Earth life is slow

We are creatures of Earth; our life is part of the life of the Earth, and we draw our nourishment from it just as plants and animals do. Earth life is slow; autumn and winter are as essential to it as spring and summer, and rest is as essential as motion.

-Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

It is winter, the days are dark, and nature does not offer up the comfort of warmth. But instead of complaining or decrying this, we can accept it as a part of the creative cycle.

Our bodies need rest. So do our minds. This time of year we can take more time for that by recognizing that everything has a time and place and season. Trust that you will progress and grow, when it is the right time. Spring brings energy, transition, a pushing outward. Winter brings quiet, inner reflection, an evening gathering with friends that is a natural response to the short days, and finally, sleep.

Let the bare trees of this season remind us that we are also needing to look at the bare facts of ourselves, the naked truth of who we are. That will be the starting point for all our love and all our work in the year to come.

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The Great Eastern Sun

Imagine the sun rising.

At first it seems weak, then it becomes stronger and stronger as the morning goes on. Soon it is shining with great power.

So it is when we find our genuine wholeness. It may seem a weak thread, but getting comfortable in your own skin, finding your own unique strength and letting that shine, you will grow into great power.

A genuine sense of self, and of trust in one’s place in the universe, is like the sun in many ways. It is a gentle source of energy and renewal, as well as a natural cycle. Sometimes it is occluded by clouds, or hidden at night, but always there.

Let the Great Eastern Sun rise in your heart, and in your head. In this way your wholeness will bring you peace, energy and renewal.

Transformation of Grace

[It was] one of those moments where reality sort of spills outside its boundaries, and you become aware of a happiness that you don’t deserve. Which is grace. When that happens your soul swells up a little, and you want to be worthy of that happiness.

-David Brooks, on seeing his family in an idyllic moment playing in the backyard. He was speaking with Krista Tippett for the On Being podcast.

I think of grace as winsome beauty, natural hardiness, and long-lasting robust love all rolled into one. Capable of withstanding momentary stresses and deep human error.

When David Brooks and E.J. Dionne were speaking to Krista Tippett about this subject (listen here: http://www.onbeing.org/program/david-brooks-and-ej-dionne-sinfulness-hopefulness-and-the-possibility-of-politics/9001) it was in the context of religion and politics. They made the point that even in a context of separation of church and state, our political views are still informed and shaped by our religious ones.

What could happen if the spiritual understanding of grace dominated our politics? What could we do to regain the category “grace” as a practical and conceptual guide? What if it was a cultural imperative alongside of other words like “freedom” or “hard work”? What if we had ways to ensure its presence in our legal system, our tax code, our educational system, and our penal system?

Grace can be a robust thing, brought forward from nice-sounding Bible quotes and cute pictures of ballerinas, into the tough realm of the every-day world. It has the power to change us by making us want to be more, to rise to a higher level.

How could we be transformed, if we adopted the beautiful and strong thing called Grace as our governing reality? If our heroes were not Supermen but Grace-Men? Not Wonder-Women, but Grace-Women?

Who are grace-heroes for you? Take a moment and talk about one here.

Grace, Wellspring and Compass

‘Tis grace shall bring me home.         –Amazing Grace, Spiritual 

My Lutheran heritage brought me in contact with a theological tradition that talks about grace. We defined it as undeserved love. It was one of the things that demarcated Protestant faith—no penance, praying rosaries, no elaborate ecclesiastical hierarchy. Just grace, plain and simple, accessible to all, given to all, accepted by faith.

But it went deeper than that. It was a whole outlook on life, a way of being that gave forgiveness and compassion because you yourself were forgiven and deeply loved. I felt this from my parents. I was taught to look for it in scripture. I sang about it in church, and later, taught it from the pulpit.

Grace is a powerful thing. As a concept, its theological roots run deep, and it can be found across religions. As a practice, it is a both a spiritual wellspring from which to draw and a moral compass for how to treat others.

Christians anchor God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus. The importance of the crucifixion story, as I now understand it, is as an expression of a universal consciousness of grace as lived out in a singular life, in a particular place and time, and how that life and that time can be in a way redemptive for us all.

There is much to be gleaned from the Bible when it is read from the lens of grace. If by meditating on the Word we find grace, we are the better for it. When the Bible is not read from a place of grace, and for a message of grace, it is easily subsumed by fundamentalism and fearful, protectionist dogma.

But more than that: it needs to be said that the Bible and the story of Jesus are not the only narratives of grace. In a time that seems to be ruled by the grace-less (in every possible sense of the word), we need as many narratives of grace as we can find. I’m looking for them, from all sources of religious thought, as well as from atheist and non-believers.

~~~

What are your stories of grace? Take a moment and share one here. Especially if it involves a character from a non-Christian background or source, I’m deeply interested in hearing that story now.

 

An Appetite For Possible Things

All happiness depends upon a natural zest and appetite for possible things.

from Bertrand Russell, “Conquest of Happiness”

When we lose our sense of the possible, our mood darkens.

That first inkling of the road stretching out to a point of light in the distance is about possibility. When we pick up a new book, this is what we hope for. When we embark on a new job, a new relationship, a new project, we draw motivation from the possible.

Inevitably, all people and all projects end up closing off some of the possibilities for us. Once we make a decision in one direction or the other, we commit to a path, and the rest of the options become unavailable.

Our own commitments and choices can thus make our lives seem bleak, like being enclosed in a possibility-less state, like a drab cubicle with no exit.

If we add to that a disposition to look at things fatalistically, it looks even bleaker. If this is the way it was, is, and ever shall be, then what is the point of hoping?

But within the world of constraints, there is still possibility.

We are endowed with creativity, which can find the cracks in the cubicle. We have, under even the most severe constraints, freedom to choose again tomorrow which direction we will go.

Let us open our eyes again to the possibilities, however faint or dimly lit they may be, so that we may be drawn to them, and feel our “natural zest” reawaken. If it is dark, let us be like the seed, and gently push up through the soil. Let us tap that deepest resource of our humanity, our creative spirit.

Like Watering Seeds

It is like watering the seeds in a garden. In this case, the gentleness that develops is like the moisture that helps a seed to grow so that greenery will unfold and flowers will blossom. Then, beyond that, you develop confidence.

The ordinary sense of confidence is confidence about something, which is conditional or qualified. But in this case, gentleness and softness give rise to an unconditional feeling that is awake, brilliant, and warm.

When we have both moisture and warmth, we know that the plant will definitely grow. That confidence is the seed that we should share with the rest of the world.

Chogyam Trungpa, “Smile At Fear”

The Source of Softness

When we have a feeling that life is worthwhile and we are worthwhile, from that, a sense of softness or gentleness begins to develop.

 – Chögyam Trungpa, “Smile At Fear”

When we become hardened, it is a spiritual state. This is the consciousness revealed in the story of the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, whose stubborn heart would not let the slaves go, even at great cost to himself and his kingdom.

How do we reach a sense of softness, what is the source of gentleness?

It is a feeling of genuine wholeness, when we are fully ourselves. All is right with the world when we find ourselves comfortable in our own skin.

Can we be at peace even in times of struggle, pain, conflict, and lack? Only if we believe we are enough. Only if we believe we are worthwhile, that life is worthwhile.