Sunday, November 12, 2017

knowledge of speech, but not of silence...

Today I was bone tired: weary inside and out. Maybe that made me more aware of the day's transitions. We began worship with the tender "empty table" ceremony to mark Veteran's Day. It reclaims a bit of the old Armistice Day wisdom that peace and conflict are always held in a sacrificial tension. My thoughts for the day involved reclaiming sacramental living in an overly busy materialistic culture.  Looking for God in our ordinary lives and trusting that something of the holy is a part of all creation is one way to step away from the madness. I concluded by saying something like:  one of the great paradoxes of my ministry has been that I have learned more about peace-making from vets than nearly anyone else. Those who have faced death - and been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice - cherish peace in ways that humble me into silence. I urged our small flock to heed their witness. 

After choir practice, one of my favorite vets said to me:  There is an old story about a child asking a seasoned warrior why she tends her garden. "It is better to be a warrior in a garden," replied the sage, "than a gardener in a war." I thought of the Celtic aphorism that says much the same thing albeit from the opposite starting point:  "A warrior must learn to dance before being trained with the sword."  Today I gave thanks to God for the dancing warriors - women and men - who have blessed me with their service, wisdom and love over the course of nearly four decades.  I lit a candle for Al and Norman, Roger and Roger, Mike and Fran and Sean, Bill and Bill, Mark and David, Stanley and Don, Rick and Erik, Dave and Weez, Ray and Don, Steve and Bob, Ed and Nick, Fred and Bill.

Pausing to recall and remember those who care for us takes me deeper into the web of shared love.  Christine Paintner writes about the monastic practice of statio: a commitment to stop one thing before starting another. 

Statio calls us to a sense of reverence for slowness and mindfulness. We can open up a space within for God to work. We can become fully conscious of what we are about to do rather than mindlessly starting and completing another task. We call upon the breath as an ancient soul friend to help us to witness our lives unfolding, rather than being carried along until we aren’t sure where our lives are going. We can return again and again to our bodies and their endless wisdom and listen at every threshold.  (Abbey of the Arts)

The wisdom of pausing hit me later in the day when I had to make an appearance at a community event for ministry. I had taken a nap and woke up played out. So I wasn't thrilled to have to go out in public again. When I arrived the lay of the land was clear: all would be "fine." Nothing aesthetically interesting happened but neither did anything untoward take place. But in my neo-monastic, nearly retired soul that had already been saturated in a morning of silent wisdom amidst the cost of sacrifice, I felt oppressed by the noise. Too many words. Too much sound and fury signifying nothing (at least to me.) I kept returning to the words of T.S. Eliot:

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


So I left and took solace in the grocery store - and now my study. November has always felt like a somber and silent time of transitions for me - a threshold - statio in nature itself. I hope I don't ignore the call of my heart to stay at home in the quiet again any time soon. Now is the time...

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