THE CROSS

crossThe circle was probably the first image used by man as a symbol; the second was probably the cross. They say that the vertical line of the cross represents the descent of spirit into matter and that the horizontal crossbar represents the world.

I sometimes hear people criticize the use of the religious cross with Christ hanging on it. Why look at something so cruel, so gruesome? Why focus on his suffering; why not emphasize his resurrection with the empty cross?

Christ on the cross is the symbol for Everyman because everyone who is born at some point experiences pain and death. To me the most human part of the whole story of Christ is when he asks why the Father has forsaken him. After all, hadn’t he done everything right? Hadn’t he been the perfect son? Why did he have to go through this horrible torture and shame?

Don’t we ask that too when we get sick, when we see an innocent child die, when we see the unbelievable suffering in the world today? What did we do to deserve this? Isn’t there some way to change things, to escape, to let this cup pass from our lips? Isn’t the eternal question that Christ asked our question too?

In Christ’s story, he asks the question but he is not answered – at least as far as the Gospels report. Instead, he stops asking why and accepts things as they are; in fact, he embraces his situation when he says, Thy will be done. This is the act of ultimate surrender – a surrender not to death but to Life.

Once we can accept we do not understand the larger picture, that we are not in control of our destiny, once we can accept that our life does not belong to us but that Life/God/All That Is is living through us, once we can surrender, although our bodies may die, we will, as they say, be born to a greater life.

People often wonder if there is life after death and demand proof. At the same time they are unwilling to believe in the story of the resurrection; they are unwilling to believe the stories of saints and those who had near death experiences; they are unwilling to believe in visions. In other words, because they have not experienced the Light themselves, they doubt or deny its existence. But that doesn’t change the truth.

All of us, in our own way, carry a cross and one day we will ask God why we are abandoned and suffering. That is the day when Christ and the saints and prophets and angels will be beside us to help us say Thy will be done and our hearts will be opened. If we humbly ask God’s grace, He cannot deny us.

“ I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me, together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was. “ John 17: 4-5

PASSING FANCY

passeI heard a thump on my front door and when I opened it I saw a lumpy yellow plastic bag. I dredged up similar images from my memory and made a match. “A telephone book!” I could hardly believe it. When was the last I had seen, let along used, a telephone book … 2004 – maybe?

I looked up and down the sidewalk of the apartment complex and saw a series of yellow bumps before each door. I picked up my package by one of its plastic ears and walked it to the dumpster. What a waste of trees to produce, a waste of money for advertisers.

I look up everything on Google – from restaurants to doctors to city parks – and with sites like Yelp and her cousins I can get customer/user reviews that tell me more than the four-color glossy ads do.

The post office has become an anachronism, first brought to its knees by Fed Ex and others, and now supplanted by email. Snail mail will soon have a cachet, just as real books will someday be considered collector’s items.

I no longer have a TV and only rarely use my stereo/radio. The laptop has superseded them all. We used to have external hard drives to back up our files; now data can be stored in clouds and other mythical vaults in the sky.

Skype will replace Ma Bell. Our phones are now our computers, cameras, radios, TV’s, storage devices, note pads, game boards and appointment keepers. Which brings to mind all the Day-at-a-Glance, Day Runners and planners that are now just memories.

Marshall McLuhan’s “The media is the message” is truer today than in the 60’s. We use Tumblr and Facebook, we twitter and tweet, post and digg, link-up and share. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is now 30 seconds and counting down.

Things are moving so fast and changing so quickly, time has speeded up to keep pace with it. With all of these devices, we no longer have the time to do anything, even read. Our local paper reported today that a 17-year old boy from Britain has just sold an app named Summly to Yahoo for $30 million.

What does it do? The algorithmic invention takes long-form stories and shortens them for readers using smartphones. Another version of the News which means more out-of-context sound bites. The last time I thought about algorithms I was in junior high school and was using a real slide rule – that was even before handheld calculators or pocket radios if you can think back that far.

The kid must be a real wizard and the more power to him. A multi-millionaire at 17 – what will he do when he grows up? Or, is it like athletes and physicists who supposedly reach their peak by 25 and spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture the glory days.

Back in the 50’s the phrase ‘planned obsolescence’ came into common parlance. First used by industrial designer, Brooks Stevens, planned obsolescence was “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”

To my mind this also goes a long way in explaining why older men marry trophy wives. Women, in general, eschew such practices, preferring to wait until they become widows and don’t have the overhead of alimony.

So now I wonder if Nature, in her wisdom, has been using planned obsolescence all along. Maybe we all have an expiration date, a light that flickers in our palms to let us know when we’re yesterday’s news. Remember “Logan’s Run,” the ‘76 sci-fi movie where the city is under the bubble and everyone is put to death at 30 (Resurrection! they chanted). In the long run, it’s all a matter of timing so keep running.

POST SCRIPT

cycleIf I write a post for the blog or do some kind of art, I feel I have earned my keep for the day. There is a feeling of satisfaction, of duty done, of requirements fulfilled. On the other hand, when I don’t write or do art, I feel adrift, without purpose. The day seems shallow and pale.

Since February I have been in a painting cycle when art predominates. These periods usually last from six to eight weeks. At the beginning the brush feels clumsy in my hand, the paper is stubborn and the ink indifferent. What is most important at this early stage is to persevere which often means making sloppy, inarticulate pictures and wasting some good paper. It is almost a sacrificial ceremony or rite of passage.

After a day or two or three, the ink and water become more tractable, the paper receptive and the brush responsive. Then the real painting begins and usually continues for several weeks. Of the 50+ pictures produced perhaps five or six are good and I am satisfied.

The third phase of the work is the winding down process which is where I am now. I will have the desire to paint and create but the well is running dry. Slowly the brush starts to falter, the ink to smear and the paper to become cold and isolated. I know it is time to stop but I am reluctant to leave the creative high. I am reluctant to feel I am not earning my keep and so I turn to writing.

All of the words that have been left simmering on the back burners start to heat up and spill over and sputter on the grill of my mind. And so for the next month or two, I will use words rather than images to communicate. One medium is not better than another, one is not easier.

It is in this period before the new cycle takes hold that I am restless and unfocused. While I wait for the words to arrive, I think of a poem I wrote many years ago when I was just learning how to listen to the voice.

AB POSITIVE

I opened a vein
this morning
and bled a poem
all over this clean white sheet
staining it a rich burgundy.

Hot tears
will not remove it
but you can
try ice.

BEING SPECIAL

specialI was always a little envious of people who seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing, and what they were meant to do. While I was switching directions from one college major to another, they were taking one step after the other in the same direction. While they had successful careers I was still bumbling along trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. My inability to commit to one career, one direction, one path, made me feel immature.

Then there are all of the famous people who made outstanding careers for themselves; people like the Michael Jordan or Donald Trump or Mother Theresa or Stephen Hawking. They all had distinctive gifts and took them to the limit.

“Why didn’t I get one really big, really special talent?” I asked myself. “Why am I so ordinary? Why am I pulled in so many directions? How am I supposed to know what to do when I have nothing special to offer?

When we compare ourselves to other people we may feel small. Because we feel small we may believe we don’t really have a purpose in life, or at least not one worth pursuing with all of our hearts. We think that what we have to offer is so ordinary that it is not worth much.

I have learned that there is no one born who does not have something special to offer. Just because some of us have highly developed minds or bodies or talents does not mean the rest of us are not special, too. We are mistaking quantity for quality. We think we have to be great or we are nothing at all. But the world’s yardstick cannot measure the value of what we offer.

We do not know God’s plan for this lifetime or have His perspective. We may be here to perform one simple act that will change someone’s life or we may be here to impact millions. One is not “better than” another. That’s why success cannot be defined in material terms.

All of the inner talking that we do within our minds is the activity of the ego – a wily, high effective defense mechanism that developed over the millennia to keep our bodies safe and alive in a dangerous world….

The ego is who we think we are. It shares the intellect’s belief in danger and is always alert to threats. The ego needs to win to feel validated. It is that part of us that feels separate and alone and hence needs to feel special. When the Call to Vocation or Adventure comes, the ego can feel overwhelmed or threatened because it feels a power stronger than itself.

When the Call to Vocation is heard the ego responds with all of the reasons why this is a foolish undertaking, why we can’t do it and shouldn’t even attempt it. It tells us we are not good enough, strong enough, wise enough or brave enough. It tells us this road is too hard, too long, too dangerous. It tells us we will fail, we will not amount to anything, that we will die alone and poor in a dark alley. It cautions us to take the safe, well-lit path that everyone else has taken.

That is just the ego being an ego. Everyone has an ego and all egos have the same purpose – to protect us and keep us alive. It wants us to have a secure, predictable life with a steady paycheck, guaranteed retirement and carefree old age. In the recent past the corporations and collapsing trust and pension funds have shown that this economic security some have been willing to trade their lives for it is illusory at best.

Because the ego likes to be the boss, it will not turn over the reins of decision making easily. It is not necessary to ‘kill’ the ego, deride it or hate it. We can listen to its advice but we don’t have to follow it. What is necessary is to transcend it.

What is really special about each one of us is beyond the range and understanding of the ego. The spirit is too big for the ego to encompass, too wise for it to understand, too courageous for it to trust. The Call of Vocation, the Call to Adventure is the Call of Life asking to be lived fully, deeply, completely.

Except from the Power of Vocation from “Ten Powers: Spiritual Strategies to Transform Your Life & Work” © 2005 Marie Taylor

AFTER THE RAINS

gooseThis morning the face of the sky is bruised by mottled gray clouds and resembles the face of a woman after a long night with a rough lover.

The steady overnight rain has tripled the size of the stream at the park and the ducks skim across its quickly flowing surface like ice skaters. While its companions skitter back and forth, one duck bobs three times into the stream, then flaps its wings, shaking the water off its oil slicked feathers before waddling up a low bank to preen in the cool watery sun.

A honking breaks the silence of the morning, the cry both a protest and a challenge to a convoy of ducks who are ignoring the boundaries set a goose along the stream’s concourse. Darting out from its feeding among the reeds, the goose flaps its giant wings and the ducks scatter like ten pins.

Long necked, black billed, brown winged, the goose commands the water, its delta white tail set high and proud like a sail against the brown water and dark green grasses. Beside it a small gosling vigorously paddles to keep pace.

Three other geese, two white and one black, pull their bottom heavy bodies out of the current and struggle up the bank. With heads down and beaks busily gobbling up drenched earth worms, they waddle their way stolidly down the path towards the small lake that is ringed by trees.

A film of gray moss coats the tops of the heavy black limbs of the oaks and accents the light green of the new leaves that are emerging. The spent blossoms of the pink and white flowering trees cling damply to the thin branches and sag like crepe paper the morning after a spring dance.

A lone walker jogs by, head bare, scarf whipping in the spring wind while high above the path a telephone lineman wearing a heavy leather belt dangling with tools leans out of a small metal basket and scatters a flock of birds.

(new post on art site at http://MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com )

GOLDEN MOMENTS

violetsI’m really bad at remembering names and even worse at repeating a story as told. Everything in my world is a paraphrase, it seems. With that caveat, here goes.

A young monk was sitting with his dying Zen master. “How do you feel, master,’ the student asked. “I am thinking of those golden moments of my life when I was truly awake,” the old master replied. “How many can you remember, sire?” “Twenty-five,” the old monk replied and with a sigh added, “Now, my teacher was a really great man and at the end of his life he could remember a whole hour.”

How often are we really ‘awake’? By that I mean how often are we fully alive, alert, non-personal, completely present. We are given a taste of that state periodically. Perhaps it is a dawn or sunset that is so beautiful that all thinking stops and we just see. Maybe it is the near car accident when we spin on an icy patch and time hangs suspended. It can be the sight of a newborn child, the death of a friend, an aria.

The other day I was thinking about the little Zen anecdote and began listing those out-of-time moments I have experienced in my own life. One of the earliest was climbing over a metal pipe fence, going down a steep grassy slope and exploring the small stream that ran alongside the street I walked on my way from school in the second grade.

On that spring day the rushing stream was full from recent rains which gave it a grumbling, rumbling voice. In its headlong rush to the distant river, the stream was swallowed up by the hungry mouth of the large, dark sewer pipe. A frisson of fear shot through me as I imagined myself whisked on that journey. As I scrambled up the bank, I looked across the stream and saw splashes of bright purple in the tall green grass. They were spring violets.

The other moment with violets happened more than twenty years later. One morning my younger son and I went for a walk in the nearby woods. We were strolling through a large open field on the top of a gentle hill. The lake was below, the sun above, the grass still wet with dew.

“Mommy,” I heard him call, and when I turned I saw my four-year old son, his blond hair blowing, a wide smile on his face and in his hand a fistful of wild flowers, running across the spring green grass as thousands of small pale violets were tossed and tumbled in the breeze. For an instant time stopped.

I think it is moments like these we will remember at the end of our lives – along with the ones that are more painful. Below is a poem I wrote many years ago that reminds me of these fleeting moments.

 

Say Not Wait

What is life but the splinters
of golden moments drilled and strung
and mounted in a net woven
by old women sitting in high clouds
chanting forgotten songs to dead heroes.

What is love but a white knight
who goes to distant lands in search
of the fair Elaine who carries the cup
whose lips Christ touched
one starry night before the blood came.

What is desire that we should say
‘wait’ or ‘I can not’ or ‘I am not ready’
because when we do, love slips away
into the forests of time leaving not
a trail for birds to follow anywhere.

So how can we say ‘no’ or ‘stop’
or ‘wait’ to the river that flows on
without ceasing. But reaching up,
let us grab the back of a fin and
slide beneath the waves and taste eternity.