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A Community Needs A Soul…

A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, the people must give it this soul.” –Pope John Paul II

I hold immeasurable gratitude for all the dear friends and family in Seattle who give this place its soul, who make this community a home for me. Thank you for your Love, and for this blessed season together.

Next blog post…from Boston!

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Do I have patience, even for this?

MeditationBell “When I lead retreats, a bell sounds to indicate our transition from one part of the day to the next. The bell sounds, and immediately we shift mental gears, moving from meditation to preparations for mealtime.  What will lunch be today? Where will I sit? The bell rings, and we shift from walking meditation to preparations for a sitting meditation. Where did I leave my seat cushion? Will my aching back be a distraction during this sit? So much of life is like this–we are so quick to escape the present moment with anticipation and anxiety about what’s coming next.”

On Tuesday evening I joined my cousin for a meditation class facilitated by the Seattle Insight Meditation Society.  The class commences with a 45 minute meditation sit, followed by a lesson by one of the society’s Meditation teachers. That night, the talk focused on patience, one of the ten paramis, or “qualities of character that can be developed to support the path of awakening,” in the Buddhist tradition practiced by the group.  The teacher used this illustration about the bell on his retreats to demonstrate how much impatience we often have for the present moment.  Mainstream perceptions of life have taught us that the present is to dismissed for what ever is next.  We so hastily move from one thing to the next.

The teacher said that he has begun to ask his students to pause when they hear this transition bell at the retreat. It is an exercise in patience.  Rather than eagerly fleeing the moment, they exercise attention to the present by remaining where they are while the impending transition awaits its proper time.  The teacher said this intentional pause between one thing and the next is incredibly difficult for the retreatants.

This does not surprise me, for the bell has rung and I also struggle to pause in the present as I await the major impending transition in my life.  It is not that I don’t want to be here in the present, in Seattle, right now.  On the contrary, it is not the present that makes the pause difficult.  In all honesty, I deeply wish this city and its community could remain a present reality in my life for a very long time. It is the awareness that the present is fleeting that makes it hard.  It feels a bit like I imagine it would feel to fall in love with someone who was dying.  It is hard to be present, to be freely, extravagantly present, to something that is simultaneously slipping away.  I’m not yet enjoying the goodness that the next phase will bring, only grasping desperately at every bit of goodness I can garner out of a present that is dying its own little death.

But it is better to have loved, isn’t that right? Better, yes. But harder, too. The teacher encouraged us to recite this mantra to ourselves in moments of anxiety and impatience, “Do I have patience, even for this?” I find that when I ask myself that now, it feel so silly to reply with anything but, “Yes.”  Of course I can endure the difficult patience required for this–for this home that I love so much.  For the friends and family I cherish.  For the opportunities afforded to me by the transition ahead.  For the goodness I know I will find in Boston. Of course I have patience for this. This patience is better, yes, but harder, too.

Image from www.chrisandrephotography.com

Condemned to Greatness

Adam said, “I’ve wondered why a man of your knowledge would work a desert hill place.”

“It’s because I haven’t the courage,” said Samuel. “I could never quite take the responsibility. When the Lord God did not call my name, I might have called His name–but I did not. There you have the difference between greatness and mediocrity. It’s not an uncommon disease. But it’s nice for a mediocre man to know that greatness must be the loneliest state in the world.”
“I’d think there are degrees of greatness,” Adam said.
“I don’t think so,” said Samuel. “That would be like saying there is a little bigness. No. I believe when you come to that responsibility the hugeness and you are alone to make your choice. On one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other–cold, lonely greatness. There you make your choice. I’m glad to chose mediocrity, but how am I to say what reward might have come with the other? None of my children will be great either, except perhaps Tom. He’s suffering over the choosing right now. It’s a painful thing to watch. And somewhere in me I want him to say yes. Isn’t that strange? A father to want his son condemned to greatness! What selfishness that must be.”
I love this passage from Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It’s maybe my favorite of the whole book. When I read it for the first time, I was captured by Samuel’s recognition that greatness–which in my mind is really the result of anyone’s fervent and loyal pursuit of some vocation–comes at a cost. It is easy to glorify our goals and aims in life while overlooking the fact that a “yes” to one thing is often (if not always) a “no” to something else. I’d like to think that it isn’t as black-and-white as Samuel suggests; that real community and companionship is possible as we take on the individual responsibility necessary for major vocational commitments; that life infrequently occurs in this “either/or” fashion.
At the same time, I deeply sympathize with his words. For me, a “yes” to all the possibilities at Harvard is necessarily a type of “no” to the present life I lead here at home in Seattle. New friendships will come, but older friendships must take new shape. In order for new projects to arise, old ones must be finished or set aside. I currently face all the “costs” of going to Harvard while anxiously awaiting the relatively unknown possibilities on the other side of the country.
I am quite lonely in this transition, knowing that it is my choice and will necessarily cost me some of the things I cherish so much right now. There is some comfort in the fact that I believe we are all condemned to greatness. It is my time to “suffer over the choosing,” but we all will. This is life.
I don’t think of myself as a very courageous person, but I am practicing. I’m choosing, and I’m trying.

Champagne from the Bottle

“Well, folks…the cup I left on the table flew away, so do you still want to have the champagne…um….from the bottle?”

No, that was not a line from some classy college cocktail party gone wrong. The line was straight from my lips, and it was spoken during the Communion service at my cousin’s outdoor wedding last weekend.

The wedding officiant, a Protestant pastor and friend of mine, asked me to help facilitate the intimate ritual during the ceremony. When the marrying couple, the pastor, the two Best Men, and I, the Maid of Honor, circled around the small Communion table in front of 200 guests, I immediately noticed that the empty plastic cup I had placed there before the wedding was no where to be found. The mountain breeze must have carried it away during the vows!

We passed the grainy loaf around while the pastor read scripture, and I said, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” As we chewed my eyes darted around inconspicuously searching for the cup. “WHY did I pick a clear cup!” I wondered silently to myself.When our jaws stopped chomping and everyone’s eyes turned to the uncorked bottle of champagne we had grabbed before the ceremony (someone forgot the intended Communion wine), I divulged our Communion predicament. “Yep, lets just drink it from the bottle,” my cousin said, her new husband nodding and smiling in agreement. How it must have looked from the audience, watching the bride lift the big green bottle of Champagne to her mouth amid this quiet, intimate moment of the ceremony! People laughed as we passed it from person to person. With each swig, I reverently proclaimed, “Tad, this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you…Sy, this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you…” Finally, I took my swig of the bottle, returned it to the table, and smiled.

Earlier in the ceremony the pastor had preached on John 15:13, where Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his/her life for a friend.” The pastor said that this is the kind of incredible, unselfish love exemplified in marriage. Jesus reasserted this same extravagant love on the night of the Last Supper, saying, “This is my body given for you.” Amazing, generous, lavish love is what we celebrate in marriage, and what we celebrate in Communion. So, as I stood there smiling at my beautiful cousin and her wonderful new husband, all I could think about was how fitting this Communion ceremony was. This was no sterile cup and stale wafer ritual. No. This was fresh bread and champagne from the bottle, an extravagant, lavish Communion fit to reflect the love of Christ, and their new wedded life of love together.