Mary Oliver

Meditation on seeing and blindness: themes from Mark. To what are you called to bear witness? When and how have you been blind in your life, and what or who opened your eyes?

I think we all suffer from acute blindness at times. Life is a constant journey of trying to open your eyes. I’m just beginning my journey, and my eyes aren’t fully open yet. — Olivia Thirlby

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind … — William Shakespeare

Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. ― Joan Halifax

I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart. — Pope John XXIII


Songs about ‘Blindness’:

Songs about Sight & Seeing:


There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.
And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.
― Mary Oliver


I said: What about my eyes?
God said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion?
God said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
God said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow?
He said: Stay with it.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
attributed to Rumi


PRAYER by Richard Rohr
God of all Light and Truth, just make sure that I am not a blind man or woman.
Keep me humble and honest, and that will be more than enough work for you.


PRAYER by Nadia Bolz-Weber
God of desert prophets and unlikely messiahs, humble us.
Show us that there is more to see than what we look for.
More possibility. More love. More forgiveness …
Restore our sight so that we may see you in each other.


PRAYER by St Augustine
Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new.
Late have I loved you. You have called to me, and have called out,
and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light and
have put my blindness to flight! You have sent forth fragrance,
and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you.
I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you.
You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.


At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions — John O’Donohue
What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
When could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations hd I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence – why was I given this day?


On Seeing

Knowing it and seeing it are two different things. ― Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

After all, the true seeing is within. ― George Eliot, Middlemarch

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love. ― Meister Eckhart, Sermons of Meister Eckhart

The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ― Pema Chodron

Rachel Carson said most of us go through life “unseeing.” I do that some days … I think it’s easier to see when you’re a kid. We’re not in a hurry to get anywhere and we don’t have those long to-do lists you guys have. ― Jim Lynch, The Highest Tide

The Eternal looked upon me for a moment with His eye of power, and annihilated me in His being, and become manifest to me in His essence. I saw I existed through Him. — Rumi

What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them. ― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in


I look at the world
— Langston Hughes

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.


NOBEL SPEECH (excerpt)
by Toni Morrison
“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures. “Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.”
In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.
One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem to be bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: they enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says, “Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead.”
She does not answer, and the question is repeated. “Is the bird I am holding living or dead?”
Still she doesn’t answer. She is blind and cannot see her visitors, let alone what is in their hands. She does not know their color, gender or homeland. She only knows their motive.
The old woman’s silence is so long, the young people have trouble holding their laughter.
Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. “I don’t know”, she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”
Her answer can be taken to mean: if it is dead, you have either found it that way or you have killed it. If it is alive, you can still kill it. Whether it is to stay alive, it is your decision. Whatever the case, it is your responsibility.
For parading their power and her helplessness, the young visitors are reprimanded, told they are responsible not only for the act of mockery but also for the small bundle of life sacrificed to achieve its aims. The blind woman shifts attention away from assertions of power to the instrument through which that power is exercised…

On Blindness

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. — Mark Twain

Blind don’t mean you can’t, you know, listen. — Stevie Wonder

Hatred is blind, as well as love. — Oscar Wilde

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle. — Paulo Coelho

As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things. — Isaac Newton

What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed? — Michelangelo

Each of you, as an individual, must pick your own goals. Listen to others, but do not become a blind follower. — Thurgood Marshall

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. — Lyndon B. Johnson

The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision. —  Henry Kissinger

You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it. — Malcolm X

There is an orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is no blind law; for no blind law can govern the conduct of living beings. — Mahatma Gandhi


Sonnet 19: When I consider
how my light is spent
— John Milton
When I consider
how my light is spent,
Ere half my days,
in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent
which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless,
though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker,
and present
My true account,
lest he returning chide;
‘Doth God exact day-labour,
light denied?’
I fondly ask.
But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies,
‘God doth not need
Either man’s work
or his own gifts;
who best
Bear his mild yoke,
they serve him best.
His state
Is Kingly.
Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and
Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only
stand and wait.’


Doing as others told me,
I was Blind.
Coming when others called me,
I was Lost.
Then I left everyone,
myself as well.
Then I found Everyone,
Myself as well.
― Rumi

About Physiological Blindness: Commentary
According to a recent survey, most Americans fear blindness. In fact, they fear it more than losing their hearing, speech, a limb or their memory. Nearly 88 percent of people surveyed considered having 20/20 vision vital to good overall health, while 47 percent believed that losing their sight would have the gravest effect on their daily lives. Loss of independence and quality of life were the top concerns for respondents. — The Chicago LighthouseAs someone who has successfully adapted to vision loss, I know that there are excellent resources, services and adaptations out there that can make it easier to live life without sight. There’s no doubt that blindness can present challenges and inconveniences in our everyday lives, but thanks to the countless services and resources available in the United States, it is possible for people with vision loss – like me – to lead equally fulfilling lives. Most of the fears and misconceptions about blindness and visual impairments are surmountable, and we should all work to help people understand that losing one’s sight does not have to mean losing independence. — Sandy Murillo



Reflections from Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon as part of the wisdom texts we’re exploring

I feel so much love over my soul,
it is like an Ocean I immerse and lose myself in:
it is my vision on earth while waiting
for the face-to-face vision in light.
[God] is in me, I am in Him.
I have only to love Him,
to let myself be loved,
all the time, through all things:
to wake in Love,
to move in Love,
to sleep in Love,
my Soul in His Soul,
my heart in His Heart,
my eyes in His eyes …
Elizabeth of the Trinity

If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

… the poems both affirm human love, but also show how it is itself only a pointer to something more grand and more sublime. The book never mentions God’s love, but all the links back to the garden of Eden make the point by themselves. Who is the author of life and human experience? And who, therefore, is the author of this powerful experience we call “love?” It’s none other than the Author of all reality, who has given humans a great gift and responsibility in our bodies, minds and hearts when it comes to sexual love. — BibleProject

We do not necessarily need to become religious, nor even believe in an ideology. We need only to develop our good human qualities and know that love and compassion are the most essential concepts for human survival. — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

… the good life consists of right relationships—between man and woman [covenant partners], between humanity and the earth, and between humanity and God. In the love described in the Song, we see a reflection of the love that first called the world into being (Proverbs 8), that continues to sustain it season by season (Ecclesiastes 3), and that will bring it to new life beyond death itself (Revelation 21). — Kathryn M. Schifferdecker


SONGS about LOVE as SACRED UNION:


Don’t go anywhere without me.
— Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Don’t go anywhere without me.
Let nothing happen in the sky apart from me,
or on the ground, in this world or that world,
without my being in its happening.
Vision, see nothing I don’t see.
Language, say nothing.
The way the night knows itself with the moon,
be that with me. Be the rose
nearest to the thorn that I am.
I want to feel myself in you when you taste food,
in the arc of your mallet when you work,
when you visit friends, when you go
up on the roof by yourself at night.
There’s nothing worse than to walk out along the street
without you. I don’t know where I’m going.
You’re the road, and the knower of roads,
more than maps, more than love.


DARK NIGHT of the SOUL—  St. John of the Cross, Translated by David Lewis
In a dark night,
With anxious love inflamed,
O, happy lot!
Forth unobserved I went,
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and in safety,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
O, happy lot!
n darkness and concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In that happy night,
In secret, seen of none,
Seeing nought myself,
Without other light or guide
Save that which in my heart was burning.
That light guided me
 More surely than the noonday sun
To the place where He was waiting for me,
Whom I knew well,
And where none appeared.
O, guiding night;
O, night more lovely than the dawn;
O, night that hast united
The lover with His beloved,
And changed her into her love.
On my flowery bosom,
Kept whole for Him alone,
There He reposed and slept;
And I cherished Him, and the waving
Of the cedars fanned Him.
As His hair floated in the breeze
That from the turret blew,
He struck me on the neck
With His gentle hand,
And all sensation left me.
I continued in oblivion lost,
My head was resting on my love;
Lost to all things and myself,
And, amid the lilies forgotten,
Threw all my cares away.

O glistening sunlight Sr. Hildegarde of Bingen

O glistening starlight,
O most brilliant singular figure
of the royal marriage,
O glowing gem:
You are arrayed as a person of high rank
who has no mark nor wrinkle;You are also an angel’s companion
and a citizen of sacredness.

Run, flee from the ancient destroyer’s cave!
Come, enter into the palace of the King.


COMMENTARY on SONG of SONGS from Jewish and Christian Scholars

All eternity is not as worthwhile as the day the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all biblical books are holy, but the Song of Songs is holy of holies.— R. Aqiva (m. Yadayim 3:5), 2nd c. CE

אין כל העולם כלו כדאי כיום שניתן בו שיר השירים לישראל שכל כתובים קדש ושיר השירים קודש קדשים The Song of Songs, along with the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is related to Solomon as the source of Israel’s wisdom literature. As Moses is the source [though not the only author] of the Torah, and David is the source [though not the author] of the book of Psalms, so is Solomon the father of the wisdom tradition in Israel… The connection of the Song of Songs to Solomon in the Hebrew Bible sets these writings within the context of wisdom literature. – Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (21st c).

The Song of Songs, a duet scored for two young lovers, each delighting in the other, longing for one another’s presence, is one of the central books of Tanach and the key that unlocks the rest. It is about love as the holy of holies of human life. It is about the love of Israel for God and God for Israel, and the fact that it is written as the story of two young and human lovers is also fundamental, for it tells us that to separate human and Divine love is to allocate one to the body, the other to the soul, is a false distinction. Love is the energy God has planted in the human heart, redeeming us from narcissism and solipsism, making the human or Divine Other no less real to me than I am to myself, thus grounding our being in that-which-is-not-me. One cannot love God without loving all that is good in the human situation. Love creates. Love reveals. Love redeems. Love is the connection between God and us. That is the faith of Judaism, and if we do not understand this we will not understand it at all. We will, for example, fail to realise that the demands God makes of His people through the prophets are expressions of love, that what Einstein called Judaism’s “almost fanatical love of justice” is about love no less than justice, that the Torah is God’s marriage contract with the Jewish people, and the mitzvot are all invitations to love: “I see You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands” (Ps. 119:10).” — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ceremony & Celebration, 21st c.

… In short, there are two primary interpretations of the Song of Songs. The traditional interpretation is that it is an allegory of the love between God and Israel or between Christ and the Church. The dominant interpretation in modern times is that it is nothing more than ancient erotic love poetry.
I would argue that the Song is both of these things. It is a celebration of the love of a man and a woman for one another, a love “strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6), a love reflected in the renewed life of the earth itself (Song of Solomon 2:10-13). At the same time, the Song is also a celebration of the love between Christ and the Church, a love that is in fact stronger than death, sealed by the Resurrection.
As Phyllis Trible and Ellen Davis have both argued, the Song is a reversal of the curses of Eden. The relationship between man and woman is restored. In place of Eve’s punishment in Genesis 3:16 (“your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”), the woman in the Song declares, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”6 In fact, the woman’s is the dominant voice in the Song. She is in a full, robust, and mutual relationship with her beloved.
The rupture between humanity and the earth is also restored. Here, in the garden of the Song, there are no thorns and thistles (see Genesis 3:17-19). Indeed, the earth itself rejoices with the lovers.
Finally, the rupture between humanity and God is restored, if one understands the Song allegorically, as interpreters have done for 2000 years. One of the dominant biblical metaphors for the relationship between God and Israel (and later, Christ and the Church) is that of marriage. This metaphor takes some troubling turns in the prophets (see Hosea), but in the Song, the marriage is healed and renewed and rooted in love, love as fierce as the grave, love unquenchable (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).— Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, full article: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/preaching-series-on-o-t-wisdom-and-poetry/commentary-on-proverbs-11-7-31-8, (21st c).

The Song of Songs is a collection of love poetry. The Rabbis read it as an allegory of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Only in the Middle Ages, in Spain and Northern France, did scholars begin to pay attention to the plain (Peshat) meaning of the text. Some went as far as dropping the allegory altogether and treating it as love poetry, as it was originally intended. — Dr. Barry Dov Walfish, (21st c).

King Solomon wrote this through the inspiration of the divine spirit, for he saw that Israel in their exile was destined to mourn God, who distanced himself from them like a groom who parted from his beloved. And he began to sing his song on behalf of the Community of Israel who is like a bride before him. — Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (ca. 1085-ca. 1160)

“God is love” (1 John 4:16) may be the single most important verse in the entire Bible …
Is it any wonder that many of the great Christian mystics are renowned as lovers of God? This can take a variety of forms: for some, being God’s lover is very ethereal and philosophically abstract; but for others, an embodied, physical, even erotic quality characterizes their mysticism of love. There is even a term—“bridal mysticism”—for the many mystics (both female and male) whose experience of profound love of God was so deep and all-encompassing that it led to a spiritual sense of being “married” to God …
[It’s important to] consider that this derives from the Bible itself. One of the loveliest books in the Hebrew Bible…. is the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of Songs or the Canticle of Canticles… It is the story of a bride and bridegroom, their passion for one another, their devotion to one another, and their (strongly hinted at) passion as physical lovers.
Historically, the Song of Songs has been read as a kind of allegory: the two lovers symbolize the caring relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church, or Christ and the individual believer. This is where the mysticism of love comes in. — Cart McColman, full article: https://cac.org/daily-meditations/the-great-love-song-2021-05-11/ (21st c).

I think religion, especially when it comes to messages around our sexuality, causes a really particular type of harm in us. Now, the culture, the broader culture, also has some very damaging messages. There’s the commodificationwa of sex. You can “know” how worthy you are of desire according to how close you are to a body ideal. Once you’re too old, or too fat, or too plain, you’re no longer worthy of sexual desire and so there are these damaging messages that society gives us around the commodification of sex.
… messages from religion, those go down to our created place, our source code. Those seep into us in a very deep level and the difference is that the society has … our society has never said that the creator of the universe is disgusted by my cellulite. Do you know what I mean? So, the religious messages are saying, “This is God. God feels this way about you as a sexual being.” And that can be pernicious in a very particular way.
Well, Augustine interpreted the Garden of Eden story in a really particular way that we are so influenced by that we don’t even know the difference between the text and his interpretation. For instance, the word sin isn’t in there, the word temptation isn’t in there, the devil is not in there, “original sin” is not in there, fall from grace is not in there. All of that is stuff that Augustine interpreted into the Garden of Eden story. So then it’s like, “Okay, well who was Augustine?” Well, brilliant guy, however had some sexual hangups like all of us do. His original shame, his story, his original shame came from an incident in the bathhouse with his father when he was going through puberty and he had an erection and his father commented on it.
In the same way, the Song of Solomon is this beautiful erotic poem in the Bible, and it’s most likely the only book in the Bible that was possibly written by a woman, and it is mostly an erotic poem about a very shameless woman who has a lover and she loves her body and she loves their body and she loves sex and eroticism, and she has no shame about this. So what happens? Origen, another … church father comes along, and he goes, “No, that’s not about sex. That’s about Jesus’ love for the church. It’s just an allegory.” And okay, well who was Origen? Origen was this guy who was so terrified of sexual temptation, no kidding, he castrated himself…. Is that the guy we want to go to for direction?” — Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber, full interview: https://wanderlust.com/journal/sex-church-debunking-doctrine-desire/

I believe the meaning of the Resurrection of Jesus is summed up in the climactic line from the Song of Songs, “love is stronger than death” (8:6). If the blank white banner that the Risen Christ usually holds in Christian art should say anything, it should say: “Love will win!” Love is all that remains. Love and life are finally the same thing, and we know that for ourselves once we have walked through death.
Love has you. Love is you. Love alone, and your deep need for love, recognizes love everywhere else. Remember that you already are what you are seeking. Any fear “that your lack of fidelity could cancel God’s fidelity, is absurd” (Romans 3:3), says Paul. Love has finally overcome fear, and your house is being rebuilt on a new and solid foundation. This foundation was always there, but it takes us a long time to find it. “It is love alone that lasts” (1 Corinthians 13:13). All you have loved in your life and been loved by are eternal and true .. — Richard Rohr, full article: https://cac.org/daily-meditations/love-is-stronger-than-death-2020-03-27/, (21st c).


VISION

And in this vision, he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and to my mind’s eye it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought, ‘What can this be?’ And the answer came to me, ‘It is all that is made.’ I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, ‘It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same everything exists through the love of God.’
In this little thing I saw three attributes: the first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God cares for it. But what does this mean to me? Truly, the maker, the lover, the carer; for until I become one substance with him, I can never have love, rest or true bliss; that is to say, until I am so bound to him that there may be no created thing between my God and me. — Julian of Norwich


LOVING TENDERNESS
Hildegard of Bingen

Loving tenderness abounds for all
from the darkest
to the most eminent one beyond the stars,
Exquisitely loving all
she bequeaths the kiss of peace
upon the ultimate King.


THERE IS NO GOING BACK – Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.


THE WHISTLER — Mary Oliver

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not
whistled. It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds war-
bled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?


COVENANT LOVE

“in love I am more God than I am in myself.” … “It sounds wondrous, that the human being is thus able to become God in love; however, it is true in the eternal truth.” — Meister Eckhart

Covenant love is conscious love. It is intentional love. It is commitment to love no matter what. It requires thought and action. It does not wait for the encouragement of warm emotions but chooses to look out for the interest of the other party because you are committed to the other’s well-being.
Covenant love requires two factors: knowledge of the nature of love and the will to love. Understanding the 5 love languages will give you the information you need to have a successful long term covenant love relationship. Hopefully, as you see the benefits of covenant love, you will also find the will to love. — Gary Chapman

God willeth that we understand [this], desiring with all our heart to have knowing of them [Trinity] more and more unto the time that we be fulfilled: for fully to know them is nought else but endless joy and bliss that we shall have in Heaven, which God willeth should be begun here in knowing of His love. — Julian of Norwich

Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all of our people. I believe that we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings. — John F. Kennedy

We are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we already are. — Thomas Merton

This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.
James Vila Blake

We are already in union with God! There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. — Fr. Richard Rohr

Sometimes we feel empty; we feel a vacuum, a great lack of something. We don’t know the cause; it’s very vague, but that feeling of being empty inside is very strong. We expect and hope for something much better so we’ll feel less alone, less empty. The desire to understand ourselves and to understand life is a deep thirst. There’s also the deep thirst to be loved and to love. We are ready to love and be loved. It’s very natural. But because we feel empty, we try to find an object of our love. Sometimes we haven’t had the time to understand ourselves, yet we’ve already found the object of our love. When we realize that all our hopes and expectations of course can’t be fulfilled by that person, we continue to feel empty. You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep inside, you still expect something better to happen. That is why you check your email many times a day!
In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one. …
In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Thoughts about staying, waiting, ascending and heaven: themes from Luke 24 and Acts 1

May your heart be an altar, from which the bright flame of unending thanksgiving ascends to heaven. — Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

Jesus raised our eyes above and beyond the narrow limits of our … lives, showed us other horizons, gives us a world beyond our ourselves. — Joan Chittister

Blue Horses (excerpt) — Mary Oliver
This is what I have.
The dull hangover of waiting,
the blush of my heart on the damp grass,
the flower-faced moon.
A gull broods on the shore
where a moment ago there were two.
Softly my right hand fondles my left hand
as though it were you.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that’s waiting for us. — Joseph Campbell


I’ll be honest, Jesus, Ascension Day brings up some abandonment issues for me. I know you promised we wouldn’t be alone, that you would send a Helper and Advocate, full of power and truth and ready to guide, but let’s face it: the fire of the Spirit is the wild kind. One moment I sense that it’s blazing like the burning bush, the next it’s like it’s out with a poof. I still haven’t figured it out. I still haven’t been able to pin it down. — Rachel Held Evans

THE SWAN — Mary Oliver
Across the wide waters
   something comes
      floating–a slim
         and delicate

ship, filled
   with white flowers–
      and it moves
         on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist
   as though bringing such gifts
      to the dry shore
         was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
   And now it turns its dark eyes,
      it rearranges
         the clouds of its wings,

it trails
   an elaborate webbed foot,
      the color of charcoal.
         Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
   when that poppy-colored beak
      rests in my hand?
         Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company–
   he is so often
      in paradise.
         Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
   It’s in the imagination
      with which you perceive
         this world,

and the gestures
   with which you honor it.
      Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those white wings
         touch the shore?

SONGS about ascension:

SONGS about heaven:

STAY Jan Richardson
A Blessing for Ascension Day

I know how your mind rushes ahead
trying to fathom what could follow this.
What will you do, where will you go, how will you live?

You will want to outrun the grief.
You will want to keep turning toward the horizon,
watching for what was lost to come back,
to return to you and never leave again.

For now hear me when I say
all you need to do is to still yourself
is to turn toward one another is to stay.

Wait and see what comes
to fill the gaping hole in your chest.
Wait with your hands open to receive what could never come
except to what is empty and hollow.

You cannot know it now, cannot even imagine
what lies ahead, but I tell you the day is coming
when breath will fill your lungs
as it never has before and with your own ears
you will hear words coming to you new and startling.
You will dream dreams and you will see the world ablaze with blessing.

Wait for it. Still yourself. Stay.

POEM— Rumi

Sweetly parading you go my soul of soul, go not without me;
life of your friends, enter not the garden without me.
Sky, revolve not without me; moon, shine not without me;
earth travel not without me, and time, go not without me.
With you this world is joyous, and with you that world is joyous;
in this world dwell not without me, and to that world depart not without me.
Vision, know not without me, and tongue, recite not without
me; glance behold not without me, and soul, go not without me.
The night through the moon’s light sees its face white; I am
light, you are my moon, go not to heaven without me.
The thorn is secure from the fire in the shelter of the roses
face: you are the rose, I your thorn; go not into the rose garden without me.
I run in the curve of your mallet when your eye is with me;
even so gaze upon me, drive not without me, go not without me.
When, joy, you are companion of the king, drink not without
me; when, watchman, you go to the kings roof, go not without me.
Alas for him who goes on this road without your sign; since
you, O signless one, are my sign, go not without me.
Alas for him who goes on the road without my knowledge;
you are the knowledge of the road for me; O road-knower, go not without me.
Others call you love, I call you the king of love; O you who are
higher than the imagination of this and that, go not without me.

THE GIFT —Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.

ABOUT STAYING

If you have to convince someone to stay with you then they have already left. ― Shannon L. Alder

To want to run away is an essence of being human, it transforms any staying through the transfigurations of choice. To think about fleeing from circumstances, from a marriage, a relationship or from a work is part of the conversation itself and helps us understand the true distilled nature of our own reluctance. Strangely, we are perhaps most fully incarnated as humans, when part of us does not want to be here, or doesn’t know how to be here. Presence is only fully understood and realized through fully understanding our reluctance to show up. To understand the part of us that wants nothing to do with the full necessities of work, of relationship, of loss, of doing what is necessary, is to learn humility, to cultivate self-compassion and to sharpen that sense of humor essential to a merciful perspective of both a self and another. ― David Whyte

You forgot that sometimes, fair value comes from change, and death, and sacrifice. You can’t have everything and give fair value. You can’t stop your clock and expect to stay a part of the world. ― Seanan McGuire

It turns out that you don’t end up with the people you love; by definition, you end up with the ones who stay. ― Andrew Sean Greer

She rose slowly. She didn’t want to go. She also rather resented staying. ― D.H. Lawrence

Our faith is often embodied in the relationships and neighborhoods where we live. In our world of globalization, technology, and mobility, we’ve misplaced the sacredness of place. The act of staying and living in our place has an impact on us practically, of course, but also on us theologically. It’s not always sexy to stay put, is it? In most of my church tradition, no one ever mentioned the holy work of staying. ― Sarah Bessey

CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY on ASCENSION

At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter. — Oswald Chambers

The story of Jesus living, dying, and rising from death gets a lot of well-deserved attention, but we sometimes overlook another crucial, mysterious scene in the narrative. As the book of Acts begins, we’re told that after resurrection, Jesus is “taken up” or “lifted up” (Greek, epērthē) into the sky, where he disappears behind the clouds …
Commonly called the ascension, the belief that Jesus “ascended” into Heaven, has been essential to followers of Jesus for almost 2,000 years (e.g. The Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.).
     But what does it mean that Jesus “ascended into Heaven”? Did Jesus take off into outer space? Is the point of the ascension that Jesus floated away into the clouds, or is it something else? More importantly, why does any of this matter? To answer these questions, and to better understand Jesus’ powerful ascension, we need to step back and start with the big biblical concepts of Heaven and Earth—God’s space and human’s space. — BibleProject, full article: https://bibleproject.com/articles/the-ascension-of-jesus/

The present account of Jesus’ ascension (Lk. 24:50-51) is not of a different event from the ascension recorded in Acts 1:2, 4-11. It is simply a shorter version of it. Luke makes the departure of Jesus both the climax of the Gospel and the commencement of the Acts of the Apostles. The stress is on Jesus’ priestly action in blessing the disciples and on their praise to God in the temple. (Marshall, 907)
      [The author of the Gospel of] Luke intends for us to see in this departure parallels to the great prophets Moses and Elijah whom Jesus both follows and surpasses. (See Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, especially 9:31.) Jesus completes the “departure” or “exodus” of his suffering, death and resurrection by being carried up into heaven (2 Kgs. 2:1-18). Like Elijah he blessed those who stay behind and arranges for them to receive a measure of his Spirit (2 Kgs. 2:9). (Byrne, 192-3) — Alyce McKenzie, Patheos: full article: https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2011/05/we-will-never-be-without-him-alyce-mckenzie-05-30-2011?p=2

This is the grace of Ascension Day: to be taken up into the heaven of our own souls, the point of immediate contact with God.  To rest on this quiet peak, in the darkness that surrounds God.  To live there through all trials and all business with the “tranquil God who makes all things tranquil.” — Thomas Merton

The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space. Hence he has not “gone away”, but now and forever by God’s power he is present with us and for us. In the farewell discourses of Saint John’s Gospel, this is exactly what Jesus says to his disciples: “I go away, and I will come to you” (14:28). These words sum up beautifully what is so special about Jesus’ “going away”, which is also his “coming”, and at the same time explain the mystery of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. — Pope Benedict XVI

Most of Christianity has been doing just that, straining to find the historical Jesus “up there.” Where did he go? We’ve been obsessed with the question because we think the universe is divided into separate levels—heaven and earth. But it is one universe and all within it is transmuted and transformed by the glory of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is that the Christ is here—and always was! But now we have a story that allows us to imagine it just might be true. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He became the universal omnipresent Body of Christ. That’s why the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1), not an escape from earth. We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. What you choose now is exactly what you choose to be forever. God will not disappoint you. — Richard Rohr

Luke begins his second volume of his two-volume “history” of the origins and spread of early Christianity with a salutation to an apparent benefactor, Theophilus by name, “God lover” in Greek. He reminds this unknown man that his “first book was about everything Jesus began to do and teach up to the day he was lifted up” (Acts 1:1-2a). For Luke this “lifting up” is the hinge that holds his two books together. At Luke 9:51, following the event of Transfiguration, Luke warns that “the days drew near for him to be taken up” (analempsis in Greek). This “taking up” is in fact Jesus’ “exodus,” the object of the discussion that Moses and Elijah were having on the mountain at Luke 9:31. In short, Jesus’ ascension, accomplished in Acts 1, is nothing less than his exodus from the earth, mirroring Elijah’s own mysterious ascension in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2:9-11. Luke thus connects the events of Jesus’ ascent to God with a similar experience in the Hebrew Bible and joins Jesus with the quintessential prophet of justice, Elijah. By so doing, Luke in his unique literary way uses the ascension motif as a way of preaching to us a sermon about the true identity of Jesus Messiah, recalling his many roots in the sacred past of Israel’s story. — John Holbert, Patheos, full article: https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/speculators-or-witnesses-john-holbert-05-14-2012

On Ascension Day, we are called to “go up”—to find higher ground—not to escape Earth’s crises, but to gain a vision and mission that is larger than ourselves or our communities. We don’t need to look to the heavens to find inspiration. The ever-present God is right here, giving us all the guidance and inspiration we need, if we but look beyond ourselves. Our mission is here—to heal, to embrace, to welcome, and to love. We don’t need to wait for a far off day of perfection and rapture. If God is always with us, then right here and now can be the day of transformation and fulfillment.  — Bruce Epperly

This makes us an odd people, you know. I mean Christians, people who believe in God the Father, Christ the son and the Holy Spirit – we are a people for whom the story isn’t ever finished. A people for whom there is always more. Within our suffering, there is always more, when we think our lives are hopeless there is always more, when the plot points of our lives don’t end up the way we planned, there is always more, when we feel powerless there is always more Why? Because after the humiliation and suffering of the cross – there was more – after he was laid in a tomb there was more – and after there was Pentecost flames on people’s heads and speaking in other languages there was more. We as Christians base our hope not on our own power, not on the Dow Jones, not on how awesome our lives look, not on our own righteousness, but on the God of an empty tomb. That story of birth and death and resurrection and ascension and the spirit is still being told. — Nadia Bolx-Weber

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us; and we, while on earth, are also with him.  He is with us in his godhead and his power and his love; and we, though we cannot be with him in godhead as he is with us, can be with him in our love, our love for him.
       He did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; and he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again.  His own words show that he was in heaven while he was here: ‘No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.’ 
        He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body.  The words ‘no one but he’ are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. 
        For this reason Saint Paul says: ‘Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is also with Christ. — St Augustine

The way to heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel uphill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh … Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will. … Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. … The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted. — Jonathan Edwards

As God’s royal priests, Adam and Eve were, metaphorically, going up or ascending this cosmic mountain temple in order to be in God’s presence. They were not floating up into the sky or necessarily even mountain climbing, but this is how the author literarily emphasized God’s transcendence.
       At the top of the mountain, united fully with God and integrated with his will, Adam and Eve receive God’s creative word and his good life. And as God’s representatives, they were tasked to go down from Eden and extend God’s word and life to the whole creation.
       Notice that their ascension does not remove them from physical creation, nor does their “going down” to the rest of the world remove them from God’s divine realm. ….
       In the Exodus narrative, we see God commanding Moses and his fellow leaders to “come up” to a mountain, have a meal in God’s presence, and receive the instructions God has for the Israelites … Moses ascends with the elders of Israel into the cloud of divine glory to meet with God. In this place⏤where the author describes God as sitting on a shimmering, “blue as the sky,” clear, stone floor⏤we see human and divine in a mysterious togetherness with God’s space and humanity’s space integrated as one. Remember: these human beings entered God’s space without transporting out of the physical world, which most basically describes the priestly role. The priest becomes present with God in order to guide others in the same direction, up to God…. Moses’ priestly ascension is a recreation of the Eden ideal: humanity resting within God’s presence on a cosmic mountain temple.
       And also like Moses, the high priest exclusively ascends into the presence of God so that he might talk and pray to God on behalf of the people. The high priest symbolically ascends into the cosmos by going past the veil in the tabernacle that divides human’s space from God’s space—up into the transcendent presence of God.
      Not long after becoming king David. goes up into the high hills at the center of Israel’s tribes and establishes a capital city, Jerusalem, otherwise known as Zion or the City of David … So the temple is a symbolic model, pointing to the new Heaven and Earth, a place permeated with God’s presence where humanity would once again live in communion with his way of life and his will for all creation…. Regardless of whether or not the people were actually climbing in elevation or heading north, the biblical authors use the geographic description of going up.
As the people go up toward Jerusalem, they sing the psalms of ascent…
      Having ascended up as he did, and as we will, Jesus now exists permanently in both God’s space and humanity’s space at once. Adam and Eve experienced this kind of overlapping togetherness with God only in part. But Jesus experiences it fully because he chose to follow God’s will from beginning to end.
      But as we have seen, this almost certainly does not mean floating off into space one day when we die. Instead it means joining our human lives into God’s divine work of spreading his word and life here on Earth. It is about declaring that “your will, not my will” be done on Earth (humanity’s space) as it is in Heaven (God’s space) — BibleProject, full article: https://bibleproject.com/articles/the-ascension-of-jesus/


FILMS SHOWING ASCENSION:

ABOUT WAITING

God isn’t waiting for you to become thinner or heterosexual or married or celibate or more ladylike or less crazy or more spiritual or less of an alcoholic in order to love you. Also, I would argue that since your ideal self doesn’t actually exist, it would follow that the “you” everyone in your life loves is your actual self, too. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. — Karen Salmansohn

If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine. — Morris West

Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart. — Sarah Ban Breathnach

Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better. It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside. — Joan Chittister

When you’re getting ready to launch into space, you’re sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.— Sally Ride

When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there. — George Harrison

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. — Rainer Maria Rilke

You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. — A. A. Milne

Those who stand at the threshold of life always waiting for the right time to change are like the man who stands at the bank of a river waiting for the water to pass so he can cross on dry land. — Joseph B. Wirthlin

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting. — Joyce Meyer

Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.— Bradley Whitford

WHAT WE NEED IS HERE
— Wendell Berry
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

WHAT IS THERE BEYOND KNOWING? Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same — what shall I say —
moment.

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

ON HEAVEN

Heaven is not an eternally dull existence but rather the completion of a journey toward a promised encounter with the Lord. — Pope Francis

Basically heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter.  They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation.  And the point about heaven is twofold.   First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth:  the ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.  Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth; it is the CEO’s office, the place from which instructions are given.  “All authority is given to me,” said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “in heaven and on earth. — NT Wright

Throughout the Bible, the biblical authors use “the skies” or “the heavens” to refer to the place where God lives—God’s space. And they use “land” or “the earth” to refer to the place where people live—humanity’s space. The key here is that both spaces were included in the natural, created world. So why do we say that God is “up there” when he is also right here?
      When ancient Hebrew writers talk about geographic locations and spatial relationships in the physical world, they often use these physical descriptions to represent a higher, transcendent reality. For example, death and emptiness are down or under in Sheol. And because God is transcendent, or above all, his space is described metaphorically as being above, or up, or in the heavens.
        The most important thing to see here is that God is not ultimately creating a supernatural place where he lives separated from humans. God’s vision for Heaven and Earth—God’s space and humanity’s space—is that both would be fully integrated as one. God’s space and our space are to overlap, “on Earth as it is in Heaven” — BibleProject

….the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1), not an escape from earth. We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. — Richard Rohr

OTHER THOUGHTS on ASCENSION

Ascensions into heaven are like falling leaves … sad and happy all at the same time … Going away isn’t really sad … especially when your going enables a new kind of presence to be born. — Ernest Hemingway

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. — Henry David Thoreau

Earth’s crammed with heaven… But only he who sees, takes off his shoes. — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The connections we make in the course of a life–maybe that’s what heaven is. — Fred Rogers

There’s always another level up. There’s always another ascension. More grace, more light, more generosity, more compassion, more to shed, more to grow. — Elizabeth GilbertAh, paths of the soul, mysterious ways of the heart! One must walk their full lengths before facing the supreme equation of Eternal Life. It is essential for you to live all their conflicts and to know them fully in the long process of spiritual ascension. — Andre Luiz Moreira

To write the true natural history of the world, we should need to be able to follow it from within. It would thus appear no longer as an interlocking succession of structural types replacing one another, but as an ascension of inner sap spreading out in a forest of consolidated instincts. Right at its base, the living world is constituted by conscious clothes in flesh and bone. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The Ascension is actually the birth of the Inner You expressed as the spiritual individualism of the inner particle state. — Stuart Wilde

Aging is a staircase – the upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity. As you may know, the entire world operates on a universal law: entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy means that everything in the world, everything, is in a state of decline and decay, the arch. There’s only one exception to this universal law, and that is the human spirit, which can continue to evolve upwards. — Jane Fonda

Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all “fulness of blessing,” both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof, through faith, beholding the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, we await the full enjoyment. — Saint Basil

LEAVINGS  – VI
— Wendell Berry

O saints, if I am even eligible for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you longed, here where you lived
as exiles, for the presence of the essential
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled,
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure, and free. I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night. Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another. It would be
the Heaven of knowing again. There is no marrying
in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like
to know my wife again, both of us young again,
and I remembering always how I loved her
when she was old. I would like to know
my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
than before, to study them lingeringly as one
studies old verses, committing them to heart
forever. I would like again to know my friends,
my old companions, men and women, horses
and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here
in this place that I have watched over all my life
in all its moods and seasons, never enough.
I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?
A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know
by it how far I have fallen short. I have not
paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
enough. And yet this pain would be the measure
of my love. In eternity’s once and now, pain would
place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.

Mother’s Day Reflection

Motherhood has powerfully reinforced for me the significance of the fact that when God was most vulnerable – in the womb, nursing at the breast, as a child, at death – God was wholly entrusted to the care of women. I find that frighteningly profound. — Rachel Held Evans

We are born of love. Love is our mother. – Rumi

Songs about and for Mothers:

Songs by, about, and for Women:

Blessing the Mothers — Jan Richardson

Blessing the Mothers
Who are our
first sanctuary.

Who fashion
a space of blessing
with their own being:

with the belly
the bone and
the blood

or,
if not with these,
then with the
durable heart
that offers itself
to break
and grow wide,
to gather itself
around another
as refuge,
as home.

Who lean into
the wonder and terror
of loving what
they can hold
but cannot contain.

Who remain
in some part of themselves
always awake,
a corner of consciousness
keeping perpetual vigil.

Who know
that the story
is what endures
is what binds us
is what runs deeper
even than blood

and so they spin them
in celebration
of what abides
and benediction
on what remains:

a simple gladness
that latches onto us
and graces us
on our way.

A Litany of Women for the Church — Joan Chittister

Dear God, creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst
of a world half women,
carried by women to … fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,
give to the women of our time
the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,
the faith to believe in you beyond
all systems and institutions
so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole

We call on the holy women
who went before us,
channels of Your Word
in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us
so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been
for … God.

… Saint Esther, who pleaded against power
for the liberation of the people, –Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men
and saved the community,
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led
the people of God,
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognized the value
of another woman,
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus,
the first evangelist of the Christ,
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedict
to honor the spirit above the system,
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict
for the doing of right,
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God,
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the pope
with the image of woman as equal,
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us
the motherhood of God,
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who knew the call
to priesthood in herself,
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the pope listened,
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women’s gifts
to the reform of the church,
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith,
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries
between lay women and religious
by wedding motherhood and religious life,
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the church
in a new sense of justice,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who heard the call of God and answered,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who underwent hardship bearing Christ,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who ministered at Cana,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
inspirited at Pentecost,
Mary mother of Jesus,
who turned the Spirit of God
into the body and blood of Christ, pray for us. Amen.

Prayer for those getting through mother’s day 
— Maren Tirabassi

Spirit of gentleness,
wrap all your holy loving
non-binary compassion 
around all of those 
just hoping to get through a holiday 
that washes them in tears –
because their mothers are dead
or their children are dead,
because they wanted children
but did not have them,
or their children don’t want them
right now in their lives,
or their parents don’t love
a gender identity so dearly chosen,
because their childhood family
or their present one
is marked by abuse,
because there is great distance
of miles or minds
of border wall or prison wall
between them
and someone they love,
because of a miscarriage,
a failed search for a biological parent,
a lonely foster care bedroom,
a desperate attempt
to be a perfect stepparent
or no attempt made at all, 
or just because this holiday
holds up a magnifying glass
to the heart.

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate and give thanks for my own mother … and all the mothers who have been able to provide this tremendous gift. And I offer prayers for those women who, owing to the gaps and fissures in their own landscape, have left pain and emptiness in the space where a mother should have been. For those who choose to enter into the empty, motherless places—the “othermothers” who come in the form of teachers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, neighbors, friends—bless you and thank you for your mothering hearts. For all the mothers—mothers by blood, mothers by heart—a blessing to you on this Mother’s Day. — Jan Richardson

Essay about Mother’s Day Anne Lamott
I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. … Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.
      The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.
      …. the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. … You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.
      … Don’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. …
      But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all …
      No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? Great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawers. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.

Flare (excerpt) — Mary Oliver
5.

My mother
was the blue wisteria,
my mother
was the mossy stream out behind the house,
my mother, alas, alas,
did not always love her life,
heavier than iron it was
as she carried it in her arms, from room to room,
oh, unforgettable!

I bury her
in a box
in the earth
and turn away.

My father
was a demon of frustrated dreams,
was a breaker of trust,
was a poor, thin boy with bad luck.
He followed God, there being no one else
he could talk to;
he swaggered before God, there being no one else
who would listen.

Listen,
this was his life.
I bury it in the earth.
I sweep the closets.
I leave the house.

6.

I mention them now,
I will not mention them again.

It is not lack of love
nor lack of sorrow.
But the iron thing they carried, I will not carry.

I give them–one, two, three, four–the kiss of courtesy,
    of sweet thanks,
of anger, of good luck in the deep earth.
May they sleep well. May they soften.

But I will not give them the kiss of complicity.
I will not give them the responsibility for my life.

There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. . . . Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. . . . Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me — whatever that was — but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want. — Toni Morrison

[T]he point is that freedom is choosing your responsibility. . . . A lady doctor has to be able to say, “I want to go home.” And the one at home has the right to say, “I want to go to medical school.” That’s all there is to that, but then the choices cause problems where there are no problems because “either/or” seems to set up the conflict, first in language and then in life. . . . I tried hard to be both the ship and the safe harbor at the same time, to be able to make a house and be on the job market and still nurture the children. . . . No one should be asked to make a choice between a home or a career. Why not have both? It’s all possible.
    Black women [need to] pay . . . attention to the ancient properties — which for me means the ability to be “the ship” and the “safe harbor.” Our history as Black women is the history of women who could build a house and have some children and there was no problem. . . . What we have known is how to be complete human beings, so that we did not let education keep us from our nurturing abilities. . . [T]o lose that is to diminish ourselves unnecessarily. It is not a question, it’s not a conflict. You don’t have to give up anything. You choose your responsibilities.— Toni Morrison

Reflections on journeys that involve struggles with demons: Part 2 – Facing fears, naming hurt and healing ourselves, our loved ones and strangers (sometimes through forgiveness)

We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts ― Desmond Tutu

Awareness is the first step in healing. — Dean Ornish

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. ― Rumi

The place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. — Cheryl Strayed

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. —  Helen Keller

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it. —Bear Grylls

SONGS about HEALING:

The JOURNEY — Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
 


THE HEALING THAT COMES — Jan Richardson
I know how long you have been waiting
for your story to take a different turn,
how far you have gone
in search of what will mend you and make you whole.
I bear no remedy, no cure,
no miracle for the easing of your pain.
But I know the medicine
that lives in a story that has been broken open.
I know the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves away
with fingers clutched around the fragments
we think are none but ours.
See how they fit together,
these shards we have been carrying—
how in their meeting
they make a way
we could not find alone.

FACING OUR FEARS (Demons)
 
Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it. — Judy Blume
 
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. — Dale Carnegie
 
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. — Eleanor Roosevelt
 
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. — Nelson Mandela
 
He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. — Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it. — Salvador Dali
 
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. — Helen Keller
 
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. —Henry Ford

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. —Rosa Parks

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. —Nelson Mandela

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. —Marie Curie

Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear. — William Congreve

ON HEALING

These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them. ― Rumi

What about evil, you may ask? Aren’t some people just evil, just monsters, and aren’t such people just unforgivable? I do believe there are monstrous and evil acts, but I do not believe those who commit such acts are monsters or evil. To relegate someone to the level of monster is to deny that person’s ability to change and to take away that person’s accountability for his or her actions and behavior. ― Desmond Tutu

Through meditation and contemplation we can learn, for example, that patience is the most potent antidote for anger, satisfaction for greed, bravery for fear, and understanding for doubt. It is not very helpful to rage against others. Instead, we should strive to change ourselves. — Dalai Lama

These verses – and all those like them scattered throughout the Scriptures – are encouraging, inspiring, and revealing. But they can also be quite painful for those who are suffering and do not experience healing. Why then and not now, we might ask. Or, more poignantly, why them and not us? — David Lose

Our own life has to be our message. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos—the trees, the clouds, everything. — Thich Nhat Hanh

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.—Marianne Williamson

Healing yourself is connected with healing others.— Yoko Ono

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are. — Rachel Naomi Remen

There are so many ways to heal. Arrogance may have a place in technology, but not in healing. I need to get out of my own way if I am to heal. — Anne Wilson Schaef

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. — Hubert H. Humphrey

Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy. — Sai Baba

I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful – collecting these shards of spirituality – that we may be helping to bring about a healing. — Leonard Nimoy

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. — Proverbs 16:23-25

To me, forgiveness is the cornerstone of healing. — Sylvia Fraser

The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature, with an open mind. —  Paracelsus

The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. —Caroline Myss

All healing is first a healing of the heart.—  Carl Townsend

Eventually you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is. — Gary Zukav

Everybody has losses – it’s unavoidable in life. Sharing our pain is very healing. —  Isabel Allende

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing. — Rabindranath Tagore

ON HEALING ― Richard Rohr

To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us – and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body. That is the summary work of spirituality – and it is indeed work. Yes, it is also the work of “a Power greater than ourselves,” and it will lead to a great luminosity and depth of seeing. That is why true faith is one of the most holistic and free actions a human can perform. It leads to such broad and deep perception that most traditions would just call it “light.”

Remember, Jesus said that we also are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), as well as saying it about himself (John 8:12). Strange that we see light in him but do not imitate him in seeing the same light in ourselves. Such luminous seeing is quite the opposite of the closed-minded, dead-hearted, body-denying thing that much religion has been allowed to become. As you surely have heard before, “Religion is lived by people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is lived by people who have been through hell and come out enlightened.”

The innocuous mental belief systems of much religion are probably the major cause of atheism in the world today, because people see that religion has not generally created people who are that different, more caring, or less prejudiced than other people. In fact, they are often worse because they think they have God on their small side. I wish I did not have to say this, but religion either produces the very best people or the very worst. Jesus makes this point in many settings and stories. Mere mental belief systems split people apart, whereas actual faith puts all our parts (body, heart, and head) on notice and on call. Honestly, it takes major surgery and much of one’s life to get head, heart, and body to put down their defenses, their false programs for happiness, and their many forms of resistance to what is right in front of them. This is the meat and muscle of the whole conversion process.

Dogfish Mary Oliver

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?

*

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive
for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it’s the same old story – – –
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.

*

And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

FORGIVE — Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious child,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

On Healing with Christ  — Nadia Bolz-Weber (excerpts)

He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN.”

It’s a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? Be open.

It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week.  This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears and saying “BE OPENED.”  And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He sighed he looked to heaven and he said, “Be opened.”  To which I said, “No thanks.”

See, It’s painful to be open.  There’s no control in it. No self-determination. But Jesus is like that, taking us away from whatever the THEY thinks about us, getting all up in our business and insisting on our wholeness.

Be opened, he says.

Be opened to a life where you aren’t the broken one anymore.

Be opened to the possibility that there is healing in the world and it might not look like you think it should.

Be opened to knowing that your own brokenness doesn’t need to be hidden behind someone else’s brokenness.

Be opened to the idea that you are stronger than you think.

Be opened to the idea that you aren’t as strong as you think.

Be opened to the fact that you may not ever get what you want and that you will actually be OK anyway.

Be opened to finally being happy.

Be opened to your own need for healing especially if you yourself are a healer.

Be opened to life and life abundant.

Maybe that’s what healing really is.

We think it’s about identifying what’s wrong with someone else or with ourselves and then having that thing cured, but I wonder if spiritual healing has more to do with being opened than being cured…

But it’s not easy. Healing can hurt.  It can feel like a loss as much as it can feel like a gain.

Because sometimes healing feels more like death and resurrection than getting a warm cookie and glass of milk.

Maybe you are someone who has for so long been the one who suffers depression or illness or dysfunction that you are simply more comfortable that way, because frankly, when you stay sick no one expects much from you. And that’s easier.

Maybe you are someone who deals so much with the brokenness and sickness of others in your work that you forget that you are in need of healing too.

Maybe you are someone who has experienced healing of hospitality here in this community and you have yet to be healed through offer the same thing to others.

Maybe you, like myself, would rather not admit to needing anything form anyone. Including Jesus…

FORGIVENESS as a HEALING PROCESS 

From article by Religious News Service — Jonathan Merritt: As the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu became a leading human rights advocate who has championed causes such as poverty, racism, homophobia, sexism, HIV/AIDS and war. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In his … work, The Book of Forgiving (co-authored with his daughter, Mpho Tutu), he offers four steps to forgiving and healing:

  1. Telling the Story
  2. Naming the Hurt
  3. Granting Forgiveness
  4. Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another—when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship—our suffering begins to transform.
― Desmond Tutu


7 SKILLS for FORGIVING

1- Understanding
The skills of making sense of one’s suffering, researching & learning phase
Nothing is easier than to condemn the evildoer, nothing is harder than to understand him.Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another. — Emma Goldman

Broaden perspective through history.
A potentially useful way to seek an understanding of one’s suffering is by considering the bigger historical context in which the harm took place. Such consideration may help uncover the links between one’s suffering and the adversary group’s suffering. An understanding of one’s suffering in relation to the past or current suffering of the ‘other’ may reveal insights into the adversary group’s basic psychological needs (e.g. security, autonomy, avert existential threats). A threat to these needs may have given rise to the motivation to use aggression to protect them.

Relinquish rigidity.
For some, it may be possible to make sense of their suffering by viewing the roles of victims and perpetrators as reversible. Such flexibility can result from considerations that a degree of victimhood and hopelessness must have lied within the perpetrator to motivate him/her to cause suffering in others. The inter-changeability of roles between victims and perpetrators may further be encouraged by beliefs that human beings are fallible and that they all share a potential to harm each other. This skill may also require one’s acceptance that one’s views of justice and truth may not be shared by others, especially by the adversary party.

Move beyond understanding.
Sometimes victims become too preoccupied with their search for understanding the causes of the harm they’ve experienced and consequently may neglect to harvest the benefits of the above researching & learning skills phase. In other words, understanding becomes the only and ultimate goal. The above skills are not intended solely to accumulate knowledge but also to utilize that acquired knowledge to stimulate shifts in one’s static, uncompromising attitudes and positions.

2- Building bridges born out of suffering:
The skills of relating to another person’s pain
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Build bonds of suffering.
A tendency that maintains the cycle of revenge is to compete over one’s share of suffering (akin to Dr Noor’s concept of Competitive Victimhood: We have suffered more than the other group!). However, it is also possible to use one’s suffering as a bridge to connect to someone else’s suffering, their ‘imperfect’ humanity. Thus despite political, economic, religious and other types of divides, the victims of two conflicting groups can use their suffering (e.g. loss of loved ones and other traumatic losses) to establish a strong, emotional and psychological bond (akin to Dr Vollhardt’s concept of Inclusive Victim Consciousness). They can find it possible to agree that the conflict has brought about adverse consequences for both groups, albeit in perhaps different ways. A focus on common suffering can result in unexpected discoveries of intimate bonds based on shared pain and it can trigger generosity in attitudes and actions between counterparts.

Grasp the concept of Ubuntu.
My humanity is caught up in yours. This ethic which originated in South Africa is a critical skill. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes this perspective as, ‘Ubuntu’ is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am a human because I belong. I participate. I share.” In essence, I am only because you are.

3- Empathy
The skill of putting oneself into someone else’s shoes without judgement.   You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. — Atticus in To Kill A Mocking BirdTry on dirty, uncomfortable, new shoes.
Attempts to understand how the world is viewed by the adversary party might shed further light on what motivated them to cause the suffering. For example, the adversary party’s attacks on one’s child who serves in the military may be incomprehensible to the bereaved mother/father, especially because of the child’s best intentions and limited choice to avoid compulsory conscription. However, after taking the perspective of the adversary group, from which the military is viewed as a force of oppression, and thus their child as a symbol of that oppression, the hostile behaviour towards soldiers may become more understandable. Thus the skill of putting oneself into someone else’s shoes enables one to acknowledge that the world can be viewed and understood in ways that may be very different from one’s own worldview. To do this, it is required to first become aware that these other types of perspectives and worldviews exist and then to develop the desire to relate to them. Healing work is about acquiring a new pair of spectacles. Practising this skill in relation to someone who has inflicted harm can result in insights into the person’s thoughts, feelings and actions that motivated him/her to cause the suffering. Such empathy is void of moral judgement and thus can move the person beyond simple understanding. Yet, it does not necessarily contain condoning of the suffering.
4- Curiosity & Courage The skills of looking beyond yourself.
You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. — Andre GideGenerate curiosity to correct stereotypes.The benefits of the other skills in the tool-box can be honed partly by developing the skills of curiosity. To develop a sense of wanting to find out more about the ‘enemy’ requires one to go beyond oneself and one’s existing knowledge. It also requires an acceptance that one’s knowledge of the world as well as its sources are imperfect, limited and in need of expansion. Such expansion can be implemented by developing a desire to reach out and add to or revise one’s existing knowledge. It is also possible to gain further understanding of one’s own suffering and the circumstances that led to it by generating curiosity to find out who the enemy group really is. Such curiosity often generates a motivation to engage with the other group, which in turn creates opportunities to correct one’s stereotypes of the other group.
Be courageous.
In tandem with the skills associated with curiosity, the skills of developing courage to engage and potentially meet with the person who is responsible for one’s suffering may be required. One way of developing courage is to become aware that the adversary might have to go through a similar courage-generating process full of its own challenges and that they could have opted for ‘easier’ options (e.g. avoidance, offers of pseudo-apologies).   5-Accepting personal and collective responsibility:
The skill of locating the ‘I’ and the ‘We’ in the suffering
The gunman and his family are victims too. Perhaps victims of the society we have responsibility for. — Andrea LeBlanc, (lost husband in 9/11) commenting on Boston bombings
Rediscover agency without shame or guilt.
Acknowledgement and apology are important factors in the healing journey but they may not be available and therefore can put the power in the wrong hands, keeping the harmed stuck in a place of disappointment and expectation. Instead, rediscovering one’ personal and group-based agency is a more fruitful approach to healing. The skill of reviving one’s agency requires that one does not separate oneself as a passive recipient from the harmful event, but instead one acknowledges that as human beings we have agency. At the time of the harm such an agency may have been perceived as non-existent or strictly diminished. Acknowledging personal and collective responsibility is to concede that even at the time of the difficult harmful situation one had a degree of agency. Such insights may produce feelings of guilt and shame. However, the above skill is intended to direct individuals towards empowerment such that it helps them to rediscover their agency after the harm has been done. Whether erroneous decisions (miscalculation, missed opportunities, etc.) were made by one’s group leaders or by one’s own inaction to challenge short-sighted leaders, accepting personal and collective responsibility requires the development of a critical awareness of how oneself and one’s group have contributed to the situation that led to the suffering. Such insights into own contributions to one’s suffering can in turn enable one to act in order to change the course of action from further harming to healing.
6- Resisting conformity The skills of finding your own path
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that has ever happened. — Margaret Mead

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Defy what others may have in mind for you.
Traditionally, there is a piece of cautionary advice not to overburden individuals who have experienced major painful events in life, for example, by encouraging them to re-adjust too quickly or to engage with the person who caused the pain. However, as useful as this advice may be, it is equally important to bear in mind that at times these individuals may be trapped within their victimhood, not because they want to remain victims but rather because of the expectations by their families, community, society, etc. to conform to their victim role. Thus, in order to counter these expectations individuals may be required to develop the skills involved in resisting such expectations, namely, deviance. The kind of deviance referred to here involves two sets of skills:   Be a small black sheep The first set presents a number of challenges at the personal level and encourages the individual to acquire skills that were described earlier (e.g. challenges to the self to empathize with the adversary, to consider the non-static nature of victim and perpetrator roles, to acknowledge personal responsibility, to be curious and brave, and to engage with the person causing the pain).
Be a big black sheep This set of skills presents challenges at the group-based level and requires critical thinking about one’s own group, their assumptions, norms, values and worldview. It further requires a genuine understanding of the adversary group’s concerns and psychological needs (e.g. need for safety). These skills will help develop awareness that one’s own group may have contributed to the conflict and suffering as well, be it through provocation, poor negotiation skills or missed opportunities for a peaceful co-existence. The above sets of skills essentially enable the individuals to discover the ‘full story’ and to move beyond the ‘always guilty other’ and the ‘always innocent me/us’.   7- Recovering from resentment: The skill of letting go of anger and bitterness

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. — Anon
Return to being human.
No-one is born angry, resentful or evil. However, our hearts and minds can easily be filled with strong and persistent negative emotions and intentions due to a victimhood experience. The more that resentment plants the desire in one to exact a wrong, the further one moves away from our humanness with which we are gifted at birth. The skill of letting go of anger and bitterness requires the realisation that resentment has the potential to undermine our humanity, its integrity and its capacity for compassion, as well as the potential to eat away at our peace of mind and well-being. Holding onto resentment has a cost. This skill is the ability to transform the impulse for revenge into a search for something larger; it is about broadening one’s perspective to encompass a sense of the ‘other’.
This skill invites the act of forgiving.
Forgiveness is not a pancake movement. Feelings cannot just be flipped, but you can tilt the balance in the direction towards the discovery of a new way of operating in the world. Hatred and resentment have a tight grip in the same way that the more one focuses on a problem the more engrained it becomes. Forgiveness results in a loosening of that tight grip. It generates  space and creates capacity to doubt, modify and think anew.

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