Light and Darkness

Yesterday I visited with a man who, with his brother, is tilling about 8 acres of borrowed land with all kinds of fresh good food. At the beginning of next week, they will be at one of the local Farmer’s Markets to sell their wares. We talked about farming and pulled horsetails from among the onions. The size of the onions caught my eye. I could swear the land was bare a month ago, freshly tilled and planted. Now, some of the pungent plants were large enough to throw on a grill to add zest to whatever’s cooking. They seemed to have lept out of the ground, pushing vigorously up into the sunshine, swelling with life and goodness. The reason came to me this morning when my bladder insisted a rise from slumber at quarter to five. It was already light outside. Last night the fading of the sun pushed the nine o’clock hour. With almost 16 hours of light to photosynthesize, fertile ground and sufficient moisture, there is nothing to keep these little guys from growing like weeds—except the weeds themselves that have the same advantages! Such is light.

The spiritual traditions of the world often use light and darkness to speak of the deeper dimensions of the human experience. Living in the light allows one to thrive and grow. Darkness symbolizes a setback, a misguided effort, or outright evil. On the other hand, light is sometimes the image of radical truth-telling, of purging, weeding, if you will, from which we fear we will not emerge intact. Darkness is womblike nurturing in which life is first begun. Back and forth we go between sets of images until we realize that both are always true. The human condition is a conversation between light and dark that falls finally into the silence of the Eternal Now.

Picture Credit: Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

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Digging

It’s snowing outside, big puffy flakes of cotton floating down from the trees across the street. It won’t pile up in drifts and you can’t make snowballs out of it, but it will drift up against the curbs until the wind disperses the next generation of Cottonwood trees out to wherever they will be. Clearly, the vast majority will never germinate, or we would be covered up in Cottonwoods. It’s one of those exuberantly generous loading of the system practiced by many kinds of organisms—like the 2-5 thousand salmon eggs laid by each female salmon that successfully spawns, of which only two or three will return to spawn again. It sounds wasteful, but nothing is wasted by Mother Nature. What does not germinate will become compost for another plant. What does not spawn will become food for another animal. The energy recycles, not as we might expect, but generously and sufficiently.

I have been told (though I cannot find the source) that C. S. Lewis said that God always takes pilgrims by the shortest path. If those were not his words, the idea is certainly reflected in his writings. Just like the Cottonwood and the salmon’s over-abundance is not wasteful, nothing in our lives is wasted, either. Everything contains within it the jewels of wisdom and compassion, if we will but mine them. The shovel for digging is reflection and contemplation. The ego quickly picks up the shovel, but always digs in the wrong place—in another’s heart. The spirit recognizes that there is no earth without that is not also within, and only the mine within is exuberantly generous.

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Sounds and Feathers

Tiny kestrels “killy-killy.” Harris Hawks “croak.” Red-tailed Hawks scream with the iconic cry you hear in movies. Dashing goshawks and flashing falcons “cack.” Regal Golden Eagles chip and whistle. The National Symbol, with all its size, powerful presence and abundance in the area where I now live, “chitters.” I heard one this morning above me and knew instantly. There is little sonorous about it, little that can be called regal or awe-inspiring. The fish it likes to eat most likely doesn’t even hear it as it swoops low to snatch it out of the water. “Ki-ki-ki-kick.” It almost sounds annoyed.

I’m a sounds guy. I can often identify a bird solely by its call. I can almost hear the mist rising in the morning. On special occasions I have heard the stars singing. Sounds carry meaning, they are broadcast symbols that drift around, laden with the world. Nobility and foolishness equally ride the air into my ear. The arrogant little “killy-killy” and the annoyed “ki-ki-ki-kick,” both share a feathered world with me.

When I get to heaven, I’m going to be able to fly like my feathered friends like I do now in my flying dreams, and I will cry out from the depths of my soul the sheer joy of being. I don’t know what it will sound like, but I would like to think that it will reverberate with all the other essential sounds of creation through the celestial mountains, across the glassy sea, and right into the holy of holies in the heavenly temple. It will be my “holy, holy, holy,” my particular harmony in the great symphony of existence that ever flows from the heart of the Eternal One.

Picture credit (or debit, as you like): Paul Moore

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Depth

I flew to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico on Monday of last week. I was picked up and stashed in a nice hotel for the night, and the next morning 11 others gathered at a convent/retreat-center near the lake of Chapala, just south and west of the city. We spent three days talking about and practicing Christian spirituality. Well, “practicing” is hardly the word, except for the last day when we engaged specifically in several spiritual practices, but one of the themes of the retreat was an exploration of the nature of spirituality in general and Christian spirituality in particular. Of course, 12 contact-hours wasn’t good for more than a skim across the surface. The paradox of the simplicity and complexity of the human spirit is the subject of un-numbered doctoral dissertations—mine own being one infinitesimal contribution to the ongoing world-wide conversation. Spirituality is so foundational to the great human experiment that we are usually unaware of it, even though without it we cannot be human. It tends to surface surreptitiously and surprise us with our own behavior.

For instance, we spent one afternoon visiting a public park on the shores of the lake. At the end of a pier that extends out over the water is a small gazebo, railed in with wrought iron scroll-work. All over the metal bars are locks, placed there by lovers who swear their unending commitment to one another with this symbol of security and stability. I suppose they throw the key into the water or something. The city comes along regularly and cuts them all off, but lovers quickly restock the available spaces. True love springs from those depths of our being that are spiritual. The heart of all spirituality is ultimately love, and at its most profoundly human, self-giving, self-sacrificing love.

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Appearances

The administration’s “great news for Ohio” seems to be not much more than a bunch of hype, and his reputation as a businessman has been tainted with reports of massive losses a number of years ago. The tension between the White House and Congress, up to near white-heat now, has been characterized on one side as party politics gone ballistic or a constitutional crisis. I just read an article about a young woman in New York who played the social life, giving out $100 tips, until she was exposed as a very talented con artist. Undocumented immigrants are either threatening the American way of life, or humble, hardworking people living the American Dream. Things are what they appear to be in the common mind. If I can convince you of something it is true for you.

Almost.

The flowering trees of this beautiful area are dropping their blossoms. Green blankets the hills that were white or brown just two months ago. Fields of white snow in the mountains are now rippling lakes. And yet, they are the same trees, the same mountains and the same lakes. What they appear to be is only one face of many that they wear. Underneath them all is a rock-solid something that is the whole of what they are. People are the same. Society is the same. Integrity is living from that rock-solid whole rather than just the face one is wearing at the moment. Integrity is the need to live from deep within rather than on the surface. Integrity looks at the faces of others and holds them in abeyance until more faces appear and the truth can be triangulated behind them.

Then we appear as we are and not as we look.

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Two Souls

My father spent the majority of his productive years working in Bible translation. He first worked among the Tsachila of western Ecuador, producing the New Testament and an abridgment of the Old Testament in their language. He did it because he held two beliefs dear: 1. The Bible is a powerful document, capable of birthing faith (that was his experience,) and 2. It does so best when it is accessed in one’s own mother tongue. I have a copy of his work on my shelf.

I have been preparing for a bilingual retreat in Mexico for clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Western Mexico. A third of the clergy of the diocese are expatriates from the United States. When I suggested to the Bishop that I conduct the retreat bilingually he jumped at the offer. I, too, believe the Bible to be a powerful document, that, in the right contexts, is capable of birthing and deepening faith. Similar to my father, I believe that prayer is best expressed in one’s mother-tongue. I am well aware that the English-speaking clergy among those who will attend live and work in Spanish every day, but the spiritual life is best handled in the language of one’s childhood.

But there’s more. We are going to do this, English-speakers and Spanish-speakers, together. There is a Polish saying that says, Learn a second language, earn a second soul. There are two souls to the Anglican Diocese of Mexico. If we can spend three days immersed in Christian spirituality, sharing our souls with one another, using our mother-tongue languages, perhaps the collective soul of this body of servants can be enhanced, deepened and empowered to make the world they live in a better place.

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Love

I dropped by to pick up my cleaning on the way to the office. The cleaner I use is a little spot in a hidden-away strip mall run by a little Pilipino woman. She had married an American soldier many years ago, and he passed just last year. She doesn’t have to work, but it keeps her busy. We’ve developed quite a friendship. When I go in, she always greets me, “Good morning, Dr. Moore.” I’m always “Dr. Moore” to her in an almost condescending sort of way and I love it. This morning she said, “I put a little starch in your pants, you know, to give them more body.” I didn’t realize my pants needed more body, but I’m sure I look good in her work. She takes good care of me, and I will take good care of her by giving her my business.

When my parents were elderly, they had a routine. It was really two routines intertwined by which each took care of the other. Mom prepared food; Dad washed the dishes. Mom cleaned the house; Dad did the yardwork. It was kind of a traditional cut on things, but it was a way that these two, each failing in their own way, took care of each other.

The other day someone in my church asked if she could launch a pastoral care team. The congregation had had one in the past, so they had a foundation to build on. When I met with them the first time and we began visiting about the purpose of the group, every person there had a desire to take care of members of the congregation.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (from the New Testament: I John 4:7)

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