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Our better angels

I’m in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with my Father, my son Zach, my brothers and their sons.  It’s an all boy vacation summit—10 of us—time to impart wisdom to the young men. Now we need to remember what we wanted to say.
In the meantime, we’ve spent a good deal of time four-wheeling, IDing plants and trees and birds, playing euchre, clearing paths, eating ice cream and telling tall tales from childhood. 
My dad and I sit on the porch of his hunting cabin, back in the woods. I tell him last year was my 45th high school reunion. “It was my 65th,” he tells me. And then, “I lost four friends just in the last few months.” And he recites their names, slowly.
Life has plenty of rough edges. So, a little wisdom for any one of us, leavened with kindness, never hurts.

Speaking of wisdom, watch Big Sonia. She is unabashed, “If I reach one heart, I will accomplish something.” 91-year-old Sonia Warshawski is a Holocaust-surviving, public speaking, gefilte fish-cooking grandmother and great-grandmother, who runs the tailor shop she’s owned for more than 30 years. The stories she tells about the Holocaust will chill you. But sporting her leopard print clothing, Big Sonia can be laugh-out-loud-funny. This is a portrait of the power of love to triumph over bigotry, and the power of truth-telling to heal us all. And to inspire each of us to want what we already hold. We see Sonia interact with family members, young students and prisoners and witness the spiritual impression that she makes. “I want to reach their hearts and take out the hate,” Sonia says.
And to those of us listening, she adds, “Don’t close your eyes when something is not right.”

The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagin, leader in the Jewish world, 1838 – 1933) was asked about his impact and how he made a difference. He answered, “I set out to try to change the world, but I failed. So, I decided to scale back my efforts and only try to influence the Jewish community of Poland, but I failed there, too. So, I targeted the community in my hometown of Radin, but achieved no greater success. Then I gave all my effort to changing my own family, and failed at that as well. Finally, I decide to change myself, and that’s how I had such an impact on the Jewish world.”

I grew up in a church that taught me to believe. And to recite my beliefs (to have a creed). And to challenge anyone who had incorrect beliefs. Or if not challenge, at least pity them. And then I grew up. And it turns out that holding such blameless beliefs turns out to be the easy route. And I can tell you that I have too often used my belief system as a shield rather than an invitation.
In June 1859, Jean-François Gravelet (known as The Great Blondin) crossed Niagara Falls walking a tight rope. During his life, he repeated the feat several times, always with a different theatrical variation: blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager, Harry Colcord on his back.
Not surprisingly, Blondin’s crossings drew crowds. About to cross pushing a wheelbarrow with a sack of cement, he asked a reporter standing with crowd. “Do you believe I can do this?” “Yes sir, after watching you, I believe you can do anything.” “Do you believe that instead of a sack of cement, I could put a man in this wheelbarrow, and wheel him safely to the other side?” “Oh, yes, Mr. Blondin, I certainly believe it.”
“Good,” said Blondin, “Get in.” 

Someday, every one of us will have a fight for our better angels. If we are open, I believe that our better angels will find us, and will always work to pull us toward the light. Hope is sustaining. Fear can be overcome. Even when life is upside down, we can make choices that inspire hope.
Yes, just words. I know. Even so. They are an invitation nonetheless.
Good. Let’s get in.

This is not just a look-on-the-bright-side sales pitch. This is a fundamental paradigm shift. “We are promoters of the culture of encounter,” Pope Francis reminds us. He practices what he preaches (he gets in), each encounter filled with compassion and power, a message of presence to those who are, or feel, marginalized and on the outside.

Which takes us to sanctuary. Yes, I know, I seem to beat that drum a good bit.
But you see, Sabbath (sanctuary, the permission to stop, wait) allows us to hear the voice of Grace saying simply, “You are accepted. Period. Deal with it.”
Paul Tillich elaborates, “You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not seek for anything. Do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace. This means that I can live and choose and commit “from acceptance” and not “for acceptance.” I’m not in the business of needing to impress anyone or earn points. The sacred present begins now. This encounter. This moment. This conversation. Grace is the fuel that allows us to “get in” this life, to live from hope and for hope, to live with and from an open heart, even when life gets wobbly.

Here’s the deal: when I am inundated with internal and external hubbub, I forget about the heart I can bring to this day. The touch I can give to people around me who are tussling with bleakness. The gift of welcome I can offer people who are left out and diminished. The calling I have (to be Tikkun Olam, repairer of the world) to bring pardon and hope and love.
Get in indeed.

Rabbi Ted Falcon, a good friend of Sabbath Moment, reminds us, “We seek to remember that blessing comes in meeting the authentic call of the moment with greater compassion. There are always inner voices that focus on what is wrong in ourselves, in others, and in our world. There are always opportunities to act unkindly. But each moment offers us the opportunity to step into our freedom with greater awareness. The Way of One is a Way of deep compassion, healing, and forgiveness. It’s a choice we are challenged to make again and again.”
That authentic call of the moment sounds like Big Sonia, doesn’t it? “If I reach one heart, I will accomplish something.”
While here in Michigan, I read about Tim Hochstedler, affectionately known as “The Amish Uber guy.” Colon Michigan (the town where I grew up) hosts an annual Abbott Magic Festival every August, which triples the population of a community of about one thousand. Tim offered his horse and buggy for transportation and a little tour of the town. Five dollars a ride. (No app required.) Tim’s energetic gregariously friendly demeanor made him the perfect person. He said the money doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to chat with people and share with them the area he proudly calls home. “My horse, now he’s a little hot, it’s warm today so when the Get-Together ends, he’s going to go home and get a shower, some food, turned loose in the pasture and have a good rest for the holy day.”

We’ll have a fish fry tonight, I’ll listen to my nephews tell stories and we’ll make new memories. I wish for each of them, as they learn to fight for their better angels, to be open. I wish for them to know that their better angels will find them, and will always work to pull them toward the light.

Quotes for your week…
It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.  Robert Hastings

Note: Big Sonia, a shout out to Nick Allen


This is not how it’s supposed to be, I know. I keep an endless mental list of the things that need to be done. But when a grey day comes, when the horses stand over their hay as though there were all the time in the world to eat it, one of the things that needs to be done is to sit still. Verlyn Klinkenborg

Some Say You’re Lucky 
Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.
But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.
It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.
It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.
Gregory Orr

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






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