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 the story of Abraham, Ishmael & Hagar, Sarah & Isaac.

Meditations on summer solstice, mother & child abandoned in desert, miraculous rise of wellspring, hope in dry places: themes from the story of Abraham, Ishmael & Hagar, Sarah & Isaac as patriarchs and matriarchs of two faiths and two families, sundered.

Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael — George Segal

Wind, Water, Stone — Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.


On Abandonment

Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air. ― Pablo Neruda

When he left us, he stole all the words. ― Alex George

And the paradox was that the moment she abandoned me, she began to be with me at all times, constantly abandoning me wherever I would go, whatever I would do and with whomever I was. And the pain was unbearable. Hence, I decided to abandon everyone and everything … — Franco Santoro

We were kids without fathers, so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves. ― Jay-Z

For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves … When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us. ― Terry Tempest Williams

Those, then, who want to find themselves at the starting point of a truly free philosophy, have to depart even from God. Here the motto is: whoever wants to preserve it will lose it, and whoever abandons it will find it. Only those have reached the ground in themselves and have become aware of the depths of life, who have at one time abandoned everything and have themselves been abandoned by everything, for whom everything has been lost, and who have found themselves alone, face-to-face with the infinite … ― Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling


On Wellsprings in the Desert

Chagall’s painting of Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar

Desert Josephine Miles

When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
Flake of the heat at every level line;

When with the hand you learn to touch without
Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;

Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand.

The Well RisingWilliam Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.


On Solstice

Summer SolsticeStacie Cassarino
I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.

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