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The Meaning of Life

“What is the meaning of life?” she asks me.
We are sitting at a table, at a retreat center where I am the guest speaker.
I smile. Because that question is far more direct and interesting than, “How was the traffic?”

So, I think about it. And I remember Elie Wiesel. He survived the World War II Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald and death camp of Auschwitz. After liberation, he lived in France, Israel and the United States, where he advocated on behalf of victims of hate and persecution around the world. Two years ago, this past week, he died, at the age of 87.
Wiesel dedicated his life to the fight against all hatred, and for the affirmation that every man and woman carries with them dignity, formed in the image of God.
During his life, Wiesel was called a messenger of peace, a humanitarian and a survivor. When asked, he liked to call himself simply, a witness.
And as a witness, Wiesel said, it was his duty to never let those who suffered be forgotten. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” he said. “Sometimes we must interfere.”

I read a statement made in the Irish Times by a Connemara man after he was arrested for a car accident. “There were plenty of onlookers, but no witnesses.”
In answering my table-mate’s question, I’m answering another go-to question I received this week, “What exactly do you do?”
Well, today I have an answer. I am a witness.
I choose to pay attention while I am here. To hug the hurt. To kiss the broken. To bandage the wounded. To befriend the lost. To love the lonely. And to leave people better than I find them.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that today’s Gospel reading is from Saint Luke. The story of the good Samaritan. I like Thomas Merton’s take, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love.”
Here’s the deal: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.” David Orr

I agree. However, sometimes, I am broken. Very broken. And I don’t have the words. And I don’t have the strength. So, how can I be a witness then?
Well, this is interesting. You see, compassion (service and care) and healing (restoration) are not mutually exclusive. Because the light we share is born in those broken places. Which means that being a witness goes hand in glove with renewal.
I spent Friday with a group of business leaders from San Antonio, TX. My topic: Leaders Care. However, care begins with self-care.
In other words, we find replenishment and we choose to be a witness. This is not a pep talk. This is not a test to pass. Or a list I check off for God’s thumbs up. This is permission; the invitation and the affirmation to be and to live, wholeheartedly and kindheartedly, the truth of who I am.

Rwandans understood this. The Rwandan prescription for Depression? Sun, drum, dance, community. “We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.” (A Rwandan talking to western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.)

Please know this: it is from this self—the broken or wounded self—that compassion and kindness and tenderness and empathy and healing and reconciliation can flow.
I see this reflected in an observation by Jean Vanier. “What was most important for the people I welcome at L’Arche, was not pedagogy or educational technique. It was my attitude towards them, my way of listening to them, of looking at them with respect and love, of responding to their desires, of rejoicing and laughing with them. This is how little by little they were able to discover their own beauty, and that their life had meaning and value. Little by little, they were not for me people with disabilities, but friends. They do me good, and I think I do them good.”

Many of you were witnesses for me this past week. Thank you for your prayers, questions and concerns. I am grateful and honored to be a part of this Sabbath Moment community.

On Wednesday, in Cuautepec, Mexico, the last of the 5,961 Final Edition versions of the VW Beetle (this one painted “stonewash blue”) was rolled out under a confetti shower as a mariachi band sang “Cielito Lindo.” It wasn’t for sale, destined instead for a museum. And it made me smile real big. Good memories, my first car in high school a red 1963 VW Bug, with a little rust in the floorboard, so I could feel the winter chill.

And another story that makes you smile real big. Jimmy and Roselyn Carter celebrated 73 years of marriage this past week.
I’ll see some of you in the Soul Gardening eCourse which begins this week. There’s still time to join us.
I’ll be at Seabeck Conference Center, with Unitarians from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. We’ll be talking about creating Sanctuary. And being a witness.

Quote for your week…
You can disagree. You can unfollow. But please be respectful to each other on here today. And, if your response is “The parents should not have brought their children here illegally” – know this: I pray to God (literally) that you never have to flee violence or poverty or persecution with your children. And, if the day comes that you must, and your children are forcibly removed from your arms – I will fight for you too. Brené  Brown

Notes… SM reflection questions and exercises are available for group and personal use. Let me know if you want to receive.


Today’s photo credit — Birch Lake, Wisconsin, Bill Nolan… thank you Bill… keep sending your photos… send to

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Summer eCourses…
July 15 – August 5  — Soul Gardening

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Sept 9 – Sept 30 — How to harness the Power of Pause
When you SLOW DOWN and harness the power of pause, you are transformed, and Life flows from a place of gladness.

Audio SM… Enjoy — Work To Heal
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In the mailbag…
–Hi Terry, thanks to Hurricane Alvin, San Diego enjoyed a pretty phenomenal sunset on  Saturday. (My son James Stevenson took this pic at Mission Bay.) Hope all is well with you. Seems like forever ago we were at The Casa!
–Thank you for your inspirational thoughts. I find your messages calming, motivating and positive. One day I hope to attend one of your presentations. Jane.
–Thank you for this beautiful message, filled with inspiration and hope. We are all broken, but we all have the capacity for compassion. I truly believe that. Prayers for you and your loved one. Pat
–Amazing how you do this… Weaving Pema Chödrön & Winnie the Pooh wisdoms… both are my favorites… especially Pema. Wish we still lived in Washington… but you are still my favorite Hawks fan. Cynthia
–Terry, I don’t believe much in pure coincidence so when your Sabbath Moment hit my inbox this morning I knew it was intended, not for me at this time, but my friends… their father unexpectedly had a stroke on Friday and is on the “threshold.” As you can imagine they are struggling with “what if’s” and “what next”? I passed this Sabbath Moment on to them in the hope that they will draw some solace and comfort from your thoughtful writing. Please keep up the great work you do. Your impact is far reaching. Peace my friend. David
–All I can say is WOW!!!  You were SPOT ON!  Thank you, Deacon Jim
–So needed right now… you help us get thru Monday. Peace my friend. Nancy
–Dear Terry, I always read your Sabbath Moment and listen to the new songs/you tube videos. Josh Groban’s GRANTED was especially lovely. Cecilia
–Hi, Terry. Thanks for your SM this morning. I’m sorry to hear about your friend who is dying. These losses touch the heart of our living. I liked your part about fighting cancer and the perspective of living each day. Peace, my friend, Mick
–Terry Hershey and Phil Volker… two men who inspire me and make me want to grow into the person I’m meant to be!! Two men who’ve given me the courage to say “yes” to waking the Camino de Santiago this fall!! And this SM reminds me that I miss seeing you friend when you’re in So Cal!! Thanks for the beautiful message today!!
–As all-ways, your writing accompanies me on my own growth journey, thank you from my tender heart today, I surrender to loss, I release expectations, Annie
–Terry, thank you, thank you, thank you. Am in the middle of moving from VT to CA to be near my daughter and at 84 it’s pretty challenging! You have helped calm me down this morning, Thank you! Anne

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We do not commonly live our life out and full; we do not fill all our pores with our blood; we do not inspire and expire fully and entirely enough. We live but a fraction of our life. Why do we not let on the flood, raise the gates, and set all our wheels in motion?
Henry David Thoreau

Now is the time of dark invitation
Beyond a frontier that you did not expect;
Abruptly, your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
A path through fields never questioned,
Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.
Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day-to-day,
So continuous with everything around you,
That you could forget you were separate;
Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.
Nothing before has made you
Feel so isolated and lost.
When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
May grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
To embrace this illness as a teacher
Who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself
A courageous hospitality
Toward what is difficult,
Painful, and unknown.
May you learn to use this illness
As a lantern to illuminate
The new qualities that will emerge in you.
May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
Help to release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
Until you feel arising within you a tranquility
Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
Ask it why it came. Why it chose your friendship.
Where it wants to take you. What it wants you to know.
What quality of space it wants to create in you.
What you need to learn to become more fully yourself
That your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
Which can bring this night-wound gradually
Toward the healing and freedom of dawn.
May you be granted the courage and vision
To work through passivity and self-pity,
To see the beauty you can harvest
From the riches of this dark invitation.
May you learn to receive it graciously,
And promise to learn swiftly
That it may leave you newborn,
Willing to dedicate your time to birth.
John O’Donohue
The Book of Blessings

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