We get a new one?”
“Yep, we get a new one.”
I’m guessing that most of us are ready. I know I am. I saw a recent poll that said the word most frequently used to describe 2107… exhausted. That doesn’t surprise me.
So the question is… what hopeful opportunities await us in this New Year?
I have a story that will hearten. When we talk about hunter-gatherer peoples, many modern writers are quick to point out their strangely cavalier approach to sustenance. After all, they kept no food in their freezers.
French Jesuit Paul Le Jeune spent six months (during the winter of 1633-1634) among the Montagnais in Quebec (sometimes known as the Innu, which translates human being). In his journals Le Jeune writes about being irritated by natives’ generosity, even shocked by their egalitarianism and openness.
“If my host took two, three or four Beavers whether it was night or day, they had a feast for all the native Savages,” Le Jeune remembers. “And if those people had captured something, they had one also [a feast] at the same time; so that on emerging from one feast you went to another, and sometimes to a third or a fourth.”
Le Jeune tried to explain the advantage of saving food; in order to be less wasteful, more frugal… that going from feast to feast may not be a wise lifestyle choice. “They laughed at me,” he writes. “Saying ‘Tomorrow we shall make another feast with what we shall capture.'”
You’ve gotta love it.
Put simply: Hunter-gatherers lived each day with the assumption of affluence. And sufficiency. And enough. Regardless of circumstance, impediment, quantity, misstep, absurdity or even brutality of life.
I love this about the Montagnais’ paradigm for life. Because they lived as if sufficiency is the rule, they cherished, they relished, they played, they delighted. And they shared, they contributed, they gave back.
Sufficiency can be the rule—and the MO for our life—if we believe that (to paraphrase St. Ignatius) life is “soaked in grace.” And if we can see it everywhere, “holiness is irresistible.” (CS Lewis)
In contrast, we live in a world where we believe that with each choice we draw down some reservoir; whether it be filled with courage or generosity or resolve or love. As if we are pre-wired with a kind of warning light: Beware. Almost empty.
I see it now… that connection between fear of emptiness, and exhaustion.
So it is no surprise that we live cautious, or wish to shut down, or easily give in to consumption, or unassumingly defend tribe and rivalry, or see life through a judgmental lens.
A few years ago, I attended a memorial service for islander Carl Blomgren. Carl was an outlier. Meaning, he didn’t spend a lot of energy trying to “be somebody.”
At the service there was a full house to say goodbye, to celebrate with stories and laughter and tears.
And an invitation to make another feast with what we shall capture.
His son Anders wrote,
“Pop invited us all on his boat
rolling downstream in the river of consciousness
where we each have a pole and fish
for ideas, cinnamon rolls, and
this experience of being alive.”
Like a hunter-gatherer, shortage was not in Carl’s vocabulary.
Kate Braestrup writes about how this wrestling affects our parenting. “‘Don’t drink and swim. Wear a helmet. Make your stand in the parking lot,’ I tell my children, as if I can hector them into a lifelong immunity from fear and pain. As a mother, I pray for miracles of the most ordinary kind on their behalf: I want their hearts to keep beating. I want them to live. But then, a grateful heart beats in a world of miracles. If I could only speak one prayer for you, my children, it would be that your hearts would not only beat but grow ever greater in gratitude, that your lives, however long they prove to be and no matter how they end, continue to bring you miracles in abundance.”
To live pusillanimously means to live with a small soul.
To live with magnanimity means to live with a large (or great) soul.
Here’s the deal for this New Year: I want to live with magnanimity. I want to live with a large soul.
So why oh why, do we put a governor on our capacity for risk or acceptance or delight in ordinary daily miracles?
Are we afraid there is no room for indiscriminate passion or risk or compassion or magnanimity?
Are we afraid that it will take us too far? What if we crack? What if we offend some rule of propriety? Or what if we don’t deserve this bounty—this world soaked in grace?
Are we afraid that because it is easy to become disheartened, to wish our eyes and ears closed, as if real life is still far, far away? As if there’s nothing we can do to make a difference?
We have forgotten the lesson of the Montagnais. Sufficiency. That even in the midst or the muddle, it is possible to trust that with each choice we do not diminish this reservoir… filled with courage and generosity and resolve and service and tenderness and inclusion and love. And here’s the good news: because this reservoir is predicated on God’s Grace, it’s not undone by our brokenness or the world’s sorrow.
Here on Vashon Island, Bob’s Bakery is an institution. It is one of our watering holes. For me a dark roast coffee with a pumpkin muffin. This is a sacred ritual.
In front stand two benches, each made of planks of timbers shaved from the side of a tree. They are worn smooth by time. It is the place to sit, sip your coffee, watch the day roll by, and take the island’s social pulse.
Some years ago I sat with Carl Blomgren, the bench one of his sanctuary places. His beard, style, clothing, and weathered look tell you that this day could be unfolding at the turn of a previous century. Carl was a gentle soul, always with a smile and kind word. “Where’s your friend?” I ask. (I always saw him with Dan Chasen, another long-time-islander. I have teased him in the past, telling him that we should just make a bronze statue in front of Bob’s and be done with it.) “Oh,” he says. “What’s today? Tuesday? Well, tomorrow he’ll be here about noon. It’s our conversation appointment. Every Wednesday.”
Sitting in Carl’s service, I thought about that conversation appointment. So I thank you Carl.
Yes… it’s time to remember our relationships, and that people matter, and that generosity is not exhausted. And I will not apologize for that.
Carl was not a list maker, and likely (according to his son Per-Lars) would not have made it through his own memorial service, finding better ways to celebrate a sunny summer day.
But if you would prefer a list for your New Year, borrow this one from my friend Mary Anne Radmacher:
Create apart from perfection: risk failure.
Cover your words with sweat.
Laugh until you cry.
Dance with your eyes closed.
Understand you die a little everyday.
I’m feeling much better. And I’m grateful. It’s reading week for me. Joe Biden’s Promise me Dad, Greg Boyle’s Barking to the Choir, Joanne Lipman’s Strings Attached and Madeleine L’Engle’s Glimpses of Grace.
Did you savor our full moon? In January called a Wolf Moon. Mercy that’s nice.
And at the feeders, the show never ceases to amaze; black-capped chickadees, house finches, tufted titmice, dark-eyed juncos, spotted towhees, nuthatches and a variety of sparrows.
Thank you for being a part of our Sabbath Moment Community. I am honored to be connected with all. A blessed New Year to everyone.
Quote for your week…
William Blake, seated, in his old age, beside a little girl at a dinner party; Blake leaned down to her, smiled, and said, “May God make this world as beautiful to you as it has been to me.”
Note: Bob’s is now called Vashon island Baking Co. But I still call it Bob’s.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth
Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were;
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.
Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.
When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the grey wall formed around you.
Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world’s waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.
On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generousity of silence
To hear your hidden heart,
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.
May the sun bring you new energy by day,
May the moon softly restore you by night,
May the rain wash away your worries,
May the breeze blow new strength into your being,
May you walk gently through the world
And know its beauty all the days of your life