Born Again –
I desire to be born again, each day emerging from a blanket cocoon, different from the person I was yesterday. Each day we take steps toward who we will eventually be at the end of our lives. Some are making progress toward love, grace, kindness, and peace, others walk in another direction.
What we do today determines who we will be tomorrow. This is a truth I try to live by. What we put our minds to, invest our emotions in, allow our spirits to inhabit, shapes the person we’ll be tomorrow and in the future. We underestimate the “big” and “little” experiences we encounter each day. We dismiss character flaws, hidden hurts, negative habits, and other behaviors and attitudes that either place chains on our souls.
To emerge, new each day, takes work today. We choose where our path will go, not what our path will go through, but its destination. We can’t make our path easy or difficult but we can decide how we handle both. The decision isn’t on tomorrow’s agenda but today’s.
Chirp and Chatter –
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the front steps to our shed waiting for Beth to come home from work. Me and the dog enjoying the day when a bird overhead began to chirp loudly! It wasn’t the usual chirp and it was incessant. I looked to the limbs of our big Oak tree trying to find it. I couldn’t. The chirping didn’t stop but I couldn’t find it among the leaves. Finally, it stopped and only when it flew away could I see that it was a large woodpecker.
After watching this beautiful bird fly away I reflected on the constant chirping and not knowing where it was coming from. Some thought are like that in our minds. They chirp and chatter and we wonder, why and for what reason, they are filling our minds with noise. Perhaps its regret at an action, a question about why something is happening, puzzlement for a big decision which needs to be made, a betrayal, a hurtful word given or received, a reliving of past events, or worry about the future. Whatever the thoughts, the chirps, and the chatter can keep peace of mind and spirit elusive and unattainable.
Wisdom reminds us that thoughts are going to come and go but it is up to us not grab them and ruminate. A wise master once said; “I cannot stop the thoughts from coming to my door but I do not have to serve them tea.”
I have a friend who is dealing with a broken relationship in his life. He has tried reaching out, apologizing, offering to make good on the accused slight he did to the offending party but nothing has worked. The wounded one doesn’t want anything to do with the other, has expressed his hatred for my friend numerous times, and it is bothering my friend something fierce.
He asked the question; “What else can I do?” after he listed all the things he’s tried to do to make up for something he’s not even sure he did. “You’re going to have to let them hate you.” I know this isn’t the answer he wanted but it was the only answer to give. When someone has been hurt by us whether we meant to or not it is not within our power to make them forgive us, to restore a broken relationship. As soon as we become aware of the pain, betrayal, we’ve caused we should immediately go to them, express a contrite and sincere spirit of sorrow apologizing for the behavior and offer to make penance to satisfy the other who has been wronged. If they accept, that’s great but if they don’t accept we have to live with that and though it’s not easy it is our only option.
What we hope for, pray for, look for every opportunity to make it right again in the future. However, for now, we must bear the burden of hate, knowing we have done all things within our power to right the wrong. We live with their hate and the separation hoping a time will come when both can reconnect and restore what’s been torn apart and destroyed.
Leaving Tomorrow Be –
Yesterday I spent most of the mid-morning and early afternoon raking leaves. It was a nice day, almost 80 degrees and the job was pleasant enough and kept my mind from racing as it so often does. After raking for a while I noticed that as soon as I raked a leaf another would fall in its place. I looked up and saw the trees were more than two-thirds full which meant I would be doing this again, and again, in the near and distant future.
There was a part of me that questioned the validity of raking leaves when there would be more tomorrow but I know if I don’t take care of the ones I can today, tomorrow may be too much to handle. So, I raked, front, sides, back and when I finished, sure enough, leaves were already covering parts of the yard. I, however, took heart at a job well done and accepted the truth of repeating the chore.
Wisdom tells us that we are not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough worries of its own. Leaves will keep falling until the trees are almost bare. I will keep raking until the yard doesn’t need it any longer. I have learned the lesson of doing in the present what can be done and letting go of what may happen tomorrow. When tomorrow does turn in today I will again do my best and that will be enough.
Pauses and Spaces –
I worked with a dad today who struggles with addiction issues. He kept repeating the Twelve Step oft heard phrase; “Pause and Pray, Pause and Pray, Pause and Pray.” It is the addict’s response if they’re tempted to drink, use drugs, get angry, make poor decisions. They are to take a breath and then breathe a word of prayer for peace and guidance.
I use the phrase; “The space in between.” Life is made up of experiences. We’re blind to most of them because we’ve become used to them, take them for granted. There are times however when an experience happens and our choice of what to do or not do, how to react, make the wrong, right or better choice could greatly impact our lives and the ones we hold dear. It is in the space between what happens to us and our choice of how to respond where our future is forged.
Whether; “pause and pray” or “the space between,” we choose to shape the experiences of our lives or be shaped by them.
Where We’re Going –
Last week, when I mowed the grass, there was a lot of dust, a few weed patches and sometimes it was hard to look and tell what I had cut and what I hadn’t. This past week we’ve had a good bit of rain and the grass grew quickly. When I mowed the back yard today I could tell where I’d been and needed to go.
A couple of days ago I heard an 80’s song which reminded me of a friend I had in high school. This friend had done something which hurt me and we were never the same after the event. As I listened to the song I realized there was no more pain just regret at two young people who didn’t know how to get over thoughtless actions and adolescent feelings of rejection.
As I cut the grass this afternoon I reflected on both of these and was thankful for emotional and natural growth.
Too often we think knowing the future would be the greatest of intellectual gifts. However, wisdom teaches us that knowing and learning from where we’ve been gives us a better view of where we’re going.
Luck or Life?
On my way to worship this morning a big black cat ran across the road in front of me! I needed to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting it. The reason for the rush is an even bigger gray cat chasing it. Black cats are supposed to be an omen of bad luck but for this one it was fortunate it crossed the road when it did, as fast as it did, or things might have turned out differently.
During service a special speaker talked about growing up in war torn Romania. Her past included sexual and physical abuse, mental health issues, infertility and an incredibly uncertain future. However, each of these painful, difficult and tragic events have given her a powerful testimony today and many blessings have blossomed from the ashes of what most would call a cursed younger life.
Our understanding of a lucky, blessed, fortunate life or an unlucky, cursed doomed existence is limited by our inability to know the future and how love, grace and peace often come from the most desperate and desolate personal journeys.
This interesting picture and intriguing quote was in my Facebook feed this morning. It caught my attention in part because I’ve been studying Epigenetics. It’s the study of how trauma impacts people and generations following.
One of the experiments used to prove this area of science involved shocking a female rat with electricity when a certain odor was emitted. After a while the rat, even though there was no shock, still reacted when she smelled the specific odor. What’s even more compelling is the rat’s babies and the baby’s babies also reacted negatively even though the second and third generation of rats had never been shocked with electricity when the odor was emitted.
Epigenetics proposes that the genes of the rats have been altered, changed due to the trauma of the original female rat and these genes have been passed down to preceding generations.
“Neurons that fire together wire together” is another phrase used by brain scientists which deal with nerve pathways. The more often we do something, or have something done to us, the more used to certain behaviors and environments we are mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. In other words it becomes our definition of normal, our reality. It is only when we are able to learn new ways of thinking, being, can we change our personal and family’s destiny. To consider that the choices for our lives impact the immediate now and our, other’s, future the more important it is to be sure our decisions are filled with wisdom and grace.
Last night I took the dogs out for their last opportunity to do some business for the day. I was about to release them when a shadow caught my eye, then another. I grabbed both dog’s leashes and strained to see what was running through the yard. I couldn’t quite tell but it was either stray dogs or coyotes. I kept the dogs close to me to be on the safe side. This morning, when I let the dogs out again, our Siberian Husky began chasing scents all over the area where the other animals had been. He was so preoccupied with tracking the shadow’s trail he forgot to do what needed to be done.
I watched him dart to and fro and thought how sometimes we are like my crazy dog. We chase after shadows of the unknown, things that scare us or bring confusion and doubt. We allow these distractions to take our focus away from the present and from our purpose.
Don’t dwell in the past or be obsessed with the future. Live in the now.
“A young monk asked his Father Abbott how to find contentment and stillness in a world where things are always changing, where nothing is permanent and nothing remains the same. ‘When loss and grief are inherent in our very coming in to existence, how can there be any happiness?’
That elder monk, looking compassionately at his brother held up a glass which he had been drinking from said: ‘You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably. Sometimes even the sun reflects in its beautiful patterns. If I should tap it. it has a lovely ring to it.’
‘But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters I say; ‘Of course!’ I understand that this glass is already broken. Every moment with it is precious, every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise. When we recognize that like this glass, our body, our life, is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, each moment becomes precious and we are open to fully appreciating the unbroken now, this present moment.’
‘When we understand that our loved ones are already dead. our children, our mates, our friends. how precious they become. Fear cannot rule us, uncertainty of the future, the unknown does not have power over us, estrangement cannot put doubt within. When you live your life as though you’re already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime. A universe unto itself.'”
One of the greatest lessons of wisdom is the truth and eventual acceptance that life is in constant transition and passes quickly. From the moment we are born every breath is one closer to our last. Every day, hour, moment brings us to our final resting place. The great struggle is in our intellect, emotions and souls to learn to live joyfully in the knowledge of the passing of our temporal existence.
Too often loss, instability, death are seen as causes to worry, be anxious, fearful and hopeless. Instead, they can be a reminder to appreciate the blessing of each moment as a unique, never to come again, miracle. To love extravagantly while the opportunity exists. To mindfully experience every “now” before it changes to a fading memory and hold loosely a future which is not guaranteed.
The videos and images are shocking. People destroying their own neighborhoods, attacking the police, reporters, innocent bystanders in an act of defiance, rebellion, protest and desperation. Why? Are they angry because another young black man has died at the hands of the police? Are they opportunists using a tragedy as an excuse to rob and loot stores? Are they victims of a system that’s broken, keeping certain socio-economic groups in poverty, uneducated, with little or no hope for a better life? Are they lacking morality, a sense of justice and the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong?
The answer is “Yes” but the next question is…”why?”
Last week I was part of a training of local law enforcement. As part of the presentation our group showed the hilarious video above of Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the candy coming along the conveyor belt. I told the officers; “You guys are Lucy and Ethel. The chocolate keeps coming faster and faster and you’re doing all you can to keep up. Abuse, neglect, drugs, assault, robbery, murders. You’ve seen it all and it isn’t slowing down or getting better. You’re on the front lines, first responders. Your job isn’t to ask what’s happening on the other side of the wall. Why does the candy keep coming? You take care of the mess.” I then explained that finding out what’s on the other side, why it’s happening, helping slow or stop the candy from coming, is what our community organization does.
In times of social crisis and upheaval the immediate concern is to bring stability, help those who are hurting, and hold those who are responsible for harming others and the community accountable. However, calming the present doesn’t safeguard the future. We must not be afraid of asking tough questions that have no easy answers. “Why are some willing to torch their own communities?” “Why is there so much anger, vitriol, self righteousness and condemnation on both sides?” “Why do kids grow up thinking violence, criminal activity is ok?” “Why do others assume people of certain skin colors, from certain neighborhoods who dress, talk, look a certain way are always lazy and up to no good?” “Why do riots keep happening, law enforcement officials and young people keep getting injured or dying?”
When do we ask; “What’s on the other side?” If you think you know the answer, you haven’t thought long and hard enough about the question.
blessings of peace,
On my way to a Community Action Board meeting in Centerville, Tennessee this morning I passed the sign pictured above. It is located in an overgrown, mostly dead, unattractive piece of land in the middle of nowhere.
I arrived early to the meeting and sat in a room waiting for the other members. Pinned to a bulletin board was a piece of paper which read; “Being a Parent Means Loving Your Children More than You Love Yourself.”
My mind went back to the sign I saw earlier. I wondered who put it there and what their vision of the “Children’s Garden” was originally? What happened? What stopped the seeds from being planted, watered, grown, cultivated, harvested?
I thought about our world and the world our children, and our children’s children, will grow up in. What happened to giving future generations something better than what we have? What happened to the dream of a brighter tomorrow? Where are the seeds of hope, the light that grows, the love and grace that cultivates, the harvest of peace?
Maybe if we loved our children more than we love ourselves…