Reflecting on holistic choices: freedom, slavery, and fruits of the spirit from Paul’s letter to Galatians.

Allegories of slavery & freedom in sacred texts: liberating or problematic?

At the end of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alludes to the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. — Biblical Archeology Review

Prejudice, discrimination, resentment and violence are enemies that never die. Every generation must redream the dream to overcome these destructive forces. — Bill Tinsley

Community of the Spirit— Rumi

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands
if you want to be held.
Consider what you have been doing.
Why do you stay
with such a mean-spirited and dangerous partner?
For the security of having food.
Admit it.
Here is a better arrangement.
Give up this life,
and get a hundred new lives.
Sit down in this circle.
Quit acting like a wolf,
and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders.
Do not take painkillers.
Tonight, no consolations.
And do not eat.
Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.
You moan,
But she left me.
He left me.
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought.
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down
in always widening rings of being.


To the Holy Spirit — Wendell Berry

O Thou, far off and here,
 whole and broken,
Who in necessity and bounty wait,
Whose truth is light and dark,
 mute though spoken,
By Thy wide grace show me
 Thy narrow gate.


Songs about Spirit (many cultural references, including Holy Spirit):


Learn more about Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

Questions to consider:

  • What do you need to be freed from? What do you desire to be freed for?
  • Can you recall or focus on a moment when you have experienced liberation? What parts of yourself were affected: body, mind, spirit, emotions? What led to your experience of freedom?
  • If you could be a “new creation” … what would you imagine or claim for your transformed identity?
  • Which aspects of unhealthy living do you most struggle to bring back into balance? What does your spending tell you about which parts of your life may be out of balance? Galatians suggest some problem areas such as: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy,[drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
  • What fruits of the spirit do you already have? Which fruits of the spirit do you need or want more fully in your life? Galatians identifies them as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

NOTES on SLAVERY: Then and Now

  • Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. — Nikole Hannah-Jones
  • Fellow Citizens … The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men … The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. — Frederick Douglass (full article on Douglass’ historic Independence Day Address)
  • Not only does birthright citizenship bestow upon us a privileged status that we haven’t earned; our nation’s unparalleled wealth and power, as well as our actual borders, lack a sturdy moral foundation. But for slavery, genocide and colonization, we would not be the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world — in fact, our nation would not even exist. This is not hyperbole; it’s history. — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • … it feels to me like the urgency of the history of this struggle, of a struggle for genuine racial justice and equality in this country feels more alive right now, has more bite and teeth to it than it probably has in my lifetime. — Chris Hayes, Why Is This Happening?
  • Hundreds of thousands of Africans, both free and enslaved, aided the establishment and survival of colonies in the Americas and the New World. — History’s Slavery in America
  • However, many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be 1619 … some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World. — History’s Slavery in America
  • Slavery itself was never widespread in the North, though many of the region’s businessmen grew rich on the slave trade and investments in southern plantations. — History’s Slavery in America
  • They were statesmen, patriots and heroes … I will unite with you to honor their memory … Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? … Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. … The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. … You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. — Frederick Douglass (full article on Douglass’ historic Independence Day Address)
  • And the thing about the history of all of this … it gets very sanitized. And the reason I think it gets sanitized is there is a kind of apology that is draped over all about it. Which is that, “Yes, it was bad back then, but they didn’t really know any better.” Do people feel like that was the message they got? Not that it was okay, right? But, they were creatures of their times. — Chris Hayes Why Is This Happening?
  • Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the enslaved population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South. — History’s Slavery in America
  • I think white Americans woke up … to the America that black folks have always lived in … “Oh, this isn’t the country I thought it was …” So there is this desire, I think, to excavate our history to understand how we got here … And when you studied history, then suddenly the architecture of the inequality is revealed, and it’s calming because then you say, “Oh, so this does actually make sense, but not for the reasons that we’re told.” And I think that is a similar thing that is now happening to white Americans and other nonblack Americans. — Nikole Hannah-Jones, Why Is This Happening?
  • Since 2010, when I published “The New Jim Crow” — which argued that a system of legal discrimination and segregation had been born again in this country because of the war on drugs and mass incarceration — there have been significant changes to drug policy, sentencing and re-entry … initiatives aimed at eliminating barriers … for formerly incarcerated people. — Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • … hopefully we can now see that Jim Crow was a less restrictive form of racial and social control, not a real alternative to racial caste systems. Similarly, if the goal is to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not an answer. They’re just another way of posing the question. — Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • Black people remain the most segregated people in America in every aspect of American life, we remain on the bottom of every social indicator of well being, us and Native Americans, the two groups who didn’t choose to be part of America. But other groups are clearly more fluid, right? The historian who wrote, “How the Irish Became White” died today, and he talks about how whiteness is fluid. How people who were Irish, who were Jewish, who were Italian, or Greek were at one time not considered white and then they became white, certain Latino groups are considered white. Even Asian Americans who, in the 1800s, were classified as not being able to be assimilated just like black people, often the laws were against black and Mongoloids, but now are considered a model minority … — Nikole Hannah-Jones Why Is This Happening?
  • Of course, it can be argued that virtually all modern nation-states were created through violence, exploitation and war. But we claim to be unlike most nation-states; indeed, we insist that we’re “exceptional.” We are the only nation that advertises itself as “a nation of immigrants” and the “land of the free”  …  our nation was birthed by a Declaration of Independence, a document that insists that “all men are created equal” with “certain inalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After centuries of struggle, including a Civil War, we now claim to understand that all people — not just propertied white men — are created equal with basic, inalienable human rights …  Even if we’re tempted to treat as irrelevant the circumstances of our nation’s founding, we cannot ignore the fact that our recent and current foreign policies, trade agreements and military adventures — including our global drug wars — have greatly contributed to the immigration crisis that our nation is now trying to solve through border walls and mass deportation. … challenging us to see immigrants not only as fully human, created equal, with certain inalienable rights but also morally entitled to far greater care, compassion and concern than we have managed to muster to date. — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • Fortunately, a growing number of advocates are organizing to ensure that important reforms, such as ending cash bail, are not replaced with systems that view poor people and people of color as little more than commodities to be bought, sold, evaluated and managed for profit … If our goal is not a better system of mass criminalization, but instead the creation of safe, caring, thriving communities, then we ought to be heavily investing in quality schools, job creation, drug treatment and mental health care in the least advantaged communities rather than pouring billions into their high-tech management and control.— Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • The deeper question raised … how we ought to manage immigration in a manner that honors the dignity, humanity and legitimate interests of all concerned … Reaching for a radically more humane immigration system … does require a certain measure of humility on the part of those of us who have benefited from birthright citizenship. Rather than viewing immigrants as seeking something that we, Americans, have a moral right to withhold from them, we ought to begin by acknowledging that none of us who were born here did anything to deserve our citizenship, and yet all of us — no matter where we were born — deserve compassion and basic human rights. … our relationship to those who are fleeing poverty and violence is morally complex … — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • Worldwide contemporary [21stc] slavery … refers to institutional slavery that continues to occur in present-day society. It can also be called forced labor and human trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, a UN organization, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. 1 in 4 of these people are children. Of those trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.ilo.org

On Fruits of the Spirit

Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and our unity with God and others – is humility. — Jerry Bridges

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. — Henri Nouwen No one ever said the fruit of the Spirit is relevance or impact or even revival. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the sort of stuff that, let’s face it, doesn’t always sell. — Rachel Held Evans

Jesus offered the world full and final participation in his own very holistic teaching. Jesus spoke of true union at all levels: with oneself, with the neighbor, with the outsider, with the enemy, with nature, and—through all of these—with the Divine. … The spiritual question is this: Does one’s life give any evidence of an encounter with God? Does this encounter bring about in you any of the things that Paul describes as the “fruits” of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22)? Are you different from your surroundings, or do you reflect the predictable cultural values and biases of your group? — Richard Rohr

There is a great deal we never think of calling religion that is still fruit unto God, and garnered by Him in the harvest. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, patience, goodness. I affirm that if these fruits are found in any form, whether you show your patience as a woman nursing a fretful child, or as a man attending to the vexing detail of a business, or as a physician following the dark mazes of sickness, or as a mechanic fitting the joints and valves of a locomotive; being honest true besides, you bring forth truth unto God. — Edward Bulwer-Lytton Already the new [people] men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other [people] men do, but they need you less … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. – C.S. Lewis

About “there is no longer slave or free” from Galatians

Our relation to God is not a ‘religious’ relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable, but our relation to God is a new life in ‘existence for others’ … — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last. — Martin Luther King

The inclusive vision incarnated in Jesus’ table fellowship is reflected in the shape of the Jesus movement itself. It was an inclusive movement, negating the boundaries of the purity system. — Marcus Borg

And in the Jesus business there is not male or female, jew or greek, slave or free, gay or straight, there is only one category of people: children of God. Which means nobody gets to be special and everybody gets to be loved.— Nadia Bolz-Weber

I believe patriarchy is a result of sin, and that followers of Jesus are to be champions of equality. I believe it is our calling, as imitators of Christ, to reflect God’s new vision for the world, initiated through Jesus Christ,  in which there is no hierarchy or power struggle between slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, for all are one in the family of God (Galatians 3:28) — Rachel Held Evans

So why does Paul put exactly these categories together? The three pairs that Paul includes in this verse all played a role in first-century conceptions of what an ideal world would look like. When imagining ideal or utopian communities, Paul’s contemporaries picture different peoples living together in one homogeneous group under one law—without ethnic distinction. They also imagine societies where people are not divided into households and families, but all live as “brothers,” as equals. Such communities could reject property, slavery, and marriage, since in the minds of first-century philosophers, doing away with possessions, slaves, and wives meant removing the major causes of social conflict. When Paul sums up the community of those who live “in Christ,” he uses categories that reflect such first-century ideals. — Karin Neutel

We also have been baptized in the one Spirit. But we are no freer than were the ancient Galatians from the bred-in-the-bone rivalry and competitiveness that can express itself religiously in any number of ways. Essential to the process of transformation in Christ is to see the ways in which we individually and communally fail to live out the spirit of love that fulfills the law of Christ. — Luke Timothy Johnson

RESOURCES:

  • Why Is This Happening? Examining slavery’s legacyNikole Hannah-Jones and Ibram X. Kendi with Chris Hayes (excerpt). Full article. Together they examine the 400 year legacy of slavery in America.
  • The Newest Jim Crow — Michelle Alexander: Full article.
  • None of Us Deserved Citizenship — Michelle Alexander: Full article
  • Slavery in America by History
  • 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones

Reflections on knowing your heart – theme from Acts of the Apostles 11-15

Then love knew it was called love.
And when I lifted my eyes to your name,
suddenly your heart showed me my way.
― Pablo Neruda

May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Clear of mind,
Gracious in awareness
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.
— John O’Donohue
 

Questions to consider:

  • In what ways do you know you own heart? How have you come to know yourself well? When has your heart surprised you?
  • When you pray, what parts of yourself do you choose to hide from Godself? What would you be most comfortable and uncomfortable for Godself to see and know about your heart?
  • Who else in your life knows you well?

Songs about the heart:

Know Your Heart

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. ― Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more. You’re doing just fine. ― Charlotte Eriksson

I wish you knew what I have in my heart for you, but there is no way for you to know except by my actions. — Umar b. al-Khattib

… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. ― Leo Tolstoy
 
“I’ve never minded it,” he went on. “Being lost, that is. I had always thought one could not truly be lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.” ― Cassandra Clare

When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. ― Milan Kundera
 
The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. ― Blaise Pascal
 
The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true. ― Leigh Bardugo
 
We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ― Ray Bradbury
 
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! ― Charlotte Brontë
 
Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out. ― Markus Zusak
 
Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high. ― William Goldman
 
One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
 
“Because fear kills everything,” Mo had once told her. “Your mind, your heart, your imagination.” ― Cornelia Funke
 
Her heart – like every heart, if only its fallen sides were cleared away – was an inexhaustible fountain of love: she loved everything she saw. ― George MacDonald
 
The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration. ― Pearl Buck
 
She put one hand on mine. “When someone is in your heart, they’re never truly gone. They can come back to you, even at unlikely times.” ― Mitch Albom
 
Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to. ― Marissa Meyer
 
The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too. ― Vincent van Gogh
 
Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts. ― Tennessee Williams
 
Then he made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away, and he could not find it. ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 
Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. ― Homer
 
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. —  Bible
 
Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends. ― Alphonse de Lamartine
 
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn. What the swift mind beholds at every turn. ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Heart as Sacred Place

One love, one heart, one destiny. ― Robert Marley

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ― Augustine of Hippo

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ― Mahatma Gandhi
 

Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing. — Cynthia Bourgeault 

There is a place in you…that is the eternal place within you. The more we visit there, the more we are touched and fused with the limitless kindness and affection of the divine…If we can inhabit that reflex of divine presence, then compassion will flow naturally from us. — John O’Donohue

Heart Center — Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Deep within each of us is a prayer phrase longing to be expressed, what some have named the Prayer of the Heart. It consists of two simple phrases—one said on inhalation and one said on exhalation. Early Christians used to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” in this fashion. That was their deep longing, for Jesus to return and be among them in physical reality. We will spend time in this exercise finding those prayers that are as close to us as our very breath. The beauty of this prayer is the way it stays with us all day, all week, or even for a lifetime if we allow it.

The Exercise 

  • Begin seated in a comfortable position. Make sure your body weight is distributed in such a way that you feel stable. Take about five deep, slow breaths and allow the tension of the day to flow out with each exhalation. After five deliberate breaths, turn your attention away from counting and allow your breath to find its natural pace.
  • What is your deepest and truest longing for life with God at this moment? If you find that your longing feels “tacky” or too worldly, try suspending judgment and instead looking at what’s at the base of that desire. When you check in with your deepest and truest self, what is it that you seek from God?
  • Give that longing a short phrase. For example, if your deep desire is inner freedom, then your phrase would be “freedom” or “inner freedom.” Make sure that your phrase is not too long.
  • What is your favorite name for God? How do you image the Creator? Choose whatever name seems to fit best for you. Some examples include: Jesus, Wisdom, Father, Mother, or Mystery. Be as creative as you want to be. But again, keep the name rather short.
  • Combine your name for God with your longing. For example, if my phrase is “freedom” and the name I choose for God is Christ, my prayer of the heart might be “Freedom, in Christ.” Spend a few moments coming up with your two-part prayer
  • Begin to say—either aloud or silently—your phrase. You may inhale on the name of God and exhale on the desire or vice versa. Spend several minutes breathing this prayer. Make it your own. Allow God to inhabit this prayer.
  • After several minutes of repeating this prayer, sink into contemplative silence. Allow the love of God to fill you and surround you.
  • If you want to be sure to remember this phrase to pray it throughout the day, write it down. You might want to place it on the back of a business card and put it in your wallet or pocket. Place it on a sticky note next to your computer, or on the door of your refrigerator.

Reference:

  • Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 36-38.

Wisdom of the Heart Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Here are five interlocking habits of the heart . . . deeply ingrained patterns of receiving, interpreting, and responding to experience that involve our intellects, emotions, self-images, and concepts of meaning and purpose. These five habits, taken together, are crucial to sustaining a democracy.

  • We must understand that we are all in this together. Ecologists, economists, ethicists, philosophers of science, and religious and secular leaders have all given voice to this theme. . . .
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”. . . [This] can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger. . . .
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. . . . When we allow [these] tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. . . .
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. . . .
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community. . . . The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. [4]

References:

  1. Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement,” Orion, July-August 2004. See also Williams, The Open Space of Democracy (Wip and Stock: 2004), 83-84.
  2. [Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Way of the Heart,” Parabola, January 31, 2017.
  3. Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Voice of the Day: Richard Rohr on Sacred Space,” Sojourners, October 24, 2016.
  4. Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), 6-7, 44-46.

Acknowledging the challenges of these times: responding to loss & trauma

Your hearts are troubled,
and it is no sacrilege to let them be so …
— Maren Tirabassi

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.
Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.
― C.S. Lewis

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
— Rumi

Naming Change and Loss: Recently, our community has experienced deep challenges, traumas and losses. These are events that occur beyond the pandemic’s complexities, or are exacerbated because of them. These range from life-limiting diagnoses and deaths to accidents and mental health crises. They may also include other life-altering changes, such as major shifts in relationship status, safety and wellbeing, shelter/housing, vocation/livelihood, and/or economic viability.

Some of these circumstances are reversible. Some are permanent and irrevocable. And heartbreaking.

We have been working on hope and resilience for months now. Coping. Managing. Not just surviving, but thriving at times. Reinventing ourselves. Being creative. Optimistic. Yes, and we’re good at it. We keep rising up and responding.

Today … let us, just for a moment, bear witness to the great sorrows that have also shaken us in the past several weeks, or in the last 24 hours. This message is to acknowledge wherever you may find yourself in this reality, in this time. Below are a few offerings. They presume to make things right or better. They don’t pretend to fix or explain anything. They simply articulate something about where we find ourselves. Just for now, let us be present to the truth and pain of these times, as well as the energetic ‘recovery and reopening and renewal’ strategies we implement.

Let us say here, too, that no words by any person, even those who have also known great suffering, are equal to all the realities that are happening among us. Accept whatever grace or support you may find in these words, put down what isn’t helpful or relevant to your situation. Know these are offered with love, but what we truly mean to offer is our presence in your life.  — Rev Gail Pomeroy Doktor

Songs:
Seasons of Love from the musical RENT
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
Holes in the Night Sky by the Smith Fraser Duo
Let It Be by The Beatles
Candle in the Wind by Elton John
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
Holes in the Floor of Heaven by Steve Wariner
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? performed by Carole King & James Taylor

Blessing for the Brokenhearted (excerpt) — Jan Richardson
Let us agree for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.
Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—
as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,
as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still …

For Grief (excerpt)— John O’Donohue 

When you lose
someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you
gets fragile,
Your thoughts
make your eyes unsure
… words have no confidence.
Your heart has
grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss
has wounded others too,
No one knows what
has been taken from you
When the silence
of absence deepens.

… There are days
when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have
your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle
of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain
faithful to itself.
More than you,
it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form
of your departed;
And, when the work
of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul
where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Musings on Grief, Loss & Sudden Change

This business of having been issued a body is deeply confusing… Bodies are so messy and disappointing. Every time I see the bumper sticker that says “We think we’re humans having spiritual experiences, but we’re really spirits having human experiences,” I (a) think it’s true and (b) want to ram the car. — Anne Lamott

The Abyss of Grief (full essay here): Suddenly, the sacred fire I have been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss … So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face … Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowning, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water. … This was the sacred emptiness … And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back. But I discovered that there was nowhere to hide when radical sorrow unraveled the fabric of my life. I could rage against the terrible unknown—and I did, for I am human and have this vulnerable body, passionate heart, and complicated mind—or I could turn toward the cup, bow to the Cupbearer, and say, “Yes.” I didn’t do it right away, nor was I able to sustain it when I did manage a breath of surrender. But gradually I learned to soften into the pain and yield to my suffering … I became acutely aware of my connectedness … everywhere … who had lost  … who were, at this very moment, hearing the impossible news … Grief strips us. According to the mystics, this is good news. … Few among us would ever opt for the narrow gate of grief, even if it were guaranteed to lead us to God. But if our most profound losses—the death of a loved one, the ending of a marriage or a career, catastrophic disease or alienation from community—bring us to our knees before that threshold, we might as well enter … — Mirabai Starr for the Center for Action and Contemplation

Resources

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This is a book available through the library or White Birch Books (place an order); it’s also a community-building resource through their website. Resources for grief due to death, domestic violence/trauma/abuse and other challenges.
  • Resources from the Forgiveness Project: some resources for the process and journey of forgiveness – forgiveness toolkit.
  • Guided Meditation for encountering grief: Joan Halifax

DON’T HESITATE — Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and
Unexpectedly feel joy,
Don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty
Of lives and whole towns
Destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise,
And not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way
Of fighting back, that sometimes
Something happens
Better than all the riches
Or power in the world.
It could be anything,
But very likely
You notice it in the instant
When love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is,
Don’t be afraid
Of its plenty.
Joy is not made
To be a crumb.

ANTIDOTES to FEAR of DEATH
— Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Kindness (excerpt)
— Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know
what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted
and carefully saved …
… You must see how
this could be you,
… someone who journeyed
through the night with plans
and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry

When despair for the world
Grows in me
And I wake in the night
At the least sound
In fear of what my life
And my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down
Where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water,
And the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives
With forethought of grief.
I come into the presence
Of still water.
And I feel above me
The day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace
Of the world,
And am free.

Excerpt from writings by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Contrary to the general assumption, the first days of grief are not the worst. The immediate reaction is usually shock and numbing disbelief. One has undergone an amputation. After shock comes acute early grief which is a kind of “condensed presence” — almost a form of possession. One still feels the lost limb down to the nerve endings. It is as if the intensity of grief fused the distance between you and the dead. Or perhaps, in reality, part of one dies. Like Orpheus, one tries to follow the dead on the beginning of their journey. But one cannot, like Orpheus, go all the way, and after a long journey one comes back. If one is lucky, one is reborn. Some people die and are reborn many times in their lives. For others the ground is too barren and the time too short for rebirth. Part of the process is the growth of a new relationship with the dead, that “véritable ami mort” Saint-Exupéry speaks of. Like all gestation, it is a slow dark wordless process. While it is taking place one is painfully vulnerable. One must guard and protect the new life growing within– like a child.

One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of family and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”–“Get her away” –“Change the scene”–“Bring in people to cheer her up”–“Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. “I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,”  Constance cries in a magnificent speech in Shakespeare’s King John.  Despite her words, there is not aristocracy of grief. Grief is a great leveler. There is no highroad out.

Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable– open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.

More Musings

Most of us do as well as possible, and some of it works okay, and we try to release that which doesn’t and which is never going to. … Making so much of it work is the grace of it; and not being able to make it work is double grace. Grace squared. — Anne Lamott

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. — Joan Didion, Year of Magical Thinking

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

— Maya Angelou

Thoughts on farewell, being left behind, waiting, and ascending to heaven: themes from Acts 1

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.

Songs about Ascension:


Questions to consider about re-entering ‘real’/daily life and waiting for the arrival or support and help … themes from Acts 1: 6-10:

  • Can you name peak moment(s) or mountain-top experience(s) in your life?
  • When you re-enter daily life, after pinnacle moments, how are you changed? What do you carry with you from such times?
  • Can you retain or cultivate some of the blessings or gifts of such exceptional times? What practices help you do so?
  • When you’re told to wait for something to come … told to ‘shelter in place’ until the resources you need arrive … what is that like? Waiting? Preparing? What is difficult about waiting? What opportunities does a period of waiting offer?
Meditations on Farewell & Being Left Behind

If we have grown weary in this season. If we have become overwhelmed. If we are living with fear or anxiety or worry about what lies ahead. If the swirl … has become intense. If time is moving strangely. If grief has been a traveling companion. If the ground beneath us has given way. If resurrection seems less than certain …  This is the day that calls us to breathe. This is the day that invites us to make a space within the weariness, the fear, the ache. This is the day that beckons us to turn toward one another, and to remember we do not breathe alone. — Jan Richardson

It is queer to be in a place when someone has gone. It is not two other places, the place that they were there in, and the place that was there before they came. I can’t get used to this third place or to staying behind. ― Elizabeth Bowen

For Sayonara, literally translated, ‘Since it must be so,’ of all the good-byes I have heard is the most beautiful. Unlike the Auf Wiedershens and Au revoirs, it does not try to cheat itself by any bravado ‘Till we meet again,’ any sedative to postpone the pain of separation. It does not evade the issue like the sturdy blinking FarewellFarewell is a father’s good-bye. It is – ‘Go out in the world and do well, my son.’ It is encouragement and admonition. It is hope and faith. But it passes over the significance of the moment; of parting it says nothing. It hides its emotion. It says too little. While Good-bye (‘God be with you’) and Adios say too much. They try to bridge the distance, almost to deny it. Good-bye is a prayer, a ringing cry. ‘You must not go – I cannot bear to have you go! But you shall not go alone, unwatched. God will be with you. God’s hand will over you’ and even – underneath, hidden, but it is there, incorrigible – ‘I will be with you; I will watch you – always.’ It is a mother’s good-bye. But Sayonarasays neither too much nor too little. It is a simple acceptance of fact. All understanding of life lies in its limits. All emotion, smoldering, is banked up behind it. But it says nothing. It is really the unspoken good-bye, the pressure of a hand, ‘Sayonara. ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Thoughts on Waiting



The wait is long. My dream of you does not end. — Nuala o”Faolain

Behind every fear, there is a miracle waiting. — Marianne Williamson

We have to let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. — Joseph Campbell

Christian Commentary on Ascension

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

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

No, we’ll probably never physically see Jesus. But we can see the people that represent Jesus. The church community is the first thing that comes into my mind. We all represent Jesus in the good things we do. I mean, we’re not the perfect servants of God. Nobody is perfect. But we see people do good things for other people all the time… As a church community, wehelp, we serve God and otherstoo. We pray. We forgive and also ask to be forgivenThat’s just the little part of God inside of us that tells us to do good.  So WE are the Jesus of the Earth. — Katie from Ebenezer Lutheran

Thoughts on Ascension & Heaven

True change is within, leave the outside as it is. — Dalai Lama

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

The hunger to belong is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true.— John O’Donohue

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

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

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 Gilbert

Ah, 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

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

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 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

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

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

Meditation on crossing thresholds, entering doors: I Am statements from Gospel of John.

If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate,
you are sure to wake up somebody. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll; I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
— William Ernest Henley

There are 84,000 doors to Enlightenment. — Pali Canon

With gates there are rules. With gates there are principles of which to be aware. With gates come obligations that every person should followA way through is what was needed. Helping each other to a way through – to the way through, is our witness as people of faith. And the gate rules are compassion, care and grace.— Christopher Burkett

It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.
— Bob Dylan
Questions to consider:

  • Name the thresholds you have crossed in life: the moments of change, the milestones that mark transformations.
  • Who and what have you brought with you as you open doors, and walk through them? What have you discovered on the other side of those passages?
  • Who has opened doors for you? For whom have you created opportunities?
  • What has holy Love made available or accessible to you?

Songs:

ON GATES

Breath remains the vehicle to unite body and mind and to open the gate to wisdom. – Thich Nhat Hanh

A Zen master would call the True Self “the face we had before we were born.” Paul would call it who you are “in Christ, hidden in God” (Colossians 3:3). It is who you are before having done anything right or anything wrong, who you are before having thought about who you are. Thinking creates the false self, the ego self, the insecure self. The God-given contemplative mind, on the other hand, recognizes the God Self, the Christ Self, the True Self of abundance and deep inner security. We start with mere seeing; we end up with recognizing. — Richard Rohr

If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in. ― Anne Lamott 

Many of us were taught that if you do not fit inside the circle of the church’s behavioral codes, God is not pleased with you, so we whittled ourselves down to a shape that could fit those teachings, or we denied those parts of ourselves entirely. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber
 
We did not choose to be the guardians of the gate, but there is no one else. — Lyndon B. Johnson

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. …  It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere. — Thomas Merton

Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom. — Bertrand Russell

And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best … In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’ — CS Lewis

Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and, most easily of all, the gate of fear. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The hardest thing to find in life is balance – especially the more success you have, the more you look to the other side of the gate. What do I need to stay grounded, in touch, in love, connected, emotionally balanced? Look within yourself. — Celine Dion

No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. — John Calvin

We have to understand that we should, at all times, have the right and the power to make decisions about our bodies. And that is an idea that must be taught at a young age. You can’t wait until a person is 18 years old and say, ‘Now you have the right’. You have to start that from the gate. — Jada Pinkett Smith

Only a person who has passed through the gate of humility can ascend to the heights of the spirit. — Rudolf Steiner

When I’m in the starting gate, it’s just me and the hill. — Mikaela Shiffrin

The key to heaven’s gate cannot be duplicated. — Douglas Horton

On the king’s gate the moss grew gray; The king came not. They call’d him dead; And made his eldest son, one day, Slave in his father’s stead. — Helen Hunt Jackson

I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate. — Arthur Wing Pinero

Giving, loving, helping, forgiving; all these begin to transform us as we wash the feet of those whom society regards as beneath it, and give to those who take from us … It is likely that we ourselves will need to walk through the gate back into the place of sacrifice in far too literal terms for our comfort.   — Andrew Prior

Blessing of the Gate
Jan Richardson

Press your hand
to this blessing,
here along
the side
where you can feel
its seam.

Follow the seam
and you will find
the hinges
on which
this blessing turns.

Feel how
your fingers
catch on them—
top,
bottom,
the slightest pressure
sending the gate
gliding open
in a glad welcome.

Wait, did I say
press your hand
to this blessing?

What I meant was
press your hand
to your heart.

Rest it over that
place in your chest
that has grown
closed and tight,
where the rust,
with its talent
for making decay
look artful,
has bitten into
what you once
held dear.

Breathe deep.
Press on the knot
and feel how it
begins to give way,
turning upon
the hinge
of your heart.

Notice how it
opens wide
and wider still
as you exhale,

spilling you out
into a realm
where you never dreamed
to go
but cannot now imagine
living this life
without.


Heaven’s GateRobert Morgan  
In her nineties and afraid of weather
and of falling if she wandered far outside her door,
my mother took to strolling in the house.
Around and round she’d go,
stalking into corners, backtrack,
then turn and speed down hallway,
stop almost at doorways,
skirt a table, march up to the kitchen sink
and wheel to left, then swing into the bathroom,
almost stumble on a carpet there.
She must have walked a hundred miles
or more among her furniture and family pics,
mementos of her late husband.
Exercising heart and limb,
outwalking stroke, attack,
she strode, not restless like a lion in zoo,
but with a purpose and a gait,
and kept her eyes on heaven’s gate.  

THRESHOLDS

He had the vague sense of standing on a threshold, the crossing of which would change everything. ― Kate Morton

In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between them, there are doors. ― William Blake

Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. — Andrew Carnegie

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. — Khalil Gibran

Luck is everything… My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I’m fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn’t make a good suspense film. — Alfred Hitchcock

We are ever on the threshold of new journeys and new discoveries. Can you imagine the excitement of the Wright brothers on the morning of that first flight? The anticipation of Jonas Salk as he analyzed the data that demonstrated a way to prevent polio? — Joseph B. Wirthlin

I have a thing for doors. I always think of them as a threshold to something new. — Jada Pinkett Smith

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