Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chrysalis of Change

The strange resonant word, ‘instar’, describes the state between two successive molts, for as it grows, a caterpillar, like a snake…splits its skin again and again, each stage an instar.  It remains a caterpillar as it goes through these molts, but no longer one in the same skin.  There are rituals marking such splits, graduations, indoctrinations, ceremonies of change, though most changes proceed without such clear and encouraging recognition.  ‘Instar’ implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.  (p. 83;  A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Rebecca Solnit)

 When are you going to wake up and see how it really works? When are you going to see that the world is NOT a warm and welcoming place? When will you stop being such a Pollyanna?

 These are questions I remember being asked between middle school and high school.  At that time, I had nothing to offer by way of acceptable response.  I simply needed to believe that there was hope.  I needed to know in my bones that there was reason to believe in something bigger, something more.  I could not bring myself to give in to darkness nor could I offer an acceptable defense of my seeming aloofness to another’s perceived reality.

 I have been asked those questions by others in my adult life too.  When will I wake up?  When will I see the true state of things? 

And I still don’t have an easy answer that can be penned into an appointment slot or plotted on a
Google calendar.

But here’s what I believe: I will see the true state of things when I die…when I Become. When I witness a driving rain transformed into light.  (The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery) Then I will truly see as God sees and I will know as God knows.

Until then, I live with the tensions.

The tension of lax money-grubbing, gun laws that allow the mentally ill to own guns and accrue ridiculous amounts of ammo.

The tension of discriminatory immigration policies based on fear, power, finance, and privilege. Policies that affect people I know, people I love, and people I do not know…people who are fleeing their home with nothing and seeking refuge.  People who need safety before they can believe in tomorrow.

The tensions of racism, classism, radical nationalism, gender-ism, sexual orientation/gender identity-ism…and   a multitude of –phobias… all of which seek to elevate distinct groups, set them aside as good and better and best, while other groups are to be scorned, feared, blamed, ridiculed, beaten, starved, exiled, stoned, shot…

 The tensions of a political situation in my country of birth that I find shameful, blind, and profoundly dangerous. 

These issues and so many others are pulling at me.  Pulling at my hands to write, my feet to march, my eyes to be open, my voice to proclaim, and my heart… my heart…

Oh, my heart…it hurts sometimes. Deeply.  It hurts with wounds and it sometimes hurts from so much grace.

I see all of this as tension, though.  Tension…not laxity. Tension…because there are forces pulling back.  There are forces within me that are stronger.  There are forces in world society that are stronger.  Energy for good.  For hope.  For justice, compassion, inclusion, solidarity.

Sometimes the balance pulls to one side, sometimes to another…sometimes heavenly, sometimes disastrous…oscillating between near and far...

So, when will I "wake up?"  I've been awake. Awake because of Hope; Awake to Love; Awake for what lies ahead...the work, the tension, the grace.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Six Years and a Smooth Stone

I recently began a book that has quickly become a warm smooth stone in my pocket, a book I am pleased to have with me whether I have a chance to read it or not.  When I do have the concentrated time to savor it, usually in the morning, I do so with a pencil in my hand…bracketing things, starring sections, freely annotating, carrying on a running commentary with the text/author.  It is as much a gift when this intimacy happens with a book as when it happens between friends.  

 A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit had me won over in just a few pages.  She begins with the distinction, “losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.” (p.22) And by referencing Walter Benjamin, a twentieth century philosopher-essayist.  “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away.  In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” (p. 6) 

This speaks so directly to my deepest desires about God and to those moments I have known when I am certain that with just a bit of effort and a bit more letting go of gravity, I would rise and be enveloped by what was present to me…Listening to the choir at Saint Francis Xavier in NYC, listening to a live performance of Handel’s Messiah, staring at the Pieta and being captivated by the aliveness of the question in Mary’s upraised hand, feeling the depth of silence created only when a community gathers to weave stillness together…

Rebecca Solnit has another phrase that delights me as well—“the blue of distance.”   How easily and readily I can lose myself in this blue…how it calls to me.  Standing against the wall in Assisi, looking out over the textured patches of land and history, out toward the horizon; Sipping coffee and having an apple turnover by a window looking onto Halifax harbor on Saturdays at the farmers’ market; stepping outside the hospital at sunset and looking past the mountains toward the unknown ahead when my father was dying… This blue draws me, entices me… “These nameless places awaken a desire to be lost, to be far away, a desire for that melancholy wonder that is the blue of distance.”   
(p. 41)

And she closes this chapter with a knowing reminder—“Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.” (p. 41)

These first chapters have me thinking about Augustine’s restlessness of heart and my own.  A restlessness born of desiring God.  Born of a call to the blue of distance.  Born of a desire to be fully present, in uncertainty and in mystery.

January 30th will mark the 6th anniversary of my final vows, when I gave my life to Love, forever, in the Society of the Sacred Heart.  I like that this book will accompany me as I mark the date and wonder at where the journey ahead might lead.