Fear and Freedom

train in fog

“I have often stated that there is a power in the soul that touches neither time nor flesh.  It flows out of the spirit and remains in the spirit, and is totally and utterly spiritual.  In this power God is as totally verdant and flourishing in all joy and in all honor as he is in himself….In the power God is unceasingly glowing and burning with all his wealth, with all his sweetness, and with all his bliss.”   Meister Eckhart

This morning I landed on “Thomas and Friends” while surfing channels to escape the rigors of surgical rehab.  Thomas was winding through a mountain pass when thick fog set in, robbing the little engine of all visual perspective.  Immediately I stepped into panic mode.  What if the tracks are shattered?  What if something is on the tracks?  What if another train has switched over onto Thomas’ track?  The dense fog slithered around me and took control as surely as if the situation were real.  “STOP, THOMAS!” I ALMOST YELLED.  Then…Oh.  It’s just a cartoon, Rita.  But fear had touched me on a primal level.

The fog of fear moves in when we least expect it, and like a photo shop tool, distorts who we really are.  God’s power in the depths of the soul is so abundant, that we fear it will overtake us.  But who are we, if not “sparks of the divine” (Meister Eckhart)?  We fear that God’s power will stun others with its light and they will withdraw in their discomfort, leaving us alone.  But we can’t name the fear that way.  Instead, we camouflage it by convincing ourselves that we are nothing.  We are sinful and proud wretches.  Fear is very effective in preserving that illusion.  And we remain safe from the risks inherent in the choice to grow.

We don’t trust that God’s power is enough to carry us through and beyond the fog.  We don’t trust that the power of God in us has eyes to see when we lose our sight.  May we develop the ability to see and accept the power of God in us, and the courage to let it spill out in spontaneous acts of unconditional love.

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God’s Delight

“God laughs and plays.”  Meister Eckhart

In a documentary about nonviolent resistance to racism, called, “Not in Our Town,” one scene always disarms me with its simplicity.  Isaac, a seven-yr.-old Jewish boy, had his bedroom window and his heart broken because someone threw a brick at the Hanukah menorah he had colored and displayed there.  A few days later his next-door neighbor and classmate, knocked at his door and presented him with a menorah which she and her mother had colored.  Then the newspaper ran a full-page picture of a menorah, and urged people to stand in solidarity with Isaac’s family by displaying the menorah in their windows.  The skinheads soon left Billings MT.

When Meister Eckhart says, “God laughs and plays,” he refers to the joy that God experiences when human beings do “good deeds,” spontaneous acts of unconditional love.  Not because they feel obliged to follow political correctness, but because it’s right.  It’s the truly human thing to do.  Our good deeds delight God because they are acts of ecstasy in which we momentarily stand outside of our ego and give expression to our Self.  God looks into the mirror of our good deeds and laughs with sheer joy.

May we evoke giggles galore

Compassion

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“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”  Meister Eckhart

Today’s wisdom from Meister Eckhart comes to me as we continue to wrap our minds and hearts around the bombings in Boston.

We are most fully human when we are compassionate.  The smallest attempt to understand another’s suffering, and to feel some of what they feel, is stepping into the life of God.  As a high school teacher I began to see disturbing indications that this virtue is falling out of practice in our society.  I believe that we need a dedicated curriculum to the meaning and practice of compassion, as a way to deal with our increasing focus on violence as a problem-solver.  Northern Ireland adopted such a curriculum with great success.  The children who studied it have grown up with a commitment to maintain a lasting peace between Protestants and Catholics.

What about us- adults past school age?  Do we look upon compassion as a positive habit we can and should develop?  Is an act of compassion an act of Godliness for us?  In order to respond compassionately, we have to be aware of the need.  To become aware, we have to practice stillness.  Stillness gives us the space in which to truly see the other as they are, and to choose if, when, or how to respond.  To recognize suffering, we need to make opportunities which teach us.  I may prefer to read only nonfiction which teaches my brain how to analyze; however, if I never read fiction or see great film or theatre, I miss the opportunity to study human beings in their worst and best moments.  I don’t learn about my pain in relation to others’ pain.  We can develop a habit of thinking and acting compassionately by daily setting it as an intention: “Today I surround myself with God’s light, that I may see the suffering of others and respond to it with love.”

Tonight my practice will be to set aside my tablet to view the news and listen consciously for ten minutes, to stories of victims in Boston.  Then I will ask myself to imagine how they are feeling right now, how their families are feeling.  And I will pray with them in solidarity.  I believe that this little practice will ripple throughout the world,  contributing to an attitude of compassion that one day will prevail.

May compassion be the first outburst of God in our lives.

“When the soul wants to experience something, she throws out an image in front of her and steps into it.” Meister Eckhart

001  Quilt by Nadine Meeker

The soul knows what she wants, even if our ego is confused.  She casts out invitations, and like stones cast on gentle water, they ripple out, and touch every aspect of our lives.

Images from the soul are spontaneous lights from the Godhead.  The soul casts them out, and stepping into the light, she waits until we are conscious enough to see and respond.  We can teach ourselves how to be aware of the invitations by fidelity to two spiritual practices.  First, we can view synchronous events as invitations from our soul, and daily ask for the grace to pay attention to them. With practice, we can learn to focus intentionally on our surroundings and interactions with people, staying open to the possibilities they “throw out.”  For example, one day I may have a dream about a one-time friend, in which he wrestles with strong emotions.  The next day I stumble upon an article about grieving that touches on my recent experience of loss, and I think again of the dream and become concerned about my friend with no apparent cause; however, I resist the urge to shrug it off with, “Oh, it’s ‘just’ a coincidence.”  I ask myself what images surround my friend when I think about him? What images surround me?  What feelings do these experiences evoke about him and about me?  I decide to inquire about his well-being from a mutual friend, and learn that his mother died at the same time as I lost a loved one.  The synchronistic event becomes an invitation cast out to me, and if I respond to its light, I grow.

We can develop our imaginations by devoting time to creative expression.  Time spent drawing, painting, writing, making music, dancing, etc., is liminal time…the space in between, in which the soul casts her sacred images.  If we work 9-5 and surround ourselves with people and frantic activity 24-7, there is no time to create, and we will miss the light.

Writing this reflection has been a good examin for myself.  May the soul’s images astound us.