I am reading The Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield in preparation for my FINAL course if my Doctoral program at McCormick theological Seminary. In it I read:
“In popular Western culture we are taught that the way achieve happiness is to change our external environment to fit our wishes. But this strategy does not work. In every life, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame keep showing up, no matter how hard we struggle to have only pleasure, gain, and praise…states of consciousness are far more crucial than outer circumstances.”
This is sage advice from the author’s Buddhist tradition. How often we allow our sense of happiness to be directed by what is happening around us. When this is the case and we are fixated in things always being ‘good’ we find ourselves oscillating from being ‘happy’ to being ‘sad.’ What is worse, we bring others along with us.
What if we were to take the advice of this ancient Eastern religion to heart? What if we were to begin to do the work necessary to alter our state of consciousness so that when joy arrives or tragedy falls upon us we are in a good state to live through those moments? We can be sure that in our lives there will be more nuances than just joy, bliss and happiness. There is a great verse in the Great Big Sea hit song Ordinary day –
In this beautiful life, but there’s always some sorrow
It’s a double-edged knife, but there’s always tomorrow
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
It’s not so bad
Life is defines by a series of ups and downs. There is much syncopation in the rhythm of our lives. Sometimes the beat which is stressed is the weakest. If are secure in our own spirit and if we understand what beloved Children of God we are, we are ready to dance to the most unorthodox of tunes. Some of the happiest people I have met have been living in the midst of unbelievable grief, pain or sorrow. At the same time, some of the unhappiest I have come to know are thrown off by the smallest of challenges. Life is like that.
It is a beautiful life – but there is always some sorrow. If we do not come to accept that we will always be held hostage to the external factors that dictate our lives. It is a double-edged knife – ‘there is always tomorrow.’ Tomorrow to may bring its own joy and/or sorrow. Question is: have we become conscious and aware of ourselves enough to know that we are precious and beloved? Loved when we laugh and loved when we weep – can we be happy/content even through the pain and the tears?
This morning I woke up to what Buddhist call good Karma! – First my newfound friend Florence Jarvis (The Cancer Warrior of Perks of Cancer fame) had replied to my blog that she just wrote about being mindful you can follow the link here - http://perksofcancer.wordpress.com/healthy-living-challenge-3/
Then I opened my daily meditation fron Henri Nouwen to discover this:
Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.
To quote the Cancer Warrior Princess – “Coincidence? I say there is no such thing. We are sharing the same energy.”
Have a great Monday everyone.
Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.” There also is a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.” But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, “You are my Beloved, my favour rests on you.” That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen.
That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us “my Beloved.”
Many days it would appear that the only voices that we hear are those that shout: Prove! … Shame! … Don’t Care! … Try Harder! … Succeed More! … You’re Powerless! There is no shortage of voices that sing the chorus that sets us back and brings us down. Harmony is not required in this carping choir of denouncement and exhortation. All that is required is a reasonable willingness of single voices to remonstrate anyone and everyone who will listen. And we seem to be too often, willing listeners to these voices. Sometimes we add our own voice to the chorus. Sometimes admonishing ourselves even!
Nouwen’s reminder above is that there is a voice which should be heard – a voice that is too often drowned out! The voice of the One who loves us is too often drowned out by the gnawing negativity of the voices of conceit and condemnation. So what are we to do?
Too often we succumb to the tune being sung by that unholy choir. We need to become active listeners. We need to get engaged in the art of hearing the still small voice that loved us into being. We need to hear the plea of the psalmist and take heed – “Be still and know that I am God.” - Psalm 46:10. Ironically sometimes the art of active listening requires us to be less active, less busy, less engrossed in work, less overloaded with social activity, and less talk! Active listening requires stillness.
Let us all commit to take time for prayer. Time on Sundays to be with community in prayer to listen for God is important – make the time! Time each day to be still and listen for the voice that reminds you that you are loved is important – make the time! Time to listen to others in stillness that they might hear what God has to say as they share with you is important – make the time!
I encourage us all to tune out those vicious voices that cause us to believe that we are anything less than God’s beloved.
If we listen closely we will hear the Master’s voice reminding is that we are loved and we are treasured!
“Now run along and play, but don’t get into trouble.’ George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.”
These lines are from Curious George. He is the curious little monkey! The photo here is of a little friend Catherinanne gave me as a gift the day I started my doctoral studies at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is called “Back to School George.” He has a backpack and his lunch, a banana, is inside. Since she gave me this gift, my little friend George has travelled with me to every course in Chicago. He has attended each class that I have taken. Apart from writing a thesis, George has does most things necessary to be awarded a DMin at this May’s graduation.
When I write – he is with me. When I am reading he is with me. Some people have ‘good luck charms.’ I have a little stuffed animal called Curious George. Catherinanne thought it appropriate to give a man with the surname George, who was curious enough to go back to school this gift – she was right. He has been a faithful concomitant. When she is unable to be with me, I know that my sidekick is filling in for her. Now this has upsides and downsides. On the upside he is a better listener than Catherinanne. It is not that Catherinanne is not a good listener as much as Curious George NEVER interrupts me. Catherinanne does interrupt from time to time. Now the downside is that he NEVER interrupts me. He NEVER speaks. So unlike Catherinanne who has sage advice with my writing and work, George is more the strong silent type who prefers to leave me to my own devices.
That being said, George has been such a great help. For the past seven days I have been struggling with a little writers block. It was really getting me down. I would start to write and inevitably find myself “stuck.” What could be wrong? Then it all became clear in one horrific revelation. I received a letter…. (ok Facebook Message)
“We have your friend Curious George! We have kept him here for a week now. He is sad that you do not care enough to come looking for him. If you ever want to see your friend again, you will need to go to Boston Pizza on Manning Road and purchase an item from the Delicious Alternatives Menu.”
A RANSOM NOTE! I was alarmed! How could I have not missed my dear companion for a whole week? What has he been trough in the days that have passed? How many long hours did he spend in the cold confines of a dark oak cabinet? How often did he have to endure the words “cactus cut potatoes?” Tears filled my eyes. My faithful friend George has been missing and I was completely unaware. It turns out that I had left him there when I was last there writing a paper.
Despite the peril involved, today I set out to get him back and rescue him from the pizza stained hands of those ladies at Boston Pizza! It would take courage and a discerning eye to know what to order on that delicious alternatives menu. But I knew that if I concentrated and prayed hard I would find the intelligence and the courage necessary to find my friend and restore him back to my side. I sauntered into the Boston Pizza and requested my usual booth. My request was granted. Kelly looked at me with one part disgust and two parts determination. “Do you know that you left your friend behind? Did you even miss him?” Not long after he was returned to my side when I promised to make my regular order or Chopped Chicken Salad. When Jessica (George’s other snatcher) came in she came directly to me. “You are lucky that you ever got to see him again – He deserves better than you!”
I ordered a diet Pepsi, sat Curious George up in front of me, and began writing – writers block cured! Both me and George are looking forward to defending this thesis in March — but right now we have some writing to do!
Thank you to Jessica and Kelly for releasing George to me. You are the best captures for my little friend because you looked after him. [The whole gang at BP have been great to me during this time of study] I promise to never let him leave my side again.
Thank you Catherinanne for my friend…. he is a great reminder that I am loved and supported even when things get a little tough along the road. One of your best gifts ever!
“Life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance, and support. Life and death are connected by vulnerability. The newborn child and the dying elder both remind us of the preciousness of our lives. Let’s not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are powerful, successful, and popular.” - HENRI NOUWEN
Life and death are connected by vulnerability. How true. Today my niece Angie and her husband Rob welcomed a little girl into the world. Kendra Clara Reid came into this world early this morning. She is our great-niece, now making us GREAT Uncle Kevin and GREAT Aunt Catherinanne for the 20th time! (We are Uncle Kevin and Aunt Catherinanne 26 times! What a great gift! She is precious and beautiful and indeed she is vulnerable.
Just a little over a day ago, my sister-in-law Karen lost her father Lawrence Blagdon. He was 76 and while he was facing some health issues, his death came very unexpectedly.
Mr. Blagdon was a quiet, strong and dignified man who loved his family and was proud of them. I have fond memories of his visits to Whiteway. Time around the dinner table with my family was precious. I was impressed with his economy of words. He would not say a lot – then again – who could around a table of Georges – but when he did speak he made great use of his words. His many nights playing cards with my Mom and Dad with his wife Margaret were also memorable for me. I could count on mom and dad telling me about a great game of cards with the Blagdon’s’ when I would call early in November, as they always made the trip for Grandson Matthew’s birthday. Those days are great to remember and to cherish because of the life enjoyed by the four great people around that card table. Much has changed since those days. How pleased we can be that they enjoyed times together and enjoyed life. Life is such a precious gift and it is a vulnerable one. Mr. Blagdon will be missed – he was a good friend to our family.
For my brother and his wife, the first days of 2012 were spent in hospital dealing with the vulnerable nature and fragility of human life. At the same time, in the first days of 2012, my niece and her husband were in the hospital dealing with the vulnerable nature and fragility of human life. While some waited nervously for life to begin, others waited nervously for life to end. And they were not alone.
A year or so ago, I was at Met Hospital attending to a death. It was a peaceful place as we said farewell to one of God’s children. As we finished prayers we heard the familiar tune of the lullaby playing over the PA system. A baby had been born on the maternity floor. When you stand in ICU holding death’s hand and you hear life’s song playing as a soundtrack, you become keenly aware that birth and death do indeed remind us of how very fragile, vulnerable and precious our lives are.
So I hope that I can respond to that knowledge by living a life that displays a level of care and respect for others and respect for the life that I have been given. That’s what I think of when I remember Lawrence Blagdon. He displayed such great respect for others and kindness towards everyone when he was strong and healthy. He was able to in times of prosperity and health live in a manner that was in good keeping with what God expects of his own. He has now finished his course and is welcomed home! My prayer for Mrs Blagdon, and for her family at this time is comfort and peace. I pray it may come from the well wishes and visits of the many who were touched by his quiet, gentle respect for others and for life itself.
We stand always on the edge of a very vulnerable journey. Whether we are on day one of that journey, or day 76 –or anywhere in between, we need always be reminded of how each moment is a gift and should be treasured as opportunity live as God would will us to live – seeking to find that which is good in others and respecting the dignity of all.