Look at my eyes


Toward the end of his life, Bruce had an advanced case of Parkinson’s. One of the symptoms is particularly disconcerting. Sometimes when Bruce sees a line on the floor (perhaps because his eyes are cast down, watching his feet, fearing a loss of balance?), he stops, immobilized, because he “sees” that line as a wall. He literally, does not (or cannot) move.
A friend tells the story of a ride in an elevator with Bruce and Hazel, Bruce’s wife. The doors open. My friend and Hazel exit the elevator. Bruce walks (with his walker) toward the open doors, but sees only the line, or space, that separates the elevator from the building floor. He stops. He sees only “a wall”–an impediment.
Hazel speaks, “Bruce. Look at me. Bruce. Look up at me. Look at my eyes. Now take one step.”
Bruce looks up, trusts who he sees, and steps slowly out of the elevator.

I cannot imagine Parkinson’s, or the courage it takes to face and to battle such a debilitating and often humiliating disease.
But every single one of us knows what it is like to feel stuck, or stymied, or (for reasons we don’t even understand) stopped.
There is enough to derail us, to rattle our cage, times when we are just plain afraid to take another step. Our “limitation” or fear is greater than our ability to move forward or give or care or risk.  Even with the best of intentions, we see only a wall or an obstacle.

So I’ll be honest; when this happens to me, as it did recently, I am reluctant to tell anyone. Because, after all, “Big boys don’t show any weakness.”  I’ve got a dozen reasons why I give in to my limitations, and none of them have to do with me. Like the old parable, “The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.”

“The older I get, the clearer it becomes to me that no one is cheated in this world, unless it’s by himself, but some of us are so wounded that we must return to the scene of the crime, must play with the fire that burned us, must live the scene out as many times as necessary until it comes out differently. We are not prisoners, no traps or snares are set about us, but many of us imprison ourselves or at least are helplessly stalled.”  Merle Shain

I do know that if I run from my brokenness, it only exacerbates the problem. Like it or not, we all carry with us fault-lines, and brokenness, and vulnerability.
In my early days, I assumed that “salvation” fixed all of that. You know, eliminated the broken stuff (like seeing walls when there were only lines). I figured that’s what the Bible meant by being a new creation. But I believe differently now. Salvation is about wholeness, at-one-ness with our Creator, which ironically is about living with our brokenness, instead of running from it. It is about literally, being at home with the self, this self, this extraordinarily loved and often messy self.
A reminder to hear the voice of Grace, “Look at me. Terry. Look at my eyes. Now take one step.”

This same voice invited Peter (full of fear) out of the boat, onto a stormy sea, “Be not afraid. Look at me. Now take one step.”  Jesus didn’t ask Peter to wait until he was “unafraid,” or had it all figured out. He invited him to risk, and embrace this life, even with the imperfections and limitations, even knowing sooner or later, he’d sink.

Last week I told you about my time at the Anaheim Convention Center. In the workshops I led, I confessed that the year has taken an unforeseen toll in my spirit. And about my own struggle with depression. When we are exhausted by a disarray that seems unsustainable, our heart constricts.
And yes, I’m good at shutting down. After all, I tell myself, what’s another callous on the spirit?
But I know that living with cynicism, mistrust, and fomenting rage is not a good way to live. I cannot—and will not—shut down my heart.
So now, I’m on a mission. It’s a Sankofa Time. Sankofa (in the Akan language of Ghana), associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
More than ever we need sustenance. Places of sanity and restoration. Places and people we trust that allow us to take a step. Will you join me?

Here’s the deal: When I see only scarcity, I miss the fact that every single one of us has been gifted with creativity, abundance, heart, love, passion, gentleness, helpfulness, caring, kindness, tenderness, restoration and a shoulder to lean on (for crying or for dancing, depending on the mood at the time).  This is the paradigm of Sufficiency.
This goes beyond just the power of positive thinking. In the movie Kingdom of Heaven, about the battle for Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, Balian of Ibelin began XX knighting ordinary men, making them to understand that inside of them is a knight, something far greater than the limitations of their birth or fears or status.
The Bishop, Patriarch of Jerusalem [almost crying]: “Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?”
Balian of Ibelin: “Yes”
“Look up at me,” Balian of Ibelin was saying to each man. “See in my eyes something more and far greater than you see and know in your limitations.” 

What does it mean to live from wholehearted vulnerability?
Let us choose to eliminate the question, “What did you accomplish today?” It makes my head spin, as I’m never sure if I get the answer right.
Maybe, “I took one step,” is an encouraging answer. So, during this Lent, let us fast from unkindness and mercilessness and trivial consternation.
Instead, I hope that somewhere we hear the voice, “Look at my eyes. You are valued. You are held. And you are loved.”
And I hope that, like Bruce, it will be enough to say, “Today, I took one step.”
When we do that, we become the voice for those around us who need hope and lavish mercy.

A good weekend with a group at Victory Noll Center in Huntington, Indiana. We talked about making space for spiritual sanity, to reflect, and to come home to ourselves.  Today, aimed the rental car north—the sunrise to the east a tapestry of slate blue and persimmon—driving through the state of Michigan, past the town of my youth, stopping by Farrand Road to see where, as a boy, I hit baseballs pretending to be Al Kaline (Detroit Tiger All-star from the good old days).  We drove by the home where the Amish community gathered for church, 40 buggies or so, parked gracefully near the barn.
Tonight, I’m with my Father in Sidnaw, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, a hop and skip from Lake Superior. And Lord it’s cold here. There are whitecaps on Lake Superior and there’s a boatload of snow on the ground. We’re a long way from daffodils. So, a wee dram of Jamison is just the ticket.

Quotes for the week…
The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.  Ernest Hemingway 

The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.  Albert Schweitzer


The Layers
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
Stanley Kunitz

We believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in you and in me.
We believe the Holy Spirit works through
–ministers, clanging cymbals and silence, noisy children and loud music, choirs and banners, touching and praying, spontaneity and planning, faith and doubt, tears and laughter, hugging and kneeling, dancing and stillness, creativity and giving, words and listening, holding and letting go, thank you and help me, Scripture and alleluias, agonizing and celebrating, accepting and caring, through you and through me, through Love.
We believe God’s Holy Spirit lives in this community of dancing, hand-holding people where lines of age and politics and life-styles are crossed.
We believe in praising God for life.
We believe in the poetry within each of us.
We believe in dreams and visions.
We believe in old people running and children leading.
We believe in letting go and new beginnings.
We believe it the Kingdom of God within us.
We believe in rested souls.
We believe in love.
Adapted from Ann Weems Reaching for Rainbows


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