Sunday, December 30, 2012

SPIRIT AND PLACE


There's an unmistakable connection between our place and our calling

I drive through the city
still dressed up for Christmas,
though some decorations sag,
and think about what is
going on in its life
and mine and how they
weave and sync
together.

We are given to a place and
it is given to us if we are
willing to see, to hear, to feel it.
We give and receive, and
there is an exchange
of life for life until we
relate and link identities
in an inseparable dance
of grace.


What shape or form this dance takes
over time may not be something of 
our choosing so much as
an attentive response to people
interacting with this unique place.
Am I willing to continue
to make such a response,
to serve wherever for the sake
of hope?


Saturday, December 29, 2012

PEACE AND MY NEIGHBOR'S SNOW



An overnight snowfall provided an opportunity for me to find peace with my neighbor

Why does it seem more pleasurable to snow-blow or shovel a neighbor’s driveway than one’s own?

There are likely a number of valid responses to this somewhat less-than-rhetorical question.  Motivations can be all over the map.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink distinguishes between parts of our brain that are stirred by compensation or benevolence.  But it is another book, The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute, that moved me to snow-blow my next-door neighbor’s driveway this morning.

Last summer (or was it several summers ago?), my neighbor yelled at my young-adult boys as they played basketball in our driveway.  Ever since then, I've had her "in the box" as something less than fully human.  Since then, I greet this neighbor whenever I see her, but generally avoid contact.  And, ever since then, this neighbor’s comings and goings and doings have been discussed in our household with adjectives and adverbs like “strange,” “weird,” and “silly.”

This morning, after a beautiful, overnight winter snowfall, I fired up our snow blower and meticulously cleared our driveway and walkways.  As I was finishing spreading a salt compound on our driveway, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor appear.  She had a shovel in hand and she began to dig out her much larger driveway.

"Help her," was my sense.  Fair enough.  But, I had an immediate second thought: "Let her do it herself!"  Also considerable.  I might well have ignored my sense to help her and justified my choice--because she yelled at my boys, because she is mean, because she is strange, because...whatever

But, having recently re-read The Anatomy of Peace (it takes me a few times through for things to sink in), I quickly recognized the futility of my self-justification.  Instead of justifying my inaction, I obeyed my initial sense to help her.  I pushed my snow blower into her driveway, waved off her protests, smiled, and aimed the snow blower into the heavy snow.

An amazing thing happened.  Within seconds, I was free and she was free and it was a pleasure to completely clear her driveway.  What is more: I no longer felt hostility toward her.  I no longer thought of her has strange, weird or silly.  And, to be honest, I had to both wince and laugh at the wasted thoughts and futile feelings I had fed all this time.

I still have no idea why she yelled at my boys, but, frankly, it no longer matters to me.  She's one less person I'm in the box with. My heart is at peace with her.  And that is one less burden on my soul.


According to The Anatomy of Peace, this is one important way peace is fostered in our lives and in our world.  All the time, we have a sense of the right and good thing to do to, for, and with other human beings and groups of human beings.  Call it what you will—in my faith tradition we call it the prompting of Holy Spirit or self-giving love for neighbor—it is something all people experience routinely.

But, we quite often ignore this sense.  We let opportunities pass.  We look out only for ourselves.  We consume mindlessly.  When we do, The Anatomy of Peace says we betray the sense and betray ourselves.  When we to this, we begin to justify ourselves by projecting others we might have helped as less than worthy and, ultimately, less than human.  We impugn them with undesirable qualities and cultivate varying levels of hostility and label them "the problem"—all in an effort to justify ourselves and our care-less response to them.  We are said to be “in the box” with them.

We get “out of the box” with people we have made into undesirable or despicable objects by re-humanizing them.  And, often, we re-humanize others by obeying the sense of doing the right thing by them, however hard that might seem, whenever we have a second, third, or fourth opportunity.

When we do the right thing by others, we see them in a new light.  We also see ourselves in a new light.  We may even begin to see the world in a fresh perspective—a perspective that is a little less burdened by our own petty self-justifications and mini-hostilities that barnacle our souls, a perspective that is a little more hopeful for peace and ready to take the small but critical personal steps to make it real in the world—at least the parts and people of the world we connect with today.

Friday, December 28, 2012

HOPING FOR SNOW




I’m waiting on the snow
A hope to fulfill;
I’ll prepare my skis,
Anticipate the thrill.

A Midwestern winter
With its bleak, dark days
Needs a good snow storm
To hearten the soul’s way.

Mere cold stiffens the heart
And drives us inside,
But warmth and four walls
Alone cannot abide.

I’m like a child praying
The snow will be deep
Enough for sledding,
And, tired from it, to sleep.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

CHRISTMAS IS FOR ADULTS


My poem reminds the adults amongst us to let the season change us

I wrote the following poem  back when our house was full of kiddos.  I was thinking about the possibility of Christmas making a spiritual change in the hearts of adults, not just children.

It is not enough to say
"Christmas is for children."
So it is, and ever so.
But it is especially for adults,
those routinous creatures
with furrowed brows wrapped
in self-absorbing pursuits.

These lamentable beings need
Christmas if they are ever
to be whole again.
They are so forgetful of
things that matter
and so clamorous for
things that don't.

Christmas, if it can pierce
their thick facade and
deflate their oversized egos,
may touch a forgotten place--
an abandoned but still
life-giving place--
in adult souls.

Christmas invites children
and adults alike to a place

where room is made for
a Child and that Child

is adored and honored
as a gift, a hope--even salvation
for one and all.
 


Sunday, December 23, 2012

ADVENT, EMPIRE, AND SEEING ANGELS

Context is everything. Without it, a basic grasp of Nativity--then and now--is lost. But what happens when we locate the story among displaced aliens surviving at the margins of empire? 

This piece is by Dorothee Soelle in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas (Plough Publishing, 2001). Soelle writes:

"How and under what conditions had people lived then in Galilee? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power."

"At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time (all this can be confirmed by research today)."

"Of course my rereading was politically colored. I too was surrounded by propaganda ('freedom and democracy'). While in the narrative I heard the boot of the empire crush everything in its way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, I saw the carpet bombings in the poor districts of San Salvador right behind the glittering displays on Fifth Avenue in New York..."

"In Paul the causes of misery are called the reign of sin. Without understanding this imperium ('reign') in its economic and ecological power of death, we also cannot see the light of Christmas shine. Living in the pretended social market economy, we do not even seem to need this light!"

"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

"Luke refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

"But without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. Yet, when we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

RISK OF BIRTH

An Advent poem by Madeleine L’Engle


This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn –
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

from Watch for the Light, an excellent collection of Advent and Christmas essays and poems by Plough Publishing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

GOD'S SLOW WORK


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin challenges us to embrace the slow, murky middle



“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. 
We are quite naturally impatient in everything 
to reach the end without delay. 
We should like to skip the intermediate stages. 
We are impatient of being on the way
 to something unknown,
 something new.

“Yet it is the law that all progress is made 
by passing through some stages of instability 
and that may take a very long time.
 
And so I think it is with you. 
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
 Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
 Do not try to force them on as though 
you could be today what time
 — that is to say, grace –
 and circumstances 
acting on your own goodwill
will make you tomorrow.

“Only God could say what this new Spirit 
gradually forming in you will be. 

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
 that his hand is leading you,
 and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself 
in suspense and incomplete. 
Above all, trust in the slow work of God, 
our loving vine-dresser. 
Amen.”



-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin