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Living from love

sunflowerI spent the weekend leading a retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. A sanctuary in the desert. The retreat, Real People. Real Communication. You know the adage: Relationships wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the people. This is the kind of subject that entices you with optimism only to give way to a nagging sense that we should have done more, sooner, and with an improved skill set.

Brian kicks us off with a music montage; relationships according to the Beatles. The kind of set makes me want to shout “Amen,” and call it a day. But there’s work to be done. We gathered here with our stories. And there are times when we all need a safe harbor to be nourished and replenished.

We built the weekend around a children’s book, Somebody loves you, Mr. Hatch.

And here’s the deal: healthy relationships begin when you live as if you are loved. There’s a lovely scene when Mr. Hatch discovers that an open heart spills laughter and music and parties and giving and helping and dancing.

So my invitation to the group: We are invited to live (choose, give, receive) FROM love instead of FOR love.
Easy? Heavens no. But the alternative is to attach my identity or value or worth or capacity to make a difference on “what do they think?” or “how well did I perform?” and other self-conscious mantras. Which is another way of saying that we miss the point when we are keeping score.

Something happens when we tear up the scorecards and live from love… we find ourself knee deep in delight, in something that isn’t even on your list.

A few summers ago, I danced in a barber shop. On a May day, I drive by the Mud Creek Baptist Church. In contrast to the name, the building is new red brick. Down the road sits a tired and weathered sandwich-board-sign: Carol Helms Barber Shop. Beyond the sign, a double-wide. In front, a simple wood sign and a red, white and blue barber pole. It could be 1965. I am standing here, in front of Carol Helm’s Barber Shop, on an early Thursday morning, just outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Carol has invited me to stop by, and listen to the music.

Every Thursday morning is music jam. Has been every Thursday morning for 12 years. There are maybe a half dozen cars in the lot when I arrive, coffee in hand, before eight a.m. From the parking lot, I hear Jim Reeves, or at least someone who sounds a bit like him. The air here, humid and dense, holds the music.

The rule at Carol’s is simple: If you have an instrument and a love of music, you’re welcome to drop in. I see banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle.

Carol is standing behind the barber chair, scissors and comb in hand, working at a customer’s hair. I’m not sure that cutting would be the correct verb. From what I can tell, the choice here is short, shorter or Marine. Carol is affable. With wavy silver hair, he welcomes me with a handshake and a warm smile. “Glad you’ll could visit,” he says.

“Glad to be here,” I try to match the Carolina lilt.

He looks at my hair and says, “It looks like you’ll haven’t been in a barber shop in some time. You want me to work on that?”

I look at the customer sitting in the chair and tell Carol, “Maybe next time, if that’s alright by you.”

The space inside Carol’s is about 12 feet by 25 feet, and the musicians–a dozen or so on this Thursday–are squeezed into one end, chairs pulled together, but they don’t seem to mind. They take turns, going around the circle. “Let’s do some Hank Williams, key of G,” and off they go. When a new person arrives, he (or she, there are two women in the group) pulls up a chair and joins in. The group ranges in age from late 30s to mid or late 80s.

During a break I ask what they love about these Thursdays. “This is not a time for politics or differences or whatever’s weighing you down. If you love music, you’re welcome here.” The younger woman adds, “Our idea for a bumper sticker, is ‘make guitars, not bombs.'”

By the wall, just listening, sit two local good ‘ole boys, John Deere hats riding high on their foreheads. And I bet if I asked them, they might tell me that listening to music down at Carol Helms’ every Thursday makes for a pretty full life.

I figure that would be right.  I do know that there is something going on at Carol’s we all could use on a regular basis.  And it’s the kind of place Mr. Hatch would love to be…

When we live FOR love, we feel the need to put every moment (or encounter or conversation) through its paces, evaluating it, judging it for significance and worth. We want to know if it measures up, and then, and only then will we embrace it, and make it a part of our lives. It is not surprising that it is easy to live lives and relationships based upon comparison, and in the end, shame or regret.

I agree with Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “We teach children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe. The sense of the sublime, the sign of the inward greatness of the human soul and something which is potentially given to all men, is now a rare gift.”

Here’s the point: As long as success is measured by keeping score, we lose track of most everything that makes us human and therefore, glad to be alive:
– small gestures of kindness
– acts of inclusion or community to someone left out, or someone on the fringes
– extending a hand of healing or acceptance to someone who hurts
– reveling in the gifts of the senses and being present
– resting in a moment of gratitude
– sharing laughter, a smile, camaraderie, dancing or joy
– dancing in a barber shop.. somewhere in the Carolinas…  

When one younger friend told me about a relationship issue, I asked, “So what’s next for you?”
She replied, “I’m just waiting for God to show me what he wants from me.”

But in the meantime, you know, until you have your life and self figured out, I have a suggestion:  Live today.  Live this day, with this self, without holding back.  Today… savor, doubt, embrace, question, wrestle, give, risk, love, fall down, get up, accept your incomplete and fractured self, know that anything worth doing is worth doing badly, speak from your whole heart, and whenever you can, lavish excessive compassion and mercy on anyone who crosses your path.  Who knows, you may even love someone “into existence.” If you practice all of this while you’re still waiting for God’s instructions, I’m sure God won’t mind.

It was hot in the desert, yes. But our Seattle heat wave has been prepping me for this, I tell myself. No matter, because every time I visit the CASA, the mountains settle me. Something about the clear demarcation of the caramel colored crests against a gemstone blue sky. When you look closely, the three dimensional texture comes alive with creases and furrows, all created by shadows.

I’m home tonight… walking the garden to see what I missed while I was away. It’s as if the sunflower blooms are smiling. And who knows, maybe inviting me to dance.

Kids–they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music. William Stafford 


RicoTo laugh often and much, to win the respect of the intelligent and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, to redeem a social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Normal day,
let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by
in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may,
for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face into the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands to the sky and want,
more than all the world,
your return.
Mary Jean Iron

Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which
we dwell; for the love that unites us; for
the peace accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright
skies that make our lives delightful; for
our friends in all parts of the earth
Give us courage, gaiety, and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.
If it may not be, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come,
May we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath,
and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving to one another.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)



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