TEA SERVICE

When my three children were very young, they had the great privilege of sharing tea with their maternal great-grandmother twice a month.  Grannie was a force of nature, wearing pumps and skirts well into her 80’s and she could deftly navigate the rickety basement stairs in her 1920’s bungalow.  She and my grandfather raised their five children here (with one bathroom I might add), my father being the eldest.photo_15279_20100421

“Oh, I just have to pop downstairs to get one more thing”, she would say. The kids would always be curious as to what Grannie would emerge with. There was an endless array of “stuff” packed away down there. The eaves too were a walk through the American decades.  Having survived the depression, nothing was getting thrown away and everything had three or twelve purposes. And shelf life was not in my grandmother’s vocabulary.

Yet, with all this clutter below the surface, every room in her home was always tidy. And her values were clear water clean. She valued children, and the raising of them.

And you would see this, always, in afternoon tea.

Grannie would lay out the table lovingly.  If it were around Valentine’s, the kids were treated to a lace tablecloth and pink napkins, heart-shaped cookies with red sugar crystals.  If it were September, she would set out linens in brown and orange and serve soft ginger cookies. Every sweet homemade from scratch.  Oh, and always more than one kind. There were bone china cups, dainty and different, that would always match the theme. Even the pin on her sweater would reflect the season or occasion.

080322a8447Young as they were, I sensed their anticipation when I would tell them we were going to Grannie’s house.  It could be “just” a Tuesday at 3 o’clock, but there was nothing just about it. There was celebration and presence in every moment.

They listened intently as my grandmother taught them how to play Pinochle, an old-fashioned card game. They would sit at the table for an hour or more, sipping tea and munching on cookies, being listened to and heard while sorting out their hand.  Grannie, offering suggestions on a card, asking lots of questions.

The kids were learning the art of conversation and the richness of time that we have all but forgotten. Some of us, I’m afraid, have never had the grace to learn, yet.

It is simple really.  This being present.  But it takes practice.  Kids get it and so do the elderly.  The wisdom of knowing that the most important person is the one that is in front of you right now. That love and connection can only be cultivated in the here and now.

The sacredness of that time.  And I the fortunate bystander. My children telling their great-grandmother about their friends and school and what they like to do and what their favorite color was.  Grannie sharing about how she liked to swim and grow roses and read.  The four of them laughing while she regaled them with what their mother was like when she was little or the kinds of shenanigans their grandfather would get himself into.

iStock_000012366100XSmallThis memory a reminder, a pointer, that ordinariness and specialness are always both, depending on what you bring to the party.

“We come to realize that daily life is a theater of grace with continuous performances.  The sacred is here and there and everywhere. – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Advertisements

I DON’T KNOW

All faiths, organized and organic, are getting you ready for a leap. Even well outside what most folks define as the constructs of religion, those seeking personal or spiritual growth must be willing to release what may be a long-held truth.

It’s being asked to surrender your ego. This is no easy feat.  The ego, bossy and brazen, demanding and full of expectations, is our fortress of defense mechanisms against the many-headed monster aka the sum of our fears.  And it’s a tenacious part of who we are.

Yet it’s helpful to understand that the ego is best understood as a “child king”, one who wields great power but has little in the way of wisdom or maturity. Lacking these vital tools, it does little to serve us in making the best decisions for ourselves, in terms of love and happiness, in the ways of growing into our best self.

That’s because, like any child, it only knows what it has been taught by influential others in its life. Most of our ego was developed during our formative years, and much of that was influenced by outside forces-our parents, family, and the environment in which we were raised. Unfortunately, this was also when we were least able to decide between helpful and harmful information, between truth and mere opinion.

To always want our way, to always need to be right, is born of the ego.  It is born of fear.  It blocks the Love that is Always there, already seeing us as worthy of love, as lovable. You move away that stone and the Life Force is there, God is present.

In my life, I have believed many things and some of them quite passionately. Most have proved themselves to be wrong. And those that may be right, does it make a difference to the quality of my relationships, to the healing of the planet’s ills? I dare say, no. In fact, my precious opinions have never made anyone happy, least of all me.

There is a bliss in knowing that I am not my opinions. There is a bliss in not knowing.

Why is it that all the wisdom traditions point to the humble and the lowly, the poor in spirit, that they are the ones that are closest to God?  It is because they are humble.They are honest and vulnerable.

Growing in the spiritual life is the opposite of an egoist venture.  It takes place not by acquisition of something new.  Growth is accomplished not by knowing things, by gathering more information, but by releasing our current defense postures.  It is only in the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image, that the soil of our non-knowing can be a fertile one.  “I know” doesn’t get us anywhere but separate and lonely.  Non-knowing, giving up expectations in relationships, reaps a harvest of love and a simple peace.

We still get to choose what we believe,  we can still have discussion about our thoughts.  But we no longer feel compelled to defend our opinions so ardently.  We realize that we are not, in fact, our opinions.

Quote for the day: “Look at how many rigid stands I’ve taken in the past that now I see were mistaken.  So how is this new stand different?  When I take a stand against another child of God, I split my mind.  That doesn’t mean, never write a letter to the newspaper, or keep taking the car to an incompetent mechanic.  But it does mean, take no stand against that mechanic in my heart.” – Hugh Prather

ANAM CARA

We all like to hear stories about how two people met.  We listen around the dinner table or watch on the big screen movies like “How Harry met Sally” and it makes us feel good, comforted in the way that only something life affirming can do.  We are reminded too of our own stories of “coincidence”, chance encounters when we met our love of 50 years, or our oldest and dearest friends, or those whose time with us was short but whose impact on our lives was great.  These are our own anam cara, our soul friends. 

In the Celtic tradition, this is the beautiful notion of divinely bestowed love and friendship.  It is the idea of soul-love.  An old Gaelic term, anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend.  In the early Celtic church, it originally referred to someone who you revealed the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam cara, you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart.  

Celtic wisdom deems that you cannot manufacture or achieve this kind of love or friendship by a sheer act of the will or even by intention. It is simply the act of recognition

Whether it be a meeting on the street or a banal introduction, there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow.  There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient belonging.  The Celts believe this to be an eternal connection. 

Ancient Irish lore metaphorically speaks of anam caras rising from the same pre-historic clay.  The clay shapes, once part of a whole were separated, lost in the creation of the world, and are searching for their related pieces. The allegory pointing to a larger reality, a conscious break from the overly-analytical nature prevalent in today’s world and an entering into the realm of mystery.     

The recent resurgence of Celtic spirituality reflects this growing ache for more sublime, more Real (with a capital R) notions of intimacy and relationship than our current neon culture provides.  Everybody, it seems, is always talking incessantly about relationships.  Even Yahoo has a category for relationships on its home page, as if you could get your fix alongside the weather report and the latest entertainment news.  All this overcooked verbage that ladens the media gives an illusion that even love is a consumer item, something that can be acquired.  

The temptation is to be more concerned with what you have and who you should be and who you should be with. It often overshadows the more important how you should be.  The stance of open-hearted faith and gentleness that opens the door to real intimacy which at its best is a sacred experience.  You must be ready to receive it.

In everyone’s life, there is  a great need for an anam cara.  In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension.  A precious understanding dawns so that you feel really understood. You feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.  As Pablo Neruda perfectly describes, “You are like nobody since I love you”.  

John O’Donohue asserts the grace of an anam cara: “The greatest gift new love brings into your life is the awakening to the hidden love within.  This make you independent.  You are now able to come close to the other, not out of need or with the wearying apparatus of projection, but out of genuine intimacy, affinity, and belonging.  It is a freedom.  Love should make you free.  You become free of the hungry, blistering need with which you continually reach out to scrape affirmation, respect, and significance for yourself from things and people outside yourself.  To be holy is to come home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul“.

You do not have to DO anything.  You just have to BE ready.

LET’S BRING BLESSING BACK

I often sign my correspondence, “Blessings to you and yours” or “Blessings on your day, your week, etc.”  Yet I am not unaware of the fact that blessing someone or wishing them blessed is a tricky business. The word, like so much vocabulary that points to a larger spiritual reality can oftentimes feel put on, false, or holier than thou. Words that are commonly used in the religious realm oftentimes evoke the opposite reaction than is intended. Many people have suffered in a variety of ways from their childhood faith and the decrees of a religion that contradicts their heart.   

So let us bring back blessing to its rightful root.  In Latin, to bless is benedicere. This means literally to speak (dicere) well (bene) or to say good things.  The benediction often said at the end of Christian and Unitarian services is to send those blessings, those good words out into the world.

I know that I want people in my life to speak well of me, and I’m pretty sure you do too.  This notion is not be confused with the ego’s need to self-aggrandize, to be flattered and then puffed up.  No, it’s something quite different.  Blessing is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds. It is affirming the very being of another. 

It is, as Henri Nouwen points out in his book Life of the Beloved, “Without affirmation, it is hard to live well.  To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer.  It is more than a word of praise or appreciation; it is (even) more than putting someone in the light.  To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness.  And more than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks”.   

In our daily lives, the judging mind is very active.  Without our awareness, we may say to ourselves, “I like this person; I don’t like that person, what he did was wrong, what she said was right.” This goes on and on.  There is a lot of mutual admiration in this world, just as there is a lot of mutual condemnation.  Nouwen continues, “A blessing goes beyond the distinction between admiration or condemnation, between virtue or vices, between good deeds or evil deeds.  A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his of her Belovedness“.  

Whenever I send my three children a blessing, it is not a wish or a prayer that they get whatever they want in life.  It is that I hold and affirm their very being, how cherished they are to me. Whether they get into too many fender benders, whether they ‘succeed’ in all the ways the world applauds or not, whether their choices at any given moment are less than stellar, I want to remind them again and again, “When you go into the world, know that YOU matter, that you are Beloved by God, and I am so glad that you are here.  I hope that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that my love can hold.” 

These blessings work with everyone whose life you will touch today, including your own.  Blessings on your day, Nun Tuck.