Sunday, August 30, 2015

Love has pitched his mansion...

Tonight is our last evening in Montreal (until at least December) and it is filled with sorrow. Please don't misunderstand: Montreal has been a taste of heaven for both Dianne and myself. But now this extended time of quiet reflection, play, practice and solitude must end. As we walked Lucie in Parc Baldwin for the last night in a long time I was overwhelmed with tears...
Two quick thoughts before I get back to other packing and cleaning - and then a treat of Bailey's with Fair Trade chocolate:

+ First, as Di said to me while we were sipping red wine and sharing bread and cheese: "It is ok to feel so sad... this is the first time in your whole life - and your whole ministry - that was a time just set aside for... you! Think about about that: in 63 years, you were able to claim four months." Let's just say more tears erupted, yes?

+ Second, this sabbatical has been very earthy and grounding in ways that are honest and humbling. Tonight, as we took Lucie on a farewell tour of duty and I found myself surprised by grief, she proceeded to poop. Now it was my job to pick up said offering but I couldn't find the damn shit both because it was dark and because my eyes were filled with tears!  It made me think of this poem by Yeats:

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.' 

Tomorrow we pack and head off to the Eastern Townships of Quebec for a week of solitude in the country and then back to our home on September 8th.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

a quick one after a full day...

As part of our countdown to departing this grand city, we visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was an essential visit for both Dianne and myself for reasons too deep for words. Let's just say it was part act of commitment, part embodied prayer and part bearing witness - and a whole lot more, too
From the museum we walked over to l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, the city's largest Sanctuary and a stunning Roman Catholic house of worship. It is nestled into the side of the mountain and was the setting for the film, "Jesus of Montreal." We grabbed some really tasty Lebanese treats, too - their pickles and hummus are the BEST in the whole Middle Eastern world - and then checked out a Québécois bookstore. (I couldn't help myself and had to take this picture from the dispenser in the men's room of the eatery. Here's everything a healthy boy needs for a good date in Montreal:  a condom, cologne and breath mints!)

Then it was a ride on the Metro back to Mont-Royal and a schlep back to our flat through the city's largest street fair, a stop at our local grocer and a light supper of fresh veggies, hummus, cheese and cucumbers. Today is filled with nostalgia and not a little grief as our sabbatical really is coming to a close. Tomorrow we'll pack and clean - a LOT - and have a late dinner at one of our favorite places: the Rumi (where out kids purchased for us what turned out to be the first gift certificate for an English-speaking person three years ago: we were mini-celebrities
when we redeemed it on my 60th birthday!) 

The next two days will be full of sacred memories and probably our fair share of tears. We'll see what I feel like posting, yes? And I likely won't get to any work on my spirituality of tenderness series until we get settled for a week in the Eastern Township countryside. And then, who knows? We may not have access to the internet or the phone. Here are a few other pictures from a grand day.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

a spirituality of tenderness - part 8

NOTE: as this series matures, please know that it is a work in progress, ok? Like me - andprobably you - not all the connections have been finalized nor all the nuances teased into the light.

One of my seminary thesis advisers, the late Dorothee Soelle, told me, "Stating your thesis and offering a critique is always easier than articulating your creative synthesis." Truer words have never been spoken to an overly eager student by a mystical Christian Marxist.  And yet experimenting with a synthesis is essential to an embodied spirituality and ministry even if  it always fraught with challenge.  Perhaps that is why the methodology of liberation theology continues to ring true for those committed to orthopraxis.

+  First, as people who trust God, we choose to live and love one another in the real world, looking to our experience as part of the revelation of God within and among us. Our starting point in faith is reality as we know it rather than intellectual constructs.

+ Second, as we act and respond to oppression and joy in our lives, we periodically gather together in community for prayer, analysis, accountability and critique so that we might simultaneously strengthen our resolve and increase our ability to be in the world as agents of compassion and solidarity.

This quest for authenticity, hope and liberation – action – is always connected to our times of prayer, conversation and analysis – reflection – so that our engagement in the world makes use of our mistakes, our insights and the wisdom of the wider human community and our spiritual tradition.  Liberation theologians put it like this: we are called by God to think critically and hopefully about the human condition and our role in a shared liberation so that we might act boldly on behalf of compassion and justice. The rhythm of our lives, therefore, is shaped by action and reflection. Fr. Richard Rohr, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes: “Lifestyle and practice are much more important than mere verbal orthodoxy. (Prius vita quam doctrina, "life is more important than doctrine," says Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, "De Anima", II, 37.)(Center for Action and Contemplation Living School)

Orthopraxy is usually distinguished from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy refers to doctrinal correctness, whereas orthopraxy refers to right practice. What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), end up changing your consciousness. This was summed up in the Eighth Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (Daily Meditations)

With that let me offer a few insights about the first the polarity in a spirituality of tenderness - birth and death – that serves a resource and reference for our maturation in faith. St. Bob Dylan once sang in “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding,” that:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn, suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

My hunch is that this is both true AND mistaken:  every moment invites us to live fully into its richness.  If we are asleep or shut down – by denial, drugs, deception or death – we are unable to be a part of creation’s call to birth.  We miss the nuance in a loved one’s words or face. We remain self-absorbed and distracted. We overlook the suffering all around us on the street as we hurry to get someplace more important. In this it is true that “he or she not busy being born is busy dying.” And such denial or deception is a premature death, yes? It robs us of the countless moments when we might share tenderness with another and ebb the flow of their pain. One of my spiritual guides, musician Carrie Newcomer, puts it like this on her “Speed of Soul Reflection.”

I believe that one of the finest gifts we give one another is our unhurried presence. When I take time to really hear, to not be thinking about my next appointment or checking my email on the sly, that is when I bring my best self to the conversation. That is when I am most fully alive. When it comes to being in this world and interacting with our fellow human beings, there is nowhere I need to be other than here. There is no better place to be than now.

Why We Are Here
She stood looking out the doorway
Poised to step out into whatever comes next. 
Although I knew that I could not go with her 
I could keep her company while waiting,
Bear witness to the preparing,
And maybe rub her tired shoulders
Which I know is absolutely nothing
And absolutely everything,
Maybe that is why we are here: 
To rub shoulders and play cards,
To be a place to launch
And a place to land,
To murmur on the phone Late at night,
And to say,
"This I love”
"This I saw."

To ask myself, “Where am I courting dying rather than birthing” in my words, actions or thoughts awakens me to the possibilities of being fully alive in the only moment that is truly my own: now. But I need help. I can’t stay awake all by myself. I am too lazy and often too busy or confused, so I need support. Three practical resources that keep waking me up throughout the day have become trusted allies in birthing:

+ Using the phone as a call to prayer: the wise Buddhist teacher, Tich Nhat Han, suggests that we find resources that naturally show up in the course of a normal day; name them and claim them as prayer partners and you will increase the presence of birthing in your life. So, whenever the phone rings – mine, an other’s, one across the street or on the Metro – it is a sacred invitation to return to the moment and be fully present as best as I am able. There are many other natural allies, to be sure, but the phone has become a prayer bell calling me to life.

Praying a blessing while whenever I use water: our spiritual forbearers in Judaism have used “blessing prayers” for thousands of years.  Berakhah benedictions are a way to take every day events and call down into consciousness their spiritual energies and blessings.  Such a prayer begins with “berukh atah Adonai… blessed are you, Lord our God” for… the sun, for this bread, for the morning, etc. Fr. Ed Hays wrote a practical and beautiful collection of berakhah blessings called Prayers for the Domestic Church in which he shows us how to using blessings to become awakened to the holy in such human events as engagements, evening meals, births, deaths, marriages and everything in-between. 

Two years ago during Lent, using the Christian Testament story of the baptism of Jesus as my foundation, I invited the congregation to use the water of their everyday lives to return thanks to the Lord.  “When you wash your hands, take a shower, turn on the dishwasher or flush the toilet – whenever you hear the sound of the Housatonic River flowing on a walk – take that as a sacred call to prayer. And pray the words of Scripture saying, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has created me as your Beloved.” Today as I shaved and then showered, I am still praying this affirmation as  water becomes my ally in birthing.

The Jesus Prayer and my breath:  it is easy for me to be anxious – especially around health care matters or during church meetings about the budget. Perhaps like me you read Franny and Zooey in high school? Do you remember the Jesus Prayer that became the novel’s mantra?  It hails from the Eastern Orthodox side of the Christian family and has a variety of forms, but the core is:  Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me. I have found thatnot only can I be set free from my anxiety praying this prayer in the doctor’s offices or church council meetings, but that I can be awakened to the possibilities of birthing in those seetings, too. 

I have to use my breath, however, as an ally.  Breathing in, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and breathing out, “have mercy on me” let's me use what is necessary to find my non-anxious center. There are other breathing prayers, of course, but this has become my favorite.  And mercy is so much better than anxiety. Like one of the singers in The Wailin’ Jennys said in concert: “I am a worrier and fretter, but worrying is like praying for things you don’t want to happen!” So much better to let my breath help me open myself to God’s mercy.

So, that’s the birthing part of this polarity – and I’ve written nothing yet about the blessings of dying – so that will be for next time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

a spirituality of tenderness - part 7...

NOTE: Today I return to my exploration of a spirituality of tenderness with yet another amplification of what I mean by "the practices of this spirituality" before offering some concrete examples. 

My understanding of spiritual practices – what some call spiritual disciplines or even our
various commitments to Christian formation – have been shaped by three resources:  the Rule of St. Benedict, the “spiritual literacy” project of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussult and my experience with Centering Prayer as taught by Fr. Thomas Keating.  Each of these contemplative traditions emphasize a simple truth: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body and soul requires the practice of repentance.

+  Literally repentance in the Hebrew Bible is the unity of returning (to the way of the Lord) (שוב - shuv) and experiencing a sense of solidarity with others for the wounds we have caused (נחםnacham.) It implies a change of direction in how we live, move, think, feel and speak. One text, Judges 2:18, speaks of God having a change of heart upon hearing the groans of Israel in suffering. Other texts include: Psalm 71 and Isaiah 40: 

Comfort, O comfort my people says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

+ In the Greek texts of the Christian tradition, repentance comes from the word metanoia (μετάνοια) having to do with a changed mind. That is, we have a new way of thinking. Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms, likes to clarify that metanoia is to the human mind what metamorphosis is to an insect or reptile:  a complete transformation of the being that is both more beautiful and more complete.  Consider Matthew 3:8:  “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Or Luke 24:47:

Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Both traditions insist that living into the tenderness of God’s love – and making this tenderness flesh in our generation – requires a change of direction in our daily lives and a transformation of the way we think and feel. That is, repentance demands both the grace born of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and, a personal commitment to living into a new way of being.  Fr. Richard Rohr likes to say that too often Christians act like faith is only an abstract, intellectual set of truths to be considered rather than a transformation of our entire being. He writes: "What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead an emphasis upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), your consciousness will gradually change… We don't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking." He goes on to observe that:

The genuinely new or different is always a threat to the small self. Unless there is something strong enough to rearrange our worldview, call our assumptions into question, and also engage our heart and body ("at the cellular level," as I like to call it), we will seldom move to new interior or exterior places. God has a hard time getting us to join Abraham and Sarah in "leaving your country and your family for a new land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1-2). Yet that is our foundational paradigm for the journey of faith.

The Dalai Lama said it well: "Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart." I would add: "Every change of heart is soon a change of mind." This is the urgently needed work of mature spirituality. Perhaps this seems strange coming from someone who writes and talks as much as I do, but my experience as a teacher has led me to this conclusion. Many folks over the years, even very good-willed people, have read and listened to my presentations of the Gospel yet have actually done very little--in terms of lifestyle changes, economic or political rearrangements, or naming their own ego or shadow selves. After all, "Isn't church about believing ideas to be true or false? Isn't religion about attending services?" Most people just listen to my ideas and judge them to be true or false. They either "like" or "don't like" them. But thinking about ideas or making judgments about what is moral or immoral seldom leads to a radically new consciousness. Transformative education is not asking you to believe or disbelieve in any doctrines or dogmas. Rather it is challenging you to "Try this!" Then you will know something to be true or false for yourself.

This is a call to repentance – contemplation AND action, giving AND receiving, birthing AND dying – it is an embodied change in the direction that simultaneously nourishes an altered, counter-cultural presence in the world and makes us whole.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

celebrating another sabbatical discovery: elizabeth hay and more...

What a delight to have stumbled upon Canadian author Elizabeth Hay. So far I have devoured three of her novels and look forward to working on the other three (plus a reflection on what it is like to be a Canadian in exile in NYC) as the year unfolds. Her novels craft characters with depth and insight into the human condition while her stories express some of the truths about discrete eras in Canadian history. Having read Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Can See earlier this summer - and enjoying it profoundly - I was ripe for some historical fiction. And what better genre for a sabbatical in Canada than the works of Elizabeth Hay?

+ Late Nights on Air (2007) tells the story of a cynical radio personality, Harry Boyd, who hits the bottom of his life while finding the bottom of a bottle in Toronto. He had been a rising star in radio journalism, but now works in the nearly forgotten Arctic town of Yellowknife. The misfits who dwell on the edge of civilization - including the First Nation tribes - find themselves drawn together in 1975 as Canada considered the consequences of building a pipeline.  Each of the individuals who find themselves working at this odd little radio station are wounded. It is a story of love and redemption mixed with loss, grief and a humble hope. I loved the whole thing and grasped a sense of Canada's intentionality about big decisions in a way that makes the nation unique.

+ A Student of Weather (2000) is a more complex read than Late Nights, but no less satisfying. It is set in the Prairie Dust Bowls of Canada in the 1930s and revolves initially around two sisters: Lucinda and Norma-Joyce. Lucinda is a stunning, self-deprecating beauty who eventually gives up on living after a number of heartbreaks. Norma-Joyce is a quirky, selfish and brilliant child who grabs hold of her life boldly onto to discover that some of her impetuous choices have ugly, long-lasting consequences that can never be undone. This novel moves from the Prairies to Ottawa and NYC and gives us the flavor of what Canada was like for those who lived through the Great Depression and WW II.

+ His Whole Life (2015) takes on the the ups and downs of a young boy coming of age in the 1990s. This was the era when Quebecois seriously wrestled with leaving the Canadian confederation - and only avoided doing so by a few electoral percentage points. This story is set within rural Ontario - with some connections in NYC, too - and invites the reader into not only the life of a young boy but also his parents and his mother's dearest friends. It is all about the hard choices we make in pursuit of affection, career and forgiveness.

Later this week another favorite Canadian author, Louise Penny, will release her new "Three Pines" mystery: The Nature of the Beast. Last year we went to the opening day book signing to hear Ms. Penny in Brome Lake, Quebec  but this year we'll settle for simply buying (and enjoying) the book. We will, however, make a pass through the town sometime next week on our slow transition out of sabbatical.

One last book find:  On Highway 61 by Dennis McNally. I picked it up at the start of the summer in Pittsburgh and have delayed reading it - and I am so glad for the wait. It is the perfect way to bring the intellectual aspects of this sabbatical to a close.  It resembles both Lewis MacAdams' Birth of the Cool: Beat, Bebop and the American Avant Garde and Ashley Kahn's Kinda Blue: the Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece in that all three synthesize so much history culture and political commentary.  McNally, interestingly to me, is also the author of two other volumes I am sure to explore this year, too: a biography of Jack Kerouac entitled, Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation and America; and, his 2002, A Long Strange Trip: the Inside History of the Grateful Dead.  Had I known McNally had become the Dead's official historian I probably would have read this sooner.

Nevertheless, upon opening On Highway 61's introduction, I knew I had hit pay dirt when I read: 

This is an idiosyncratic history of the American alternative voice, the counter voice to the materialist mainstream of American thought, which sees instead the essence of the American idea as centering on the pursuit of freedom... This works follow the concept of freedom as it moves through a sequence of connections beginning with Henry David Thoreau, who developed the grammar of freedom in Walden, and embedded it in the concept of the pastoral while simultaneously creating the sociopolitical philosophy that fundamentally responded to the fact of slavery. Mark Twain brought the pastoral to a triumphant fictional existence in Huckleberry Finn and in so doing linked it forever to the struggles of African Americans. His own life documents the evolving relationship of white America to the emerging African American culture, the first through minstrelsy and then through the spiritual of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
I mean, HOT DAMN, how can you go wrong with a set up like that? And, to my mind, the insights and prose keep getting better. So, indeed, I'm on another long, strange trip... and plan to keep on truckin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

And so the transition begins...

Two new (for me) musical discoveries include the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet and Marianne Trudel.. 

+ Rez Abbasi - who hails from Pakistan and resides in NYC - is a jazz guitarist with great flair, subtlety and passion. I recently came upon his most recent work, "Intents and Purposes" - an acoustic reworking of "jazz fusion" tunes from the 1970s. Abbasi notes that he hadn't paid much attention to this sub-genre of the idiom so does not interpret them with any nostalgia. Rather, he simply let's their respective beauty and genius shine forth in the context of his really smokin' band. (check him out here:

+ Marianne Trudel - a jazz pianist from Montreal - is a complex and fluid composer with a humble sense of humor. We saw her perform at Diese Onze last night and she is amazing - part Keith Jarrett, part George Winston, part Claude Debussy, part Bill Evans while also totally herself - she played an amazing set of her own compositions. (check her out here: http://www. I am going to search out some of her recordings before we leave Dodge...

On Thursday I took my new/old bass into the shop for a "tune up" before fulling claiming it as my own. I won't be able to have at it again until Wednesday so for the last few days I've been playing scales and improvisations on my electric. I haven't touched that bad boy since Nashville nearly four months ago. It is a trip to play it again - fun - but very different.

Tomorrow is the start of our final week in Montreal.  We are starting to make preparations for the transition. In fact, I got my wild ass mane cut today at a GREAT salon: Two Horses. My stylist, Hannah, said: "You started with rock and roll and now you can rock AND do the professional thing." God bless her...(more on a spirituality of tenderness as the week unfolds.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

laissez les parties finales commencent...

Today begins our transition from en résidence à Montréal pour les touristes dans notre semaine dernière: we're going to make sure to have fun, be out on the town lots and be sure to make a few key spots - like the Holocaust Museum - that are essential. Next weekend will be mostly a packing and cleaning time so...laissez les parties finales commencent !

As we were walking Lucie to the park, a lovely woman wanted to visit with us and pet "her Highness." Sadly, Lucie was as wacky and nervous as ever, so given the language barrier, I resorted to our stand-by story (after noting that I only speak a little bit of French): Yes, she is a rescue dog - and we're still trying to help her. With encouragement and support, our new friend hopped on her velo (bike) and was off to the market. And then, on our way home, an aging hipster with a shaved head - and an attractive top knot - smiled at us and said, "Bon chapeau, monsieur" to which I tipped my hat with "merci beaucoup!" (He is the only other person besided Di and myself who like this African beauty!)

Now, we're off to the market and a hipster hair salon before tonight's soiree at an Ethiopian bistro and our favorite jazz club: Diese Onze (check it out:

Friday, August 21, 2015

a spirituality of tenderness - part six...

NOTE: Today I continue trying to flesh out some of the specifics of a spirituality of tenderness. I close with a summary of seven polarities for our consideration - and will give more attention to this list over the next few days - as I try to unpack the ways these polarities might serve as authentic spiritual practices. I suspect, however, that my list is both incomplete and evolving, so please know at the outset that I am not implying definitive wisdom  here nor a monopoly upon the truth. This is a work in progress, so let me know your reactions from time to time, ok?

As I discern some of the distinct practices of this emerging spirituality of tenderness, let me put forward this hunch: the core of this spiritual discipline begins with an acceptance of the eternal inward and outward polarities of our lives and ripens as we come to trust that God is helping us harmonize them. It is a practical mysticism that honors the movement of wisdom, energy, faith, hope and love in our lives without harsh judgment. It also acknowledges the ups and downs of our hearts and minds in a way that surrounds them with grace.  I think of Psalm 131:

 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
 like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalmist recognizes the reality of anxiety, but moves towards rest. She knows that there is mystery beyond human comprehension and so chooses trust. She also grasps that hope is grounded in nourishing an embodied calmness born of God’s loving presence - and that it is elusive - real but never fully realized, satisfying but never under our control.

Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Jim O’Donnell, Kathleen Norris and Gertrud Mueller-Nelson are all clear that authentic spiritual wisdom is fluid and always in transition, too. In To Dance with God, a book of sacramental practices designed to help faith communities experience and embrace the rhythm of each liturgical season, Mueller-Nelson asks us to learn to “dance with God.” That is, to live into the flow of life changing truths that include the quiet fermentation of Advent, the gentle joy of unexpected gifts at Christmas, the somber sorrows of Lent that are often prelude to the ecstasy of new hopes on Easter as well as the bold presence of the Holy Spirit in times, places and truths that often shock and mystify us all. When we learn that our spiritual lives are forever in motion – even when they do not correspond correctly to the rhythm of the liturgical year – then we are alive and open to the blessings of  the Spirit. In her book, Here All Dwell Free, she puts it like this:

When you can only do—nothing—you have arrived where healing begins. For us to grow, it takes waiting. In our culture this is the hardest part—patience and waiting. For when we allow a process to unfold in its own rhythm and to grow at its own mysterious pace it often feels as though everything has come to a halt. We mistake it for total stagnation.

Vanier invites us to learn how to journey “from closedness to openness, from the illusion of superiority to vulnerability and humility.” And Nouwen amplifies this awareness of our polarities when he writes:

To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.

This is the paradoxical journey of faith: we never fully arrive and yet we are never completely absent. Jesus pointed to the wisdom of trusting our inner polarities as part of God’s presence in us when he spoke of the nearness of God’s kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within and among] you.” (Luke 17: 20-21) 

To attempt to achieve something some have called a lasting spiritual balance of thought, word and deed is simultaneously cruel – such a goal is always beyond our reach – and dishonest – as we are always in motion until death (and maybe even then, too.) So rather than sink to the acquisitive and punishing metaphors and worldviews of a crass, bottom-line religion of the marketplace, a spirituality of tenderness invites us to “dance with God.”  Ours is a life in motion – a journey – not a goal or a destination. Our spiritual lives are not about achievements or winning and losing, but acceptance and trust no matter where we are on life’s journey.

The Hebrew Scriptures can be helpful in giving us images of what this "dancing with God" looks like in our lives. From the creation stories of Genesis 1 – the on-going movement of God’s Spirit in the world that includes both chaos and community – the Exodus journey – that takes God’s people through the wilderness into civilization – to the wisdom literature of the poetic sages and prophets, we are shown how God's people are called to enter into a journey towards balance that honors the polarities of life as we currently comprehend them. That is to say, there is never perfect understanding – It is an illusion - for now we see as through a glass darkly. Our task  is to trust what has been revealed, discern God’s still small voice along the way and join the flow of life that is always in motion. As the wise old preacher of Ecclesiastes 3 puts it:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

To the end, please consider these seven polarities involving the ebb and flow of God’s invitation to us in our real lives. They offer us assistance in seeking acceptance, a measure of serenity and a way to nourish tenderness.

·         Birth and death
·         Sound and silence
·         Giving and receiving
·         Contemplation and action
·         Rest and play
·         Community and solitude
·         Sorrow and joy

I like the way Reinhold Niebuhr has articulated this in what we know as the Serenity Prayer:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, a
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Over the next few days I will take a shot at clarifying how I have experienced using each of the seven polarities as a spiritual practice.

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...