Days for Grieving

Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.

I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.

I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.

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In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.

I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.

…..

September 22, 2017

The  reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.

……

How can we make nonviolence a way of life?

[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.

This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change? 

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.

Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”

[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.

….

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.

As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”

One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them. 

What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?

 I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;

  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;

  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

…..

This last line is the key, isn’t it God?

In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence  –

from the hands of our fellow humans,

by the forces of nature,

in the war of words we constantly engage in,

and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,

do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?

Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.

This week? Not so much.

My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.

…….

If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!

 

Living Peace in a Wild World

Our family returned last week from La Casa de Maria Family Retreat. The theme this year was “Living Peace in a Wild World.” It was a beautiful week: relaxing and exhausting at the same time. I usually come back from Family Retreat full of ideas I want to share, but this time, I struggled. With at least a half-dozen drafts sitting on my desktop, none of them were quite right. Also, it’s summertime, which makes it extra hard for me to buckle down. I have to take care of all my usual responsibilities, but afterwards… my kids are around, the sun is shining, the water is calling. You get the picture. And now it’s Sunday morning, Monday night, Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning.  I hope you don’t mind if I just get the conversation started, even if it’s not as polished as I’d like it to be.

The retreat team had our first meeting to discuss the 2017 theme just days after the election of President Trump. Emotions were high and if we wanted to work together, politics had to be off the table. The retreat wasn’t for another eight months, but we agreed they should remain that way. But at the same time, we wanted to address what is so clearly needed in our world right now – PEACE. How could we and the families on retreat more truly become the peacemakers our faith calls us to be? How could we learn to be part of the solution, instead of the problem?

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Matthew 5:9

Each day at La Casa, we tried to address that question.

On Monday, we talked about how to make peace with others in the wider world by recognizing that what we have in common is far greater and far more important than what makes us different. We can’t hold hatred, prejudice, and self-righteousness in our hearts and be peacemakers. It just doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to hold space and grace for difference – of color, orientation, nationality, religion, politics. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but that respectful dialogue is essential. In fact, when we drop our impulse to attack, or condemn, we can actually learn to appreciate and celebrate “the other,” (which obviously makes for a more peaceful world). The day ended with this great reminder from Heineken.

On Tuesday, we explored how we can make peace within our families by recognizing that we have each been made in the image and likeness of God. We used a quiz to discover our “True Colors:” Good as Gold (reliability and rule-following), Genius Green (justice and investigation), Beloved Blue (relationship and heart) and Optimistic Orange (spontaneity and freedom). Although it was fun to find out more about ourselves and family members, the point wasn’t about identifying our “color.” Peacemaking comes by recognizing that our differences aren’t weaknesses, but rather strengths we can appreciate. Respecting each other’s unique gifts and ways of operating in the world is actually a way of honoring God’s divine plan for difference and diversity, embedded in the very fabric of creation.

On Wednesday, team members gave beautiful testimonies reminding us of this big truth.

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Life is never simple and the more we insist that it make sense according to our own limited perspective and understanding, the less peace we will have. Only the wisdom of the Holy Spirit allows us to make peace with the paradoxical nature of life. The major themes of the gospels were alive that morning in the stories that were shared as we heard how the more gifts we’ve been given, the more likely we are to squander them, that losing everything can make us more willing to give it all away, that tragedy can bring reconciliation and that sometimes, death can even bring healing.

Remember the line from the hymn so many of us sang when we were small from the prayer of St. Francis?

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We might still sing it in church to this day, but have we ever considered that we can’t give what we don’t have? Peace can’t begin with me, if I don’t have it in the first place! So on Thursday, I invited the retreat community to consider what it means to find inner peace, beginning with our own bodies.

Too often, we think of science as something separate from our faith. Our churches haven’t done us any favors on that front either, but if we believe that God is our Creator and that we are beautifully and wonderfully made, then we can see how we are biologically hard-wired to make peace.

In conflict, our heart rate elevates; our muscles twitch and tense, and our breath gets really shallow. That’s how our bodies respond to stress – courtesy of the Divine wisdom of our biology. Yeah for the flight-or-fight instinct! Because of you, we survived as a species! But in a world that moves so fast and is so full of tragedy and trauma and conflict, our bodies are on the verge of high alert all the time. Conflict and stress are the air we breathe.

But we have also been given a gift in our ability to calm our central nervous system, particularly by controlling our breath. When we slow down our breath, when we make it deeper and longer, we also change the state of our bodies. We are creating peace within, which gives us a lot more freedom to decide how to react to things. That’s Divine wisdom we don’t hear nearly enough about.

I began with a guided breathing meditation from Plum Village for the little ones and then I asked everyone else in the room to chant with me. I knew it was a risk, like nothing we had ever done before, but chanting is an ancient part of our faith tradition. For thousands of years, people in in religious communities have chanted the Psalms, multiple times a day. And if you are a part of the evangelical tradition, you might think of chanting as the proto-type of the modern-day worship experience – where a worship pastor repeats the same low, steady chorus over and over again, so the whole congregation can find the same rhythm of breath and sound and experience the same emotions. Chanting allows us to regulate our breath, slow down our heart rate, and create a peaceful place within ourselves.

We used the most famous lines from Dame Julian of Norwich, the medieval English mystic.

All shall be well.

All shall be well.

All manner of things shall be well.

The response blew me away. I had hoped to get a few people chanting with me, but the whole room participated fully for several minutes. And I’ve heard from quite a few people that they’ve kept it up since they’ve been home! And to get the benefits, it doesn’t have to be chanting; any type of intentional breathing during prayer, singing, yoga, sitting, or meditation will help us increase our experience of inner peace.

One of my favorite quotes about peace comes from Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, an artist, activist and writer who was killed during the Holocaust.

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Creating peace within ourselves an essential part of becoming a peacemaker, but it’s too often neglected. I think that was one of my main takeaways from family retreat this year.

We can get so focused on making peace that we forget to be peace.

A peaceful presence will do more to change the world than any activism we might take on.

I want to close with this reflection on peace offered by a young woman at a church service I attended. She began with John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And then she read her poem:

Peace is…

Gentle breezes

The sound of slow, quiet breathing

The waves of the ocean

Peace is…

Standing steadily on a balance beam

Peace is…

The sound of the turn of a page

The softness of old paper

The quiet of a library

Peace is…

Silk, rubbing soft against your skin

Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer says, “The things that have saved us are still here to save us.”

Peace is…

Snuggling someone you love

A crackling fire

Cozy socks

A warm mug in your hands

A kiss on the forehead

Peace is…

Someone who holds you while you cry

Peace is…

A garden

Fresh air

Sunrays coming through clouds

Making a daisy chain

A butterfly, coming close enough to touch

Lying under a tree and looking up through the leaves

Braiding long hair

Peace is…

The feel of a hug

Peace is a balance between light and dark, happy and sad, warm and cold, fire and water. It’s at the center of a wheel of opposites.

I was blown away that this almost-child was so attuned to what slows her down, unites her heart with God’s heart, makes her feel safe and content, in harmony with herself and the world around her. She cherishes all that brings her peace and honors it in the telling.

When was the last time you felt at peace in your own body, in your own home, or in the world?

That’s my invitation to you this week. Take some deep breaths. Come home to your own body. Let your mind wander.

What and where and who brings you peace, so you can be a peacemaker, first and foremost at peace yourself?

If you are as brave as the young poet, share three places of peace you experience on a regular basis here, or on my Facebook link!

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Responding in Love

Peace for Paris and beyond
Peace for Paris and Beirut and beyond

I don’t often write in response to tragic events happening on the world stage. I am all too aware how small I am in comparison, how limited my knowledge, how distant from the actual suffering of the victims and their families. But I also frequently get asked,

“What do you think?”

“How are you seeing this?”

“Give me something but anger to hold on to.”

So for what it’s worth, this is how I am holding these most recent tragic events in my heart.

I don’t know exactly what the just, or appropriate response is to those attacks, or to the people and organizations that perpetrated them. I don’t know what you or I, as individuals sitting across the globe, can actually do to stop the violence of ISIS, Al-Shabaab, or other Islamic militants. I only know what I can do to stop the violence here, in my own body, my own home and among the people I come into contact with. And I actually think that is a really important place to start, which too often gets ignored in our desire for immediate answers and concrete action.

I begin by reminding myself that none of these angry, violent, suicidal and psychopathic men started out that way. At one time, they were just little boys like our own, who loved to crawl into their mama’s laps and be cuddled. They passed out, milk-drunk, at their mother’s breast, while she dreamed of all that he might be someday. At one point, I imagine, those boys had dreams of their own, to be helpers, teachers, leaders, fathers even, but that all changed.

And it probably changed at home first with the messages they learned from their very own fathers and mothers. Eventually those messages were built upon by their religious leaders, their surroundings, culture and the world around them. They learned that a loving response was a foolish one, that whoever had the biggest guns had the most power, that economic freedom was never going to be theirs. They learned that violence was the best answer to every problem and that their God approved and applauded it. This is not what they were born knowing; this is what they were taught and so it is my obligation to teach my own son and daughters something different, but I have to live it myself first.

After hearing about the attacks in Paris and Beirut, I immediately thought of the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was killed during the Holocaust. She wrote: “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war every time we fail to love.”

Oh my God, I thought, I’m part of the problem, but Etty’s words also remind me that I can be part of the solution. I can start by making conscious choices to Love more, to stop making war inside my own heart, judging, criticizing and condemning myself and others for simply being human and imperfect. Whatever peace I create from that Love, I must bring to my own family and friends, primarily through kindness and compassion. And if I can Love just a little more, I can hold even more space for difference, and diversity among the people I know and come into contact with.

But let me be clear, when I find myself in conflict with others, I do not have to agree; I do not have to approve; I don’t even have to allow, or excuse behavior that I object to, but what I cannot do is hate. I believe Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I have seen that play out in my own life. I cannot offer the same, or equal response to violent, or aggressive stimuli and expect a good outcome. Even if I “win,” we both lose in the long run and believe me, I’ve lost plenty of times!

Finally, as someone who has considered the teachings of Jesus her whole life, there is one thing he said we CANNOT do. We cannot hate the other. Jesus said, “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus also said, “Love your enemies” and he made it clear that your enemy was often your neighbor,  just in case you wanted to skip that one.

I don’t have it in me to Love God, my neighbor, my enemy, or even myself in the way I must in order to create perfect peace, but that doesn’t mean I can give up trying. I must persevere, at least in my own heart. One woman, when asked about the futility of her quest for justice and equality for women within her community, said, “I don’t have to complete the work, but that does not mean I am free to abandon it.”

Amen, sister. Thanks for the reminder.

 

 

 

 

An Unrecognized Act of Violence

A great act of non-violence
A great act of non-violence

I woke early for a Saturday morning (6 a.m.) and though I longed to stay in bed, I got up and went right to work on the things I had left undone last night. I folded laundry, started a new load, did some dishes and organized a soccer uniform before I poured my first cup of coffee and sat down to read and meditate. I opened my daily tome, The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, came across this passage and almost choked on my coffee.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.” Thomas Merton

Nepe continues:

Merton wisely challenges us not just to slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations. We are at best filled with the divine, but we have only two hands and one heart. In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.

I have done this many times: not wanting to say no, not wanting to miss an opportunity, not wanting to be seen as anything less than totally compassionate (and I would add capable and competent). But whenever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there. It is like offering to bring too many cups of coffee through a crowd. I always spill something hot on some innocent along the way.

It seems an old adage is a good place to start: Do one thing and do it well. Though I would offer it as: Do one thing at a time and do it entirely, and it will lead you to the next moment of love.

While I am not the peace activist Merton was referring to, I read this and thought of my actions and the many things I have scheduled for today, the way I already have my next eight hours plotted out in half hour increments, knowing where I must be and what I must be doing and who and what I am responsible for. I thought of tomorrow and the eight more things that are on my list of things to do. I thought of how any disruption of my plans could lead to violent thoughts: annoyance, disappointment, frustration. Though they may not lead to violent acts, those emotions certainly don’t promote peace in my heart, my life, or anywhere on the planet I can think of.

I had coffee with my friend T yesterday. She is one of the busiest women I know, on-the-go from 5 a.m. until I don’t know what time and up and at it again the next day. I asked her what her secret was, how she can seem to go non-stop without growing weary and she echoed Nepo’s words. She said, “I stay in the present moment. I don’t think about the past. I can’t worry about the future. If I just stay right where I am, I have enough. I am enough.”

One of my favorite things about her is that when I am with her, I never feel like I am  getting splashed with hot coffee. I love to spend time with people like that, people who know how to say, “Yes,” to just one thing at a time. I am pretty decent at it myself, except with my kids and Tim and you know, the people who actually matter the most. They see me too rarely face-to-face and eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand and heart-to- heart. They see me in profile, driving the car, doing the dishes, typing into the computer, reading a book, taking care of business. I am there, but my ego is in charge and my heart is dormant.

As I race to get these thoughts written down in the midst of making breakfast, finding shin guards and packing for a 24-hour trip out of town, I consider the thought that all this multi-tasking might just be the most common and unrecognized act of violence of all.