Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Living And The Dead

I often see people I used to know. I see them in the faces of strangers I pass during the course of any given day. And in the movements of some, the stride, the gait, the body posture, the mannerisms. Bits and pieces of those I’ve known, in brief, unexpected glimpses. Character traits, personalities, emotional temperament. Illuminations of the heart, the soul even. A smile belonging to an old friend, or a brief casual acquaintance. A familiar warmth which may once have embraced me, but has long been forgotten. Or a glare that connects me, suddenly, to a moment I may have quietly moved away from for fear of the entanglements of its unfriendly, and ravenous tentacles.

I recall, and re-acquaint with, so many different people thru these quick, enigmatic encounters. The living, and the dead, both. They re-visit my world for a moment to remind me that I am still a part of them, that I am connected. That I have been given a small portion of their soul, and they have been given a piece of my own. They remind me that we are alone in this world, but that we are never really without one another. The residue of each brief connection resonates within our very existence. We do not exist independently of each other. We exist in harmony with our experience, with the sacred, and the profane. All of it. We are continually reminded if we only pay attention.

Good friends and family are important. They love and embrace us, and can make us feel secure. They reflect our development, and our psychic/spiritual condition. But some people hang on to everyone they’ve ever befriended or loved, fearful of being alone, afraid of facing their own limitations, their own demons, the lingering doubt about their capacity for self-sufficiency. Some cling with a desperation that betrays any measure of faith, trust, or understanding, in themselves, about themselves. It is a way of moving through the world both distracted and cocooned. It works for many. It gets them through, but at the expense of getting to know themselves in a broader, deeper context.

Were we to fully understand the principal of spiritual connection, perhaps we could live without the distraction of perpetual reinforcement.
Perhaps we could.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Like Thunder

I’ve walked the path laid out before me for as long as I’ve been able to stride, or even stumble. I’ve cared for the dispossessed, the wounded, the lost, the criminal and the abused in a myriad of jobs and circumstances. Minister, youth center director, counselor, inmate liaison in the county jail, substance abuse counselor for a public health clinic, high school counselor to students at risk, to name a few. Manager of a band of misfits finding their own lives. I also worked for a major financial institution in the jungles of Corporate America.

When I was young, and even into my middle years, because of catholic guilt, and childhood family dynamics, it was never demonstrated to me that I was important as an individual, and that I was deserving of having my needs met. I was happy to be fed the figurative scraps of life left on the table for those like me to quietly divide. I took the smallest piece of chicken on the plate. I always gave others the pick of the white meat, and left the leg for them in case they wanted seconds. I satisfied myself with scrawny wings, and bony backs, and necks. I did not complain about my chronic deprivation. And I watched others fill out nicely, and their lives take on meaning. It did them good, the nourishment they had. It did them well to have the things they needed. I watched them have the world for the asking, and even for the taking. I fed myself meagerly with one hand while feeding them bountifully with both, offering them the meat of that tender breast, or the strength of that warm thigh to sustain them.

But I’ll be alright. I always have been. I’ve made my way, with the living, and with the dead, with the deranged, and the defiled; through the wild, through the fog, through the forest, through a wilderness once burning with anger, and shrouded in regret. A land once filled with promise, a land once welcome for the tired and the hungry, the fallen, the forsaken and forlorn, the lost and the forgotten. Like an early American promise. Like a long road home. A perilous journey fueled by fallen heroes, “used to be’s, and coulda been’s, and never were’s, and zeroes”. A cruel and peculiar drama, but on a stage of sound design.

I no longer fear the frailty, or the deprivation, or the neglect. I am stronger now than the well fed, the inbred, the perpetually safe and satisfied. The adversity has made me strong.
Like thunder.

I would not wish the same for others,
but I thank God for it’s brutal intrusion into my otherwise tenuous life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Assignment

Lately I’ve been kicking around the concepts of life/afterlife like I sometimes do. You know, the whole unending process of questioning that we are born into and revisit time and again throughout our lives. One religion, or sect, teaches the ‘heaven/hell’ (reward/damnation) lesson, one teaches the ‘re-incarnation’ (do-it-all-again) theory, another espouses the ‘spiritual ladder’ (earn your salvation) principle, another the ‘bliss/oblivion’ philosophy, still another the
‘I am god’ theology. There are more variations on life/afterlife than there are different kinds of hot peppers in Mexico. Some combine all of them into a kind of spiritual casserole in an attempt to make sense of it all, or to mollify ones self. I mixed 12 different kinds of chili peppers in a blender once, when I was living in Baja, in an attempt to make the ultimate salsa. It practically killed me. It reduced me to a fetal position on the floor of my kitchen, not unlike what religion has done to some of the people I know. Not very pretty.

Some don’t pay attention to the big questions about life, and purpose. The Why’s, the How’s, and the What ifs? Or at least they pretend not to. But most do try and figure things out on some level or another. The eternal questions. The ones we try to solve in order to determine how to live.

In dealing with concepts, whether they be new, or generally accepted, but unproven, I find myself falling back on the ‘old coat’ test. Does it feel comfortable? Does it have dignity? Does it feel worn, but not tired? And lastly, does it feel authentic? I think it’s a pretty good indicator of substance.

I keep returning to a very simple conclusion of purpose in my own life. A pretty solid reason for being. I’m ‘on assignment’. It helps me to look at life this way. Yeah, just that, I’m on assignment. From whom? From where? It doesn’t really matter. I don’t really need to qualify, or quantify it. It doesn’t need a name. It doesn’t need a face. Call it an acceptance of the unseen, the unproven, the unspoken, the unknown. Call it faith if you must call it something. Call it an internal knowing, or an eternal truth. I don’t care. Call it naïveté, or blasphemy even.

On assignment, representing the human race. . . . . . . . and the Divine.
What if each of us lived as a personal representative of both? And are we not? Who would want to be a poor representative of either? A concept so simple, yet so profound, as to go unconsidered by even the most intellectual among us.

On assignment.
I believe life would be meaningful for all if such were the case.
I believe it would be a peaceful, and a dignified planet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Make Me An Instrument

Throughout my life I have been drawn to the thoughts and writings of Saint Frances of Assisi. I often meditate on a prayer of his (The Prayer of Saint Frances). More often than not I fail to meet it’s gracious intent. But failing to meet it’s standard is no reason to move too far away from it’s purpose. A few weeks ago a co-worker of mine came across the prayer in a book of poetry she was reading to a class we conduct together. She read the prayer to me, and as always, it made me want to dig deeper, to be more conscious of my shortcomings, and more determined in my quest for personal and spiritual equilibrium.

Other than ‘The Lords Prayer’ (Our Father who art in heaven. . . . . . .), it is probably the most profound and significant prayer ever written. Certainly the most well known. And yet, as I look at the condition of the world today, it is quite obvious that it is also a prayer that has largely gone ‘un-prayed’. There are those who live this prayer (whether they actually say the words or not), and there are those who don’t. If it is the motive and intent of our hearts that really matters in this life, then this is a prayer to embrace. I am one who believes that we become the embodiment of the practices we live and the ideals that we hold close.

Some may regard this as a religious, or a Christian prayer. I do not. It is a prayer of assimilation, of reconciliation, of integration with the divine, and with the greater family of man-kind. I consider it to be a plea for help in becoming thoughtful, magnanimous, vital, valuable and purposeful human beings. I have long believed that anyone in a position of influence or leadership would be well served to take these sentiments to heart. Every politician, every minister, every poet, songwriter, performer and teacher would be of far greater value to those in their sphere of influence if they had the courage and inclination to do so.

What if everybody stopped protecting themselves, dropped their pretensions and insecurities, stopped trying to impress one another with style over substance, with gossip over understanding, with exaggeration over accomplishment, with image over honesty? What if everybody had the motivation to pray

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Share this prayer with those you love,
and those whom you consider to be your friends.