As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop, on a beautiful spring-like day. It’s amazing how a bit of good weather in the midst of the cold we’ve had can lift the spirit to new life. And new life will ALWAYS come after the cold of winter. It’s in the cold of winter that I need to remember this!
No matter what the “winter” of life is, whether it be illness, a broken relationship, loss of job or even death itself, we are promised the advent of new life beyond it. I just need to mentally remind myself of that fact, even though I may not be “feeling” it at the time. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of looking for small hints.
Last night, as I left the hospital I looked up and noticed that there was still light in the sky and it was 6:10pm. The light of Spring is coming! But right now, it’s just a hint, barely noticeable. But it’s there and it points to the warmth and light to come.
As my friend shows signs of improvement and communication, so may this point to his full recovery to come. May healing light and warmth surround you my friend and brother Mike.
Happy New Year!
I recently heard a sermon by a bright young priest at an independent catholic church. He began with a story of his Mom, in her mid 30’s huddling her 6 boys and 1 girl together in her arms, . . . at their daddy’s funeral. He said that as she held them close, she kept repeating, almost whispering “God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .” What struck me is that he said that these words, normally heard and spoken in happiness this time of year, came from a place of deep fear, uncertainty and sadness within her.
When I think of the reality of what many in the world will celebrate in a few days, it is far from the pretty, warm cozy picture that we try to create. It was cold, dirty, smelly, bloody and fearful. Joseph was perplexed by his pregnant wife to be. Instead of a warm, cozy home, they had to leave home and when they arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for them. The child was sought after and almost killed.
“God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .”
Sometimes our lives can be messy, dark and cold; but the reality that we shout these days is “God is with us!” To some in difficulty, such words might ring hollow. But as sweet and sappy as some of this season can be, perhaps we need this time of year when we are reminded of what is good in the world, what is good in the human spirit and when our thoughts turn to “peace and goodwill toward all.” I can’t help but think that since a lot of us are thinking such thoughts, a little bit of it might actually manifest itself in our reality.
Like a dying star
Convulsing – trying to hold on
The heat – intense as gravity folds in on itself and energy ceases
Unable to escape the intensity – I collapse inward and finally explode
Will I fall into the inescapable darkness?
Or find myself thrust outward in a burst of creative energy
Forced and forged by this seeming death
Exploding into newness – Supernova my name?
Elements strong and bright
Silver and gold are forged in this heat
Gravity’s intense pressure – beauty’s unlikely birthplace
I awaken, able to move
Sound body – energy even to tone
Gratitude – how blessed!
Visions of days past loom like distant memories
When I would gather them
Songs of passion, dreams of a different shore – a way for us to be – that seemed within reach
A heart that beat with affect and hope, open and seeking – dashed – yet like the phoenix,
Rising from the ashes
Flying again into your heart.
The gravity of ashes now speak: “lay here”
Rebirth – a distant belief
Voices of sunrise silenced
Visions of setting the last table become the heart’s
Visions. Songs. Dreams. Heart.
Has the Song found it’s end? Is the table to be
The Vision still has its time. Here . . . A spark.
I find myself of late so very grateful for my belief in a Higher Power – and that Power’s ability to do what I cannot, even changing negative circumstance into a dance! I simply do not know what I would do if I didn’t have this still point to go to in the midst of great uncertainty and difficulty. It becomes life breath to me. To have a vision of hope, even amidst great uncertainty is such a gift! To believe that unexpectedly good things can come of life’s brokenness is a gift beyond price.
I don’t understand why some things happen. If I had the power to turn back the hands of time and change some things I would – but I do not have that power. However, I do believe that there is a Power that can draw straight lines with the crookedness that befalls us. This is God’s laugh in the face of darkness. “Even night is not dark for you and the night is as clear as day” (Psalm 139). Can I believe that darkness is not dark, and that unexpected light and goodness can overcome whatever seeming darkness may befall me?
Humans must be among the very few creatures who do not slow down in the Winter. We keep running about, full speed ahead, even though the cold and the darkness beckon our bodies to rest. For some, Winter creates an emotional hibernation, a depression which leaves them without much energy.
Whether our Winter leaves us physically tired or emotionally drained, it’s important to remember that Winter’s silence, Winter’s stillness holds a secret. If an alien came to our planet in the middle of a land’s Winter season, would they have any idea that the seemingly dead branches, the frozen plants and brown grass would, in a short while, burst into life?
In the dead of Winter, sometimes we feel as if the lethargy of our bodies or spirits will be without end. In such a time, we need to look to Spring, realizing that what seems dead, what seems lifeless will burst into life again. Sometimes this very thought is enough to reverse a downward emotional trend.
I think of the line in the famous song “The Rose,” sung by Bette Midler some years back:
“When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long; and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong. . . . Just remember, in the Winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies the seed, that with the sun’s love, in the Spring, becomes . . . the rose.”
Did you ever get to a point in life where you thought the best of your life was in the past and that there was nothing much to live for? Or, have you known someone who has been at that point?
Last night I continued reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. I usually keep several books of this nature open and slowly read them, kind of like meditations. For some reason last night I was beckoned to pick up Frankl’s book. Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi Concentration Camp for several years. His book describes firsthand what it was like to be a prisoner in such a setting and how, from Frankl’s perspective, people coped with this horrid situation. Frankl saw prisoner after prisoner die . . . after they had lost hope. He describes a lack of hope almost as a death sentence. What struck me in what he said is the way that such a lack of hope was turned around.
Most who lost hope thought that life had nothing more in store for them. But Frankl renewed hope not in thinkng about life having nothing more in store FOR him, but in what life was still asking OF him. Some unforeseen contribution to life or loved ones was still to be made. And this kept him going.
Life may at times bring us down and we may feel that there is nothing more to live for. But there is always something that Life is still asking of us. And who knows what our contribution is yet to be?
I know a woman who is almost completely paralysed. She has ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She is unable to move and almost unable to communicate, yet she has full capacity of her mind. Most probably she only has a short while to live.
I think of the hope of Advent, the wonderful readings from Isaiah, the hope of life coming from death . . . And then I think of her. I wonder how she hears these words now? How would I hear them if I was in her place? I imagine at times there might be depression and anger at a God who seemingly has abandoned her. Hope? What hope?
Yet, in the end I have to believe that faith gives a whisper of hope even in such circumstances. I have to believe that somehow, in some mysterious way, there is a Power that can lift the spirit within – the same Power that overcomes addiction, that leads when we surrender, that opens doors when we thought all were closed. If we really look back at our lives, this IS our experience, isn’t it? If I can look back at various times in my life and see this Power at work, can I believe that even in this circumstance that same Power can work to calm, heal and bring peace – in some mysterious way.
I visited her yesterday. And in the midst of this situation, still able to scribble a few words, she was more interested in hearing how I was doing than in talking about herself. What amazed me was that her smile and the light in her eyes was radiant! Just that morning I had chanted a morning hymn as I regulary do and I thought of her. It said:
Let the numbed spirit now arise
Stricken with many squalid ills;
To cure our troubles, in the skies
A new star’s light the morning fills.
(Camaldolese Hermits – Big Sur CA)
Somehow, in some mysterious way, the numbed spirit can arise and light fill even the worst darkness.
Did you ever get to a point in your life where you felt that it was over? You look to your future with weary eyes and you hear a voice inside you that says “the best of life is behind you.” I have to admit that as I approach the heart of middle age – still single no less! – I battle such thinking at times.
Or, did you ever get to the point where you felt an increasing lack of hope for the world? This could easily be one such time. With the great global economic downturn, terrorism, dictators, violence and increasing poverty, it is an easy time to feel hopeless and hear the voices that say “the best is behind us.”
Yet Advent points us to a time of hope, instead of despair. And it does so not from the vantage point of a privileged ivory tower looking at us and telling us to hang in there, it’ll get better. It does so from the mess, the stuff that is sometimes our lives. Christ was not born into privilege. He was born in a shit filled, smelly stable. Christ was not born into a time of peace and tranquility. He was born in a time of great strife, oppression and political unrest. And it was into such a time that a Word of hope was whispered!
Today, I was reading Isaiah 11: 1-10, one of those great readings often read in the Advent season. I must have read this reading a hundred times and something struck me as it never has before. “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The word “stump” leapt out from the page. It says a shoot shall sprout from a “STUMP.” A stump is the remains of a dead tree. And it is from this lifeless thing that new and abundant life will arise!
Suddenly I felt a gentle nudge from God. “You may think the best is behind you. You may think that the best in our world and your life is now a ruin. But hold on, for from this seeming lifelessness new life will bloom, new chapters will be written.”
“There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain.”