Friday, March 26, 2010

Great Mystery

What is your favorite name for God? (There are those who say "God" is just a title!)
One of the names used by some Native American tribes is best translated as "Great Mystery." I like that. For one thing, it keeps us humble. After all, how much do we really know about God? Or life, for that matter. I, for example, do not understand electricity at all, even though I use it every day. It is a great mystery to me. As am I to myself. And as are people, including my mother, who you would think I know pretty well. But still, when it comes right down to it, she is a great mystery. I know so little of what goes on in the secret depths of her heart, or who she really is to many other people. I could say the same thing about any one I know.
The Great Mystery that is God dwells, it seems to me, at the heart of every one and every thing, including the whole universe. Whenever you stop to really examine, or think about, or ponder anything very closely, you find mystery. Or at least, I do. There is the mystery of light on rocks. Of aisles of pine needles in a forest leading into the dim unknown. Of the way the sun colors the water when it sets, and does so differently every single night. There is the mystery of color, and how we perceive it, and how it affects us, even physically. I could go on and on.
When I am mindful of the mysterious depths of people, creatures, and things, my sense of wonder steps to the forefront, and my judgments and labels take a back seat. (whew!) It is easy to be humble when I realize, for instance, that I have never really met anyone, even those close to me. I have only met and relate to my impressions and interpretation and ideas about them, based on my experience of them, and perhaps some hearsay thrown in. But the whole person, however familiar, in all the depth and mystery of his/her being from the moment of conception until death--- is mostly a great mystery. And anything I think about them is at best only partly true.
Then how could it not be true that the Source and Creator and Sustainer of this marvelous, mysterious universe and everything in it is also not a Great Mystery? I find it wonderfully calming to just rest in Great Mystery, and let go of trying to figure it out or define it. I relax as I realize that Life is mysterious in a myriad ways. Many of my questions about it will never be answered. And that's okay. I can give my mind a vacation now and then and just BE in The Mystery.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

turtle attraction?

There's the Law of Attraction....which has been getting lots of attention in some circles lately.
And there are other attractions; beauty of all kinds; delicious foods; exciting shows; etc. etc.
But turtles???
You see, I have a turtle purse/backpack. I found it one time at Saugatuck Drug Store, just hanging around in there, and thought it would make a unique and fun purse. I was in one of my "second childhood" moods, and so I bought it and have been using it ever since.
On the first day I was carrying it around, I went with a friend to a restaurant nearby for lunch. A little girl was at a nearby table with her family, and couldn't take her eyes off that turtle. Finally, she plucked up the courage to come over to where I was sitting and say, "I really like that turtle! What is her name?"
"Well," I replied, "I just got it and haven't thought of one yet. What do you think would be a good name?"
Without missing a beat, the girl replied, "Shelley, of course."
I smiled. "Shelley it is! Thank you for finding such a good name for her," I replied as the little girl skipped off with a satisfied smile. I have since added the last name "Turtelle." It seemed fitting to me. Shelley Turtelle. The perfect backpack.
I take her with me everywhere I go. She makes a great purse. It is amazing how much stuff you can put in her. And she makes a good pillow on the plane, and a good backrest when I am out hiking, because she cushions my back when I lean against a big rock or tree to rest. She is also a good big city purse, because no self respecting purse snatcher would be seen running through the streets carrying a turtle backpack obviously meant for kids!
I notice that often when I am shopping, and put her on the counter to get out my money, the clerk or check out person will give me a big smile and say "Wow. A turtle! Where did you get that? My sister(or daughter or friend or whoever) LOVES TURTLES. " Fellow hikers also seem to enjoy remarking on my turtle back pack, especially the kids. I do admit that my good friend Sharon is usually embarrassed by this quirk of mine, but tolerates it with good humor.
My question is "What is the attraction to turtles?" I did not get Shelley Turtelle because I just love turtles. It was just a backpack/purse that seemed like a fun idea....but had there been some other suitable critter, like a big ladybug or something, I might have picked that.
Turtles crawl into their shells when they are afraid. They carry their homes with them. That has to get heavy sometimes. They are reptiles. They have been around for eons. They are really, really slow. They can get pretty snappy if you annoy them. They try to cross roads. Not too bright. They are not affectionate or fun to have around, in my opinion. And then there's the curious fact that North America is called Turtle Island in some Native American traditions. What's that about? Any ideas as to the attraction of turtles?
I'll be waiting for your comments!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unmoved...Like a Rock

Today I was paging through a wonderful book with parallel saying from four of the world's great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity, and I found this thought-provoking verse from the Buddhist Scripture, the Dhammapada:
(The book's title is Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings by Richard Hooper)

"As a rock cannot be moved by the the wind, those who are wise cannot be moved by praise or blame."

Well! that eliminates me from the category of the wise. How about you? I am moved by praise.
I enjoy it, even though I sometimes feel embarrassed by an effusive compliment. And I enjoy praising others as a way of showing appreciation and support. Bring on the praise, as long as it is sincere! Why shouldn't I be moved by it?
As for blame....well, no, I don't like being blamed, even when I have done something to evoke another's blame. For one thing, I thing the whole blame game is pretty pointless and serves no positive purpose. It is also a tricky way for people to avoid taking responsibility for their own feelings and viewpoints. I think most of us fall into the blame game because we have learned to do it as we observe others around us, and it is easier than looking at ourselves to see what our own fault might be, or whether we are even seeing the situation accurately.
I know when other people blame me, especially if I feel it is done unfairly, I resent it and
tend to reject and resist the blame that is being laid on me.
Upon reflection, however, it is probably wiser if I say and do whatever I say and do, not in order to get praise or avoid blame, but because it's the right or best thing to do or say. In other words, if I allow praise and blame to sway me too much, I am living in reaction to the opinions of others rather than from within, from the core of my own integrity and convictions. If I let myself be influenced very much by others' praise or blame I become "outer directed" rather than "inner directed", as some psychologists say. Then I am like a wave of the sea, tossed about by what others say.
So, how does one become so wise, that one is unmoved as a rock, whether praised or blamed? That sounds like a hard thing to do. Maybe if I remembered the saying I heard awhile ago, "What other people think of me is none of my business" I could be more like a rock. Or, if I remembered that other people's view of me, whether positive or negative, comes from their own "bubble" or perspective, and says much more about them than about me (usually) I could be more like a rock. Or if I didn't take much of anything others said by way of praise or blame too seriously, or myself either--that might work. Then I could be a laughing rock!
I do think I would be more solid, at peace, and centered if I could be less affected by praise or blame. After all, really, in my belief system, the only one Whose opinion of me really matters or is really true is God's opinion. All others are like the wind....coming and going, blustery or gentle, but having little effect on the Image of God I know I AM.
Have you found ways to be unmoved as a rock in the face of praise or blame?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to make Retirement the Way of Heaven

You know, I used to feel just a bit guilty about retiring with John.
But now I am grateful we made the decision to retire.
The work ethic takes you only just so far.
Life is short. There are so many wonderful and good ways to enjoy it.
Work can often get in the way of what is most important: things like.....
Getting out into God's glorious world more often.
Spending more time with loved ones.
Trying new things.
I believe it was the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel who reminded us:
Just to live is holy.
Just to BE is a blessing.

And the Tao Te Ching, one of the wisest books ever written has this to say:
"If you consider riches and honor to be important, you will only bring calamity upon yourselves.
The Way of Heaven is this: when you have done your work, retire."

And this:
Desire and discontent lead to misfortune. Seeking worldly things is folly. Those who are rich are those who are contented with what they have.
(Tao Te Ching)
With nothing to drive you, and having no compulsions, needing have gained control and are free. (Chuang Tzu)

Can you tell we are enjoying our new freedom?

And for those of you who are not retired:
don't this wisdom now the best you can.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tents, Stars, and Truths

I recently read a little book titled "A Tent In Which to Spend a Summer Night." It was the title that drew me to the book. I want to quote a few memorable lines from the book which really spoke to me.
Here they are:
"Our highest truths are but half-truths;
Think not to settle down forever in any truth.
Make use of it as a tent in which to pass a
summer's night.
But build not a house of it, or it will be your tomb.
When you first have an inkling of its insufficiency
and begin to descry a dim counter-truth looming beyond,
Then weep not, but give thanks.
It is the Lord's voice whispering,
"Take up thy bed and walk."
(Earl Balfour)

"Cragged and steep Truth stands, and he that will reach her
about must, and about must go." (John Donne)

I resonated with these lines, because recently I have been reflecting on how much I have changed in how I see life and what I understand to be true, compared with ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. I am sure many of you could say the same. Life has a way of changing our minds and hearts through our experiences and revelations. Then we realize how truths we may have once thought to be as solid and eternal as the pyramids are much more like the tent in which to spend a summer night.
Surely, not one of us has a perspective much bigger than a tent. We are so enclosed by the canvas of our little individual life, we sometimes forget that Truth itself is like a great mountain towering over a town of artificial lights---little half-truths which give their limited light to people for a limited time. But alway far above shine the Stars of Truth, far beyond our reach, a shining reminder of Divine Mystery way beyond the grasp of the greatest minds.
It strikes me that if all us humans considered our current structure of beliefs and opinions and what we call "our truth" as simply a tent in which to spend a summer night, we would avoid a great deal of the hostility and conflict which people engage in because they take their current beliefs and opinions to be like the mountains, or stars. How ridiculous is that?
If I can humbly and simply regard my ideas, beliefs, and opinions as a tent, without identifying them as me, or as Universal Truth which everyone else should believe too.....I imagine I will enjoy a greater peace than what otherwise might be mine. Better yet, perhaps I will someday sleep out under the stars without a tent on a summer night, and in amazement gaze at those starry glimpses of Eternal Truth which shine in the sky of Eternity, and wonder how I could ever have thought I or anyone else, or any human institution or belief system, for that matter, really knew "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Masks and memories

This picture is of a mask made by the ancient Calusa tribe which once governed South Florida before the coming of the "windships" of white people, in this case, the Spaniards.
Before their coming, the Calusa were a large and flourishing society which lived mostly on the seafood so readily available in their coastal environment. They were a sophisticated and sustainable culture, and developed cities, wonderful art, and a wealth of fascinating ceremonies and stories.

As I stood before this mask at a museum built on an area where the Calusa had lived on Pine Island near Sarasota, Florida, I felt a strong pang of grief at the tragedy of the destruction of so many ancient peoples and their rich cultures on this continent, including the Calusa. They were destroyed by the Spanish invasions, by white slave traders attaching from the north, and the diseases white folk brought with them to this continent. As far as anyone knows, there are no more Calusa alive on this earth. They have joined many other peoples who are also exctinct, thanks to the coming of the white man to "America."
What is it about the white race that has made it so arrogant and destructive in the many lands to which has gone in the past few centuries? The bitter legacy of the imperialism and colonialism of the white race still lives on, and the possibilities of what might have been if Europeans had been willing to make every effort to live peacefully and respectfully with the people of the countries to which they came remain alive only in wistful dreams.
I read recently in YES magazine that by 2050 the majority of people in this nation will not be white. Could it be that the dominance of the white race is finally coming to an end in this world? what will this mean for the future?
I don't think it is helpful for me or anyone who might be part of the white/Caucasian race to go around feeling guilty for this fact. But it might behove us to learn from the mistakes of many people of our race in the past, and realizing we are in the minority, cultivate those virtues which will make us a pleasure to live with, and reduce the possibility that someday, we may suffer the same deadly racism that we have collectively inflicted on people of other races for centuries. This was the message of the mask to me as I gazed sadly on it in the museum.
If this mask could talk to us, I wonder what it would say?