Possibility

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Possibility

I am a widower.  My wife died on December 21, 2014 after a thirteen-week intense battle with Stage IV uterine cancer.  She was only 38 years old, and we would have been married nineteen years.  This jarring experience rattled me to the core, to the soul – the place where I knew and defined my self, others and the world around me.  It caused me to question everything, to place it all under the microscope of scrutiny - my beliefs, my dogmas, my idiosyncrasies and my aspirations.  My world was turned upside down and I was left with only pieces of a life that I once knew wondering how it would be put back together.  Feelings of insecurity, unmet occupational dreams, old emotional wounds of belonging all surfaced as I sat on the proverbial floor sifting through random-colored blocks of life.

It was in the midst of this journey of reassessment that an unsuspecting acquaintance became a close and personal friend.  She and I spoke a similar language; we shared a depth and perspective.  As a poet and artist, she encouraged me to seriously explore the creative talents that were fundamentally apart of me, but were buried beneath childhood fears - parts that were inactive because I was frightened to believe that they were good.  Through her artful expression, she provided a metaphor for me to envision a creative life given as a gift to others.  She gave me a book by Elle Luna entitled The Crossroads of Should and Must – a story that deeply resonated with me, and in it I discovered possibility, a “wholehearted life” -- to borrow a phrase from Brené Brown -- a reimagined existence that integrated the breadth of my past with the emerging good of my future.  It took profound loss and the gift of new relationships to serve as an incubator to birth courage and bravery to hear and respond to Luna’s words:  How long will you wait to honor who you are?

Though our experience may oscillate between community and aloneness, it is precisely this experience that opens us up to something new.

For years, I stood on the sidelines of photography curiously looking at cameras and jealously envying others who practiced it with ease.  I would inquire about the type of camera and lens I should buy, but in the end I would talk myself out of it citing a long list of inadequacies.  However, this past December, I walked into a local camera shop and it was different.  Unlike other salespeople, this man listened to my daydreams and exaggerations and instead of directing me to a starter camera -- a suggestion that would have felt dismissive -- he pointed me to a model that was suited for my future goals.  More money than I had anticipated spending, I told him that I would think about it for a few days.  Strangely this departure wasn’t shrouded in anxiety, but excitement.  Later that evening and over the next two days, I did my homework – reading reviews and comparing notes.  Satisfied with the information, I went back in and purchased the camera.  This time, when I left the store, I was not overwhelmed with the paralyzing emotion of insufficiency but rather with the liberating emotion of potential.  I had taken the first step into a dream planted in me as an adolescent; I was enacting a “Must” and it was invigorating.

The same has been true with writing.  For the first time, I have been exploring poetry and story telling immersing myself in the freedom that is artistic expression, and slowly I am discovering my voice.  With each simple act of awkward faithfulness something like light breaks through.  With every word typed and every exposure taken, possibility becomes clearer; an ever-expanding dream of a creative outlet that curates my experiences of image and idea in the public square.  I want to do for others what has been done for me – encouragement to rise-up from varied losses to reimagine life where everything belongs and where our actions and attitudes are marked by courage, bravery, compassion and creativity. 

This journey is not an easy one.  There are times when I am still overwhelmed by fear and immobilized at the thought of failure; however, I am constantly reminded that we never walk our paths in isolation.  Though our experience may oscillate between community and aloneness, it is precisely this experience that opens us up to something new.  It is in community that we are encouraged by the reassuring words of the other, an affirming touch or a gentle challenge that pushes against our apprehensions.  It is in our aloneness that mental clutter is removed and emotional static is silenced.  It is in our aloneness that we are granted the terrifying gift of seeing ourselves fully, and the opportunity and invitation to respond to that gift of being and becoming who we were created to be.

Once a month I attend a small group in the evening that meets together to discuss reflections and ideas related to an NPR podcast series hosted by Krista Tippett called On Being.  Last week’s gathering focused on an interview with David Whyte entitled The Conversational Nature of Reality.  As poet and philosopher, Whyte spoke about humanity’s reluctance to live in the tension of loss and gratitude ignoring the discipline of attentiveness and presence, and in doing so missing the opportunity for maturity and wholeness.  Instead of running away from the conversation between these opposites, Whyte suggests we enter fully into that moment and discover what it has to teach us - the gift of vulnerability.  Reciting his poem entitled Sweet Darkness he captures what few are able to articulate.  He states

“When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

It’s time to go into the night

where the dark has eyes

to recognize its own.

It’s time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you

can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will make a home for you tonight.

The night

will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing. You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”      

How long will you wait to honor who you are?  This question reverberates through the silent spaces in each of us.  Instead of running away, let us learn attentiveness and enter fully into the conversation between loss and gratitude.  Let us discover that we are always undergirded by hope – and hope is possibility.

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"One Thing I Miss About Christianity"

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"One Thing I Miss About Christianity"

A year ago I took the day off from work and hung out at one of my favorite places to surf - an iconic spot called Swami’s.  Twenty minutes from where I live, it’s located just below the meditation gardens of the Self Realization Fellowship Temple in San Diego.  Filled with a rich surfing history, Swami’s attracts both the spiritual seeker as well as those searching for the perfect wave.  I guess I was no different that day; having lost a spouse to cancer 7 months earlier I had a new appreciation for the beauty of flowers, the ebb of the ocean, the stillness of a prayer garden and the joy of gliding in water.

Stoked to do nothing but surf, read and vagabond I arrived early to snag one of the coveted parking spaces that overlook the cliffs giving panoramic views of the southern California coastline.  Intending to spend the whole day there, I set up shop with my camp chair, stove, books and snacks.  Settling in, I greeted my parking space neighbor – an older man wearing only cutoff jeans for shorts, his pick-up truck carrying all of his belongings.  He had weathered skin and his eyes danced when hit with light.  His beard and hair – a mixture of white and brown – flowed seamlessly together.  His temperament was gentle.  His name was David.

As our conversation moved from small talk, David and I began to share about our lives – our joys, our sorrows, our pasts and our futures.  Hearing that I had been in full-time Christian ministry for the last 15 years, David’s curiosity was piqued and the topic quickly shifted to religion.  Far from antagonistic, we both listened respectfully as we shared our faith journeys to discovering the Divine highlighting our commonalities and seeking to understand our differences.  Toward the end of the conversation, David pivoted to face me and said, “I grew up Christian, but I have spent my whole life exploring other religions, and though I have no regrets there is one thing I miss about Christianity – the belief in a personal God who sees you and knows you by name.”

Like a time warp, his statement reminded me of a moment when I was sitting in a restaurant at the Portland International Airport waiting for a good friend.  As I finished my meal, I pulled out my journal – it was one of those melancholic days when you see nothing good in yourself only deficits and failings, and I was trying to capture these overwhelming thoughts and emotions on paper in attempt to understand them.  Suddenly my table-sever approached and noticed I was writing and said, “You have beautiful penmanship - would you write something in my notepad that I keep with me at all times?”  Astonished and amazed, I agreed.  While I could not see anything but shortcomings in me, someone else saw something good.  While I did not think I had thoughts worthy of being written, someone else wanted my words in their cherished journal.  

Moved to tears as she walked away leaving the spiral-bound paper with me, I reveled in the gift of being unexpectedly seen and known. Writing to her what I desperately needed to hear, I said:

Jo – Thank you for your wonderful service.  May you know at the

depths of your being that you are loved by God; that the Father

runs out to greet you; that the Son leaves the 99 to find you;

and that the Spirit lights lamps of fire looking for you in the shadow places.

You are His beloved on whom His favor rests.

Take care & peace – Mark

My mind quickly returned to David, the warm sunshine of the morning and the stainless steel cup of coffee in my hand.  We said our goodbyes - I sat in silence watching the sets roll in marveling at the grace of our conversation. 

Truly the heart of Judeo-Christianity is the story of Infinite LOVE making itself known in creation, in covenant, in revelation, in incarnation, in sacrifice and in resurrection – and sometimes as an African-American woman named Jo serving your food at an airport restaurant or a weathered homeless man named David wearing only cutoff jeans for shorts.  Whatever the form, the message is the same - you are the beloved of God known and seen from the beginning of time.

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