Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Advent Day #19 – Divinity

Have Some Divinity

The premise is this: for each day in December, instead of counting down on an Advent calendar, I’m counting the free gifts we all get every day.  Today’s gift is divinity, but I don’t mean the candy.  I mean The Divine, The Sacred, The Holy and experiences of them.  Don’t we all have the opportunity to receive that every day?  If you look for it, will you find it?  I think so.

So, what is sacred?  How do you recognize the divine and holy?  In art, there’s always a halo or a sunbeam to give you a clue.  What about here on earth?

‘Namaste’ is the Sanskrit greeting recognizing the existence of another person and the divine spark in that person, with the hands pressed together in front of the heart chakra.  I think the divine spark exists in every living thing as the breath of life.  Every encounter with a living thing is an experience of the divine.  We hardly ever act like that is true, however.  But we could.  Native Americans and many African tribes have hunting rituals that celebrate the sacred exchange of life.  The hunted animal is divine, sacrificing itself for the life of the hunter, and the hunter shows a holy appreciation.  Often, when I look at macro photography of living things, flower stamens, insects, mosses, I am compelled to worship the divine in the detail.  Life is sacred and beautiful.  Looking closely and deeply is a way to practice recognizing that.

 

Seeing macro, but lacking the lens

In a dualistic world view, the mundane and the divine are polar opposites.  One is worldly, one is sacred.  If this world were imbued with holiness, if God became incarnate and entered flesh in this world, those opposites would run together like watercolors.  Many cultures believe this is the truth about life.  The waters under the firmament and the waters above the firmament are separated in one telling of the creation story, but the Spirit of God was moving over all of the waters from the very beginning, even in that story.  The understanding that divinity is everywhere has inspired people all over the globe for centuries.  This place we inhabit is special; it’s valuable.  It’s all holy.  This is the beginning of respect for the Universe and everything in it.  Somewhere in Western history, that idea lost its power.  Earth and everything in it became base and fallen.  Good turned to bad and life turned to death.  I’m not sure if that new idea has been very helpful.  I rather think it hasn’t.  And I don’t think it has to be that way.  It’s an idea, after all.  So if it’s not a helpful idea, why support it?  How would you rather live?  In a fallen world or in a world where the sacred and divine can be found everywhere?  Just wondering out loud.  I’m not saying that one idea is right and the other wrong.  The glass is neither half full nor half empty.  It’s a glass, and there’s water in it.  The rest is conceptual.  Why argue?  Choose how to live with the glass and the water.   As for me and my house, “I choose happy.”  (One of Jim’s conclusive statements.)

I hope this gives you something to ponder for today.  If you like, you can add a scene of Edmund Pevensie in Narnia being asked by the White Witch what he craves.  “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating.  What would you like best to eat?”  “Turkish Delight, please your Majesty!” he responds.  What if he had said, “Divinity”?  Same story, nuanced.  I would like to taste the sacred in this world, and I believe it’s here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond

Do you have a photo which invites the viewer to look beyond? Are there hidden depths in the background? Is the focal point just a framing for the rest of the picture? If it’s not clear why we should look beyond, tell us! Lead us through the story in your photo.

December 22, 2012,  just at dusk.  I am upstairs, in bed, cold, alone.  The world did not end, even though the sun is far away.  I feel disconnected from warmth.  I look out my window.  The neighbors advertise their jolly associations, but I do not belong to that club.  I look beyond…the sky is aflame, fire licks around the turquoise expanse of our atmosphere, the sun invites me to the outer edges of my vision.  There is the belonging, there the community, there the warmth.  Beyond.  The Universe is bigger than we imagine, and so are we.

Beyond

Beyond

Happy Day

Hallelujahs all around!  An all-inclusive Glory Be!  Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsikov  festival music with timpani and brass at breakfast.  It feels great to be alive, any day!  My Easter-oriented upbringing is always in the background, even though I’m facing Eastern lately.  May JOY be universal, however you find it.

Today’s poetry prompt for NaPoWriMo was simply to go outside with a notebook and perhaps a camera and write a poem.  So I did.  I didn’t go any further than 4 steps beyond my porch stairs, sat down beneath the maple tree, and opened up.  Miracles are all around.

Glorious ordinary wholly happy day

Treasure-hunting among the obvious

I shall not be in want

Fresh dandelions, wind-blown chimes

Bacon, my kitchen incense

Strawberries’ radiant red miracle

Greenery below, above; and vaulted space

A sanctuary innocent, unstained by shame

I call it Life.

What is Sacred?

Today is a good day to ponder the sacred, to feel that aching quiet deep below the surface, to stay with it long enough to taste its bitter and its sweet.  Whatever form that takes.  I have spent years wrapped in one particular expression of that endeavor, but today, I tried a new one.  The NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) prompt for the day was a challenge to write a poem about an animal.  I knew immediately what animal that had to be for me: an animal that I’ve admired in different stages of my development, from my earliest memories to the present day.  One of my earliest posts was devoted to this animal, entitled “Nature’s great masterpeece…the only harmlesse great thing – John Donne”.  As I closed my eyes, opened my heart, and began to brainstorm various words and phrases, I realized that I was indeed pondering the sacred.  In order to invite you into that relationship, without influencing you too much, I will end my narrative here and simply share the photo and poem that arose and offer them as icons to stimulate your own thoughts.

Her skin was visible from outer space

     criss-crossed trails in the dry expanse

         seismic sections of caked mud

           pulsing with the rhythm of the magma core.

She walked as continental plates on tip-toe

      shuffling through the sanctuary of time

         in ponderous planetary procession

           chanting sighs that shook the stars.

She raised her tender tip

      a stroking, soothing, searching spirit

         a whisper enfleshed, intuitive, inquisitive

            and opened her sky portals, fringed with boughs

                so heaven could gaze freely down.

Her wisdom reigned in sacred skull,

      the holy archways gleaming

         until her desecration reduced

            to catacombs of dripping blood

                that mammoth cathedral.

The matriarchs lie raped in heaps

      across the countryside.

         No longer shall we place our heads

            on gentle, heaving breasts to feel

                the wide embrace of a universe.

Another Sunday Stroll

Sunday morning, a sunny Spring day.  Oatmeal with honey and dried cranberries, orange juice, chai teaGrab my camera and take a walk.  Come along!  We got some rain the past two days.  Now the colors are so bright!

Steve and I got into another “relationship talk”.  The sun was shadowed by a passing cloud, and I saw this lone female duck, head tucked under her wing, standing on one leg.  At that moment, my soul was hiding and this seemed like the perfect illustration.

We passed a church where families with well-dressed children crossed from their cars into the open doors.  I remember getting myself and four children up and dressed tidily and bundled off to choir and Sunday school week after week.  I miss the expectation of meeting people, the habit of seeing and being seen.  I don’t miss the bickering between the kids, the passive teenaged resistance.  I do miss the bagels and lox and chocolate croissants.  I definitely miss the singing. 

Junctions.  Life paths, habits, structures, changing, evolving, maintained and unkempt. 

Useful and interesting, I suppose, but I really want to be graceful, too.

I suppose my biggest fear is that I am neither useful nor graceful.

There’s another way to think of myself, though.  Instead of the Western idea of being an artifact, something made by a Maker, I could adopt the Eastern way and imagine myself as something grown and growing.

Thinking, pondering, musing on my self, my vision, my viewpoint, my place in the vast universe.  Steve grabs the camera from me and shows me his vision.  It’s different from mine.  I think it’s kind of Zen, kind of quirky.  Very Steve.

I’m back home, sharing my thoughts with a congregation of bloggers.  Did anyone bring bagels?

 

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at it’s finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.  That’s what children of God do.

‘Tis A Season

When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve.  I had the same tradition with my own kids.  The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses.  It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”.   There are other little treasures we could open each day, though.  When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them.   My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message.  We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors.   The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.

I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story.  They were supremely important in my life for many years.  My spirituality was formed around them.  I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience.  My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system.  I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe.  I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science.  There is a lot going on all over the world in this season.  What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?

My youngest daughter has always loved this season.  She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there.  What was that about?  Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats?  Possibly.  Peace, love, joy?  Possibly.  Emotions?  Definitely.  Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions?  Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time.  Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself.  Why not celebrate that dependence?  We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy.  Evergreen trees remind us of that.  Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers.  Gratitude is the attitude of the season.  Giving is the action that sustains us.

I sent a text message to each of my kids this morning saying that the gift for Day #1 this season is sunshine.  The sun is shining here, showering us with Vitamin D and all kinds of other goodies we need to be healthy and happy.   We are blessed, saved, sustained, given life in this universe by an amazing set of circumstances that we did not originate.   However you acknowledge that and whoever taught you to acknowledge that deserves attention.  May you be happy as you think and act in awareness of this.

 

Lord Have Mercy

Gospodi pomiluj.  That’s Church Slavonic for “God have mercy”, same as the Greek Kyrie eleison.  I remember learning a setting of those words in High School choir.  The entire text of the piece was just those two words, repeated over and over at increasing dynamic levels.  The suffering of the world thrown high to the ears of God.  There were moments in the opera last night (Boris Godunov) where this poignant plea rang out and reached my heart high in the upper balcony, but unlike a Puccini moment, it didn’t take full hold.  Why not?  Well, I could bicker about the staging, pointing out that the chorus milling about in the background distracted from the Holy Fool’s aria downstage left in front of the floodlight.   I could point out that the composer wasn’t really a professional and didn’t provide enough scene change music to set off these important highlights.  Others came in later (Rimsky-Korsakov, for instance) and tried to make Boris a bit more theater-ready, but the Lyric staged the original version.  But perhaps the more intriguing discussion is about the way Russian suffering compares to Italian – or Buddhist – suffering.

photo credit Dan Rest

This iconic Russian opera includes a large chorus of peasants, children, boyars (advisers), soldiers and priests.  Russia’s suffering is peopled.  By contrast, Puccini’s operas often concentrate on the suffering of one or two lovers.  You feel the depths of their grief in soaring melodies, cry with them, and feel cleansed.  (Think Butterfly, Tosca, Boheme.)  Russia’s suffering would never be so finite.  It’s pervasive.  The czar embodies this and its relentlessness drives him mad.  Well, that and hallucinations of a child he supposedly murdered.  But he cares about his people; he tries to feed them, and they still blame him for every want.  How do you find peace?

Buddhism addresses peace from the inside out.  It isn’t a peace that you could pass on to a population as their leader.  The best you could do is find it for yourself and try to be a role model.  It would be quite a challenge to maintain it as the head of a huge, suffering nation.  Would that be the Emperor of Japan’s story? Or China’s and India’s story?  Actually, the Met is currently showing Phillip Glass’s opera about Ghandi (Satyagraha).  It was simulcast in theaters this past Saturday.  Missed it, but hoping to see the encore screening December 7th.

Here’s another thought about nationalism and identity: there’s Mother Russia and the German Fatherland; what parental figure do we have connecting us to American land?  Uncle Sam?  Does that mean we are orphans?

I have to say that exploring and addressing my personal grief and suffering through Art is like taking a bitter pill with a large spoonful of glittering sugar.  Costumes, twinkly lights, gorgeously rich bass voices and sympathetic violins really take the edge off.  I appreciate the genius and consider myself enormously fortunate.   Thanks for the grace and mercy.  Oh, and I hope Erik Nelson Werner wasn’t badly hurt when he fell off the set in a hasty exit.