On this holiday weekend, many of our fellow citizens are hurting, and don’t feel at all united. And as they look ahead, they don’t feel hopeful.
I know when I try to make sense of this weight, I can feel powerless, and so, try to protect myself. I close my eyes, I shut down and I feel my heart deaden.
Here’s my conundrum; I don’t want to run or hide from sadness, or the rawness. And I don’t want to give way to anger or bitterness. I needed a story to embrace the invitation to be more human and fully alive with the permission to repair and heal the small world where I live.
I love the Sufi story about a man who is so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles. God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish. So, the angels visit this good man, and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion by souls, and lastly the gift of virtue.
He refuses them all. They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him.
“Very well,” he replies. “I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”
The story ends this way: The angels are perplexed. They take counsel and resolve upon the following plan: every time the man’s shadow falls behind him it will have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow. As he walks, behind him his shadow makes arid paths green, causes withered plants to bloom, gives clear water to dried-up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women.
The man simply goes about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light, and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it. The people respecting his humility follow him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name and call him “the Holy Shadow.”
How do we spill light in our broken world? My heart is smiling big here, because I love this story’s affirmation that there can be freedom from the ego’s constraint; of some kind of prerequisite for power or position or applause. A reminder of what is possible in a world where we know that despair or bitterness or cynicism cannot win. Why? Because our identity is not at stake here. The light within already tells us, assures us, who (and whose) we are.
And no, I certainly cannot relate to the “so good” part of the story. But I do resonate with the notion that the bountiful gifts of life—love, compassion, wisdom, joy, courage, creativity and presence—happen when they spill from real and authentic (and yes, wounded and broken) lives.
When I first read this story, I wasn’t sure. I could feel that tug of remorse for all the ways I fail to live up to my potential. But I must confess that the word “holy” bumps up against the church of my childhood and the stipulation of piety. In my mind I can still see scrunched faces, and people who walked leaning to one side owing to weight of all their merit badges. (I’m not making this up; I had 13 years of perfect Sunday-school attendance, with badges to prove it. Ask me if that makes me proud…)
There was no teaching (or invitation or permission or encouragement) to learn about my faith journey and life as spillage, from “just being Terry.” It was mandatory that I endeavor to become super-spiritual. Or, in others words, to become something that I was not.
When I try to create or measure my value (my meaning) by how well I perform–when I capitulate to a world of competition, fear of failure, yearning for applause, receiving evaluations, reproaches and condemnation–it is all too easy to go off the rails.
And the permission to “just be”, to let the light spill, is lost in the shuffle.
The message ingrained from the religion of my youth was unequivocal, and I see it playing out in our world today: Be on the right team or get worked up about being on the wrong team. There is us. There is them. Don’t be like them.
But here’s the deal: Jesus’ life and ministry were a complete contradiction to that paradigm. He specifically looked for those left out, for the poor, the outcast, the widow, the orphan, those excluded. Because he wanted to tell them all; there’s a place at the table for you. There’s a place at the table for everyone.
(When people ask me my theology and only need one sentence, I tell them, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.)
This is important: this story is not about an assignment or an obligation. It’s permission to give way to what is already inside. (“Oz didn’t give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have,” is playing in my head. Followed by Bruce singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”)
What makes you come alive? The question itself, is a paradigm shift. That even in places of pain and anxiety and rawness and uncertainty, we have the capacity to spill light. We can be Holy Shadows; a life not beholden to the narrative of fear, anxiety, or performance. Holy Shadow gives voice to all that is life giving; to dignity, to liberation and empowerment, to imagination and healing.
What’s the secret?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
And Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down? Are we going to be tested on this?”
Spillage begins when we give ourselves the permission to be at home in our own skin. We don’t wait until we have our act together.
There is power here. Now. We make a difference; we create and become sanctuary, a place of presence, renewal, empathy, inclusion and compassion. “We are at our best when the strong do not exploit the weak.” (Jon Meacham)
As long as I need to orchestrate my life (not that any of us wrestle with that problem…), I require some equation for this Holy Shadow life. You know, instructions about what I must do next. Or more certainly, what I lack that prevents me from living such a “holy life”.
Nothing crushes our joy like the unmitigated weight of some guilt laden recruitment ploy to “well-doing.”
But here’s the deal: I believe that every one of us casts a holy shadow.
And in a world where there is fear, we need holy shadows, as they repair and heal.
In a world where…
…there is anxiety, we need holy shadows.
…people are marginalized and left out, we need holy shadows.
…people have forgotten that they are loved and cared for, we need holy shadows.
…people are overlooked excluded because of creed, we need holy shadows.
Speaking of connection, I miss talking with the geese. It’s like some churches in Arizona or Florida in the summer. The snowbirds have gone home for a wee bit. Just sayin’.
And for our friends to the north, Happy Canada Day (a wee bit late, July 1). And for those here in the United States, a 4th celebration that invites holy shadows…
For firework lovers, I hope you enjoy a good pageant. I confess to preferring the show, just without the sound. I’m kindred spirit to all the dogs I’ve had in my life, who couldn’t wait for the quiet.
Quote for your week…
Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of state
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on
Today’s Photo Credit: “Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah,” Diana Macalintal… Thank you Diana… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
UPCOMING EVENTS —
August 12 – 14 — Mary and Joseph Center, Rancho Palos Verdes CA, Soul Gardening: Sacrament of the Present Moment.
October 3 – 5 — Hinton Retreat Center, Hayesville, NC, Life in the Garden
Letters that do my heart good…
–Dear Terry, Amen, I say to your message today. It seems that our world is no longer recognizable to us oldtimers. (85 here.) The price of kindness is free when compared to war and its terrible costs. Thank you for your gentle reminders that God sees and blesses all who are suffering and those who in some small invisible way can heal many suffering souls by a smile, a hug, a piece of chocolate, or a short walk in fresh air. God bless you Terry. Keep reminding us that we all CAN do something for others at any time or any place. And to remember the world doesn’t need to know about it. Thank you. Christine
–Hello Terry: You asked, what does it take to stay hydrated emotionally and spiritually? Well, I’ve been reading a great book called “Gratitude Diaries”. The author often mentions how writing a letter of gratitude is one of the best ways to combat depression. So, I assume perhaps it has the ability to keep me hydrated emotionally and spiritually too. Why? Because it makes me pause. Because it makes me get outside of myself and focus on others. Because I can play just the right song which sets just the right tone… it’s as if the letter writes itself. And I think writing a text or email can work too. However, when a hand written note arrives, it’s like a very personal part of that sender arrives too. When I run across the precious handwriting of my mom or dad, it speaks directly to my heart… Heading Carmel, CA today. There’s a wedding to attend. I will take the time to pause and hydrate emotionally and spiritually as I write a sweet wedding card to them about the gratitude I feel being invited to their special day. And then there’s what I call “music therapy”… my prescription for today—A Good Day for a Good Day, Michael Franti. Writing you led me to the above song. And knowing you has taught me the value of pausing. I am so very, very grateful for You, Terry. May today be a very good day for a good day, Kim
POEMS AND PRAYERS
We are at our best when the strong do not exploit the weak.
Lord of life and love.
We pray for the world
in all its brokenness.
May peace overcome war,
may love overcome hate,
may generosity overcome greed,
may gentleness overcome pride,
that the earth may be filled
with your glory, and peace.
Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
the brightness blazes—
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing