Friday, August 28, 2009

The small things....

About two years ago I discovered the joys of Chinese teas at a tea garden in Portland.  Since then, I have been exploring  teas and enjoying the various subtleties and flavors in much the same way that people taste wine.  A large part of the experience for me is what the tea is served in.  Depending on the type of tea, you use a little cup with a lid or various small tea pots. I have had a few different lovely little cups from which to drink and enjoy my tea and then just this summer I bought the most beautiful small teapot called a yixing and a tiny little cup to go with it. The pot will only hold 4 ounces or so and the cup is actually more like a shot glass.  But each morning as I made my tea I truly marveled at the perfection of the pot.  The matte reddish brown color was neither too dull nor too bright.  When I ran my hand across the finish there was not the least bit of roughness, it all was completely smooth.  It was perfectly proportioned and its little round belly reminded me of the underside of a chubby puppy.  Every morning when I poured the steaming tea out of its tiny little spout and into its matching dainty cup I felt like something important and beautiful was happening.


In her book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery writes,  “I know that tea is no minor beverage.  When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.  Where is beauty to be found?  In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”


How that passage resonates with me.  My little teapot and I were not aspiring to anything great or lasting, but just a small moment of perfection that seemed to find me every day. 


On the afternoon that I was pondering on this passage and what I wanted to say about tea and beauty in my next blog, Annie was making a cake in the kitchen.  My perfect little teapot was sitting on the counter in the work area and my perfect little teapot ended up on the floor in about 30 pieces.  

I miss it very much.  I really do.  I could try to find another one or order one from the place in Portland where I bought it.  Money and the internet could easily replace it. But it seems like I am supposed to live without it for now and to smile at the memory of its miniature perfection.   


In the grand scheme of things that teapot was no big deal.  But it was one of my “jewels of infinity” and so a little spot of beauty has been lost from my day.  But that must mean that now there is an empty place ready to be filled with the beauty that is available all around me.  What are the small beauties in this world that are lined up, just waiting for me to notice?  

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Other Side of Blind Spots

Macrina Weiderkehr has a priceless little poem that reads,


Believe the truth about yourself

No matter how beautiful it is. 


I can take this affirmation a step farther and say that we must also believe the truth about the people around us and believe the truth about the world that we see around us, no matter how beautiful it is.  We spend so much of our time focused on what is wrong.  On what is wrong with the world, with our children, with ourselves, with the people we work with, with the guy in the car in front of us.  What if we chose to believe the truth instead? 


But, what is the truth?  There must be some ultimate truth out there, but if there is, I am certainly not the keeper of it.   So I can only say what feels most true for me today.  My truth is that God completely imbues this world.  For me God tends to be like a screen behind everything that I see around me or the canvas upon which a beautiful work of art rests. But, in order for me to see past my blind spots, God must be the paint, not the canvas.  I am called to first see God in my child, before I see the issue or the difficulty.  To first see God when I look out my window and see a gray day when I was hoping for sunshine.  To see God first in the person sitting across the table from me who has a completely different opinion from my own.  And maybe most importantly, to see God when I look into my own heart and my own mind even when I feel that I have completely blown it yet again. 


I’m learning to know and accept the truth about myself, no matter how wrong or broken or unaware I can be sometimes.  And I am learning to believe in the great beauty of being human.  


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blind Spots

Today I am thinking about my “blind spots”.  We all have them.  They are the things that we just can’t seem to see about ourselves, or others, or the world around us.  I can be blind to both my faults and my gifts, completely unable to see myself the way other people see me.  And let’s face it, do I really want to? 


The scary thing about my blind  spots is that I don’t even know that they exist.  What am I missing?  What am I blissfully unaware of?  Those things that if I understood about myself might require some sort of change, reparation or apology on my part? 


But if I do want to begin understanding my blind spots, where do I begin?  I begin by being willing  to see.  That statement may seem obvious and simplistic, but I can tell by the feeling of dread in my stomach as I just contemplate the possibility, that it would be very difficult.  What if I told all of my friends, my husband, my family, my kids that they could tell me all of the faults they see in me?  All of the times that I have failed them.  That I want them to tell me these things.  Would I be able to stand and listen or would I end up a puddle of quivering self loathing jelly who retreats back into the safety of limited vision?


As frightening and painful as it may be, I want to live my life with my eyes wide open.  I want to know the truth about myself and about the world around me.  This doesn’t mean that I am sending a blanket statement to everyone to list all my character flaws, but it does mean that I commit to be awake in a new way and to listen to everyone around me in a deeper way.  There is a very good possibility that they can see something that I cannot.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Loving Words and loving no words

As I approach my spiritual reading these days, it feels as though there is not really anything new under the sun.  There was a time when I would peruse the book store shelves or plunge into the stacks at the library waiting for that next title to jump out and grab me.  It would be the book with the next small piece of enlightenment to jump start my spiritual life and to swallow up the lassitude that sometimes threatened to engulf  me.  I needed that next “fix” of spiritual wisdom that would allow me to experience the next high of relationship with God.  And there is no doubt that many of those books have been among my greatest spiritual teachers.  I run my finger along the spines of the books that grace my own bookshelf and each name rings out as a personal spiritual friend.  There’s Macrina and Thomas, Sunryu and Pierre, John and Teresa.  And as I touch each book, I try to remember who I was before they shared their story with me.  But I no longer know because what they shared with me changed my mind, sometimes completely and radically.  And as I allowed my mind to change my spirit grew more and more solid, real but also spacious.  And I feel deep, deep gratitude to my teachers.


But that thirst for the knowledge of the next thing has mellowed at this time in my life.  And I begin to see what they are all saying in a more universal light.  The philosophies and theologies and world views are all different, but they all pointed me to the same place.  They have pointed me to a God of mystery and immediacy who encompasses my every moment without ever needing to completely explain itself to me and it never will.  I could go exactly where I want to go, into the very heart of God, without ever reading another word or processing another idea.  My spiritual life lives in my heart now, not in my head. 


I will always be a spiritual reader, no doubt about that, and I will continue to haunt those particular aisles in libraries and book stores.  But now, as I read all of those words, it is not as though I am finding anything at all that is new.  But simply remembering what I have always known.  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What I do or what I live

Cover of "The Shack"Cover of The Shack


I was chatting with a friend recently and the subject turned to what books we had been reading lately, one of my favorite topics.  She had just read The Shack and wondered if I had read it.  I said that no, I hadn’t read it, but I had a pretty clear idea what it was about and the message that it was trying to send.  I was frankly surprised that this particular friend had read this book as she doesn’t tend toward overtly spiritual reading and calls herself an atheist.  I asked her how she had come to choose this book. 


A friend had recommended it to her, but had said nothing about the book’s philosophical leanings and my friend admitted that she was a bit put out as it became clear where the premise of the book was leading.  She forced herself to finish the book (she doesn’t like to leave things undone and finishes virtually all of the books that she starts, unlike me) and though she says that she never would have chosen to read a book that was so overtly about God, she was very glad that she had completed it.  She said that it did comfort her somewhat.  Her understanding of the book’s message is that God is far, far beyond anything that any of us can ever understand and in order to grasp God a tiny bit or go toward God in our human capacity, we have to put God into some sort of form.  And when we can convince other people of the truth of that form, we have started a religion or perpetuated a religion.  Our history has shown us, unfortunately, that it is at that point  that the trouble starts.  But the author of The Shack is trying to let us know that God is beyond it all.  Beyond human beings, beyond the earth, beyond the universe as we know it and comprehend it at this point, completely beyond our comprehension.  The book didn’t make my friend begin to believe in God, but it helped her to make peace a little bit with the people who do believe.  She says that now whenever she sees things that people do in the name of religion that seems to have nothing to do with love or what she would hope a god would be like, she reminds herself that there are people out there who believe this other way. 


I told her that was the way that I believe.  My friend knows, of course, that I am a Christian and she has known me for many, many years during which I have undergone radical changes in my way of thinking toward God, man, religion and spirituality.  I felt disappointed that she didn’t say something like, “Oh, I know you do.”  But, I realize that even those closest to me, like my husband, can’t really understand all of the leaps that I have made.


I go around thinking about all of this stuff all of the time.  Really, I do.  It is never far from my thoughts and especially because of my role as a spiritual director where I am sitting with people who are asking a lot of the same questions about their life and about God.  But, some of my closest friends have no idea what my deepest held beliefs are.  And the reasons for that

" LOVE " LOTUSES always :-)  ^__^Image by Thai Jasmine via Flickr

 are many. 


For one thing, how do you have those types of conversations?  How do they get started outside of a meditation circle or a church group or a spiritual direction session? For another, many people are just not interested.  You know how some people call themselves policy wonks or computer geeks or sports freaks.  Well, I am a complete and total spirituality dork.  If I walk by a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or monastery I want to be in it.  We don’t even need to talk about my favorite sections at Barnes and Nobles or the library.  I love all of that new age-y floaty music that you hear at the acupuncturist (I have one of those) or the massage therapist and always gravitate toward artwork with a lotus or stones, or water.  I meditate.  I do yoga.  I practice aromatherapy.  Zen is one of my favorite words though I am far from being a Buddhist. 


This is all of the stuff going on inside of me all the time.  And all of it is stuff that I believe matters.  But, what do people see from the outside?  Do people just see this as stuff that I do or do they have some sense that this is something that I live.  I really, really want it to be something that I live and that in some way, my way of being in the world allows those around me to find their truest and most authentic ways of being in the world as well.  So, even if the people who know me best can’t tell you what I believe, I hope that they could tell you that they experience me as someone who is open, loving, and supportive of each person’s journey through this life.  

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