Tenderness our path
This morning on my walk, I stop at the pasture fence and stand for a good while. The sheep, lying in the grass, are huddled under a large fir tree. Finally, one asks, “What’s up?”
“I have a soft heart. And it bothers me that I’ve been afraid to say so.” Then I tell them something the Pope wrote this week, “Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.” I smile big.
They look at me as if waiting for more.
“That’s it for today,” I tell them. “Oh. And now, I am no longer afraid of living with a soft heart.”
This takes me to a scene in one of my very favorite books, The Shoes of the Fisherman. Morris West tells the story of Ukrainian Archbishop Kiril Lakota, who is set free after two decades as a political prisoner in Siberia. Kiril is sent to Rome, where the ailing Pope makes him a Cardinal. In the novel, the world (set in the 1980s) is in a state of crisis–a famine in China is exacerbated by US restrictions on Chinese trade and the ongoing Chinese-Soviet feud. When the Pontiff dies, Lakota–after several ballots–is elected Pope. In the book, the new Pope, Kiril I, is often plagued by self-doubt, by his years in prison, and by this strange world he knows so little about.
There is one telling conversation, between two of Kiril’s advisers. “What did His Holiness have to say about that?”
“He has a soft heart. The danger is that it may be too soft for the good of the church.”
“He has suffered more than we. Perhaps he has more right to trust his heart than we have.”
Yes. Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.
And I get it. Really. I do. But if we’re honest, this whole soft heart routine can give us plenty of headaches. Especially in a culture that associates soft with weak or frail or compromised or wimpy. It’s a “strength” that hides behind insecurity. And in that kind of world, we see only what we want to see, and we miss the profound truth: the connection between tenderness (soft heart) and courage.
Here’s the good news; this is not a project or assignment or test. A tender heart is a gift to embrace. And a gift to spill. A gift that changes the world.
When we live from tenderness, we see one another.
There’s a wonderful NPR story about how Stephanie Disney (audiologist at the Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs) met her (then 2-and-a-half-year-old) daughter, Rudy. Disney recalls, “my heart recognized her immediately.” In the story, Disney says, “I am the whitest of white women, and my daughter is some indefinable combination of all that is beautiful from at least three races: curly dark hair, petite features, freckles, a golden tan skin tone, one blue eye and one brown. If her race had only one name, it would be perfection. I understand that everyone wants love and acceptance. And these are such rare gifts, that when people see them freely demonstrated, they are compelled to seek the source. Recently, Rudy surprised me when a white-haired lady, standing right beside us, asked if I was her mother. Rudy threw the lady a disbelieving glance and said, ‘Well, she helps me with multiplication, fixes my hair, kisses me and we both have freckles on our noses; who else could she be?'”
I’m grateful for Maria Shriver’s take on this. “Now, I didn’t grow up with tenderness. I didn’t hear the courageous people around me even speak the word. But I have felt tenderness in my life and I know that it can be life-changing. Bestowing tenderness on an individual allows a person to feel seen. It allows them to soften and feel their worth… That’s very different from just being told you are worthy. When you actually “feel” worthy—when you feel seen, valued, and understood—you feel as though you belong. You feel as though you can stand up, put your shoulders back, and speak up. Tenderness bestows courage, and it requires courage to bestow tenderness… Once you become awake to tenderness, you can see how much more powerful it is than rage.”
When my ego doesn’t need to be propped up, I don’t need to win any shouting match (which isn’t to say shouting doesn’t feel cathartic for wee bit).
Our well-being is grounded in grace. And grace is a voice much bigger than all the other attachments where we may park value or significance. We see that dignity alive in the hearts and souls of those around us. Now, courage takes on a new meaning. Giving us the permission to say yes to choices that invite more soft hearts in a world that needs them.
When we see with our heart, we know that, regardless of our differences, we are on this journey together. A tender heart affirms the inherent value in others, and asks, “What’s next?”
You know, the question the Good Samaritan asked as he stopped for the man in ditch. Why? Because he knew what it was like to be wounded too. You see, once we are open…
…to having our stereotypes contradicted,
…to giving up our expectations and demands,
…to embracing our brokenness,
…we find “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter.” (Mother Teresa)
When we see with our heart, we are grounded. We are conscious—present—no longer numbed. And tender hearts create sanctuaries for those left out. So, if ever there was a time for tender hearted, courageous men and women to step forward, it is now.
Here in the garden, it’s as if we skipped over much of Fall, you know, sunny afternoons and calm days. Storms and wind have preoccupied us, and reminded us that operating a chainsaw is a compulsory skill set if you live here. That, and savoring the night sky.
Quote for your week…
There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart. Jane Austen
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Dear Terry, Thank you so much for the Sabbath Moment of today. It brought me back to focus on what’s important in life. I’ve been thru a big ordeal. Now I can start over. Not hating. And praying to God for the gift of Joy. God bless you for the time you spend in your ministry. In my family, we have all come to know you. Have a good day, Terry. Annette
–On my daily walk I shot this sunset photo. Saguaros surround our home and like you talking to the sheep I talk with the saguaros. In our culture we believe they are people like us. We have a story that tells us so. They provide so much for us. Today’s Sabbath Moment Dose gave me much to think about and was a good reminder that we’re not alone. Have a good evening. God bless you! Regina
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
When I get out of the way of my own thinking, I am at peace.
When I get out of the way of my doing, I am enough.
When I get out of the way of my being, I become all I am;
the Divine expression of God’s amazing grace.
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity