Range Pond October 1

A shift has happened in my spirit, and I feel grounded in a way I haven’t felt for several weeks. I’m not sure why, but a few things have happened this week that might be related.

Three days ago, after windy rain, the power went out about 9:30 in the morning. Happily, I’d already eaten breakfast and installed a new shop light in the garage. (As a friend framed it on Facebook one day, it was a project that took two months and fifteen minutes.) So I took a short walk and discovered a few blocks away that a tree had fallen on some wires. It might be a while. I had an appointment to pick up groceries from the store, but also happily, when I called, they said it would be okay to wait until our power was back on.

Waiting for the next several hours, I noticed that my mind was in a kind of tormented withdrawal from its usual access to constant stimulation. No social media (saving my phone battery for more important things), no book to read (saving my phone, etc.), no television shows. Not enough energy to do a project. A really uncomfortable stillness. Margy and I ate lunch on the patio, and I noticed it was much easier to deal with my mind outside, so after lunch I pruned out some raspberry canes. Finally, the electricity came back–and then it was groceries to pick up and process.

Two days ago, in the morning I facilitated a very productive meeting of our Decolonizing Faith Project. We are moving toward completion of a Zoom version of our workshop for faith communities. That felt good.

Later that day, Margy and I decided to go on a rare outing. We took a drive to search for beautiful autumn color, and found our way out to Range Pond, about forty minutes from where we live. (And by the way, for those who aren’t from around here, I don’t know why but Range Pond is pronounced Rang Pond.) I took my shoes off and waded in the still warm water, delighted to watch the sun ripple off the sand. Sun, water, trees: a healing balm for our souls.

Yesterday morning, after a long night’s sleep, I woke quite early and was writing in my journal, surprised at how peaceful and grounded I felt. I remembered–and this is key I think–I remembered that throughout my adult life there has never been a time I did not hate the atrocities committed by our government. (Wars, empire, ravaging the earth for profit, oppression of people of color, you know the list.) Yes, lately, those atrocities have intensified. But I had protested every administration, and realistically, felt little power to stop those atrocities.

I also remembered that when I was part of the Catholic Worker movement, I learned that resistance can take the form of personalism: we attempt to live out our values personally, and in community–we fed the hungry, housed the homeless, welcomed the “stranger.” We treated all people with respect, and practiced peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We also protested, not merely to try to change the government, but also to keep clarity in the values we affirmed.

And I remembered that that has always been my own best path of resistance. (That’s why Margy and I chose to green our own living situation, to plant a garden, to learn to more deeply love the land we are living on.) When I was active as the minister of a congregation for many years, I needed to widen my perspective, to hold and affirm many ways of living our values. But now that I am retired, now that I am chronically ill, I am coming back to the core of my own journey. And it is okay to do what I can, and not to be tormented by what I have no power to change.

So all of that was grounding my spirit as the sun was rising yesterday.

And then, later, I did check Facebook, and saw everyone posting about the president getting a positive test for COVID19, and speculating about whether it was true, and what it might mean. And I really do honor the angst that people are feeling about the state of our country, and the election coming up, and the possible undermining of democracy, and so much more. But this time, I didn’t lose my balance. I didn’t get hooked into the chaos. I remembered that I don’t have to loudly condemn every atrocity or agonize over all the pain that I cannot alleviate. It is not a moral necessity to be panicked and despairing over all the evil in the world.

I remembered my own path, my own calling, the small ways that I can live into a vision of mutuality, of respect, of healing. I am writing to help myself remember, for those times that I forget again and again. And perhaps to help you remember your own calling, if you have forgotten in the midst of these strange times. May our many small actions be joined together by the great Mystery into the beauty that is possible.

Reclaiming Our Temple

Sadly, people often fill up their hearts with things that aren’t so good to worship. The temple of our hearts can get messed up and overrun with garbage, or taken over by invaders. When we are too attached to something too small, we call it idolatry or addiction. When we are addicted to something, it has captured the temple of our heart, just like the story we hear at Hanukkah about the Syrians who captured the temple in ancient Jerusalem.

I remember a friend who got caught like that. This was back when we were in high school, and she had gone to see the movie, Bonnie and Clyde, about the two famous gangsters. Somehow that movie became the most important thing in her life. She started dressing like a gangster, and smoking marijuana, and drinking beer; she stopped paying attention to school, and started hanging out with kids who were skipping school and going to stores to shoplift. She became a different person, who didn’t care about anything or anyone anymore. I don’t know what happened to her after I left school. I hope she found a way to clean all the junk out of her heart.

But each of us at some point in our lives has been taken over by something unworthy. How could we not be? We are surrounded by advertising, by greed, by competition, by individualism, by dogmatism, by ideology. Just to survive we make compromises; we learn to align ourselves with a group or a product. We divide into red and blue states. We worship a good thing until it becomes an idol for us. There are many ways to be too small.

Stained Glass Circle DSC05480When our heart has been taken over by something unworthy, it is a battle to win it back. It can be the hardest thing we’ve ever done in our lives. Like the Maccabees who won back the temple in Jerusalem, we may need to dedicate all of our strength to reclaiming our own temple again. We may need to gather others together to help us. But this is important. This is the temple. This is the heart of our life.

The feast of Hanukkah is known as a celebration of miracles. It reminds us that the dedication of the temple is not a simple thing—that there will always be battles over what is in the temple. That we must always re-dedicate ourselves to the worship of what is worthy of us. When I reflect on the old story, I ask myself, again, what is in my temple today? To what is it dedicated? Does it need to be purified? The miracle of Hanukkah was first of all believing that change was possible. Even when all seems hopeless, if we take the first step, if we light the first candle, the way will open up. We take the second step, and light the second candle.

If you had a temple in the secret spaces of your heart, what would you worship there? We can make a choice to worship that which has true worth for us. Rumi advised:

Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.