Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Sing in Tune

Made for the celebration of a friend's work; a friend
who exemplifies open-hearted living
Fear and poor judgment
not of nature,
just the natural flow of human beings, 
navigating a world of promise. 
Nature's song, sung out of tune. 
- from "Nature's Song," Edward D. Currelley

I am moved by the idea that a peacemaker never judges anybody - neither his neighbor close by nor his neighbor far away; neither her friend nor enemy. It helps me to think about peacemakers as persons whose hearts are so anchored in God that they do not need to evaluate, criticize, or weigh the importance of others.
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework

I began reading Peacework after it was used in prayer at work a few weeks ago. As I've been savoring the truth and the challenge Nouwen puts forth, I feel certain this is a book I will return to; this book will likely accompany me to Palestine in a few months.

Last week I was talking to a friend about the troubles of the world, of the violence happening in so many places and what needs to be done to quell it. As he was talking about large-scale solutions and the human instinct to defend, violently if necessary, our loved ones, my mind went to a story I'd recently heard from a friend who had recently returned from Nigeria. I don't remember all the details, but it went something like this:

In a village in an area where Boko Haram was active, villagers lived  in fear of what might happen when Boko Haram arrived.

One day two men from Boko Haram entered the village and knocked on the church door. The pastor invited the men in for tea. They accepted, drank tea and talked, maybe for an hour, maybe a few. The conversation was, as far as I know, nothing special, just the kind of conversation anyone might have with guests coming to visit. After some time, the Boko Haram members left through the back door of the church, so that villagers wouldn't see them.

A few weeks later the pastor was travelling with his family and was stopped at a Boko Haram checkpoint. Being stopped like this meant almost certain death. The pastor got out of the car and awaited his fate. Bu t then -

The two soldiers with whom he had shared tea and conversation were working the checkpoint. They recognized him.

"He is a good man. Let him go."

The pastor got back into his car and drove off, his family reunited and safe.

They let him go. Boko Haram, known for brutal killings, inhumane acts, indiscriminate terrorizing, let him go.

They can see their neighbors - whether they are North Americans, Russians, Nicaraguans, Cubans, or South Africans - or members of terrorist groups - as fellow human and women who need to be listened to, looked at, and cared for with the love of God and who need to be given the space to recognize that they belong to the same human family as we do. 
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework

The pastor saw not terrorists, but people. Though he may have been fearful, he did not act out of fear, but from a place of love. Love. He opened his mind and heart to the possibility that there was more to the men at his door than the inhumane acts they carried out. Operating from the depth of who he is, from the depth of who we all are at our core, from the place of ultimate and intimate connection, he invited them in to act like humans. And they did. I can only imagine that for them it was a relief. Who of us doesn't want to be seen for more than the worst of who we are? Who of us doesn't crave connection? And later in a circumstance of disconnection, a situation where fracture-rupture-pain-death were the modus operandi, those terrorists remembered the pastor's humanity - and their own - and acted accordingly.

...I am allowed to live without the heavy burden of judging others and can be free to listen, look, care, and fearlessly receive the gifts offered to me. And the more I become free from who the other "really" is, the more I feel part of the whole human family stretched out over our planet from east to west and from north to south. Indeed , saying "No" to the violence of judgments leads me into the nonviolence of peacemaking, which allows me to embrace all who share life with me as my brothers and sisters. 
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework

This is how I aspire to live. I have quite a way to go. I have so many examples of when I have gotten it wrong, when my decisions have been grounded in fear or judgment, pride or resentment or self-righteousness, but I am learning. I am trying to become more aware of my patterns, so I can create new ones, more beautiful ones, that will ripple out into the world. I am learning to forgive myself when I stumble. I am trying to love better, starting with myself and extending well beyond.

There are times when practicing love - of self and others - comes naturally and times when it is a struggle. During the struggles, I am learning to tell myself that the pains are not fruitless, but rather growing pains, signs that I am stretching into a new embodiment of who I am, allowing the center of my being to expand, opening myself more freely - to sorrow and to joy, to giving and receiving, to filling and emptying. I am learning to live into the rhythms of life, anchoring myself in that which is True, that which is Infinite, that which is Love.

I am learning, ever so slowly, Nature's song, hoping that I might one day sing in tune.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Space to Grow

It is 3:59 AM as I start writing.  I woke up about an hour and a half ago and my alarm is set to sound in an hour and six minutes. I didn't know when I woke up that I'd be up for the day. But here I am. My back is tense, a residual result of having spent the last hour and a half trying to go back to sleep and getting ever more frustrated at my mind's inability to shut off.

Then I decided to embrace my mind's workings. I haven't written in a few weeks and this time awake offers a gift, an opportunity to process all that is stirring and clearly needs attention.

First step: Go outside and look at the sky. Listen to all the creatures that make noise during the time I am usually asleep. Remember through these sights and sounds that the world is much bigger than the small space I usually pay attention to, which is too often the space of my own oh-so-limited mind. Remember that though I am small, I am nonetheless a part of this wonder; I am at once insignificant and a vital piece, intimately connected, interwoven, entangled in the All.

When I come inside, I still hear the night sounds. My windows are open since this night does not oppress with the usual heat that comes in mid-August in Kentucky. The air from outside is cool and flows through my windows. I am grateful.

Yesterday I pulled weeds in my backyard. Lots of weeds. A couple of months ago with the help of my friends and family, I tore down my deck. I have not replaced it with anything yet, so the rains of summer have encouraged life to spring from the ground my deck used to cover. The same is true for the rest of my neglected yard.

So much life has sprung up; the unwanted weeds, a corn stalk (?), as well as the plants I carefully chose to inhabit the space are (mostly) thriving.

All have plenty of space to grow and the conditions are ripe for them to reach for the sun, offering praise through their simple gifts of beauty (even some of the weeds), fragrance, and nourishment for my body.

I have some control over what happens in my yard, but I don't control the sun, the heat, the bugs or critters that come along. I plant, I tend, and I trust the rhythms of nature that are out of my control.

I have been thinking a lot of late about trust, control, and the relinquishment of (the illusion of) control.

For many years I've talked about how certain areas of my life seem to flow without my having to do much for glorious opportunities to present themselves. Other areas seem much harder and just when if feels like I'm about to enter the flow, I find myself stuck again. Of late, I've been considering why this difference occurs.

A couple months ago, I think I figured it out:





In the areas that flow, I learned early on to trust the feeling that said, "Yes, this is where you must go, even if the way isn't clear yet." Sometimes the "where you must go" was cause for exhilaration, sometimes cause for anxiety, often both at the same time; that's still true.

Guided by that trust and a willingness to move slowly, I'd take a step...and another...and the path opened up and  took me to the place I knew I needed to go. Each place brought me new adventures, new growth (and growing pains), new joys, new people to love and ways to express that love. My life is rich as a result.

In the areas that haven't offered the same ease, I have been less willing to trust, more eager to take control that isn't mine to take, more likely to step ahead too quickly, impatient, only to find myself lost, alone, and confused.

It wasn't until recently that I became aware of the difference.  I have many years of habit-forming to undo. I've started the process.

As I lean into trust, like the weeds and the flowers and the vegetables and herbs, I'm finding that the space for me to grow is enough, is expanding like the vast night sky I observed tonight.

And I am accompanied. Sometimes I have been so entrenched in listening to the voices (including sometimes my own) that seek to steer me away from the path, that tell me I must move quickly or else, that I forget or ignore the constant background hum of voices that tell me I am loved, I am connected, I am not alone, ever...and that I can trust their steady presence.

This early morning I pay attention. I see the vastness and trust. I attune my ears to the songs of life that remind me of who I am and Who I am a part of.

Though I will likely find myself yawning later today, I am grateful for interrupted sleep, for the space to grow not in resentment, but in gratitude.



My alarm will soon sound and I will move into the regular patterns of the day Awake.