Thirty days of beauty

Beauty

I came across this picture on the Charter for Compassion Facebook page. It appeared just a day after I had posted a beautiful picture of some giraffes on my own page adding the caption ‘A little beauty goes a long way…’

With all the senseless terror

With all the hateful political rhetoric

With all the ridiculous shaming of those who dare to hold an opinion other than our own

With the terrible violence

I feel a strong draw to intentionally focus on beauty for a little while. I’m going to commit to a challenge to find one thing of beauty every day and to share it.

I’m going to do this every day for the next thirty days. Why don’t you join me?

Simply post something beautiful to your social media account every day. If you aren’t on social media – just share your object of beauty with one other person.

If you want to see what I am finding beautiful you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

I’m starting with Jessye Norman singing Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg_EHUGRgos).

Nonviolence

I still remember watching the United States army rolling into the Baghdad and toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the realisation that violence begets violence.

There is no lasting victory in violence. The temporary relief and euphoria soon wear off. And in the world we live in now, it seems that a new threat will emerge or retaliation will be taken and cycle continues.

It is truly horrific.

I do not make policy decisions; as a foreigner I do not even have the capacity to influence which political party gets into power; I have no power in any meaningful sense to change anything concrete.

But I can make a commitment to nonviolence. This is a internal process. I need to look at my thought processes. Do I allow myself to dehumanise others by using denigrating language in my head? What do I do with my anger? What am I doing to reduce suffering?

I must also choose not to support the glorification of violence in the media.

These choices are daily choices. And if I practice enough it will impact my way of being in the world. It won’t have a major impact on our world unless others do likewise. Will you join me?

One man’s courage

Like so many of my fellow Zimbabweans in the diaspora, I have been watching the events in Zimbabwe this last week.

It is quite awe inspiring to watch the courage of Pastor Evan Mawarire. He started the #thisflag movement some months ago. It has caught the imagination and attention of all Zimbabweans. The notion that an ordinary citizen without political affiliation can inspire the shut down of the country for a day is almost unthinkable.

One of the great joys of the Zimbabwean people is that they are quite peaceful. They do simply make a plan when things get tough. Alas that has meant that they have suffered far too long under a repressive regime.

But now, one man has inspired mass action. It is nothing short of miraculous that the charges against him were dropped yesterday. I have no doubt that the state controlled media will begin a vicious character attack against him. The combination of spurious legal allegations and libelous attack has been used over and over again to discredit those who stand up.

It is amazing to watch all the lawyers who showed up to defend him. All the church leaders who showed up in support. And the hundreds of ordinary Zimbabweans draped in the flag. Whatever happens this moment shows that there are still people of extraordinary vision who can inspire the action of thousands of others.

I pray for all those who support this brave man. I pray for his wife and for his children. And I pray for my country. I sincerely hope this marks the start of a new era.

Clearing the debris

Spiritual formation is an path unlike any other. Initially we think we are taking the initiative. We begin to engage more in prayer; we join a faith community; we read spiritual books. And it works. We feel more connected to God. We begin to trust that God might actually love us.

And then life happens. We suffer in some way. It is painful and disorienting. We discover that the God image we have constructed fails us.

There are three responses. The first and probably most common these days is to lose faith entirely. We conflate the failure of the image of God we have constructed with God and throw the baby out with the bathwater. The second is to try and recapture the earlier enthusiasm. This doesn’t work it is like trying to recapture romance. Once the projection has failed it cannot be put back together.

The third is to sit in the discomfort and wait. It helps tremendously to have companions in this time. If we are able to sit in this space long enough something new emerges. This time God takes the initiative. Ultimately we are led through our interior landscape. We discover limitations and blocks in ourselves which we never noticed before. We are incapable of increasing our faith or our love, all we can do is to pay attention to the obstacles when we see them

‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’ Rumi

It requires vulnerability and courage. But it opens us in ways that are quite unexpected and truly life giving.

The chrysalis of transformation

It is perhaps one of the most devastating things to discover that we are capable of hurting those we love without intending to. It is awful too, to discover the ways in which we are capable of self-sabotaging ourselves.

The obvious response is to despise those parts of ourselves which cause such destruction. But that gets us nowhere.

The only way to a way through is to lovingly embrace those parts of ourselves which we are least able to accept. To pray for the grace to be able to accept that this is a part of me.

We find ourselves stumbling into self-compassion. Reaching out and caring for the least parts of ourselves. Tending to those most tender parts – which so like children from abusive backgrounds misbehave and act out. We must embrace and accept that which we find unacceptable in ourselves.

It is only at this point that our woundedness and pain becomes wrapped in the chrysalis of transformation. Our pain and our woundedness cannot be transformed unless we spin the chrysalis of compassion and acceptance ourselves.

God provides the invitation and the support we need, be we need to make the choice and do the work.

Anam cara

‘Anam cara’ is a Celtic term meaning ‘soul friend’. I have been tremendously blessed in the last decade or so. Slowly, slowly, I have come to know the blessing to such encounters.

Some have an inherent gentle rhythm, some have a brief intensity. But all retain a deep, soulful resonance which overcome both distance and time.

It is always a grace, always unexpected, and always healing. This time I have no words to describe the encounter, except to say that in one beautiful exchange it was almost sacramental.

There is something so moving when two souls resonate. It doesn’t happen by accident. It is a choice. A willingness to engage with vulnerability.

It is a tremendous gift, and each time I am granted the privilege of encountering this space anew, it has a different flavour, a different feel. And I am led further into the mystery of relationship which we call God.

Soul food

I have been so tremendously blessed in recent months. My brother and sister-in-law bought a holiday house in Hermanus (a town which is nestled between the mountains and the sea on the southern Cape coast). The house is close enough to the cliff paths that I can walk down from the house. And the Fernkloof nature reserve, which has paths into the mountains, is just a few minutes drive away.

I’m not quite sure why but the place is deeply restorative for me. My whole being breaths a sigh of relief when I get there. This has been a very busy semester for me for all sorts of reasons, and it has been my place of sanity.

I’ve known for a long time that walking in nature is an activity which somehow settles something deep in my being. It almost as though the rhythm of my gait combined with the gentle sensory stimulation of being in nature provides a calibration of my soul. It somehow reorients itself and settles.

The juxtaposition of the stressful semester and the happy escape has made me far more conscious of the need to take time in nature even when I am not in Hermanus. Overall, I think I am better balanced.

It has been a significant lesson. I sit with tremendous gratitude for having access to this precious space.

Words

Ignatius of Loyola so wisely reminds us in the opening of the Spiritual Exercises that we should try to put the best possible construction on what a person is saying.

I confess that today, I failed miserably in that endeavour. All I could hear was the shaming language being used. I couldn’t get past that to the intent. And then my friend Michelle, who shares my passions for chemistry, Ignatian spirituality and blogging unintentionally came to my rescue (You can read her blog post http://quantumtheology.blogspot.co.za/2016/06/full-conscious-and-active-participation.html)

Some weeks ago I attended an event where one of the participants responded at some point in the proceedings by saying ‘I no longer use that language but…’. In this particular case the respondent had gone out of her way to attempt to engage with the image of God presented and had in fact had a good experience (inasmuch as I could gleen).

Too often though we resort to language as a kind of theological shibboleth. If you use the ‘right’ language which is somehow deemed to be more ‘evolved’ it makes you more worthy. This cannot be the truth.

Whilst I know that my image of God has evolved and the language that I use is also not what it would have been twenty years ago. There are those who still gain tremendous comfort from those images. The thing we all need to remember, is that whatever image we hold now is also limited and temporary. And that God shakes us all up sooner or later.

It is my deepest desire that I will never knowingly shame someone else for the image of God that they carry. To that end, if I ever inadvertently do so, I trust that those close to me will call me out when I fall into that particular error.

Certainty or equanimity?

A friend of mine is facing a significant decision. The decision is essentially made, it just needs to be executed. As we chatted, something I said precipitated the response – ‘I am not sure’.

It made me realise that the idea of ‘certainty’ with respect to most decisions we make is simply not helpful. We cannot possibly know the trajectory which will be precipitated by choosing one particular course of action. We cannot know that it will be ‘good’ let alone ‘best’.

So seeking ‘certainty’ is setting up a useless ideal.

But seeking equanimity is useful. Equanimity in this context is that sense of inner peace which comes when I consider taking that particular path. Sometimes that comes with a sense of ‘rightness’. Sometimes it feels simply like the least worst!

Seeking equanimity in the midst of making a decision usually begins with noticing its absence. Almost always, a significant interior disruptor is fear. This way I can bring my fear into the light and see it for what it is. If fear is driving my decision it is unlikely to be a good one.

Take time, if at all possible to find a place interior peacefulness. It will change the way that you live in to the decision that you make, and that has the potential to have a tremendous impact on how your life unfolds.

 

Identity

There is real danger in investing one’s sense of identity in an external locus. It could be financial well-being; it could be career advancement; or something else. If my sense of self is located in being successful (however that is defined), sooner or later I’m going to end up in trouble.

There are several problems. Firstly, the external locus is a moving target. As soon as I have achieved one goal another almost immediately presents itself. And so I am ever in pursuit of something to myself feel valued. Nothing one attains is ever quite enough.

Secondly, life happens. Almost inevitably there will be bumps in the road which will slow one’s progression. And the system will penalise one.

All of us have areas which are slightly more externally located. For me a useful question for discernment is where do I over-react when someone sees me as less than successful? Or even where do I over-react when I am seen as being mediocre rather than excellent?

Those are the areas where I need to pray for the grace of freedom.

The pursuit of excellence is not the problem, it is my investment in being seen as being excellent which is the issue.