A New Year Offering

In Parker J. Palmer’s On The Brink of Everything, he writes, “I no longer ask what do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang on to… Instead I ask what do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to.”

For me (like most of us), this has been a year of massive changes: moving across the country, beginning seminary (and finishing my first semester), navigating family illnesses, surgeries, and deaths, deepening friendships, continuing my own internal growth, beginning work on my directorial debut, finishing a book, interviewing and meeting some of my heroes on the podcast, continuing to release my clinging hands from all that isn’t mine, and learning about what I want to give myself to. 

Our time and attention is a treasure––a rare commodity that we delegate among the needs before and within us. Simone Weil says “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity…. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” This sentiment has brought me a lot of of comfort and consideration this year. The idea that our attention is an offering of prayer is a delightful way to remind oneself to be present but also a reminder of the eternal value of said presence. How has my drifting mind pulled me away from this prayerful attention in these days of technology and endless to-do lists? How have I missed the ability to give of myself in a way that cultivates love for the beloved human or moment before me?

Whether we like it or not, most of us find ourselves reflecting when we approach the New Year. We consider changes we’d like to make, we plan ahead for what’s to come, we consider letting go of what weighs us down… In doing so, I dare to think we create fertile ground for openness. And I often wonder how I can carry around this invisible fecundity with me throughout the year. There is an awe to the newness of a shiny new year––how can I give myself in openness to the awe instead of holding on to the hope of goals, changes, or desires?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carrying around hope, but it isn’t easy. In her OnBeing interview, author Rebecca Solnit shared, “hope is tough. It’s tougher to be uncertain than certain. It’s tougher to take chances than to be safe. And so hope is often seen as weakness, because it’s vulnerable, but it takes strength to enter into that vulnerability of being open to the possibilities.”

Perhaps there’s a place here where we can find ourselves in the middle of these things, after all, there’s nothing wrong with goals, changes, or desires (assuming they are hosting a means for greater love or deeper peace). Maybe, just maybe, there’s room for all of my wayward longings this year––if I can be in open-handed awe of their presence (or lack thereof) instead of being the clinging one breathless for control (I admit I’m much more prone to the latter!).

So, friends, as we all reflect on 2018 and the empty pages that rest before us in 2019, may we explore what is right for our own individual lives. I, for one, will try to boldly consider these things: Where do I need to let go? What do I want to give myself to? Where can I offer more unmixed attention? How can I remain open to the ever-present newness of each and every day? How can I live each day in greater wonder? 

Wishing everyone deep love, bright light, vulnerable hope, unfathomable peace, and the courage for new beginnings in the new year.
For a New Beginning, By John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

 

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The Uncertainty of Silence

(This will be among the many essays featured in the forthcoming book Notes on Silence that I’m co-authoring with Patrick Shen which can be purchased here.)

“…I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone…” 
Rainer Maria Rilke

I was around 8 years old when I began to have reoccurring dreams about death. With a rush of adrenaline, shocked and relieved to be alive, I’d wake up only remembering I was dead and floating in a white sky-scape of silence. I was alone, lost, and stagnant in limitless space and eternal time. This dream doesn’t sound grim to me anymore, but at 8 this nothingness had me sprinting to my parent’s bed. These dreams created in me a reverence for mystery and a deep longing to know the unknowable, to hold the ungraspable, and to forever chase what can never be met. 

We live in a world that loves to know. We like to intellectualize things, name people, describe experiences, and we covet our ability to share tangible evidence of these ungraspable things. Metaphors, on the other hand, hold meaning for the nameless. Metaphors help us to make sense of the unknowable things. We spend our lives clothing the many mysteries we encounter with metaphors which may not otherwise have any meaning. 

Defining is an interesting tool. It can be both harmful and helpful. We often use names to remain in control. We control our environment by regulating it, containing it, qualifying it. Most often names are used to define in order to make the definer feel more comfortable. Having a sense of knowing or grasping more creates comfort, and comfort makes us feel in control. Yet, I can’t help but contend that a controlled experience always takes us away from a mystical encounter. Holding creates an impossibility of beholding. And as a monk once told me, “Naming the nameless can leave all unrecognizable.”

Naming an encounter by way of our senses implies an unattainable certitude when really the elusive nature of mystery befalls all of our understanding. Silence is unnameable. To say something is or isn’t, to say something has a name or doesn’t, implies a dualistic nature. And in our desperate nature to cling, we are left time and time again barefaced before the mystery silence is. Only when we rid ourselves of this dualistic nature, we begin to see mystery for what it sincerely is. We begin to touch the bottomless depths of something hosting imponderable facets. 

 While working on In Pursuit of Silence, the topic of silence as a spiritual or religious practice came up on a regular basis. Silence is not necessarily spiritual or religious, and yet for some it may be entirely spiritual or religious. Silence is not a stranger to being likened to God in some fashion, yet similarly silence’s markings have been precisely that not of God, at least by concept. Silence holds the tension of absence and presence. Silence lives and breathes in the paradox of mysteries. Silence is infinite in its magnitude while remaining invariably naught. Silence is fully here and fully there, as much as it is nowhere and everywhere. But to create silence into being solely dualistic is to strip silence of its infinite possibility.  

Maggie Ross has named silence as salvation. Others, like Saint John of the Cross, have marred it with a place of darkness and despair. And yet, these implications don’t diminish the capacity of the thinker to associate such an absence, or presence, with silence as it relates to God or otherwise. And, this is the beauty of silence: it finds its way of understanding into each individual mind. 

“One might say I had decided to marry the silence of the forest. The sweet dark warmth of the whole world will have to be my wife…So perhaps I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves.” Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger 

For me, silence has been a place where I find the divine and I find myself. While my wariness of silence has been potent since my first meeting, I realize this is because of the depths of the unknown to which She has taken me. 

Silence is where I meet myself and my fellow human. 

Silence is where I see my darkest corners and my hidden faults. 

Silence is where I meet God. 

Silence is where I can grow and evolve. 

Silence is where I bathe in wonder.

Silence is where I listen. 

I often consider those reoccurring dreams first leading me to a lifelong love affair with the forever unrevealed. I consider the terrified 8 year old worrying her way through life, reaching for something always withheld. To be honest, not much has changed. My worry is now anxiety. My reaching is now a longing. Only now, I sit drenched in wonder as I tirelessly stretch out my arms towards the unknown. Now, I smile in awe as I untiringly attempt to package the mystery in language. 

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Here ends the book, but not the searching. The end of Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”

 

 

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