Sounds Like –
Twenty years ago this week an F3 tornado tore through downtown Nashville, Tennessee (http://www.wkrn.com/news/f-3-tornado-hit-nashville-20-years-ago_20180416214213/1126239206) We weren’t living in Tennessee at that time but we happened to be in Nashville chaperoning hundreds of teenagers at an annual talent and skills competition on the campus of Trevecca Nazarene University. When the announcement came down that all were supposed to seek shelter several of us ran to the different ball fields, tennis courts and other places where events were being held. Making sure to get everyone we saw to safety without a lot of chit-chat was important, however, one young teenage girl stopped and with fear in her eyes and voice asked me if we were in the path of the tornado? Guiding her inside as I answered; “I don’t know.” “How will we know?” she inquired. Not being a meteorologist I repeated what I once had been told; “A tornado sounds like a train!” Unbeknownst to my inquisitor, there was a set of railroad tracks behind the campus of Trevecca. At the exact time, I told her a tornado sounded like a train a train going past the school sounded its horn. “I hear the tornado! I hear the tornado!” I peered into her fear brimmed eyes, smiled and said; “Sweetie, tornadoes may sound like trains but they don’t come equipped with horns.” I got her with the rest of the students in a basement, shut the door and stood outside watching, listening for the tornado and laughing, thankful that even in this storm of chaos a light of joy can shine through.
On Saturday afternoon I burned a pile of branches, old newspapers, and other miscellaneous items. The smell of the ashes and leftover debris lingered in the air the next day. I had forgotten to grab an old wooden rocking chair out of the reading room which also needed to be disposed of. When I noticed it Sunday afternoon I wondered if the smoldering ash would still be hot enough to do anything. I took the chair out, broke it into several pieces and put some under the coals, which were still a faint orange, and put the rest in a pile on top. I checked it after a while and noticed the smoke had increased. About an hour later the wood was ablaze with a good flame. It didn’t take long to consume it once the fire restarted. Not too long afterward the chair was gone.
I wrote last week about the struggles I have when February rolls around. Many years have passed but the layers of hurt, anger, and uncertainty still lay buried, ready to ignite when fuel is added. What I try to do, instead of dwelling on the past, is not feed the flames. When I am aware and notice my mind drifting back to the place of pain I find a place to breathe. I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I remind myself of the truth that I cannot change the past but I can be present in the now. Does it always work? No. Does it work? Yes. Maybe one day I will be healed, maybe not, but I don’t want to give up on living today because of the difficulties of yesterday.
Behind the Eyes –
I saw a picture of me from several years ago today. As most people, I don’t care for my photo to be taken but when it is I “grin and bear it.” Looking at the picture today the smile was there but it wasn’t genuine. There was also something missing in the eyes. There was no light behind them. They were hollow and sad. I was surrounded by friends in the photo, good friends. It should’ve been a time of stories, thankfulness, and memories but I can tell in my eyes it wasn’t any of those for me, only a blank stare and pasted smile. This was about a year before I was diagnosed with a Chronic Major Depressive Disorder.
The journey over these last years has been a hard one and there is still far to go but looking back I can see where I’ve come from and this does bring me relief. I’m not stuck in the same place even though sometimes it feels that way.
I’ve been watching a documentary titled; “The Kingdom of Us.” (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/08/the-kingdom-of-us-review-netflix-teenagers-lucy-cohen) It is the story of a family recovering from their father’s suicide. They listen to recordings of his voice, often in song, and watch videos of him and the family. They ask each other repeatedly, “Look at him! He’s so sad. Why didn’t we see it?” I know the answer; “because he didn’t want it to be seen.” We’ve all been there and done that; plastered on a smile when our hearts are breaking inside. We’ve pushed on even though everything feels broken inside.
Too often we take people’s word when we ask; “How are you?” and they reply; “Fine’ or ‘Good.” The key to discovering the truth is asking more than once and keep at it until they feel you might actually want to know.
Full of Junk –
Today is President’s Day. I wish I would’ve remembered that before this afternoon. The last few weeks have been rough weather wise. Cold, rainy, windy and our trash has piled up in the bin outside. Finally, today, it was dry enough to put the all the trash in the back of the truck and take it to the Refuse and Recycle Center. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do it before meeting with some fathers today so it sat in the back of the truck until afternoon. My truck looked like Sanford and Son. After finishing up my appointments I headed to the dump. I was almost there and thankful to get rid of the trash. Then, to my disbelieving eyes, the gates were closed and it dawned on me; “President’s Day.” It was a holiday and county employees weren’t working today. My truck would stay loaded down until tomorrow. “Grrrr!” and “Sigh.”
“Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” Easy sentence to write a hard sentence to live. We are surrounded by many negative things which can be like anchors to our spirits. Violence, injustice, racism, sexism, bigotry, and all sorts of evil that threaten to permeate our souls. We must be careful, watchful, mindful to not allow this corruption of creation to become a part of us, absorb us, soak up our existence and make us apart of what we should be fighting against.
Grounded, Simple, Generous, Controlled, Joyful, Present –
The contemplative life isn’t hard to understand. Most of the teachings can be learned in a day but they offer a lifetime of wisdom.
A few moments ago I was sitting on the porch basking in the sun. It was wonderful. I had brought my phone with me but not sure why. I laid it down beside me and closed my eyes. It’s warm for the month of January. Yesterday it was cloudy and cool but in that present moment of sitting on the porch, the skies were a brilliant blue. Our Siberian Husky was sprawled out on the driveway, not a care in the world. As I embraced the beauty and warmth my attention kept going to the phone. I knew there wasn’t anything on it I needed to read or respond to but the fact it was there distracted me.
This is why simplicity is important in the contemplative life. Everything we own, invest our ourselves in, give our passion, energy and time takes a piece of us. The more we have in our lives the less contemplative we are able to be. Letting go of all that is superfluous allows us to focus on what’s important while the fluff floats away.
I was talking with a staff member today about how expensive the dentist can be when you need them. Loans and payment plans are often required when you have a major procedure.
My co-worker then shared with me a free service offered by dentists, doctors and optometrists to those who can’t afford services, lack insurance or both. These professionals come to a city, set up their equipment and for several days help as many folks as possible. It is not unheard of for people to get in line for these free resources hours or days before the service times begin.
Most of us aren’t doctors, dentists and optometrists but we each have gifts to offer, talents to enact, service to give. The key is focusing on who you are, what you can do. There are hurting ones all around us and if we see ourselves as having gifts to give then perhaps our eyes will be opened to those who are in need.
This morning my Daily Office Reading had two sections dealing with focus. One was from the Old Testament, one from the New;
“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” 4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” 11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.” Book of Second Kings, Chapter 2
“Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 1
As I reflected upon these texts I thought about what we keep our eyes trained on also determines what slips by us as we watch other things. Knowing where not to look is just as important as knowing on what and where to keep our focus. Elisha was waiting, anticipating, looking for something predicted and present to happen. The disciples were staring at what once was and had now passed. To keep ourselves facing forward, living in trust that our purpose and passion are before us, never behind, we make sure what we’re looking for is worth seeing.
Our little ol’ farm house needs a fan in the bathroom. Actually the entire bathroom needs remodeling but we can only do so many projects at a time and spend so much money.
When one of us gets a shower the compact room fills with steam and the mirrors become so fogged it’s impossible to see your reflection, much less shave, comb hair, or do other “getting ready” activities.
During the summer we got into the habit of putting a fan in the hall outside of the room and blowing cool air in. It worked well but with fall approaching the nights are getting cooler and so is the house. As a result, even with the fan, the mirrors fog more quickly and are more difficult to keep clear.
After getting dressed this morning I sat on the couch waiting for the Mrs. to finish. I began thinking about foggy mirrors and how life often reflects back to us what we think, believe, our preferences and prejudices. We see what we want, or have been conditioned, to see.
Then, we go through, experience, an unexpected event or perhaps encounter a person that distorts our worldview, challenges our perceptions, makes us question many of the foundations our existence is built upon.
At first we may resist, defend, hold tightly to our paradigms of the way the world is or how we think it should be. Wisdom, however, tells us not to be afraid to deeply examine our convictions, our vision and understanding of what surrounds us, what is beyond us and what is within us.
Oftentimes we discover it’s not the reflection which needs to be made clear but the eyes of our mind and spirit.
My Siberian Husky’s ears are like satellites. They turn, independently of his head, taking in his surroundings, picking up on sounds, keeping track of movement, knowing what’s going on around him without even looking. Our Golden Retriever isn’t this way. She hears something and she stares right at it. She prefers the visual approach to tracking, wanting to see what’s going on around her.
Wisdom teaches us that our physical eyes can deceive and aren’t to be trusted. We’re too easily swayed by the appearances of things and people. Shiny things distract us. Our perception is limited by types of clothes, styles of hair, the bling, or tats, someone is wearing. Too often we focus on political persuasions, color of skin, the results of our ever-growing litmus tests for those who are acceptable. We place too high a value on how one seems, the way they carry themselves.
A contemplative seeks to listen with the spirit, the ears of compassion and grace, empathy and love. We want to hear what’s beneath the surface, understand what’s really going on, an awareness that is deeper than language spoken, a life displayed, the person we see before us.
“Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Zen Master, Obi Wan Kenobi
“You will never see God until you can see Him in every person you meet.” Saint Mother Teresa
The migraine that ate Tokyo came crashing into my life on Monday. It started in the morning and by the afternoon it had brought me to my knees. It was my fault. I had over extended myself this past weekend and the anxiety, fatigue and over stuffed schedule made me vulnerable to its attack. After taking plenty of meds and recovering Tuesday I ventured out today. Migraines affect different people in various ways and one of mine is tired and extremely sensitive eyes. During a migraine my eyes feel like they have ice picks stabbing them from the inside and even after it subsides subtle light can be blinding. For the record; the sun is blazing brilliantly today and as a result I’m struggling to adjust.
A year ago today my friend Mary passed away. I miss her greatly. She was one of those people whom the world is worse off because she’s no longer in it. June 17th of 2014 I wrote about her passing and another post the day before. I still remember watching the sun rise the morning I received word of her death. It was beautiful. I wondered and still do; “What is she seeing? Does the sun in all it’s glory pale in comparison to the light that now surrounds and penetrates her?”
I don’t know much about heaven and eternity. I’m wary of anyone who says they do. I believe in life after death and being united with loved ones who have crossed over to the other side. As I’ve wrestled with the light today I’ve also reflected upon whether or not my friend Mary has adjusted to her new eyes, a new light, a new way of seeing.