This past week we remembered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Four years ago I stood in the kitchen of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage, the home to Dr. King and his family from 1954 to 1960. By the time the Montgomery bus strike was achieving both success and national attention, Dr. King began receiving telephone death threats (as many as 40 a day).
“One night very late around midnight–and you can have some strange experiences at midnight–the telephone rang.” Dr. King relates the story in a later sermon. “On the other end was an ugly voice.”
“For some reason, it got to me. I was weak. Sometimes, I feel discouraged… You can’t call on Daddy anymore. You could only call on the Something your Daddy told you about, that Power that can make a way out of no way.”
And at that kitchen table, he prayed. “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right… But I must confess… I’m losing my courage.”
King explained what happened next: “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.'”
My conundrum? When I see acts of courage I see heroism, and I often don’t see myself. Or I see how far I have to go. Or I see how far short I have fallen.
But I do understand tired.
And I do understand discouraged.
And I do understand the end of my resources.
It’s not easy to look in the mirror, is it?
Maybe because, instead of seeing sufficiency, I see scarcity.
So it is no wonder that there have been times I have quit, emotionally shut down. Capitulated to someone else’s narrative about me. And that’s not fun to admit.
Here’s the deal: whenever I feel depleted, I have forgotten that I get to say how the story ends.
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me,” Viktor Frankl’s reminder rings with assurance. “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
An attitude (and a power, and an ability to choose) already inside.
There’s a delightful story about a conversation between a young pastor and a seasoned pastor. The young pastor’s church was exploding, couldn’t stop the growth, utterly out of their control. An inexplicable and unstoppable phenomenon, and with it an accompanying irritation, weariness and second-guessing.
“But you’ve built this and it’s okay to say that,” the seasoned pastor says.
Preferring the narrative of wild and unexplained growth, the young pastor is incredulous, and responds, “But of course, we had nothing to do with it.”
“Well, not nothing,” the seasoned pastor responds. “After all, you did keep putting up more chairs.”
Yes. This is a story about the day we choose to take ownership of our lives. We can put up chairs, and we can also take them down.
Here’s what I wrestle with; exhaustion makes me reactive. Because my focus is dictated by circumstances.
Yes, exhaustion is real.
Yes, there is a physical and mental impact.
But it is never the whole of who I am.
And the circumstances do not get to say how the story ends. When we are at the mercy of, we pretend we don’t have a choice, or are along for the ride. Which means that we no longer have the energy to give to those things that really matter.
No different than the man riding a horse, galloping frantically down a path. His friend, who is sitting by the side of the road, calls out “Where are you going?” The man replies: “I don’t know. Ask the horse!”
“However mean your life is,” wrote Thoreau, “meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.” Mean, or unexpected, or confusing, or exasperating.
Well, I’m glad to say that life’s meanness is not disheartening to me. At least today. On the contrary. I see an invitation.
I can be astonished by what is (you know, the chairs that seem to fill on their own). Or, I can see this invitation to say, “Yes, I do set up chairs.” And yes, I have a voice.
I can hate. Or I can build.
So why not chairs for inclusion and reconciliation and community and hope and courage?
Wine making is about care. Attention. For old school vintners, it’s hands on. In Spain last week, I visited Lopez de Heredia, and learned about their traditional and curious system. Wine, aged in barrels for years, is racked to new barrels every six months. The wine is siphoned, by gravity, from one barrel to the next. The entire purpose is “to leave the sediment behind.”
At Lopez de Heredia, they use a glass and a candle in the process. As the emptying barrel nears the bottom, the wine flows into a glass. Behind the glass, a candle is held.
If the wine is still clear of sediment, you can see the candle flame.
If the glass begins to fill with sediment, the light dims. The sediment obscures the light. That’s when you stop.
Here’s what I love about the story. The reminder here is to never stop looking for the light.
Too often, we focus only on the sediment. And it determines our emotional response.
In Fr. Greg Boyle’s new book Barking to the Choir (about his work with Homeboy Industries, gang intervention, rehab and reentry) he replays a conversation with Jermaine (after 20 years in prison, which in my mind, qualifies as a boatload of sediment).
Fr. Greg wonders aloud how Jermaine stays so upbeat.
Jermaine tells Fr. Greg, “I’ve decided to be loving and kind in the world. Now… just hopin’… the world will return the favor.”
Which is another way of saying, Jermaine can still see the light. Thank you Jermaine.
Fr. Greg calls these conversations “salvific stories.” As you spend your days, well, you live your life.
In all of us, there is a tussle between weakening of hope, and the hunger in our own soul for hope (a hunger David Whyte describes as “that small, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom” in our heart). Today I can live with that. And today, I can make choices from that place.
This week I’ll carry this refrain from an African American church, “Stay Woke.”Amen.
I’m home on Vashon Island. This morning preaching at the Unitarian Church. I loved their opening invitation, to “arrive here.”
This coming week headed to Vancouver BC to spend time with Catholic School Principals. The power of self-care.
Today it rains. Well, tempest is more precise. And yet. Even in this barrage of rain (life’s meanness I suppose), outside the living room window, there is a single rose, defiant in bloom, deep pink, apparently and gracefully oblivious to the floral dogma, “you know it’s not time to bloom don’t you?”
Quotes for your week…
It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have. The alphabet is fine, but it’s what we do with it that matters most. Making words like “friend.” and “love.” That’s what really matters. Mr. Rogers
I am a girl
I am strong
I am powerful
I am smart
I can do anything
7-year-old Eleanor (at the Women’s March)
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Today I will be a poet
“like a feather on the breath of God,”
I will yield to the untraceable wind
sensing myself being breathed into the mystery.
Today I will gather beauty
I will see with the eye of the Beloved
I will practice adoring every little thing
I will listen to the voice of the moon flower
and kneel at the roots of the Sycamore.
Today I will be obedient
to water, wind, earth and fire,
as they allow the Divine to speak through them
I, too, will allow myself to be spoken through.
Today I will be a poet, a monk and an artist.
When light climbs out of the sweet darkness,
falling down in golden streams
upon my mystic heart,
I will stand in the light fall
and become a vessel of light and darkness.
My Heart Will Overflow
With Eternal Questions!
Poet, monk, artist, mystic:
siblings on our beautiful earth
answers to eternal questions
containers of light and dark
keepers of a ‘power’ that saves.
(Written on the altar of daily life)
Prayer cannot bring water to parched land, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will. In this spirit, let us pray:
For health and healing,
for labor and rest,
for the ever-renewed beauty of earth and sky,
for thoughts of truth and justice which stir us from our ease and move us to acts of goodness,
and for the contemplation of life which fills us with hope that what is good and lovely cannot perish.
The New Union Prayer Book