Saturday, January 30, 2010

Once Upon a Winter's Night

I’m on the email list of a church where I worship while in Texas part of the year. Usually I look with little interest in the informational messages that come around, but today I saw one that caught my attention. You know, pay attention, even if it is a little inconvenient. We hear too much from too many people about too many things that, let’s face it, don’t particularly call us. The message was simple—a response from someone offering to step up. “…BUT You know me, I WILL if no one else speaks up.”

Last Sunday at the place where I worship here a presentation and conversation during what is called adult forum concerned in part being open, taking risks, embracing opportunities to make a difference. Only a couple of years ago I asked a friend who claims a healthy vertical relationship with God for his definition of an angel. He quickly answered, “Angels are messengers.” How odd, I thought at the time, and even more so today, that I didn’t know—or maybe I had just forgotten—a definition that can be found just anywhere angels are defined and described. All roads lead to Greece in this instance, “angelos”, the Greek word for “messenger”. A few years ago we were entertained and called to action during prime time by a drama called “Touched by an Angel.” Apparently, during its run it was one of the highest rated shows on CBS. Life affirming it was. My mother was a fan, and frankly, so was I. The reason is simple. I believe in angels, and I am sustained by witnessing the life affirming. I long to be an angel. Who wouldn’t want to be that messenger who shows up to shine a light on the path, to shoulder a little extra burden, to cast love where love is faltering, to challenge us to make difficult choices, and to offer peace in spite of the outcome.

I often hear people complain about the demands of their lives. Sometimes we embarrass ourselves, often without knowing how foolish we sound as we go on and on about how stretched we are for time, how tough the circumstances we share with someone, how unfulfilled we feel. How demanding, how tiresome our lives can be. We obviously have to make a living, and if we are involved in family, we clearly have responsibilities there. We can hardly get away without some commitment to community. All the other things we do to oblige ourselves—maybe not so important as we insist or as we would like to believe. Shelter, food, and many, perhaps most, say spiritual nourishment, constitute our basic requirements. I add to that companionship, community, and the resulting sense of belonging. I like knowing that others depend on me in some way, even though at times I have resented the demands, real and perceived. I couldn’t begin to imagine the number of times that I have been one of the recipients of a call to act and instead just kept my hand down and my mouth shut, or the times I mistook a plea for something less worthy, and cast my own confusion, like a pall, over the plea.

I guess that it’s especially the time of the year because I’m in an angel frame of mind. Doing for others, whether it involves food or the nurturing no morsel ever provided, being there as kin and friend, as a stranger called to act, sometimes as a lover, tugs at me right now. While we are busy thinking that life is just going on—up, down, sideways, doing a flip-flop and taking us along for the ride, I am amazed at how frequently the messengers carry out their work right before our noses. Most amazing of all—that we don’t realize when we are the messenger or that we are even a part of some miracle.

I’ll bet the guy who spoke up in the email that went out—to how many people—had not a clue that someone might stop and consider, what a good guy you are. Maybe, just maybe someone thought, I should offer the same. The messages beg our attention. As I drove down St. Francis this morning on the way to Morning Prayer and Bible study, the staples of my Friday morning, a car passed me in the lane to my right. I noticed the license plate read SEEKHIM. My Christian faith tradition calls to mind the obvious. Ever ready to be expansive, however, I prefer right now to let my heart wander. On this cold, overcast day on the high plateau, where snow is predicted for later in the day, what do I do to answer the call? What do I need to do to step outside my narrow self? Here I am.

Here I Am—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 26, 2008)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturated in the Light

"The vision floods the eye with light, but it is not a light showing some other object; the light is itself the Vision."
(attributed to Plotinus [BCE 203-70]; from "Mystic Hours", Wayne Teasdale)

My daddy died almost 30 years ago. Not a perfect man, of course, he had a temper—I think its source was in impatience—I was the recipient of his anger a time or two (and, I smile, his impatience). He was brought up with little in the depression that struck hard at east Texas, and he left there as a teenager to go to work in the big city, along with his older brother. Time hasn’t changed my memories of Daddy. I think of him often, along with our mother, who outlived him by more than a quarter century.

What I realize more and more about both Daddy and Mother is that they taught us to do right. Of course, doing right involves instinct, commitment and practice. Daddy and Mother weren’t very much alike, really. They argued often. Mother was on Daddy’s back too often, and these were the times that his impatience usually became volcanic, but the eruptions were short lived. He was ready to move on. Forgive—forget?

I think about my parents every day because I loved them and I love them, and as I get older, life asking me to discern, to discern simply what I should and shouldn’t do, Russell and Tena are on my mind. They taught my two older sisters and me compassion and kindness. Frankly, I don’t remember either of my parents ever trafficking in gossip. And were they alive today, with a computer and the Internet handy, neither of them would be a party to the meanness that makes its way through cyberspace on a daily basis. They would have better things to do. Mother and Daddy had their prejudices, the product of their time and place. But they didn’t teach us to hate. Beyond the conflict that could erupt in their relationship, what we saw modeled was kindness and compassion. Oh, that I am up to the task of what I was taught.

Exclusion, which according to Carl Sandburg (American poet 1878-1967) is the ugliest word in the English language, wasn’t practiced in our household. I want to remember that—every day of my life. In God’s eyes, we are all equal. We are all perfect in God’s eyes. “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk,” so sang Ethel Waters, Black blues and jazz singer and actress (1896-1997).

Anger I understand. Hate I don’t. The need to try to make others feel less than they are, I don’t understand. Fear I understand. By all accounting, it is the basis of hate. I’ve been afraid. If I think about it, I’m afraid of something right now. I give thanks that I’m not going through what is happening in Haiti. Believe, though, that kindness and compassion are alive and thriving there. The stories of hope that have already come out and will continue to emerge will wash over us, and if we allow, they will heal us. In spite of misfortune that boggles the mind, in spite of fear and greed and ineptitude that sometimes want to thrive at the expense of others, even or especially in the midst of tragedy, hope is alive and well. It begins with me. And so it is.

Alive and Well—Santa Fe, New Mexico (January 18, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Simply Grateful

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall
So If I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all.
(pop standard by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher, 1944)

In the Christian tradition, many give voice to an oft-unfulfilled commitment—that we must strive to be Christ-like in our relationships. A few years ago I was reminded of this—as if for the first time—in a sermon given in our very small and struggling Episcopal mission in conservative east Texas. His imperative struck me. “We must wear Christ on our face.” One other time since then have the words spoken from the pulpit become immediately branded in my conscious. “We have chosen to worship Christ, rather than to follow him.”

As a Christian, I am struggling with so much of what I’ve learned over these many decades, so much about exclusion and hollow presumption. As a Christian, I know I am not alone in this struggle. There was a time when I would have felt far more guilt for questioning the only faith tradition I’ve known. Maybe it’s age and where I am on my journey. No doubt—where I am physically and the expansiveness available to me in this place—is having its wonderful way with me. The best news of all for me right now is discovering that which binds us all, regardless of our walk—abiding in faith, or not. This feels good. I feel very alive and full of possibility.

My east Texas, foot-washing, primitive Baptist daddy wouldn’t cotton to—that’s a regional expression mostly associated with the south, meaning “to take to”—my developing pan-religious sensibilities. To him, I would be trucking with the Devil, and even though he wouldn’t understand me, he would still love me. Loving kindness was at the very core of this generous man. Isn’t that the message inherent in all the paths we walk?

In practical terms, I am reminding myself each day of the importance of treating others like I want to be treated. I don’t have a history of going out of my way to mistreat anyone—especially someone I don’t really know. We seem to reserve that kind of destructive nonsense for the people we claim to love. I like being reminded each time I stand in line at the grocery store, or walk into the utility company office to pay my bill, or talk once, twice removed to someone on the phone who has the power to make my life a little easier vis a vis my cable television or internet service that I have the power to make someone’s day by simply showing that I am grateful for their help. I’ve been hearing a lot about gratitude lately. Someone said that to be grateful opens our hearts. How good that feels. And so it is.

Simply Grateful—Santa Fe New Mexico (May 14, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"We see beauty because we are beauty. We love others because we are love."

(from Science of Mind A Guide for Spiritual Living, January 2010)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Ethic of Reciprocity

History has it that Hillel the Elder (110 BCE-10 CE, renowned Jewish sage and scholar) was challenged by a group of Gentiles to recite the Torah in its entirety while they stood on one leg. They asserted that if he could do so, they would convert to Judaism. Hillel replied, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." ("What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.) The ethic of reciprocity is familiar to us as the "Golden Rule".

My words cannot sufficiently honor the meditation offered Sunday morning at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Fe. One truth stood out then, however, and it is with me this morning. From her meditation on blessing and blessings, there was palpable acknowledgement in the room when she reminded us that it is impossible to bless and judge at the same time. I am clear on that. And so it is.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Come, Spirit, Come

Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.
(“The Gift of Love,” Hal Hopson, 1972)

A group gathers each Wednesday Noon at the Center for Spiritual Living here in Santa Fe. Although I can’t speak for why any one else participates in these weekly sessions, I know that I look forward to them and that I usually come away feeling connected and uplifted. For over an hour we focus our minds and energies on our own lives as manifestations of God’s ever-present love.

In all of the reading that I do, one consistent message lies at the heart of all God practices. It’s what we call the golden rule. In Judaism—before the life and teachings of Jesus—it was stated, “Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you.” Jesus turned this around--”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Those who choose to examine and honor various God practices at least recognize that compassion and kindness are at the heart of all practice.

At the close of our gatherings each Wednesday, each of us has an opportunity to speak aloud our best intentions for ourselves. We can choose to be silent for our minute. Spoken aloud or held in silence, we manifest the best for ourselves, and clearly what we hold best for ourselves by definition honors what is best for all of us—at least in principle.

God’s love is unceasing. We often choose to live separate from this love. Some call this sin. Choosing to live separate from God’s love exacts a mighty price. In some Christian traditions, it is commonly said following the Offering, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chronicles 29: 14). It seems to me that what holds true of what is called stewardship within the church is in no way limited to the sharing of treasure that can be counted and measured. The greater treasure is ourselves. God is my source. God is our source.

Come, Spirit, Come--Santa Fe, New Mexico (January 3, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis