Category Archives: spirituality

Can’t go on, must go on

What do I mean when I say this, and what difference does it make for me and for others? “Can’t go on, must go on” is a mantra for the moment to moment mourners, the grief-learners, the ones who journey daily through slivers of light and stretches of shadow. To live in this awareness or to remind myself of this is to learn that there are times in life, sometimes daily where I need to be honest about two things: one, that there is more than enough heartbreak and trouble to go around and it is real and it hurts like hell; and two, that my place is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk with wonder and fullness in this heartbreak.

“Can’t go on, must go on” is not a declaration of self-pity. It is not depression, nor is it desperation. It is the look I see in the eyes of people day after day after day who courageously lean into their own sickness or the trouble of those whom they love dearly. These words are words of the lean-in, the hold-to, the push-forward, the hang-on to something… anything.

But most people don’t say the words. I see it but I don’t hear it. And some stop half way. “I can’t go on, and I won’t go on” is expressed often and it truly is a dark day, when someone stops there, especially when it doesn’t have to be true.

“I can go on, and I must go on.” This, too, doesn’t carry any weight, and often in many ways is heartbreaking in itself. No… ultimately you can’t go on. Or you won’t go on. Listen to what they are telling you. As Brendan told me yesterday, “Nothing lives forever, Dad.” Thank you, six-year-old chaplain’s son, thank you.

If we want to learn compassion, learn to have joy, to witness ourselves expanding both up AND down, words like these need to be said among us. Words like these need to be felt deep into our beings. I feel like I am at the end. I feel like I can’t take any more. I’ve got nothing left and I can’t cope with one more stress/tragedy/heartbreak. I can’t go on… and yet… I know this is not the end. There are still things for me to do. The world, my home, my land, my people, they need me. I will call upon whatever strength I might have and whatever strength I am given by the mysterious out-there/in-here. Divine Life will enliven my spirit and/or my body… to take one more breath… until there are are no breaths left and my spirit and my body will enliven others. Even then, we go on. Nothing is lost. Everything comes from somewhere.

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Quite literally, Ups and Downs

I entitled this piece for a reason. I’ve been thinking a lot about tempering lately. I think there used to be a time when I felt it was of value to maintain a Zen-like middle path where I didn’t want to get too excited and I didn’t want to get to upset. Thrills and depressed… that’s what Anthony de Mello used to say. But, I don’t want that any more. I am fully convinced that this is not the way to learn love, it is not the way to learn how to grieve. It is not the way to grow in our connection to Life and all of life. We have ups and we have downs and neither is better or worse that the other. Perhaps, I can explain.

I did a talk on Sunday about generosity and and brought the full Orphan Wisdom Forensic Audit Method to the teaching. I studied the etymology, I brought in a poet, and I kinda of winged it. Not saying I wasn’t prepared and not saying it didn’t land. But I experienced the full effect of being on the “receiving end.” Here is the down and up of generosity. It comes from the root “gene” which essentially means “stock, kin, and to have been beget.” When they used to say you were generous, they meant your “line” was good. Well, now, few of us know where we really come from and we live in a time of individualism and to a certain degree, miserliness. This is the opposite of generosity, which is to act in such a way as to take into account what “begot” you or what “made” you. Your land, your food, your ancestors, your people… the thing is to let this affect us. This ain’t no “middle path.” This is the down and dirty, learning to “inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully” (as David Whyte writes about), letting ourselves feel down into that and rise up out of it. “Everything comes from somewhere,” I have been teaching the boys.

Since getting back from Canada and Orphan Wisdom School, I have had a number of firsts, each an up and down of a certain kind. Part of my work in the world, beyond the spiritual director/chaplain/community builder, is to help create and do ritual at transition times. I did my first baby baptism, outdoors by the lake on a Sunday morning. The geese, paddling on the water at the edge of our steamy-breath hazed sight, took flight as the ceremony was complete. The most ideal and wonderful witnesses, reminders of the wild goose that won’t be caged. I blessed baby Sawyer, as one connected to the trees, with elements of earth, fire, wind and water… a calling her down into the land even as we lifted her up and honored her place in the family of things.

Not even a few days later, I was asked to do a funeral for a young mother, who had two young children, six and two. This would be the first funeral I had ever done, but it was one of those “can’t go on, must go on” kind of events. Difficult and heartbreaking, devastating even… but necessary and something that I knew I could do in honor to her. This was very much a down even, going down into the sorrow, but yet, as I offered to the community gathered there:

I first met Jana and Kevin, the day they got their biopsy results back… all the way back in March. I was also there, when they heard that nothing else could be done. These could very well have been among the very worst days. Yes, there were tears. Yes, there was shock. But these things do not equal a hard heart. A hard heart is when we stop paying attention. When we shut down. I never saw that in Jana. When I asked her three weeks ago if there is anything she was unresolved with, any questions that were left unanswered, her response was, “Why? Why me?” This is the question that keeps a heart from growing hard, at least if we can somehow consider that there is no good answer, no answer sufficient enough to take the pain away. When we jump too swiftly to fairness and unfairness, deserving or not deserving, even what God has to do with it… I think this stops our open heart. An open heart is a broken heart

An open heart is a broken heart. Or perhaps a broken heart is an open heart. However you want to say it, the truth of it remains. We must let ourselves be affected. Don’t shut it out. If you want to live as a receiver and as a giver, you must draw down and be affected.

One final up and down, and this is my life now, as a dad of a boy with Duchenne. Brendan fell last week. In his room. Just toppled. This something that happens with weak muscles and not good balance, nothing new. But he also doesn’t have much in his upper body to cushion his fall so when he hit his bed frame he broke his arm. I got the call and rushed to emergent care where we had x-rays and he got a sling. He was quite silent throughout the whole visit, no doubt taking in our repeated reminders to the doctor and nurses that he has Muscular distrophy and falls a lot. But when he got that sling, he smiled and did a little dance for the doctor… who proceed to say he had never seen anything like this and told all the nurses. Down and right back up again. Light in the midst of our darkness. I am schooled by a six year old.

I had to pick him up and carry him to school a few days later because he can’t walk that whole way. Plus we were late and his wagon had been left at school. A fifty pound boy with one arm and another that is not strong enough to hold on gets heavy quickly so I pushed it as far as I could, telling him that when we get closer he would have to walk. “But I’ll get too tired,” he said. How do I know when he can do or when he can’t do it? Is he playing me or telling me the truth? Well, he walked because otherwise I would be the one down. We went slowly and I watched at how his left foot hit the pavement at an odd angle. Tight calves, I thought. He isn’t planting his heel first. Another problem with DMD. I felt, too, the slowness of his gait as he lagged behind and I tried to hold his hand. It’s ok to slow down. I don’t need to pull him. Innocent parents unknowingly share that we might not get in the back door, but I know we have a special pass and help him get his coat off and carry his notebook for him. It aches to see the signs, to watch the slow progression and to still find these moments of joy, as in the conversation about the frost on the grass. He reminds me… don’t miss this, Dad. I’m going down, I need you to hold me up. Or Dad, I see you are going down. Let me hold you up.

And this comes to my memory just now as I write… just today, a patient with sepsis, confused and difficult to understand, after ten minutes of indiscernible conversation, says with eyes half closed, “Hold me up… I’m going down.” I can’t make this stuff up. I am receiving it all. It’s my kin and it begets me. Be generous to me, Life, and may I respond generously.

Healing when healing doesn’t come

I’ve been considering a talk I’m giving on Sunday about healing. It’s a challenging consideration as I wonder how to approach this, especially along the lines of grief and being hope free. Currently, I am sitting with two different aspects of healing. They are real, I would guess, to each of us, and they are connected. I’ll shoot a few arrows up and see if they land by the end or if they make sense. If not, that’s ok… maybe after a week’s time or maybe at some point before the end of your life.

The first aspect is that healing happens and it doesn’t happen, and often we don’t know why. Often healing happens to those who have done everything “wrong” and it doesn’t happen for those who have done everything “right.” Now I’m tempted to throw the whole framework out the window, but it is worth diving into because it is so real for so many people. Jesus says in Matthew 5, “God causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t.” I wish he didn’t preface that saying with “You will be children of your Father who is in heaven” because honestly, it doesn’t really make me want to have that kind of father. The truth is there, though. The sun… the rain… they are indiscriminate of evil and they are indiscriminate of good. What about the sun that burned so hot, with no rain on so many parts of our country while fires burned homes of so many of our fellow earth brothers and sisters? Indiscriminate? And what about the rains that have fallen on Texas and Florida and all the destruction that was wrought there? Iniscriminate. And what about the rain that fell on the people in Las Vegas from the window of the Mandalay Bay hotel? Indiscriminate. And what about the drip, drip, drip of the medications that have no effect on people I see every day in the hospital. Again… whether they are do right or whether they don’t. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes,  I’ve seen it all in my brief and pointless life—here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?” (I love this version from the Message). So wisdom… over rated. Being good… over rated. Being bad or reckless… over rated.

Mary Oliver seems to have a response.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. The world goes on and no matter how lonely, how distressed, how broken down, this same world that continues to go on, offers itself to your imagination and announces your place in the family of things. You belong. The rain falls on you and the sun shines on you. And we are held, as one amongst the many, in the midst of our sadness and sometimes anguish of not finding the healing when we would give everything to receive just that.

This leads me to my second wondering, is there healing even when there IS no healing? As a chaplain, this is, of course, a rhetorical question. Anthony de Mello tells a story:

To a distressed person who came to him for help the Master said, “Do you really want a cure”
If I did not, would I bother to come to you?”
“Oh yes Most people do.”
“What for?”
“Not for a cure. That’s painful. For relief.”
To his disciples the Master said, “People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favour progress, provided they can have it without change.”

De Mello taught that healing comes from dropping sickness… getting rid of that which is causing the sickness. Our natural state is health. So when someone has an infection, we want to get rid of the infection. When someone has cancer, we want to get rid of the cancer. We don’t add anything to be healed and we don’t add anything to be happy. So just at health is our natural state so is happiness. Happiness comes from dropping our illusions… our programming. This is the natural way of things. We are as natural as the world around us and where it is natural for us to be in a state of health, so it is natural for the world to be in a state of health. The world doesn’t need us to survive. The world will go on just fine without us.

Interestingly enough, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes his reflection on the overratedness of striving with the consideration that “it’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.” This is why earlier, I said I would rather just throw out the whole paradigm that healing might happen to some and not to others. Reality demonstrates otherwise.

Our healing comes from embracing the reality and the paradox and letting it transform us. We are meant to grieve. We are meant to feel the absolute heartbrokenness that comes from those who do not experience the healing they so desperately desire. It increases our love which opens us to more and more areas in our world that desperately need healing. There is always healing that can happen and there are always things to grieve. And as we embrace, we heal, and the world heals, and we see that the more grief we can hold, the more joy we can hold as well.

Listen carefully to these words by Kahlil Gibran, and hear how closely this resonates to all I have been saying so far:

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say to you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily, you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at stand-still and balanced.

Who holds the vision?

“Where there is no vision, the people will perish.” – Proverb

“In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.'” – Prophet Joel

The question is an essential one and the importance of vision and it’s role in the community has been held in cultures since the beginning. These verses from the Judeo-Christian scriptures demonstrate the importance for me. Who does hold the vision when there are so many divergent ideas about who and what we should be as human beings?

I don’t believe that there will be a time when vision is more or less prevalent than right now. Mythically, there are no “last days”… or perhaps, we are always in the “last days.” I would say that all last days are first days and all endings are beginnings. So as things are coming to an end, new things are being created. If we are in the last days, then the truth of the passage applies.

For me, God is synonymous with Life… the Spirit of Life is poured out on ALL people. Not just the Christians, not just the Jews, not just the Yogis, not just anyone. All people. Humanity has been immersed in the Spirit of Life and those who have vision, prophecy, and dream their dreams will come from all corners of the earth.

I love the mystical reality of vision, prophesying, dreams. Prophecy (Greek in origin), divination (Latin in origin), and seer (English in origin) all mean the same thing. Each is, in it’s essence, about telling, not even necessarily about foretelling. As a teacher of mine says, when we focus on observing rather than techniques or “how-tos,” that is when we gain the keen insight to infer the likelihood of what is to come. So the more acute attention we can have for what IS, and is in the present, the better will we can anticipate and speak into the becoming and the evolving of what may come to pass.

THIS is why the all-inclusive access to the Spirit of Life, the nature of reality, the bigness of the smallness, the “divine light in you,” the sacredness of all things is so absolutely profound. This is why paying attention and the slowing down and the stripping away leads people of all ages to see, and to see clearly. THIS is the time. Now is when we must pay attention. And what is seen must be spoken, manifested even. “Manifest”  has as it root, mani-, which is hand… so essentially “made at hand.” Again, the time is now and we must make vision graspable and tangible (“that which may be touched”).

True Vision is for all people and brings all things together. It leads to tangible, manifested love. It holds ALL of Life, the beginnings and the endings, the living and the dying, the light and the darkness. Nothing is too great and nothing is too small. It is physical AND spiritual. There is no dualism only unity. Anything short of this is false vision, and we get this over and over and over again from those who grapple for the spotlight of power. True power does not have to be fought for. It is found in vision. It is this vision that keeps “the people” from “perishing.” It is drawn from the deep ocean of the present, from Life itself, and it makes that Life tangible for the people of all times.

You shall know the “***”, and the “***” shall…

The saying goes, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” There’s so much to this, and Jesus’ words have been used in so many different ways, by Christians and non-Christians alike. Truly, speaking truthfully about truth or Truth is no small task and perhaps best done with humility and much care. I will make an attempt, as this concept has been spiraling in my brain and spirit for days. This will all likely be a bit of a mind bender… but after all, truth should not be settled on too easily.

I do believe in truth or – maybe “and” too – Truth. I definitely believe in freedom and that living in truth, speaking truthfully with care not to speak un-truth, and pursuing the true can lead to freedom. The problem is, often what we tell others is Truth, is really truth but not true and is more akin to belief, opinion, or perception. Some things that are true actually DID happen and some things that are true did not happen. So when we offer our truth as THE Truth to someone, for whom it is not true, it doesn’t create freedom it creates division or worse, enslavement. In this regard, I hope everything that I write here can be affirmed as true. I will let you wonder where the big “T’s” and little “t’s” go, and what it really means to differentiate between different kinds of truth.

Jesus prefaces his statement about truth and freedom with “If you remain (abide/continue with) my word (logo – divine-inspired creative speaking), you truly are my disciples.” Jesus, the masterful teacher that he was, assured those who were with him that if they lived into the things he was speaking of, they would come to know the truth and this would lead to freedom. I think any good teacher, who believes in what they are saying and has tuned his or her ear to the movement of the divine would say something similar. Because it is true. Jesus plays with the words and concepts of “truth,” “father,” “belief,” “knowing,” and “death” until those around him wonder what he is talking about and ask “Who ARE you?”

I dare say, we would be wise to learn that words and how they are communicated are powerful and have significant effect. When I speak to my patients, to my family, even to strangers I want to speak freedom-making truth. But if what I am saying is my belief of what is true and not true for all, this sets someone apart from me. Now they have to think about whether they agree or disagree, whether their beliefs are the same or different. While this is not necessarily bad, it is not helpful when I imply that they can’t experience “freedom” like I do unless they assent to my truth.

There is a difference between “Life gives us joy and sorrow, living and dying, healing and sickness. It is possible for us to get through this, to live with this, to learn from this, and find fulfillment” and “God has a plan for us and wants to teach us through our difficulty. He doesn’t give us more than we can bear, and if we put our trust in Jesus, we can find the peace we are looking for.” The former is true is true for all, no matter what they believe and the latter is true for some and requires certain faith, theology, and doctrinal beliefs. I might believe the latter, but unless I say, “In my belief, God has a plan for ME…” and “If I put MY trust in Jesus…” etc, I am potentially offering division rather than an invitation to freedom. If I own it is as my truth, it moves from just being a belief to one that is true for all (i.e. it truly is true that this is my belief and I am aware that it might not be yours).

So what is true is not always truth and what is truth is not always true. Some things that happen are true and some things that happen are not true. Some things that are true didn’t happen and some things that didn’t happen are not true (let’s not try to assert those too much shall we?). Let us be people who vigorously and carefully assert those things that give freedom for all, not just for ourselves. Let us learn to craft our words in inspired ways that can be wholly true and truly freedom-inviting.