Wednesday, November 8, 2017

wednesday recollections: will it go round in a circle?

Today is all about recollection:  resting, renewal and reflection. In my
part-time ministry, the first three days of the week are full. There is worship and meetings on Sunday; writing, prayer and administration on Monday; office hours and pastoral visitation on Tuesday. On Wednesday, blessed hump day for most, I start an extended time of quiet retreat. Throughout November, for example, I am participating in the Abbey of the Arts on-line journey into the wisdom of our ancestors and saints.  A recent lesson began with this poem: "An Improvisation for Angular Momentum" by A. R. Ammons

Walking is like
imagination, a
single step
dissolves the circle
into motion; the eye here
and there rests
on a leaf,
gap, or ledge,
everything flowing
except where
sight touches seen:
stop, though, and
reality snaps back
in, locked hard,
forms sharply
themselves, bushbank,
dentree, phoneline,
definite, fixed,
the self, too, then
caught real, clouds
and wind melting
into their directions,
breaking around and
over, down and out,
motions profound,
alive, musical!

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation’s fringes,
the eddies and curlicues

This evokes nature's call to a balanced living - a deep spirituality as I wrote about yesterday - that invites me to accept both the light and the dark, the anxiety and the hope, the sorrows and the joys of real life. One of the layers of acceptance involves the wounds we both inherit and create. Earlier today, as part of an extended consideration of All Souls Day, I wrote: 

The upside-down wisdom of Jesus resonates with me in this reflection - especially the words: Whether or not the idea of “fate and destiny” resonates with you, I find it compelling to imagine that what I have had to deal with in my own brand of family wounding and angst is exactly what will break open my greatest gifts. This might also be the special insight of 12 Step spirituality that posits that our path to healing and wholeness begins with accepting and even honoring our wounds.

As I look backwards over my years in ministry (I will retire fully in 90 days) and my life as an adult I notice that I have been dealing with the wisdom of my wounds as described by the late Fr. Ed Hays. 25 years ago I read his modern retelling of St. George and the Dragon. In it, the dragon says to George: there is a wisdom to our wounds and we can become wiser and more loving if we learn this wisdom, but it is not obvious. The wisdom of our wounds is mostly an upside down wisdom that teaches us to stay put when we want to run away, to be silent when we want to argue, to engage with others when we want to hide, to trust that our pain is the path to our healing rather than deny or self-medicate it away. Like many young adults, I thought I had understood and applied all of this only to discover that I kept finding new layers to explore. What's more, the deeper I went into this upside-down spirituality, the more there was to uncover. Currently the tender insights of Jean Vanier and the L'Arche community - and the words St. Paul shares about the foolishness of the Cross and living as Christ's fools in the world - speak to me in hopeful and healing ways.

From my ancestors and their wounds - especially with alcohol - I have learned how to read a room instantly and discern whether it is safe or not. I have learned - and am still learning - not to judge those who are hurting and searching for relief. And I am learning to "accept" that there are wounds I can never heal or change. I can barely change my own life - and never another's. This acceptance is liberating. It is an invitation to simply be present. I was able to be present with my father as he died. It was tough. He hated the fact that he couldn't control his movement into death. He had always denied his wounds. For five anguished days he fumed and sulked at the inevitability of his quickly approaching death. He fought like hell all through the night before he died. And then, in the morning, a deep rest passed through him and he let go into the love.

Watching him fight death - and recalling it in these reflections - calls to mind my own stubbornness with accepting my wounds. I am very much like him in ways I have never imagined. The one small difference is that I was led into the the wisdom of my wounds. As an only child, a boy of the great depression and WWII, he was shaped by the demands of external toughness. He was a tender hearted guy who mostly kept that blessing deeply buried. He broke through some of it - and his drinking clearly took him into his emotions, too - but he mostly fought his feelings even through his death.

Imagine my surprise a few months after his passing when Dianne and I made an unplanned stop in Pittsburgh, PA. We had planned to attend a jazz liturgy workshop in Ohio as part of my sabbatical, but it was canceled. Detouring instead to Pittsburgh we hoped to learn more about the African-American jazz composer Mary Lou Williams . One day we decided to visit The Conflict Cafe, an outdoor eatery dedicated to sharing the food and culture of people currently in conflict with the US government. It was a season for Palestine so off we went.

It was located on the edge of the University of Pittsburgh, my dad's alma mater. As we wandered the campus, old pictures started to pop up into my fuzzy memory. I texted my daughter and asked if she could send me one. When she did, we discovered that we were standing on the spot where 63 years earlier my father held me as an infant on his graduation day. It had never occurred to me to go to Pittsburgh before - it was totally spontaneous - as was our trip to the Conflict Cafe. But what a blessing, too. 

Now it is time to rake more leaves - and think about the connection between these two photos taken 63 years apart.

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