A peek behind the veil.

earth's music

 

Often life doesn’t make sense. So many petty squabbles, too much injustice, difficulties, disagreements, struggle. Why? What for? What’s the point? And then something remarkable happens, and we can see behind the veil to the beauty of things, the mystery. For a moment we feel a communion with each other and with all living things. We can stand in awe of creation.

For just such a moment, take time to watch this surfer communing with dolphins. It’s beautiful.

 

Seize the day.

berries

Today is the day. Seize it, use it, enjoy it, fill it up with meaning and truth. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Now. Today. Here. This moment right here, right now, holds all your opportunities for action.

How to keep Christmas.

xmasheart

Love wins.

Isn’t that the bottom line of Christmas? Strip away all the decorations and gifts and songs and celebrations, and what remains is: love wins. It’s about love. God loves us, and we are to love each other. And even in a world divided by hate, blind to oneness, driven by greed, love will win. Because that’s the point of Christmas.

It’s about the love.

The anonymous gift.

angeldoor

There is something about an anonymous gift that brings special joy to both the giver and the receiver. For the person getting the gift, it makes you feel like the whole world cares, that around any corner is the person who cared enough to make your life special. And to the giver, it strips off all the status and pride and self-satisfaction you may get from a public gift and, with the lusciousness of a secret, fills you with love and gratitude that you are in a position to make a difference.

Consider this delightful story about a somewhat anonymous giver, call him George Walker, and his gift to a young boy in the Philippines.

“Dear Timothy, 
I want to be your new pen pal. 
I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already.
I live in Texas – I will write you from time to time – Good Luck. G. Walker”

Now, after President Bush’s death, we have learned that he was George Walker, but look at how much joy is in his writing when it is semi-anonymous. He is embracing the true spirit of giving.

For more on anonymous giving, take a look at this feature I wrote on anonymous giving filled with inspiring stories.

What are some things you might do anonymously to spread your love?

 

Struggle.

struggle

Love isn’t a feeling we fall in and out of. It’s an action we choose to take even when it may be challenging. Sometimes it brings pain. When we think of love as an active noun, like, as Mr. Rogers suggests above, ‘struggle’, rather than as an emotion, it opens our eyes to the fact that we must work at it. It’s a struggle, a constant readjustment and tinkering, constantly expanding our own understanding and empathy. Love is not molding someone to our vision of what they should be, but accepting who they are and supporting them as they blossom. Thinking of love as something more akin to struggle encourages us to keep looking for new and better ways to show up for the people in our lives, to view the relationships as evolving rather than static, and to appreciate all the little successes and breakthroughs in those relationships along the way.

With gratitude to those who serve.

sisters

Today, in the United States, we honor our veterans and thank them for their service defending this country and its principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all. Our understanding of those concepts has evolved over time, and taken some steps back, but today let us be grateful for how far we’ve come and consider the steps that we each might take today and every day to make this country move closer to the ideals for which it stands.

Open to surprise.

surprise

How much do our expectations get in the way of our gratefulness? If we were expecting nothing, would our eyes open more to all the gifts we receive each day. Brother David Steindhal-Rast explores just this link between surprise and gratitude:

Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised? It is as if you had been asleep, merely day-dreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and you hear your favorite tune on the radio, or look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder – the only name that does not limit God – is Surprise.

Right this moment, as I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet – Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.

Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise

A surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise to merely baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. Instead, every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.

Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance.

I do not know how my eyes adapt, yet when I chant by candlelight they are 100,000 times more sensitive to light than when I read outdoors on the porch at noon. I wouldn’t know how to give instructions to the 35 million digestive glands in my stomach for digesting one single strawberry; fortunately, they know how to do their job without my advice. When I think of this as I sit down to eat, my heart brims with gratefulness.

From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights.

In those moments, I can identify with the Psalmist who cried out in amazement, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps.139:14) From there it is only a small step to seeing the whole universe and every smallest part of it as surprising. From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights. Thomas Carlyle pointed to these peaks of spiritual awareness when he wrote, “Worship is transcendent wonder” – transcendent surprise.

Surprise is a seed; let it sprout and blossom today to color your life with gratitude.

 

 

Mistake inventory=growth inventory.

mistake

Who among us can make it from birth to grave without a mistake? Mistakes are such an inevitable part of trying something new, of learning, of growing that it would be impossible. And yet we don’t like to admit that we make mistakes. Constantly. But perhaps the real harm is in not learning from our mistakes, not stretching our view of the world to admit a new insight, not bending our routine to reflect a better way of doing something, not opening up to a perspective we hadn’t considered. As we take stock of ourselves today, let’s consider all the ways we’ve grown in our beliefs, our behaviors, and  insights. We used to believe the world was flat, but now we see it is round, and that makes a world of difference.

Give yourself.

give

How deeply can we say Yes to life, to each other, to our common good? It’s easy to hold back, to give our money but not our hearts, to temper our enthusiasm, to stay aloof, to protect ourselves from being hurt. But is that why we’re here? To stay safe? When we give of ourselves, we listen with our whole hearts, we reach out to others, we spread joy. And our ability to do those things does not run out. Love expands when it is shared.

Taking responsibility.

buck

President Truman kept a plaque on his desk with the phrase ‘The buck stops here,” meaning it was his job to make decisions and to accept responsibility for those decisions. President Jimmy Carter pulled that plaque out of storage to keep the reminder in front of him as well.

But what does it mean? A quick Wikipedia search comes up with two possible etymologies:

The expression is said to have originated from poker, in which a marker or counter (such as a knife with a buckhorn handle during the American Frontier era) was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the “buck”, as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

Another less common but arguably less fanciful attribution is to the French expression bouc émissaire, meaning “scapegoat”, whereby passing the bouc is equivalent to passing the blame or onus.[3] The terms bouc émissaire and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament (Lev. 16:6–10) reference to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the “buck” was sent or “passed”into the wilderness to expiate them.

So, either a refusal to take responsibility and kick the can down the road, or an intentional decision to blame someone else for your own actions. In either event, passing the buck is a refusal to take responsibility and act on it.

It can be difficult to discern what is our responsibility. One could argue we have a responsibility to fix harm we’ve caused, to prevent harm within our power to prevent, and to accept blame and credit when due. But these aren’t bright lines, and often decisions are complex and complicated by the actions and responsibilities of other players. That’s where the Serenity Prayer comes in:

 

For those things within your control, have the courage to change what you can and to do your part.