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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stunned by the Grandeur

Last night I went to bed not long after dark. I am staying in a hermitage cabin for the weekend, retreat-ing, though I am a bit more connected to the world than I usually allow myself when I retreat.

As a result of my early bedtime, I woke up early, but stayed snuggled in bed reading. An owl hooted outside. I realized after the fact that the owl deserved much more attention than I gave it: "Gee, I think that's an owl," as I continued to read. I don't hear owls when I am in my own house. I hope I'll get another chance to give an owl proper attention.

As I started to see trees backlit in blue, I turned the light off. As blues were replaced by pale yellows and oranges, I got out of bed. Looking through another window, I saw a brightness signalling the sun's imminent appearance. More excited than I usually am about a sunrise (another neglect of proper attention), I pulled on warm clothes and my winter coat and headed outside, compelled by the growing light.

Shining like the sun in India
As I walked, I was enchanted not only by the sun, but also by the intricate patterns of frost that covered everything I saw. At first I was sorry that I hadn't brought my camera, but then I remembered that, while a particular form of beauty may be fleeting, Beauty is inexhaustible. Having my camera would have drawn me away from the present in an effort to capture it for the future. I stopped a few times to peer at leaves or tiny plants, awestruck by the spears of ice that had formed on them.

Meanwhile, the sun rose; I could feel the light on my face. That dawn light that makes a person glow. I was reminded of Christmas Eve, when my cousin beamed as he talked about his recently born son, saying something like: "When I walk in the mall or anywhere, I feel like there is a ray of light shining down on him, because everyone who sees him smiles."

That is as it should be. Always. For every one of us.

My mind continued to wander to Thomas Merton (whose 100th birthday would have been today) and his epiphany:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud... As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. 

Imagine a world where we smiled or even laughed at the sheer joy of seeing one another,whether we knew each other or not, because we were awed by the light we saw. Some people do this well; many of us, certainly myself included, are distracted or preoccupied and fail to notice the light emanating from ourselves or from others. We may cover up our light, or if we've been wronged, question whether someone's light is worthy of our attention.

Rosy cheeks, warm body, beauty-drenched mind, I came in and cozied up to read from one of my favorites, Love Poems from God. Opening the book randomly, I found myself reading Rumi's words:
:

How Does God Keep from Fainting?   

The wonder of water moving over that rock in the stream
justifies existence.

The swish of a horse's tail - again I am stunned
by the grandeur of the unseen One
that governs all
movement.

I resist looking at the palms of my hands sometimes. 
Have you ever gotten breathless before a beautiful face, 
for I see you there, 
my dear. 

There is a wonderful problem waiting for you
that God and I share:

how to keep from fainting when we
see each other.

In truth:

how does God keep from fainting
looking at Himself all day?

Light is moving like a stream, and
the myriad celestial beings
applaud. 

May we notice. May we see that each person we meet is "walking around shining like the sun." May we be "stunned by the grandeur of the unseen One." 

Blessings. 

A bit of beauty from a previous retreat when I did use my camera

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Both/And

I am not pro-Palestinian. I am not pro-Israeli. I am pro-human.

These are words that I say in the introduction of my talk on Palestine. I am certain that some people who listen to my talk don't believe me. More than once, people have told me that really, I am pro-Palestinian. 

They don't know what's in my heart.  

I'll admit that if I used hashtags, I'd probably use one that said #Palestinianlivesmatter. Surely this would be proof to some that I have higher regard for Palestinians than for Israelis. 

During my 2013 stint in Hebron, an Israeli soldier was killed. I don't like that the Israeli soldiers are in Hebron. I believe that the Occupation must end and that those soldiers must leave. 

However, I do not, nor will I ever (I hope) wish someone dead.

I grieved for that soldier who I didn't know. I felt for his family and his friends, even the ones in uniform in Hebron who made my life difficult.

I do not hope for the well-being of Palestinians at the expense of Israelis. Recent violence in Jerusalem fills me with sorrow. I want Palestinians and Israelis both to live well, in peace. In safety.

When I say " in safety," I don't mean living in restricted areas where armed guards control the comings and goings of people (as in the illegal Israeli settlements). I don't mean that people openly carry weapons to protect themselves (as some Israeli settlers do as they go about their business, like a morning jog). I don't mean that vehicles have bullet-proof windows or people wear bullet-proof vests. That is not my definition of a safe society. 

I mean people can live freely. Where people, all people, can walk in the streets late at night and be safe. Where children don't get teargassed. Where everyone has enough to eat. Where people walk with their heads held high because they know, they know, that they are precious beings and they know that everyone else knows that they are precious beings.

Last week, children in Kenya protested the seizure of their school's playground. The police teargassed them. Other Kenyans and the international community were horrified, as well they should have been. Thankfully, the outcry was so loud that not only was the private developer not allowed to steal the land, but the school got a new soccer field.

Nearly every day in Hebron, I watched children get teargassed. These are kids whose family lands may have already been taken or are under a constant threat of confiscation by Israel. Their homes may have already been demolished by Israel. If those aren't their personal experiences, they surely know someone whose house has been bulldozed or whose land has been taken. These are kids who live under a repressive military occupation. They protest, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. Either way Israel's response is the same: violence.



Where is the international outrage about that?

Sometimes I wonder if I should stop writing about children getting teargassed. I seem to do it a lot.

Quickly I come to the knowledge that I  must write about it until it stops.

I fear I'll be writing about it for the rest of my life.

In my Palestine presentation, I offer some statistics about Israeli and Palestinian deaths and injuries since the beginning of the 2nd Intifada (in late 2000). One hundred thirty-three Israeli children and 2,060 Palestinian children have been killed in that time period.  Over 11,000 Israelis and nearly 72,000 Palestinians have been injured. All of these deaths and injuries are tragic. And yet here in the U.S. we often only learn about Palestinian violence committed against Israelis. Rarely do we hear about the daily violence against Palestinians, particularly during what Israel calls "periods of relative calm." During those "calm" times, Palestinians still suffer from Israeli violence: by the military, by settlers, by other extremists.

I work in Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) because I am trying to live by Catholic social teaching principle of the "preferential option for the poor and vulnerable." A basic description of the principle is that we who have more must care for those who are most vulnerable in our world. When I look at the statistics above, it is very clear who is more vulnerable. As I walk in the streets of Hebron, it is also very clear. I feel a particular responsibility because every day my country gives 8.5 million dollars of military aid to Israel. I've seen what that money supports. I condemn the oppressive structures that I see. I condemn violent actions (regardless of who carries them out). I don't condemn people. I believe we are all capable of great good, even if we're not acting that way right now.

My work with CPT doesn't mean that I care less for Israelis or wish them harm. I offer this analogy: If a parent has two children, one sick and one healthy, the parent gives more attention to the sick child.  This does not mean that the parent loves the sick child more. It simply means that that child is in greater need of care.

It is clear to me that my attention must go to Palestinians. It is clear that when so few people know about the wildly disproportionate use of violence by Israel against Palestinians, I must focus my talk on how #Palestinianlivesmatter, even though I also believe that #Israelilivesmatter.

The fact that I care about Palestinian lives doesn't exclude me from caring about Israeli lives. It's not an either/or.

It is both/and.

I am pro-Palestinian. I am pro-Israeli. I am pro-human.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I want to write my story in flesh

Last week I posted a poem by Kathy Galloway. Today I post another. What follows is my response.

Tuesday: Author-ity

Some people want to eat their words. 

Me, I'd rather regurgitate mine. 
Throw them up. Flush them down the toilet. 
Big words. 
Long words. 
Important words. 
Poisonous words. 
Difficult words. 
'In' words. 
In the words of the song, 'I'm so sick of words'.
'...just let me say this...'
'...if I could get a word in edgeways...'
'...you never listen to a word I say...'
'...though I speak with the tongues of men and 
     angels...'
Passwords
Cover words
Swear words
Lying-in-your-teeth words

But without words

there are no stories.
Even the artist in the cave

had a word
to distinguish 'horse' from 'bull'
and so translate the images distinctly.

Perhaps the key is in the way you use them.

Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Is it true?
To answer these requires the use of many more words
discerning words
listening words
evaluating words
'In the beginning was the Word. And the Word became
     flesh...'

I want to write my story in flesh.

Embody it.
Incarnate it. 

I want to write my story in flesh

These words I write to tell my story
my past
in part
yours, too.

Every detail of my story
and yours
is different,
and yet,
cut to the bone,
the same blood flows.

My flesh is
love, hope,
fear, apathy,
grief, joy,
bounding,
and stagnation.
It is quiet.
And raucous.

Sometimes there are no words

Beauty
indescribable.

Pain
indescribable,
because I don't know
how to feel your pain,
the suffering I know
is a fragment
of your hunger,
your anger,
your loss.

These words I write to tell my story
now,
knowing I'll shed this skin
soon.
It won't fit,
I hope.
I will stretch it, rip it off,
I hope.

These words I write to tell my story,
my future.
Loose, these words,
this flesh
I grow into
as a child into clothes.

These words I write to tell our story,
our future.
The flesh I write for you and us is
passion
mercy
grace
love
justice
hope, always hope,
the details I don't dare.

I want to write my story into flesh
so I can touch it,
caress it.
Love it into being,
as I will do for you
if you let me.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Statement of Conviction - Revisiting a Friend

Just under two years ago, I joined Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). After a month of intensive training, all of us trainees were asked to write a Statement of Conviction, professing in our own words our commitment to nonviolence as we began our work with CPT.

When I wrote my statement, I'm not sure I realized  that it would guide me for life, or if I did know that, I wasn't aware of what it meant. I'm certain that two years later, I still have a lot of learn about the commitment I made, but I am at least more aware that, regardless of when I complete my work with CPT, I truly have made a lifelong commitment to nonviolence. I cannot imagine anything that would turn me away from it. In fact, I feel like somewhere in my statement, I should have included "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

There is a part of me that wishes I had included some asterisks with fine print listing the times I'd be exempted from trying to live by my high ideals. Trying to figure out the most loving and justice-focused action in small-scale interpersonal dynamics as well as in large-scale global ones is not easy.

Thankfully, there are many people, like the one we honor today, who have walked the path before me and many others who are walking it right alongside me today. We're not meant to do this alone. (Can I get an "Amen"?)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and with the humble request that you help me to live up to what I've written, I share my Statement of Conviction:

Statement of Conviction

When I taught high school theology, I used to give my Catholic Social Teaching students a list of justice-focused quotations to reflect upon. One quote I used comes from Joan Baez:

I would say I'm a nonviolent soldier. In place of weapons of violence, you have to use your mind, your heart, your sense of humor, every faculty available to you...because no one has the right to talk the life of another human being.  

I, like Baez, would consider myself a nonviolent solider. I do not believe that I, or anyone else, have the right to kill another person. I have been involved in peace and justice advocacy, sometimes peripherally, sometimes directly, for many years. Recently, I have felt the call to make a more sustained commitment to peacemaking. I must put not just my money, but everything I have, my whole being – hands, feet, brain, heart – where my mouth is.

Joining Christian Peacemaker Teams is one step in making this commitment. I am aware of the dangers I may face, but this awareness does not overshadow my trust in possibilities. I trust that if enough people believe in and work for peace, someday it will be not simply a possibility, but a reality. My trust in possibilities and my conviction that nonviolence is the only means to achieve peace give me the strength to walk the walk that I used to talk in the classroom.

I believe that violence only begets more violence. I ask that, in the event that I am taken hostage, no ransom be paid and no violent measures be taken to secure my release. If I am killed, I ask that no retribution be sought, but rather that restorative justice be pursued. I ask that any anger stemming from harm done to me be directed not at those who cause me harm, but at the systems that perpetuate cycles of violence. In doing so, I ask that forgiveness and understanding be cultivated, so that such systems may ultimately be transformed from oppressive, destructive structures to creative, life-affirming ones. 

While I do not know God's plan, I believe it will lead us to a collective recognition of the dignity of all people. Loving our neighbors, whoever they may be, is the key to coming to that understanding. By being a nonviolent soldier – standing with, speaking out for, loving my neighbors, wherever they may be – I hope I am contributing to the greater Love that currently eludes our world.*

Cory Lockhart
Louisville, KY
29 January 2013


*In an effort to give credit where it is due, let me say that I may have borrowed or modified language from other statements given to us as examples, though I don't remember now if or what I borrowed/modified. (If I did, I suspect it was language in the paragraph about not using violence on my behalf). I looked at the other statements that I still have and my language is less like them than I had imagined, but I don't want to claim I was the original writer of every word above when I'm not sure if that's accurate. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday: Up Against a Wall

I read this poem today and cringed. I read and judged its harsh sentiment, its utter rawness. I kept reading and cringed some more.

Oh.

Yeah.

If I'm being honest, this is me sometimes.

The red is the original poem. In black are my additions.

Monday: Up Against the Wall
Kathy Galloway

Up against the wall

Da da da da da!

That's the sound of machine-gun fire, staccato, 
slamming you against the wall
and crumpling you down to the ground.
Because sometimes I get so angry. 
I want to hurt you.
I want to destroy. 

That's what I'd do to you, 
you people who whinge about trivialities,
Because clearly you are the problem, 
about your food, your comforts, your things, your 
     precious privacy.
except that I am the problem, 
so easily lulled into complacency, 
so easily distracted by nonsense. 

That's what I'd do to you, 
you people who are wrapped in your smiling superiority, 
you don't even know the truth. 
you people who know all the answers I know the truth and patronise
     the stumbling questioners.
My truth trumps yours, 
you know. 

That's what I'd do to you, 
you people who are not serious about the suffering of 
     the poor, 
care about the suffering of the poor.
you who seek a soothing spiritual massage
From a safe distance, of course. And for a safe amount of time.
I don't want to get too close. 
or seek the safety of the sidelines to throw stones for.
I don't want to get too hurt.

You should thank God, you people, 
that thoughts can't kill. 
Don't cross me in my rage.  
Otherwise you'd be spread-eagled, lifeless, on the carpet. 

I would topple the idols, and you people who raise
     them up. 
I would fling them down with fury. 
And you must admit, there is a glorious finality about
     my anger, 
it is righteous,
even if a few innocent bystanders get caught by a ricochet.
Don't get in my way when I'm like this,  
it's your own fault if you do.  
My solution has enormous potential.
I am right. 
My anger has a huge scope. 
It Is Righteous.
It is almost unequalled as a cause of dispatch, 
and has no need to be proportionate to the offence. 

Of course, it does not require of me, in my imagination, 
     at least, 
that I should cease to be merely human. 
I would be god-like in my anger. 

O, God, the problem with my anger unleashed
is the same as that of my love tied up. 
O.
It puts me at the centre
God
and is the greatest idolatry.
Lord have mercy. 

Turn me over, Jesus,
Drive me out. 
Christ have mercy. 
Cast me from your temple
Away from the house of prayer back to the streets and
     alleyways
Until my love grows at least equal to my anger
If not greater. 
Lord have mercy. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ripples of Love: An Invitation

When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago, I was fascinated by the canals, or more specifically, the reflections in the canals. I wandered from canal to canal. I wanted to keep looking and I couldn't get enough pictures of landscapes mirrored in water.

As I was walking along one canal, two swans came swimming by. I followed them for a long time captivated by the way their movement rippled through an already stunning sight. Their disruption created even greater beauty as light and color played off the water. Tourist sites seemed irrelevant as long as I could watch the swans.

Swimming swans may not seem such an extraordinary thing to you, but they showed me so clearly what we're all here to do: create ripples. We live in a beautiful world, but even with such beauty, our world is suffering.

This past Christmas I was particularly aware of the hurt that is around us: I had just returned from Palestine and was filled with images of soldiers, teargassed children, weapons, and walls, so many walls both physical and intangible, keeping people from loved ones and keeping people from loving. I came home to two friends whose mothers passed away on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I spent time with other friends whose Christmases were less than merry. I felt helpless to do much of anything.

I was happy to ring in a new year, even though the pain of the previous year didn't magically disappear for my friends; they are still hurting. However, for reasons I don't understand, but will not question, ushering in 2015, even though I was asleep when the 4 changed to a 5, has given me new energy and excitement for what may be. I feel empowered. I want to do something. And I can tell that something bigger is brewing within - I can't wait to find out what!

Since the year started, a number of Facebook friends have posted about a "Pay it forward" initiative. I responded "I'm in" to this one:

Friends, 2015 is going to be a great year! To kick it off right and get things moving in the right direction, I want to do something nice for 5 of you.
I am participating in a "Pay it forward" idea. The first five people to comment on this status with "I'm in" will receive a surprise from me at some point during the year (2015)-anything from something handmade, art, a postcard or something-absolutely any surprise!
There will be no warning and it will happen when the mood comes over me or I find something that I believe will suit you and make you happy.
To keep this moving forward, these five people must make the same offer on their Facebook status.
Once my 5 friends have commented "I'm in", they will then post it as their status. Let's have a groovy, eventful, spunky, spontaneous, mindful, energetic, loving, action-packed, soulful, edified, zany, surprise-filled year.

The friend who posted it is one of the brightest people I know, both in temperament and intelligence.  She exudes joy and I am certain that she doesn't need a Facebook prompt to encourage her to share her joy, hope, and radiance. I know this because just a few weeks ago she sent me a beautiful letter, a letter that affirmed our friendship and affirmed the path that I have chosen (or more accurately, that has chosen me). I will admit here that only yesterday did I reply to her and my response was woefully inadequate for the beautiful words she sent me. I have yet to offer the same kind of gracious blessing to her that she bestowed upon me. But I am determined to do so.

My "I'm in" to her post signaled my desire to reach out to other people and to inspire them to do the same.  I am in a place in life right now where I have plentiful resources to share. Truthfully, I've always had resources to share; now I am simply more aware of the good that saturates my existence.

When I offered the "Pay it forward" invitation in a Facebook post, I wanted to take it a step farther. I asked the respondents to also message me a name of someone they knew who could use some extra care this year. I've heard from three of the five and am touched by their choices and reasons for choosing particular people.

Unlike my friend whose post I responded to, giving thoughtful and spontaneous gifts is not part of  my MO.  I need a little prompting to get myself moving in the right direction. I needed the Facebook invitation to get myself going. I am really, really looking forward to adding a little joy to my friends' lives and I am thrilled to extend some love to the folks they chose.

Each invitation and each acceptance creates ripples of goodness moving through the world. If all five "I'm in" friends follow through with five more people, another 25 people get a joy boost, times five, 125 more people and then 625, 3125. You get the idea. How far will it go? Imagine...

In the same way that I was fascinated by the patterns created by the swans, I am intrigued by what beauty may move through the world as a result of this initiative. We won't necessarily be able to see the ripples, but imagining them is just as exciting.

I woke up this morning at about 4:40.  On days I go to boot camp, my wake-up time is 4:55, but this wasn't a boot camp day.  My alarm was set for 7:00.  As I lay in bed, at first resentful that I was awake, my mind swirled with thoughts about "paying it forward" and about a friend who is making monthly goals to practice living a happier life. Resentment soon turned to excitement. I decided in the dark morning hours to create for myself and offer to you a monthly invitation to ripple-making.

This month I invite you to join me in the "pay it forward" initiative. Whether you choose to make your decision public or to carry on quietly and privately is irrelevant. Whether you choose to bless one person or five or more is irrelevant. However you drop joy into lives, the ripples of goodness will expand.

As you consider this invitation, remember that even the smallest ducks can alter the landscape. No act of kindness is too small to ripple out.

May our drops of kindness ripple through the world, disrupting suffering and expanding joy. May we captivate each other with the new vision of beauty that our ripples create.