Spiritual Mentors: Brennan Manning

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Born in 1934, Brennan Manning became a priest in the Franciscan Order in the mid-50s. He held a number of positions in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, in Louisiana, and in Florida.  It was while he was a campus minister in Florida in 1969 that he was engulfed by the alcoholism which had always lapped hard at the shores of his adult life.

Six months of drying out, rehab, and recovery followed. He then began writing of the grace of God which he, the most imperfect of humans (as he considered himself), had been offered. It was a love he didn’t feel was deserved, but was offered anyway. It was an acceptance by God for what he was, not for what he should be.

He considered himself to be a ragamuffin, like the prostitutes, sinners, soldiers, and tax collectors that Jesus had gone to, embraced and accepted as his own. It was the ragamuffin gospel of perfect love for the most imperfect of humans.

The more Manning wrote- and he wrote prolifically, and the more he proclaimed this gospel- and he spoke often, the larger became that group of ragamuffins who were able to perceive God’s love for them, too..even them. They didn’t have to be special, act special, or do anything other than accept the transforming love of this ragamuffin-loving God.

“Ragamuffins are simple, direct and honest. Their speech is unaffected. They are slow to claim, “God told me…” As they make their way through the world, they bear wordless, prophetic witness.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”

“The confessing church of American ragamuffins needs to join Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter in witnessing that Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Brennan Manning knew his God as Abba, the diminuitive form of the word Father. In other words- Daddy. It was the same word used by Jesus for his father in the earliest manuscripts of the gospel.

He revealed that child/Daddy relationship to thousands of people during the many years he travelled the world speaking of it. His words were secondary to his “ragamuffin-ness.” Through him, many learned of the gentleness of God they had not before known. Me among them.

Brennan Manning died in April of 2013.

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“Do you believe that God loves you as you are and not as you should be?”

Here’s a brief video of Manning speaking. If you like this one, there are many more..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM

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Spiritual Mentors: Thich Nhat Hanh

a thich understanding-in-breathToday, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and author, was scheduled to speak at the Vatican to the Summit of World Faith Leaders to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Instead, he is recovering in Paris from a brain hemorrhage suffered on November 11 at the Plum Village monastery in the south of France where he lives.

Among the remarks he had prepared to say today were these:

“Each of us, according to the teaching of our own tradition, should practice to touch deeply the wonders of Nature, the wonders of life in each of us, the Kingdom of God in each of us, the Pure Land, Nirvana in each of us, so we can get the healing and nourishment, the joy and happiness born from the insight that the Kingdom of God is already available in the here and now. The feeling of love and admiration for nature, that we all share, has the power to nourish us, unite us, and remove all separation and discrimination.”

Thich came to prominence during the war in Vietnam when he began speaking publicly there for peace. He urged Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against American involvement in that war, which he subsequently did. Thich Nhat Hanh, who had been speaking out against the war during those war years in European and American cities, was denied re-entry to Vietnam after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, because of his outspokenness. He found refuge in France, which is now his home.

It was his ecumenical writings which caught my attention, particularly his book, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ.’ In it, he shows the similarities between the Christ’s and the Buddha’s messages of peace and pleads for a united cooperation among peoples of various faiths, based on those specific and universal similarities. That “people kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies” remains a heart-breaking reality toThich and those who choose to live in respect, rather than fear, of others’ beliefs.

The consistent core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings and teachings are found in the quote above from the talk prepared for the Vatican. Our human commonalities are shared with all of life. All living things are dependent not only on the earth itself but on all other life. When we look closely enough, we see the edges of individual lives begin to blur into relatedness to other life, and it is that acknowledgement of our brotherhood and sisterhood with all living things that is the only true basis for lasting peace, and for the Kingdom of God to be perceived and accepted rather than merely spoken of.

The illusion that we are separated one from the other is a cultivated one, proposed by those who want power, encouraged by those who are greedy, and fertilized by our easily manipulated fears of that which is is different from ourselves. Our proclivity to regret past mistakes or to worry about future circumstances, negates much of the enjoyment of many people for living right now, in these present moments.

Meditation and practiced contemplation are methods for any person to see themselves as part of a much larger and encompassing unity of all things. We are not separate from each other; we are each part of the other.

“Call Me By My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1989

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —

even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river.

And I am the bird

that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily

in the clear water of a pond.

And I am the grass-snake

that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.

And I am the arms merchant,

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,

refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean

after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am the pirate,

my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay

his “debt of blood” to my people

dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart

can be left open,

the door of compassion.

Share your compassion now, in this moment, with Thich Nhat Hanh. The world is better because of his presence in it. That is because he has taught so many others the same thing about themselves.

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Spiritual Mentors: Etty Hillesum

I met a remarkable person about ten years ago in two too-short collections of her letters and journal entries. 2014 is the centennial of her birth. She died when she was only 29. As I read from the two books which contain her writings, my heart simultaneously breaks and soars. My tiny gift to her memory and legacy is to pass her enormous gift on to others who may not yet know of her.

In the context of the late 1930s and early 1940s, she was a young woman with modern attitudes. Her professional endeavors were intellectual ones, in research and psychology. Her lifestyle was decidedly outside the narrower views of morality which predominated in Western cultures of the time. Perhaps it was the untypical themes in her life before the rise of Nazi Europe that were the fertile soil in which the great spiritual fruits of her life were able to grow. My only hope here in this offering is to pique the interest of some to spend more time with her in her writings and, in so doing, know something new and more of the God that Etty came to adore.

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In 1941, Etty Hillesum, then a 27-year-old Jewish woman living in Amsterdam, began to write a journal, portions of which were finally published in 1983. The journal covers the period from March, 1941, to October, 1942- not a very long time. But, with the Third Reich in Europe at the time serving as a terrifying backdrop, the journal records the spiritual transformation of a somewhat self-absorbed intellectual into someone in deep communion with the God of her understanding. Etty has been called the Mystic of the Holocaust, but any attempt, however well intended, to categorize her spirituality is diminishing of it.
Her writings span that time period from when the Nazi oppression in the Netherlands began to worsen, and continue through to her family’s relocation to Westerbork, a holding camp for various “undesirables” being shipped weekly to Auschwitz in Germany. The last record we have of her writing is a postcard she threw from the train which carried her from Westerbork to Auschwitz. It was found by some farmers along the train’s route and mailed and mailed to the address penned on it by Etty. On the postcard were written her words, “We have left the camp singing.” Odd words, one might conclude, to have been written by someone who knew well what that train ride to Auschwitz meant. But they were words written after months of profound and wonderful discoveries about God, even in the midst of circumstances that were destroying the faith of many others.
As she had months earlier watched the intentional and cruel destruction of the Jewish ghetto in Amsterdam, she wrote in the journal she kept at the time:
“The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days, its white blossoms are floating about in muddy black pools on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as it ever did. And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You. I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine.. I shall try to make you at home always. Even if I should be locked up in a narrow cell and a cloud should drift past my small barred window, then I shall bring you that cloud, oh God, while there is still the strength in me to do so.”
After several months at Westerbork, where conditions became more and more crowded and more deplorable as more and more Jews were passed through its gates, Etty wrote these words of almost unimaginable meaning:
“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. .At night, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.”

Etty, her parents, and a brother and sister died at Auschwitz in November, 1943. The diaries and journals written by Etty before and during her time at Westerbork were not discovered until 1981. They have been published under the title An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. The book has since been translated into 14 languages and deserves to be read by many others for years to come. Others, many others, need to know that, even in the worst of circumstances, it is possible to leave “the camp singing.”
________________________________________________________________________
Here are some other quotations from Etty Hillesum’s journals. They are part of a spiritual feast, served by Etty, which will be nourishment for spiritual seekers for generations to come:
“ALAS, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.”
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”
“We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.”

~~ aa Etty-Hillesum(Books: Etty Hillesum- ‘An Interrupted Life’, Pantheon, 1983 and ‘Letters From Westerbrook’)

What I believe (in case you’ve been worrying about it!)

An oldie, from October of 2008. And still a valid (for me) Statement of Faith

The First Morning

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you. 1Peter 3:15

About my faith:

1.God is. I can’t even begin to describe God, let alone define God. Anything I say about God must fit inside my mind, and the one thing I can say with authority and absolute assurance: God is bigger than my mind. (Psalm 139: 7-18)

2.I can’t see God. I can only see where God is passing through. (Exodus 33:23) Thus, I see God’s methodologies and systems much more often than I see God’s direct interventions. Those methodologies include breath-taking scenes like Mt.Ranier, an ocean storm, and a baby’s cooing and laughing. But they also include the chaotic explosions of stars, the ripping apart of a live songbirds by hawks, the chomping down on innocent baby turtles by sharks, and tsunamis. And…

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The Womb of God

The First Morning

The Womb of God

One of my favorite biblical authors is Abraham Heschel who, in 1962, wrote the definitive book on the prophets, called The Prophets. He described the time period around 400-500 B.C. when some of the great Old Testament prophets had begun to write and speak in alarming, revolutionary, and largely unlistened-to ways (I’m going to paraphrase just a little, because his words can be difficult at times):

Heschel wrote of that time- “Religion had declined not because it had been successfully argued against, but because it had become irrelevant, dull, oppressive, uninteresting. When faith is replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crises of today are ignored because of the remembered splendor of the past; when faith becomes an inherited heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority and rules rather than the voice…

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A House Becomes A Home, And Then It is Not, And Now It Is No More..Part Three

(selah..)

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“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
But this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
No forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children. “
(from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Book of Hours, Love Poems to God’)

~~
My memories of the house on Lipply Road are filtered- all of them- through the veils of other persons’ presence in the house, and of childhood. Even on my last visit to the house earlier this month, I stepped lightly, as a trespasser, as a child doing something I shouldn’t be doing. It was a house now, no longer our home. It was vaguely home-shaped, to be sure, but for now, for me what was, was no more. I walked through the kitchen that was, up the stairs that were, but they were not our kitchen, nor our stairs any longer. They belonged to someone else and my great hope as I furtively moved from room to room was that someone soon would begin another fifty year journey of home in love, in life with this house.

(Goodness, how I wanted to dust, sand and polish the floorboards, the door trim, the window sills..jobs I despised once upon a time, though they were a seldom requirement. But that was for someone else to do now. I hoped some other children would be among those having to do so.)

I can only assume, because I must, that this was a visit where I was saying “goodbye” without consciously knowing that I was saying that word. The house was empty now of all which and whom I had loved there. Even without knowing the terrible news which would come in a few weeks, I knew this was an ending of something, something still inexpressible. When I pulled the door shut behind me this time, I didn’t linger.

The People Who Made it a Home

There were the four of us, of course: Dad, Mom, Denny, and myself. Since Dad’s work was on the other side of the driveway, our home extended right into the barn, into the plowed fields, everywhere in the woods, and all around the south shores of Pine lake. The tire-testing circles were our bike-riding tracks, the old horse race track in the woods was our and the neighbors’ perfect and safe place for beginner’s driving lessons.

The men who worked at the test Center were our friends. The earliest ones- Mac, Mr. Raines, Mr. Wise, Arthur, and Leonard- were our mom’s and dad’s cooperative volunteer childcare workers as Denny and I, even as small children, made the whole 90 acres our playground. How many football and baseball games in front of the barn with the baby-boomed abundance of neighbor kids our same age? How many bicycle tires fixed, patched and pumped by Mac, the shop manager, who would stop welding some Firestone-sanctioned job to help us?

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Even the visiting Firestone managers from Akron found the way to our kitchen, with frequency. Don loved Mom’s Ritz Cracker faux apple pie. Bill would eat enormous servings of grilled burgers and home-fries. Dick, and Phil, and the two guys whose names I forget but who guided Firestones racing tire testing would, with others, come hunting with Dad on weekends in the fall, always accompanied by Joker, our beagle/pointer. Afterwards, they would eat- pheasant, rabbit- and sometimes stay for poker and beer and cigars in the barn. Even Raymond Firestone (Harvey’s youngest son, a boyhood friend of dad’s when the Firestone family would summer at their homeplace in Columbiana) would sometimes come to the house to eat Mom’s meals, with Dad and the others. (I remember him asking Mom if she could find him some pants- blue cotton summer pants- like the ones Dad wore. She did.)

Those Firestone-connected men were one wave of the people who made that place a home. Other waves:

Family

Most of Dad’s many brothers and sisters lived within a few miles of Columbiana. Mom’s brother and several sisters lived in the Akron area, too. Those aunts and uncles (33 total!) had a lot of children, and their children did, too. So there was an abundance of aunts, uncles, cousins and second-cousins who would frequently be visiting. I have specific memories of every one of our 45 first cousins being in the house, many frequently and continuing even through the time Mom was there by herself.

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Because the house was big, it was often the place for the Weber’s annual Fourth of July picnic and Christmas night get-togethers. I know I am only one of many cousins who still feel that “pull” on the Fourth or at Christmas. These were reunions which had been happening for decades already and they extended well into the late sixties. Watermelon, homemade ice cream cranked with broken block ice from Corey’s Oil in the summer or Pine Lake ice in the winter, turkey and ham at Christmas, Hamburgs and hotdogs on the Fourth, always Auntie Olive’s so-green pickles, Auntie Alice and Uncle Bill’s kohlrabis, and so much else. At Christmas, Auntie Alice would disappear and a forlorn looking but exciting-for-the kids Swiss Santa would show up to hand out gifts in a dollar-per gift exchange. At Christmas, each Weber woman would bring her “Weber cookies.” These were special and had roots in Switzerland and were made with baker’s ammonia (!) but they signal still for me the Christmas season every bit as powerfully as the singing of “O, Holy Night” by some slightly off-key alto soloist. Denny and I could tell which aunt or cousin had made which cookie by their texture, thickness, and brownness.

Mom’s were perfect.

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The Friendly Class of Grace Church

Virtual Family: Mom and Dad’s Sunday School class at Grace Church. This was the WWII young people’s class, organized  in the 1950s. They were all making their own homes, babies, and lives in Columbiana and there were many of them. When I was at Grace Church for their Bicentennial a couple weeks ago, I compared these men and women to another whole set of aunts and uncles and their many children as friends/almost cousins. Most of the adults are gone now, and many of those my age have long ago scattered, but..for awhile..there was a Grace-begotten Camelot.
These people, too, were at our house a lot, and we at theirs: class gatherings, picnics, hayrides through the woods, Vacation Bible school camps in the woods, after basketball/football game gatherings for ice cream, and Sunday school. Communitas it is referred to in Spanish- it was a community born in the spirit of community. It was not a community formed of membership, obligation, or rank. It was a family of choice, an example of “Friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do.’ But what they’re really saying is ‘I love you.'”

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And so many others..

The Pine Lake Secret Sisters, the Card Club, the Bowling teams- all would meet in the downstairs rooms for talk, and talk, and laughter and cards and chip-chop bbq beef sandwiches, and whatever else was made and brought (never bought and brought, never). Upstairs (sometimes) Denny and I would listen from our bedroom to what was happening below us through the air vent between the floors. I think we stopped for good when we once heard Tommie Keck say, “I can hear them giggling again.”

We (the young ones) would sometimes put on shows for our parents using the built-in stage of the sliding doors which enabled the one great room to be divided into a dining room and sitting room. Reash, Candel, and Weber kids used those doors in ways they were never intended to be used, but boy were they fun (and how easily I can hear and feel those doors, right now).

The ancient downstairs “second” kitchen (with a hand pump in the sink) became a playroom for little kids and then a family TV room as little kids grew up. It’s where cousins Kenny and Gail Miller, and our moms and dads watched the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan, yeah yeah yeah, just several months after  I had sat in that same room watching the weekend of November 22 to 25 with the rest of America.

For years before Denny and I left home and for many years after, Mom made about a million cookies, ten thousand cakes, and twenty thousand pies for customers who kept coming back and as donations or gifts to whoever had caught her eye and heart that week. (I exaggerate the numbers, but not by much!) For every Street Fair she would make 30+ pies to be sold at Grace Church’s food area. And she did that for almost forty years. Later, Dad would help her cater meals around town for various groups, and frequently for the men working in the barn, and that’s to say nothing of the food Mom prepared for Grace’s once a month “Come whoever wants to and pay whatever you want” lunches which she “engineered” for years. Here’s a picture of one page (of 20 pages) of pictures she took in the 1970s of wedding cakes she made! And ALL of this cooking was done in that single kitchen of the house! All that food is part of the reason the whole town is connected to this house!

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~~

~~
Just as I tip-toed through the house earlier this month, I tip-toe now a little ways back from immediate rush of memories of the house, the home. Five days before the fire, we had to say goodbye to our Golden Retriever, beloved Salem, who for fifteen years had loved us as we loved him, with a love that is too complicated, too big for words. Sometimes words detract from reality because they must, by their very nature of being “only words” be less than what we are trying to describe through them. But we have to try, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and now I have to be quiet for a bit. At least about these two, the dog and the house, which are no more.

Physically, Salem and the house are gone. Emotionally and spiritually, though, they are wildly alive in my heart. I knew that was true of Salem, of course. All who knew him have mourned. But it has been healing to see and hear of the love expressed for this 134 year house, too, by so very many people. I lived there, it was home, but it was not “mine” any more than Salem was “mine.” The really best things, the true things in life are those that we share outside the boundaries of “ownership.” The best things belong to us all. Our perspectives may differ, the intensity of our feelings may vary. But the best things, the very best things in life are..

Ours.
~~
“Father of all, we pray to you for all that we love, but see no longer. Grant all of that which is loved, your peace; let light perpetual shine upon all of it; and in your loving wisdom and almighty power work through our memories of that which we loved the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. .

We commit now, what we have loved to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..”

Amen
(adapted from The Proposed Book of Common Prayer, Church of England)

A House Becomes A Home, And Then It is Not, And Now It Is No More..Part 2

(raise up a child..)

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“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”
(‘Ways of Seeing’, John Berger, 1973, p.7)

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The Front Porch (there were five porches, and I could make a list like this about each of them, but..this one, now)

This porch was the one we crossed over every morning, then across the lawn, and down to the driveway from kindergarten through 10th grade to meet Columbiana Independent School District Bus #4. Mr. Oesch was the first driver I remember. Dave Kimbel, Jackie Wise, and I would sit together, three across in the same seat, and we would talk on the way to school about Davy Crockett and Peter Pan. Later on the route, we would pick up Harry Dean and Mr. Oesch would make us laugh every single day with the same repeated sing-song: “Harry Dean the washing machine, combed his hair with the leg of a chair and called his mother a grizzly bear.”

This porch was one where a young tired-looking blond woman came one cold Saturday afternoon in about 1960 and asked for a drink of water. My mom told her to come in and sit down and I drifted into another room because the woman did sit down and began crying and I remember nothing else about that incident except that mom seemed to know what to do.

This porch was the one where I sat on the step after school in February 1964 and read and re-read a note from my mom written on a piece of tablet paper. My sons  it said on one side. Below that, she had written Dave and Denny. On the other side there were no crossed out words and I remember the note word for word: “Dearest boys, Grandpa [her dad] went  to be with Jesus this morning. I’m going home with Aunt Betty now. Dad will tell you more. Love, Mom.”

This porch was the one from where Robbie and I entered the house carrying Joshua, three months old, at Christmas in 1974 and it was this porch where Robbie and I and Joshua, Darcy, and Sarah stood and sang “Jingle Bells” to announce our late night arrival for Christmas in 1981.

This porch was the one where Denny and I sat with cousins in November 1999, remembering when we had all years earlier played ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Cops and Robbers’ upstairs while our parents visited downstairs. It was the day of Dad’s funeral.

And..this porch was the one where, while I was on a visit home in the Spring of 2004,  I knew for certain what I didn’t want to know for certain when Mom went outside to look for Dad to call to supper. Later that Spring was when Denny and I buried our mementoes when saying goodbye to the house. We buried them in a now-forgotten distance south then east, from this porch.

~~

I keep thinking, imagining places in the house I would like to run my hands over one last time. It has become an almost obsessive thought. One would be the stairway bannister (18 steps up, hover over the heat register at the top, continue). Another would be the window in the bay by the bed where I slept. It opened to the east and looked out over the green then golden then bare then green again gingko (second largest gingko in Ohio!). And the top of the fireplace in the dining room- the fireplace in which thousands of hot dogs were roasted, hundreds of marshmallows were burned to a crisp, and where innumerable pennies were thrown into the hot coals to turn fiery red. And the porch, that porch. Just one more time.