Rain

RainI woke early in the morning, anxious about yet another radon test at our old house, as the rain was coming down and the wind was all stirred up. We’ve had two failed radon tests, before and after upgrades to our mitigation system.  The other day, the mitigation folks were checking on why the radon levels had doubled after their upgrades, but everything  seemed fine, and their instant test meter was showing no problems.  They suggested that perhaps it was an anomaly, and we should retest.

I had read online that radon tends to be at its worst in the winter and/or when it is raining. So I wondered whether that had affected the tests.  According to the mitigation folks, it shouldn’t matter that much.  But both of the tests happened during stormy weather, the last one including a rare winter thunderstorm, with an inch of rain and high wind levels. Now, here we are again, testing, with the rain pouring down, and the sale of our house to these buyers resting on the outcome. Why was it raining once again?

But then my heart took me to a deeper place this morning. I realized that deep in my subconscious I was still attached to that old myth–that when good things happened it was a sign of blessing or favor from the great Mysteries, the Spirits, the Divine benevolence. And its counter:  I believed that when bad things happened it was a sign of abandonment or disfavor.  So I was troubled with the Rain and Wind, the Thunder–Why are you not helping us? I thought. I was wondering if the Rain and Wind were angry with us.

But then, they brought me to a deeper reality.  That myth of blessing or abandonment is the quintessential American myth.  But it is not really true.  Otherwise, what does that mean for the people who have faced many troubles–so much bigger troubles than radon or house sale troubles–are they abandoned or in disfavor with the spirit?  What of every child who has lost a parent, or parent who has lost a child? What of the people who lost lands and cultures to the genocide of the early explorers and settlers? What of the people who were torn from their own countries in chains? What of those who are torn from their homes today, in the wake of war and terrorism? It is not the Spirit who has abandoned them, but perhaps their fellow human beings.

The Spirit remains present with us through everything.  Whether we face happy outcomes or troubles.  Love enfolds us in its widest embrace.  That is the truest reality.  Whether we pass or fail the radon test, the Rain and Wind and Thunder are still our guardians. I have to let my small heart open wide, to move beyond the idea of prayer as an attachment to things going my way, or the easy way, into prayer as an entryway into perceiving that all-embracing Love.

And in the light of that Love, don’t we want the best for the people who are hoping to buy our house?  Don’t we want them to be safe and have the best possible outcome for their home search, even as we hope it for ourselves? If there is a radon problem in the house, don’t we want it to be solved for them? And radon, or a house sale, are so small in the great scheme of things. There are so many bigger challenges that are facing our world today.  Challenges of water and air for all people. Challenges of climate change and war and xenophobia and oppression.

This journey is rooted in an intention–to live in a more beneficial relationship with the earth and all beings. Each step of the way can be imbued with that intention, and can bring us closer to that vision. Along the way, reality will be reality, and if that phrase, “all will be well,” means anything real, it is not dependent on test outcomes or house sales. Now it might be time to take a walk in the rain.

 

 

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Paint

Painted shelves

Photo and Paint by Margy Dowzer–her caption: “paint drying, painter tired”

Margy took this photo–can you see her in the window?  She painted the inside of the shelves.  Even with zero VOC paint, I have trouble with the fumes, but she does a little better, so she’s been tackling the insides of closets and cupboards as we try to finish getting the house ready for our move in one week. The day after this photo, she was utterly exhausted and had to crash for the day.  But we each are doing what we can to move this process forward.  I love our partnership!

Helpers for Finding Our Way Home

Cardinal

Margy Dowzer Photo

There are beings all around us who want to be called upon, who want to help us in this work of returning to wholeness, this work of finding our way home. I have shared stories of a few of the beings who have helped me. The bright red cardinal singing its beautiful song. The four directions beech tree. The waters of lakes and streams. The ground, the very ground we walk upon, that holds me when all around me everything is falling apart.

Now that I know about the mycelial network, the ground feels more alive to me. But it was always true that something happened when I sat down upon the ground. If I sleep on the ground for a longer period of days, there is a glow that surrounds my body. I remember this from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, where I was living in a tent for four months. I felt alive in some new way that I began to miss when I went back inside an apartment in Chicago. I forget it easily, but I feel more alive when I am outside.

Jesus has been such a helping presence too. First in my childhood and youth, when he was the one who loved me and who called me to the path of love. But even later, when I was leaving Christianity to follow the path of the Goddess, Jesus was a guide and a friend. If we can experience the divine within every being around us, the theological questions about Jesus seem less of a quandary. People have been asking, over the centuries, Was Jesus a man or a God? I would answer, Aren’t all of us both human and divine?

When Winifred Gallagher wrote about her quest for a spiritual home, she described the essential spiritual practice of the Christian tradition as the practice of love for everyone. She commented that it seemed a lot easier to meditate for an hour every day, than to have to practice love for everyone—it was not an easy alternative. It has been a deep tragedy that Christianity has been used to foster hate and oppression. Jesus stays in my life as the teacher of love, the human example of what divine love looks like.

I want you to know that we are not alone. In this time of great challenges and transitions, there are a host of beings who love life and want to help us find another way to live. As we reach out to them, they are reaching out to us. I understand that every person will have their own ways of connecting to earth, to each other, to Mystery. The mycelial network might not be the thing that helps you to experience the connection between all beings. You might not resonate with Jesus or with trees. But I encourage you to find out what it is that does help you. In these times we need critical thinking and activism and also mysticism.

Just as we can now sit in front of a plastic and metal panel and communicate with people across the world, so there are technologies to communicate across species and across dimensions. The threads of life weave us together in ways we have barely begun to imagine. But I know this: we belong here together and we need each other now more than ever. Poet Barbara Deming wrote:

Our own pulse beats in every stranger’s throat,
and also there within the flowered ground beneath our feet.
Teach us to listen:
We can hear it in water, in wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth, and we are bone of its bone.
This is the prayer I sing.

Green Back Yard DSC05265

Choosing the Honorable and the Just

…To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
Wendell Berry

Rev. Bill Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International, wrote eloquently about the power of human resistance to evil. I want to share his words:

In every situation of incomprehensible terror there are always a few people who have cast their lot with the Honorable and the Just… Such people need not be well-educated or sophisticated or even successful in their witness; they simply need to be those who, in the face of sorrow, choose honor and blessing and life. And when they do, they redeem if not humanity, then at least their generation. …For if even only one person in a generation or a country or a culture chooses honor and blessing and life—even only one—then it means that anyone could have made that choice; it means that the Radiant had not completely died in those days; it means that Glory has not been silenced.

We are challenged to respond to the horrible situations of our time with a courageous endeavor—to remember that we are connected. There might be occasions when remembering this connection demands great heroism. The sufferings of the world are so big, and we feel so small. It is frightening to contemplate. But most of the time we are responding to smaller divisions; we must practice finding relationship in the everyday world of conflict and difference—the neighbor whose dog barks too much, the family member whose religious beliefs are contrary to our own, the person whose culture we do not understand, the child who is asserting her own independence.

The promise is that whenever we stand up for human dignity and connection, we bring the power of Grace into the world, we bring the power of God into the world. Whenever we choose mutual respect instead of violence, we strengthen the possibility of Goodness. Whenever we reach out to one who is suffering, we keep alive the Radiant for one more day.

Sunset Winslow DSC02433

Bill Schulz quote from his sermon, “Too Swift to Stop, Too Sweet to Lose”
Wendell Berry quote from “To My Granddaughters,” in A Timbered Choir

A God Who Is Not All Powerful?

A while back I picked up a book by Andrew Greeley called God Game. His premise intrigued me. A man is asked to test a new computer game. In this game, he interacts with characters who are people in a computer generated world. He types in commands which the characters perceive as an inner voice coming from their God. He uses this influence to shape the direction of the story in progress. In a process similar to writing a novel, he can create a tragedy, a comedy, a romance. He can use commands to influence the weather, or physical objects.

When our narrator begins the game he discovers the people are fighting a war, and likely to soon destroy each other. Being a benevolent author, he begins to direct them to make peace with their enemies. But soon it is apparent that the game is more complicated than that.

First of all, he learns that he can command the characters to take certain actions, but sometimes they choose to ignore his direction. The programmers have included freedom as one of the parameters of the program. He must work with the characters that are open to his leading, and use the actual abilities written into their personalities. Then to top it off, sometimes trouble arrives in the form of random events. Eventually, he become totally immersed in the game and finds he loves the people under his care. He agonizes over how to help the peace succeed.

The book explores the premise of a loving God who is not all powerful. I found myself feeling sympathy for such a God who might feel frustrated, and worried, and angry sometimes. He wants the story to come out well. He wants the characters to live happily ever after. But all he can do is offer assistance and inspiration as they face the problems of their world: he was not able to eradicate evil in one fell swoop.

In contrast, I grew up with the idea of a God who was supposed to be in charge of everything. All-powerful, all knowing, and all good. Whatever happened, it must fit into the will of God, and therefore be for the good. Even when bad things happened, we were to accept it as a part of God’s mysterious plan. But Elie Wiesel challenged such a view with his unrelenting questions: How could anyone accept a God who could ordain such an evil as the Holocaust? How could anyone trust a God who would stand by and let it happen?

Photo Source Unknown

Photo Source Unknown

Episcopal theologian, Carter Heyward, was deeply influenced by the questions of Elie Wiesel. For Heyward, as for Wiesel, the Holocaust was an indictment of the churches’ understanding of God as a supreme power who dominates the world. It was an indictment of the idea of obedience as morally desirable. Likewise, it found unacceptable a God who is merely an observer, a spectator in the face of such horrors. If God is indifferent to human suffering, then there is no use to us for such a God.

Heyward writes that for Elie Wiesel nothing is of more fundamental value than mutual relationship. The only ethical God must be found in loving relationships between people. In the camps, the opposite happened: the Jews were treated as if they no longer existed. The camps were a systematic assault on every element of personhood: numbers instead of names, meaningless hard labor, separation from family, arbitrary selection for extermination. The only ethical response to such evil would be to make a connection with those who suffer, to resist evil’s capacity to destroy the power of relationship.

Irving Greenberg put it like this: “…to talk of love and of a God who cares in the presence of the burning children is obscene and incredible; to leap in and pull a child out of a pit, to clean its face and heal its body, is to make the only statement that counts.” In other words, to face the problem of evil, we must resist violence and dehumanization by acts of connection and relationship.

Why Is There So Much Evil and Suffering?

Bars DSC00601_2To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin

 Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,
for I know that you will be afraid.
                                                                         Wendell Berry

If we are paying attention, we have to notice that life holds not only beauty, but tragedy. It holds not only goodness, but greed and hate and oppression. It holds unspeakable acts that human beings commit against each other and against the earth. Some people ask, if there is a God, especially a God of Love, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?  I want to explore this question over the next several blog posts.

Every once in a while I have a dream in which there is a dangerous person lurking about outside of my house, and I am frantically trying to lock the doors. But in this dream I keep finding openings to the outside that don’t lock. Here in America, we associate locked doors with a sense of safety from evil. We think of evil as something that has to be kept out.

It makes me think about walls. There is a wall being built in Palestine, purportedly to keep terrorists out of Israel. Some sections of the wall go right between a family and their own olive grove. There is a plan to extend a wall across our entire border with Mexico, as part of Homeland Security. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I mean, even if a wall could protect us from terrorists, I have never heard of a Mexican crossing the border to blow up a building in the U.S. But the thing with keeping evil out is that you’ve got to blame somebody. Immigrants have often born the brunt of our feelings of insecurity.

Since September 11th, 2001, many previously safe Americans have felt as if evil has gotten through the doors, and we must frantically try to find a way to feel safe again. Terrorism has become the new face of evil.

Wendell Berry quote is from “To My Granddaughters” in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-97

Creating the Beloved Community

When Jesus talked about the importance of loving our neighbor, someone asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A traveler was walking on the road to Jericho, and was attacked by bandits who robbed him and beat him and left him on the side of the road. A priest was walking down the road, and saw the man and went over to the other side. A lawyer also ignored the wounded man. But a Samaritan traveling on the same road saw the man, and was moved to compassion. He bound his wounds, and brought the man to an inn, where he continued to care for him overnight, and then paid the innkeeper to care for him as he went on his travels. Then Jesus turned the question around—“Who do you think was neighbor to the man?” The one who showed him compassion.

This story is made compelling by its social context. In the time when Jesus told the story, Samaritans and Jews generally held each other in contempt. They were enemies. Maybe something like Republicans and Democrats these days, only worse. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story, and that certainly must have ruffled feathers. The story was a challenge to the lawyers and priests and their narrow definition of the circle of compassion. The story was a challenge to be neighbors with the people we don’t like, the people on the other side. To treat those neighbors with compassion.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.” In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

I want to acknowledge that in our age, it is easy to feel hopeless about this vision. It is easy to think of it as an idealistic dream of the sixties. Cynicism has risen, the right wing has fought back against the hopes so hard fought for by Dr. King and others. More and more we see a new individualism and polarization, an abandonment of the poor and vulnerable by those in power. The opposition has become more crafty and deceptive.

But, on some level, that makes no difference at all. The vision of nonviolence is not based on winning, though a victory for good fills us with joy. The vision of nonviolence is based on faithfulness and hope. As Dr. King said,

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

And so, in the midst of the conflict and trouble of our age, may we find the strength and courage to be practitioners of love. In the midst of selfishness and greed, may we find generosity and vision. In the midst of rancor and division, may we remember that we are all one people. May we behold and believe in the possibility of Beloved Community, and work steadfastly to open the doors that all may enter there in. May we always remember, as Dr. King reminded us,

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Heart Candle Flame DSC01573

Quotes from Dr. King from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age, December 1956, in A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and “Where Do We Go From Here,” a 1967 Speech.