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The gift of vulnerability

Sherry Turkle visited a Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History with her teenage daughter.
At the entrance of the show stood a cage with two grand Galapagos turtles. Magnificent creatures from a fantasy world.
Feeling sorry for the turtles, and completely unmoved by the wonder of their presence, Turkle’s daughter remarked that the museum could “just as well have used robots.” Other children in line agreed, to their parent’s dismay.
Intrigued, Turkle returned again and again to interview visitors to the exhibit and found that for most children “aliveness doesn’t seem worth the trouble and seems to have no intrinsic value.” Moreover, if a realistic robotic turtle was used, the children didn’t think people needed to be told that it wasn’t real, or alive. (From the book Distracted)
Yes, I shake my head in bemusement.
But I get it. And it’s not just children. Using a robot (or living robotic) is easier. And not just for Galapagos turtles. I have done the same thing with my own emotional and spiritual life. And with my heart.
Why? That’s simple, because it works.
And, it’s a good way to protect myself. You know, to live guarded from the “pinpricks and caresses of the real world”.

This story about the turtles resonates, because after last week’s Sabbath Moment (Loving costs a lot, but not loving always costs more), I had conversations with friends—old and new—about fear or disquiet. More specifically, about the uncertainty that comes with being real, living wholehearted, living authentic and true to our self, being at home in our own skin.  The conversations invite me to dig deep, and to be honest about what I see inside. (I have a hunch that honesty may have been the beneficial surprise gift attached to my 64th BD last week.) So, here we go…

Will you be my friend? 
There are so many reasons why you never should:
Often I’m too serious, seldom predictably the same,
Sometimes cold and distant, probably I’ll always change.
I bluster and brag, seek attention like a child.
I brood and pout, my anger can be wild,
But I will make you laugh
And love you quite a bit
And be near when you’re afraid.
I shake a little almost every day
Because I’m more frightened than the strangers ever know
And if at times I show my trembling side
(The anxious, fearful part I hide)
I wonder,
Will you be my friend?
James Kavanaugh 

Here’s the deal: To love at all (anything in life) is to be vulnerable. 
I get it. I do.
What troubles me, is that when I feel unnerved or unsettled or afraid, I become wary of the very gifts—thoughts, feelings, desires, passions, yearnings, creative impulses, callings—that God put inside of me.
So, as I protect myself, I hide these gifts.
Or, I decide that robotics is better.

It reminds me of the dean’s speech, at the school where Patch Adams studied medicine, “We’re going to train the humanity out of you and make you something better. We’re going to make you doctors.”
Wow. Because I don’t believe that living vulnerable is a safe place, I live guarded by default. It’s as if I see these desires (these gifts)—bubbling up and combustible and unstinting—as an indictment of weakness, and therefore no place God can live.
Well, my friends, that belief is just plain wrong.
I heard Brian McClaren talk about the Genesis creation story.  Genesis says that God created and called it good. Notice this: God did not call it perfect. Meaning what? Meaning that if it were perfect, we would merely be a maintenance crew. Instead, we are very active co-creators, involved in the process… the ongoing and unfolding of God’s presence in this world. Yes.
As co-creators we are invited to approach life with open arms. To live vulnerable. Or, in the words of Alan Jones, I want to know if joy, curiosity, struggle and compassion bubble up in a person’s life. I’m interested in being fully alive. 
And I say Amen.
So, tell me, where does joy, curiosity, struggle and compassion bubble up in your life?
(And let’s not put our “bubbling up” through the paces of “not enough” or “I’ll do better next time”.)

I am keenly aware of the scrimmage in my spirit about sharing or confessing too much. Harkening back to the warning we received in seminary, “Don’t be too personal with your parishioners.” Lord have mercy.
As it happens, the season of Advent is an invitation to be personal. Because Advent, is predicated on vulnerability… “Unto us a child is born.”

The Hebrew word that we translate as holy is qadosh, often defined as “set apart,” but which could be accurately translated as “life intensity.”  I was raised in a tradition that frowned on passion or any form of a passionate life, preferring all things sedate or impassive. (After all, passion may invite vulnerability.)
Preferring sedate is unfortunate, because a holy life is intently dynamic, ever evolving, a rich and passionate life (even if quite untidy and cluttered) to celebrate and savor and nurture and contribute and dance and heal and reconcile.    

The Turkle story is honest about our inclination about what we will trade for comfort. Real for plastic. Vulnerability for control. Untidiness for order.
This is not about what we are able to tolerate. It is an invitation to embrace the gifts and the power we have, to choose to bring our whole self… our uncertain and fractured and vulnerable whole self to this sacred moment. Our fragility doesn’t diminish our capacity. In fact, it magnifies it. A good reminder that we are still loved by an extraordinarily compassionate and benevolent and grace-overflowing Creator, even though we are often afraid.
So, let this Advent be an invitation to return to the truthfulness of who we are, and what it means to embrace passion, to live fully alive. To not shy away from emotions, knowing that the gifts of tears and laughter are wrapped with same bow.

It is December, so the garden is savoring dormancy. (A good lesson for us all. Just sayin.)
Here on Vashon, we had our first winter storm this weekend, which means high winds, downed trees and scattered limbs. And no power for a day.
Speaking of life bubbling up, this afternoon in our Vashon Theater, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) invitation to allow God’s gifts to bubble up. I love the line his guardian angel asks, “Is he sick?” “No, worse. He’s discouraged.”
Tonight, I am in my living room, looking out the French doors. There is a fire in the fireplace. And candles are lit. The Bloodgood Maple tree conceded its leaves in November and forms a silhouette against the sky. The bluestone patio is darker from the sheen of rain, which continues to fall softly. The stone now a deeper, almost melancholy blue. It is dusk, with sky colors that call for reflection, sitting and absorbing. And so, I give myself fully to this moment.
I not sure if all my fears are abated. But I know this, they are not nearly as important as they were earlier today.

Quote for your week…
Sometimes the world tries to knock it out of you. But I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales. August Rush (the movie)   


Will you be my friend?
A friend who far beyond the feebleness of any vow or tie
Will touch the secret place where I am really I,
To know the pain of lips that plead and eyes that weep,
Who will not run away when you find me in the street
Alone and lying mangled by my quota of defeats
But will stop and stay – to tell me of another day
When I was beautiful.
James Kavenaugh   

Because Christmas is almost here
Because dancing fits so well with music
Because inside baby clothes are miracles.
Because some people love you
Because of chocolate
Because pain does not last forever
Because Santa Claus is coming.
Because of laughter
Because there really are angels
Because your fingers fit your hands
Because forgiveness is yours for the asking
Because of children
Because of parents.
Because the blind see.
And the lame walk.
Because lepers are clean
And the deaf hear.
Because the dead will live again
And there is good news for the poor.
Because of Christmas
Because of Jesus
You rejoice.
​​​​​​​“Gaudete,” which is the Latin word for “rejoice,” is the Third Sunday in Advent.
​​​​​​​Brad Reynolds, S.J., a photographer and artist in residence at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash

Falling In Love With God
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you
with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
​​​​​​​Pedro Arrupe, SJ 









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