New Year, Same Past

New doesn’t always feel good. We are told to embrace the New Year full of things that have never been as if we’ve been given a clean slate. As though we have no histories of brokenness, loss, torment, or suffering. And our world preys on us with its expectation of resolutions and quick-fixes––there’s a product for everything. For a day or two, maybe, we forget our pasts and embrace this newness, until the rest of us catches up and we deflate into the truth of where and who we are. Perhaps, for me, it’s the third-day itch of the New Year. Some feel it earlier or later. Some never feel the newness. My friend sends me a text: “Everyone now expects a depressed Christmas, but by New Year’s you’re supposed to get over it?”

On this third day, I did not rise. Instead I awoke to the silences around and within me. My heart as still as the days that move slow. My mind as empty as the blank page before me. Everything hushed to nothing. Reaching back into myself, I could only find the spaciousness of absence, the expanse of void. 

Tears are emptied.

The heart is out of questions.

The mind is thoughtless.

The list is so full, it is empty.

The hope is so deep, it is lost.

There’s a feeling of being so together, so clear; There’s only brokenness.

There is the place in my life, paradoxically, where mystery is conceived and the best of myself is birthed. It never seems to be a place of great joy, but it is a place of great truth. The world tells us this is brokenness, that we are the wounded walking around aimlessly. But, I dare to think that these are the breeding grounds for more truth, for more love, for something of the healing we all need and are looking for.

Suffering, Parker Palmer says, breaks our hearts, but the heart can break in two different ways. We can release the anxieties and sadness upon the world in a way that is reminiscent of breaking into shards, shattering the one who suffers as it explodes, and sometimes taking others down when it’s thrown like a grenade at the ostensible source of its pain. Or, we can transform like the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, the one that can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.”

How to be that supple heart? The heart that breaks open, not apart? To suffer in a way that connects us? I cannot wander around looking for wounds that match—for that limits personal healing. I cannot thrust myself into the suffering over and over again, for that prolongs the pain. I can only be. Just be. Be with my suffering, my pain, my anguish, in all of its vulnerability. I dare to remember the strength and the courage that this kind of suffering takes. The kind of suffering that is so deep, I’ve lost words to describe it. The kind of agony that is so dark, I fear it will not let me go. Of course there are times and days when I must reach out, whether that be to friends or for professional help, for I am not meant to walk through suffering alone. But I do believe I am asked to try and see the fertile ground on which I stand when I suffer or when I encounter another’s suffering.

In Thomas Merton’s “Hagia Sophia” essay, he expresses that there is “in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom…” Going on to name wisdom as Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), he says of the suffering, “Gentleness comes to him when he is most helpless and awakens him, refreshed, beginning to be made whole. Love takes him by the hand, and opens to him the doors of another life, another day.”

On one of the last days of 2019 I cracked open a fortune cookie and read, “Believe in miracles.” Scoffing at the note I thought to myself, what does that even mean? What does it mean to believe in miracles amid a world so broken, so lost, and in such desperate need of healing? The word “miracle” often seems like a far-fetched hope which lives on the outskirts of possibility. My mind wants to make miracles smaller: there are the miracles of ordinary stuff of life, like the friend sitting to my left, who mocks the fortune right along with me. My nephews, who constantly remind me that play is more important than the seriousness of life. The relationships in my life that offer me the rarest and purest form of love by way of time and presence.

But what if the miracle is also so much bigger?

And I know that for too many, suffering has no end. And yet I’ve seen some of the greatest wisdom among those long sufferers—a raw wisdom drenched in presence and love.  While my agonies may not bring me closer to new life, they may bring me closer to an unveiled one. May my dark nights embolden me, on this painful ground, to long for more love and more truth.

Thomas Merton spoke of our world as a place where humanity is “taught not to be content with what they are and to be constantly yearning for something else.” In our longing to feel better, we find ourselves reaching for things to fix or even sustain us. For the everyday miracle. But it is on the ground of being where the miracle of the ordinary lives and a great depth abounds. He goes on:

“…the most crucial thing, at least for me, is the necessity to dig into what one is. A mysticism of is-ness, a mysticism of existence, a mysticism of accepting what is here and now right in front of your nose. And seeing that it is useless to reach out to what one is not and what one will never be. The passage is immediate, there is no passage. You’re not going anywhere, you’re where you are.”

So, onward we all go, into exactly who we are. Into a new year with the same past. Into another day with the same pain. Into the ordinary miracles of life, breath, love. And to the extraordinary miracle of being.

In this new year,

Blessed are you who are broken.

Blessed are you who are suffering.

Blessed are you who are trying.

Blessed are you who feel you cannot try today.

Blessed are you who are hopeful.

Blessed are you who are hopeless.

Blessed are you whose hearts are supple.

Blessed are you who heed the wisdom within yourself. 

Blessed are you who keep opening for the sake of Love, for the sake of Life, for the sake of Truth.

Blessed are you in your dark nights, my friends.

 

 

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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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