The Joy of Living

A recent view from my front deck.

A recent view from my front deck.

This is my third day of recuperation from knee surgery—miniscus repair.  I’m resting and reading, getting good care from Guari, making my way around on a walker.

This “time off” couldn’t have come at a better time.  These past months I’ve been going through a transformative period in my life, and now… I’m doing one thing at a time, slowly, and following it through to the end—a great practice.  In addition to entrusting family members and the world to God’s care, my meditation and prayer have been deeply impacted, for days now, by my re-reading The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rimpoche.  He presents the basics of Buddhist teachings and relates them to the cutting edge of neuroscience in elegantly simple language.

I’m so ready for this further breakthrough that I feel myself going through—if only I can stay true to myself and to “what is”—the Absolute, Truth, the Great Mystery, the Dharma, the Tao, the Holy Spirit, the Mind of Christ, Love, God.  No, these words don’t all mean the same thing.  Each tradition offers unique insights and points to unique experiences.  But they are all ways of trying to express the Ineffable, the Ground of Being through which all things come and go.

Spaciousness.  Blessed spaciousness.  Peace.  Joy.  The joy of living.

I’m feeling profoundly grateful.  A song we sang at a recent singing circle expresses it well:

“A million tomorrows shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.”

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Clearing

The Last Supper: Finally Freed from Storage

I’ve been doing a lot of clearing lately:  clearing out the “granny cabin” and fixing it up for a friend, clearing out boxes of stored items, sorting closets and cabinets, clearing out extraneous “stuff” from our house and yard, throwing out junk and giving things away.  At the same time I’ve been letting go of several ongoing responsibilities and clearing my calendar of all but the most important things.

It’s time.  I’ve been through a period of sustained activity, with deadlines and hurdles along the way.  Part of the pressure that has kept me going is concern for the world.  As I wrote in Shaking the Gates of Hell, I fear that the Powers that Be are creating a living hell on earth, and that we the people, sustained by Spirit, are the only ones who can turn things around.

The key for me is “sustained by Spirit.” Running on adrenaline and caffeine doesn’t work well for me in the long run.  It depletes my energy and leaves me exhausted.  I need some time every day for spiritual replenishment.  And periodically I need to step back and take a thorough inventory, to re-examine my life, relationships, activities, and priorities.  Now is such a time.

I came across the following poem recently, called “Clearing,” by Martha Postlewaite:

Do not try to save the whole world

or do anything grandiose.

Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life

and wait there patiently,

until the song that is your life

falls into your own cupped hands

and you recognize and greet it.

Only then will you know

how to give yourself to this world

so worthy of rescue.

Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

IMG_4555 (1)On Sunday the children of our church performed a Christmas pageant, complete with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise ones, sheep, and a talking donkey.  The children sang Christmas carols and at times the congregation sang along.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus, the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy have political and even revolutionary significance.  They are stories about a man and his unwed pregnant fiancé, forced by the State to travel a long distance to register for the census in Bethlehem.  The couple spends the night in a stable because that is the only place offered to them, and the young woman gives birth there.    Lowly shepherds see visions of angels and celebrate the birth of the baby, whose only bed is a feeding trough.  Later, foreign astrologers or “wise ones” spot a significant star and follow it, in search of the Christ child.

Our pageant ends with all the children singing “Joy to the World.”  They don’t act out the painful parts of the story:  how the wise ones go to Jerusalem, talk to King Herod, raise his suspicions and outsmart him, while setting into motion a chain of events that leads to a massacre of innocent children (sound familiar?) and the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where, homeless, they struggle to survive as political refugees.

But these painful parts of the story are there, and the kids learn them soon enough.  And whether you understand the story as history or as legend, it is a reminder of the hope that “another world is possible,” the hope of “peace on earth, good will to all people.” It is also a reminder that the Ruling Powers of this world are directly at odds with the incarnation of peace, love, hope, and joy.  This is just as true now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Take, for instance, this Toys R Us ad, which deliberately attempts to lure children away from their natural love of creation and to seduce them into a corporate-constructed “world” of greed and consumption.  This ad and others that target our children seek to instill in them a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, greed, and lust for things, values which bring not joy but spiritual harm.  In fact these negative values, which underlie our consumer-oriented culture, contribute to poverty, inequity, and ecological damage that threatens life and the future.

Christmas pageants and other non-materialistic holiday and seasonal celebrations provide an antidote to the seductions and demands of consumer culture.  They teach spiritual values such as humility, gratitude, generosity, community, peace, love, and joy.  They “incarnate” the reality of God with us.  They point to light in the midst of the darkness and to life in the midst of death.

Gratitude and Cultural Resistance

So much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving Day. So much to be grateful for.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon,” because if you do, your motives and loyalties will be divided.  You will be torn between 1) following the divine will and 2) acquiring money, wealth, worldly possessions, “stuff.”    I write in detail about “Market Fundamentalism:  The Religion of Mammon” in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell.

The desire to acquire and consume, which is so pervasive in our consumer culture, is especially strong during the holidays.  The lure of buying “stuff” becomes almost irresistible, tied up as it is with wanting to show loved ones how precious they are.  Global corporations create hype around their Black Friday and now Black Thursday sales, so that people can desperately rush out and buy their products.  It is a form of cultural possession, a group insanity that leaves many feeling drained, depressed, and over-extended by the end of the season.

The focus on consumption during this season also leaves many people starkly aware of how little they have.  These numbers are growing as the rich become richer, the poor become poorer, and the middle class fades away.    Meanwhile, our precious mother earth suffers as the gifts of creation are turned into yet more “stuff.”  If you want some incentive to help you resist the avarice of the season, go to The Story of Stuff and watch their 20-minute film by that title or some of their other resources.  I’ll be mentioning other resources in the coming weeks.

Cultivating gratitude is one form of resistance to the god of Mammon.  Gratitude is an antidote to avarice.  There is no room for greed or desperate seeking after stuff when acknowledging the gifts of creation, the gifts of relationship, the gift of awareness of the God of Love.

I close this blog with a Thanksgiving poem written by my husband and love, Guari:

Giving Thanks

We are grateful for what and who we are on this wondrous round earth.
We are grateful for the opportunity to be human and have part in creation,
and for the little things we might not see which make life possible,
for each loving, kind and compassionate person we meet,
for everyone giving thanks to Creator in their own way.

We thank Creator for children, parents, families, friends and companions,
for ancestors and descendants, the past and the future and all the relations.
We thank you great mystery for light and love awakened and anointed.
We thank you, Beloved, for blessings on this journey
and a sense of your perfecting love guiding the way.

You can find more of Guari’s poems at his Mostly Poetry blog.

Resistance and Contemplation

IMG_1058Contemplative prayer is the practice that grounds my personal relationships and my work.  This grounding in prayer is a means through which the Holy Spirit, when I am open, equips me with clarity, compassion, and courage to resist the Powers that would destroy and diminish life.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

I write about this my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

We are called to resist being taken over by the forces of a culture that would have us believe that comfort and pleasure and ease and looking good are the most important things in life. We are called to refuse to worship our culture’s dominant gods of money and domination, to resist the lure of materialistic values that keep so many enthralled, and instead to value human life and the natural world. By so doing, we plant seeds of hope and honor the Creator.

Prayer is crucial in this process. Prayer is an act of humility, a way to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and our gratitude for the new life we have received in Christ. In prayer, we open ourselves to the clarity, guidance, and empowerment that only the Spirit can bring. Prayers of intercession and petition have immeasurable effects on our lives and on lives around us. Prayer “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth recommended, helps us develop the ability to discern God’s activity in current events. Contemplative prayer and meditation can help us stay grounded in the present moment and give us a sense of freedom from time. Prayer can also enable us to discern the inner effects of the Powers. Regular ongoing prayer can help us resist collective thinking and to understand our own inner dynamics, so that we can know which of our impulses are based in anger or fear, and which are Spirit-led, guiding us in the direction of God’s call and empowering us to move toward creative transformation. The inner journey and the outer journey together constitute the spiritual life. Prayer is essential. So is action. In Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, James Douglass wrote of the inner and outer journeys as two sides of a mountain, as two parts of a whole way of life:

“Contemplation is an encounter on the dark side of the mountain, in the soul. Contemplation, the struggle to experience reality as it is, in the life-giving water of the One, is the acceptance of the upward wind of the Spirit and the disciplined loss of my self-control. I struggle for the power of the powerless, where I would lose myself, where only the Spirit moves. . . .

“Resistance, on the bright slope, is the struggle to stand against a murderous collective self and to express communally the living unity of all . . . in the One. Resistance is active opposition to the death forces discernible in every modern state. The confrontation of resistance therefore takes place on the bright side of the mountain, in the sunlight of public or collective consciousness, where [people] struggle with the powers of war, racism, exploitation.”

Contemplative prayer and other spiritual practices can equip us for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Such practices repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed. They also constitute resistance in their own right. Douglass sees contemplation itself as a form of resistance:

“The Spirit is received through a painful resistance to, and renunciation of, the claims of the self on the climb into greater darkness. Contemplation receives by resisting. At its center contemplation is receptivity to the wind of the Spirit, but it is conditioned by my active resistance to the fears and claims of the self: claims of comfort, security, self-control.”

If we neglect to nurture our relationship with God through prayer, we lose ourselves in outward activity and we forfeit what peace, freedom, and clarity we have attained.   Open me to your Spirit, O God.  May I practice your presence throughout this day.