Meditation 17

I’m in one of my “clean up the office” modes, and when that happens, you never know what I’m going to come across.

The other day it was the text of John Donne’s Meditation 17.

Everyone is familiar with the beginning of the last portion of that meditation: “No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” It is one of those short passages many of us memorized decades ago.

I’m not sure I ever read the meditation in its entirety, although a copy of it found its way, seemingly randomly, into a folder in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. In case I’m the only one for whom that is true, I encourage you to read the meditation in its entirety. (You can find a copy here.)

In the early part of his meditation, Donne links our interconnectedness with our brother and sisters with our relationship to God. He writes

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me, for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me. All mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man die, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language, and every chapter must be so translated. …God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

Our union with each other is not by virtue of some random force. Rather it proceeds from our being part of, in Christian terms, one Body in Christ. One body held together in the hands of our God.


Making Contact

I came across this poem by Virginia Satir earlier this week. Since it keeps coming back to me, I thought I’d share it. It is titled Making Contact.

I believe
The greatest gift
I can conceive of having
from anyone
to be seen by them,
heard by them,
to be understood
touched by them.
The greatest gift
I can give
to see, hear, understand
and to touch
another person.
When this is done
I feel
contact has been made.

We are all busy. We all have plenty of things to do. Things that, lamentably, sometimes keep us having enough time for each other. Enough time to really see, hear, understand and touch another.

Make some time today. Make Contact.

Even a Small Star

Much of the music at the Spiritual Directors International conference this past weekend was provided by Joyce Johnson Rouse, aka Earth Mama.

One of the songs she led us in was titled A Small Star. The message of the song is a simple one: “Even a small star shines in the darkness for someone somewhere to see. It lights the way for those in the distance.”

As the lyrics of the song convey, we don’t always feel brave or strong or inspiring. But we don’t need to “feel brave to be brave….feel strong to be strong…or feel inspiring to inspire.” We need to remember that our star, however small, can light the way for others.

I was reminded when listening to the song, of a passage in my friend Randy Buck’s play Trances, which I wrote about once before. In his play one character explains his bond to another by saying:

We remain apart. Yet even the most solitary soul seeks comfort. Companionship The hand stretches across the void, longing to find – something to cling to….[T]hough we each make the journey alone, there’s comfort in seeing the glow of another pilgrim candle valiantly pierce the night. Such a tiny light, so fragile, so easily extinguished, must be cherished, nurtured, or else we stumble alone through a dark no ray can brighten.

However small it might feel to you, however small you may feel, know that your light shines for another, helping to light their way.

On Whose Behalf Are You Here?

I suspect I’ll be spending several days this week processing the various workshops, talks, meditations and other rituals that were part of the Spiritual Directors International annual conference on the theme of Cultivating Compassion.

When we gathered yesterday morning, the person leading the opening asked us to consider a simple question: On whose behalf are you here this morning?

The question struck me powerfully. As I reflected on the answer, it came to me that this was a good question to ask ourselves every day. Indeed, perhaps several times a day:

As I start my day it is worth taking a few moments to ask myself: on whose behalf do I get up this morning? As I undertake each new task of the day, to ask myself: on whose behalf do I do this?

I believe my life belongs to God, which means that I want everything I do to be in furtherance of God’s plan of salvation, in furtherance of my particular calling to co-labor in the illumination of God’s kingdom. But, the reality is that we get distracted from time to time and we don’t always live up to our calling.

To put to myself the question asked this morning seems to me an aid in keeping myself on task, so to speak. Keeping myself focused on my part in building kingdom.

You may find the question useful as well. On whose behalf are you here this morning?

The Power of We

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual worldwide event where bloggers write about a single topic, occuring each year on October 15 or 16th. Past themes have included the environment, poverty and climate change. The theme for this year is The Power of We.

The “Power of We” conveys a very simple truth: working together leads to the best results. It is a truth that operates at a lot of different levels:

First when we seek through our charitable efforts to help those who are marginalized and vulnerable, we can go more if we empower them and work with them than if we simply hand them aid. Working with, rather than giving to, is the way to accomlish aims that are more than temporary.

Second, if I am part of an organization, if I can get buy in from others for my plans for improvement or change, if I can involve others in my ideas, they are more likely to succeed – and I get the benefit of the creativity and talents of others.

Finally, and by no means least in importance, I am most strong when I acknowledge my need for God, when I decide to approach things with God rather than on my own. As the plaque on the wall on my study at home reminds me, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” On my own, I am small. When God, I walk with the strongest form of The Power of We.

Communion and Mission

The first reading at Mass this morning was the Genesis account of the creation of a woman from the rib of the first man. When God brings the woman to the man, the man said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” The passage goes on to say that “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.

Remarking on the passage during his homily, Fr. Dale suggested that the passage is about more than an account of the creation of the first couple, and that it says something that is relevant to all of us, not just to married persons.

Marriage, he suggested, is the ultimate model of communion – our communion with God and our communion with each other. Sacramental marriage embodies a union in which two people are so close they become one. He contrasted it with the celibate life of the clergy, which is the ultimate model of mission.

The point, though, is not that that married people have communion and clergy have mission, but that we are all called to both communion and mission. These institutions – marriage and celibacy – give us ultimate models, but both are meant to be models for each of us, regardless of our station: married or single, ordained or lay.

We are each called to lives of communion and mission.

Status and Leadership

One of the things Dave and I did while we were vacationing in the upper St. Croix area was to visit The North West Company Fur Post, a site that teaches about the trading of goods and furs between the Ojibwe Indians and French and English traders. The reason for the trade was the desire of fashionable Europeans to sport beaver skin top hats – a sign of status and wealth.

I confess I have always been a fan of costumed history interpreters and our guide for today’s tour, an Ojibwe woman, fascinated me with her explanations of the seasonal industries of the Ojibwe. There were two comments she made, not unrelated, that stuck with me.

The first was the Ojibwe amusement/bemusement with the European fascination with a hat as a symbol of status. For the Indians, status had to do with the character of a person, not his possessions. Yet, as she pointed out, European status symbols (and, no less so, Americans today) were possessions. Men who owned one always wore their beaver skin top hats – it showed their wealth and their status. Then it was a hat, today it is cars, fancy phones, etc. None of this made any sense to the Ojibwe.

The second had to do with leadership. The Ojibwe were surprised when they were asked who was in charge by those who wished to negotiate treaties with the tribe. (Europeans and Americans were doubtless used to dealing with the structure of the Iroquois nation.) The Ojibwe response was – “do you want to know who is in charge of fishing? That one over there. Who is in charge of hunting? That person there. Who is in charge of medicinal plant gathering? That woman there.” As our guide explained, the Ojibwe were more cooperative than hierarchical. There was no overall leader – just people who, because of their skill and qualities, were in charge of particular areas important to the tribe’s well-being.

I first learned abou the Ojibwe a few years ago when we vacationed in Grand Marais. I was impressed by their way of living then, and I remain so. I’m not suggesting that we could successfully emulate their societal structure. But there is much we could learn from this communal, cooperative tribe of Indians, who organized and structured themselves in ways that miniimized conflict both among themselves and with the outsiders with whom they dealt.

Seeing Beyond the Opposition

A recent Faith in Focus column in America Magazine, suggested that perhaps we ought to

[s]end the Tea Partiers and the folks from apple-picking together with the express understanding that they not discuss sustainable agriculture, global warming or any other “newsy topics” the trip might bring up. Or maybe have a bunch of Rush Limbaugh’s dittoheads and the Rachel Maddow crowd take in a movie, preferably a light romantic comedy, and then go out for some ice cream.

While no one, including the author, thinks either suggestion is likely to be taken seriously, there is something to the idea.

As I mentioned in a couple of posts at the time, I recently attended the annual meeting of the Conference of Catholic Legal Thought, a group of scholars all of whom are engaged in an effort to explore what Catholic thought adds to our discussions of law and public policy. There are vast differences among our members. We have varying political and theological views and soemtimes also different notions about what this project entails.

Despite our differences, we can talk to each other, and disagree with each other, without the mean-spiritedness that often accompanies public debates. There is a generosity of spirit in how we are with each other, an effort to give another the benefit of the doubt, to try to see something someone has said in the best possible light rather than the worst. It is true that many of us are friends, but what I’m describing is true of all of our dealings, even with those one or another of us might not label as a friend.

I think some of that, perhaps a large part of it, has to do with the fact that our two and a half day gatherings are not all “work.” In addition to our conference sessions, we celebrate Mass together every day. We also have one session of Spiritual Exercises, giving us time for individual reflection. And (our equivalent of apple-picking and ice-cream) we include plenty of time for fellowship and simply enjoying each other’s company.

All of this contributes to our ability to see past our differences, to see each other as part of the Body of Christ.

The author of the column had a good point.

Let Me See Only You

As I sat before the Blessed Sacrament in a church the other day, I found myself focusing intently on the monstrance on the altar and praying, “Lord, let me see only You.” For several moments, I, indeed saw only the monstrance, everything else fading into from my vision the way it does when you stare at something intently. When my eyes refocused a few moments later, I saw not only the monstrance, but everything and everyone else between me and it.

“Lord, let me see only You” could mean, let everything else but You fade from my vision. Let it just be me and You. But for Christians, “Lord, let me see only You” must mean let me see You in everything and everyone that I encounter. Not, let everything and everyone else fade from my vision so that it is just You and me having a grand old time together. Rather, let me see it all – but as though it were all You. Let me look upon it and them as I look upon You. Let me behave toward others as I would toward You. Let me love all everyone else as I love You. Let me see You when I see every other person I meet.

That’s not always easy, especially in moments when the other doesn’t look or act very much like we’d expect Jesus to look or act. But those may be the very moments when we need to pray most fervently, “Lord, let me see only You.”

Lord, let me see only You.

Part of the Whole

I just read a passage from an article by Albert Einstein, titled On the Method of Theoretical Physics, that speaks to the interrelatedness of all things. He wrote:

A human being is part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

Einstein speaks a fundamental truth about the nature of human life, that of the inter-relationship of all beings. I think he is also correct that it is impossible for us as humans to completely free ourselves from the delusion of separation. We can, through various means “widen[] our circle of compassion”, but to be able to so completely widen it so as to embrace all living things is a task beyond our means.

We can, however, with God’s grace, grow in our love. Doing so requires that we start by grasping the enormity of God’s love for us. In the words of the First Letter of St. John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.”