Saturday, December 7, 2019

advent and ahimsa

"I'll meet you where there is no weeping
Your tears are not a stream
I'll meet you where there is no sleeping
Where we wake up to dream
This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it, you can sing along
-U2 + A.R. Rahman, "Ahimsa"

Yes, leave it to me to use U2 lyrics in a blog post. I know, you're all clearly shocked.

Ahimsa. The path of nonviolence and respect for all living things. If you are familiar with Eastern faith traditions, you're probably familiar with the term and concept. Somewhere between the song, the holiday season, and the shared wisdom of others over the last couple of weeks, something in me crystallized around the connection between Ahimsa, and the season of Advent.

If you just thought to yourself, ummmm... what? How on earth can you connect an Eastern concept with the Christian season of Advent? Stay with me, and I'll explain.

The holidays are hard, friends. We all know it. I'd be willing to bet that at least one person reading this spent part of Thanksgiving hiding from their family in the bathroom, scrolling through their Facebook or Instagram feed for the millionth time, or just crying. How many times have you cried in the last two weeks? 

There are so many *things to do*... the list seems endless - shopping, parties, tamale making.

Ouch. I'm not ready. Hold the cold sweat. Breathe.

Others impose so many expectations on us, and we impose at least as many on ourselves. This came to the forefront of my own mind a few days ago as I was thinking about Christmas cards - as an artist, I'm kind of psycho about creating my own Christmas card every year - it's either my own design, or it's not happening. ;) And every year, I'm late getting the card designed and printed, and I'm sending out cards right before Christmas or even right after - and well, the Christmas season doesn't actually start until Christmas Day, but still... 

(And if your Christmas cards are already in the mail, or will be soon, high five!! That's wonderful.)

The point is, having a Christmas card ready and in the mail right after Thanksgiving is an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation for me to impose on myself, given my daily life. And for me to impose such an expectation on myself, is effectively a form of violence. Just as for me to judge someone else because their Christmas cards are already in the mail, is also effectively a form of violence. Out of respect for myself and the other, I should avoid both. And that's just with Christmas cards!   

Isn't it worth it for we who profess Jesus = God = Love, to consider how to offer that love in place of the psychological and spiritual violence that is so rooted in the way we approach the holidays in today's world? This seems to me, "an invitation to a high location" indeed.

What does Advent mean as a time of preparing to welcome Christ - if we berate ourselves for not doing all of the things, are rude to others in the store or on the road (yes, even if they were rude first), impatient with those working in retail who bear the brunt of so much chaos, irritated with our family and friends when plans don't work out quite the way we had in mind, and maybe even angry with God for not being God in the way we want... when we could make the - yes, sometimes difficult - effort to be kind to ourselves and others, offer a smile, say a quiet prayer, touch those rosary beads in your pocket, swallow our pride? In other words, what does Advent mean if we do not approach it with a spirit of Ahimsa? And maybe when we think about it, that idea of Ahimsa isn't all that far from... showing mercy. And isn't that precisely why we believe Christ entered into this world, to bring us true and deep mercy?

So have mercy on yourself, and give yourself space to welcome God's gift of mercy... and extend it to those around you.

Breathe. Pray.

And fall on Mercy alllllllll the time, because let's be real, this is hard...

In a season sometimes full of light and joy, but often riddled with pain and sadness - pain and sadness we try so hard to hide - seize the opportunities to cheer each other on, and to cheer each other up - even if that "cheering" simply means offering your presence to someone struggling to stay afloat.

Let's be good to each other.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

I Think God Can Explain

"It's alright,
I'm okay,
I think God can explain..."

Ever been bowled over by impermanence?

Yeah, I actually just said that. Bowled over by impermanence. Doesn't that sound bizarre?

But have you?

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by the knowledge that nothing here on earth lasts? 

Before Mass this morning, talking to God and drinking in the beauty around me, I was struck by the need to appreciate everything that was there, right then, because... it's all impermanent.

Sometimes this really gets to me. Deeply. Today is one of those days.

We don't know how long things will last in our lives. These beautiful places, wonderful people... how long will it be before the places aren't as beautiful, those people are gone, whether only gone from us, or gone from this life? Particularly when we think of the people in our lives, those we love - we don't know how long they will be near to us - even though we will be with them again in eternity someday, eternity seems... kind of a long way off.

I know. Painful thoughts. That pain impressed itself on my heart over the last several years, as I've lost people to death, and also lost a friendship or two I thought would endure, and lost a place I'd loved because I felt I had no choice but to leave. For whatever reason, it reminds me of Pink Floyd's question, "Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?"

And yes, I felt caged. Caged, because when things you thought would last don't, sometimes you keep that to yourself. Am I right? Because admitting that you loved some place or some thing or some one in your life, admitting that vulnerability - and that you suffered because of it - acknowledging that whatever emotional and spiritual investment you made yielded pain - somehow makes you weak, or means you should've known better - or worse, that you deserved it. We've all been told one of these things, maybe all of them. They're all lies. Vulnerability does not make us weak, loving those who hurt us deeply, or loving someone and losing them (in any sense) does not mean we should've known better, and as for "deserving it," I don't ascribe karmic attributes to God.

Not-so-random sidebar for those who like to think about these things: These losses are a form of death for us. So choosing to loving again after loss is a kind of resurrection, isn't it?
Okay, that's another post for another time.

If you listened to alt-rock in the late '90s, you might remember a song called "I Think God Can Explain" by Splender. It resonated with me then, and it resonates with me when it shows up on a playlist now - as it did earlier this afternoon as I was starting to write this. It opens with these words: 

"There's a lot of things I understand
And there's a lot of things that I don't want to know
But you're the only face I recognize
It's so damn sweet of you to look me in the eyes

It's alright,
I'm okay
I think God can explain..."

If you're reading this and you don't believe in God, I'm sure this seems ridiculous, but you've made it this far and you're still reading, so why stop now?

I'm a scientist - I like to explain things, and I like facts, but loss, and pain, and impermanence, have taught me (among other things) that there are questions I can't answer, and that I ultimately don't need answered now.

And, yes, I do think God can explain, but I don't necessarily think he's sharing those explanations. In fact, I'm not sure the explanations are all that important. And if I'm headed for brute-force honesty, I wish we wouldn't try to explain things for God, because we don't do it well. Yes, it's human nature and all of that, but we do not truly know the mind of God - "we see through a glass, darkly".

Fact of life: 
If you love, you will suffer. The important thing is what we do as a result.

Do we become callused, hard, unreachable? Or do we learn compassion, deeper love, empathy - the value of vulnerability? Will our world shrink, as we seek to avoid pain? Or will our world expand, embracing others while accepting that the risk of love is pain, but that love is not an option - love is a must - that we need others, and they need us? The vulnerability and gift of self that allows us to form relationships is indeed one of the very graces that sustains us through loss and change. We are not islands, and ours need to be the faces that others recognize. Love is not an option.

Yes, I know the wonderful "nouns"... people, places, and things... in my life are impermanent (even if they are eternal) - and that hurts because I love them all. But though I am not in control of the unfolding of time, I also cannot not love them, so I know - and I accept - in some measure I choose pain by choosing them.

I think God can explain.