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To find value and take heart

This week I received a letter that nourished, and restored my heart. A balm to my soul. Well, truth be told, the letter was written and sent in 1513. Let’s just say it took a while to get to me. No worries.
You see, I confess there are times when I wonder whether I’ve lost my way. At least that’s what I tell myself. For every now and again, waves of melancholy are high (and they do their darndest to deplete hopefulness and courage).
Gratefully, I received a letter to a friend.
In 1513, Fra Giovanni Giocondo wrote to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, “I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.  There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.  And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all!  But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.” (Fra Giovanni Giocondo—1435–1515—was a Renaissance pioneer, architect, engineer, antiquary, archaeologist, classical scholar, and Franciscan friar.) 

Here’s the deal: I believe this letter is addressed to every single one of us. Because this is a Sankofa Letter.
In previous Sabbath Moments, I’ve talked about Sankofa (from the Akan language of Ghana), associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
Yes. More than ever we need emotional and spiritual nourishment. Places of sanity and restoration. The power of Giocondo’s letter is this simple reminder; these gifts (the “diviner gifts”) live within us. Today. And for various reasons, we do not see them.
And when we do not see, a part of us shuts down. 

Mr. Rogers tells the story about sitting in on one of Yo-Yo Ma’s master cello classes. “Now, Yo-Yo is one of the great appreciators of our world. It seems that people always walk taller after they’ve had an encounter with him. The only thing that’s larger than his talent is his heart. At any rate, during that master class one young man was struggling with the tone of a certain cello passage. He played it over and over and Yo-Yo listened with obvious interest. Finally, Yo-Yo said, ‘Nobody else can make the sound you make.’ That young man looked at Yo-Yo Ma and beamed. What a gift those words were not only to that cellist, but to everyone who was there. Nobody else can make the sound you make.
Well, nobody else can live the life you live. And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what’s unique about us to live in a redeeming way.”
What does it mean to welcome this truth about ourselves? To welcome it, grasp it, and to touch the angel’s hand that brings it. Given the sludge of the day (cares, worries, vitriol) it is understandable that we forget…
The music we can play, to offer hope.
The heart we have, to bring fully to this day.
The touch we have, to give to people around us comfort, when inundated with bleakness.
The gift of welcome we have, to offer sanctuary for people who are left out, disparaged and diminished.  There is an important caveat. Sankofa is not just about looking on the bright side, or keeping our chin up. This is a necessary and fundamental paradigm shift, about the narrative we choose to believe. No, let me rephrase; not just believe.
The narrative we choose to honor. Choose to see. Choose to live by.
“For whatever is honored will be cultivated,” Plato reminded us. 

Speaking of Mr. Rogers… In a commencement address he told those gathered, “Beside my chair in my office is a framed piece of calligraphy with a sentence from Saint Exupery’s book, The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). It reads: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”) I feel the closer we get to knowing and living the truth of that sentence, the closer we get to wisdom. What is essential about you that is invisible to the eye?”
Mr. Rogers continues, “You know, the Greek word for ‘thanks’ is eucharist. The way we say ‘thank you’ to God and to each other is the greatest imaginable form of appreciation. In fact, the reason we are created in God’s image—in God’s tzelem—is  to be God’s representatives on this earth—to do here what God would do—to take care of the land and each other as God would take care of us.
You don’t ever have to do anything sensational in order to love or to be loved. The real drama of life (that which matters most) is rarely center stage or in the spotlight. In fact, it has nothing to do with IQs and honors and the fancy outsides of life. What really nourishes our souls is the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the foundation of our very being is good stuff.”
All of this lives inside. Today. And can be born in the midst. Enabling us to be present, to rise above, to find value and to take heart.   

A wee bit of time today at the Fort Ashby Museum. And then a long leisurely drive from northern West Virginia to Orkney Springs, Virginia, where I’ll be camped at Shrine Mont for the week. A good week working with my friends Ed Kilbourne and Martin Townsend. We’ll be talking about spiritual hydration. And sankofa.
And yes, I do miss the geese, and look forward to telling them stories.

Quote for your week… In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer


Today’s Photo Credit: “Shepherd’s Croft Chapel….Celtic cross created by Martin Townsend, Fort Ashby, WV.” I took this photo this morning… wanted to share… Keep sending your photos… send to [email protected]
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Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless
among miracles.
Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing.
Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”
Jewish Prayer

Closing Words
I feed myself.
I listen to the rain falling bright and furious.
Rain remembers its falling for a moment, rippling,
Then forgets itself in the sheeting, sliding, silence.
It’s four-forty.
The sky reflects gray in the windows across the alley.
I know my life is not, and will not be profound
But I adore it anyway –
Books strewn and poorly fed,
Over-thought and occasionally betrayed;
I adore it.
It doesn’t matter that the difference
between myself and the rain
is a matter of a little salt and some organization,
I love my skin and all it contains
Until the rain falls through it.
And I’ll love it even then, if I may.
Kendra Ford   

When we pray together from our diverse traditions,
Holy One who makes us one,
Make our unity visible and bring healing to the world.
When we read the scriptures in our diverse languages and context,
Revealing One who makes us one,
Make our unity visible and bring healing to the world.
When we work for justice and solidarity, when we tear down the walls of indifference and hatred, when we move from fear to confidence,
Merciful One who makes us one,
Make our unity visible and bring healing to the world.
Whenever there is suffering through war and violence, injustice and inequality, disease and prejudice, poverty and hopelessness, draw us near to the cross of Christ and to each other,
Wounded One who makes us one,
Make our unity visible and bring healing o the world.

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