Monthly Archives: March 2011
We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage – almost as if history were nothing more than all the narrative of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recounting of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.
– Thomas Cahill, historian
Religion is not ethics. In fact, it can be argued that as religion declines, ethics ascends to take its place. From Taoism we learn that religion is a mode of connectedness with the creative force of life. When one is thus connected one’s actions are responsive to the needs of life; when one is truly part of the body of humankind, then a hurt in one part of the body will trigger remedial action in other parts.
But when we lose this connectedness with life, with one another, then we need a code of ethics to tell us what we ought to do. When life is fragmented and disconnected, our organic relations with one another are replaced by “oughts.” And eventually these oughts, these ethics, become an abstract system of thought far removed from human needs, a creed to be defended rather than relation to be lived. The spiritual life teaches wholeness, integration with all being, and out of that wholeness come true power and true action. Life beyond ethics s no libertine life, no denial of moral discipline; on the contrary, to live a life of true connectedness is a spiritual discipline of the highest order. John Middleton Murry has said it well, I think: “For the good man to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a straight and narrow path compared to which his previous rectitude was flowery license.”
An understanding of the breaking down process – this feeling that you are not being treated well by luck or by God – helps you to realize that you are part of the great cycle of dismembering and remembering, and leads you to the source from which you are to drink. The only thing to do is to keep moving, to stay sincere, to stay dedicated.
There’s no true love affair which will not break your heart. There’s no marriage which will not eventually break your heart in one way or another, whether you stay together or not. There’s no good work in the world that will not break your heart. There’s no way of parenting a child without them breaking your heart and you breaking theirs. And there’s no way of coming to know yourself in that eternal marriage without going through that existential desperate sense of disappointment about who you are at the end of it. There’s no way forward without a real sense of heartbreak. And yet it’s astonishing how much time and energy we do spend trying to arrange things so that we won’t have our heart broken, so that you’ll remain immune from trespassing into that necessary human territory that every human being has had to go in to since the beginning of time. Heartbreak is actually a normal phenomenon of every dedicated, sincere human path, so we should be ready for that particular form it will take in any marriage we are involved with – whether a marriage with a person or with a work.
Art for All – We are in production mode with “Art for All” and could use your help making beautiful things from mostly recycled material to sell at our craft sale/fundraiser on April 16-17. Here are some of the things we are finishing up:
- beading eyeglass necklaces
- folding and beading paper crane earrings
- cutting mirrors (from recyclers for hand-crafted frames
- paper-making and stamping and envelope cutting and folding
- sewing “urban flower” corsages
- (painting tomato supports and a sign for our parking lot garden – not for the sale but needs some willing hands)
We’ll be working together on Tuesday afternoon between 1 and 5 and Saturday afternoon between 1 and 4. If you would like to take supplies home to work at home, just let us know. This is a major fundraiser for the work we do here at the house and also helps support local artisans, some of whom are homeless. Thanks so much for your help!
Cafe – We are also still a bit shorthanded on Wednesdays. Let us know if you would like to help cook, serve, and/or clean up at the cafe.
Thursday prayer and potluck – On Thursdays we are gathering at 6 for lenten prayer and reflection, followed by a potluck dinner. Please join us, even if you don’t have time to prepare anything to share for dinner (we usually have leftovers from the cafe).
Daily lenten reflections are posted online each morning.
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
-Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
– James Baldwin, excerpted from the short story Sonny’s Blues
All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasion when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing everything else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. I just watched Sonny’s face. His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it. And I had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realized that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to Sonny. He was having a dialogue with Sonny. He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing – he had been there, and he knew. And he wanted Sonny to know. He was waiting for Sonny to do the thing on the keys which would let Creole know that Sonny was in the water.
And, while Creole listened, Sonny moved, deep within, exactly like someone in torment. I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.
And Sonny hadn’t been near a piano for over a year. And he wasn’t on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. He and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seemed to have found a direction, panicked again, got stuck. And the face I saw on Sonny I’d never seen before. Everything had been burned out of it, and, at the same time, things usually hidden were being burned in, by the fire and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there.
Yet, watching Creole’s face as they neared the end of the first set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn’t heard. Then they finish, there was scattered applause, and then, without an instant’s warning, Creole started into something else, it was almost sardonic, it was Am I Blue. And, as though he commanded, Sonny began to play. Something began to happen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said something awful on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, commenting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful, calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there, beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano. It seemed that he couldn’t get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand-new pianos certainly were a gas.
Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the talk of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.
No puede conmigo
la arrastro hacia la vida
y se evapora
can’t cope with me
I lead it toward life
and it evaporates
– Claribel Alegría
So many things skitter through my mind,
And I give chase to gather them
And hold them up in a bunch to you,
But they go this way and that
While I go that way and this…
So gather me up instead
And bless what eludes my grasp but not yours:
trees and bees,
fireflies and butterflies,
roses and barbeques
Lord, the people… bless the people:
giving birth people
being born people;
banged up people,
held down people;
first world people,
second world people,
third world people;
one world people,
Bless what eludes my grasp but not yours.
-Ted Yoder, Guerrillas of Grace
Jesus said, “…every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). Surely it is mandatory to ask what kind of training allows us to do this so that we can search it out…
What is it that can make us open so that the future is vibrant with possibilities rather than blighted with the threat of diminishing vitality? We can make even the future a flight from the past – the history of our life that we dare not examine. Perhaps we risk ourselves when we look to the past as well as when we look to the future.
In our church we talk of the need to take risks, if we are to live our lives fully and follow that destiny which is unique for each soul. Sometimes we talk of this risk-taking as though it were something that one could just do, when it is very doubtful that anyone takes a risk except the person who feels a measure of safety in his bones. Part of what is means to be a person in community is to be a person secure enough in love to venture out. Perhaps “training in the Kingdom ” is a recovery of the trust that love is there, and in the midst of failing, of trial, and loss, and whatever life brings, that same energizing love will enable us to endure.