Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

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

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

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

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

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

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

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

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

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

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

Meditations on “wisdom” in our lives, and reflections on Veterans Day

The spiritual practice of seeking wisdom balanced with the capacity to be foolish in a transformative way … and some reflections on issues facing Veterans, offered from a military chaplain.

Wisdom shows up as a desirable quality to be sought and learned through spiritual discipline in the writings of Solomon and in the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25. It is something we can reach for. Yet in other texts, we are encouraged to be fools, to cast aside caution and prudence, to take astonishing risks … which spiritual practice do you cultivate?

See notes below in honor of Veterans Day. This song lyric is highlighted by a 3-tour Iraqi war veteran and military chaplain to provoke insight into the perspective of many of our veterans. It may not reflect all experiences, but it deserves our attention.

Wrong Side of Heaven (excerpt)
— Five Finger Death Punch

I spoke to god today, and she said that she’s ashamed.
What have I become, what have I done?
I spoke to the devil today, and he swears he’s not to blame.
And I understood, cuz I feel the same.
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven,
and the righteous side of hell …
I heard from god today,
and she sounded just like me.
What have I done, and who have I become.
I saw the devil today, and he looked a lot like me.
I looked away, I turned away!
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell …
I’m not defending, downward descending,
falling further and further away!
I’m closer EVERYDAY!
I’m getting closer every day, to the end.
The end, The end, the end,
I’m getting closer EVERYDAY!
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell …


Becoming Wise

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ― Aristotle

Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy. ― Ludwig van Beethoven

Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens. ― Jimi Hendrix

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. ― Jalaluddin Rumi

Turn your wounds into wisdom. ― Oprah Winfrey

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ― Joseph Campbell

Even strength must bow to wisdom sometimes. ― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

In this life we are to become heaven so that God might find a home here. — Meister Eckhart  

The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise. ― Maya Angelou

How do we remain faithful to our own spiritual imagination and not betray what we know in our own bodies? The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. — Terry Tempest Williams, Leap

On Foolishness

Before God we are all equally wise and equally foolish. ― Albert Einstein

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. ― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. ― Leo Buscaglia

The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. ― Socrates

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. ― Colette

Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom. ― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

It’s a dangerous business … going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet. ― Bertrand Russell


Beyond Patriotism and Public Displays of Appreciation:
Connecting with Veterans

The moral obligation to know our veterans: A TedX Talk by Mike Haynie, recommended by Rev Gail’s colleague: Rev Brendan Moore. “In 2005, Brandon became an Active Duty Army Chaplain at Fort Bragg, NC, where he served and deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division. From 2008-2012 he served and deployed as a Special Forces Chaplain.” He served three tours in Iraq.

 

Rev Brendan also posted a link to this music video “Wrong Side of Heaven” by Five Finger Death Punch (see lyrics above). Brendan says “the words to the song, with various images of war on the homefront and battlefront … messages about the needs that Veterans have,” reflects the feelings of many veterans who served alongside him in Iraq. He asks, “What feeling do you have from watching the video and reading the lyrics to this song?” Rev Brendan says, “Admittedly mine are mixed, but I am provoked and challenged. We must connect, care, and communicate in deeper and more profound ways. The song “Wrong Side of Heaven” gives voice to the feelings many have. The truth is that it is a reality that many are living, now.”

We were once a part of something bigger than ourselves. We were once brothers and sisters in a cause. We need to find each other, take care of each other, in the small things. In the everyday things. We can’t wait for the public to understand. — David Wyckoff, veteran

Those of us who have worn the uniform and stood on the line plead with our fellow civilians to notice us, hear us, talk with us. We are a better nation when that happens. — Veteran


Wisdom & Foolishness in Times of Conflict
If you fear nothing, then you are not brave. You are merely too foolish to be afraid. ― Laurell K. Hamilton, Skin Trade

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

If there really had been a Mercutio, and if there really were a Paradise, Mercutio might be hanging out with teenage Vietnam draftee casualties now, talking about what it felt like to die for other people’s vanity and foolishness. ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Hocus Pocus

[Y]ou [man] are fool enough, it seems, to dare to war with [woman=] me, when for your faithful ally you might win me easily. ― Aristophanes, Lysistrata

One of the greatest evils is the foolishness of a good man. For the giving man to withhold helping someone in order to first assure personal fortification is not selfish, but to elude needless self-destruction; martyrdom is only practical when the thought is to die, else a good man faces the consequence of digging a hole from which he cannot escape, and truly helps no one in the long run. ― Mike Norton, Just Another War Story


A Veteran (excerpt)Reginald Gibbons
My father came down not killed
from among others, killers or killed,
for whom he’d worn a uniform,
and he lived a long afterward,
a steady man on the flattest of plains.
I called after him many times, surprised
when I heard the catch in my own voice.
He didn’t know how to find the solace
of listening to someone else speak of
what he’d seen and survived.
He himself closed his own
mouth against his own words.
In the wrong sequence, his spirit,
then his mind, and last his body crossed over …

The War Works HardDunya Mikhail
How magnificent the war is! How eager and efficient!  . . .
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies, adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters, accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers with articles and pictures,
builds new houses for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers, gives grave diggers a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it a word of praise.

Meditations on “Spirit”

Advocate to be with you forever. … the Spirit … abides with you … will be in you … because I live, you also will live … I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. — excerpts from Gospel of John 14

Interrelationship — Thich Nhat Hanh
You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.

A Little Homily for the Holy Seasons of the Spirit  (excerpt) — Joseph Langland

Through all my childhood I often beheld ragged sparrows
flying upward throughout a series of lesser fallings,
beating their filmy feathers around the nest-clogged barn eaves.
Being no St Francis feeding among the field lilies,

I fell through tumbling air.
It is scarcely daring for birds to begin falling;
then grace is natural. Bedazzling flight
begins in descent until lovelier upswinging
embraces the side-slipping wings.
Then birds fly and heart skips.

Descent is good folly;
therefore, as it is sometimes holy
inasmuch as bird-natural worlds are an expression
in ranges of goodness and omnipresent wickedness,
of bright platonic otherworlds and omnipotent wills …


Adult life is dealing with an enormous amount of questions that don’t have answers. So I let the mystery settle into my music. I don’t deny anything, I don’t advocate anything, I just live with it. — Bruce Springsteen

The world is changed by your example not by your opinion. — Paulo Coelho

Even the smallest person can change the future … — JRR Tolkien

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. — St Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Be mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. — The Talmud (303, excerpt)

Tikkun Olam — The Repair of the World: If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly, then it is you yourself that needs repair. — Menachem Mendel Schneerson

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. — Greek proverb

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” & “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever humans endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides … neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything. — Albert Einstein

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 


Peace Prayer — St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit — Joy Harjo
Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, lightning, the deaths of all those you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s a story so compelling you may never want to leave; this is how she traps you. See that stone finger over there? That is the only one who ever escaped.