NOTE: I have revised and rethought my earlier posting...
Yesterday I shared a reflection from Sr. Joan Chittister in which she observed that true joy is grounded in three commitments: giving yourself fully to life, living simply in the world and being honestly other-centered. She calls to mind the words of Jesus who spoke about loving our neighbors as ourselves. In this love there is an outward compassion for those who touch our lives, and, there is an equal tenderness that treats the self like the other. It is this outwards/inward rhythm that brings both rest and healing to our lives as we embrace one another.
"The best people," teaches the Tao, "are like water: they benefit all things and do not compete with them. They settle in low places, one with nature, one with Tao." At midday Eucharist yesterday, as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount, we spent a little time with Jesus' admonition to turn our cheek to our enemies.
Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
What kept coming up in our conversation was the role WE play in advancing peace and healing: we have clear choices - a measure of control, too - whether our challenges, pain and suffering lead us to violence or love. "No more tit-for-tat living...rather let your enemies bring out the best in you." I've realized that I do this best when: 1) I am reasonably well-rested (self care); 2) Publicly committed to nourishing compassion (in community with accountability); and 3) Grounded in acts of deep prayer and worship (turning my sights from self to God.) Without these it is all too easy to excuse my cruelty and impatience. It is all too easy, too to be hurtful and mean-spirited - hardly the joy of the Lord, yes?
And let me elaborate on these commitments or even joyful spiritual disciplines (as I've been thinking about them all day):
+ Self-care: more and more this means not letting myself squeeze solitude and rest out of the day with all the good things things that are available to me. It means pacing - I can only be reasonably attentive doing 2 pastoral visits each day. I find them draining - and while I love to do them I have to limit myself else I am exhausted emotionally and even physically. That includes real sleep each night and sometimes a nap in the afternoon if I have to be out late. It means not scheduling too much of anything into each day. It means realizing that I already have all the time that there is, so I need to create boundaries of rest, reflection, walking and solitude into each day so that I can be fully attentive to the people I love.
+ In community: Left to myself I am a master of wasting time and resources, so I need to be in community with those who will love me, help me notice my shadows and help me be accountable to the common good (including my own welfare!) To date I have found four groups of people to help me with this: a) my Community of Practice in the Berkshires - 7 colleagues from the region who gather monthly for dinner, prayer and conversation; b) my church council leaders who meet with me once a month before our business for prayer and study about God's guidance in our common ministry; c) my sweet-heart Dianne who can see what I cannot and who can say what I don't want to hear with love; and d) my bandmates in our church group: Between the Banks. Practicing songs, sorting out liturgy and listening to one another week after week, these friends have become another small community of nourishment and accountability for me. Without faithful and loving partners in community, joy would often elude me. Oh wait, there is one more: our dogs - man do they ever make it clear when I'm grounded or unglued. In ways I would never have imagined they help me take a pulse on the state of my soul (even when I don't want to know.)
+ Turning my sights to God: this happens in music and poetry, in film and the arts as well as worship. Mostly Sunday morning is work - it is sacred and satisfying - but it is usually not worship or soul food for me as pastor. No, I worship at midday Wednesday Eucharist. I feel the spirit within when we go to hear - and sometimes play - beautiful music of all types. As I was coming back from a pastoral visit this morning I realized that if I don't spend time with at least one good poem each day I feel malnourished. Same is true with the visual arts - or time in nature - because without regular encounters I am clearly depleted.
Chittister concludes: "Settling in low places, being gentle with others and soft in our comments and kind in our hearts and calm in our responses - never heckling, never smother the other with noise or derision - is an aspect of spirituality that the world might well afford to revisit." I know this is true for me and give thanks to God for the Advent disciplines as a prompt to move towards joy.
Here's a poem by Robert Bly that caught my attention as the day unfolded.
I never intended to have this life, believe me -
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.
It's good if you can accept your life - you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look
Like your bedroom mirror when you were then.
That was a clear river touched by a mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've
Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,
But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and
(The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog - Robert Bly)