Reflections on journeys: identity, name and personhood at the border during times of change and passage

We know what we are, but not what we may be. ― William Shakespeare

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free. ― Ralph Ellison

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ― Mahatma Gandhi

He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. ― Gabriel García Márquez

We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men… We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name. — Maya Angelou

Identity. It’s always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

SONGS about NAME & IDENTITY:

Songs about the Names of God:

Please Call Me By My True Names— Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Lullaby Neil Gaiman

Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…

Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure …

Face your life
Its pain,
Its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.

A Star Without a Name  – Rumi

When a baby is taken from the wet nurse,
it easily forgets her
and starts eating solid food.

Seeds feed awhile on ground,
then lift up into the sun.

So you should taste the filtered light
and work your way toward wisdom
with no personal covering.

That’s how you came here, like a star
without a name. Move across the night sky
with those anonymous lights.

NAME & IDENTITY

What’s in a name? — Shakespeare

I realize then that it’s not enough to know what someone is called. You have to know who they are. ― Gayle Forman

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. —  Maya Angelou

I am out with lanterns, looking for myself. ― Emily Dickinson

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will. ― Charlotte Brontë

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better. ― Chuck Palahniuk

I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. ― Audre Lorde

Each person you meet is an aspect of yourself, clamoring for love. ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

Feelings are something you have; not something you are. ― Shannon L. Alder

I am not one and simple, but complex and many. ― Virginia Woolf

It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story. ― Patrick Rothfuss

We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are. ― Madeleine L’Engle

What we know matters but who we are matters more. ― Brené Brown

The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings. ― Rachel Held Evans

Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.—  Theodore Roosevelt

Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; Each to his passion; what’s in a name? — Helen Hunt Jackson

Action without a name, a ‘who’ attached to it, is meaningless. — St. Jerome

It is easier to live through someone else than to complete yourself. The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if you have never faced it before. It is frightening when a woman finally realizes that there is no answer to the question ‘who am I’ except the voice inside herself. ― Betty Friedan

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence. ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble. — Charles Spurgeon

WHO DO THEY SAY I AM? – MESSIAH: Commentary

“Messiah comes from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, meaning “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one.” In Old Testament times, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed by oil when they were set apart for these positions of responsibility. The anointing was a sign that God had chosen them and consecrated them for the work He had given them to do. Christos (Christ) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah...” — BibleInfo.com

“Indeed, in Scripture, no two people encounter Jesus in exactly the same way. Not once does anyone pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” or ask Jesus into their heart. The good news is good for the whole world, certainly, but what makes it good varies from person to person and community to community. Liberation from sin looks different for the rich young ruler than it does for the woman caught in adultery. The good news that Jesus is the Messiah has a different impact on John the Baptist, a Jewish prophet, than it does the Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile and outsider. Salvation means one thing for Mary Magdalene, first to witness the resurrection, and another to the thief who died next to Jesus on a cross. The gospel is like a mosaic of stories, each one part of a larger story, yet beautiful and truthful on its own. There’s no formula, no blueprint.” ― Rachel Held Evans

“The idea that a human being–the Messiah–will help usher in the redemption of the Jewish people has roots in the Bible. However, Jewish sources have not, as a general rule, focused attention on the specific personal qualities of the Messiah. Images of the Messiah as humble or as a child are juxtaposed with images of a victorious and wise ruler–perhaps contrasting Israel’s current, unredeemed state and the prophetic vision of the future. In recent times, some Jews have “democratized” the concept of the Messiah, seeing the process of, or the preparation for, redemption in the actions of regular people.” — My Jewish Learning: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/who-is-the-messiah/

In Abrahamic religions, a messiah (… lit. ’the anointed one’) is a saviour or liberator of a group of people. The concepts of mashiach, messianism, and of a Messianic Age originated in Judaism, and in the Hebrew Bible, in which a mashiach is a king or High Priest traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil. Ha mashiach (… ‘the Messiah’), often referred to as melekh mashiachמל (…’King Messiah’) is to be a Jewish leader, physically descended from the paternal Davidic line through King David and King Solomon. He is thought to accomplish predetermined things in a future arrival, including the unification of the tribes of Israel, the gathering of all Jews to Eretz Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the ushering in of a Messianic Age of global universal peace, and the annunciation of the world to come
     Messiahs were not exclusively Jewish, however, and the concept of ‘the’ Messiah as a single individual is a strictly post-Biblical tradition as it is not found in the Old Testament.
     The Greek translation of Messiah is Khristós … anglicized as Christ. Christians commonly refer to Jesus of Nazareth as either the “Christ” or the “Messiah”, believing that the messianic prophecies were fulfilled in the mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus and that he will return to fulfill the rest of messianic prophecies. Moreover, unlike the Judaic concept of the Messiah, Jesus Christ is additionally considered by Christians to be the Son of God.
     In Islam, Jesus (… romanized: Isa) is held to have been a prophet and the Messiah sent to the Israelites, who will return to Earth at the end of times … — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah

What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every “thing” in the universe? The Christ Mystery anoints all physical matter with eternal purpose from the very beginning. The word translated from the Greek as Christ comes from the Hebrew word mesach, meaning “the anointed” one or Messiah. He reveals that all is anointed! Many people are still praying and waiting for something that has already been given to us three times: first in creation; second in Jesus… (1 John 1–2); and third, in the ongoing beloved community (what Christians call the Body of Christ), which is slowly evolving throughout all of human history (Romans 8:18). We are still in the Flow. All of us take part in the evolving, universe-spanning Christ Mystery. Jesus is a map for the time-bound and personal level of life; Christ is the blueprint for all time and space and life itself. Both reveal the universal pattern of self-emptying and infilling (Christ) and death and resurrection (Jesus), which is the process humans have called “holiness,” “salvation,” or “growth.” … — Richard Rohr, more info: https://cac.org/another-name-for-every-thing-2019-02-12/

“Christians have claimed from their beginnings that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures…Jesus did not replace or deny the expectations of a messiah previously told …Isaiah 9:2-7 is a well-known oracle, a divine utterance…that uses four royal titles…As we ponder the use of those titles … two things become clear. First, in the witness to Jesus by the early Christians in the New Testament, they relied heavily on Old Testament ‘anticipations’ of the coming Messiah. But second, Jesus did not fit those ‘anticipations’ very well, such that a good deal of interpretive imagination was required in order to negotiate the connection between the anticipation and the actual bodily, historical reality of Jesus.
        The oracle of Isaiah 9:2-7 is well known among us because of Handel’s Messiah. The oracle did not anticipate or predict Jesus. There is no doubt that it pertained to the eighth century BCE, the time of Isaiah the prophet. While the oracle might have been utilized to announce and celebrate the birth of a new royal prince in Jerusalem, namely Hezekiah, it is more probable that it pertained to the coronation of the new king.”  — Walter Brueggemann, Names for the Messiah

“Jesus was not the powerful or effective Messiah that the Jews hoped for—or that Christians seem to want, for that matter. … The revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus forever redefines what success and winning mean—and it is not what any of us wanted or expected. On the cross, God is revealed as vulnerability itself (the Latin word vulnera means woundedness). That message is hard to miss, but we turned the cross into a transaction and so missed its transformative message for humanity.” — Richard Rohr, more info: https://cac.org/redefining-success-2017-07-31/

“Instead of bringing about the onset of redemption, messiah will herald its completion. The actual work of redeeming the world is turned to us in history, and is done by all of us, day by day. Messiah has been waiting in the wings, as it were, since the very beginning of history, ready to come forth when the time is right. According to one legend, he sits among the lepers at the gates of Rome–today we would be likely to find him in an AIDS hospice–tending to their wounds. Only when redemption is about to be completed will messiah be allowed to arrive. Rather than messiah redeeming us, we redeem messiah.” – Rabbi Arthur Green

WHO DO THEY SAY I AM? – SON of … MAN? GOD? Commentary

BibleProject:

“While the title “the Son of man” is always, except once, applied by Jesus to Himself, “the Son of God” is never applied by Jesus to Himself in the Synoptists. When, however, it is applied to Him by others, He accepts it in such a way as to assert His claim to it. Now and then He Himself employs the abbreviated form, “the Son,” with the same intention; and He often speaks of God as “the Father” or “my Father” or “my Father who is in heaven” in such a manner as to betray the consciousness that He is the Son of God.” — more info: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/son-of-god-the/

“Though the Bible does not define its exact meaning, the title “Son of Man” probably refers to the fact that Jesus was perfect humanity. He, as God, came down and lived among us as the perfect human being. By doing this, He fulfilled the Law of Moses and did what no other human being was able to do. By using this title, He is identifying with the people He had come to save.
     … The title “Son of Man” was a designation for the Messiah. The Book of Daniel predicted that the Son of Man would inherit God’s everlasting kingdom … When Jesus was on trial and was asked if He were the Messiah, He referred to this prediction.” — Blue Letter Bible, more info: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_793.cfm

“Although Jesus is called the “Son of God” we also find this term applied to humans and angels. The term “son of God” is applied to the first man Adam, angels, Israel, those who make peace, and Christians… The Bible often uses the word “son” to mean, “possessing the nature of,” or, “on the order of…  Jesus possesses the same nature of God… God the Father, the angel Gabriel, His own disciples, the Apostle Paul, and even the demons acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. Although Adam, angels, Israel, peacemakers, and Christians are all called “sons of God” the Scripture designates Jesus as the unique Son of God. He possesses the same nature as the Father – God. However He is not a literal offspring for He has existed for all eternity. The Bible often uses the word “son” in the sense of “possessing the nature of.” Jesus is the “Son” of God in this sense- possessing the nature of God. The title “Son” does not, in any way, suggest the Son if inferior to the Father. — Blue Letter Bible:
https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_220.cfm


“Who is this Son of Man? Jon asks if it’s a physical child. Tim explains that it’s actually biblical imagery to depict a class of being. This is a “son” similar to the “sons of the prophets/Elijah” depicted in the Old Testament. Tim says the point of the vision is that Daniel represents a summary of the future hope of the Hebrew Bible, and it envisions the coming of God’s Kingdom as the coming of a human figure (“a son of humanity”), who will sit beside God, share in his rule over the beasts (remember the plural “thrones”), and receive worship from all nations.
     … Tim says that the Christian claim of God existing “three in one” and the divine complexity is a thoroughly Jewish idea, but Jews have long debated who the actual “Son of Man” is. Tim says there’s a ancient Jewish author called Ezekiel the Tragedian, who believed that the vision of Daniel’s Son of Man was actually referring to Moses. Tim also says that it’s clear that the New Testament authors believed Jesus is the Son of Man, and they combine all of God’s attributes (word, spirit, wisdom, etc) with the idea of a human being elevated to God’s status.” The Bible Project, https://bibleproject.com/podcast/theme-god-e14-who-son-man/

“Tim outlines the historical path of Jesus. He says that within Jewish culture, Jesus stands unique. For example, in early Christian culture, there were hymns singing songs of praise to Jesus, not just about Jesus. Christians can “praise the name of Jesus” and Paul can use the phrase “maranatha,” which means “our Lord come” in Aramaic. Tim says the point is that Paul can write to a Hebrew or Greek audience with an Aramaic phrase and have it apparently make sense. The significance is that what Jews would have said about Yahweh––“our Lord come”––Christians were then saying about Jesus in Paul’s letters. Tim says that by doing this you are essentially equating Jesus to Yahweh … Tim lays out more accounts of Jesus and says that Jesus positions himself as “Yahweh returning” from the Old Testament. For example in Mark 1:1-3 …“Lord” here is in Greek (kurios), the Greek Septuagint translation of “Yahweh.”… So In Mark 1:9, we’re introduced to Jesus as ‘kurios’.” — The Bible Project: https://bibleproject.com/podcast/theme-god-e15-jesus-god/

Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” 88 times in the New Testament. In fact, Son of Man is the primary title Jesus used when referring to Himself (e.g., Matthew 12:32; 13:37; Luke 12:8; John 1:51). The only use of Son of Man in a clear reference to Jesus, spoken by someone other than Jesus, came from the lips of Stephen as he was being martyred (Acts 7:56).”
      Son of Man is a title of humanity. Other titles for Christ, such as Son of God, are overt in their focus on His deity. Son of Man, in contrast, focuses on the humanity of Christ. God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times… Son of man is simply a … term for “human.” Jesus Christ was truly a human being. He came “in the flesh” (1 John 4:2).
      Son of Man is a title of humility. The Second Person of the Trinity, eternal in nature, left heaven’s glory and took on human flesh, becoming the Son of Man, born in a manger and “despised and rejected by mankind” (Isaiah 53:3). The Son of Man had “no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The Son of Man ate and drank with sinners (Matthew 11:19). The Son of Man suffered at the hands of men (Matthew 17:12). This intentional lowering of His status from King of Heaven to Son of Man is the epitome of humility (see Philippians 2:6–8).
      Son of Man is a title of deity. Ezekiel may have been a son of man, but Jesus is the Son of Man. As such, Jesus is the supreme example of all that God intended mankind to be, the embodiment of truth and grace (John 1:14). In Him “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). For this reason, the Son of Man was able to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). The Son of Man came to save lives (Luke 9:56; 19:10), rise from the dead (Mark 9:9), and execute judgment (John 5:27). …
Son of Man is a fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ claim before the high priest to be the Son of Man was a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13–14 … Daniel saw glory, worship, and an everlasting kingdom given to the Messiah—here called the “Son of Man”—and Jesus applied this prophecy to Himself. …   
— more info: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Son-of-Man.html

“While to the common mind “the Son of man” is a title designating the human side of our Lord’s person, “the Son of God” seems as obviously to indicate the divine side. But scholarship cannot take this for granted; and, indeed, it requires only a hasty glance at the facts to bring this home even to the general reader, because in Scripture the title is bestowed on a variety of persons for a variety of reasons. First, it is applied to angels, as when in Job 2:1 it is said that “the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh”; they may be so called because they are the creatures of God’s hands or because, as spiritual beings, they resemble God, who is a spirit. Secondly, in Luke 3:38 it is applied to the first man; and from the parable of the Prodigal Son it may be argued that it is applicable to all men. Thirdly, it is applied to the Hebrew nation, as when, in Exodus 4:22, Yahweh says to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, my first-born,” the reason being that Israel was the object of Yahweh’s special love and gracious choice. Fourthly, it is applied to the kings of Israel, as representatives of the chosen nation. Thus, in 2 Samuel 7:14, Yahweh says of Solomon, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son”; and, in Psalms 2:7, the coronation of a king is announced in an oracle from heaven, which says, “Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” Finally, in the New Testament, the title is applied to all saints, as in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When the title has such a range of application, it is obvious that the Divinity of Christ cannot be inferred from the mere fact that it is applied to Him.” — more info:  https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/son-of-god-the/

The Gospels often call Jesus the Son of God. Mark’s Gospel especially favors this term, noting Jesus as divine via His relationship with God the Father. In Matthew 15:15-16, Peter acknowledged Jesus as the son of the living God, a view Jesus affirmed as correct. John 3:16 also famously refers to Jesus as God’s only begotten Son.” — more info:https://www.compellingtruth.org/Jesus-Son-of-God.html

The New Testament also often refers to Jesus as the Son of Man. Matthew’s Gospel especially favors this phrase, using it more than thirty times. This title highlights both His humanity as well as His fulfillment as the Son of Man predicted in the Old Testament, especially Daniel 7:13-14 related to the coming Messiah.” — more info: https://www.compellingtruth.org/Jesus-Son-of-Man.html

Asking, seeking, knocking … beyond binaries and either/or scenarios … the door, the gate, the Way, the narrow path is love. Themes from Matthew 7.

This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?” but “what am I looking for?” I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” — Rachel Held Evans

Why are you knocking at every door? Go, knock at the door of your own heart. — Rumi

On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? — C.S. Lewis

The moment we begin to seek out love, love begins to seek us out. And to save us. — Paulo Coelho

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Contextually speaking, love is the narrow gate. — Jayson Bradley

We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul, simply because we are not ready. Our task is to refine our hearts and minds. There is so much blessing and beauty near us that is destined for us, and yet it cannot enter our lives because we are not ready to receive it. The handle is on the inside of the door; only we can open it. Our lack of readiness is often caused by blindness, fear, and lack of self-appreciation. When we are ready, we will be blessed. — John O’Donohue

SONGS about KNOCKING & ASKING:

Resource for more listening and studying: Podcast about Ask and You Will Receive (from BibleProject)


Blessing the Door — Jan Richardson (link to poem)

First let us say / a blessing
upon all who have / entered here before / us.

You can see the sign / of their passage / by the worn place
where their hand rested / on the doorframe
as they walked through, / the smooth sill
of the threshold / where they crossed.

Press your ear / to the door
for a moment before / you enter

and you will hear / their voices murmuring
words you cannot / quite make out
but know / are full of welcome.

On the other side / these ones who wait—
for you, / if you do not / know by now—
understand what / a blessing can do

how it appears like / nothing you expected

how it arrives as / visitor,
outrageous invitation, / child;

how it takes the form / of angel / or dream

how it comes / in words like
How can this be? / and lifted up the lowly;

how it sounds like / in the wilderness / prepare the way.

Those who wait / for you know
how the mark of / a true blessing
is that it will take you / where you did not / think to go.

Once through this door / there will be more:
more doors / more blessings
more who watch and / wait for you

but here / at this door of / beginning
the blessing cannot / be said without you.

So lay your palm / against the frame
that those before you / touched

place your feet / where others paused / in this entryway.

Say the thing that / you most need
and the door will / open wide

and by this word / the door is blessed
and by this word / the blessing is begun
from which / door by door
all the rest / will come.

Text from which we’re drawing this week’s themes: MATTHEW 7: 7-14

Ask, Seek, Knock
– ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’

‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’

The Golden Rule – In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’

The Narrow Gate –  ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

REVELATION 3:20
 
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

COMMENTARY on ENTERING through the NARROW GATE

It’s a life long “finding,” of surrendering to the process of God at work in us. But WE choose that posture of surrender. We choose to open the gate and walk upon the narrow road. And really, what other choice is there to make? —Elisabeth Elliott (full article)

Do for others what you wish others would do for you. Do you want to be treated with respect? Respect others. Do you expect compassion and the benefit of the doubt? Extend it to others. Do you want to be served? Serve others. He then tells us this one principle sums up the entire Old Testament. … Contextually speaking, love is the narrow gate ... All the destruction, pain and turmoil in life comes from our inability to put others first. Love leads to life, both here and in the world to come. —Jayson Bradley, Patheos (full article)

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation, the mystery we’re examining, more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites, and sometimes forces, the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way…. This is when you need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening your controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” … In moments of insecurity and crisis, shoulds and oughts don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep yesses that carry us through. It’s that deeper something we are strongly for that allows us to wait it out. — Richard Rohr (full article)

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries. Now you see why it is so rare and, in fact, “the narrow road that few walk on” … The only way you can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing your own compulsive mental grids—your practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything… When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul. — Richard Rohr (full article)

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside. — Rumi

ON KNOCKING at DOORS
 
If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you’re sure to wake someone up. — Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother Christ is knocking at the door. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Go to your bosom: Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know. — William Shakespeare

Even when opportunity knocks, a man still has to get up off his seat and open the door. — Douglas MacArthur

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Proverb (attributed to Milton Berle)

A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks. — Oscar Wilde

The most sacred invitation that a person can extend to us is to invite us into their pain. But that means that we have to choose to knock on a door that we often prefer to pretend is not there. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Rain puts a hole in stone because of its constancy, not its force. Just keep knocking on doors until the right one opens — Joseph Gerber

Opportunity may knock only once but temptation leans on the door bell — Oprah Winfrey

The first time when I was organizing, I went out and started knocking on doors to see if people were registered to vote. I was a door knocker. I didn’t even have the confidence that I could register people, so I just was out there door knocking. That was my first experience. — Dolores Huerta

Guest House — Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

SEEKING

Love seeks only one thing: the good of the loved. It leaves all other secondary effects to take care of themselves. There, love is its own reward. — Thomas Merton

There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself. ― Lemony Snicket

I go to seek a Great Perhaps. That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.― John Green

And I shall seek you endlessly, for
I am a moth, and you’re my flame
Knowing that I’ll burn at your touch
I return, for you’re a fire; untamed …
― Zubair Ahsan

…there was no point in sighing after what I could not have. It only distracted me from what I did have. ― Robin Hobb

Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable. ― Albert Camus

Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner. ― Anne Rice

Thus Gotama [Buddha] walked toward the town to gather alms, and the two samanas recognized him solely by the perfection of his repose, by the calmness of his figure, in which there was no trace of seeking, desiring, imitating, or striving, only light and peace. ― Hermann Hesse

WHEN TRUTH KNOCKS: Buddhist Story

A young widower was devoted to his little son. But while he was away on business, the whole village was burned to the ground by bandits, who also kidnapped the little boy. When the father returned and found only ruins, he was utterly heartbroken. He thought that the charred remains of a little child were of his son, so he organized a full cremation, collected the ashes, and carried them with him always in a special bag.
     One day, his son managed to escape from the bandit kidnappers and made his way back to his home. In the meantime, his father had rebuilt the house. When the little boy arrived late one night, he knocked on the door. His father, kneeling at the altar he had made to memorialize his son called out, “Who’s there?”
     “It’s me, your son; please papa, let me in!”
     The father, still burdened by his grief thought this must be some wretched boy making fun of his grieving and shouted out, “Go away! Leave me alone! My son is dead!”
     The boy knocked again and again, calling for his father to open the door and let him in. The father, refusing to answer the door kept calling out, “Go away! Leave me alone!” And at last, the boy gave up and went away, never to return again.
     After he had told this story, the Buddha added: “If you cling to an idea as the unalterable truth, then when the truth comes and knocks on your door, you will not be able to open the door and accept it.”
Udana Sutta

COMMENTARY on KNOCKING & ASKING

The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother Christ is knocking at the door. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It seems to me that Jesus’ words are a clear directive. Ask, Jesus says. Seek. Knock.
     And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond … To me. To you. To, oh, anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.
     The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a “Pardon me, but I don’t get it.” Or “Really, God? Can you explain further?” Or “I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me.”
     I suspect … that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking …
     … questions fall out all over the place, raw and beautiful in their authenticity … making people uncomfortable – or giddy … the way we engage our conversations may be more important than our conclusions, for if we abandon love, kindness, forbearance and gentleness in favor of fear, self-righteousness and anger, what have we gained with a mere conclusion? And the second thing she said is I wonder if we trust Jesus to be enough?
     …. “What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?” And I thought, by God, if this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that.
     Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.
     I used to prefer for God to live in a box. Neat and tidy. Quiet and nice. Now my life is full of questions. It’s messier and louder, more disruptive and fulfilling, than I imagined. And I? I can finally breathe. — Betth Woolsey (full article)

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
     … He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?    
     … Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent — non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it frankly, we don’t ask for Him?
     … And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually come to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help … Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. — C.S. Lewis (article)

Mystery is what happens to us when we allow life to evolve rather than having to make it happen all the time. It is the strange knock at the door, the sudden sight of an unceremoniously blooming flower, an afternoon in the yard, a day of riding the midtown bus. Just to see. Just to notice. Just to be there. There is something holy-making about simply presuming that what happens to us in any given day is sent to awaken our souls to something new: another smell, a different taste, a moment when we allow ourselves to lock eyes with a stranger, to smile a bit, to nod our heads in greeting. Who knows? Maybe one of those things will open us to the refreshing memory of pain, a poignant reminder of glory, a breathless moment of astonishment, a sense of the presence of God in life. — Sr Joan Chittister (full article)

ASKING

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Brene Brown

Ask for help. Not because you are weak. But because you want to remain strong. — Les Brown

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. — Warren Berger

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

Ask me not what I have, but what I am. — Heirnrich Heine

… Ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now? — James Allen

You get in life what you have the courage to ask for. — Oprah Winfrey

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. — Deepak Chopra

To ask the right question is harder than to answer it. — Georg Cantor

Contrary to some common assumptions, Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man, but more like the Great Questioner. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings. In fact, for every question he answers directly he asks—literally—a hundred. Jesus is the Question considers the questions Jesus asks—what they tell us about Jesus and, more important, what our responses might say about what it means to follow Him. Through Jesus’ questions, he modeled the struggle, the wondering, the thinking it through that helps us draw closer to God and better understand, not just the answer, but ourselves, our process and ultimately why questions are among Jesus’ most profound gifts for a life of faith. — Martin Copenhaver

Lenten meditation on “I Am” as Way, Journey, Life: themes for PALM SUNDAY including pilgrimage, arrival/departure, companionship, and joy in the shadow of death.


Texts for this week include Psalm 118 and Matthew 21, as well as “I am the way, the truth and the life” from Gospel of John.

Questions to Consider: Questions raised up in commentary on Palm Sunday from Jan Richardson:

  • Are we allowing ourselves to be swept along by circumstances, traveling our road by default?
  • Or are we seeking to walk with intention and discernment, creating our path with some measure of the courage and clarity by which Christ walked his, even in the midst of forces that may lie beyond our control?

And from a different commentary by Jan Richardson:

  • I find myself wondering, what is the way that I am preparing … Am I clearing a path by which [Christ/Holy Love] has access to my life?
  • Am I keeping my eyes open to the variety of guises that Christ continues to wear in our world?
  • What am I lifting up, that God might come down and dance with me?

Songs About Pilgrimage, Companionship, Joy in the Presence of Death: Palm Sunday Themes

Opening Thoughts

To feel the pull, the draw, the interior attraction, and to want to follow it, even if it has no name still, that is the “pilgrim spirit.” The “why” only becomes clear as time passes, only long after the walking is over. ― Kevin A. Codd

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. ― Anne Lamott

When you’re in the day-to-day grind, it just seems like it’s another step along the way. But I find joy in the actual process, the journey, the work. It’s not the end. It’s not the end event. — Cal Ripken, Jr.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. — Mevlana Rumi

And this is it. This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of  it…all of  it is completely worth it. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

Little Gidding (excerpt) — TS Eliot
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time …

Renga with Kate (excerpt) Eric Overby,
There’s no better place
Than in each moment with you
Traveling through life
Regardless of place and time,
Or seasons and location …

On Pilgrimage

With the right attitude, any journey to a sacred place becomes a pilgrimage. — Dalai Lama

Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. — CS Lewis

It’s funny how you doubt yourself through & through, when the sun & the moon are parabolically on a pilgrimage, encircling the mecca of you. ― Curtis Tyrone Jones

There is a time for stillness, for waiting for Christ as he makes his dancing way toward us. And there is a time to be in motion, to set out on a path, knowing that although God is everywhere, and always with us, we sometimes need a journey in order to meet God—and ourselves—anew. — Jan Richardson No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement. We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time … The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

My ideal journey: set out early and never arrive. ― Marty Rubin

No pilgrimage is holier than compassion, no gospel is truer than kindness, no offering is grander than love. ― Abhijit Naskar

I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right. ― Anne Lamott

That very fast train reminds me that, as a pilgrim, travel is made holy in its slowness. I see things that neither the passengers of the train nor the drivers of the automobiles see. I feel things that they will never feel. I have time to ponder, imagine, daydream. I tire. I thirst. In my slow walking, I find me. ― Kevin A. Codd

My prayer is my pilgrimage. ― Lailah Gifty Akita

Pilgrimage: to journey to a sacred place. Pilgrim: a traveller or wanderer, a stranger in a foreign place. Crusaders: pilgrims with swords who attempted to conquer the Middle East. Hajj: the journey to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam. Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, Hajj. Pleasant, perhaps, to say that I am a pilgrim … who isn’t a … pilgrim anyway? ― Claire North

The pilgrimage provided a sense of purpose … calmed what was restless within me, and … I noticed how the minutes slowed and the silence assembled, until the days were worth more than they had been before. ― Guy Stagg

The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. Many believe a pilgrimage is about going away but it isn’t; it is about coming home. Those who choose to go on pilgrimage have already ventured away from themselves; and now set out in a longing to journey back to who they are.  … Yet we do not need to go to the edges of the earth to learn who we are, only the edges of ourself. ― L.M. Browning

Mountains have long been a geography for pilgrimage, place where people have been humbled and strengthened, they are symbols of the sacred center. Many have traveled to them in order to find the concentrated energy of Earth and to realize the strength of unimpeded space. Viewing a mountain at a distance or walking around its body we can see its shape, know its profile, survey its surrounds. The closer you come to the mountain the more it disappears, the mountain begins to lose its shape as you near it, its body begins to spread out over the landscape losing itself to itself. On climbing the mountain the mountain continues to vanish. It vanishes in the detail of each step, its crown is buried in space, its body is buried in the breath. On reaching the mountain summit we can ask, “What has been attained?” – The top of the mountain? Big view? But the mountain has already disappeared. Going down the mountain we can ask, “What has been attained?” Going down the mountain the closer we are to the mountain the more the mountain disappears, the closer we are to the mountain the more the mountain is realized. Mountain’s realization comes through the details of the breath, mountain appears in each step. Mountain then lives inside our bones, inside our heart-drum. It stands like a huge mother in the atmosphere of our minds. Mountain draws ancestors together in the form of clouds. Heaven, Earth and human meet in the raining of the past. Heaven, Earth and human meet in the winds of the future. Mountain mother is a birth gate that joins the above and below, she is a prayer house, she is a mountain. Mountain is a mountain.
― Joan Halifax

None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.
― Frédéric Gros

On Companions
Interrelationship – Thich Nhat Hanh  You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.


And for all that walk in the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose … But I count you blessed … for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions … — J.R.R. Tolkien

Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something, together, are companions. — C.S. Lewis

Is he alone who has courage on his right hand and faith on his left hand? ― Charles A. Lindbergh

… is it any wonder that we find comfort and solace in hairy, furry, and scaly companions? ― Nick Trout

People will walk in and walk out of your life, but the one whose footstep made a long lasting impression is the one you should never allow to walk out. ― Michael Bassey Johnson

Death is our constant companion, and it is death that gives each person’s life its true meaning. ― Paulo Coelho

I have no companion but Love, no beginning, no end, no dawn. The Soul calls from within me: ‘You, ignorant of the way of Love, set Me free.’ — Rumi

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
― Mary Oliver

On Arrival & Departure

Go. The word is my last and most beautiful gift. ― Anne Fall

If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong. ― Masaru Emoto

Well, my friends give me purple flowers and orange tea
and goosedown spinning quilts and torquoise chairs
we greet one another in a wild profusion of words
and wave farewell amidst the wonderment of air
In the laughing times we know we are lucky
In the quiet times we know that we are blessed
And we will not be alone.
― Dar Williams

What we’re searching for will determine where we arrive, or if we arrive. And right in the middle of such risky choices  … God perfectly solving the problem by showing us what to search for and then bringing it to us. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

You must clear out what you don’t want, to make room for what you do want to arrive. ― Bryant McGill

That (labyrinth)…became a world whose rules I lived by, and I understood the moral of mazes: sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one. After that careful walking and looking down, the stillness was deeply moving…It was breathtaking to realize that in the labyrinth, metaphors and meanings could be conveyed spatially. That when you seem farthest from your destination is when you suddenly arrive is a very pat truth in words, but a profound one to find with your feet. ― Rebecca Solnit

To have no more running to do … to have arrived, and have no more need to run. The appetite changes. Now I think it would be a beautiful thing to be still. ― Ellis Peters

I wanted to say goodbye to someone, and have someone say goodbye to me. The goodbyes we speak and the goodbyes we hear are the goodbyes that tell us we´re still alive. ― Stephen King

Looking back I can see that there have been no breaks from one departure to the next; I start planning again before we’ve even arrived back home. ― Barbara Hodgson

Arrival in the world is really a departure and that, which we call departure, is only a return. ― Dejan Stojanovic

It is odd how, when you have announced that you are leaving, it is as if you are already gone, even if your physical departure still lies months away. ― Paul Watkins

You know, even when we leave a place, we leave our memories there and they will represent us in our absence! So, in reality, we will always continue to be in every place we depart! ― Mehmet Murat ildan

On Joy

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself. — Tecumseh

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. — Eleonora Duse

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. — Buddha

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. — William Arthur Ward

Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul. — Maria Montessori

Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy. — Mahatma Gandhi

For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. — Joseph Campbell

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few. — Brene Brown

Joy is the serious business of Heaven. — C. S. Lewis

The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse. — Helen Keller

Reflections on gratitude as a spiritual practice: final week of Taste & See series

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. ― Rumi

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. ― Melody Beattie

PRAYER

O my Great Elder, I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts … when I look upon your greatness, I am confounded with awe. O Great Elder, Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly, I am … ready to act in accordance with your will.
— Excerpted from Kikuya Prayer (Kenya)

Savoring the Small Stuff: Ordinary Gratitude as Spiritual Practice  (excerpt from full article) — Carl Gregg
 … ways that we can be more intentional about noticing and responding to the parts of our lives for which we are most (and least) grateful. I. Noticing… What do you tend to notice in your daily life? And why? … we could notice at any given time — different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, or emotions — but our personalities shape what stands out to us and what fades into the background … you can amplify the power of this practice — and keep yourself accountable to regularly noticing what you are grateful for — by making a commitment to share your daily gratitude (or gratitudes) with someone else, whether it is a child, a partner, or a friend.

II. The Awareness Examen

… one of the most consistently helpful ways … is a practice called the Awareness Examen … It helps you weigh the value of various aspects of your life. The examen was first detailed by Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Jesuits … shorter and more accessible book by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn called Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. In short, the examen encourages you to respond to two questions at the end of each day either around the dinner table with your family or silently before you go to sleep: … you can ask “What am I most grateful for today?” and “What am I least grateful for today?” Over time, to add nuance, you can ask variations on your consolations such as, “Where did I feel most connected, most alive, most energized, or most loved?” Correspondingly, you can ask “Where did I feel most isolated, most enervated, or most taken for granted?”

… And as you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel connected, alive, energized, and loved, the invitation is to find ways to cultivate more of that person, place, or activity in your life. … As you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel isolated, enervated, or taken for granted, an invitation is to consider if you should find ways to have less of that person, place, or activity in your life.

III. The Spiritual Practice of Savoring

This practice of noticing and choosing what is life-affirming over what is life-negating can seem particularly simple or obvious: structure your life to do morefrequently those things that bring you consolation and do less frequently those things that bring you desolation … gently think back through my day, and name those things I’m grateful for. It’s honestly a great way to fall asleep: savoringthose things you are most grateful for. … Of course, all this talk about gratitude and savoring is easier said than done. Cultivating ordinary gratitude, noticing our consolations and desolations, and savoring them are all practices that happen over time. As with practicing the piano, practicing basketball, or practicing yoga, method and frequency matter … “Practices doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent.” … Practice makes permanent by ingraining habits that are difficult to break.

Application

For now, with the potential stress and joy of Thanksgiving still a few days away, I invite you to spend a short time practicing the art of savoring. Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Then, pause in the silence, and listen. Allow yourself to be potentially surprised about what emerges for you as a source of gratitude. As you do so, remember the guidance from Buddha’s Brain: “Make [your consolation] last by staying with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds [or longer].” Savor this source of gratitude with your whole self. “Focus on your emotions and body sensations…. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.”

  • What are you grateful for in your life?
  • What do you need to savor?

Other articles on gratitude:

  • Gratitude practices by Deepak Chopra (full article)“What am I grateful for?” is one of four key questions that practitioners pose to themselves prior to entering into meditation. Such practices of gratitude bring awareness to and appreciation of the positive features within and around us, helping us to embrace life as it is with all of its imperfections. Other practices to consciously cultivate a grateful life include journaling, counting blessings, savoring positive moments, and behavioral expressions of gratitude such as thank you notes, to name a few. By cultivating gratitude, we cultivate wellbeing.
  • Start a Gratitude Practice — Melissa, Lionheart Life

For Abundance

In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh 

How I show love has always been through food. That, for me, has been the foundation of how I express gratitude for anybody around me. — Antoni Porowski

Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.  – Eckhart Tolle 

None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy. —Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.  – Doris Day 

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. — Zig Ziglar

Happiness cannot be traveled to owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.– Anthony Robbins 

What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude. – Brene Brown 

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. – Willie Nelson

 Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. —Oprah Winfrey

As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. – James E. Faust 

As Connection to Holiness

Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy. — Henri Nouwen

All human bodies are things lent by God.  With what thought are you using them? — Terrikyo. Ofudesaki 3.41 

I acknowledge my feeling and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made all these things. — Mary Oliver

I acknowledge with great gratitude the peace and contentment we can find for ourselves in the spiritual cocoons of our homes, our sacrament meetings, and our holy temples. — James E. Faust

Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity.  In pleasure or pain, give thanks! — Midrash, Mekilta to Exodus 20.20

O you who believe!  Eat of the good things that We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. — Qur’an 2.172

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. — Alice Walker

It is God who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein, and the day, as that which helps you to see.  Verily God is full of grace and bounty to men, yet most men give no thanks.  It is God who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape–and made your shapes beautiful–and has provided for you sustenance of things pure and good; such is God, your Lord. So glory to God, the Lord of the Worlds! — Qur’an 40.61, 64

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’  — C. S. Lewis

As Action

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. —Henri Frederic Amiel

You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it. —Lyndon B. Johnson

Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us – it’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children. — Joyce Brothers

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. —William Arthur Ward

As Mindfulness

Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe. — Wayne Dyer

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile. — Elie Wiesel

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented. – Sonja Lyubomirsky 

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. — Brene Brown

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. — Eckhart Tolle

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. —Dalai Lama

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. — John Milton

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. —Albert Einstein

As Practice



If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. — Meister Eckhart

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart. – Larissa Gomez

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. — Rabbi Harold Kushner 

The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. —Charles Schwab

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean… and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. — Michelle Obama

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. — Charles Dickens

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. — William Arthur Ward

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha 

Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. – Edwin Arlington Robinson 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ― G.K. Chesterton

Whom do we invite into our lives, our communities? How do we segregate our societies and how do we embrace diversity? What may we learn from our differences? Themes from Jeremiah & Luke.

When we set that table, we would do well to remember that we are not the hosts, but the God who loves us all, and invites each and every one of us to the feast. — Kathryn Matthews

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter & become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. — Henri Nouwen

Everydayness (excerpt)— Emilie Townes
… there are other ways in which we sit here this morning
and i want to suggest that given the worlds we live in these days
however we are, as we sit here this morning
it’s normal
the challenge, i think for all of us is this:
what will we to do with the fullness and incompleteness of what we have
brought to this time and place
as we remember that we are in a world
that we have helped make
that needs a new, or perhaps ancient vision
molded by justice and peace
rather than winning and losing …
i’m talking about what we call in christian ethics, the everydayness of
moral acts
it’s what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than
those grand moments of righteous indignation and action
the everydayness of listening closely when folks talk or don’t talk to hear
what they are saying
the everydayness of taking some time, however short or long, to refresh us
through prayer or meditation
the everydayness of speaking to folks and actually meaning whatever it is
that is coming out of our mouths
the everydayness of being a presence in people’s lives
the everydayness of designing a class session or lecture or reading or
writing or thinking
the everydayness of sharing a meal
the everydayness of facing heartache and disappointment
the everydayness of joy and laughter
the everydayness of facing people who expect us to lead them somewhere
or at least point them in the right direction and walk with them
the everydayness of blending head and heart
the everydayness of getting up and trying one more time to get our living
right
it is in this everydayness that “we the people” are formed
and we, the people of faith, live and must witness to a justice wrapped in
a love that will not let us go
and a peace that is simply too ornery to give up on us
won’t you join in this celebration?


Guest House — Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.  


Questions to consider, themes from Jeremiah and Luke:

  • What sort of privileges, status or power do you hold or inhabit? Which ones were you born into and which ones did you earn or achieve?
  • How is your life segregated, so you spend your time with people like yourself?
  • When and how do you spend time with people different from yourself?
  • How do attributes of power, privilege, and status allow or interrupt your ability to make a difference?
  • Who is someone, holding a position of status and authority and power, whom you admire as a role model?
  • When have you sat down with people different from yourself to eat together? What was it like? How was it awkward or enlightening?
  • When have you prepared the meal for others different from yourself?
  • When have you been fed by others with different social identities than yourself?

On Privilege, Positions & Power

It is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. — Proverbs 25:7

That the people in her particular village were ‘the most marginalized,’ and often those furthest from her own milieu of ‘incredible social privilege’ was what set her apart. — Dr Jonathan Jacobs (about socialite Judith Peabody)

Having power and wealth is not inherently evil; it is how one uses these privileges that matters most to God. Is power used to oppress others or to liberate them? Is wealth hoarded only for self-gain or shared with those who have so little? When the human family works together on behalf of everyone, life improves for all, and God is pleased. — Lisa Davison

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable. — Madeleine L’Engle

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone–but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. — Frank Crane Do we welcome them on our terms, or with a willingness to say, “Today we are a different church because you are here in our midst, because you are part of us”? Let’s be the church, and let’s be open to the newness of what God is doing each day, the gifts brought in the person of new members, new friends, new Christians. — Kathryn Matthews

The centrality of honor in this culture teaches natives to stay always a step behind their rightful status, for it’s important that “one is not at all trying to appear or to be better than another person.” — John J. Pilch (commentary on Jewish culture in Biblical times)

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world. … The radical good news is that the second love [human love] is only a broken reflection of the first love [God’s limitless love] and that the first love is offered to us by a God in whom there are no shadows … — Henri Nouwen

The churches must learn humility as well as teach it. — George Bernard Shaw

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. — Thomas Merton

There are people who observe the rules of honor as we observe the stars: from a distance. — Victor Hugo

A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. — Desmond Tutu

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. — C.S. Lewis

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. — C.S. Lewis

We are rarely proud when we are alone. — Voltaire

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. — Ernest Hemingway

Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. — C.G. Jung

With Whom Do We Eat?

Bread was important; in fact, where some eat and some do not eat, the kingdom is not present. — Fred Craddoc

When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist. — Dom Helder Camara

Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared. — Jesse Brownerm

Hospitality is hope … If you feel hopeless, go visit your cranky uncle in elder care. Bring him flowers or a new pair of socks—nothing gives a person more hope than a new pair of socks. Then, because you’ve brought the hope, you will feel it. — Anne Lamott

Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect. — Brene Brown

Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis. — Letty M. Russell

We don’t practice hospitality to point other people to ourselves, our church, or even our beliefs. We practice hospitality to point people toward the ultimate welcome that God gives every person through Christ. — Holly Sprink

We might even go so far as to say, that the theology of Liberation can be understood only by two groupings of persons: the poor, and those who struggle for justice at their side—only by those who hunger for bread, and by those who hunger for justice in solidarity with those hungering for bread. Conversely, liberation theology is not understood, nor can it be understood, by the satiated and satisfied—by those comfortable with the status quo. — Leonardo and Clodovis Boff

When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind. — Emilie M. Townes  Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, means ‘love of the stranger … banquet behavior fitting for the reign of God ought to affect dinner invitations even now. — Peluso-Verdend

Love … is not something you feel; it is something you do … Love seeks the well-being of others and is embodied in concrete efforts in their behalf. — Francis Taylor Gench

Jesus tells us to surprise others by our own dinner guest list, and prepare for a “great” time, too. Perhaps we, too, will come to understand a little better the meaning of true fulfillment and joy. — Kathryn Matthews

He comes as a guest to the feast of existence, and knows that what matters is not how much he inherits but how he behaves at the feast, and what people remember and love him for. — Boris Pasternak

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person. Henri Nouwen has described it as receiving the stranger on his own terms, and asserts that it can be offered only by those who ‘have found the center of their lives in their own hearts.’ — Kathleen Norris

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