Remember It’s a Wonderful Life? The Senior Angel says, “A man down on Earth needs our help.”
And George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) guardian angel Clarence says, “Splendid. Is he sick?”
“No, worse,” the Senior Angel says. “He’s discouraged.”
Our world is on tilt. I don’t think we have any argument there. And for some, it feels harder to navigate (for our heart or spirit) when we don’t feel like we have a script (the stabilizing effect of resolution).
So, it is no surprise that fatigue is real. And many people are just hanging on (financial or emotional or both). For real. Not from inconvenience, but real pain, real loneliness, real sickness and real death to people they love. And it never helps when there are cracks in our human connections. Have you ever had a conversation with someone, and used the same words, but they didn’t mean the same things, giving flabbergast a new significance? I’m learning that fatigue easily gives way to anger or wallowing or resentment or umbrage. And I don’t need that. They are corrosive. And that never turns out well.
Glenn Adsit and his family spent years as missionaries in China. During the Communist regime change, they were under house arrest. One day a few Chinese soldiers came to their house, and said, “You can return to America.”
The Adsit’s were celebrating, when the soldiers told them, “You can take only two hundred pounds with you.” Well, they had been in China for years. Two hundred pounds? They found the scales and started the family arguments. Each–wife, husband and the two children–had an opinion. Must have this vase. Well, this is my new typewriter. What about my books? What about my collection? And they weighed everything, took each item off the scales, weighed and re-weighed until finally, right on the dot, they had two hundred pounds.
The soldier asked, “Ready to go?” “Yes.”
“Did you weigh everything?” “Yes.”
“You weighed the kids?” “No, we didn’t.”
“Weigh the kids.”
And in a moment, the special vase, the new typewriter, the collections, all of it, became “trash.”
Secondary. Just stuff.
Using this story to nurse regret is a waste of time. But I needed the story (and its permission to hit the pause button), because it’s the necessary question for me (and for us) today: “Did you weigh the kids?”
Which begs the question; How do we measure what matters? Without expecting to be graded. And who gets to choose?
Of course, I needed to ask my quarantine congregation, the sheep. I think I humor them. I hope I do. I can be quite funny, I’ve been told. I tell them a joke. They don’t laugh. So, I’m betting they think I’m a poet.
“I need your help. Last Sunday, in our church readings, we read about you. Psalm 23. It was about being led to green pastures and quiet waters.”
“You humans complicate things, don’t you?” their looks told me.
And I smile. And it hits me. Green pastures and quiet waters isn’t about a Hallmark card moment is it? This is more fundamental and pragmatic. This is about sustenance. Replenishment. The sacrament of the present moment. And it refreshes the soul.
Where are my green pastures and quiet waters?
One. Our well-being comes from the inside.
We forget (in the words of John O’Donohue), “To have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you. The wild flow of energy in the well of the soul. It is impossible to stop the well of energy and the well of light and the well of life that is inside of you. You might calm it and quell it, but it will still rise up within you.”
You are a child of God, and it wouldn’t hurt to cut yourself some slack. Self-compassion grounds us.
Two. There is healing in beauty: the sacred in the ordinary of our everyday.
“We teach children how to measure, how to weigh,” Rabbi Abraham Heschel reminds us. “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.”
This changes my first question to anyone, “What did you savor today?”
And this is important: savoring beauty, the sacred in the ordinary, doesn’t ask for closure or resolution.
Some time back, my friend had the courage to tell me that his life was on the brink, and he held himself back, not thinking he would be allowed into a life (or world) of abundance and permission and joy and grace. He didn’t ask for my advice, and I didn’t really have any, but wanted to write him anyway. “I was thinking about your comments–re: being excessively fragile and vulnerable–thinking that I didn’t know what to say, sipping my Dow’s Port while watching the Monday Night Football, and remembering the times in my life when I felt on the edge or in some way susceptible to shattering (both shattered, and shattering someone, anyone around me), and trying to remember what triggered those times, and I came up with zero. If all else fails, I’d be more than happy to pour you a glass of Port and offer you a chair on the back deck to watch the sun set over Puget Sound, and hope for a little luck that maybe we’d see a bald eagle float by, and tell you that I don’t know much, ‘but that sure is a damn fine eagle, isn’t it?’ Who knows; before the light gives way completely, we could wander over to the garden and take a hit of fragrance from the rose Souvenir de la Malmasion, and marvel at the different ways the universe lets us get intoxicated, loitering in the moment, knowing full well that this drunkenness–like any other–comes with a price; the bittersweet reality that it can never quite fill that pit in our soul, even though it comes close, Or, we can stay put on the deck, crank up the music, let Mr. Clapton fill the dark and the empty spaces, swap stories with a good friend, and hope that the angels are taking notes on recommendations for ways to make eternity heavenly.”
Three. It’s okay to live wholehearted without resolution.
I was raised in a faith that required closure of some kind. So, there was no invitation to pause and see and savor, simply for the sake of savoring.
Here’s the deal: Closure isn’t the answer. Our heart can hold more than we think. Sadness isn’t our enemy. And our hunger for resolution can make us forget to weigh the children and savor the sacrament of the present.
I’m grateful for Pema Chödrön’s wisdom here. “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity… The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”
A happy belated Mother’s Day to you all.
I have a new word for your week. Huidhonger, Dutch for ‘skin hunger’. Amen.
National Nurses Week begins today and ends May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a British reformer considered the founder of modern nursing. Our modern heroes.
In the garden this week, the Empress tree, now a candelabra of lavender. And the lilacs. My Oh My. I’m looking for shade, as it is 88 today. My patio is pretending to be Florida.
Quotes for your week…
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. The Book of Philippians
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Terry, I cannot thank you enough for this eCourse. It is an answer to a prayer. I’d been saying that I need at least a month off from work just to be able to step back and look at my life. Well, that has happened now. I detest the reason for it (COVID-19) staying at home, but God works in mysterious ways and if we have “ears to hear” we can get the message loud and clear. I have been going through these lessons and would like to go back over them. They are all great, but this one takes the biscuit! I am just like the business man being shown the cup of tea overflowing. I am just like Mary (as someone else mentioned in the comments!) and will invoke my inner surly waitress to help me discern when it “isn’t my table.” Peace and prayers to you and yours. Dolores
–Terry, Thank you for your gifts and wit, wisdom, spirit and inspiration. I so appreciate your messages. Thank you for the work you do in the world. God bless you and yours in every way. Morgan
–Thank you for all the encouraging words throughout this course. I am home alone, like many, while my wonderful husband is dying in a Hospice. Please pray for us. Ann
–Dear Terry, Thank you so much for the inspirational thoughts you send us weekly. I like the Monday Sabbath Moment and the daily short note. I also enjoy hearing you speak about Vashon Island, describing your flowers and crops, and your conversations with your sheep. Sincerely, Ruth. PS. Turning 83 on the 22nd of this month.
–I remember when my daughter was about 25 years old and she was sitting on the porch gazing out into the yard and the wooded area around our home. My friend asked me what my daughter was doing? I said “oh just looking out, enjoying the peace and quiet.” My friend said “yeah but there isn’t anything going on out there, it’s just trees and flowers there really isn’t anything to look at”. So I went out to check to see if my daughter was ok. She was so fine and she was peaceful just enjoying . My friend thought there was something wrong with my daughter and didn’t hold back. What she said was hurtful and I never forgot it. My daughter has grown into a beautiful woman with a giving heart. She is good to people, she shares what she has and yes, she still sits on her own porch and looks out onto the ocean now. She is at peace and speaks peace, she lives a peaceful existence. Whenever the memory of what my friend said returns, (and it does much to my dismay!) I shrug and thank God I never told my daughter what she said. There is nothing wrong with being with yourself and enjoying yourself and your own thoughts. We are a family of “porch sitters” just enjoying. I am enjoying your course, Terry, many thanks.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 (NIV)
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Joy Harjo, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky Copyright © 1994
Blessing For Absence
May you know that absence is full of tender presence
and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.
May the absences in your life be full of eternal echo.
May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere which holds
the presences that have left your life.
May you be generous in your embrace of loss.
May the sore of your grief turn into a well of seamless presence.
May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear from and may you have the courage to speak out for the excluded ones.
May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging.
May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight
are one, and may your longing inhabit its deepest dreams
within the shelter of the embrace of Holy Mystery. Amen
(With only a slight editorial change, I will close with his “Blessing For Absence:” I chose this blessing because we are all aware of people who are absent from us, people whom we may not touch. — Rev. Martin Townsend)