Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On The Bridge of San Luis Rey


Recently I thought about a small treasure of a book, Thornton Wilder’s sleeping American classic, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, written in 1927. Over a 50-year period I have probably read this three times and always find myself immersed in Wilder’s antique language as he describes the lives of people on an important journey. In brief…the book was set in Lima, Peru on July 20, 1714 and involved a rope bridge on the highroad  between Lima and Cuzco, a bridge used every day by hundreds of people. Without warning, the bridge collapsed and sent five people who happened to be on the bridge at that time crashing to their deaths…an erratic, rich old woman and her maid-child, a twin whose brother had recently died, a middle-aged man of many talents and a child he was going to tutor. Watching this was a Franciscan missionary named Brother Juniper who immediately jumped to the existential conundrum… "Why did this happen to those five?” Did they somehow have an unseen “divine appointment?” He set out to examine their lives to find this connection, only to discover after much research that he could not, and in fact was burned at the stake for his supposed heretical writings, a spillover from the Spanish Inquisition.

Sudden, exotic circumstances...

Many of us like to make something of sudden, exotic circumstances. Whether it is the unfortunates on the Bridge or a plane that crashes with all lives lost, we are busy trying to second guess the Infinite. We love to bedevil ourselves with questions that have unknowable answers until we, like Brother Juniper, must come to the admission that we can’t reason out everything, that there are not always tidy conclusions to our internal seekings. To the western mind it can be deeply unsatisfying to have to stop wrestling with some questions of being and simply let them play out as we live our lives.

How much we become capable of loving...

Perhaps it does not matter how much we try to crawl inside the Mind of God or how many mistakes we may make. What matters more is how we come to know ourselves and how much we become capable of loving. One of Wilder’s characters, an Abbess, said it well: “All, all of us have failed…but do you know that in love---I scarcely dare say it---but in love our very mistakes don’t seem to be able to last long.”

Let this coming Christmas be our bridge...

And finally…”there is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” We could let this coming Christmas be a bridge.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On Room at the Feeder

A wise person once said that hummingbirds have the personality of junkyard dogs, and he was right. We have two feeders in our front yard, which we keep filled and tended, but you would think we are the enemy. If we should happen to go out into the front of the house while the little blighters are trying to feed, they think nothing of buzzing around our heads so that we will hurry away.

Tiny warriors guard their turf...

It is interesting to me that there would be plenty of hummer food available, and yet the tiny warriors guard their turf and run off each other as if there was barely a drop left…with one notable exception. Our main feeder has a long, cylindrical reservoir with four perches around it, enough that four birds could feed at once…if they would ever allow it! Well, one cold and rainy day, they did. It was very wet and gloomy, and as I looked out the window, I saw that all four perches were being used by hungry hummers peacefully feeding and one fluttering nearby waiting for a turn! None of them bothered to trouble one other.

Did the milk of bird kindness overtake them...

What was that about? Were they just hungry enough not to spend the effort running off the others? Did the milk of bird kindness overtake them as they became aware that there was plenty for all? Certainly I didn’t know, and I don’t always know why humans who withhold from one another can have times when they become unusually generous. And maybe I should not care.

Extend our spiritual love around...

We are entering one of the sacred seasons of the year, and whether we are thinking about room at the feeder or room at the inn, could we not think to extend our spiritual love around perhaps a bit more uncharacteristically this year? It is not so much that we spread money around---although we certainly could---as much as we spill out the spiritual love we have in abundance. There is always plenty of that to spread around.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Telling a new Story

I have waited a few days to comment after the Ferguson, Mo., decision was made in the hope that full-on alienation might not take over the streets of many cities. It did. I hoped that clear voices and many prayers might make their way to the forefront of the media perspective. They didn’t. Instead I found a now-familiar cynicism (which I promised I would never indulge in. I Iost.) rise in me , along with a deep sadness that our answer to Rodney King’s plaintive question: Can’t we all just get along?...would still be no.

Unfortunately the Ferguson situation is the latest in a variety of scenarios that can arrive anywhere at any time. This time it is black-white-police in nature, but it can show up as any contrived configuration because I think we are still unwilling to give up the old stories that go back to a tribal mentality, years of compressed thinking bound into a collective mind set. We know them…Black people are (insert story): White people are (insert story); Cops are (insert story); Latinos are (insert story): Women are (insert story)…and they are endless and leap up when triggered into tribal response.

We needed the stories for self and mutual discovery. We needed to hear facts we did not know. What we forgot was that facts are not truths and that the generalizations we made from them are not true…and never were! There are many, many people, often quietly living their lives, who have risen out of the stories and see themselves as part of a living Whole. At times like Ferguson, their voices are not wanted. They don’t fit the mob mentality.

I believe the stories were needed; they enlightened, but now they trap us in limited beliefs. If we cannot step out of them and create a new song, we will carry a bleeding, unhealed place in us wherever we go, a rage-full place just waiting to be triggered into action.

It is more than blackness or whiteness or any other “ness” that keeps us unhealed. It is our unrelenting attachment to tribal thinking, to old stories that can never bring us into a new place. It is time and past time for the creation of a new story, one that is centered in more spiritual truth, one that recognizes the sacredness of all humanity in a world that needs our love so much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Desire

There is no accounting for where desire can take us and no substitute for it when we are tackling something of real importance to us. I know. Many years ago I began a course of academic study as a young person which I did not complete. Life got in the way; I married, raised a family, enjoyed a career, but now and again, desire would rise up from the vaults of my subconscious mind and remind me that I had not fulfilled a heart’s desire…to be fully educated. Finally, when I retired from pulpit work, desire stood right in front of me and asked, “How about NOW?”

So I did it...

So I did it… over forty years later. I matriculated at one of our state universities and fought off the fear that I might not keep up with younger students (Enough desire can steam right through gathering fear and get you going, believe me.) Those years turned out to be some of the best of my life. I did, indeed, complete a formal education and earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree and found a very interesting experience being one of the oldest crocks on the campus. (No online stuff for me! I wanted hoary walls, classmates and instructors breathing down my neck, and grassy fields.) I remember a young classmate taking me aside one day to ask what I thought of his girlfriend. (What! Did my greater age give me expertise on assessing young woman?) I remember a young man sitting next to me in class with blue hair and what looked like a bone through his nose. (What if he sneezes? What if he gets a cold? Oy!) I remember an older professor who loved to stare down and intimidate his students…except for me, his contemporary. He did not mess with me!

It's good to be fearless...but

Vignettes of a happy, very productive time, but also a reminder that this wonderful episode would never have taken place without a desire strong enough to dispel all misgivings and pass through all fears. It’s good to be fearless when facing a daunting challenge, but barring that, enough desire can make just about anything possible.

And, by the way, desire is not only given to the young. How badly do you want it?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Favorite Places

It is often said that life is a journey, not a destination. Mostly I agree with this, but I also believe that from time to time, we have to arrive somewhere. We have to land on some places that we can call our own, places that hold meaning and succor for us, where we can put our feet up, so to speak. What I have discovered is that when we change, our places change also. Many years ago one of my favorites was, surprisingly, a well-cared-for cemetery. It had great shade trees, quiet benches, and next to no one was ever around. All the grave sites were back on the hillsides and out of view. The only thing that suggested it was a last resting place was an occasional, tiny crypt that sported a family name. In those days I needed a very quiet escape where I could empty out my confusions, no questions asked, in a non-resistant surrounding.

My needs are different...

Today my needs are different, and so are my places. They now allow for people on hand…a bay-side park with small boats on the water, a few kids and dogs chasing balls, a coffee shop with many familiar faces, smells and tastes that welcome and call up memories of a recent past.

We are always received...

Favorite places should act like old friends, I think, places that simply await, always giving their consistent gifts and asking for nothing. We can bring all of ourselves or none of them, and yet we are always received.

A centering piece of ground...

A favorite place can be a touchstone, a centering piece of ground that allows us to re-focus and let memories or items surface that help and do not harm, a place for gathering ourselves once more, ready to slip into the stream that contains our lives.

...into the fray once more...

Our places actually can talk to us, if we will listen. No one else can hear their silent whispers…nor should they…but we can. They bring welcome; they may startle; they stand ready…and they see us off into the fray once more.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Celebrations of Life


There are always occasions that involve joyous celebrations of important life events. We know them; some are special anniversaries, prize winnings, engagements, new babies, the special additions to our lives. And, within the last ten years or so, I have noticed an important life event that has definitely changed its tone from morbid to celebratory. This is the way we now view end-of-life gatherings.

...death is an honored closure...

As a minister I have conducted many funerals and memorials of people most beloved, and only within this last decade have we come to think of them as the revered and uplifting caps to an often quite extensive life. We have come to realize that death is an honored closure to a portion of our lives rather than a loss to be feared, something apart from the rest of our life. As the poets have noted, life and death are one; they belong together in the stream of our ongoing lives. To welcome the one but seek to avoid the other is to misunderstand greatly the importance of every second of our living experiences.

Funerals and memorials capture only a portion....

Many of us know this now because families and friends now hold Celebrations of Life Services as end-of-life events. We have come to feel that funerals and memorials capture only a portion of wonderful lives, often eliminating the natural joy that is always present when communities of love come together, even around a sad time.

...to weep together and also to laugh...

Celebration Services allow us to consider the loved one, to weep together, and also to laugh in remembrance of the funny sides of shared experiences. They help us to remember that while we may miss physical closeness, we may always keep memorable experiences close in our hearts. Celebrations allow everything to have meaning with nothing lost to morbidity and misgivings.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On Suiting Up

I love baseball metaphors. Partly because baseball is the only game I know and partly because this year’s World Series ended with the triumph of the San Francisco Giants, one of our local teams. Ah, yes, Madison Baumgarner, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, the current El Dorados, and a fine team of skilled veterans and sharp-eyed rookies gave us locals much to admire.

Suited up for every game...

As I enjoyed the play…even the occasional routs…I always noticed the bullpen and the sideliners, and without exception all the team players and managers came suited up for every game, even if they were not scheduled to play that day. They watched; they sat; they were attentive, for who knew what could happen or what might be asked. Whatever, they were ready.

In a state of readiness...

Actually we come into life in a state of readiness, especially when we are young. The new baby may be born naked, but he is suited up already. Little kids can’t wait to jump out of bed and get started. It takes time and a few hard smacks to make us tentative, and there is wisdom to be learned in this as well. Maybe leaping without thought isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! The problem arises when we develop a lack of willingness or eagerness to put ourselves forward when the day beckons, fear of disappointment perhaps, or fear of being hurt. Still, it becomes a shame when all the risk taking in us drains out and what remains is a half glance at the forming possibilities.

They were not found wanting...

Certainly the Giants took risks as did their counterparts, the Kansas City Royals. One team took home a trophy but both became more aware of what they were really made of, and no one loses from that. They all came suited up, ready for all the surprises still forming, and they were not found wanting, not either team.

I don’t wish to be found wanting either, so whatever the day may look like, I am still willing to say: Put me in coach!

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