In meeting today I was trying to center down and as ever my mind was turning. Perseverating on lists of things I haven't done or intend to do. Communications I have not responded to. Promises I have not kept.
And these thoughts get me no closer to the Holy. And the more I push them away the more they push in.
I remembered something I read in the Friends Journal about how to center down and I started to look at each person in meeting and said their name silently to myself along with these words "they are an expression of the Holy."
I was having a conversation with my friend John about this very idea of moving toward the Holy and he said something very profound. "The Holy hasn't moved, it is we humans that have moved away from it." And you know what? The more I think about it and reflect on it he's absolutely right. It's sort of like those magic eye pictures. The image is right there in front of our eyes but we can't see it. We have not trained our eye.
Keep looking ... did you spot the dancers yet? ... can you see the Holy around you?
The Holy is not far away. It's right there waiting for us once we turn off Facebook, CNN, video games, etc. etc etc -- name your distraction.
I know a gal who just sits in the woods for an hour each day. The Holy is a butterfly alighting on her knee. It is the whisper of the wind in the willows. It is the sun filtering through the canopy of leaves and making a dappled pattern on the forest floor.
What I am most present to this Thanksgiving is the ways in which I can connect to that which is Holy. It does not have the be the majesty of Chartres Cathedral (and yes I've been beneath that gorgeous rose window). It can the most humble and simple things.
Watch children. You can see it unfolding before your very eyes. Consider Georgia O'Keefe who wrote that her paintings of flowers on such an intimate level were a way of truly seeing them.
There it is again. The majesty of the Holy.
WAIT FOR IT ... there it is again in a blade of grass and the wing of a hummingbird.
And yes, there it is again in the curve of a waxing moon or the shape of a lover.
Queries on moving toward the Holy:
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,[a]
flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.
He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate--
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the junipers.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number--
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works--
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord.
Old Chatham Quakers Outreach, Peace and Justice Committee hosted the film Disturbing The Peace by Stephen Apkon and Marcina Hale of www.reconsider.org. The film examines the transformations of several people as they move from supporting war and violence in the Israeli / Palestinian conflict to waging peace.
There are layers of this film worth exploring from a Quaker perspective. The themes that were immediately apparent for me as a viewer were:
The film examines the question: What is the way out of this?
One thing that was amazing is that there is this inflection point in the film where several of the characters are placed in situations where they are forced to confront what they are doing. The narrative they have "bought into" shifts and they get to see themselves in "the other."
As I witnessed this happen I was thinking what a wonderful process we have as Quakers that naturally and spontaneously lends itself to transformation; the gathered meeting and the queries. To say that Quakers are an introspective lot is an understatement, but our very nature poises us perfectly to create the kind of environments where this kind of "transformative moment" can happen.
Queries that are with me after the film:
"Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr
As we mourn yet another group of innocent people who died at the hands of an AR-15 wielding killer, I've been considering the words power, force, violence and peace. How do we relate to these words as Quakers and Americans?
We are a nation conceived in violence and shedding that past and embracing a different future may be the hardest thing we do as a nation. As I write this I am recalling the time Robert F. Kennedy stood in front of an angry mob of black folk who were on the verge of rioting after a killing of one of their own by a white man. With eloquence and reason he told the crowd "a white man killed my brother too."
The challenge we have is that the American experiment of democracy is that we only thought of ourselves. As we conceived of ourselves, the American continent and imagined our manifest destiny -- we did it all by force. The Native American clearances, hemispheric control of central and south America was done through force, and global hegemony has been done by force. But force will only get you so far because force and violence always sow the seeds for a perpetual cycle of force and violence. Napoleon said it best when he quipped that "every place conquered is just another place to defend." Anyone can use force. It takes nothing more than a willingness to pick up a club, a knife, a gun, or an assault rifle. The results are always the same: awful.
Power is another matter. True power is the ability to influence. To use the power of word to change hearts and minds. To alter the course of events with the intellect, the heart, and the spirit. The true nature of power is peace because it requires no violence or coercion to bring the change.
We have witnessed time and again senseless slaughter because as a nation we believe in force. In fact we almost have a kind of religious reverence for it. The second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, the US military is the largest in the world, the US sells more arms than any other nation on earth. But with all this are we any safer?
Quakers would say that security is a shared concern. Security doesn't come from the barrel of a gun or the threat of nuclear destruction. It arises when we understand as a community of people and a community of nations that YOUR SECURITY IS MY SECURITY.
When you're okay, I'm okay. And it is not a zero sum game. When you feel safe it doesn't make me less safe -- it makes me more safe.
When you are clothed and fed -- I am safer.
When you have a good job with good wages -- I am safer.
When you live in a community with good schools and roads -- I am safer.
And it is additive. Each support builds on the other. So when you see that flag with the words "don't tread on me" know that it is a war cry. It carries with it the threat of force. We can do better.
My queries for this week are:
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