Sunday, November 4, 2012

Back from Manhattan - and thank you, Penington Friends House

I was in Manhattan last week during Hurricane Sandy (to be precise, on 15th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in the Penington Friends House), and remained there for a couple of days afterward until LaGuardia was cleared out enough to get planes out.  We had it pretty easy: staying at a place where there were meals reliably prepared (in the old-time kitchen with a large gas-powered stove), and lots of candles lit in the evening.  I was relieved to find a small but unusually powerful flashlight, which I use when I walk my dog in the evening, had made its way to Manhattan with me in my coat pocket.  Our biggest privation was the loss of the Internet, which felt very constricting at the time.

I've spent some time since returning thinking about how woefully unprepared I am - perhaps all of us are - for the challenges that lie ahead with climate change, or even personal disasters that face us all.  I scramble to assert some sense of normalcy, as if it were something I have a right to, as if it ever really existed.  I indulge in small fetishes and magical thinking, like putting a daylight lamp on my table to push away the autumnal shadows and winter darkness that predictably propel me into seasonal sadness.  I hopefully struggle through the physical therapy regimen that promises to at least arrest the nerve disruption I'm experiencing from a bulging disk in my lower back.  My spouse surfs the Web looking for human-powered generators that could keep a cell phone or tablet going in the event of a power outage - if the disruption didn't also include towers going out (which they did where we were in NYC).

I am also struck by how this experience highlighted for me how oblivious I am most of the time, trudging through my days unaware of the choices that actually exist to use my limited time and energy in more fruitful ways, including not spending so much of it wired into the Internet.  When the lights and wifi went out, we were left in the dim room through the long nights acutely aware of sirens far and near, large trucks and machines seemingly involved in construction projects in the dark, and earlier, during the storm, wind whipping around the buildings for hours.  In the midst of all that racket was a kind of stillness, the stillness of nothing much to do, no control over the outcome, nowhere to escape to mentally or physically.

With few resources of our own, we experienced the kindness of friends and strangers throughout our visit, which made for a happy visit in spite of the disruption to everything around us - travel and jobs and the daily rhythm of life for everyone.  For a time, all we had, and all we needed, was candlelight and the good cheer of everyone in the household.  Oh - and some good board games (I held the flashlight while a group played Clue) and the silliness of young people making up raucous songs in the corner.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finding the Sacred in the Here and the Now

New photo for the blog heading - let's see how well it wears.  This is the entry gate to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary.  I have always thought the word "Sanctuary" sets the tone for this lovely place, as it is like a cloister in its set-apartness and quiet (other than the buzz and grumble of the highway traffic off to the side).

I have been living in a blur, but in the last couple of weeks, I've been rereading some material from Thich Nhat Hahn (for my fall Spiritual Journey course that I teach locally), and I'm trying to take to heart the injunction to live in the here and in the now.  It's the same lesson, of course, from such spiritual classics as Practicing the Presence of God by Br. Lawrence. 

Here's a lovely example of this sentiment, perhaps a bit super-charged from Thomas Kelly's mystical breakthrough in his last years of life, from The Eternal Promise, the second posthumous collection of his short writings (following from the better-known  ATestament of Devotion). 

(Written in 1938-1941, and initially published in 1966 by Harper and Row; pages 31-32.)

...In the experience of Presence each successive Moment of living is seen as a completion of the whole of Life's meaning.  And that completed moment enters again into the next moment with its uniqueness and its novelty, and new synthesis and completedness are achieved.  Time, as sheer flow, is tantalizing, torturing, tragedy.  Time as experienced in its matrix and seedbed, the Eternal, is perpetual completion, triumph, release.  Time as every-stretched toward goals is endless disappointment and postponements; Time as continuously given within and flowing from the Eternal is charged with serenity and satisfaction. Were earthly life to end in this moment, all would be well.  For this Here, this Now, is not a mathematical point in the streem of Time; it is swollen with Eternity, it is the dwelloing place of God Himself.  We ask no more; we are at home.  Thou who hast made us for Thyself dost in each moment give us our rest in Thee.  Each moment has a Before and After; but still deeper, it has Eternity, and we have tasted it and are satisfied.  As the English poet Coleridge says: "We on honeydew have fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise."  Would that I could put into words that complete readiness and completedness of each moment of life have intrinsic value.  The profound satisfaction within it seems to come not from the earthly past, for that may have been stupid, nor from the earthly future, for that may seem dark.  It seems to come from the deep springs of Eternal Life breaking into Time itself, nay, begetting Time itself, disclosing itself as the Alpha and Omega of time, and into the ears of its time-born children whispering the secret of eternal peace.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Winter vacation - broken wrist - and now it's suddenly spring

It's been an odd, if short, winter.  I went to Mexico in late January and had a lovely time with my siblings (all but one) and parents.  Just now, flipping through the photos, I can recapture the ease and brightness of those ten days.  Some of us were staying in a condo/hotel - somewhat primitive but sufficient, and very spacious. Cerritos Beach was a couple of blocks away down a dusty, rutted road, past my brother's 1/3 acre compound of motorhome and palm-leaf-roofed open patio, where the rest of the clan were ensconsed.  (This is on the Pacific side of Baja, north of Cabo San Lucas and a little south of Todos Santos.)

The beach is a magnet for surfers.  Up on the hill above it is a glittering mansion, which serves as a luxury hotel now.  

After a week of sun-drenched days and just-cool-enough breezes, I tripped and broke my wrist.  I didn't think it was broken, though, and it didn't hurt all that much, so I kept on with the touristic routine with my family for another day

and then brought the wrist home to be x-rayed - and splinted, then put in a cast, then (because the bone was drifting a bit), put through surgery.  I have a titanium plate in there now.

After several weeks of hand therapy, I'm typing again, though the range of motion isn't the best.

And now - a month to five weeks early - it's spring here, birdsong, leaf bud, green grass and all.  May it not bode a slide into a baking and parched summer.