To Be Whole We Must Experience the Broken

Sun in branches DSC01449If I believe that all people, and all beings are connected, then in order to be whole, I must open my heart to that larger whole, to the connections between all people and all beings. However, when I open to the whole, I experience more profoundly its brokenness, the ways we hurt each other and our earth, the ways we are not in harmony. It is tempting to retreat, to draw a circle around myself to try to achieve some sort of individual harmony and balance—but that would cut me off, into the brokenness of separation.

I realize in this tension that there can be no individual salvation. If we want to heal ourselves, we must be healers of our world. If we want to heal our world, we must be connected to all the broken people. We must embrace the broken to heal the broken. Relationship is at the heart of everything. So, to be whole is to experience the broken. To be whole is to be broken.

It might be too much to bear. How do we find joy in the midst of it? Always, I remember the sun. The sun shining on each being, the sun the source of all life on earth. When I feel the sun warming my face, I realize that I am connected to the sun. Each moment of connection can be a source of joy. Each moment of connection rings true to our deepest purpose. To be connected to Mystery, to each other, to the earth, awakens joy.

And the truth is, even our brokenness, our limitations, can become doorways into connection. We are all incomplete without each other. We each have just one small piece of the puzzle. Alone, all we see are jagged edges and random colors… and maybe all together we see just a jumbled pile of jagged pieces—but sometimes we catch a glimpse of the puzzle box cover—what we might become all together. That glimpse can fill us with joy. And sometimes, we find another piece that fits together with our own jagged edge. We have to find our joy in each moment of connection.

Our jagged edges teach us that we need each other. When I reach the limits of my knowledge or ability, it is a gift to reach out to another person, whose knowledge and ability might balance my own. All returning soldiers from the battlefield need the tenderness of others to find self-forgiveness. One day, when I was weary and sad about my recurring impulse to tell my partner what to do, my partner said, “I know you can be controlling sometime, but I love you just the way you are.”

We must embrace the jagged edges, embrace the broken pieces. Forgive and be forgiven. Ask for help. This is the path to wholeness. The sun shines down on all of us, each day, whether cloudy or clear, making no distinction between the good and the bad. May we return to the great circle of life, may we hold each other and all beings tenderly, for we are one.

The Sun Shines on All

Reconciliation and forgiveness require us to seek out those whom we have hurt, or who have hurt us, to make things whole again. We must mend the threads of connection between ourselves and other people, between ourselves and the earth, between ourselves and the Mystery of life.

This is not easy work. It is not just big societal evils that we face. We also face the everyday betrayals and regrets. Self-forgiveness may be the hardest of all. We face the perennial faults that are unique to us, yet common to so many. We mean to be kind, but find ourselves cranky and rude instead. We mean to be supportive to a friend or family member, but feel judgmental instead. We mean to be honest, but tell little lies to avoid upsetting someone. We mean to be generous, but feel greedy about our pleasures.

Can I forgive myself the belief that I am right when I argue with my neighbor? Can you forgive yourself the angry words shouted at your child as you are trying to get out of the house to make it to school or work on time? Can we forgive ourselves the end of a relationship with a partner or spouse? Can I forgive myself for needing help when I don’t know how to face a situation on my own?

Sun and Snow DSC06016What helps me to forgive is to remember the sun. The sun shines down on all of us, each day, making no distinction between the good and the bad, making no distinction between when I am in tune with all my values, or when I fail. Its light is constant, never changing because of virtue or vice, but merely following the rhythm of the seasons and lighting up the blue sky or the gray clouds. Its light keeps shining, giving life to all creatures. When I remember that I am accepted as part of the circle of life, it seems easier to open my heart to forgive myself.

And if I am a part of the circle of life, so is everyone else. If I believe that all people, and all beings are connected, then in order to be whole, I must open my heart to that larger whole, to the connections between all people and all beings. This is the heart of spiritual practice—to open our hearts to the larger whole of which we are a part.

Forgiving the Broken

Apple Tree Fall DSC01738Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.
                                                                                           Louise Erdrich

One day, caught in the gap between my ideals for living in harmony with the earth and what I am actually able to do, I went outside to share my sorrow with the trees and the green earth. I want human society to be better than it is—I want there to be a path forward that is not so lonely and hard, so expensive and out of reach. I was in a painful, broken place. I sat down on a blanket on the ground, and looked to the four sacred elements of the earth for help; the earth, the air, the fire, the water. They were kinder than I expected.

The Earth said, “Forgive the people of your society. Don’t hate your own kind. They didn’t know the oil would run out. They were creating what seemed to be good with all this abundance. It’s not evil to use oil. It is evil to fight wars and oppress workers and sully the waters in your attempts to keep it and secure it.”

The Air reminded me that the songs of birds can dispel sadness, and awaken joy and beauty.

The Fire surrounded me with the warmth of love, and said these energy issues can only be resolved through your connection to the sun. All of our energy comes from the sun.

The Water said, “Weep when you are sad. Don’t always try to fix it.” And so I eventually came to a place of peace.

One of my ecological dreams is a “net-zero carbon” home that generates more energy than it needs. I’ve heard about these homes and the architects that are designing them. That would be ideal. But in order to be alive in this world, I need to forgive the messiness of what is, as it is now. I need to accept that human beings as a species do not live in harmony with the earth right now. We are broken off.

I am able to accept our brokenness when I feel the Sun shining down on us despite it all. When I feel the water claiming us as her own, the flowers blooming, the food growing, the birds singing. The beauty of this earth teaches me that there is something very good even in the midst of our brokenness. The next day, the newspaper had a story about green homes in New England. If I can expand my perspective, I can be joyful that some people are creating zero-carbon homes, that something is awakening among human beings that will lead to greater wholeness with the earth. I feel hopeful when I learn that the United Kingdom has a goal of all new constructed homes being zero-carbon homes by 2016.Apple DSC01750

Louise Erdrich quote from The Painted Drum, p. 274.

Blessed Illusion!

Flowing Water MJ DSC02210The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote,

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
there was a fountain flowing
deep within my heart.
Water, tell me by what hidden
channel you come to me,
with a source of new life
I never drank from before.

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
I had a beehive
deep within my heart;
and the golden bees
were using old
bitterness to produce
white wax and sweet honey.

Last night when I was sleeping,
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
a blazing sun was shining
deep within my heart.
It burned because it gave off
heat like a red hearth;
it was a sun that illumined
and also made me cry.

Last night when I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
it was God that I felt
deep within my heart.
                                                                          Translation by Armand F. Baker.

As I have explored in earlier posts, the word God can be a confusing word. God is hard to talk about—whatever we can say about God, that is not really what God is. Machado’s poem uses these stories and images, these dream illusions to describe a movement of mystery within his heart.  Robert Bly, in a more well known translation, calls the original spanish “¡bendita ilusión!” a “Marvelous Error.”

I believe that Machado knows that words can’t really describe what he has found inside his heart.  Only “illusion”–he calls it a blessed illusion–can begin to point to it.  And yet, what we say about God reflects what we worship in the temple in our hearts. What we say about God matters.  And saying this word God is a good reminder to choose something big enough to worship. Saying the word God is a good reminder not to give our devotion to anything which is not worthy of us.

Raymond Baughan, said,

What is required of us…
Is that we go down
Into uncertainty
Where what is new is old as every morning
And what is well known is not known as well…

What is worthy of our worship? What can lead us into the largest reality of which we are a part? What can open our being to the essential Mystery? What will keep expanding, and never be smaller than what we have already known? It is a process never finished.

“What is Required of Us,” by Raymond Baughan,author of The Sound of Silence: a Book of Meditations, 1965, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Sun and Moon

Campsite View

Morning View from our Campsite

One summer, I was sitting at our campsite at Winslow Park, watching the sun rise over the water. It was a day without a lot of plans, so I could sit and watch the sky and water for a long time. I noticed how fast the sun seemed to move up the sky. I heard somewhere that you can estimate the time by holding up your fist sideways, and counting each fist width from the horizon to the sun as an hour. In a simpler world, it was enough to tell time by noticing where the sun was in the sky.

Curious about this, I discovered that actually, if you took a picture of the sun at noon every day for a year, you’d find that it wasn’t in the same spot at all. Rather, you’d have a photo of an elliptical shape, like a lopsided figure eight. People call this path of the sun an analemma. It is formed from the fact that our orbit is not an exact circle, but an ellipse, and our planet is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. So we have the seasons, and each day from June to December the sun rises a few minutes later, and a little bit further to the south, passing by due east on Equinox.

The natural world is full of these movements that follow their own intricate rhythms and orderly patterns. As I become aware of them, I begin to feel myself as a part of a vast dance with the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars. Our spiritual journey is such a dance—it too follows intricate rhythms and mysterious patterns. We may imagine that we are going forward, but perhaps we are dancing round and round like the moon.

Each day, the moon rises on average fifty minutes later than the previous day, and the high and low tides are changing at a similar pace. Winslow Park has a tidal beach, so we pay attention to the tides in the summer. You can only swim for about two hours before and after the high tide. One of our city friends didn’t understand about tides. We were planning to go swimming with her on a Wednesday. Two days before, she was visiting the beach and called us from there to make plans. “The sign at the beach house says high tide is at 2 p.m.,” she said, “Shall we meet at 2 on Wednesday?” We had to explain to her that the tide would be later in two days, closer to 3:40 p.m.; that it changes every day.

Once, years ago, I created a moon calendar for my stepdaughter Stephanie, who was six years old at the time. I was curious myself about why the moon was sometimes seen in the morning, and sometimes in the evening, and I thought it would be fun to learn about it and share it with her. So I tracked it, and began to understand its pattern.

The full moon rises at sunset and stays in the sky all night, setting at sunrise. Then, as the days go by, the moon begins to grow smaller, and it rises about fifty minutes later each day, until you can only see it in the morning just before and after dawn. About two weeks after the full moon, the moon rises unseen with the sun and sets invisibly with the sun. The night is dark. This is called the dark moon or the new moon. Then a day or two later, a thin waxing crescent appears in the western sky just after sunset and sets soon after. Each day it is seen in the evening for a little longer time until we come round to full moon again.

Full Moon

Dawn Rhythms

Crescent Moon at DawnOne morning on Star Island, I heard the cardinal at 4 a.m. Closer to first light. The waning crescent moon was hung over a deep pink rainbow of a skyline. I began to wonder why we don’t always get up with the light. It is actually quite bright in the hour between dawn and sunrise.

Before that summer, I had used the words dawn and sunrise interchangeably, but I learned that dawn refers to the first light that comes before sunrise. There is so much of it. Enough to read and write in my journal. We could save a lot of electricity if we got up at first light, and went to bed earlier. Of course, that is the logic behind daylight savings time, where we set the clock ahead so that we wake up an hour earlier during the longer days.

But what would it be like if our world was oriented to the rising and setting of the sun? Then every day we’d rise a little later or earlier than the day before. Because the sunrise changes every day. We’d have long days in the summer, and short days in the winter. The earliest sunrise in Maine comes in mid June, just before 5 a.m. daylight savings time. (That would be 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.) The latest sunrise comes about 7:15 at the end of December, except, because of time changes, it actually gets to 7:22 in early November, before we fall back with the changing of the clocks.

So, people might say that it wouldn’t be practical, in our world, to plan our day according to the sun. We plan our lives according to the clock. But what do we lose by that? While I was trying to discover the natural rhythm of dawn, I could feel how disconnected I was from all natural rhythms. Rising at dawn is a way to deepen my relationship with the seasons of the earth, and to the sun, and to the birds. But it makes me wonder, “Why do we try to shape the earth to our demands? Why don’t we try to shape ourselves to the rhythms of the earth?” And what might happen if we changed that pattern?

Cultures and religions the world over have honored the sacredness of dawn, the sacredness of the sun. Our word “sun” comes from the Old English, “sunne,” which was related to the Germanic sun goddess, “Sunna.” It shows up in our everyday language—the day of our worship is called Sunday. Christian monks, and Hindu priests rise at dawn; Muslims during Ramadan, as well as Indigenous peoples across many cultures. There is something in our human life that wants to be attuned to the life of the earth, which looks for beauty and joy in these simple rhythms.

Sunrise Blessings

Mona Polacca, an indigenous elder of the Hopi and Havasupai people, spoke at my church one summer. She talked about how we come into relationship with all the elements of the earth, with water, and air, and fire and earth. She blessed us with the feather of a water bird. Someone at the talk asked Mona what gave her hope. She said, hope comes with each new dawn.

Feeling blessed by her words, the next day, I woke up at 5 a.m. and went outside a few minutes later. It was already so light! The sunrise was to be about 5:18. The birds were all singing their morning songs. I could see the red orange sphere through the branches of the spruce tree.Spruce Sunrise DSC03603 I felt anew the amazing power of the sun. All plants convert sunlight to energy, and animals eat the plants, and we eat the plants and animals and our bodies are formed of this. We are the sun. Every fiber of our being is created of sunlight. All the earth sings to this light, this star from which we are created.

And we can see the sun. We have been fashioned in such a way that we can recognize this parent—all the creatures of the surface of the earth feel and see the sunlight. I felt joined together with that song of the earth, a prayer of thanksgiving to the sun. Thanks for life! I chimed in. Thanks for vision to experience the life all around me of which I am a part, and for hearing and smelling and tasting and touching.

After such a magical moment, you might think that I would be awake every morning after that. But it wasn’t so easy for me to actually get up at dawn. To sustain it I would have to go to bed much earlier than I was used to. The very next morning I had planned to sleep in, because I was up late the night before. But in the middle of my sleeping, I heard a banging sound.

I stirred, and realized that one of our kittens was inside the closet, pushing against the sliding doors. I grumbled, but the clock said 5:15 a.m., exactly five minutes before sunrise. Feeling duly summoned by forces greater than myself, I crawled out from under the sheets, pulled on my shoes, and went outside once more, while the red ball was just appearing in the east.