Be still

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of the running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth

T.S. Eliot – from ‘East Coker’

I first came across this quote from TS Eliot about four years ago. I find something so compelling in it.

It is dripping with promise and yet there is no guarantee of any particular outcome.

As I sit here reflecting over the last few weeks which have encompassed something of an interior seismic shift for me, I recognise the wisdom in these lines. I would not have even thought to hope for the resolution which has come. And yet now that it is here, I am awed by the beauty of the contours of this particular outcome.

Whatever hope I might have had in the past, would certainly have been for the wrong thing.

Instead, be still my soul. Pay attention to the world, here, now. The whisper of the running stream, the flight of the flamingos, the still watch of the blue crane. Be still.

Trying to be present for another

This last week I had an interesting juxtaposition of experiences. One was a series of emails and other a live conversation. The email conversation was with a woman I knew a little school. The conversation was with someone I have known for a good chunk of my adult life and whom I consider a friend.

The friend and I had a conversation and I simply could not get the essence of what she was trying to communicate. That evening as we parted, it struck me – that that part of the conversation is never actually about me. It is her projection of what she thinks it would be like to be me. But it isn’t me. And it never will be.

In the email conversation the experience was really quite different. It revolved around the telling of a particular story in my life. As I opened and read one of the last emails in that series of exchanges. It became clear to me that what was important to me in the exchange was not her response (although much of it was very useful) rather it was in her loving careful attendance of my story. Her communication was very much along lines of ‘I don’t know what to say, but this is how I held it, and these are the things occurred to me’.

These two situations have struck me as noteworthy. In one sense we cannot have human relationships without a certain degree of projection, but sooner or later the big projections need to be dismantled if real relationship is to ensue. And think that is not a once off process, but the first time it is recognised it can be quite shocking.

But the value of having someone who is willing to stand with you as you are truly present to yourself cannot be underestimated. As I see it now, everything else follows from this. Authenticity, that great buzzword of our time, is not just about being truly ourselves. It has to be about allowing our illusions of who others are be gently torn down. So that they too can be fully themselves with us. (In as far as that is ever possible in the moment!)

Can I let this person standing in front of me be truly other?

The more I journey, the more I realise that this may be the real invitation, and it is neither as easy nor as obvious as it sounds. My ego keeps constructing others in my own image.

On preparing for new beginnings

I never thought I would feel grateful for Lent. Not that I was ever ungrateful for it. It just never occurred to me that I would ever connect a feeling of gratitude with a change in the liturgical season.

And yet here I am – grateful that it is Ash Wednesday and grateful that there are significant number of weeks to go before we get to celebrate Easter.

The last few weeks have been big for me in ways that I am not ready to articulate in this space. There has been a significant letting go of something which has held me for far too long. The initial sense of elation has passed, and in its place is a recognition of the need to learn to live into this new space. Gently!

How fortunate to be thrust into the season of Lent at this time! A season of letting go; a season of preparation for the great feast of Easter.

I feel like the enforced liturgical pause will be good for me. A time to explore the living now. To slowly learn to move the parts which have so long been atrophied – clinging to an old wounding so tightly that their primary purpose has been long forgotten.

I feel I need to stretch gently; to move a little each day; and learn anew what it is to live unfettered by this particular burden.

I am grateful for the pause of Lent. I get to let go of the old self and to prepare for what is to come. I am well aware that I simply don’t know what that will look like. But I trust wholeheartedly in the grace of God who has carried me thus far.

Participation or generation?

Over the last few weeks I have been listening (and re-listening) to Richard Rohr speaking on the ‘Great Themes of St Paul: Life as Participation’. It has been my commuting companion.

Not only have the letters of Paul been broken open in a new way for me, I have a new handle for discernment. Participation or generation?

Am I participating with God in this? Or am I simply paying lip service to that, but I am in control; I am responsible for (fill in the blank)?

I confess I have spoken about this idea multiple times in giving spiritual direction over the last couple of weeks. And for every single person something seems to click. Indeed, as it has for me.

When I am doing spiritual direction training – a phrase I frequently use is – Let God be God. I fundamentally believe that this is vital. I participate, I do not make things happen.

In some ways I am able to see that so clearly, and I think, for the most part, unless I am very tired, I am able to hold that in the spiritual direction space. But I lose sight of it so easily in my own life.

If I think I am responsible for generating transformation in any guise I am operating from the false self. And more often than not I obstruct God’s good action.

When I let go and I am able to participate real stuff happens. It is unexpected; it is gobsmacking; and it is beautiful.

 

More scales falling

This seems to be a period of self-revelation!

I realised on Saturday afternoon that I struggle to feel good about something if I haven’t expended (what I consider to be) sufficient effort.

On Saturday I had begun giving a course on The Spiritual Exercises. I was giving an input on discernment – something I talk about reasonably frequently. Last week had been the first week of the semester. I always underestimate how taxing that first week is! So, I hadn’t prepared quite as well as I might have. Added to which (the real confession) I had gone out for an early dinner with a friend on Friday night instead of working on my input.

On Saturday afternoon after I got home I had a brief messaging conversation with the same friend. She asked how it had gone. I was aware that I didn’t feel that great about. I’ve had enough feedback both from my co-leaders and from participants to suggest that actually the talk went well.

As I was messaging her, I suddenly realised that my feeling was entirely related to my self-recrimination – I should have done more to prepare – rather than any actual feedback.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with my sister over the Christmas break – she suggested that I will never feel good about something that I haven’t given myself wholeheartedly to. Given that my life requires divided attention – that is a really big problem!!

Seeing it in action this weekend was really helpful. I need to pray for the grace of freedom from my own expectations of myself! I am well aware that there is a fine balance to be struck here, but right now I am erring on one side in a way that isn’t helpful.

Forgiveness

I’ve been reading some stuff on forgiveness lately. I happened across a short book written by Jacques Derrida entitled On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness. In it he takes a fascinating position on forgiveness

In order to approach now the very concept of forgiveness, logic and common sense agree for once with the paradox: it is necessary, it seems to me, to begin from the fact that, yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The only thing that calls for forgiveness? If one is only prepared to forgive what appears forgivable, what the church calls ‘venial sin’, then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear. If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia, which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself.”

I find this a brilliant starting point. He later goes on, in fact, to make this position one end of a spectrum.

I think I only discovered what forgiveness is when I stumbled into trying to forgive something which had broken me. It was only at this point that I stopped trying to will myself to forgive – my will was simply inadequate to the task – and started praying for the grace to forgive.

Forgiveness is a process I participate in, not something I can generate.

But I think we only learn this when hit up against the thing which we are incapable of forgiving – the unforgivable – that we stop believing that we can do it ourselves. It is only when we begin to truly face the thing that has broken us in some way that we recognise our need to forgive. Until then we don’t really grasp what it is to forgive.

This week Eugene De Kock – the man known as Prime Evil – was released on parole. He served just 20 years of the 212 year sentence that was handed down. And yet there were those whose family members had been murdered and tortured in the Apartheid era who spoke publicly of forgiving him (see Russell Pollitt’s article here).

How is that possible? And yet it is. I believe through grace (although that language may not work for the people who have forgiven him)

Pierre de Vos commenting on the same events speaks of the complicit silence of far too many white South Africans (his article is here). His invitation at the end I think is an important part of the process of forgiveness which ever side of the equation you are on – to dare to enter fully into the recognition of what happened.

What was the hurt? What was the harm?

Following Derrida, these are situations which have no reparation. There is no pay back, no vengence, no possible restoration. There is only forgiveness of that which is unforgivable.

And I know I am not capable of forgiving. I can only stand in my brokenness and in woundedness with my desire to forgive and trust that, in God’s good time, the grace will be given.