We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home

We are all just walking each other home,”  Ram Dass [2]

This pathway and vista off into the distance offer an image of the Pilgrimage of Compostela, which in English is the Way of St James.    A network of paths or pilgrim ways leads to the shine of the Apostle St. James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.    Along with Jerusalem and Rome, the route along the Camino de Santiago is known as one of the three great pilgrimages of Christendom.

Wrote the spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home.”   While all of us are on a spiritual journey, Dass perceived that each of us (whether consciously or not) is on a path leading us back to our source.   Wrote another, “Even if you do not believe in life as a spiritual journey or take solace in the notion of an afterlife, the concept of walking each other home is important.   It’s what holds us together.” [3]

Emerging from the isolation of a two-plus-year pandemic, compounded by economic uncertainty, political unrest, unleashed aggression, and the unraveling of our planetary home, is it possible to hold one’s self together?  Or, as evidenced by the centuries-old practice of pilgrimage and communicated by spiritual teachers, writers, and poets, we’re not meant to take all this in alone.   What if instead, despite the brevity of our lives and the frailty of creation, we’re summoned to accompany each other on life’s way, bringing out the best in one another while doing all that we can in the time given us?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much loneliness and despair, open our eyes to see others on the road before, alongside, and behind us.    Teach us that holiness (wholeness) was never intended a private, super-religious affair but one that asks that we look to the welfare of the other….wherever on the journey they may be.  Remind us, that we are all just walking each other home.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

[1]  Photo courtesy of Patrick Mills.  The photo was taken on June 5, 2017, near O Pino, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

[2] Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, September 2018

[3] Carol Cassandra, https://sixtyandme.com/how-life-is-a-journey-of-just-walking-each-other-home/, adapted

Beyond personal salvation

 

“If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It’s like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium)…” Brian McLaren

Rest assured, Brian McLaren isn’t suggesting dispensing with personal piety and devotion.   Nor would he advise us to stop praying unceasingly, reading and reflecting on scripture, attending worship, engaging in Bible study, or personal acts of penitence.  So what is, Brian McLaren, former church pastor, the guru of the Emerging Church movement, a leader from the progressive wing of evangelicalism, and acclaimed speaker and author, suggesting?

In the wake of the pandemic and during an interview held last year, McLaren, was asked, “What do you think is the biggest turn-off for young people…who don’t like the way the church is right now or the legacy of the church?”   He responded that aside from many [white Evangelical] Christians becoming chaplains to right-wing extremist politics; is this tendency to define faith as an adherence to a certain set of [qualifying] beliefs…that may well be [completely out of] sync with the Gospels.

Imagine if faith meant focusing on acts of mercy and justice rather than being saved?   For that matter, what if salvation as intended by the Gospels, doesn’t mean being jettisoned off the face of the earth?    Instead, imagine if we perceived our world not as dispensable and without hope, but as beloved and redeemable in the sight of God?  What then?

Prayer: Divine Maker, in the wake of so much terrifying news, be with us in our fear and trepidation.   In your love, turn our eyes outward towards my neighbor, however near or far they may be.    Teach us again and again that religion was never intended as merely a private, benign affair but one that requires each of us to look to the welfare of the other – who is as much your child as each of us is.  We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Refuge: A Reflection & Prayer for the Peoples of Ukraine

 

“In scenes reminiscent of the Blitz, adults, children, and dogs hide from airstrikes, seeking refuge in bomb shelters and subway stations.” [2]

During World War II, an intense bombing campaign was waged against the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.    For eight months, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on London and other strategic cities across Britain, from September 7, 1940, through May 11, 1941.    Remembered as Black Saturday, on the first day of the Blitz alone, 430 people were killed and 1,600 were badly injured.

Wrote organizer, educator, and reformer, Saint Boniface, “O God, you have been our refuge in all generations.”  But what of those fleeing war’s aggression?  Or for those unable to take flight from the encroaching chaos and mayhem?    When wanton cruelty and its destructiveness encroach upon and violate the land, what recourse does the most vulnerable, human and creature alike, have?

Martyred in 754 by an armed group of robbers, the aged Boniface was murdered along with 54 others who accompanied him.     Still, his words attesting to God’s faithfulness in the face of aggression and terror remain: urging us to continue to demand justice and mercy for the oppressed, exercise unfailing advocacy for those distant as well as near, while praying that all of God’s children and creation itself, be afforded refuge’s blessing.

Prayer: God who dwells in places of refuge, be with the peoples of Ukraine, we pray.    Yet for those not in destruction’s path, compel us to be nothing less than fierce advocates and champions of the oppressed.   So that together with those distant and near, all may savor your refuge, under the shadow of thy wings and within the hallowed gates of sanctuary.   Amen.

[1] Image from Daily Mail Online

[2] Adapted from CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarrisa Ward

Desert Solitaire

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire. 

Some years ago, I explored Death Valley National Park; a wind-swept terrain bordering the Great Desert Basin.  Covering three million acres, it is one of the hottest places on earth.   Yet it also possesses unparalleled majesty, made all the more intoxicating by an exquisite but at times unsettling silence. 

“Silence is God’s first language,” wrote the late Catholic Priest and author, Thomas Keating, “…everything else is just poor translation.”     While it would be decades before I encountered the practice of Centering Prayer, which cultivates an interiority of silence, the wilderness was my first teacher.    As God’s First Testament, wild spaces find their way into the chasm of the human soul.  Untethered, they speak words of silence.   Yeilding to Creation itself, they pronounce peace, even when all seems lost.

Prayer: Loving God who meets us in the wild places but who also encounters us in silence, be with us in our wanderings and in our searching.  So that we may discover once again the inviolable relationship between ourselves and grounded earth.

Perfectionism’s Falsehood

 

“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it is…how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.”

Mused the famed, late astrophysicist, Stephen Hawkings, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect.  Perfectionism simply doesn’t exist…[for] without imperfection neither you nor I would exist.”   He went on to explain that without gravity, our universe would not have evolved from simple, rudimentary elements to heavier, more complex compounds.   Yet gravity cannot function without imperfection.

If gravity is not only what keeps us functionally grounded but is the force that provides for a stable, viable existence – then what does this say about imperfection?  What if imperfection is not only a cosmic reality but is a far more truthful enterprise than our maddening quest for the perfect?   What if our aim for the perfect is not only an enemy of the good but is an affront to the genuine, the true, and the authentic?

The Franciscan author and speaker, Richard Rohr, suggests that “…if there is such a thing as human perfection, it is how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.   Imagine if we perceived imperfection, not as a prelude to mediocrity, but a more faithful rendering of the real?   What if imperfection, like gravity, does more to hold us together than we realize?

Divine Maker, when I’m convinced that nothing less than the perfect will do, place me back on the path of the good, the genuine, and the true.  Amen.

 

As a Fragrance That Infuses Our Senses

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet
sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” [1]

There is no rationale for forgiveness.
It violates every norm of self-justification.
Eludes retribution.
Levels knee-jerk responses.

Hollowing out preconceived ideas of right and wrong,
it challenges exaggeration,
dispenses with easy answers,
daring to move into dimensions of ourselves we’d prefer to forget.

Forgiveness neither insists on its own way
nor does it condemn the path that others choose to take.
Instead, it creates what may not have existed previously:
the willingness to let go of grudges’ satisfaction
while knowing that what you’re undertaking may not be understood.

Yet you are not left empty-handed.
Nor does the bereavement that had held you tight in its clasp last.
Rather, having chosen a different way and
a new frame of reference…

A spaciousness emerges,
and the violet within that had given up its fragrance,
now flourishes, infusing your senses.
And what had been only loss and even humiliation,
can become a place of freedom and newfound joy.

[1] Mark Twain

Treading into the unknown

 

“And I said to the one who stood
at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…’

This is an excerpt from a poem written in 1908.    Born into humble roots, the poet, Minne Haskins’, father began as a grocer, later acquiring and running a pipes factory.   In turn, her mother took on the management of the factory after her death.   Shaped by what she witnessed and experienced in early life, Haskins became a life dedicated to the care of workers and others on the bottom rung of society.

Yet in 1939, with a country facing the uncertainty of war, King George VI read this poem for his Christmas Day broadcast.   The words, “Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown,” struck a chord in the minds and hearts of its hearers.   Perceiving that the road ahead was fraught with peril and even danger, the words resonated.

And so it is now, as you and I stand at the beginning of 2022.   With even Canada expressing alarm at the perilous state of our democracy, the continuity of weather systems upended due to climate change and a virus that shows no signs of abating, is it any wonder we’re anxious?    But in speaking truth, as poets can, Minnie Haskins continues with these words:

‘And the one replied;
‘Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than any known way.’”  Minnie Haskins, 1908

When Epiphany’s Star eludes us and we are plunged into darkness, illumine us, Divine Maker, so that we may tread safely into the unknown.  Amen.

A Doorway into Thanks

“It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot or a few small stones;
just pay attention…” Mary Oliver 

In her poem, Praying, Mary Oliver gives credence to the power of paying attention, particularly when what is immediately before us doesn’t merit it.  But what our preoccupation is in itself the problem?   What if our vexation and distress, however understandable, hinders rather than helps our capacity to see?

Though family, friends, colleagues, store clerks, and the postal carrier, may have all been wished a Happy New Year, have you pondered how auspicious 2022 will be…if at all?    With real threats to our democracy, unabated natural disasters, and escalating planetary temperatures, is it possible to carry on when hearts are breaking?   Can one hope to perceive anew when so much we had once counted on, appears lost?

In the wake of all our losses, the poet replies, “[Your reclamation] doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot.”  Indeed, when it comes to recalibrating and restoring our vision, Oliver describes prayer, not as an obscure doctrinal obligation but holy discovery.  Where thanksgiving conjoins with silence, and senses become attuned to a deeper and more vibrant frequency.

Concerning prayer, Oliver writes,

“[…just] patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” [1]

In these waning days of Christmas and as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, may even the simple and mundane usher us into thankfulness and silence, so that shattered hearts may be restored in your divine likeness once again.  Amen.

[1] Mary Oliver, from her book, Thirst

 

On this Christmas Eve…

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,  (which means, God with us.)”  Matthew 1:23  

Immanuel, God with us.    You who are no stranger to this weariness of ours. You who see beyond our pretense, an unraveling bordering on futility and despair.    You who know the inside track of our lives, including those we’d prefer to forget.    You who look upon us, not with judgment and condemnation, but with a love that is limitless, faithful, and true.  

On this Christmas Eve and in your mercy, liberate us from fashioning you into a god of our own making.   Absolve us when we insist on heeding narratives that deny the urgency of your divine love and justice.    Forgive us when we fail to see the multitude of your children and all creation as you do, as bearers of your divine countenance.

Immanuel, God with us.   Light of Light that inhabits all goodness and mercy and love.   Call us back to Bethlehem and the manger once more.   Where we can perceive the wonder of it all, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

 

The Hour of New Clarity

 

You must give birth to your images, they are the future waiting to be born. [1]

 Just as the unborn child will not tarry when its time has finally arrived; nor can the artist, the writer, the poet, the musician, the mystic, or the prophet.  Speaking in the imperative, Rilke emphasizes, “You must give birth to your images.”  Not when you’re feeling like it, or when the occasion seems right.    Not when others dictate the appropriate time.

But what if the future isn’t necessarily completely out of our hands?   What if images and ideas; plans, and proposals; and even dreams and visions, are not only conceived within imagination’s interior but nourished and incubated in a process of growth and maturation?  What if our individual and collective future(s) are far more akin to pregnancy and birthing than we allow for?

With uncertainty overwhelming our capacity to cope and teetering on the point of exhaustion, Rilke counsels, “”Fear Not the strangeness you feel… Just wait for the birth, the hour of new clarity.”  When normality has fled and you find yourself submerged in darkness, hang on to the transparency that can usher in the new.   Focus instead on the impending birth.

In this Season of Advent, when obscurity clouds our thinking and fear has the upper hand, fill us with expectation, Divine Maker, as we await the hour of new clarity.  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son given.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Amen.  [2]

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke

[2] Isaiah 9:6

 

 

 

 

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