There are a lot of questions surrounding the Coronavirus. Here are some of mine.
How about instead of being so terrified of the spread of Coronavirus around us, we get more terrified of the spread of lies around us?
How about instead of canceling events due to the idiocy of Coronavirus mass hysteria, we start canceling all public events due to the idiocy of a nation that refuses to enact laws to protect its citizens from mass shootings?
How about instead of wearing more masks around strangers, we wear more smiles instead?
What would happen if everyone stockpiled gratitude, in the same way they are stockpiling sanitizer?
What if instead of learning more about beating the bad Coronavirus, we learned more about being good human beings?
What if instead of hoarding more toilet paper for our future sh*#%@$ts, we stopped hoarding more and more sh*&$%!@t for our futures?
What if instead of storing water in our town halls, we took water to our refugees at our borders?
What would happen if we cared more about those we come in contact with, than we care about contracting something from them?
What if all the religious people along with cleansing our hands of germs, also cleansed our hearts of sin?
How about instead of listening to talking heads, we listened to the needs of those around us?
What if instead of walking our beliefs backwards and becoming xenophobes about other people, we believed in the future, and became xenogogues, guiding the world and all the people in it forwards?
What if we lived not as if today was the first day we realized we should care about our hygiene, but we lived as if today could be the last day we could tell people we love that we care about them?
What if we had as much faith and hope, as we do fear and anxiousness?
What if we thought this moment right now, mattered more than any other moment past or present?
What if we thought extending a hand in love to our neighbors, could really make as big a difference as coughing into our elbows?
What if we saw an impending viral epidemic of Coronavirus as an imaginable viral epiphany of virtue?
What if we knew that we would some day die, and so we better start really living today?
What if instead of seizing the day to remain in illness-free stasis, we would seize the day as an opportunity for healthy new growth in body, mind, and soul?
What if we thought there was really Someone out there worthy of worship, and not just Someone out there who cheered only for our team?
What if we thought Virtues were as important as vaccines?
What if we believed as strongly in the soul-born Power of Love, as we did in the airborne power of disease?
How about instead of believing in worst case scenarios, we start believing the best about other people?
What if instead of teaching our children to fear, we taught our children to share?
If the Coronavirus can teach me more than just a bunch of hygienic tips– (and frankly we all should have already been following those tips on staying healthy, so get on board, folks!) — If I can learn anything from the mass hysteria rollicking through the world right now, I can learn how to be a better human being. But that is something I should be trying to learn every single day I have the privilege of waking up.
I should do certain things in order to care for my physical body, my outer-self, but if there is any thing a mass hysteria about a virus can teach me, it is probably more about how to take care of my inner self, my soul.
Today I have at least one more day and one more blessed opportunity to:
Learn more about things that matter.
Stop wasting time on things that don’t really matter in the long run.
Get worked up about the pandemic of illnesses humans are causing on our planetary home.
Love more. Love more. And then love some more.
Stop hoarding, and begin enjoying.
Put aside the rigor mortis of despair, and take up the righteousness of worthy causes.
Kill the germs of inactive narcissism on my hands, and eradicate the lackadaisical selfishness of my soul.
Irradiate truth and share healing words.
Take off that which masks me, so I can breathe deeply.
Support creative people, create supportive networks.
Value the valuable, cherish the charitable, testify for the truthful.
Believe that virtue is still viable.
And then love some more. And then love some more.
Worship the Eternal, not the temporal.
Be grateful; sincerely, pro-actively, outward-looking thankful.
Be a healer, not a hater.
Feel true pity, not false piety.
Carpe Diem in Imago Dei.
Choose to be positive; fight negativity especially in myself.
Love some more. And then love some more.
And then love some more.
Because the fact is, folks, the Coronavirus will come and go. Every virus does. And the truth is that we will each of us come and go as well. Every human being does.
Every single one of us living through this latest death scare, will one day be dead and gone. We will each die of something or other, due to something or other, and something or other will be the thing that kills us. So, frankly, just as we should always have been washing our hands and coughing into our elbows, and being more careful out there, we also should have been living every day as if it mattered a whole lot more how we treated others, how we cared for our own souls, and what we spent our time and resources on. We shouldn’t live this day any differently than we do any other day and we should also start living this day quite differently than we did yesterday – because today we have one more opportunity to get truly healthy, and stay truly alive –outside and inside ourselves.
We should live this day as if it could be our last, but also as if it can be the first – the first day to start over, and do better, and make a difference in someone’s life, and enjoy our world and the people in it. Today is the day I can determine not only what I will protect my body from, but what I will protect my soul from. Today is the day I can decide what I will feed my body with to make it stronger and healthier, and what I will feed my heart with to make it stronger and healthier. Today is the day I may avoid a public event because I fear my soul will catch a deathly illness. Today is the day I may decide the mass hysteria of social media and information is no longer worth my invaluable time. Today can be the day I embrace the world with all my senses and small abilities. Today can be the day I wash my hands of negative thoughts, and reach out my hands to life and love.
I can not know if today will be the day I catch some disease, or go somewhere that is dangerous, or develop some symptom and will die because of it. But I can know that today is a day rife with opportunity. I can try to catch a glimpse of heaven on earth. I can develop more love in my heart and more love for others. I can go into the world creating something lasting, because everyone can create those things that will remain. There are things within the world that will remain, long after the Coronavirus is no more. We just need to believe in them.
And now these three things will remain forever and ever and ever:
Lest we forget, long before the word “corona” became synonymous with a scary virus, the word corona meant a part of a flower, and corona is one of the outermost and largest layers of the sun. I get to decide for one more day if I will define myself by fear or if I will define myself by love. I get to decide if I will lemming-like join the mass hysteria of living against something, like a fast spreading cold or a flu or death, or if I will live for something, like a slow-spreading peace, joy, and kindness. I will decide whether to define myself as an eternally possible patient, or to define myself an eternally improbable saint. I will decide if I will be something that is dead inside because I fear what is outside, or if I will be someone alive and growing like a flower, or powerful, heat producing, and light-shedding like a sun.
I would rather live one more day as a flower. I would prefer to choose that when I, like a flower, return to the dust from which I was created, I will have sought to share a bit of beauty, spread a bit of joy and to mean something to some people that has made them feel loved.
And I will continue to believe and have a crazy kind of worldview that has faith in Some Life-Giving Force Out There. And I will struggle along in a sort of fear-inducing worship of That Life-Force with an equal amount of stuttering faith that there is Someone more powerful and light-giving, and healing, and loving, and eternal than any of the Suns in any of the Cosmoses. And I will hope beyond hope that no matter what bodily or soul-sucking evils we humans expose ourselves to, that Love is stronger and that Love will win. And I will try to live this day, as if no matter what any one of us does for good or ill here in our short time on this earth, no matter what —
I work with a young writer who, like all young real writers, angsts over everything. I have only known her a short time and I adore her. Maybe because I am an old angst-er myself. She is, I am sorry to report, typical of the average American student today, in that she gets excellent grades and learns little. She, as so many, tragically learn precious little except what will take them any further than the next A- or the next school year and eventually the next job.
My dear student has been taught to write with great form and no substance. Or rather, she has been conditioned to ignore the substance she wants to write about, and to shove her writer’s dainty Cinderella feet into the huge ugly shoes of the Stepsisters of five-line paragraphs and “active prose”. So, I cheer her on with counterarguments to the propaganda that many poor unwitting, hardworking teachers of writing have been led to believe themselves. And I help her swim against the current of her own “shoulds”, until she can find the right way to swim with the currents of her ideas and imagination.
When writing, at any age or for any genre, one should not reach for the buoys and lifeboats of form until one has found one’s own strokes of function. Maybe a good writer has to even be a little afraid she will drown, but at least if she jumps into the deep end of writing, and she keeps moving, she will learn how to swim before learning how to tread in place or before she ends up standing and watching other people write from the shores of her couch or desk chair.
Now, I know, I know — what is going through my audience’s mind right now is, “Those who can’t — teach”. Well, I am very, very proud to have been a teacher and to still teach, especially writing. I think the fact that I am not a famous writer or even a particularly good writer, might encourage my audience to take what I will say more seriously,rather than less, because writing is for us, not for them. I have grown quite fond of my little “community” of writers here in the world of “Listen to Me, Please” Platforms.
I often will “like” or “follow” a young writer in my own writing platforms merely because I want them to know they are worth listening to. I like young people who want to write. I like all people who want to write. I think the loss of the idea that humans should daily be writing down their thoughts is one of the greatest losses of the species we call “humanity”. I think everyone should write out their life stories for prosperity and everyone should write down for their personal benefits their thoughts on everything from “What I Did Today” to “My Bucket List” to War and Peace.
I thought I would periodically share some of my recent back and forths with students, as we together explore ideas on writing. I like these letters through which I have listened and then tried to teach something, particularly because they have their genesis in my student writing a letter to me (via email of course), and my responding in writing. So, to learn about writing, we are expressing ourselves through writing.
These are thoughts that I have been eking out, teasing forth, and involve a sort of question / answer or a sort of Socratic teacher /pupil format. But what I love about teaching and about addressing specific student’s questions is that I am always learning myself. Plus I realize that the art of writing is so vast, so eternally creative, that the hows and whys and methods into finding the golden eggs, mining the nuggets, revealing the truth and addressing the crux, are an ever fluid, flowing fountain of possibilities and achievabilities. Addressing the way to write is both maze and Russian doll. One never reaches the end if one begins without knowing where it will lead, and that is where the joy of discovery — the joy of discovering what you will write — lies.
The letters between my student and me will, in no way, give you hints on how to be successful and make money as a writer. They may however, I hope, free your inner muse and make you, if not exactly happier, (because writing means hurting sometimes) perhaps fuller and more at peace with why you write. I hope they can do the same for me, because we writers know that what we say, always comes with the caveat: “Physician, heal thyself”.
A Letter Between Mrs. T and Cara
(I have changed my student’s name to protect the innocent.)
Letter One: February 28, 2020
Hi Ms. Tawel,
So, I was going through old documents in my laptop and came across a few unfinished stories that I thought would be fun to finish now. But then I realized why I abandoned them.
Too many subplots.
At least I think that’s what they would be called. They’re just random ideas I had for individual characters, the storyline, and backstories.
Anyway, the reason why I’m bringing this up is because I don’t want to get rid of them. They’re all (in my opinion) great ideas that’d make up a good story, but when I look at everything put together it’s all really crowded to the point where somethings seem out of place and very random.
But I really want to keep these ideas in! They seem fun to write about and would bring out a part of my story that’s somewhat unique.
I know we’ve already touched on this issue, but I think I need to hear it again.
…Darn, this’ll probably end in me having to get rid of most of the subplots. 😦
OH! And also…
I have an issue with backstories. Now, I LOVE good backstories, especially sad ones. But I tend to give it a lil’ too much love and end up making them quite complex. Do you think complex backstories are bad? I guess I could always start my story earlier and make the backstory shorter, but then… I’d just rather start my story when I originally planned to.
So, in short, are complex backstories okay? If not, how can I make them okay? How can I make it so that the beginning isn’t so hectic? Is a hectic beginning okay? Gah! I have so many questions, but I have to eat dinner so this is it for now.
Thank you for your time.
So here is what I think — although please don’t think I mean to make this sound easy, okay?
I think you need to give yourself permission to get rid of your inner critic in the initial stages of writing. For a true writer, there can not be “shoulds”. If all the world’s great writers had started with “shoulds”, we would never have a Fitzgerald or Dickens or Dickinson or Steinbeck or even Rowling. Even just regular writers, those who find creative joy in writing or those who are just beginning to find their voice and muse as you are or just so-so writers like I am, even we need to release ourselves from beginning with the ideas of some one else’s “should”. Think of that old adage from “Field of Dreams” — “If you write it, they will come”. You can not determine either your purpose or audience before you let yourself write what is inside you and in your heart / mind. Because separating the heart from the mind, is death to good writing and this is what happens when form comes before function.
As you know, I personally believe, you should never, ever, ever get rid of anything you have created. Yes, sometimes you have to lop off a limb from the tree of your writing to give it the best shape possible — like a bonsai tree, sometimes smaller is better and that means pruning. However, you don’t annihilate anything EVER!. You store it away for another day, cut and paste it into a stored document somewhere, just like keeping a tree limb in the wood pile to use someday in a construction of a different sort, or a fireplace that will keep everyone warm.
If you have to save an idea, a subplot, a metaphor or description “on a shelf” for a while, do it. But don’t do that until the FINAL stages which is when you edit — but editing is last, last, last — AFTER you have discovered by writing freely with love and joy and of course sometimes pain and sorrow — AFTER the purpose, style, and meaning are revealed to you. This is the old idea of listening to a “muse”. And a muse is not your teacher or your marketing shares. When a teacher or sales are made our audiences, we create characters without souls, and writing without nurturing love. Writing for school assignments today is like being taught how to have babies in test tubes.
It is good to have critical reasoning, and you are right to know that in the final stages you will need to shape and mold your stories and essays in ways that may hurt a bit, but to do that now means you are, frankly, finding an “excuse” not to stay vulnerable to your voice, ideas and “muse”. You must be vulnerable to your writing, just like you must stay vulnerable in any relationship that you want to survive the tests of times and trial.
Thank you for trusting me to “give you permission” to go with what your heart, head and gut tell you. Don’t be afraid of what the future tough minded, surgical “editor” — which will always in the end be yourself — may do. A surgeon is often necessary but not right now. Right now you are a parent, a grower, a writer. Write.
Seeking can never be static. The essence of seeking-ness means not so much the idea of constant change, but rather porousness. Like a sieve or sluice, our souls are best when there are many small openings in them. The way to seek is to move, flow, and be in a sort of “squiggly-lined” process. Searching is about newness, rebirth, creation; taking old and ancient things and realizing they are eternally refreshed and refreshing in the lives of new human beings. To seek is to hope to find, and find again, and seek again, and afterwards, find again, and then seek — in an ever widening circle of individual and shared lives.
The idea of seeking for truth or answers or help or morality, though, in a worldview of stasis is a modern-day tragedy. It is where many people go wrong when they say they seek their answers in a book. Many people in the world today, claim especially to seek ideas about living from a book called The Bible. But alas! a book is a static thing. Books are wonderful things, and to many of us, books are one of the most treasured belongings we have. But they are belongings. They are wonderful when we are in their “presence” but otherwise, they sit on shelves or in Kindles, and don’t do anything except miss the good old days when they were read as relevant, or long for a future when someone else will cuddle them back into life.
What is not static are the people the stories in the Bible are about. Stories about the past and human lives now passed, are not static if they are remembered or influential in even just one life of one living human being. What is never static in a book, or speech, or plaque, or any “dead” thing, is, what we might call The Truth or The Greatness of the Human Spirit. This is why writers who write truly about man’s search for meaning are said to have been moved to write by something we might call, the “Holy Spirit”. Holy in this case means something above the mundane, day to day human existence. Spirit in this case means something beyond animal or purely physical existence. Which brings us back to the idea of Seeking. To seek is to accept my own smallness in the Universe’s Vastness. To seek is to want to believe there is something More, perhaps Someone More. To seek is to never arrive, but to find great joy in The Journey. To seek, is the Universe’s great irony, because only in continually seeking that which is unknown or unknowable, can a person ever find wholeness.
In C.S. Lewis’ short compilation of lectures, entitled The Abolition of Man, he is both prescient and profound. He is prescient in the sense that Lewis foresees how the very idea of what it means to be human can be lost and destroyed if we give up on the belief that we have been created with inherent consciences and an eternal need to find meaning and purpose. The Abolition of Man is also profound, in that this well-known very Western, very Christian writer, Lewis, calls the right way to live not Christianity, not even what early Christians called their belief system when they called it simply The Way. Lewis calls right living by its Eastern Spiritual / Religion name — Tao.
There are many important reasons that C.S. Lewis chooses the term Tao to describe the right way humans should think and live, perhaps not least of all because his very own Christianity was a morphing of an Eastern religion called by its early adherents, Judaism. Today these belief -systems, what we may today call Christianity or Judaism or Islam, are all those who follow a book for their understanding of how to live, and so are often called “People of The Book”. However, the God that all of these religions claim as their own, simply says, that if anyone wants to live as He created them to live, to worship Him, or to belong to the worldview He taught Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, then what that religion is to be called, according to this God, is “My People”. And the wonderful thing about belonging to something not called Christianity or Islam or even Buddhism or Taoism is that People are never, ever, ever static. This idea is inherent in the term Tao. Tao, like a chimera of light, is always flickering always just outside our limited vision. Living into and from within Tao means you accept the River is much bigger than you are and you have given up the need to step twice in the same part of that River. Tao means that God is the River and that She gives us the choice of whether we want to jump head first into that baptismal flow, not sure of where The River will take us; or we would rather sit in stasis on the shores, where we will more easily return to the dust from which we were created.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explains Tao beautifully (and better than I), and it is a book that everyone should read many times, along with almost everything else Lewis wrote. Although his books may be shelf-sitters, once read, and read again, Lewis words will leave his readers anything but the status-quo. But what I am mainly trying to unravel here, is Lewis’ idea of Tao as it relates specifically to the idea of seeking. Because that is what Tao is. The bottom line is that Tao is both ultimate Reason and ultimately beyond human reasoning. Tao is both the embrace of the minutiae of my day and the embrace of the sublime in the galaxies. Tao is both the acceptance of my mortality and the journey toward immortality. Tao is what I know in my very inner most part to be true and real, and that which I accept I will never know and can be unsure of is even real at all. Tao is The Way forward to Heaven, and the way back to The Garden. Tao is the essence of all life.
Lewis calls Tao, “the ultimate foundations of theoretical and practical reason”. In other words, living a certain way is actually the only way to live that is not lunacy. However, intelligent, reasonable, practical, scientific, or however, theologically correct or spiritual or moralistic a person claims to be, if he or she is not constantly aware that humanity is only “human” when it is seeking and flowing; that is, when a human being is walking along The Path of Enlightenment, seeking and journeying in The Way, or flowing back and forth in the current of Tao, only then is one at all what humans should be, can be, must be, to thrive or even survive. One is perhaps not really even fully human without a sense of true Tao, and humanity will become more and more zombie like than what we were meant to be — the sons and daughters of “Holy Spirit”.
C.S. Lewis calls out and rings the alarm bells on America’s own current and particularly frightening brand of zombies, when he calls people who do not live according to virtue or The Way of Tao, “men without chests”. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst” (Lewis, 11). Try doing anything like walking or swimming without a chest and see how far you get. Without a core of true belief or what we might call “a soul”, a thing within us that creates virtuous action, a human being is like a zombie with a functioning mouth in its head, but with only a rotting, decaying heart where a chest used to be.
Tao. It is defined as: “the unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality as conceived by Taoists. It is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony” (Merriam Webster). So, while an understanding and commitment to Tao is important for anyone who wants to live well, it is an especially critical idea to embrace by anyone who wants to claim that a book is “God’s Holy Word”. If Tao is The Way, then “De” is the Spirit. This word De is interestingly similar to how we might use the term “De” in the phrase, “Imago Dei”, denoting “ Mirror Image in a Human of The Spirit-God”.
De is what some might call virtue or essence, but it is more that that. In studying a bit about this idea, I would maybe call De something like “good-soul” or “healthy-humanness” or “righteous-being-ness”. But all of these have the same problem. When I define something, I make it, at least for that moment, for that purpose, “definite”. I make it static. The thing about Tao and De, or The Way or the particular religion attributed to the Hebrews and Jesus, the Christ, is that they are all about movement. None are about forward “movements”, which is where religions and societies have often gone so very wrong, and why leaders like Jesus refused to be caught up in movements or what many would call “advancements”. Jesus knew that The Way is not progress but a yin and yang of past and present (“I come not to destroy The Law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). Lewis rightly points out that Jesus does not mean The Law as in the misunderstood rules that his own brand of religion had not only failed to follow but were now abusing to gain power and wealth. No, Jesus understood The Law to be what Lewis in many of his writings calls, The Natural Law or The Law of Nature or sometimes The Law of the Heart. In other words, there is a sort of set of rules that has existed within human beings since the beginning of our existence on earth and it is a set of rules about living well, living together, caring for the things that grow and live around us on the planet, and rules about being human that we go against to our own and to our species’ peril. The Law of Human Nature is as real as the Law of Gravity and just as destructive to disbelieve or to flagrantly test. (For more on this idea of what Lewis means by Natural Law, read the first chapters of Mere Christianity.)
True Tao is about ebb and flow. It is about constant movement, but not forward like a march, or passive like a sit-in. Living into The Way is about eyes wide open but it must also be about heart wide-open and hands-wide open. We must use our eyes, our senses, to seek in Nature and in other humans, that which is flowing, moving, changing “holy spirit”. We must read books, listen to podcasts, sit at the feet of rabbis or gurus, and meditate or pray in order to be taught and refreshed and to resume our active participation in The Way and to ourselves be “filled with holy spirit”. We must both participate in preparation for the journey and release ourselves from a static determining of where the journey will lead us. This is the yin and yang, the give and take, the less as more, and the last as the first and first as the last, of living as we were created to best live.
One intriguing passage on this idea of moving De or flowing Tao, is one that you won’t hear much from people who want their Bibles to stay static. In John 3:8, Jesus compares the De or Holy Spirit of God to a mercurial and uncontrollable wind, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are not meant to control God, nor people’s access to Him, and even if we think we are in control, or we fear losing control and so try to control others who do not believe as we do, we will find that where the Spirit Wind is blowing, one had better learn quickly how to stop being a stubborn stone and quickly, humbly become a kite or a sparrow.
Jesus came to show his disciples Tao, and in fact, he calls himself, as that uniquely human being who was Son of Man and Son of God, “The Tao”, or “The Way”. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims his philosophy of how to live as that of becoming one with the spirit of “living, flowing water”. In John 7:38, The Christ says clearly that the Tao of God is never to be made stationary or static and that, “Whoever believes in me, rivers of flowing water will flow from within them.” Not only is Jesus here pointing out that the new life he offers is like flowing water but that there is a yin and yang heart within his followers, a heart that flows from and a heart that flows within.
And so, I humbly submit, that anything worthy, anything really real, anything that will not only stand the Test of Time but perhaps the Test of Eternity, must be understood to be beyond the comprehension or theorems of even the most intelligent geniuses among us, beyond even the kindest most loving among us, beyond the most spiritual or religious among us, and beyond even the most strong, wealthy, beautiful, or creative among us. If living into Tao was even beyond The Christ to completely understand and beyond even his great abilities to completely explain to those who would desire to live as he did, then it is certainly beyond me. The Good News is, we do not have to understand everything — because we never will. The Good News is The Way can be found by all who seek.
The problem with anyone’s explaining and understanding, including my own feeble morsels of thought here, is that in the first place, a word on a page (any page, even a Biblical page or Dali Lama page or a page out of the Koran) is static. At the same time, a word out of someone’s mouth, is like a breath — once out, it is gone into the atmosphere and cannot be retrieved. This is why we call particularly meaningless words, “hot air” because they dissipate without leaving a trace of useful meaning or intent behind. It is also why the post-recorded words of gurus and rabbis and Messiahs that were only given to others orally, can not ever capture the complete meaning, but only the deep intent of those words once spoken, not written. It is easy to be caught up at this point in something very like cynicism or that of the eccliesiast when he proclaims all things on earth, “vanities of vanity” and all that human beings have, are, or have ever done, worth nothing more than a “vapor or a breath”. If someone has reached this point in life, I doubt very much they are still reading, nor that they have any desire to live a better, fuller, more meaningful life. And yet, The Holy Spirit, can fan an ember into a fire with one powerful breath. And yet, those of us who do seek Tao, De, The Way, Meaning, Essence — we must reach out our hands to those who sit on the shore in their cynicism with their stuff, or to those who are treading and afraid to go further and deeper, and we must reach out our hands especially to those who are determined to swim upstream or who are drowning. Because we are not truly in The River of Life, The Tao, if we think we can enjoy it or go it alone. So if you are someone who needs a lifeboat or lifeline today, reach out, and a Hand or some hands will appear. And if you are someone who has reached a point in the River because a Hand or many hands have helped you, reach out, and give someone else a helping hand.
My own best and surest source of spiritual guidance has this to say about living in The Way, following the De, and practicing and believing in Tao:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (The Tao of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah as set down in writing later in the book of Matthew, Chapter 7).
So, I ask myself (and perhaps you?):
· Am I content with floating down the wide, lazy river of life without meaningful purpose, lacking the virtues and good-soulness of De? Am I stuck on the shore, afraid to let the Current take me further from what I was? Is the wide gate of ever widening consumerism and self-centeredness what I believe to be best humanity has to offer? Am I willing to get wet, perhaps even to drown, for the joy of being fully in The River?
· Do I want to take, as Robert Frost might say, “the path less taken”? — knowing that I will be sometimes more alone, sometimes more unsure, but infinitely more alive to possibility, eternally curious to find what lies “in leaves no step has trodden black”; and faithfully, hopefully pursuing that which will “make all the difference”, today, and perhaps, even in eternity? Will I take Christ’s narrow path? Will I walk the tightrope of Tao?
· Am I aware of the ebb and flow of my own soul in this very moment? Can I allow the movement of the holy spirit that is alive in all things that are true to The Natural Law, the De, The Tao, to move within my own spirit and soul?
· Will I submit to a Power more strong than Reason that is alive in the Universe? Will I be consumed by a Love more real than any of my senses, more lasting than anything I have ever felt? Will I have faith in a Reality that is ever moving, but never changing?
· Will I seek, not in order to own, but in order to live more meaningfully? Will I journey not to succeed but to experience? Will I seek those things that one man described as so beyond, so “holy”, so true and right and spiritually human, that he calls them “things above meaning” (Colossians 3)? Will I seek a Tao that leads to that Reality beyond Reality, that is a fuller, deeper, real-er Life, and not live my life merely stockpiling stuff and ideas in order to fight the fears or numb my understanding of my inevitable death? Will I begin living the eternal life in the temporal confines of my body? Will I let today be enough and no more and to also be everything and always?
The Great Guru, Jesus, recommends that to find Tao, to live De, after so many centuries, is difficult, strange, almost counter-intuitive after so long of denying our intuitions of God-given virtue and wholeness. To live Tao, in this world, one must be “born again”. To be born again, daily, over and over again is to seek like a baby seeks. A baby reaches out her hands, not knowing what they will touch. A baby gazes at the world, smells the world, listens to the world, not caring to define what she sees, hears, or smells, but merely to experience it. Not everything a baby experiences is joyful or pleasant or happiness-inducing, but all that she experiences teaches her about the way human beings are meant to live. And there is nothing more true about all human beings ever born than that in the beginning, we all want to learn to live well. The only question that remains is: Do I still want to learn to live well? Or do I need to be born again?
My hope is that in any moment I can seek The Way, and that in this time granted to me today as gift, I will journey further in Tao. May I seek The Way without a static determination but rather with a hopeful joy in the journey.
The River of Life is something we are all born from, The Womb so to speak. But we do not all stay in that River. We have the free will to leave the River, and remain static on some foreign shore, foreign to the right way humans are meant to live. May I swim and float and rest and get help as needed, in the ever-flowing River of Life. I will be often buffeted, my flesh torn, afraid of the Thunder overhead and the lurking demons swimming below. And at other times I will find great, deep contentment, not in my accomplishments but in the sense that the River will hold me and that the River will never end. There will be times when I allow my soul the joy of peacefully floating in the holy spirit of True Universal Water, and there will be times I must swim hard against the current, battling my own lack of nerve or my own decaying virtue or rotting sensibilities. There are times that the virtues of the Water will seem faint or quaint, and I will need to fight my desire to vegetate and not meditate or activate. And there will be times when suddenly around the bend, I find an uncommon, unexpected fellow-swimmer, and we will help each other go further along and deeper in.
There will be many moments when I want to leave the River and build a nice little static mansion for myself on some passing and paltry kingdom’s shore. There will even be horribly selfish times that I myself help the Evil One dam up the River that wants to flow “from within” every human soul. There will be a lack of resources and many weaknesses that I wish I didn’t have, and I will mourn not being better prepared from my youth for the long, hard swim to reach the River’s End. I will survive by using the only words that are never static, the words:
For in “if” and the eternally unanswered “why”, there is the Tao, The Way. “If” — means there is an answering, “Then”. And to wonder “Why”, means there is a Someone who will one day answer “Because”. “However” means that I don’t need to know how I will get somewhere, I just need to take the next step. And the “buts” are the conditions that warn me, that there are other choices, “But” there is only One Way.
Seeking. Like becoming a baby again and again and again. To seek Tao is the only ever- fulfilling, ever-meaningful, ever-lasting journey. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
Here is my latest poem about changing the world, helping the environment and finding your inner imago Dei, or best spiritual (Loving!) self. You can read it by clicking on my name below and following it to the medium link under the title Dr Seussing It. Intriguing? I hope so. Thanks as always for reading. Jane
Lent is fast upon us which for me, among other things, means a time of practicing the intentional spiritual discipline of silence, not to escape although that is healthful sometimes too, but to find more strength to translate faith into action. Faith does not grow without action and action can not sustain us without faith.
This quote from the poet Christian Wiman says it convinct-ingly and beautifully:
“Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation. As with any translation, action is a mere echo of its original, inevitably faded and distorted, especially as it moves farther from its source. There the comparison ends, though, for while it is true that action degrades that original silence, and your moments of meditative communion with God can seem a world away from the chaotic human encounters to which those moments compel you, it is also true that without these constant translations into action, that original, sustaining silence begins to be less powerful, and then less accessible, and then finally impossible.” (Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss)
I am as in so many things, I guess, rather a weird, strange loner sort of “lent-practitioner”. Lent for me is not so much of a “church thing” as it is a life-thing.No one else in my family practices it and the people and friends I do have that may observe the season of Lent do so because it is their job to preach it or because they have done so all of their lives. I did not grow up practicing Lent, but I did grow up amongst the small farms intersected by straight rows of roads, farms that used to dot the Midwest of America like prayer books in pews. It was a place where people lived into Seasons. It was a place where people lived into the Seasons of their Protestant beliefs in the same way they lived into the seasons of the soil and the weather and their families.
The word “Lent”, means simply “Spring”. Spring, where I live today in SoCal, is not all that different than Fall or Winter. It is a little different than our hot, dry summers, but still, not so much. But just as it is everywhere on this wonderful globe, humans will celebrate (or groan about) seasons. And just as it is everywhere, Spring is a time when we feel a sense of anticipation. We are beings meant to be in tune with seasons. They are after all perfect metaphors for our very lives. Yoko Ono says of Life’s passing Seasons:
“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
Spring is that wonderful time when we feel innocent again, because the Winter has passed. Whether you find yourself in Southern California or Siberia or Paris or Kenya, Spring means youth, growth, planting, change, hope. Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
Spring is one of my favorite seasons because I love anticipation. I am one of those people who love the mysteries of the pregnant times. I am silently punishing of those who would reveal the ending before I have enjoyed all the chapters. I am “all in” during the preparation stages, and feel morosely depleted when it’s “all over”. Not everyone is like this, for instance my delightful mother never met a secret she wanted to keep or a gift she wanted to wait to open. We are, if embraced, a wonderful world of unique human beings. Remember when that thing went around where colors that you looked good in were assigned seasons? My age may say “Winter” but my heart is Spring.
Most of us lucky enough to live long enough miss the innocence of our youth. However, most of us also would admit that we don’t really want to stay children forever. To be the best human one can be, is to be purposeful, and that means to “grow-up” and grow-out. Just as the span of a person’s life is metaphorically marked by seasons, so too, is each year, and beyond that, for spiritually maturing adults, seasons are something we must determine, something internal and intentional. If I truly want to grow as a person with both sustaining faith and purposeful action, I can (and must) determine the seasons my soul needs consistently, perhaps daily, in order to expand, enlarge, and care for not only itself, but for others.
Growth means that we must continually go through all the seasons. The small farms of my youth or perhaps the plants now perking up your kitchen window provide the similes for how we were created to exist. Winter means dying to things that are useless and unhealthy. Spring means to anticipate, to nurture, to hope, to plan ahead. Summer is the time of reaping the harvest of one’s hope and faith. Autumn is the grateful sigh at the end of the hard work and when we share the bounty we have reaped.
We are growing some seeds in our kitchen right now. Today they lie in wait under faithfully wetted paper towels—little specks of dark brown that look like nothing more than useless dirt-freckles. But we know. We know what is possible with a little patience and a little faith in those small brownish seeds. We know because we have lived through Spring before. We have done the difficult work of digging at hard earth before. We have planted before. We have weeded before. We have watched in anticipation of small green shoots before. We have tasted the fruits of our work and waiting before. We have seen buds become bounty, before. Before it has been Spring and so we can, with hope, plant for what comes After.
Before, there is faith. After, there must be action. And then faith again. And then action again. As the poet-philosopher says truly, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose on this great planet, under the heavens.”
My practice of Lent is based on my own journey towards meaning. I have a particular and peculiar worldview that believes there is meaning beyond what I can see and taste today. I am a nobody, a little brownish dirt-freckle sitting hopefully on Life’s Counter, a human-seed still growing, but with barely enough faith to believe that somehow my small little self will be worth anything at all ever. But that is where my own kind of faith in the future and a germinating hope in the passing and renewing of Seasons comes in. One of the greatest humans who lived and a profound teacher on living, was one who said this about how we should live like seeds in a different way of understanding our world: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” ( Jesus in Matthew 13)
A person does not have to practice a religiously orchestrated season such as Lent, but all humans need to find the cleared paths through the fields, the tools to scythe the weeds, the seeds to nurture along and hide in the dark, rich earth; and the difficult but fulfilling work that can only be done by one’s own hands.
We all need to have faith that tomorrow, the seeds will grow into food or flowers. We all need to act on that faith. We may be the smallest of seeds, but as that great gardener of souls, Mother Teresa once said, “not all of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.”
As Christian Wiman says, faith untranslated into action, are like seeds that stay forever dormant. But action without faith, which is really just another word for Love, will never feed our own souls nor nourish the needy of this world.
If we are the seeds, then faith is the compost, hope is the water, and Love is the Sunshine.
We must create often and intentionally seasons of dormancy, with the anticipation and hope that the rains and sunshine and rich loam will be provided.
We are all different kinds of seeds, unique in our needs and our growth patterns. Just like plants, we all have different requirements, different looks, different attributes, different gifts to the world, and different ways of finding nourishment to grow. But we all have seasonal needs and, hopefully, we all can still find within our small selves, a desire to resist remaining dormant and to seek growth and enlarge our souls and give something meaningful to others. I may grow from a religiously orchestrated Lenten observance. You may grow from a hike up Mt. Kailesh or a sabbatical from your job. Some of us grow into flowers that, as love does, give beauty and solace to others; and some of us grow into broccoli or cabbage that can, as truth may do, purge some of the poop out of the world. But all of us need the same basic things in order to grow to maturity, We all need a little faith, a little hope, a little usefulness, and a whole lot of love.
What we need to grow and to act and to keep believing, will come from what as seeds, we already have within ourselves, and as plants, from what we must partake of from without ourselves. And just as the seasons turn round and round, all will come in due time. But to riff on that old idiom, if we are to bloom where we are planted, we must live with purpose and hope into all the seasons that this very day may take us.
For me, purposefully planting seasons of giving up and letting go within my soul, spiritual germination tactics, if you will, is like becoming a small mustard seed. Then, in hope, I wait for that which with a little sunshine and a little rain, a little faith and a little love, will grow into something large enough, something active enough, something as big as a tree enough, and something as nourishingly truthful and caringly loving enough, so that others may find room and love in which to nest.
Hello friends, you can read my latest by simply clicking on my name in the picture below. It is about universal truth, no matter where you find yourself in the journey today. I hope you will check it out and have a “salty” and “sweet” day. — Jane