Contents

Foreword

Introduction


REFLECTING INWARD


Gift of Sabbath

A Polished Mirror

Loving in Fear

Living Waters

Self-honesty

Revealing Rings

Take Off Your Mask

When Nothing is the Same

Grow Restless

Mother Renewal

Dimensions of Soul

What Are You Doing Here?

The Eternal

Freedom Waits

The Lost Dimension

When To Take Off Your Sandals

Dreams and Fears

They Knew

Creating Fire

Ancient Waters

Like a River

Useful Anger

New Year Guest

Open Chambers

A Space Between

My Child

My Obit

Singing in a Foreign Land

The Tree Mirror

My True Identity

Recognition

Combustion

Ambedkar’s Choice




BEING A FORCE OF NATURE



At the Water’s Edge

Peace Like a River, Strength Like a Mountain

The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Born of Urgency

Grounded

Strength from Silence and a Storm

Droplets in Rainbows

In Gratitude

Vapors of Hope

He Looked Back

A Certain Comfort

Particles of Love

The Seed Knows to Grow

Even the Rocks are Moving

Mindful Cutting

Your Presence

Nature Is No Metaphor

A Strange Bird

The Gift

Making Sacred

The Rainbow Sign

Liberating Energy

Distant Return

The Scent of the Eternal

Winds of Change

Conscious Relationships

Entwined

In the Intervals

Seasonal Blessings

Rhythms of Change

Eternal Currency

Walls

This Sacred Place




BEING A FORCE OF HISTORY



Be the Change

Saving the World

Give Me the Strength

Generation to Generation

Time-Location

Spiritual Dimensions of a Life

Impatience

Making Meaning

Reverence for Life

When the Past Arrives

Peace for All

It’s a Great Day to Be Alive

Action Matters

Rejoice

Armed for Conflict

My Saints

Distillations

Change With Charity

Crossing Borders

Privilege

Is That Not Enough?

Fearing Greatness

Vanishing Song Birds

Leadership

Redefining Courage

We the People

Remembering September 11

Up To a Point

The Meaning of Suffering

Now



PRACTICE



Balance

Among the Flags

Vow Making

Be Happy

The Half Smile

Tell the Good News

What to Grow

Together in Hope

Finding Space

In Troubled Times

Keeping Spirits Up

Teach Me Aliveness

The Practical Wait

The Proof

Balancing

Seek Passion

Missed Opportunity

Waiting Moments

The Right Voice

Be Worthy

The Imperative to Praise

Finding Harmony

Side by Side

Connection Addiction

Do Nothing

G80

gCan You Grieve?

Be Collectors of Goodness

Thinking of You When You’re Dead

What to Call You?



ACCEPTING GRACE



Surprise Gifts

Trusting Uncertainty

Convergence

A Holy Moment

Eternal Light

Born in Darkness

Hold the Holy

Finding Thanksgiving

The Heart Lives in Darkness

How Do You Suffer?

I Am Wonderfully Made

Look and Listen

In the Whirlwind

Who is Speaking?

Seeing in Darkness

A Strange Gift

Joy in Dark Times

The Mystic’s Gift

Doing It Matters

Come to Me

Knowledge

An Inkling

Re-Creation

What’s to Learn

Blessed Half-light

Considerations

Suppose

Evocative Evidence

Our Common Purpose



REFLECTING INWARD

Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you.

—Gospel of Thomas


The Gift of Sabbath

Spirit of my greatest longing, help me accept the gift of Sabbath—a moment, an hour, a day of awareness that will return to me again and again. Like the unnamed one who quieted the waters of chaos to bring all things to life, grant me the wisdom of the pause. Help me still the churning waters of my soul.


A Polished Mirror

Polish your heart for a day or two; make that mirror your book of contemplation.

—Rumi


Honestly searching our hearts, we  find our true self, the one that is strong enough to confess errors, open-minded enough to change direction, and wise enough to live generously so others might simply live. When we polish the interior mirror of the self, it  shines upon our longings for peace and justice and gives off the radiance of insight.


For years my life was filled with working to end militarism and establish new government priorities. There were local and national demonstrations to plan, speeches to give, and broadcasts to make. Self-reflection seemed a wasteful indulgence. Then suddenly my personal life began to unravel, and I was forced to begin an inward journey that eventually cast a sustaining light on my work for peace and justice.


The need for contemplation is never-ending. The true self lurks in the shadows of ever-changing circumstances. With the polished mirror of self-reflection, however, we are able to see more clearly those qualities of self that diminish our potential and are able to be more at peace in any situation.


Loving in Fear

Spirit of Life, God of Love, grant me the courage to love boldly in the face of my greatest fears. Grow me in your wisdom and let my actions speak when silence threatens justice and indifference disturbs peace. When gossip, hate, and cruelty arise among friends or in public places, help me bravely walk forward with love. When I defensively assert certainty in the presence of the unknown, grant me the courage to live comfortably in the unanswerable questions of life. Bless me with the eternal gift of not knowing and let it take root in me until it pushes forth shoots of understanding and branches of humility.


Living Waters


We float on a sea

hidden beneath dry surfaces

covered by stones.


Isn’t this why we drink and dive so deeply

go down to the sea in ships

risk drowning, again and again?


Isn’t this why Moses parted the waters

to begin his journey?


Why Jesus crossed the waters

to comfort and challenge us?


We were born in water.

We float free in water.

We are washed clean by water.


Isn’t this why we long to find our inward sea?

To help us wash clean the world?


Self-honesty

The nation was wealthy and militarily powerful. Some people had grown rich at the expense of many who lived in poverty. Leaders became conceited, certain their prosperity and security were only due to their own efforts.


Amos, a Hebrew prophet from a poor rural region, grasped the moral significance of the growing gap between the rich and poor and of the nation’s arrogance. He saw Israel headed for self-destruction unless it woke up and reflected honestly about itself. So he fashioned a speech whose simple truth speaks to us today. He knew his people would close their ears if he began by telling them what was wrong with their behavior, so he drew them in with a rhetorical trick which played to their self-righteousness. He said that the nations surrounding Israel would suffer God’s wrath for neglecting the poor and for their egotism. He named all their wrongdoings. Then this humble prophet turned his attention to Israel and lay open its failings, showing how they would lead to ruin.


Amos got the attention of his people by asking them to do what we all do so naturally—focus on the negative behavior of our enemies while ignoring our own weaknesses. Another prophet of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, found a simple way to say it: “Why do you notice the sliver in your friend’s eye, but overlook the timber in your own?”


In the midst of injustice and arrogance, let us speak skillfully and humbly, and pray for the wisdom to examine our own hearts.


Revealing Rings


The cutting was complete.

The aged contours of the tree lay at his feet.

All the young scientist wanted was there now

in the secrets of the rings

the glory of discovery

the victory of new knowledge

the pride of accomplishment.


He counted past the ring of Jesus’ birth,

Buddha’s enlightenment,

the writing of the most sacred Vedic texts.


Then he moved beyond the year 4,800

and discovered

he had destroyed

the oldest living thing,

severing its connection to the ground of being

the only true source of knowledge

the only true source of glory.



Take Off Your Mask

Love takes off the mask we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.

—James Baldwin


We reach for the mask of righteousness

when our insecurities are exposed,

slip it over purple scars

and yellowing bruises we gained

when, open-faced,

we first met our fears.


Once inside our mask

comfort fills our lungs

and our breathing softens.


No one told us the dangers of living behind the mask,

of what happens when tears fall in darkness

and do not wash away arrogance and pride.


No one told us how life fades

from faces untouched by opposition.


But now that we know,

will you help me lift my mask?

And if you’ll let me, I’ll help to lift yours.

BEING A FORCE OF NATURE

The same stream of life that runs through my

veins night and day runs through the world and

dances in rhythmic measures.

—Rabindranath Tagore


At the Water’s Edge


Spirit of Life, God of my deepest longing, you lure me to the water’s edge, where the tide of wonder rises easily into my open heart. Lift my feet over the long meandering rack of washed up certainties that cling to sand made clean by your passing. Here, where winter ice dissolves and sinks deeply into wetlands, where summer foam blows in the wind, and gulls laugh at the sea, I come looking for you. But I don’t find you here. When will I learn that your presence is not in a particular place? Anywhere I open my heart I will feel your presence.



Peace Like a River, Strength Like a Mountain

Nature provides ready metaphors for peace and justice. Jesus’ peaceful kingdom is described as a mustard seed that grows into a large bush, providing shelter to all. The Hebrew prophet Amos cried for justice to roll down like water, and we sing, “I’ve got peace like a river…strength like a mountain.”


But it takes more than mere words to join nature to action. Truly experiencing ourselves as a force of nature in all its varied circumstance is something beyond just symbolism.


The next breath I take is not a metaphor. It is, if I am mindful of it, a reminder that I myself am a force of nature, linked to all that exists on our living, breathing planet. In many American Indian traditions the medicine wheel honors the natural forces that can guide us into harmony with all living things. Our suffering, our victories, and the passions and beliefs that move us to action are part of a larger system that appears at times to seek harmony and at times to tear us apart. In engaging each fully we become forces of nature.


Officials laughed when Wangari Matthai said that the women of her country would plant fifteen million trees. The natural strength of the trees they planted began flowing through the women who planted them and they discovered their own power. Through the simple planting of trees women who lived in poverty and despair began to transform the landscape and themselves. The trees helped reduce soil erosion and water pollution. They provided shade and produced sustainable crops. Wangari Maathai’s vision transformed the landscape of Kenya, and the Greenbelt Movement she started has spread to more than thirty countries.


Growing and producing enough food for their families gave Kenyan women a greater vision and unexpected courage. They began to challenge their leaders’ dictatorial and environmentally destructive policies. They faced brutal oppression with a strength they could not have imagined when the first trees were planted. When you plant a tree and you see it grow, Maathai says, something happens to you. You want to protect it, and you value it. The same thing happens with a vision.

The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

—George Bernard Shaw

Matted and torn,  thawing brown leaves blanket the ground. Under a quilted patch-work of old wounds and new defeats we rest.


From this landscape a mourning cloak butterfly takes flight. Aptly named, this creature knows something about being a force of nature. It does not fly away or die when winter approaches. In its black cloak trimmed with gold, it waits through the long winter under a blanket of  rotting leaves. After a rain, when the world starts turning  toward spring, it opens its wings on a rock and is warmed by the sun. Vital energy reenters its body, giving joy to its flight.


We too can push aside the ailments and grievances that bury us, spread our wings toward the light, and let our spirits soar.

Born of Urgency


A bristlecone pine crawls

out of a seed buried in rocks

above the tree line.

It sets its roots

in star dust,

born from an urgency

that traveled through

dark space

at light speed


until I gazed upon it

and hope and desire

rooted me in the unfinished

work of the universe.



Grounded


It hurts to let go of intensity

that zapped like electricity

yesterday.


It hurts to disconnect arcing power,

watch it ground and vanish.


What was it that surged through us

to lighten gray, indifferent skies?

What was it that connected

our hearts to hope?


Now we must wait,

for that inward current

to arc us forward again,

connecting our quest for justice

to the power of inner peace.


Strength from Silence and a Storm

Rejected and ridiculed by Buddhist leaders for his socially engaged religious practices Thich Nhat Hanh and a small group of like-minded young monks retreated to the forest to listen to the healing Zen voice of silence. They saw nature as a Zen koan. The traditional mechanism for a koan is a pattern of words or stories that, when contemplated, create space to respond mindfully and correctly to ever-changing circumstances. Thich Nhat Hanh found truth in nature. The soothing silence of the forest calmed him; raging storms were a call from the heart of the cosmos. His response to that call was a series of bold acts of compassion that directly challenged the government of his own country and of the United States during  the Vietnam War. Decades later, living in much changed circumstances, he still responds to the cosmos’ call. Wherever you are, there is always the need to listen and reply to the sound of the universe.

BEING A FORCE OF HISTORY

Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith.

—Reinhold Niebuhr


Be the Change

After four decades of study and writing, Will and Ariel Durant completed their ten-volume The Story of Civilization. Later, in a thin book entitled The Lessons of History they offered this observation: “History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by selecting instances.”


I once found this notion  unsettling. Certainly, I thought, history was on the side of the righteous ones, like myself. I reached freely into history’s deep pockets to prove my points. I did this with a conviction fearfully similar to those who argue that God is on their side.


But now I agree that it’s not possible to find objective truth in history. No one can say with complete confidence and honesty that history is on her side. At the same time, those who want to move the world in the direction of equality and lasting harmony must become, and learn to think of themselves as, forces of history.


In a world of clashing and conflicting definitions, it matters tremendously when we declare ourselves willing to be judged as partisans for a particular cause. No one possesses the whole truth or can predict where his actions will lead, but to do nothing is to add one more problem to the  troublesome equation. In this regard, being a force of history requires both humility and courage.

Mohandas Gandhi was one of the twentieth century’s most powerful forces of history. He accepted his time and place, religiously practiced self reflection in his Hindu tradition, and had the courage to confront the greatest empire on earth with the power of non-violence. The movement he shaped brought independence to India.


Gandhi extracted moral truth from the vast complexities of India’s history and presented it as an imperative for non-violent action by individuals. “Be the change you seek,” he taught, and a nation and the world listened.


Saving the World

When society is made up of men who know no interior solitude it can no longer be held together by love: and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority.

—Thomas Merton

We have only begun to know

the power that is in us if we would join

our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

—Denise Levertov

In October 1961 the world held its breath. The Soviets had placed nuclear capable missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy’s military advisors wanted a quick military response including air strikes and an invasion. Fearing an irrational response, the President instead established a naval blockade. The Soviets publicly stated that they would remove missiles from Cuba if the United States removed its missiles from Turkey. The crisis grew more acute when a U.S. spy plane was shot down over Cuba and the pilot killed. The world was at the brink of nuclear war.


At a crucial point in the crisis, Acting Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant proposed several actions: a standstill on both sides, continued negotiations, and the possible removal of U.S. weapons from Turkey. These proposals allowed the superpowers to disengage and the world to breathe again.


U Thant’s spiritual strength is oven overlooked in the retelling of this story. He brought to this crisis his well-practiced diplomatic skills, rooted in his daily spiritual practice of meditation, prayer, contemplation, self searching, and questioning. These he believed linked the individual life to the universe. His practice was based on mindfulness and treating each individual with the utmost care and kindness.


One key factor that saved the world from nuclear war in October 1961 was the presence of a single man whose spiritual practice linked his interior solitude with his public practice of caring for others.


Give Me the Strength


Spirit of my longing heart, help me become a force of history. Like a drop of water let me merge and mingle in the currents of my particular time and situation and not hold back, but join what nurtures the earth and soaks the seeds of justice and peace. Let me be the flash point where the light begins to travel at great speed, igniting compassion, that others might see the power of goodness. Let me rush with the winds of change across the desolate plains of greed and selfish desire. Grant me the wisdom to know that the winds of eternal hope blow through my words and deeds. Let me join the sky with its watchful eye and be a witness to life affirmations wherever I see them. Give me the strength to say yes to even the smallest act of mercy. With these powers of earth, of light, of wind, of sky, I will change myself and become a gift of love and power to the story of humankind.


Generation to Generation

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

throughout all generations.

—Psalm 90


In April 1933 Julie Bonhoeffer was ninety years old. The Nazi Party had transformed her homeland and imprisoned the principles of her church. With the strength of her Christian faith she defied a Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses and walked through a gauntlet of brownshirts to buy strawberries from forbidden merchants.


Three years later her grandson, the renowned theologian and author Dietrich Bonhoeffer, eulogized his grandmother. “We can no longer think about our own lives,” he said, “without thinking of hers. She belongs entirely to us and will always do so.”


The breadth and width of history can be overwhelming. It can diminish us as certainly as does looking at the galaxies from our home on the edge of the Milky Way. Our minds fumble as we try to grasp the significance of our actions here at the front line of human achievement and failure.


History, however, is only the sequence of moments lived. What we do and fail to do shape the lives and deaths of others. The psalmist’s refrain, from generation to generation, reminds us that we are the guardians of the best humankind has claimed from history. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for all his accomplishments as an interpreter of the Christian faith, is remembered most for the courage he inherited from his grandmother. He died in a Gestapo prison for his efforts to bring down the Nazi regime.


Memories of hope, courage, and love are our dwelling place from generation to generation.


Time-Location

There is no choice but to immerse oneself in the stream of history, accept one’s time-location, breathe in—with shared memories and hopes—the contamination of history…

—William Ernest Hocking

Being a force of history and a lover of life at the same time can feel like an uneasy combination. When we are forces of history we engage with the problems of the world and act to improve on them. But as lovers of life we delight in mere existence—the beauty of watching a bird in flight or the light fading into dusk. As Rumi points out: the lover is always getting lost and choosing to drown in the eternal. Must we choose between immersing in the issues of the day and drowning in love?


Two arts are required: to get lost in love and accept one’s time-location. Like Rumi’s Dervishes, we are compelled to whirl in love—holding one hand toward the heavens and one hand toward the earth. Grounded in this way, we are moved to engage history with hope and push it toward a more just future.


Perhaps practicing the two arts is like taking a breath. Breathe in the deeds of history and breathe out the joy of living. Breathe in the joy of living and breathe out the deeds of history.


Spiritual Dimensions of a Life


I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven …The city lies four square… its length and width and height are equal.

— Revelation 21


The writer of this passage looks out from his prison cell and sees a vision that gives him hope. Martin Luther King Jr. had an affinity for this passage even before his beliefs led him to prison. He preached from this text while addressing the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery as its ministerial candidate. He used it again years later when preaching at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on his way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. His message on both occasions was that an individual life, like the new Jerusalem, has equal dimensions of length, breadth, and height. For Dr. King the length was an individual’s essential worth and dignity, the breadth was his relationship to and responsibility for the welfare of others, and the height was a personal relationship with God.


Unlike the imprisoned writer of old, too often we only see one- or two-dimensional visions. Such distortions lead to false measurements of who we are and what we can contribute to the world. As a result our lives become lopsided, sometimes painfully so. Balanced and carefully developed, however, the spiritual dimension of our lives can,

as Dr. King argued, keep us balanced and change the world.


Impatience

Impatience grows in me,

I am a roaring river,

denouncing ignorance and innocence.

I race on

with rapid judgments.

Impatience grows in me,

I am a lava flow,

melting reasoned indifference.

I race on

with hot passions.


Impatience grows in me,

I am a whirlwind,

churning up forgotten hopes.

I race on

with frightening momentum.


Impatience, impatience

grows in me,

tiring my body.


Impatience throws my dreams,

one by one,

deep into the earth

where I watch them

languishing, dying

until I pick them up.

I pick them up

and reshape them with

patience, passion

and possibility.

PRACTICE

If you build castles in the air, your dreams need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.

—Henry David Thoreau


Balance

Keeping physically and spiritually balanced, while the whirlwinds of anger and oppression rage, requires us to discipline our bodies, minds, and spirits.


The Dalai Lama says his daily reflections on the Bodhisattva vows help him clear away the burden he sometimes feels concerning the oppression in his homeland of Tibet. Every day he prays:


As long as the sky exists

And as long as there are sentient beings,

May I remain to help

Relieve them of all their pain.


The pacifist A.J. Mustie once said, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” As a young seminarian I was honored to sit in a small class with Rev. Mustie. His words did not penetrate my soul until much later when I remembered what he said about “being peace,” especially when you feel anger building toward the war-makers. Practice is the only way. William Sloane Coffin once said, “All the troubled waters in the world cannot sink your ship unless you let them inside your soul.”


Memorizing scriptures, poetic words, songs, and sermons have often helped me maintain or regain my balance. Physical disciplines such as Yoga and Tai Chi can also help maintain equilibrium. Thich Nhat Hanh first used the term “engaged Buddhism” to describe a new kind of social activism. He believes that the simplest thing, like a practiced smile, can help assure the continued practice of lovingkindness when we are confronted with anger and hatred. That is why he chose the words “A Manual on Meditation for the Use of Young Activists” as the original subtitle of his widely popular book The Miracle of Mindfulness.


Motions of words, deeds, silence, and song can be just the practice we need to keep us upright when the world around us lies in ruins.


Among the Flags

We have gathered here among the flags,


To remember all that has been lost and all that has been gained by the death of these men and women.

We have gathered here, young and old, liberal and conservative, those who believe these deaths were necessary and those who believe otherwise.


Each of us brings to this moment the remnants of our own life’s journey, our own experiences with death and dying, our experiences with war and peace, and the meaning we have extracted from them.

Some of us have traveled through other wars, some through non-violent struggles for peace, and still others have traveled through personal trials that have cost them their innocence.


Each of us comes here to this Field of Flags, where death is no abstraction and where none of us dares judge the motives and assumptions of another.

Here, whatever our beliefs, we stop to cry for the loss of those these flags represent.


We cry for those left behind, who must gather meaning from grief and hope from pain and despair.

Here we remember the courage of those who have died.


May we learn from them so that we might live in the face of our own fears and live more freely.

Here we remember their commitment to a greater good.


May we learn from them what it means to live unselfishly for the common good.

Here we remember the glory of self sacrifice in the name of ideals that transcend our

individual lives and particular ideologies.


May we take from their glory what we need to transcend small and self serving goals.

Here we remember that those who have died need not have died in vain.


On the altar of our broken hearts we pledge our allegiance to the dawning of a new day when we, the children of this earth, no longer find it necessary to go to war.

In the name of all that is holy, may it be so.



Vow Making

Come, come, whoever you are,

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving

This is not a Caravan of despair.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve broken

Your vows a thousand times, still

Come, and yet again, come.

—Rumi


Taking vows seems a quaint idea. Pledging to live better lives in service to others is almost obsolete. Even the powerful lines ‘till death do us part’ are often said with fingers crossed.


Jewish philosopher Martin Buber observed that we are a promise-making, promise-breaking, and promise-keeping people. This, he said, is the part of the human condition that puts us in relationship with others and with God.


Perhaps we have lost our interest in promising because we do not believe that it will do any good for ourselves or others. Perhaps we believe promising might help, but are afraid to risk who we are for who we might become.


Come, Come. Keep on promising, knowing that you will break your vows a thousand times. Come, Come is a summons to a better self, a better life and a better world.


Be Happy


People want you to be happy. Don’t keep serving them your pain.

—Rumi


The eyes of a child in a soup kitchen reflect the poverty of our resolve. The silence of a soldier’s flag-draped coffin echoes our faint cries for peace, and every global-warming breeze whispers of our greed and selfishness. Anywhere we look we can see injustice and war.


Seven hundred years ago there was no less pain than there is today. At the time of Rumi’s birth, Genghis Khan and his armies moved westward, conquering and brutalizing everyone in their path. Rumi’s family escaped, yet war, injustice, and uncertainty were never far off. Amidst all this, the Sufi scholar and teacher chose to whirl from his dervish soul a deep joy of life and a mystical love of God. Rumi sought union with the beloved god of his understanding. His prescription for happiness was quite simple—untie your wings and free your soul of jealousy.


The HalfSmile

(in gratitude for Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice)


It will be hard

on a day like this.

After so much,

who would blame you

for abandoning your practice?


You have seen

war and deep poverty,

faces robbed of resilience,

eyes drained of hope,

brows plowed with anger,

and mouths frozen in sadness.


Yet, on a day like this

I have seen

your faint smile.


So much depends on it, you say.

So strong are the lines anchored in the heart,

they lift the corners of the mouth,

the edges of the eyes,

they smooth the surface of the brow.


On a day like this, you say, only a faint smile will do.

You say, practice faithfully the half-smile while knowing

what you have seen you will see again.

Practice gently, moment to moment,

so the lines remain attached and elastic.


Practice until you can feel

the lines quiver

the corners move

and your heart lift

with your full smile.


Tell the Good News


Jesus of Nazareth was one of the great storytellers. He knew that real-life experiences are the subtext of every good story. He was not thinking of the abstract ideal to “love thy neighbor” when he began the story of the Good Samaritan. Rather, he must have seen or heard of a similar situation that so moved him he wanted to shape what happened into a pithy good news parable.


It is easy to share bad news. Many may have heard of that ancient robbery and how good people walked past the wounded stranger. Yet, Jesus told the good news of the one man who stopped to help. We too can choose which stories to tell and which news to share. When we share good news we give form to our longing for peace and justice.


ACCEPTING GRACE

Listen, o drop, give yourself up without regret,

and in exchange gain the Ocean.

Listen, o drop, bestow upon yourself this honor

and in the arms of the Sea be secure.

Who indeed would be so fortunate?

An ocean wooing a drop?

—Rumi


Surprise Gifts

On the dirt floor of a Nazi concentration camp, prisoners sat listening to the rain after a meager meal. Among them was psychologist Viktor Frankl, who described the scene. After the rain stopped, a prisoner burst into the hovel and pleaded with his weary comrades to come outside. Reluctantly some picked themselves up and followed. Pointing up, where the setting sun hung in the Western sky, the prisoner said simply “Look.”


In the midst of grief, tired to the bone, we are called to lift our heads and accept grace. Grace is a gift that comes unexpectedly. The sigh of relief, ripples of laughter, the quiet joys that lift heavy hearts, these are among its expressions. Discipline and practice can make us more aware of it, but they don’t create it. Grace can be prayed for and hoped for, but it always arrives as a surprise. Whatever our beliefs, grace is one of those true wonders of being human that, if accepted, can change our view of the world.


Trusting Uncertainty

Spirit of Life, God of Love, I have learned to trust the rhythm of your changing seasons. I delight in the certainty that each change, no matter how wrenching, brings with it the promise of new life. Yet in the affairs of my own days there are times when I lose my trust in the rhythms of change. In those moments, I pray to be  reminded of how the dawn follows night and spring arrives only after winter has lost its grip on reality. Here, in the uncertainty of the moment, help me accept change with the delight of a child coming of age or an elder embracing new-found wisdom. When I long for the comforts of what can no longer be, lift my head above my losses and my fears and cast my eyes on the promise of new beginnings.


Convergence

Spirit of Life, God of history and god of nature, you seem to merge and flow in me, granting me the power to be planted here and the energy to grow with hope. History, for all its pain and trials, has bestowed upon me the opportunity to live my life doing justice and practicing peace. I pray that I will never turn these words into abstractions, but always see them as  places to take my next steps for change. When the burden of my history and the unfolding story of the world wears me down, paralyzing my mind with hopelessness, help me feel the pulsing flow of life. When I look at my face and the contours of my body, no matter the challenges they present, help me see how I have been blessed awake to the dawn of a new day. Let me pause and give thanks for the energy, even if faint, that carries me into awareness.


A Holy Moment

A white South African soldier was testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Referring to a massacre of twenty members of the African National Congress, the soldier said, “We gave the orders to open fire.” The room grew quiet. A long moment passed. And then another. Then the soldier spoke again, “Please forgive us.” Silence followed, then applause. Sensing the spirit of forgiveness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “We are in the presence of something holy.”


Something holy enters our lives when we speak the painful truth of what we have done as individuals or groups. Without speaking such truth, forgiveness will never be offered to us.


Finding Thanksgiving

Spirit of Life, God of Love, let me write a thanksgiving on my heart. On clean lines I will inscribe what pleases me: a warm autumn day, a quickly spreading smile on a child’s face, the still-warm touch of an aging loved one. Then I will write the names of all who have been with me at moments of great discernment. Let gratitude pour from my soul as I recall their gifts of time, patience, and unconditional love. I will draw empty lines for those who I will never know, who gave needed gifts to my mentors.


In this world of endless distractions and complications, I pray for the wisdom to humble myself in gratitude for these gifts beyond measure. Help me learn to thankfully give them to others. 


Eternal Light

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

—Isaiah 58:10


The struggle to feed the hungry and free the oppressed is daunting. The heart is quickly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. To find light in the darkest of circumstances, with the odds against you, is not easy. But the Hebrew prophet Isaiah asserts that justice work itself carries with it a built-in light switch that will make our night like the noonday.


I was sitting in a court room the first time I saw a person with a glowing internal light. He faced the judge with a confident, pleasant countenance. He explained why he refused to pay his taxes. “I have no objection to paying my taxes,” he said, “but my conscience will not allow me to contribute to our government’s war effort. That money should be spent to feed the hungry.” At that moment you could see the light of noonday spread across the room.


The reward for spending ourselves for a just cause is discovering the eternal light within us and knowing that it will turn on as we work for peace and justice.


Born in Darkness


Our bodies were formed in a darkness that light could not penetrate. There all the mystery and power of the universe gathered to be awakened at the moment of birth.


Today we live in another darkness. Feeling powerless to push out, we find little promise in our circumstance. Engulfed by inadequacies, we reach for the grim tools of revenge and cynicism.


Spirit of ever-renewing cycles, grant us patience to forge new instruments of peace. Grant us the wisdom to know that life will again gather the vital energy needed for our rebirth.


Hold the Holy


When we can no longer grasp

what holds us upright,


When we wring our hands in grief

for the living,


Only then can we tunnel with clenched fingers

into the depths of a peace that passes understanding,

where we will find our losses, our uncertainties,

and all our denials.


Struggling with clubbed hands, we will turn locks

rusted by tears of regret and neglect.


Only then will the treasured vessel inside

break and pour its healing ointment

onto our hands, slowly opening them

to hold,

then lift,

the holy to the troubled surface of life.


The Heart Lives in Darkness


When we see long dark days ahead, it is hard to be thankful. What little light there was fades and our vision of hope vanishes.


We pray now, not for victory, and certainly not for yesterday’s plans. Today our prayer moves inward, where our most vital organ lives in darkness. Contracting and expanding, our hearts remind us that life-sustaining work is sometimes done best in dark, out-of-sight places.


How Do You Suffer?

How do you suffer?

In silence,

with raging anger,

with pestering complaints?


When do you suffer?

As the sun rises,

as it sets?


What do you suffer?

The sharp edge of violence,

the blunt force of indifference,

the loss of truth, youth or love?


With whom do you suffer?

With him, with her, with us

or alone?


Ask these questions a thousand times

and before you speak

the silence

will draw from your suffering

the compassion of Buddha,

the passion of Christ,

the wisdom of Muhammad.


Ask these questions a thousand times

and become the peace you seek,

the justice you long for.



I Am Wonderfully Made

Spirit of Life, God of Love, too often I run from you. Breathless with fear, I seek refuge in judgmental words against others or in places filled with self-righteous anger.


Let the words of your psalmist penetrate my hiding places. “I am wonderfully made.” Great Spirit of Hope, grant me the wisdom to accept this simple truth and know that whatever my weaknesses and imperfections, I cannot hide from your loving spirit or flee the healing power of your presence.


Look and Listen

Look for peace here

on maps marked by other travelers

in their foldings and unfoldings of desire.


Look for peace here

in the moving circles of stars

in their beckoning gestures of hope.


Look for peace here

on the labyrinth shelves of libraries

in their stacks of wisdom and reason.


Look for peace here

in the shifting layers of ages

in their unmarked deposits of glory and defeat.


Listen for peace here

in the everyday melodies of love

in their brief rests and pauses.


Listen for peace here

in the rhythm of work and leisure

in its boredom and excitement.


Listen for peace here

on the crests of waves crashing and pounding

in their deep currents of debris settling.


Listen for peace here

on the winds roaring and whispering

in the surface-water rippling.

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