For the last twelve years, our family would be at La Casa de Maria for Family Retreat this week.  On a normal year, we’d be basking in the glow of family affirmations from Monday night and preparing ourselves to battle it out on opposing teams at pool games this afternoon, a favorite Tuesday tradition. But this year, after the devastating mudslides that hit Montecito on January 9, La Casa de Maria had to close its doors – for a while at least. Family Retreat was left homeless, but not hopeless. In late January, the team got together to grieve and then get to work. It was too late to relocate, but not too late to re-create our time together in what we called “Family Camp Lite.”

We stayed as close to La Casa as we could, taking over a dozen rooms at a local beachside motel and an entire second story deck with an ocean view. We gathered for music and prayers on the sand in the morning, shared several communal meals, celebrated mass on the beach and spent one morning working in the Shalom Garden at La Casa de Maria and touring the property. As we worked in the hot sun, we blessed our beloved spiritual home not only with our sweat, but also with our tears and songs and laughter. The devastation we saw there was both sobering and sanctifying. It is clear that Family Retreat will not be returning to the property any time soon, but equally clear that La Casa de Maria itself will continue its mission of being a holy place of healing and service for the world. We took a lot of pictures, but left some banners of hope in our wake.

One of the traditions the team felt strongly we wanted to continue even at “Family Camp Lite” was time for family affirmations and reconciliation. During a normal week, each of these rituals are given their own sacred time and space, but in our condensed schedule, we only had one chance on Saturday evening and they invited me to share a few words, which I’d like to share here with all of you.

 

Tonight we are combining two of our most cherished rituals from Family Retreat – affirmations and reconciliation. When we get started, each family will have to decide what they want to emphasize. Do your people need to hear, “I love you and here’s why,” or “I’m sorry and will you forgive me” more? Of course, both of those messages are deeply intertwined and deeply necessary, so maybe there will be time for both.

I want to start by reading just a few short lines of scripture. You just might be familiar with the passage from 1 Corinthians 13. (Sarcasm intended.)

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

 Let me say those last lines again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

How many married couples here had these lines read at your wedding? (A few hands were raised) How many of you have heard these lines at almost every wedding you’ve attended? (Most hands went up) Do they feel trite and commonplace? Probably.

And yet, if we can get past our familiarity with the passage, I hope some tender part of your heart can still be touched by hearing it, is still open to the radical beauty of a Love like this, and still invested in living out this kind of Love whenever humanly possible.

In 1 John, there is a simple, but powerful statement: “God is Love” and “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,” which means that everyone is born of God and at some point in their lives has known God, because we are all born knowing how to love. We are born knowing how to connect, how to make eye contact and seek comfort in a warm embrace, how to forgive and draw near again. I’m not saying every child in the world is created out of love, or is born in a loving home, but Love is in our DNA. In fact, Love is our Divine DNA. It is only through repeated rejection, difficulty, suffering, hardship (and a thousand other things that happen to us over the first decade, or two of our lives) that we forget how to Love and separate ourselves from God, separate ourselves from our internal awareness of our Divine birthright as daughters and sons of God, made of Love and made for Love.

I think that’s why Family Retreat has become so important to so many of us! We know and have experienced on a deep, deep level what happens when we give up a week of our lives, a week of vacation time, two weeks’ paycheck – all the things we sacrifice to be here – in order to participate in reclaiming and reframing our identity and our family’s identity in Love.

The other 51 weeks a year, though we may spend time with our Bibles, or go to church weekly, or even lead deeply spiritual lives, we are still immersed in a culture that values other things more – productivity, success, consumerism, critical thinking, busyness, sports, appearance, power, security.

It’s a relentless onslaught of not-love, a constant denial, or derailing of what matters most.

So we come here for a week, or a weekend like this one to reclaim the power of Love, to witness what Love can do in our own family and in the families that surround us, to be reminded of and to strengthen the Love that flows between each of us and our Source. God, our Creator, Jesus, our brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, which simply a fancy word for our defender, or protector.

I want to return to that last line again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

One of my teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and author, takes this passage from Corinthians and offers a new way of looking at it in her book Love is Stronger than Death. It came across my desk just this past week, but I’ve thought a lot about it and how it might change everything we think we know about Love. When we gather with our families in a few minutes, perhaps we can think about how our family can Love like this.

Love bears all things.

For Love to bear something is not just to “grin and bear it,” to put up with something we dislike, or is causing us pain and suffering. It can mean that, but to “bear” also means to give birth to, like a child, or to make fruitful, like a vine, or a fruit tree. Love “bears,” or brings new life wherever it shows up. That’s how you know it is truly Love, not a facsimile. If it isn’t bringing, or sustaining new life, it’s not Love.

Love believes all things.

Paul isn’t talking about magical thinking, about believing in fairy tales, or romantic myths. While it might mean giving people the benefit of the doubt sometimes, Loving doesn’t mean letting people lie to, or manipulate you. But in almost every critical situation, we will have a choice between a response that leads to openness and continuing possibility and one that closes off possibility and leads to cynicism and despair. To believe when we are alive in the spirit of Love means that we try to stay open and imagine the highest, best possible outcome and then work toward making it happen.

Love hopes all things.

Hopecan be a response to a history of positive events. Good things have happened in the past, so we allow ourselves to hope that more good things are coming.  But there is also a deeper hope based in Love, a fountain in the center of our hearts that will not let us despair, at least not for long; it just keeps bubbling up. With Love, in Love, it never runs out. When we Love and are in touch with the source of all Love, hope is the natural outflowing.

Love endures all things.

To endure is to abide, to continue to stand, not rigid like a brick wall, but supple like a willow tree. Love like that allows us to sway in the gales and yet hold our ground: flexible, rooted, injured perhaps, but ready to rise again.

Love never fails.

We could read this to understand that Love never makes mistakes, or that if we do, we must not be loving enough. Or we might believe that if someone fails us, they must not actually Love us, but maybe that isn’t the whole picture. Crops can fail, and not yield a harvest, be destroyed by the weather, or by blight, or bugs.  But Love never fails like that. Love will always rise up; it will always produce a harvest. We might not know what seeds we have sown with our love but Loving will always produce an abundance of something this world needs, even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor.

As you gather here tonight and share your Love for one another, perhaps you can think about some of these things. How does your family’s Love bear fruit in this world? How has believing in each other allowed your family to heal? How has Love allowed you to hope, even when things seemed hopeless? What has your family endured, not easily, or without injury, but faithfully rooted in the Love you have for each other?

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Overall, “Family Camp Lite” came together even better than the team imagined it might. Families laughed and cried, prayed and played, talked and reconciled. We celebrated what had been and saw a glimpse of what still might be, both for La Casa de Maria and ourselves.

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I spent a fair amount of time this morning, scrolling through my iPhone photos, trying to find a good one to post of Tim in honor of Father’s Day.  I have some of us as a family – at parties and on trips, and some of he and I on dates, or at concerts. But those were just said – Hey, here we are! They were fine, but they didn’t really tell a story about what I like most about Tim as a father. Then I came across some pictures of us at some of this year’s protest marches, including the 2ndAnnual Women’s March and the March for our Lives after the Parkland shootings. Those were better, because it’s one of the things I most appreciate about Tim as a father – the example he has set for our kids that part of being an adult is a willingness to stay open, learn and advocate for others.

But this morning, Tim had a funny request. He wanted to go see the new Mr. Rodgers’ documentary called, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I didn’t see that request coming, but why not? All our kids were working, so we had a couple hours to kill. I highly recommend the film, but there was one moment in particular that brought me to tears.  I won’t give it away, but Mr. Rodgers sings one of his classic songs, “It’s You I Like” with a guest on the show. If you don’t remember, it goes like this and you can listen to him and sing along here.

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

 

That’s it, I thought.

That’s why Tim is such a good father. He makes it clear to each of our very different children that he likes them as they are. They don’t have to be perfect; they don’t have to change; they don’t have to be shaped or molded or directed by him. It’s not that he doesn’t parent them, or help them make good decisions, but first and foremost, I think they hear the message, “It’s you I like.” I think that makes him a pretty good father.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a dad like that, but I hope you do, or did and that it has helped you become the kind of person, who can share affirmation like that with the people you love. I know I did, which is probably part of the reason I married Tim. From the moment we met, I never doubted that, “It’s you I like, the way down deep inside you, not the things that hide you.”

Happy Father’s Day to the man who raised me and the man I’m raising a family with. Don’t ever doubt that “it’s you I like.”

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Team Kirks before and after Tim tells a joke 

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about Fr. Christian Mondor, ofm, a man who played an important role in my spiritual development. I was happy to share my private reflections on my blog, but yesterday I had the privilege of speaking publicly about Fr. Christian’s life and legacy at a paddle out held at the Huntington Beach pier.

As soon as Tim and I heard of Fr. Christian’s passing, we immediately texted Terry, a mutual friend. Though he’s not in the surf industry, he is the epitome of a “surf turkey,” always up-to-date on wave and water conditions and happy to talk shop. We knew there would be a paddle out to honor Christian’s life and we wanted to participate, but we didn’t expect Terry to ask me to speak.  (In Catholic circles, women aren’t often given the microphone at “priestly” functions.) However, Terry knows my love of the ocean and my passion for Franciscan spirituality.

I guess as a Huntington Beach native, former lifeguard, surf shop owner, student of Franciscan theology and friend of Fr. Christian’s, it just made sense.  

 

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It was a pleasure and honor to share my thoughts with a gathered community of like-minded people and I wanted to share them with all of you.  Tim was able to capture it on video, but you can also read the transcript below.

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Terry Thein asked me to say a few words today, not just because I was lucky enough to be raised here in Huntington Beach, where I come from a family of lifeguards – two of us here at city and two at state, but more importantly because I was raised at Sts. Simon and Jude by the Franciscans, including Fr. Christian who was one of those sandal-wearing, brown-robed padres of the Catholic church.

Everyone knew and loved Fr. Christian, but not everyone knows that much about the theology and spirituality that animated his soul and directed his life.

Professionally and personally, Fr. Christian followed the teachings and example of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12thcentury Italian saint. St. Francis lived a 1,000 years ago in medieval Europe, in a time not unlike our own, a time plagued by war and violence and economic and cultural upheaval. But instead of getting swept up in the fear or anxiety, or engage in the violence like so many other young men were doing, St. Francis’ mystical experience of God and Jesus allowed him to take a step back from what everyone was doing and double down on living in Radical Simplicity and Loving Community with all of the created world – human, animal and natural. And I know Fr. Christian tried to live his life that way as well.

Fr. Christian lived simply, unimpressed by titles and success – his own or others – and unattached to objects, except for maybe his banjo and longboard. And he lived In Radical Community – loving his own family, his Franciscan brothers, his church members, his banjo players, his fellow surfers, his swimming friends, his Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant sisters and brothers and he loved this place, Huntington Beach, and everyone he met here.

Fr. Christian also took to heart St. Francis respect for the natural world. In one of the few writings that have survived, St. Francis thanked God for his Brother Sun, and Sister Moon. He honored his Brothers Fire, Wind and Air. He thanked God for Sister Earth,our Mother. Most poignantly for our surfing padre, St. Francis specifically praised our “Sister Water, useful to us, humble, precious and pure.” 

Fr Christian’s love of the ocean wasn’t separate from his Christian faith; it was an integral part of it.

In the Franciscan tradition, the physical presence of the Divine is everywhere in this world. We call it the “First Incarnation.” God first showed up in the world as the world. We live in a sacred universe. We just have to wake up and see it. And Fr Christian saw it! He saw it in the waves and the water, in dolphins leaping, and whales breaching. Those are the easy places, where most of us see it too. But St. Francis and Fr. Christian kept going, until they saw the face of God, not just in every friend, but in the face of their enemies as well, until there were no enemies.

Perhaps most importantly, Fr. Christian lived by the words St. Francis reportedly said to his followers: “Preach always! And if necessary, use words.” Fr. Christian rarely used words, except in church on Sundays, which was part of his job description. But he couldn’t help but preach!

His life was a living sermon. He could not hide the love he felt for this fiercely beautiful world, or disguise what a blessing he thought it was to be in it. He was rarely without a smile on his face. Like the water he so loved, Fr. Christian’s goodness poured out of him and along with it came joy, peace, compassion, mercy, hope, intelligence, gentleness, and finally attentiveness.

Fr. Christian was fully present to the Presence of the Divine in each and every person he met, every note of music he played, and every wave he surfed.

Another Franciscan author and teacher, Richard Rohr, said it this way. He said, “saved” people always feel beloved, chosen, and favored by God.  And by all accounts, Fr. Christian was “saved” in the Christian sense of the word, but the beauty of Fr. Christian was that he “saved” so many of us, not by prayer, but by his presence in our lives. When he looked at us, we too were beloved, chosen, favored and hopefully, empowered to live and to love others as he did, as St. Francis did, as Jesus did.

Surfing was Fr. Christian’s hobby. Loving was his way of life. May we be inspired to go and do likewise.


 

Honoring Fr. Christian’s memory in the water with his fellow surfers. 

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It meant the world to me to share the morning with Finn who currently lives, works and surfs in Huntington Beach. At 19, I moved to San Diego to start my adult life and at 19, he moved back to my hometown to start his own. 

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These four faces made me a mother: the first by birth, the second by fire, the third by boy, and the fourth by grace. Every step I’ve taken in health and growth, spiritually, physically and mentally, has been to make me a better mother to them.

They gave me the question of my life: “How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

The answers have often surprised me and almost always cost me something I didn’t expect,  but it has been worth it every time.

When they were small, I gave up my body, my time, my work, my sense of autonomy, and even some of my dreams. As they grew, I gave up thinking I always knew what was best, right, or even true for them.

Instead I just tried to love them well and set them free to be whoever God made them to be. In return, I’ve received the privilege of their presence, intelligence, humor, curiosity, compassion and company and I also received the gift of that question, the one that animates my life and keeps leading me down new paths and to new discoveries.

“How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

So Happy Mother’s Day to the kids who made a mom of me!

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“A Voice from I Don’t Know Where”

It seems you love this world very much.

“Yes,” I said, “This beautiful world.”

 

And you don’t mind the mind, that keeps you

busy all the time with its dark and bright wanderings?

“No. I’m quite used to it. Busy, busy

all the time.”

 

And you don’t mind living with those questions,

I mean the hard ones, that no one can answer.

“Actually, they’re the most interesting.”

 

And you have a person in your life whose hand

you like to hold?

“Yes, I do.”

 

It must surely, then, be very happy down there

in your heart.

“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

 

Mary Oliver, “Moliver,” from  Felicity

On the first day of National Poetry Month, I knew this would be the poem I offered on the last day. Though there are other favorites from other poets, this was the note I wanted to end on. It is the last poem in Moliver’s collection, Felicity, as well, so I’d like to think I’m using it as the author intended, as a final summation and quiet reflection on her life. It’s a subtle poem, a simple series of questions and responses, but that’s what I like about it.

One of my favorite things about poetry is how gems like this one can slip by unnoticed on a first, second, or even tenth reading. Though I try not to collect books, (Tim may disagree), I tend to keep poetry around me. What I pass by one day, can bring me to tears on another. So if you find a poet, or a collection you like, keep it. Read it over a period of time: months, years, or decades even. It will always be new, because you are always new. One of my habits is to scribble the date on which I “fell in love” with a poem in the margin. I may not always be “in love” with it, but it honors the part of me that was and what I learned from it at the time.

I’ve heard from many of you that poetry is not your favorite, that you “don’t get it,” but that over the past month, these little reflections have helped you engage with it in a new way. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! Poetry can be challenging to read and difficult to understand, but most things worth our time are also challenging and difficult, and ultimately enrich our lives.

Marriage, parenting, family, community-building, spirituality, engineering, physics, politics – they matter and most of the time, we “don’t get it” right the first or second time, but we try again and again. Poetry is something I’ve added to that list of “worth my time,” as a meditative practice and calming influence at the end, or beginning of a busy day.  Here are some tips.

When I read it, I try not to get frustrated; I let it wash over me, once, twice, a third time.

What do I notice? What line do I like? What pushed me away? Is there even one thing I can understand?

And then I let it go. I will be drawn back to it, or not. No problem either way.

My favorite moment is when I realize that a poet, (though not every poet,) writing five years, decades, or even centuries ago, had access to my heart, which is of course the universal heart. Their hopes are my hopes; their fears my own. We are asking the same questions, celebrating the same joys and suffering the same losses. We are not so different after all and if nothing else, I hope this month of poetry showed you that.

 

 

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“Descending Theology: The Garden”

We know he was a man because, once doomed,
he begged for reprieve. See him
grieving on his rock under olive trees,
his companions asleep
on the hard ground around him
wrapped in old hides.
Not one stayed awake as he’d asked.
That went through him like a sword.
He wished with all his being to stay
but gave up
bargaining at the sky. He knew
it was all mercy anyhow,
unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene,
though that gaze was never
not rapt, a mantle around him. This
was our doing, our death.The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
into the betrayer’s ear,
and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
of Judas, who was approaching
with soldiers, glancing up—as Christ was—into
the punctured sky till his neck bones
ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
to press a kiss on his brother.
From Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr, poet, author, and adult convert to Roman Catholicism.
I began National Poetry Month with a poem taking place on Holy Thursday and thought I’d wrap up the month in that place as well. Tomorrow is the last day of the month and the final poem, at least for a while.
Mary Karr has a keen, realistic take on all things, even, or perhaps especially, the scriptures.  This is the third poem in a five-part series on “Descending Theology,” focusing on the “descent” of God into humanity, through the mystery of the Incarnation. Oh, how human Jesus appears in this moment! Isolated, disappointed, scared, resigned, and finally resolute.I think my favorite line is:

“The Father couldn’t/ intervene,/ though that gaze was never/ not rapt, a mantle around him.”

The use of the double negative, “never/not,” brings a laser focus to the wordplay that follows. “Rapt” is used as both an expression of God’s undivided focus on the beloved son and as a homonym for “wrapped,” the mantle of Divine love that held Jesus closely, even in this darkest and most desolate of hours. As a parent whose own children are beginning to leave the nest and face their own dark nights, I am “rapt” and they too are “wrapped.”
Perhaps this focused attention and love, “rapt/wrapped,” makes no practical difference, but it matters deeply to both the gazer and the receiver of the gaze. It is the pathway through which Love flows between them, sustaining each for another day, another task, another way of being in the world. Without the “rapt gaze,” the Resurrection never happens, not for Jesus and not for any of us.
Anyway, I pray that by the time I breathe my last, I too will be able to acknowledge that the goodness of my life, “was all mercy anyhow,/ unearned as breath” and “pray for pardon.”

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Photo by David Whyte

“Prayer for an Invitation”

I pray for you, world
to come and find me,
to see me and recognize me
and beckon me out,
to call me
even when I lose
the ability to call on
you who have searched
so long for me.

I pray to understand
the stranger inside me
who will emerge in the end
to take your gift.

I pray for the world
to find me
in its own wise way.

I pray to be wanted
and needed
by those I have
learned to love
and those
I must learn to love.

I pray to be wanted
and needed
by those I cannot
recognize
in my self-imposed
aloneness.

And
I pray to be wanted
and needed
by those
I wish to be
wanted by.

But I acknowledge
the power
of your beautiful
disguise, and I ask
for the patient heart
of all things
to understand
the abiding
fear I feel
in following
your unknown
ways,
in my
fear of receiving,
in my fear of
taking your hand,
in my fear
of following
your hidden,
difficult
and forever
beckoning
way.

“Prayer for an Invitation” from the newly published collection THE BELL AND THE BLACKBIRD

 

David Whyte, author, teacher and corporate consultant, is one of my favorite poets and philosophers, but not one easily included in this month-long collection. His poems are not the like the nature-based verse of “Moliver,” nor the lovely ruminations of Rumi, the humor of Hafiz, or even the accessible gravity of Rilke. His poetry is full of solitude, and melancholic soul-searching. But when I’m blue and don’t want to be cheered up, or am struggling with an inner question that will not be resolved easily, Whyte is the poet I reach for. Perhaps you can see why?

This is the type of prayer I can relate to, the type of prayer that often fills the pages of my morning journal. When I am moved to pray, it is never with a simple and direct request.  Anne Lamott, whose writing I adore, has said we only need three prayers: Help! Thanks! Wow! In other words, humility, gratitude and awe. But for wordy folk like myself and Whyte, those three words fall far short of expressing the complexity of our longing for the Divine, or the divine fullness of our own humanity.

I love how Whyte takes the time to articulate six different longings in the first six stanzas, direct prayers that require distinct acknowledgement. To pray, “I want to love and be loved,” is one thing, but to understand how your own shadow will avoid the recognition of that love is a greater gift that can lead to greater good.

After those first prayers, the poem turns, with the word “But.” Did you recognize it on first reading? Here, the narrator shifts to humble self-reflection, in essence saying, “I know I just asked for all those things – to be wanted, needed, loved – but now I’ll admit that my fear will be the very thing that will keep me from accepting the invitations you might send to answer my prayers.”

Why are we so afraid? Why do we so often refuse God’s invitations, even though they contain the very answers to our prayers?

For myself, I can only offer the words of another of my favorite teachers, Paula D’Arcy: “God shows up disguised as our lives,” a concept Whyte must be familiar with, proffering his own poetic version: “I acknowledge/ the power/ of your beautiful/ disguise.” We are afraid of strangers and strangeness, of walking blindly and opening our hands to receive, when we do not know what will be placed in our open hands.  But if we trust the Giver, God disguised as our lives, can we not trust the gift as well?

Obviously, I don’t have the answer that question, but poetry like Whyte’s asks me to reflect on it faithfully.

 

 

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“Shoveling Snow with Buddha”

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

 

Former Poet-Laureate, Billy Collins, is sometimes called a “people’s poet,” because he can write poetically about every day items like weighing your dog on the bathroom scale, a great osso bucco dinner, and a surreptitious review of the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog, which landed in the mailbox with his wife’s name on it. (No, I’m not kidding, and even that poem made me smile with its sardonic wit and self-awareness.)

I was hoping to find a Buddhist poem to share with all of you, and that may still happen, but I ran across this poem by Collins and couldn’t resist it. To me, it is the perfect integration of lofty spiritual ideas and the drudgery of every day life. If one must shovel snow, what could be more sublime, or transcendent than shoveling snow with Buddha?  Clearly it transported Collins for several hours one morning while he completed what I can only assume is a truly onerous task.

The acronym, “WWJD?” (What Would Jesus Do?) has graced bracelets and posters for a decade or more, but I never understood the appeal of that eponymous Christian question. When faced with a difficult dilemma, it makes far more sense to me to just ask him directly: “Jesus, what would you do?” Go directly to the source, so to speak.

I think Collins would share my impulse. If one has an unpleasant task, why not do it in the company of your hero? Why not draw near the master to watch and learn from a place of proximity and intimacy, instead of through the lens of distance, history and third-party interpretations?

Shoveling snow with Buddha taught Collins about patience, equanimity, silence, the satisfaction of a job well done and the simple pleasures of community, cards and chocolate. Obviously, that’s not all the Buddha has to teach him, but it’s certainly a place to start.

Who would you shovel snow with? Who would you like to spend a few hours with, engaged in a difficult, physical task? What might they teach you and how would you reward yourself afterwards?  It is the start of a weekend, so perhaps you’ll get the chance. 

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“On the Death of the Beloved”

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

John O’Donohue, poet, philosopher and former Catholic priest.

This was not the poem I had in mind for today; something brighter was drafted, but will have to wait for tomorrow. Today is a day for remembering and grieving a man who meant so much to so many: Fr. Christian Mondor. He passed away last night, just days before his 93rd birthday. From all accounts, he was present and at peace in mind, body and spirit until the end, which doesn’t surprise me. He died as he lived: present and at peace.

Fr. Christian was a Franciscan priest who had lived and worked at my childhood parish, Sts. Simon and Jude. For decades, he attended La Casa de Maria Family Retreat, which has been such a pivotal part of our family’s life and faith. He was an avid surfer, traveler and banjo player, but most of all, he was a pastor. Though never holding the official position, Fr. Christian was a “pastor” in the truest sense of the word, watching over and caring for his “flock,” which was simply every one he met.

I was no exception. I liked Fr. Christian growing up, though I didn’t know him well, but as I got older and began reading the mystics, and theology, Fr. Christian came along side me at some critical moments, always with an encouraging word. We saw things in much the same way, and discussed some of our favorites, like Teilhard de Chardin and his beloved St. Francis.

One of my favorite moments came after I had spoken on to an audience about the difficulty I had relating to Jesus. I had not been well-educated on how interpret Jesus’ interactions with women and I found them distant and off-putting at times. After my talk, Fr. Christian sat down across the table from me and said, “You know, Jesus was a feminist. In fact, I believe he was a feminine spirit in a masculine body, the exact image and likeness of God, who must encompass both genders if we all come from that Source.” I could have wept at his kindness, at his articulation of this healing truth, which has stayed with me to this day, and always calls me back when I find myself distancing myself from the Son of Man.

Strangely (but perfectly) enough, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote a meditation today on what he called “Franciscan Feminism.”  As I read these lines, I thought of Fr. Christian and how I ought to send him a note today expressing my gratitude for how he has embodied this Franciscan spirituality. I didn’t know I wouldn’t get that chance, but just an hour later, I heard the news.

Happy and healthy Franciscans seem to present a combination of lightness of heart and firmness of foot at the same time. By this I mean that they do not take themselves so seriously, as upward-bound men often do; they often serve with quiet conviction and personal freedom as many mature women do… I believe the lightness of heart comes from contact with deep feminine intuition and with consciousness itself; the firmness of foot emerges when that feminine principle integrates with the mature masculine soul and moves forward with confidence into the outer world.

O’Donohue’s poem is the perfect goodbye blessing to this gentle man, who was a blessing to all who knew him. Though his days here were not brief, his legacy will last even longer. I’ve listened to the banjo play today; our family is heading out to beach in few moments to catch some waves in his honor; I’ll rest in the love of the Divine tonight, confident that if Fr. Christian called me friend and wanted my company, then the historical Jesus would as well.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

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“Missing the Boat”

It is not so much that the boat passed
and you failed to notice it.
It is more like the boat stopping
directly outside your bedroom window,
the captain blowing the signal-horn,
the band playing a rousing march.

The boat shouted, waving bright flags,
its silver hull blinding in the sunlight.

But you had this idea you were going by train.

You kept checking the time-table,
digging for tracks.

And the boat got tired of you,
so tired it pulled up the anchor
and raised the ramp.

The boat bobbed into the distance,
shrinking like a toy—
at which point you probably realized
you had always loved the sea.

 

Naomi Shihab Nye is a modern American poet, born of a Palestinian father and American mother (of Northern European stock) and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her most famous poem is “Kindness,” which I encourage you to check out, but it is longer and, frankly a little more work. I thought I’d keep it simple here. This is from her first collection, Different Ways to Pray, published in 1980 when she was 28.

This poem is simple, accessible and true, but deceptively so. On the surface, Nye takes the common metaphor, “missing the boat” at face value, but then she pushes our understanding of it. How often have we “missed the boat” with little consequence? Dozens of times. We get distracted, or ambivalent, stall out and “miss the boat.” Concert tickets, a school dance, dinner with friends. No big deal.

But what about slightly bigger stakes? A house just outside our financial comfort zone that doubled in value? A big job opportunity that would have launched our career, if only we’d been brave enough to apply for it? A semester abroad that might have cured our fear of travel and foreign places? Those boats are “missed” a bit more, because we can point to them as turning points in our lives. Like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (a classic of American high school education), those boats are harder to forget (and to forgive ourselves for).

But the boat that Nye is talking about here is something else entirely.  Nye’s boat is our life, docked before us and calling us to embark. In Christian circles, this boat is your “vocation;” in Japan, your ikigai, in French, your raison d’ etre. Call it your soul’s work, your true self, your dharma. Call it what you will, but call it something and call it to you, but when it comes calling, don’t be afraid to get on board!

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of her final lines, but also feel a twinge of sadness. We all know people (or might be people) who feel like they “missed the boat,” who go to hated jobs on a daily basis, who were blind to the fact that a boat even existed, because everything in their life conspired to keep them on the train, instead of adventuring at sea. I, for one, am encouraging the kids in my life, to look by air, land, and sea to find the means of transportation that’s going to take them where they want to go.