Thursday, July 12, 2018

small is holy...

Listening for the still, small voice of the holy is a challenge. It is no easier for life long contemplatives than for crazy-assed rock and soul musicians. There are just different cues. Being overly busy and overwhelmed, however, is deadly and deafening for all of us no matter what our unique discipline. Sadly, we are all victims of this curse. Jon Stewart, one of the genius comedic commentators on our weird and unbalanced culture, regularly depicts the absurdities of these times. Once, while Al Gore was hawking his new book, Stewart playfully fawned before him, obsessively stroking the glossy book cover while murmuring, "Shiny, shiny, mmmmmm. Me love shiny!" It was the perfect satire of our consumption culture addicted to glitz and glitter above substance. There was a non-too-subtle critique of our cult of personality at work, too.

To say that the challenges to a contemplative life have not improved under the Trump regime would be a gross understatement. Public culture has become more coarse and violent. Diplomacy is now conducted on Twitter. And anything resembling nuanced thought or conversation rests in the dust bin of history while reality TV sound bytes pound us into submission. No doubt, this is why I find solace in the work of Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer who describe our moment in time - and our calling to contemplative resistance - like this:

Given what’s going on in the U.S. and around the world, it’s easy for some of us to think apocalypse 24/7 and fall prey to the anger and paralysis that comes with it. We live in a era when, to quote Howard Thurman, the “times are out of joint and [people] have lost their reason” while “worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.” Without turning away from all the dying and grieving — which, rightly held, can redouble our commitment to life — we must learn to “Look well to the growing edge!”

I experienced this overload, anger and paralysis in spades during the past two weeks. There was no escaping up-to-the-minute updates on the tragedy of the Thai soccer boys. Being trapped in a cave with their coach - frightened, hungry, and surrounded by rising water - fed all that is voyeuristic in our national psyche. It became, for a moment, our latest distraction/ obsession. Not that their plight wasn't grim. And the clear heroism of the rescue divers was brilliant, too. But 2,000 other children continued to be locked in cages like animals in our own nation. Further, the Trump regime willfully ignored a court order mandating reunification of families. The subsequent two week extension was mere window dressing: it has no teeth to force the beast of official racism and fear-mongering to surrender. More smoke and mirrors. Shiny!

Turning off even PBS News (I can't take in anything these days from CNN, Fox or MSNBC) pushed me toward finishing a new song, "Small Is Holy." We'll debut it at our house concert next Friday evening. For the past month it has been rambling around my head searching for focus. I knew I wanted to evoke the wisdom of Jean Vanier and the 10 Foot Rule - pay attention to what is close and what you can touch - and I hoped to find a chorus that could be sung simply. With about 50 written iterations - and a musical structure that started out like Tom Petty, took a detour trying to tease out a Leonard Cohen groove only to wind up more like something from Springsteen's "Nebraska" - I'm getting close. Nothing heroic. And certainly nothing bold. Just a little song about small acts of compassion and grace changing our hearts incrementally. Verse one is auto-biographical; verse two is my take on the quest of contemplation; the bridge tries to give a taste of paradox; while the closing verse suggests a hint of humble blessings.

Thinking big and acting strong – led me into all that’s wrong
Hitting bottom taught me well strategies to get through hell.
Touch the wound in front of you – that’s all you can really do
Hold it close – don’t turn away – make room for what is real today.

Small is me, small is you, small is holy and rings true
Small is hard, small reveals the way our hearts can be healed

Buddhist, Baptist, Gentile, Jew, Muslim, Sikh to name a few
Different prayer books can disguise paths to freedom deep inside.
Losing is the way we win: upside down, we start again
Here’s the secret – no more shame: Mecca, Rome, Jerusalem.


There’s music in our madness if we have the ears to hear
The melody of creation murmur, “Let go of your fear.”
The song within our sorrow invites us each to sing
The blues of our beginning that gives birth to everything

The dawn of spring comes slowly while the ache of winter lasts;
Our hearts give up their habits incrementally not fast.
To all there is a season: we whisper, wail or wait
Within a sacred silence bearing blessings of our fate.

When I get a recording, I'll share it. Keep on trucking...

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