Re-Inhabit Life

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:17

Seeker,
How do pattern your day with habits to clothe the passing moments of life?

Renouncing the appetites of the marketplace,
the earliest monks
pursued the soul of Christianity into wild and rocky places.

In the desert they re-patterned life,
marking hours in prayerful rhythm,
into a daily office to transfigure routine into ritual.

Ironically, these ritual hours of office,
first formed in ancient cloister,
now shape the routine of office-workers worldwide.

With due attention and wakeful wonder—
practicing soul-stretching habits—
mundane becomes mystical and work an act of worship.

The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real. Mary Oliver

How do we re-inhabit our days,
to wear us wider,
and stretch the span of our short sojourn?

Can we invest our brief time
in the sacred art
of becoming fully human?

What might shake us free from self-obsession
and bring us to our knees,
as we negotiate the stumbling blocks of ideology?

And, if suffering-love is more lasting
than faith and hope,
what are we prepared to do, for love’s sake?

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

The trust-filled gaze of an infant
implores us to do our utmost
to make a safer world.

Tender shoots, boldly up-reaching,
beckon us to stoop and tend to beauty,
green with hope’s fullness.

Timeworn, aged hands,
shakily extended,
beg us to slow our pace and inhabit each fleeting moment.

Silent, hungry cries
of kin clad in different skin
fire the desire to simply live together as better beings.

This visible, earthly world is still God’s creation: one should not condemn it as a valley of tears; it is really the miracle work of God. And this earthly life is the life that God gives us, which it is our task to develop. Emil Brunner

Try these soul-stretching habits,
re-solutions for re-inhabiting 
this budding new year:

enter the dark quiet,
and listen for the signal
beneath the static;

seek sole time,
and turn off to tune in
to rhythms deeper;

extend loving attention
and cultivate concern for livelihood,
beyond the immediacy of you and yours;

practice Christhood,
by letting everyone you meet today
know they are Christ-companions, not competitors in your way.

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? Dorothy Day

May you resolve
to shape a world
where it is easier for us all to love.

joe

Make Room

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

In the sixth month Gabriel the messenger was sent by the Holy One to a hamlet in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young girl engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary.  Luke 1:26-27

Seeker,
Who awaits you in these greatly troubled times?

How do we make room
for hope in the gloom,
and peace to smooth the way in the dealings of our day?

How do we give voice
to understanding and compassion
where heartlessness is always in fashion?

Will you attend that age-old parable
of messengers from the heavens
and signs in starry skies;

of wisdom setting out to meet humility;
and a maid who made room
for unimagined possibility;

of a refugee-God,
brought to birth in poverty,
and swaddled in squalor;

of a liberator nestled amid beasts of burden
in an occupied land,
and hope hosted by a wandering shepherd band?

Will you re-tell that ancient teaching tale,
of flight in the night
from lustful power

that fears the vulnerable,
and dreads the promised restoration
which is most surely coming?

And might you make space
for contemporary connections,
and parallel parables;

of unlikely welcomes and unsettling visitations
of fear and flight, of hearts roomy and ready,
and promise wrapped in powerlessness?

The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions. Mary offered only space, love, belief.  Loretta Ross-Gotta

The work of Advent consists of this: make room!
Attune your heart to hope, long-expected
by hungry souls and broken lives.

Clear the clutter, quiet the noise,
turn off the soundtrack,
douse the twinkling lights.

Put away your lists and listen
to cries from the earth
that break the heart of the universe.

Set aside presents to be present.
Leave behind plastic pretense
to stand beneath the sky and ponder the Maker of a trillion galaxies,

who cares yet for the smallest places,
and seeks out the dark recesses,
bearing the gift of tenuous new life.

For into each unfolding moment
with or without us, the Christ arrives,
looking only for room and readiness.

Let us not be lost
to the cancer of consumption,
or adrift in self-fulfilling dreams of doom,

or decorated by distraction,
and driven by the appetite for acquisition,
dismissing the catastrophe playing out before our misted eyes.

All we need, to embody this Christ-becoming
is space, in humble, generous hearts
and spirits ripe and willing.

A message of hope sent to enlighten distress.
A promise of peace meant for conflict-torn places.
For Christ becomes flesh in the midst of our mess.

As water sinks to the lowest point and love finds the sorest soul,
Christ seeks out the broken,
bringing to birth restoration that makes the wounded whole.

The slimmest hope is hopeful still.
The slightest flicker glimmers for all.
As earth from darkness rolls away, will you re-turn your life today
to reflect the new light coming?

joe

Live Small

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt before him and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Mark 10:17

Seeker,
What would it cost you today to live a little more simply?

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

From the recessed doorway
a voice cries out
to the bustling any-town street.

Shapes of purpose-full people
blur by—
unheeding, unseeing, unaware.

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes… Matthew 13:14

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

Captivated by the call,
a youngster, open-hearted,
turns herself around.

With bright-eyed encouragement,
she addresses the bundled body
that cradles a crinkled cup.

“Don’t despair,
change is coming!
We are working for change!”

“I need your change!”
the voice persists
with urgency.

Blushing,
the kind student leans in.
“I’m sorry… you must be hungry!”

Thrusting a handful of coins
into the cup, she adds,
“Perhaps a sandwich, or another cup of coffee?”

To her great surprise,
the hooded head
slowly shakes in disappointment.

“No…
I need YOU
to change your life!”

…and what does the Holy One require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

It rightly begins
with being just—
the pathway to the repair of relationships.

Looking, listening, asking,
with ready willingness
to be turned around.

This world redeemed
ever needs to be reorganized,
by loving-with-sleeves-rolled-up.

Such feeding, healing, forgiving
gospel work
is only realized in kindness.

For justice
sees and celebrates
our kin in each and anything.

First, be just! Next be kind!
But then we must change
so much more than just our mind.

…and walk humbly with your God.

For sure,
that third invitation
is the hardest turn of all.

…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Henri Nouwen

Live humbly,
simply, slowly!
Keep company with the lowly!

Declarations like these
we seldom see
engraved on marble monuments.

Though it might sound straightforward,
such radical redirection
does not come easily at all.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right. Shaker Traditional

May you
content yourself with little.
May you choose a less complicated life.

Share freely
all life’s blessings,
and you shall taste well-being.

And may we all learn to live small,
because large living is costing the earth—
a price paid most dearly by the littlest lives of all.

…blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16

joe

From Head to Heart

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (in everything).                    Matthew 5:8

Seeker,
Who helps clear a path out of your head and into the heart of our world?

Most of us
come into this world
head first;

the heart following the brain,
till at last
the feet emerge.

Our lifelong journey
toward wholeness
mirrors this top-down trajectory.

They say the head can be fooled
but the heart can’t turn
without the body. Mark Nepo

It starts in the head,
as we rake this world with reason,
desperate to be right, needing to be rewarded,

till those days when
wisdom and wounds
can muddle the mind with mystery.

Impenetrable graces,
masked as wonder or woe,
push the center deeper down.

Move from within.
Don’t move the way
fear wants you to. Rumi

Shedding the fear of being wrong (or punished),
unreasonable love takes the tiller
and, for a time, the heart holds sway.

The lures of love
and the magnetic draw of passion
pull us into one another (and out to every other).

Turned inside out,
we quiver with joyful exhilaration
and shiver at the severities of despair.

Rich in perspective, experienced in failure,
the person advanced in years
is capable of shedding prejudices
and the fever of vested interests. Abraham Heschel

Now exposed to losses
that shatter the soul,
sweet dreams sour in collision with reality.

Unbidden suffering emerges,
as love’s long shadow
casts our whole life in gloom.

Pains, violations, and desecrations in every corner,
enough to take the heart away,
tear at the ragged fringes of our lives.

Failure is life’s ballast. Huston Smith

Yet, here at last, we can make a friend of failure;
let it steady us while we step deeper
into the mire of holy humanity.

Walking, now with measured step,
in company with the low and slow,
we marinate in the wisdom of love-as-letting-go.

Finally, the feet can take us—
head and heart, body and soul—
where we’d always feared to wander.

Without mysticism politics soon become cruel and barbaric; without political love (justice) mysticism becomes sentimental and uncommitted interiority. Edward Schillebeeckx

Moored in muddiness; wrinkled by worry
and crinkled with laughter, we release absolutes
as we make our tear-stained truce with ambiguity.

Liberated from the tyrannies
of reason and fickle feelings,
barefoot, we walk this world.

Less sure, but surely more tender;
wonder, gratefulness and simple pleasures
come back to visit.

Justice, peace, compassion and sacred wisdom,
deeper than ideas, wider than feelings,
are now embedded in every daily dealing.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude,
where everything I touch is turned into prayer:
where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer,
the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. Thomas Merton

May we embrace silence of mind,
solitude of heart, slowness of step;
that we might humbly walk with the frail and forgotten.

joe

Named and Known

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
Peter answered, ‘You are the Anointed One.’ Mark 8:29

Seeker,
Who are the nameless people in your daily interactions?

Human beings are name-givers.
Everything we encounter
receives its own unique designation.

From Higgs-Boson to the Crab Nebula,
we confirm quantum and cosmic connections
with the gift of a name.

In sacred stories of our beginnings,
name-giving is a primal task;
our personal re-creative power.

Our earliest babbled utterances are names, 
as we lay claim
to the critical relationships that shape us.

Like sails billowing in the winds of wonder,
consciousness unfurls
when we explore a universal ocean of connectivity.

The Universe is a continuous web.
Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers. Stanley Kunitz

We plot our positions in life
using the names we confer upon one another
and every thing under the sun.

Awareness of self and everything else
is held together by this
ever-expanding network of descriptors.

As we broaden and deepen our relations,
what was distant and unknowable
comes near and draws us in.

Yet names are doubled-edged;
they can cut as well as connect,
narrowing or widening our field of vision.

Giving a name puts word to love—
or our lack thereof—
re-shaping the supple clay of reality.

We yearn to belong more than to be loved. Jean Vanier

Just as terms of endearment draw life close,
epithets, classifications and categories
bruise or sever our sense of connection.

In our daily dealings, we can use this naming power
to distance, divide and alienate ourselves
from the responsibilities of relationship.

What, how, and whom we name,
determines our depth of integrity (our lived connection to life),
and describes the condition of our heart (our willingness to care).

The fewer collectives we adopt,
the closer we come to integrated living. 
The names we choose, use and refuse, indict us all most honestly.

No-one truly belongs in a category
or any other collection;
for alone and together, we are formed in mystery.

Oh how we hunger for intimacy,
even as we fear the risk of living deeply
and the cost of caring dearly!

Somewhere, deep within,
we sense that such connections and cares will change us;
free us from our need to be above and beyond.

In the Realm of Relationships,
Jesus refused title, rejecting office or distinction.
And, whether lawyer or leper, he called his followers by name.

There are no others. Ramana Maharishi

Naming is a first step into re-creation;
one way of expressing loving connection
without ‘they’ or ‘them’.

As we transition from purely transactional
to deeply relational living,
people and things are transformed from objects into subjects.

It all begins with one
simply-difficult decision,
to let no-one be anonymous and remain unknown.

So we step into the Reign
by addressing every person and creature
with an acknowledgement of our fundamental connection.

Thus, named and known,
we can restore relationships
wherever fear and hatred have been sown.

joe