Today’s Word from Sheila Weidendorf…
Oh, how precious are you, am I, are we, Children of God all and so well-crafted in God’s own image! And, too, we are beautiful, with all of our gifts and graces, our failings AND our foibles. Yet, knowing this, believing that God took on fleshly form (just like us!) and earthly expression to show us who we really are… how readily we forget, or doubt, or deny the holy possibilities in ourselves and each other.
This life we live here on Earth, with all of our striving and struggle, with our little successes and our simple satisfactions is also precious. How much time, then, do we waste upon inconsequentialities? How much do we labor for a sense of security though we know full well tomorrow is not promised us? How often do we judge each other for perceived slights or infractions large or small before first considering the potentially ill-advised lens in our view finder?
I often think about the habituated patterns of thought by which our lives are organized. Our lives, our perceptions, our reactions—unless and until we devote ourselves to waking up to the bigger truths of our ultimate nature as illuminated in Christ Consciousness, we typically carry on with those familiar habituated patterns until we leave this earth. What a frivolity! This very minute is our only guaranteed minute, after all! Shall we limit this moment by the shackles of past habit?
How precious are you, am I, are we! So, what to do with these habits of thought, these reactivities, these ceaseless strivings for inconsequential gains? “What does the Lord require of [us] but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” (Micah 6:8) And also, “But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthian 13:13)
Love. What is God if not love? What are we to be about if not love? Of course, LOVE can be a tricky business! What does it mean to love, to be loved? How do we love? Is love a thing we can offer another? Noted German philosopher, sociologist, and psychologist Erich Fromm said in his Art of Loving that, “Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love.”
Loneliness is certainly a real issue—made more so by the global pandemic. A very real factor of depression and a host of mental health issues is the feeling of isolation in one’s suffering. Another factor in our world is the pervasiveness of seeking others to fulfill ourselves. “If he/she loved me I’d be all right.” Popular culture norms worsen the self-perceptions of teens and adults alike, setting impossible and even unhealthy standards of beauty and success such that almost no one measures up. “I’m ugly. I’m not good/smart/strong/pretty/whatever enough—that’s why no one likes/loves me” is an all-too-familiar refrain.
But Love isn’t a panacea, a stop-gap to fill the gaping maw of a wounded heart or psyche. Love is not a thing but, rather, a state of being. And Love IS salvific! Recently deceased Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said this about Love:
“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.
“The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. So, build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.”
Build a home inside yourself! (Because where else, exactly, can we find the Kingdom of God?!?!?). Here’s the thing…. Love isn’t a thing we give, it is a way of beingness. Love is a reflection of the Holy, and a reflection of you in me and me in you. We CAN be a light illuminating a path for others—not through our judgments or our accomplishments, but by cultivating love—lovingkindness, compassion, mindfulness—within the home of our hearts. There is precisely where God meets us!
As 15-Century Indian mystic saint Kabir said, “Our Master has made this body like a palace, and He played the instrument of breath within! Our Master has made this body like a garden, and how He’s filled it with a bowl of flowers!” Or as 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi says it,
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
We are the palace, the guest house, the mixed bag of tricks with successes and sorrow both, fully human yet divinely-fashioned and called to God’s task of loving. We may experience darkness but we are also called to be the Light.
But what of the many, many ills of this world—the darkness of disease, war, famine, homophobia, misogyny, environmental destruction, brutalities great and small, social and personal? What are we to DO? While it is true that to “do justice” requires action—whether that be peaceful protest, or speaking truth to power or feeding the hungry or donating to important causes—all noble action begins from within.
We must first build homes of mindfulness within ourselves, cultivate love and kindness and understanding and light within our own hearts such that whatever flows from us reflects the greater light and love of God. Which is why Pastor Tom’s recent account of his spiritual mentor was so meaningful. She told him that “contemplative prayer IS social activism!” What is contemplative prayer but the purifying of the pipes, the conduit of God’s love for the world?
It is a RADICAL action to learn to love ourselves, accept ourselves, to love and accept each other, to wake up each morning in the guest house of God within our own hearts and embrace the day with equanimity—no matter what the day brings. It is a RADICAL thing to be a lover in a broken and weary world. But there you have it, God’s ultimate task for us!
Oh, how precious are you, am I, are we, Children of God all and so well-crafted in God’s own image! And, too, we are beautiful, with all of our gifts and graces, our failings AND our foibles. Let us meet each other, then, in the beautiful palace of God in the guest house of the heart. My heart is full of you….
Follow this link for my musical meditation: https://youtu.be/SeuA6tXDxO