The Tireless Pursuit of Peace

Looking up, I knew this was a moment to behold. Across the living room from me sat Jim Forest, laughing among friends while in Toronto for the first annual Voices For Peace conference. The 76-year-old peace-activist, author, storyteller, and lover of humanity was frozen in a moment of pure joy. I grabbed my camera to capture the glance of a life dedicated to peace, love, and a deeply rooted adoration of God.

Many know Jim by way of his friends: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Dan Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Henri Nouwen –– to name a few. But having spent a few days with Jim, it’s hard to not count yourself among the list. His humility and sincerity pointed time and time again to a new way of listening, truly seeing, and deeply caring for my fellow human.

Throughout the week I had the honor of sitting down with Jim for meals, conversations, and laughter. We arrived in Toronto amid the backdrop of the van massacre that killed ten people just a day prior. Diving head-first into a pre-planned peace conference felt like apostolic work in a city mourning such a tragedy, but questions kept pressing me. How is the accumulation of information truly accompanying my neighbor? How is knowing the immorality of the weapons economy disarming my nation? How am I really helping the kids in my life and the land I stand on to see another day?

“Who is a peacemaker?” Jim asked in his keynote address, “Anyone who is acting peaceably to protect life and the environment… Peacemakers are engaged in a war against war, with the goal not that war should be made less frequent or less murderous or more humane but that war should be eliminated. War should be made unthinkable. Otherwise all of us are losers. As Merton put it, ‘There is only one winner in war. The winner is war itself. Not truth, not justice, not liberty, not morality. These are the vanquished.’”

Jim was editor of the Catholic Worker and co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. He was arrested numerous times while protesting war and jailed for burning draft cards. He’s an award-winning author. But a list of achievements isn’t what Jim is about. His passion for peace is entirely rooted in relationship. His centeredness goes beyond those friends in the living room. Jim has created a lifetime around loving all people, enemies included:

“Love doesn’t exclude outrage. Love and outrage are sometimes as woven together as a strand of DNA. Dan’s [Berrigan] many acts of civil disobedience were animated by, as he put it ‘outraged love.’ For Dan ‘outrage’ was an adjective; the key word was ‘love.’ Love opens the way for conversion. But outrage without love is a blind alley.”

The days we live in are bleak and barren without love. Every news feed, each source of media, and conversations that surround us — are drenched in outrage untethered to love. Why is it that as soon as we can reconnect our outrage to love we see another headline that tears them apart again? “Fear is the great force that restrains us from acts of love,” Jim said in his second keynote address. “Fear is useful only when it serves as an alarm clock, a device that wakes us up by briefly ringing… When fear takes over, it tends to rob us creativity, resourcefulness, and freedom.”

As fear engulfs us, I wonder, are we debilitating ourselves from action that could better serve the world? The way of peace is as urgent as my next breath, and this is a literal statement for many, so why is it not for me? How can we navigate peace in the spirit of urgency? Is the response of a peacemaker not more important than the springboard of reaction born of urgency and conceived in the bowels of fear? How can I transform my fear-riddled flailing into a life of protest that is steeped in outrage and love?

“That’s the message we’re supposed to receive,” he told me, “’What you’re doing is a waste of time.’ But the truth of the matter is, it does make a difference. It doesn’t happen fast, and it sometimes doesn’t even happen in our lifetime. Sometimes it’s so slow, the iceberg is so big, so much of it is so hidden, so much of it is beneath the water line, watching it shrink is not easy for us. We live 60, 70, 80, even 90-100 years, but you know pick up a pebble on the beach, it’s 100s of millions of years old, it’s a different time scale.”

I was particularly struck by Jim’s tirelessness in these efforts of peace. At the age of 76, he’s flying six time-zones to share these messages with generations of activists. He’s zealously waking up to speak at a nearby church (Church of The Redeemer, Toronto) the day after offering two keynote addresses and countless interactions with strangers the day before. I quoted some of Jim’s own poignant words back to him amid asking for some advice for those of us navigating the ever present waters of activism today: “In your book, The Root of War is Fear, you said, ‘At the core of what is sane in our society I think you will find the pacifist movement, constantly reminding the populace that life is sacred, that justice–not vengeance–is our job.’ How would you advise the wearied activist among us today?”

“Shape your life on truth,” he told me, “live it as courageously as you can, as joyfully as you can. And count on God making some good use of it — what you do is not wasted. But you may not have the satisfaction of seeing the kind of results that you’re hoping for. Maybe you will, maybe you’ll be lucky but you can’t count on it.” 

Or, as his friend Thomas Merton once wrote to him in February of 1966:

“…Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

JimAndCassidy
My friend, Jim. (Photo by Paul Pynkoski)

Enjoy my writing? Become a Patron. become_a_patron_button@2x

Loving to Love

Today I set out walking to walk. Visiting a new city fills me with childlike wonder and awe—each nook a new treasure to behold, every turn an adventure. I’m in Toronto, Canada just two days after a terrible tragedy that took the lives of ten fellow humans. And while wandering in the wet morning, the rain poured down like holy water attempting to wash away the pain so many are feeling. As my eyes looked up on Bloor street I couldn’t help but be captivated by a local bookstore begging for my attention, despite the 100s of books resting unread on my bookshelf at home.

Much like my routine at any bookstore, I navigate the poetry, hunt for the Thomas Merton books, and explore the sections where my friends’ books might be. This time, a particular Merton book caught my eye: Road to Joy: The Letters of Thomas Merton To New and Old friends. With just having had the pleasure of dinner with Merton’s friend Jim Forest, the night before, I promptly picked the book up and hunted for Jim’s name in the index. Instead — homosexuality pg. 344stuck out as if it was written in bold red among the black and white I was holding. Homosexuality, I thought, but Merton never really wrote about that. Though I’d heard my friend, Dr. Christopher Pramuk discuss this in the past, I wasn’t prepared for the violent language I was about to encounter. I took a deep breath while considering what I might read on the page the reference linked to and was sure enough not shocked but painfully disappointed with the words that corresponded. Words that continue to deeply wound and haunt LGBTQ+ Christians everywhere. Among these words in a note titled “Letter to an Unknown Friend”:

“…In other words, the pitch is this. Homosexuality is not a more “unforgivable” sin than any other than the rules are the same. You do the best you can, you honestly try to fight it, be sorry, try to avoid occasions, all the usual things… Maybe psychiatric help would be of use.”

Though reading nothing surprising, my body tensed up and shuddered with the deep despair I once felt about my own personhood because of such lies being told to me that there was something innately wrong with me, there was something “sinful.” To compare homosexuality with sin is not unlike telling me being a woman in sinful. It is of one’s personhood. One’s very being. In the bowels of that bookstore, I took a moment to thank God I no longer have this way of thinking and resolved to buy the book so no one else would read these wounding words that, to me, are incredibly theologically unsound.

In this city of great acceptance, I was flanked on either side by rainbow flags at every turn. Despite that, this small moment stirred up years in which I sat in self-hatred because I was told a part of my precise personhood was a sin. Looking back, I can still easily weep for my younger self and those who might still be thinking like this, speaking like this or receiving such hateful words. Knowing how deeply that struck felt like a bolt energy to share my truth, my love, my personhood with those that think theirs is somehow damaged.

LGBTQ+ friends, listen to me: There is nothing wrong with you.

Parents, there is nothing wrong with your LGBTQ+ child.

Church, there is nothing wrong with your LGBTQ+ parishioners.

The damage we do when we insinuate one’s loving personhood is sinful or faulty is nothing short of hateful, dismissive, and ignorant thinking.

Last month I had the honor of co-hosting Fr. Jim Martin (most recently, author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivityon the Encountering Silence podcast. The work he’s doing is undeniably opening the minds and doors for many, many people. The conversations he’s having and the work he’s doing is changing many lives for the better. I sincerely believe that when it comes to inequality, the elevation of a group must be done so that they can be seen. And it is not until this seeing becomes a part of our lives on a regular basis—for all of our differences in love—that we can come to a place of seeing our common humanity and embrace a vision of unity. Without this sight how is it possible for us to come together in a loving way?

“Peacemaking begins with seeing, seeing what is really going on around us, seeing ourselves in relation to the world we are part of… What we see and what we fail to see defines who we are and how we live our lives…” Jim Forest, The Root of War is Fear

Of course, I don’t agree entirely with Fr. Jim Martin on a number of things. But that didn’t prevent us from having a loving conversation, it didn’t stop us from both discussing the LGBTQ+ community in a way that elevates its ability to be seen and loved. And, although conversion begins with conversation––conversation with the intention of conversion is a limited space to come from. In a Message to Poets essay Merton said, “We believe that our future will be made by love and hope, not by violence or calculation…a hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.” With this in mind, I speak to my fellow human in a way that is true to love itself for that is all I can do, that is all I can bring. And for my fellow LGBTQ+ friends who may not be able to have such conversations because of the pain it brings—I will continue to speak. I will continue to have these hard conversations that point to the destruction and violence this kind of language creates, the ways in which we’re limiting the spirit’s flow within people because we name their personhood as sinful instead of seeing the beauty, joy, and spirit’s flow within their lives.

There is a penalty in admiration when we only seek how it serves us. As much as I admire Thomas Merton and Fr. Jim Martin, I cannot agree with them on everything and certainly have never claimed to. Though people change and thoughts evolve in their own ways in accordance with their own personhood—who am I to say that a given stance is more evolved, lest for the these kinds of stances that directly point to lack of equal humanity, as the aforementioned rhetoric suggests. Merton’s untimely death (1968) will leave any of his current thought on this as a mystery. But, I must interject my own assumption based on the fact that most of Merton’s life was based upon love.

In 1966, Thomas Merton wrote young peace activist Jim Forest a letter that has since become referenced as the Letter to a Young Activist. In it, Merton addresses Jim’s frustrations with his work in the peace movement during the Vietnam war. Jim was working tirelessly at the Catholic Worker house after having left the Navy. He co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship in 1964, and served countless conscientious objectors during the Vietnam war era. Both Forest and Merton were doing unequivocally important work, despite just how different the work was. These words that he wrote to Jim wouldn’t have been written without Jim’s initial letter of frustration and agony. In fact, many of Jim’s letters allowed Merton’s own thoughts on things like war and pacifism to change, grow, expand, and evolve (see The Root of War is Fear).

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

It is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything. 

Everything.

Whether or not one chooses to see the LGBTQ+ community does not eliminate its existence. But it is not until we truly open our eyes to one another that we can begin to stop diminishing one’s personhood as sinful. And the LGBTQ+ community will go on loving. After all, it is the centerpiece to our personhood. It must become the centerpiece to everyone’s personhood. And it’s a beautiful centerpiece to sit at the table of. To have a conversation around. To create a personal relationship over.

It is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.

Everything.

I could have let these few words I read today ruin my day. I could have chalked them up to Thomas Merton not being admirable. I could have minimized his words as a sign of the times. But that’s not what any of this was about. I set out walking to walk. And, I believe that when we set out loving to love, miracles can happen. We can begin to see one another. Truly see.

Toronto is assuredly not the same after this terrible tragedy. Beyond the rain, there is a dreariness that sits over the city as people discuss just what happened and how it could possibly happen here. But people are going on talking, they are going on being kind, saying sorry, greeting and smiling at one another. This city is truly a space of personal relationship.

And, now, as I sit across the table from my new dear friend Jim Forest, I realize the deep legacy of his life pouring forth in personal relationship and loving to love. Many know Jim by way of his friends including but not limited to Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Dan Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and so on. But having spent a few days with Jim, it’s hard to not count yourself among the list—his deep humility and sincere way of being has already taught me so much about listening, truly seeing, and deeply caring for my fellow human. Tomorrow, Jim will speak at a conference in Toronto titled Voices For Peace.

Between Toronto and Jim, I think I’m finally starting to truly grasp what Thomas Merton meant when he said to Jim in that 1966 letter: It is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.

Everything.image007.jpg

 

Enjoy my writing? Become a Patron. become_a_patron_button@2x

Dear Nashville Statement

Dear Nashville Statement,

I used to hear your voice when I was a closeted LGBTQ+ person in the Evangelical Church.

I recall your commanding tone, almost always spoken by a man telling me which thoughts to think, which words to say, which feelings to feel. I remember your inflection and the flicker of heat in it that hatred brings. I know who you are. And you no longer scare me into thinking your thoughts, saying your words, feeling your feelings. You no longer scare me.

I remember the certainty in your emphasis. The ways you’d enforce your stances on God as if God was something or someone to be fully understood. For years and years, I sat in your pews and watched your men tell me what behaviors made me Christian and what behaviors didn’t.

I avoided reading you for a few days, Nashville Statement. There’s just no longer a place for your harmful rhetoric in my life. But, I’m learning that so much of life is confronting the narratives from which we have been evolving. Much of life is having dialogue with one another to understand our pains and see one another’s truths. So, I took a look today.

And there you were just as I remember.

Another aggressive move towards domination over the beautiful uniqueness of our society. Another frantic jump from fear of who and what is different from you. I wasn’t surprised to read your narrow words and your parochial views. I used to buy into and even parrot this jargon myself. I used to listen to and heed your hate-fueled notions. It is terrifying to think about how much influence you once had over my understanding of God and my fellow human.

I have grown. I have changed. I have evolved.

When I read your words of anxious flailing which leads to monstrous rhetoric, I was not surprised. I knew you would use words that did not come from the mouth of Jesus and morph them into thought that suits a misogynistic group; a group that perpetuates bounded behaviors by rhetoric of nonsensical legalism. I knew it would be man-led and focused on a fundamentalist interpretation of a book that has been translated and interpreted numerous ways at numerous times.

Your words are violent and harmful. Your tone is vicious and degrading. You ruthlessly force thoughts and words about sexuality and gender into the mouth of the risen one who never spoke a word of it, lest for love. The commanding word you use over and over, “deny”, suggests a dismissal of the freedom and infinite love I, and so many others, have found in Christ. You, the words you choose, the the tenets you cling to with white knuckles continues to place more emphasis on a theological certainty instead of loving. Instead of the inexhaustible love of Christ.

And, if you’re willing to let go and look… that boundless love is everywhere.

I see God’s vastness in sexuality and gender. I see God in my heterosexual friends. I see God my Catholic friends. I see God in my Muslim friends. I see God in my Jewish friends. I see God in my LGBTQ+ friends… I see God in the rainbow of our society. Your statement has made it more obvious than ever to me that you love your bogus rules far more than the very people before you. You care more about commanding than the wholeness of people living out their true-selves as created by God, as children of God.

I’ve been rewriting my narrative in the places where you’ve influenced my life and dismantled my personhood. I’ve been removing the poison that diminished who I was— the hatred, the self-denial of who God made me to be, and the parts that didn’t leave room for us all at the table. I have never felt sad letting you go. I am only sad that you remain in such a hate-filled way.

You are not saving anyone with these statements; you are killing them.

Loving your neighbor is not walking them into hating themselves or feeling suicidal. Loving your neighbor is not dominating them with what you think is right or just. Loving your neighbor is sitting with them and listening to them with a longing to catch a glimpse of God. Do we need to go on defining love when Jesus showed us so perfectly what it looks like?

Nashville Statement, I have a promise for you. I promise I will keep turning your tables and covering them with rainbow tablecloths. I will keep inviting those you so blatantly “deny” at your table time and time again. It is not your table. It is not my table. It is God’s table and God longs for us to find a place. So I will keep inviting. And, if you can leave your hatred and certainty at the door, I will invite you too. Because all are welcome. What if you found a place among us all instead dictating the size of a table that does not belong to you?

I serve a God whose artistry in creation is as vast as it can be within us. And this table is not for removing people or telling them to go away. The table was always meant to be shared. Shared beyond our vision. It is for our Muslim neighbors and our Jewish friends to join us, too. It is for our Atheist coworkers and Agnostic family members, too. For what is this table if it is not love, and what is love if it is not shared?

You may not care any longer since I’ve moved on from you, Nashville Statement, but I’ve since made friends who point me to God instead of trying to tell me exactly who God is. They suggest and do not demand. They question alongside me and shake their fist in horror with me. They talk to me and do not jump to argument. They welcome me and don’t need to or obsess over boxing me in to a denomination or sexuality. And we still meet at the table. 

Peacefully. Lovingly. Joyfully.

So, I hope you can peel back your sweaty palms that are so desperately clinging to a narrative that leaves out so many children of God. I know rewriting can be hard. I know reprogramming can be painful. I had to do it when I left you. You know the best part? You don’t have to do it alone. There’s a multitude waiting for us at the table. There’s a gathering waiting for us to be who we are in the God of love. Will you join me?

Cassidy

 

Enjoy my writing? Become a Patron. become_a_patron_button@2x

Responding to Charlottesville – Clarity from Chaos

Day after day we see hatred rise up in the world and our anxious flailing towards ‘what to do’ increases. We become debilitated by both the anger/fear and the possibilities before us. We become blinded to the good we can jump in on. We fail to see the love we can be a part of.

Yes, we must remember to breathe. We must remember to go into ourselves and see what we are to speak love and truth into. We must remember that often where we are to give action is usually a place of palpable discomfort.

And, more than anything, more than ever, we must recall that these are the moments that not only define who we are and what we stand for but are also the moments that reveal that precise truth and love to our children, our friends, our lovers, our families, and even those we disagree with. The children in our lives are watching us and taking cues… are we showing them something worth following? Are we breathing love into their lives? Are we demonstrating the truth of equality for their hearts? Are we standing up for our friends and pointing to love and truth in moments where hatred is so loud? Day after day after day?

Our routes forward are different means of expressing this love and truth, mine is no less or more important than yours. But a common thread is hosted in all those ways; a common thread that is woven into all of our hearts to want what is right, what is equal, what is good, what is loving, what is kind, what is truth, what is just.

I am entirely against white supremacy and the hatred it stands for.

Can we really, for a moment, imagine what it is like to be one our black friends today? Can we really, for a heartbeat, imagine what it is like to be one of our Muslim coworkers today? Can we really, for a breath, consider what it is like to be one of our immigrant neighbors today? We must walk with one another, feel one another’s pain (as best we can) and carry each other’s hearts with tenderness.

Which way is truly forward if we do not first examine the things within ourselves that even subconsciously permit a perpetuation of hatred? How can we really begin if we are not tending also to our own wars within? Whether these are acts of violence against our environment, hatred towards ourselves, or even our fears towards the government or systems of injustice… do they not also point to a tolerance of violence and hatred in some capacity? We must shed ourselves of these things. We must step out of comfort for the sake of all of our lives.

To imply your voice does not matter or makes no difference, is to suggest that there is not a way forward. People hear you: at your job, in your home, with your friends, with your children, your nephews and nieces, amongst your family. People read your words. Your voice and your words MATTER. Your action and presence MATTER. Because it is by unification of bodies and voices of love that we can begin to step forward. And it is in this unification that we hold one another’s trembling hands to do better, to do right, to give ourselves to love and truth. To show real love, we must first be love. To offer hope, we must first risk frustration and fear.

So, what will be our stance in these days? What will be our way forward in love and truth? How will we show the children in our lives what is right?

We say and we’re told that love wins, but we must remember that love winning requires our voices, our actions, our lives…

………………………………………………………………………………………..

An excerpt from Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you… What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am myself, a black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?…And, of course, I am afraid– you can hear it in my voice– because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth.”…On the cause of silence, each one of us draws her own fear– fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we also cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. Even within the women’s movement, we have had to fight and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson– that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, black or not. And that visibility which makes you most vulnerable is also our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind us into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in out corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned, we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and still we will be no less afraid.”

………………………………………………………………………………………..

“I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton

 

Enjoy my writing? Become a Patron. become_a_patron_button@2x

Creating From The Wound

I live in Los Angeles, the epicenter of self-defining artists. And, like most people in this city, I consider myself an artist. However, unlike most people living in Los Angeles — I believe we’re all artists in some form or another. I’m in constant awe of the way people create, perform, produce, and refine their skills. I see this in the visual arts, parenting, writing, cooking, teaching, care-taking, and most avenues of life.

In LA, I’m constantly bombarded with things that take me away from my ability to create — the time in traffic, the busyness of a day’s work, the notifications on my phone, the amount of people. Because of this, I try to hike a couple times a week. Hiking seems to be an activity where I process through things in my life — often to the point of talking aloud as strangers walk by me curious about my babbling. More often than not, it’s reworking a conversation and my place in it, sometimes it’s prayer, and other times it’s just a subconscious dialogue I’d yet to consider. This personal jukebox seems to flow most easily in a natural setting; the safety of nature guides me into letting it all out. This sense of safety is not only ingrained in our genetics but is also evident in our psychological interaction with uniting our bodies with the earth.

“We’ve learned over hundreds of thousands of years, that when the birds are singing, we’re safe. It’s only if they suddenly stop that you get a really bad feeling.” Julian Treasure of The Sound Agency via In Pursuit of Silence

While hiking the other day, I unknowingly lifted my right hand to the left side of my face, holding it ever so tenderly, like a lost lover would. I stopped, closed my eyes, and began to weep. After a few seconds of embracing this deep grief, I finally gathered myself enough to keep walking, continuing to cup my own face as if I wasn’t alone, as if I was someone’s beloved, as if she was with me. And, as these moments turn out, I was indeed alone, on a trail, walking by strangers as I held my own face. And just how many times have I found myself grazing my own hand, twisting my own rings, comforting myself? More often than I’d like to admit, but less often than I’d like to feel. 

This alienated agony we all face reminds me of the bottomlessness of my need to belong. A human need that we all know so well. That the depth of my longing is quite simply a part of my being, a part of how I was created, a part of my insatiable thirst for finally feeling home.

“…The normal way never leads home.” John O’Donohue

I’ve often considered one of the few certainties of our lives (as if there were any actual certainties in life) to be found in our relationships. Because, let’s face it, this woundedness demands a sense of tangible security. A security that no human ought to be made responsible to carry for us — both because it is beyond human possibility, and as we well know — the pain never dissipates. The cracks never fill. Belonging feels momentary. Home is never really found. It is eased, comforted, soothed — but it is the precisely the agony of these stirrings that call us to our work. And that is the artist’s response. That is the response of the creative that leans into her image as being made in the image of her creator. That is the moment where we become the artist and create our work. The work so deeply intertwined with eternity — the work that meets the infiniteness of our fellow humans because it comes from the infinite broken-heartedness of our own being.

“We all have wounds. We all are in so much pain. It’s precisely this feeling of loneliness that lurks behind all our successes, that feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise, that feeling of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic—1that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give.” — Henri Nouwen

Our hearts are bottomless pits that no human can fill. But, that is a gift. A gift that must be poured out in the creative work. A gift that requires constant courage and vulnerability of the self. The artist points to eternity because she creates from an eternal emptiness, woundedness, and ache.

These are the things that keep the artist alive. Tenderness. Intimacy. Love. Connection. Community. There are certainly times a friend’s touch can reignite us. There are moments a companion’s gaze can reinvigorate us. And there are seconds our own hand on our face might remind us that we do indeed belong, if only to ourselves. These are the moments that must be recalled time and time again so that we might stay afloat and keep creating.

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” — Audre Lorde

“…But I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is a part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.” — Jean Vanier

This piece was originally posted on the Sick Pilgrim Blog.

 

Enjoy my writing? Become a Patron. become_a_patron_button@2x

“Cassidy Hall found silence in an Iowa monastery and brought her discoveries to a new documentary” Des Moines Register

“A cricket chirped in the monastery’s library. That and the swish of a turned page, Thomas Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation,” was about it for sound.

Cassidy Hall stopped on page 81. Merton did not write on the absence of sound on that page but the abyss of solitude in the soul: “You do not find it by traveling but by standing still.”

Hall scrambled to write it down, as if it was a new line she had overlooked while reading the book three years ago when the direction of her life changed, when she took off around the country to seek silence in her soul. She would, in fact, travel great distances to learn how to be still.

Hall, 31, quit her job as a therapist in Ames not long after reading the book. She called the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, where monks have lived in the Trappist monastery since 1849 in long periods of silence and contemplative prayer. She met Father Alberic Farbolin there and spent long periods talking with him about the infinite possibilities in stillness…”

Read the rest of The Des Moines Register feature article “Ames native goes on quest for silence” by Mike Kilen here.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 9.21.16 AM
Photo by Rachel Mummey of The Des Moines Register

I Wasn’t Ready To Write This

Love alone could waken love.” Pearl S. Buck

There are moments in life that I won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. That doesn’t mean I should sit back and do nothing. I wasn’t ready to write this.

This isn’t another article about names in politics; this is an article about you and me.

The hatred and violence in the world today (as if this were a new thing) is beyond my ability to fathom. It bears the infinite weight of endless agony prompted by fear, self-hatred, other-hatred, disoriented religions, and a reckless abandonment of anything associated with love.

Where are we and what are we doing here?

It is important to note that situations and experiences cannot be compared, for none of them are the same. Each of us relates differently to each of the things happening in the world precisely because we bring our own lenses and our own experiences to them. My lens is one of ignorance, privilege, whiteness, and a very clear sense of my lack of experience with discrimination and/or being in unjust situations.

However, that doesn’t make any one of us exempt from the human race. And if I see a brother or sister in the human race hurting or in danger, how is it not my responsibility to speak up, stand up, and do my part to help love grow where it has died? How is it not my responsibility to stand with, near, or in front of those hurting to remind them the importance of their very lives? Every ounce of love-oriented humanness lost, especially unlike me, diminishes all of our lives and all of our abilities to live out who we are.

I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton 

Names should be spoken. The names of victims, the names of movements, the names of those who need us to keep their balance, and whose eyes we need to keep ours. These truths and beyond deserve to be spoken:

Black lives matter. No one should wake up in fear just because of the color of their skin.

The LGBTQIAA community deserves the right to live their lives openly and without fear.

Muslims deserve to practice openly and peacefully without judgments or assumptions.

And, certainty, this list goes on and on.

If one cannot get a grip on saying any of those sentences because they feel all lives matter or because they disagree with Islam or being gay, then they’re missing the point. We say these things precisely because all lives matter; we say these things because we are less whole when our fellow human is in danger physically, emotionally, or otherwise. And, it is time to listen and time to stand with these lives that are in danger.

Listen. Speak. Stand.

I have never felt so strongly in my life that our silence in such situations only arms us with the precise violence that created these problems in the first place. Some of us fear our own stance — that we might lose friends or go into a rabbit hole of discussions with the “other side”.

Do I want to live a life of love? Then, there’s only one “side” and only one clear evident stance to take. To stand in love with my fellow human beings.

How many times have I hindered my love and compassion because I was worried what others might think? Towards lovers, friends, family, or someone different from me? Countless times. Even now, as my black friends are hurting beyond words, my police officer friends put on their uniform trembling, my Muslim friends attempt to discontinue lies being told about them time and time again, and so on.

Do we enjoy being able to walk down the street without fear of being shot? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to openly love whom we love? So do our neighbors. Do we appreciate being able to openly express our religious beliefs without fear of discrimination, hatred, or violence? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to do our job peacefully? So do our neighbors.

Neighbors. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. We must listen, weep, speak up, and stand up for more than just our own wounds. We must recognize that we share the same wounds – whether I had a part in creating yours or I simply see it; I have a shared responsibility as a fellow human to work towards healing.

Some days I back off of saying something thinking it will pass. Some days I’m so worried about looking good or hoping others will just feel better.

But our silences do not look good and they make no one feel better. Our silences in matters of hate, violence, bullying, and negativity only give power to the oppressor and make the oppressed feel more and more alone.

The world is a scary place. And, we need each other. We need examples of people being who they are in love. We need people to stand up next to their alienated friends and co-workers as they expose parts of themselves that may be difficult. We need to wander into life hand-in-hand with those different from ourselves. We need more compassion and understanding. We need to look at one another in the eye as the neighbors that we already are. We need hope. And hope is not vain optimism. Hope is a weary voice that keeps speaking truth. Hope is our continual emergence in standing with love, in love.

Hope will not be silent…” Harvey Milk

There are moments in life that you won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I wasn’t ready to write this.

I may be wrong, but maybe Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t “ready” to spend his life on the civil rights movement, but he knew something needed to change. Maybe Gandhi wasn’t “ready” for a hunger strike, but he knew that was his part to promote love. Perhaps, Harriet Tubman wasn’t “ready” to help slaves into freedom, but who else was going to do it? And possibly Susan B. Anthony wasn’t “ready” to be the face of the women’s suffrage movement, but she simply stood up for what was right.

I know I can listen, speak, stand, and will continue to. I know I can weep, and will continue to. Whether alone, in the company of loved ones or strangers; our sadness, outrage, and most importantly our aligned stance disarms us into a unified voice that cannot be denied.

Love evokes hope; hope evokes love. And both tell me to stand. They tell me to stand and be myself and recognize those doing the same or needing someone to rise up next to. They tell me to stand near them, to stand with them, but even if alone — to stand.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Audre Lorde

 

Saint Joseph’s Abbey • Spencer, MA

St. Joseph’s Abbey is a staggering fortress in the midst of Massachusetts; built with incredible stone and surrounded by the acres of nature that a ‘typical’ monastic so longingly takes pleasure in (point being each one of us is different and there is no ‘typical’ monastic).

I arrived for a brief day trip to St. Joseph’s and immediately stumbled into the church where I was able to take some photos. I usually ensure my aloneness in a place before I begin to take photos (especially in such a sacred space, as some may not understand my reverence in the action of photography and more importantly the small breaks in the silence). In this space, however, it’s much more difficult to determine if one is alone due to the immaculate structure, arches among arches, short walls between the alter and choir stalls, etc. Which strikes a question in me: why does it matter if I am physically alone? In an obvious sense, I’d re-mention the break up of silence (not sensed by me in the midst of creative action but more importantly sensed by others), or the visual appearance of another being. But if one is truly silent and still within, wouldn’t the necessity be more on remaining and less on any interpretation of senses? Long story short, after snapping some photos in the church, I recognized a small still silhouette in the distance – a monk remaining in prayer long after prayer had ended. My immediate reaction was one of regret and almost fear; my final reaction, however, was one of a great sigh of knowing – he is ok; I am ok; we are loved. He had certainly been there long enough to pray for previous snappers, loud talkers, short and long visitors, the silent, the loud, the wildest and calmest of my kind – I was nothing but a reminder for him to pray – and THAT is one of the most humbling aspects of the monastic life. The vast release of judgment not only becomes engrossed in the monks life, but takes over the senses (I suspect this is a deep and difficult practice), in order to truly treat each person in their midst as Christ.

Upon my meeting with a monk, I was greeted with a bright smile, a gift, and a warm warm welcome. Due to my inability to stay longer than a day, this monk was particularly attentive to my needs in seeing the space – but was perhaps even more attentive to my emotional needs regarding the questions and discussion we had. The vulnerability in conversation has struck me as something astonishing; that many of these things don’t even come up with the best of friends, that these places are truly spaces in which there is no room for inauthenticity. The aspects of silence were discussed that causes one to “bump into myself all the time,” and I was reminded that, “God doesn’t want your virtue, he wants your weakness.”

The most potent (yet not shocking) of discussions was about love – that the monastic life is centered upon a concept of not only offering but also receiving love. On contemplation it was said to me, “being contemplated – God wants to look in at me… I want to look at God, He says, ‘no, I want to look at you.’” Regardless of one’s beliefs or background – to think of a God that would want to look upon us (individually) is a remarkable and perhaps surprising thought. Although, I suppose I wonder, what can we know of love without that great gaze upon us?

What. A. Humbling. Thing… to KNOW.

________________________________________________________________________________

“’We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence,” Dag Hammarskjold says. “We all” suggests that we are connected with one another even when we are alone; “surrounded by silence,” suggests God is present even when God seems absent.” John S. Dunne, Love’s Mind – An Essay on Contemplative Life

“…The question burns, for love is fire. We have to be assayed by truth to come to purity of heart: all that deviates falls away charred- pretense and dear illusion, the wrong answers we use to hid behind- self’s barriers must crumble. We must be stripped to heartwood, arrow straight – pure gift, a little all, affecting all, which draws all toward wholeness.” Sister Agnes Day of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey

St. Joseph's Abbey

St. Joseph's Abbey

Our Lady of the Angels Abbey • Crozet, VA

“Schola Caritatis.” Latin for school of love.

Our Lady of the Angles Abbey in Crozet is the ‘youngest’ of Trappist Abbeys, being built in 1984.  The land was used as a cheese farm, and the sisters of Crozet continue that work to this day. Crozet is tucked away in the hills of Virginia surrounded by gorgeous landscape.

My time in Crozet was brief, as I was unable to schedule a time to stay there, but had a delightful meeting and day trip to the Abbey after my stay at Holy Cross.

My main take-away from Crozet: “love is the great discernment.” The intense simplicity and potency of this statement baffles me. To me, what is the most beautiful about this statement is the fact that in a given situation I may not know what is most loving – but to seek to do/be/say/act in the most loving manner is my futile attempt at discernment.

One situation I have found myself in, on either side of, are times in which I am struggling perhaps with anxiety, depression, sadness, confusion, etc. Along comes a friend who believes the most loving thing is to talk to me, allow me to talk – when in fact many of those times questions do not soothe, kindness does not pacify, words do not settle, and touch does not alleviate. Those are most often times in which I simply need presence, someone to sit with, maybe not say a word, maybe not move a finger, maybe not even look at me. Similarly, I have had this experience on the other side, and I believe it allows the one present to truly experience and be mindful of the one in need. This is where and why love is the great discernment – only listening to love allows one to know which direction to go in a given situation, only listening to love allows one to be mindful of our own and others’ true needs, only listening to love gives us the grace to accept others’ and often our own lack of discernment in loving one another.

“Before we learn how to love, we have to realize how unloving we are.”

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditation The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message. One that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves fall in love – either with another human person or with God.” Thomas Merton, Love and Living

(I wonder, what about both? Falling in love with human(s) AND God?)

“My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Thomas Merton