Rabbi Albert Lewis tells the story of a man seeking employment on a farm; he hands a letter of recommendation to his new employer that reads simply, “He sleeps in a storm.”
The farmer is uncertain what to make of the note, but desperate for help, he hires the fellow. Several weeks pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley. Awakened by swirling rain and howling wind, the farmer leaps out of bed. He calls for his new hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly. And so, the farmer dashes off to the barn, where he sees to his amazement that all of the animals are secure with plenty of feed. He then runs to the field, only to discover that the bales of wheat have been bound and wrapped in tarps. And when he runs to the silo, he finds latched doors and dry grain.
Only then does he understand the note, “He sleeps in a storm.”
The rabbi concludes, “If we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our faith, our lives will not be cursed with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of ‘I could have, I should have.’ We can sleep in a storm.”
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The Gospel of Mark
The storm part–when the world as we know it goes catawampus–we all know. (Just ask our friends and families in the Midwest after getting hammered with wind a week ago.) But not all storms are wrapped in weather. Just click on any news source, or for that matter, look in the mirror.
Like it or not, no one of us is insulated from the common, messy, tragic, inconvenient and unfortunate experiences of life. And they (the unknown and the weighty) sometimes “strike” so suddenly. And this is the lesson of the Rabbi’s story: the storm is not just the circumstances (however precarious), but that the real storm is what re-calibrates our internal balance. You know, the storm that keeps us from sleeping. Because we’re not our best self.
Our western mindset world offers plenty of folk peddling all kinds of tonic to escape the vicissitudes of life. Whether a gizmo, or a mantra, or a prayer designed to be some sort of secret handshake with God, or maybe a scented candle to help the mood.
But here’s the deal: this story is not just about a storm, it is about our ability to sleep. Or, more literally, to be at rest. At peace. To, “go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out.” (Katherine Dunham)
I can tell you; I want some of that.
What was hired hand’s secret? I’m asking because I don’t easily sleep in a storm. Does anyone? (And I know of some people who actually prefer to create a storm or two, just for the adrenaline rush.)
So, here’s what happens. When I internalize the storm, I end up living “in between”–meaning I live “as if” or “if only” or “when” (life becomes normal). Which means that I live reactive or at the mercy of (just like the frenetic anxiety of the farmer in the story). Here’s the odd part; with our sense of worry, we assume that we are in control.
Go figure. And our worry only leeches focus, passion, investment, and energy from all of our endeavors.
I needed this story this week.
There is a story about a Zen priest in China when the warlords were plundering villages at the early part of the 20th century. When this particular village heard that the warlord was headed toward them, all of the people fled to the hills–except one priest. When the warlord arrived, he inquired if anyone was left in the village. The answer was, “Only the priest in the temple.” The warlord commanded, “Bring him to me.” When the priest was brought into his presence, the warlord drew his sword and cried, “Do you know who I am? I am he who can run you through with this sword and never bat an eye.” The Zen priest gave his reply, “Do you know who I am? I am he who can be run through with your sword and never bat an eye.”
I want that kind of self-assurance and inner strength to face the threats and storms in my life, don’t you?
This I know: In the midst of any storm, we survive by affirming who we are. Theologian Paul Tillich (in his book The Courage to Be) said that the “ultimate courage is to affirm our being against all the threats of nonbeing.” Yes, he is a professor and sounds elegantly academic. Nevertheless, it is also, elegantly true. And very good news.
Every day “forces of non-being” confront us by saying,
“You are nobody–you don’t have a right to exist.” Or, “This you, is not enough.” Or, “When you arrive at such and such, you will find happiness.” Or, “Your life will begin after the storm passes.”
As if our identity and well-being is somewhere outside of us, and that whatever is inside of us is not enough.
No, I’m not advocating that we try to outsmart the storm. Or control it for that matter. But it does help to remember that it does not control me–or us. And we still have the power, and the choice to take small steps.
Be it “securing the bales,” or “latching the silo,” let’s begin here: if we don’t bring it with us, we’re not going to find it there.
What do I have control over? In other words, what is the one thing I can do?
This much I know; I can begin here. Now. I can offer dollops of kindness to those depleted (including myself). I can stay spiritually hydrated. I can create safe places of inclusion for those wounded and diminished. I can make choices from (and rest in) sufficiency, and not scarcity. I can rest in the truth that my strength (value, fullness, abundance, wholeness) is already alive and well inside, even when I don’t see it.
It’s very close to triple digits here today. I know that it’s the same for many of you. But here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t know what to do in that kind of heat. Even the sheep gave me the look today, “There will be no church. Because we’re not moving.” Fair enough. I was tempted to get a sprinkler for them to run through. I’ll be doing that later today.
Quote for your week…
Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. St. Francis de Sales
Note: The Rabbi’s story from Mitch Albom’s, Have a Little Faith
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Fr. Thomas Keating: “Silence is God’s first language. All else is but poor translation.” Karen
–Missed your email this week hope all is well. I look forward to the boost of thoughtful and common sense you provide. Plus poetry and the music reference..It starts my week on a thinking and praying more places. Gail
–Terry, The books arrived today and I’m so very grateful. The heavy envelope was torn but all the books survived intact. Story Time: The mailman shoved the package into my mailbox so hard trying to make it fit so she would not have to deliver to my door that she uprooted my mailbox! No kidding…..well everything is sand here however that post has stood for quite some time. I’m reading This is the Life right now and it is soooo what I needed right this very minute. I’ve had some frustrating health issues recently and thought I was getting ahead of them and the last few days have been troublesome again. I’m so loving your way of writing and the perspectives. I have been working through Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now which does make so much sense. Your book just puts a more practical more conversational manner about being present. I’m on your chapter 3 right now and highlighting away as I read……..I may not sleep tonight because I can’t put it down. My mind is at ease. Thank you for that blessing tonight. Lynne
–Just what the “doctor” ordered. Gratitude and blessings from Canada. Adnil
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Nothing is worth losing your inner peace.
Take action as circumstances require,
but never surrender your inner peace.
Stop. Breathe deeply.
Close your eyes and breathe deeply again.
Then, and only then, take action – from a peaceful heart.
Jonathan Lockwood Huie
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,
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
“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.