Surrender And Surrender Again

I’ve grown accustomed to this sanctuary. I come here when Kerri has meetings in the church. It is quiet. As I sit here alone, I easily become quiet. The evening sun pours through the stained glass, the symbols shimmer.

When I met Kerri I told her that, if we were going to have a relationship, she needed to understand two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was stark news for a woman who works as a minister of music. I imagine she rolled her eyes. It is a running joke with the folks that know the story of my proclamation that I now sing in the church choir and band. I love to sing. As for the praying, well…, I’ve always been a meditator and that counts. Quiet is a delicious form of prayer. I was hung up on definitions. I talk to the universe all the time. To-mAaa-to, to-Mah-to.

I have, all my life, believed religion most often gets in the way of a true spiritual experience (life). “Prayer” was for me, at the time I met Kerri, a word of religion while “meditation” was a word I associated with a spiritual life. One night, not long after my move, Kerri and I had dinner with Heidi. She asked me about my faith and laughed at my reflections, saying, “You are one of those many-paths-one-mountain guys.” Yes. And, to truly be a many-paths-one-mountain guy, I’ve had to challenge some of my long held defenses, walk into some of my long held prejudices.

Yesterday, Bill said a simple, beautiful thing about faith, grace and spiritual journeys. It reinforced something I have known (for myself) for years. He said, “The problem with religion is it is heavily invested in having answers. It becomes invested in being right (righteousness), being “the way” as if there was only one way. A true spiritual life,” he said, “is about walking into the questions.” Life, the real crackling, shimmering life, is always experienced in the questions. Awe is rarely experienced in something so constructed and contained as an answer.

I brought to the sanctuary an outline/book of a class that I intended to teach years ago but never got around to offering. In the introduction a previous-version-of-me wrote this: The premise is simple and ancient: when you change your story you change your world. All stories of transformation begin with an attempt to control the uncontrollable: transformation in a story happens when the main character surrenders their illusion of control, strips their armor, walks into their fear, and meets their dragon. There are many variations on this theme. What is important to grasp is that empowerment follows surrender….

Were I writing that today I would never use the word “empowerment.It is an overused and abstract word like “presence” and generally misunderstood as something to achieve (or sold as an answer). Power is irrelevant after a dragon is met.

When I met Kerri I was terrified to sing. I’d been shamed more than once for opening my mouth, thus my proclamation. I learned, as I sang the fear from myself, that the only thing that follows surrender is more surrender.

And, in surrender, there is shimmering quiet.

Chase The Butterflies

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

a detail from my painting, John’s Secret

Wisdom butterflies that have recently fluttered across my path:

Soaking up the morning sun and drinking coffee from the deck of Common Grounds, 20 said, “You’ve heard this one, right? There are three sides to every story.”

Standing on the side of the road peering into Judy’s car, she gave us some sage relationship advice. She said, “That’s the secret to life, you know: listen before you talk.”

Kerri was composing a song. I asked her how she starts, how she knows where to start. She said, “I don’t know. Sometimes you just need to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.”

There is an aging pink post-it note stuck (permanently) to the desk. It reads, “Make The Adventure.”

On a recent phone call, Skip offered wise counsel about how I see my role in a new business, “Find your own metaphor,” he said. ”What is the metaphor that will keep you energized, that taps into your 10,000 hours?”

Sitting behind his drum set, waiting for rehearsal to begin, John said, “Our job is to make the art, not to determine its reception.” And then he said, “What do you think?” and laughed.

Josh took a belly punch from the universe yesterday. He said, “I want to be angry but anger does me no good. I have better things to do with my life than get angry.”

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

P-Tom weighed in with this: “Faith is scandalous,” he said, “It pushes back against everything we experience.”

Dog-Dog raced across the yard in hot pursuit of a butterfly. I’m wagering that he knew he would never catch it, but the chase was glorious.

JFGI!

I had to use this painting for this post. I call it Eve

I had to use this painting from the archive  for this post. I call it Eve

Notes at the crossroads of The New World Order:

1. Betsi was disappointed in the low attendance at church. She told us that everything had changed in the last decade. Churches that were once thriving were now struggling. It is a trend. It is happening everywhere. It’s true. A few months ago I saw the statistics of church membership in America and the numbers are plummeting.

“What changed,” I asked.

Without hesitation she said, “People don’t need God anymore. They think they know everything.”

I quipped, “Who needs God when you have Google?”

She laughed and said, “Right! JFGI!”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled, “Just f*cking Google it.”

It is probably true for believers and non-believers alike that God is slower than Google, especially if the notion of God is uncannily human, (i.e., a rule-maker, judgmental, angry one minute and loving the next, assigns ‘chosen’ status to one team but not the other, etc.). Such a god might easily be confused with a search engine or a legal system.

I thought, but did not say, perhaps people are looking for something that neither technology nor a search-engine-god can deliver. Perhaps they are looking for something less volatile. Information is readily available. So is judgment. Wisdom is a bit harder to come by.

2. After band rehearsal we went to a bar. Jim grew up Catholic and we were talking about the revolution of thought that Pope Francis is inspiring. Jim said, “I really like that guy!” Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. “I wonder if The Pope is on Facebook?” We laughed when he found and “liked” The Pope. Facebook showed us a gallery of others who’d “liked” The Pope. The top of the list was The Dali Llama. “I’m going to like him, too!” Jim cheered and added, “I wonder if he’ll like me back?” We laughed.

I remember when a photograph was absolute proof that something happened. I remember the day that a photographer showed me a new “software” (at the time I had to ask what that meant) that could alter a photograph. He showed me and erased someone from a shot. I remember wondering what would be the new standard of proof? Sitting at the bar the other night with Jim, nearly 30 years later, I finally received my answer: it doesn’t exist if it isn’t on Facebook.

This brought me to what will be my next late night bar conversation topic with Jim: When did all of life become marketing and data collection? Have you checked your “likes” lately?

This inspired a glance at the fast moving river that is Facebook. I read:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

That raises an obvious question: Is hell an experience or a place? JFGI!

Release The Edge

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Usually, there is a lake….

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you dont give up. ~ Anne Lamott

Sometimes the fog hangs heavy all day along the shore of the lake. The sun tries in vain to penetrate the fog so the air glows. When, in combination with the fog, the lake is still, like it was today, it becomes invisible, inaudible; the lake disappears. Standing on the great rock barriers, staring into the void, it feels as if you have arrived at the edge of the world.

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looking the other direction

All of my life I have been fascinated by edges. What is the line between wild and tame? Most good stories require a stride beyond the boundary, a movement into territories unknown. And, at the end of the story, what was once known becomes unfamiliar. Every ending is a beginning. What is the line that distinguishes the known from the other place? A good dose of reason will assure us that most things can be understood but a walk through a spring meadow or a night spent gazing into the stars will remind us that understanding is illusive or at best illusionary. What do we understand?

Once, working with a group of teachers, we had a terrific discussion about beginnings. Where does a story or a life begin? There is always an easy answer, “Once upon a time,” a birth date, when two people meet, the day the crisis arrived on the doorstep. In fact there is always a multitude of easy answers, of possible beginnings, and none of them are definitive. Which beginning point is the beginning point? At what moment did success arrive? Or, when did failure begin? Does my life begin with my parents or their parents or…? Edges are esoteric!

There is a long tradition in the arts of Dances with Death. Paintings, dances, compositions, plays,…; Hamlet ponders life as he holds poor Yorick’s skull. It passes all too quickly. Most spiritual traditions carry the notion that life cannot be understood, valued, or fully appreciated without first grasping that this life-ride is limited. Living a good life, a fully appreciated life, demands a nod to the edge. It’s the ultimate paradox.

I’ve courted a bundle of trouble in my life because I rarely see the black-and-white of things. Where is the line between hope and hopeless? What wall delineates faith-full and faith-less? Like happiness, edges are made, not found. Ask a physicist if it is a particle or a wave and they will uniformly answer, “It depends upon where you place your focus.” Even in the era when people believed there was a hard edge to the world and finding it meant falling off, sailors supplied their ships and sailed toward the horizon to find it.

 Icarus reached for the sun.

Icarus

Step Toward Faith

My latest. An unusually small canvas.

My latest. An unusually small canvas: Will Is Belief.

I began writing this post a few weeks ago, just before the run to Florida and the launch of Beaky’s book. It was a very busy week and I’d forgotten that I started but did not finish the thought. This morning, wanting to get back into the rhythm of writing, I opened my iPad and found these words already written and awaiting my return:

I’m sitting in the choir loft watching the evening sun illuminate the stained glass window. I’m tired tonight and listening to Kerri, preparing for the Maundy evening service, rehearsing Nancy’s solo. Nancy’s voice is like a warm cello, deep and rich, and is working like a sound-massage on my tired bones. I’m giving over to it.

This cycle of services on Easter week is relatively new to me so I’m paying attention to all of the symbols and rituals of this story of rebirth. As is true of every great story cycle, the night is darkest before the dawn (thus, the cliché). This night, called Maundy Thursday in the cycle – I’m told that Maundy means mandate – is the night of the last supper and all the betrayals that followed. It is the segment of the story that is chocked full of crises of faith. If, like me, you are a lover of story you will recognize that some form of betrayal usually precedes a crisis of faith and, in turn, a crisis of faith always leads to growth and new direction; it always leads to sunrise.

Others betray us. We betray ourselves. Betrayal happens on the edges of the dark forest and forces a step into the unknown. Betrayal happens when we fall asleep (that is most often how we betray ourselves – sitting in front of the television to numb us to the richness of our lives). Things crumble: the relationship that we believed was secure, the truth into which we rooted our belief, the career that we thought would carry us to retirement. Security dissolves, identity dissipates, and then what? All the fears bob to the surface. All the dragons come out of the closet.

This was the unfinished thought I found this morning. I have no recollection of where I was going with it. Now, two weeks and a lot of life later, I read it as if someone else wrote it. However, there was one other sentence, detached from the others. It now reads like a mystery to me. When writing, I routinely float a sentence at the bottom of the page because it is the point of what I’m trying to reach. My floating sentence read:

A crisis of faith often has very little to do with faith.

And, as I try to resurrect my thought of a few weeks ago, I can only smile and write the first thing that occurred to me when I scrolled down and found the floater: Faith, like love or truth or time or anything else, is not something fixed. It moves and grows as we move and grow. A crisis of faith is really a step toward faith renewed. It enlivens. It helps us retire old dragons or let go of empty promises. It gets us out of our easy chair and helps us fully feel the day.

 

Begin Here

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Begin Anywhere

In our house, hanging on the wall like a painting, is an old window frame. In the top pane is a card that reads, “Begin Anywhere.”

Earlier this week I had a great conversation with Diane. She laughed and said, “In my meditations I was whining to God because I wanted to see the plan of my life. I got the clear message that I was never going to see the plan but I could always see the next step. The next step is always right in front of me.” Dancing with what’s right in front of you is sometimes called faith. Sometimes it is called play. Sometimes it is called art.

Diane and I are good reflectors for each other; we are usually on parallel paths. For both of us, the past year or two has been a process of letting things go and stripping things back: paths, patterns, and presuppositions. It has been the mother of all house-cleanings (she had a literal flood!) and, like all good house cleaning it took some elbow grease and few hard decisions about what to keep and what to throw. After the job is done, nothing feels better than a clean house and along with the good feeling, new space, and wide-open possibilities, comes the question, “What’s next?”

Diane told me her story because my next step is so clear that I can focus on nothing else. With such a myopic focus I can see nothing else and that’s why I called her. I must do this play. I must. I cannot see beyond this dance. It is my first thought in the morning. It is my last thought falling into sleep. This step, my dance with The Lost Boy, makes no sense and Diane’s point was well taken: the next step rarely makes sense. Sense-making requires context. Sense-making is a skill of relativity – and since we can never know the plan (if, indeed, there is one), we can only make sense based on old information. That is good news for plumbers but is dubious at best for leaders, explorers, seekers, and artists.

After our call I realized that dancing with what’s right in front of me is how I paint. It’s also the key to a good conversation – and painting, for me, is a good conversation. After my good conversation with Diane, she sent me an email of affirmation and concluded her thoughts with this: “Stay focused on what is before you now and let the creations show you how and when they are ready to play.”

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