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
by those I have
learned to love
I must learn to love.
I pray to be wanted
by those I cannot
in my self-imposed
I pray to be wanted
I wish to be
But I acknowledge
of your beautiful
disguise, and I ask
for the patient heart
of all things
fear I feel
fear of receiving,
in my fear of
taking your hand,
in my fear
“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.
I found this photo on Facebook this morning and it inspired a little year-end review. I decided it summed up what I discovered about myself in 2015.
In 2015, a few external things changed. Keara graduated from high school and went off to college. Finn got his driver’s license and stepped into the serious college hustle of AP classes, varsity sports and a job. Molly, our baby, became a teenager and is winding up jr. high, ready to launch into the next phase of her life. I am in the stretch run of having a house full of kids, and all the care that involves. Nowhere is this transition captured more poignantly than in the Team Kirks 2015 Christmas card. You can click on the link to watch it here. In the words of REM, it’s “The End of the World as We Know It.” Despite all the changes, we feel fine.
But what I have noticed even more than the external changes in my life are the internal ones, which the quote above captured so beautifully. In 2015, through the Living School and the people I have met there, through raising teenagers and meeting their friends, through reading, writing, teaching and everyday life, I have fallen in Love over and over again. Obviously, I am not talking about romantic love here, the heart-pounding flush of infatuation and the inevitable crush that follows. I am talking about Love – the Love that says Yes to all that is. The Love that can only be discovered when people reveal something vulnerable and true about themselves.
Dostoyevsky describes this Love beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. It’s been twenty-plus years since I last read the book, but it has been mentioned three times in the last week by people I respect, and so it goes on the top of my reading list for 2016. Here’s is Fyodor’s commandment to Love:
Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
This Love is a gift, though most of us treat it as a burden. We’d rather have a facsimile, projection, or image of Love than the real thing. I know for most of my life, this has been true, with few exceptions. But in 2015, I began to see my own preferences for what they were: fear and self-preservation and this is not the kind of Love Dostoyevsky, the mystics, prophets and even Jesus talk about.
This year I fell in Love with all sorts of people who showed me a piece of their soul. I fell in Love with authors: Glennon Melton, Liz Gilbert, Parker Palmer, and Omid Safi. I fell in Love with poets: Rumi, Hafiz, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. I fell in Love with mystics, musicians and artists. I fell in Love with my own friends and family. I even began to fall in Love with strangers, the refugees and homeless and victims of all the “isms” of the world, though I am not yet sure how to show that Love appropriately. I have a feeling that will be the journey of 2016 and beyond. I have a feeling that is the journey of a lifetime. How do I serve those I Love? How do I meet them where they are?
We know that real Love changes us. Once experienced, we cannot forget the joy Love brings; we cannot un-know the secrets it reveals; we cannot re-harden our hearts. We are different on the other side of Love’s door.
My resolution for 2016 is to keep stepping over the threshold.
P.S. If anyone wants to read The Brothers Karamazov with me, comment below. I’d love to get a little virtual discussion group going!
Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that every person has three marriages in them. We marry the first time for sex, the second for security, the third for companionship. While I have great respect for the thrice-married Dr. Mead, I was grateful she added, “even if they are all to the same person.”
Three years ago, I told the story of how I met my “first” husband, in the post,“So This Guy Walks into a Bar…” I highly recommend starting there to understand my marital history, but on our wedding anniversary, I’d like to introduce you to my “second” husband. He is usually referred to in my blog as “Tim,” or “Babe,” his given and pet names respectively, but he is almost always reduced to playing the straight man in my stories. He is frequently the Ricky to my Lucy, instead of the real, flesh and blood man he is and I thought this might be a chance to improve upon that limited role, so let me tell you a story about how I met my “second” husband.
By the time Molly Grace was born, Tim and I had been married for almost ten years. The purpose of our “first marriage” had been met, as was obvious by the number of dependents we traveled with. And so as she toddled off to preschool, I was ready for a new experience and attended a religious and spirituality conference in Los Angeles. I’m sure Tim never gave a thought to the trouble I would find there, attending daily mass and singing worship music with my Catholic mother. But I found it. Speakers like Ron Rolheiser, Paula D’Arcy and Richard Rohrspoke to parts of me I thought I had lost forever in the oxytocin-fueled haze of breastfeeding and the drudge of diaper changes. They reawakened my curious mind and restless heart.
But by the third day, I was so full of new ideas that I almost skipped out early, eager to get home to Tim and the kids, but I had one more ticket to see an Irish poet named David Whyte. I had never heard of him before, but something urged me to stay and to this day, I am grateful I did. Whyte offered a piece of wisdom that would become the pattern for my life moving forward. He said,
“You must learn one thing ,
The world was made to be free in.
Anything or anyone
that does not
bring you alive
is too small for you.”
(Please don’t read the poem dualistically. Not every moment of every day, or situation can bring us to life and it doesn’t mean we leave. It just means we can start asking questions and getting curious about the situation.)
Whyte postulated that we were not created to stay the same over the course of our lifetimes. We do not hit thirty, or forty, or fifty and stop growing. We are a product of evolution, and as such, it is our God-given gift and responsibility to evolve ourselves, to stay on the creative edge of life, always adapting to survive and thrive in the new situations and habitats we find ourselves in.
I loved Whyte’s deep, Irish brogue, but as I listened, anxiety churned in my belly for he was naming the very sense of discomfort that had been creeping into my life during that time. Though I had told my “first” husband that I all I ever wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom, I realized that wasn’t true anymore. Although I loved my life, some part of me was buried underground and I wanted to go digging. I wasn’t looking for Tim’s permission exactly, but I certainly wanted his support.
After tucking the kids into bed that Sunday night, Tim and I crawled into a hot bubble bath, our favorite place for long conversations on winter nights, and I began to unpack my ideas. He was a great listener. He didn’t get defensive, even though it couldn’t have been easy to hear that after providing everything I’d ever wanted, I now found it “small,” and limiting in some crucial way. I looked at the discomfort in his eyes, and plowed ahead. (Since then, I’ve learned the art of greater conversational subtlety and patience and how to apologize when I push too hard.)
David Whyte had echoed Mead’s insights on marriage – that marriage is about freedom, not limitation. Being married doesn’t mean you can’t change; in fact, it means you both have a safe place to do so. You’ve made a commitment to be just that. When you say, “I do” at the altar, you don’t marry just one person. You are vowing to love and honor every version the person standing in front of you will become over the course of your lifetime together. I told Tim that my intentions were good, that I didn’t want to become someone he wouldn’t know. I just wanted to look in a mirror and see beyond the roles I played, to the ME I might become if I explored the depths of my heart and the possibilities of my life. And then I asked him, “Do you trust me?”
He looked at me in my excitement and pain and longing and he said, “Yes,” knowing it was going to cost him something, and praying it wouldn’t cost him everything.
And in that moment, I met my “second” husband.
My “first” husband rescued me, made me feel like a beautiful princess, and set about delivering my happily ever after. My “second” husband stepped back and let me rescue myself, knowing that true happiness could only come from within.
Brené Brown has developed a kind of litmus test for the maturity of partners in a marriage, or any deep relationship. She writes, “If you show me a man who can sit with a woman in deep struggle and vulnerability and not try to fix it, but just hear her and be with her and hold space for it, I’ll show you a guy who’s done his work and doesn’t derive his power from controlling and fixing everything and if you show me a woman who can sit with a man in real vulnerability, in deep fear, and be with him in it, I will show you a woman who has done her work and does not derive her power from that man.”
Like any young couple, Tim and I spent years trying to shore up our power by attempting to fix each other, the faults and annoying habits obviously, but also the friendships and foes that caused our loved ones pain. When you’re young, you think everything can be improved with just a little more effort and care, but when you’re older, you know life is more about keeping vigil than keeping it all in line. Tim showed me how that night and in the years that followed by walking and talking with me, listening to my prayers and holding me in my pain as I discovered who I wanted to be. A few years later, he let me return the favor when the economy tanked and his business was on the line. I couldn’t fix a damn thing when it came to the Great Recession, but I could do what he had done for me.
Over the years, we have become successively new versions of ourselves, transformed by our personal and professional successes and failures, as well as those of our children, families, communities and the world at large. If one of us is feeling “small,” we both try to show up to do the work it takes to set them free. To be clear, it is hard work and we often fail. Like any couple, we fight and bicker; we fall in and out of love (but never out of Love); our tempers get the best of us, though we are quick to apologize. That is the humility of marriage; the mirror is always there in front of you, reflecting your best and worst qualities, if you dare to look.
On our 15th anniversary, a few years after we embarked on our “second” marriage, Tim and I renewed our vows. We invited couples who had supported us over the years and also modeled the kind of marriage we were trying to practice ourselves: a loving, respectful partnerships of equals. Tim and I recommitted to supporting each other in what Carl Jung called “the privilege of a lifetime: to become who you truly are.”
I am so grateful for having experienced a “first” marriage that was so full of romance and intimacy. I am still blessed with a “second” marriage that transformed my still-lovely lover into a safe house for growth and experimentation and finally, we look forward to our “third” marriage, whenever it arrives, but we’re in no hurry. It feels like we’re living the three marriages of a lifetime already. We have a lover, a safety net and a best friend at our sides every day.
So when I make cracks about Tim tuning out my stories, or mocking my attempts to try something new, know all this about him too. Though I may write about him as my sidekick, he is so much more than that. I am only me, because I have been loved by him.