Autumnal Graces

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

Very truly, I say to you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears abundant fruit. John 12:24

Seeker,
Have you heeded the beckon of the fall?

If you happen to live
along the northern curve of our planet,
you get to watch as we wobble into winter.

And with each autumn come lessons;
a harvest of graces
to color our lives and carpet the ground.

Let sky be glad. Let earth rejoice.
Let the seas and all that fills them roar.
Let the fields and everything within them exult.
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy… Psalm 96:11-12

As trees turn to fire,
Nature announces her blazing revolution,
in showers ocher and orange gold.

If ever were offered three wishes—
as in the tales of children—
then my desire would be for autumn’s golden graces.

Three unexpected gateways to wholeness,
revealed in letting-go,
falling-down and giving-back.

What return shall I offer the Holy One
for all the goodness given to me? Psalm 116:12

If I could wish three graces for those I dearly love,
it would be these alone:
gratitude, tenderness and humility.

Fruit of wonder,
gratitude is gateway to joy,
turning lack, loss and letting-go into gilded gift.

Fruit of forgiveness,
tenderness opens the way to healing,
transfiguring pain into passion—love’s long shadow.

Fruit of failure,
humility is the low door to wisdom
growing us back down to earth.

Mirroring the setting sun,
these autumnal lessons are poured out
in resplendent hues, for us to pore over.

Like all presents, they come to life in the give-away.
For every golden gift withheld surely turns to lead
and weighs us down with worry or woe.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise…
We are prophets of a future not our own. Ken Untener

Perhaps there is a burden you are carrying.
Perhaps someone worries you.
Perhaps a situation weighs heavily upon you.

Welcome then, autumn’s invitation
to grow by smallness and surrender,
by putting down, by giving away, by letting go.

There is no happiness without thankfulness,
no healing without hurt,
no wisdom without diminishment.

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not. T. S. Eliot

As this season slowly strips the landscape bare,
to surrounds us
in stark splendid death,

may we in thanksgiving
share the harvest, 
and scatter the seeds of dreams to come.

And savoring the bounty of sunshine, showers,
soil and sweat, may you seed peace, sow forgiveness,
leave the leaves and let go!

joe

A Fuller Flock

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

As he went ashore, he saw an immense crowd; and he was deeply moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  Mark 6:34

Seeker,
Who restores your trust in the kindness of humankind?

Listen, learn, be led!
This is how we come to know
who to love, how to serve, and as a faithful flock be fed.

On the crosswalk
I saw him
step right in front of me.

Head bent, as in prayer,
dark-hooded, ebony-faced,
bravely he flashed a look.

In one eternal instant
brown eyes met grey,
and what might be menacing appeared monastic.

I’m not a statistic
I’m not the inches in somebody’s column…
I am at odds with all that requires me to be a symbol.
I insist on being real.  Kathy Galloway

Fear breeds mistrust,
presenting parasitic opportunities
to make some predators and others prey.

How many of your younger sisters and brothers
are daily endangered in predatory cities?
How much life is threatened by soulless predation?

And who will tend such troubled souls,
and attend to lives without opportunity or refuge?
Who cares for the trafficked, fragmented flock of the Holy One?

Beware pastoral pretenders, trapped in trappings,
who wield authority by blaming and shaming,
lambasting the lost, ignoring the wounded.

We too become predators
when we allow diabolical dread and rapacious greed
to divide us and lead us astray.

The Holy One is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

Engaging deeper expectations, prophetic people meet rejection.
Persecuted by the presumptive powers they threaten,
they are caricatured as wolves.

Such prophets are not people ahead of their time.
They are simply single-hearted souls
who have penetrated the signs of these times.

Called in crisis,
they sound alarms with urgency,
but only because there is much to be alarmed about.

How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed? Wendell Berry

Focused by the lens of faith,
their surgical critique illuminates what is not,
to highlight what and who we might become.

Prophetic people are truth-dwellers.
Gathering the scattered, they refuse to inhabit the gloom
by choosing to walk together toward what can and will be.

With the medicine of mercy
they brew a tonic of hope
and begin to rebuild what has been ruined.

May you embrace every prophetic opportunity
afforded you this day
to be folded back into this fuller flock.

One light; many candles.
One sky; many stars.
One sea; many rivers.
One Love; many hearts. Noel Paul Stookey

joe

Life is Motion

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

…a messenger from the Most High appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,
and abide there until I tell you…” Matthew 2:13

Seeker,
If you had to, how far would you go to find safe haven for your family?

Ever-emerging, erupting, evolving;    
explosive creativity from boundless devotion;
life is miracle in constant motion.

No calculus or static system
explains this transubstantiation; 
energy and matter in infinite re-formation.

Day unto day pours forth speech, night unto night declares knowledge.
No speech, no words, no voice is heard;
yet their song resounds through all the earth,
their words to the edge of the world. Psalm 19:2-4

Blizzards of spiraling galaxies,
upheld in cosmic flow,
slow-dance to eternal rhythms that none can ever know.

Our swirling dust-mote planet,
in radiant eddy bright,
makes her endless circuit around a lonely light.

All on earth is mobile;
flowing river of relations;
as tides and seasons come then go without a destination.

See the Earth as a point compared with the vast circles it describes.
Stand amazed that this circle itself is only a tiny point in relation to the course traced by the stars revolving in the firmament; that the whole visible world is no more than an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of nature. Blaise Pascal

Ponder mass migrations
that very few will see,
of wildebeest and caribou, butterfly and bee.

On grassy plain and foaming fathom,
clouded sky and forest floor,
living things on epic journeys stream and teem and ever soar.

Have you glimpsed those fast formations
riding high on tides of air,
undulating skeins of cranes that float from here to who knows where?

A blade of grass is commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars…
And if a blade of grass is priceless, what is the value of a human being? Carl Sagan

And then our own dear story  
about a vagabond race,
compelled by such a sacred ache to find our one true place.

Empires forged now lie fragmented,
shards of shifting states, after waves of exploitation,
spoils of conquest, war and subjugation.

Who dares stem humanity’s migrant stream
or shut out the refugee in flight,
that hopes for hospitality; shelter from the storms of night?

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land… Warsan Shire

No barbed-wire boundary,
line or law, can make us alienate
those who arrive, in Christ disguise, to stand before our gate.

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Leviticus 19: 34

Now let the hinge of mercy creak,
and do your very best
to make a space at least for one, and pray for all the rest!

I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Matthew 25:35

joe

Living Abundance

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

Seeker,
What keeps you grounded through the seasons of your life?

After decades of practice, studying the scales,
weights and measures of an integrated life,
I’ve let go of almost everything I once held.

The heart is stretched through suffering and enlarged.
But O the agony of this enlarging of the heart,
that one may be prepared to enter into the anguish of others!
Thomas R. Kelly

For a while, my pantheon
housed an array of minor deities,
each vowing to carry me closer to fulfillment.

Disciplines of asceticism, rigor and repetition,
devotional ardor, meditation and mindfulness,
philosophical argument, right action and social concern…

…each took a turn on the podium,
pointing out pathways to perfection,
promising to uplift or nudge me further along.

Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution,
reality ever newborn; you who,
by constantly shattering our mental categories,
force us to go ever further and further
in our pursuit of the truth. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Now, at home with ample weaknesses,
I am spreading wide,
slowing like an aged river.

My desire to savor life,
in its myriad emanations,
has become prayer.

And knowing we have a brief time
to walk the soft grass together,
I intend to take my time and share it generously.

When seeds germinate,
roots come first,
drawn by gravity to penetrate earth’s loamy heart.

In my ceaseless to-ing and fro-ing,
it is the grave
that draws me down.

Grave human realities
hold me here,
rooted in place and time.

Life seldom disappoints
if we are determined
to stay awake and engaged.

Whether in tatters at the losses of the day,
or smiling at my own awkward antics,
abundance awaits.

I am delighted
by the fragrant bounty of wild flowers,
or the aerial gymnastics of swallows, open-mouthed in the wind.

…when present in the moment, I view life more deeply,
I meet life through an awakened sensibility,
and I make more peaceful decisions…
Like all of us, I struggle
with trying to control what happens
and trying to participate in what happens. Mark Nepo

Gravity and levity, soul and spirit,
mind and body, wonder and woe…
there is room for this and more in a life slowly savored.

So, what makes for a well-lived life?
What is expected of us?
Haven’t we already been told?

The Holy One has told you, O mortal,
what is good; and what does the Almighty require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8

Gratitude is the motive for justice;
Mercy the courageous response to every situation;
Humility the honest pathway to fullness of humanity.

Abundant life reveals itself
the moment we cease
expecting, wanting, needing something else or more.

As we cycle through the mysteries
of living to die and dying to live,
may you take your time to suffer and savor with those you love.

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