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compassionate compass

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We are asleep with compasses in our hands ~W.S. Merwin

I just realized that the words compass and compassion are only three letters apart.

They mean different things of course.  The word compass means to circle or go around, and comes from the Latin com ("with") + pass  ("a step"). The word compassion means to feel for someone else's suffering, and comes from com ("with") + passion  ("pati").  Both are ways of moving with, and being moved by, a person or situation; both are ways to orient ourselves.

How different are these orientations in fact?

A compass is set to be magnetized to true north.  Compassion resonates with others' feelings. Both are ways to find oneself.  Or lose oneself.  Or maybe finding and losing oneself are the same thing!

Setting our minds and hearts on something outside of ourselves, we find a path and direction.

Love yourself as your neighbor

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~Love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:31)
We applaud people who run out to save a child from an oncoming school bus, or rescue old ladies from thugs, or run into a burning building to save a dog or cat or a person.  They risk their lives for others and we praise them for their altruism.  We think of them as heros. 

But are they?

Altruism comes from the word "alter" (other).  Altruists are other-centered in their actions.  But when asked what they were thinking and why they did what they did, the altruist invariably says something like,  "I didn't even think; I just did what I had to".  They felt compelled to do it. 

What exactly is so heroic about that?  Isn't altruism just as compulsive and blind to potentially self-destructive consequences as self-centered acts like self-mutilation or drug addiction?

Of course it is wonderful to help others avert disaster when we can.  But why is it better to be other-centered than self-centered?  Or put our lives at risk?…

The trellis*

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The trellis stands by A wandering rose whose blind and tender shoots Poke the air, testing Fingers curled around a tendril twirling itself around the fringes Of the bent green wood
The triple cord, earnest in its unmoving state between Sun and rose, Awaits, hurting…
“Come sweet Rose!” it pines, “Lift up your head and let Him pull you to your feet! The ground you cling to, even as it calls you to sleep, Is a deathbed!”
It sweats until its sapless brow, bead by bead, Moves the rose to weep And stretch across the gap between where life begins and ends, Hanging on.

*for my Rose

carefree caring

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There is a type of caring that is responsible to a fault.  It is based on responding rather than giving.

What is the difference?

Caring as giving is offered, from me to you, from the inside out.  It is freely given; a choice. Caring as responding is an answer, to you from me, from the outside-in.  It is not given freely, but from a sense of duty.

Why is this caring to a fault?

Because it holds the other responsible for my own sense of obligation, placing the burden of giving on someone outside myself.  It is not carefree caring.  It is anxious, heavy, laden with responsibility, like a job.  It is the care of a first responder, or an unpaid volunteer.

Ultimately, this kind of caring, when offered to a child, friend or lover, will feel unfair to the caregiver.  Resentment builds because they feel like they are owed something.  Then they begin to exact payment from their loved ones. They get angry and withdraw, or both, and escape.  They are like elastic bands that stretch beyond capaci…

taking the swords out of words

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~ sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me

It has taken me a long time to not disregard that rhyme as just plain wrong. Words, never hurt? What about the pen being mightier than the sword? Harsh words can wound us to our very cores. You can remove a sword but you cannot unhear words.

No, I always thought, "Words hurt like hell!" and for that reason have long dismissed forgiveness as a disingenuous attempt to let something go when in reality it is killing us.  First we heal, I thought, and when it stops hurting, then we can forgive, truly forgive.

But I am changing my mind. I still believe there is a lot of fake forgiveness out there, and that it is better to heal organically by feeling our pain, telling our stories and getting a "hearing" which validates our suffering, than to feign forgiveness through gritted teeth.  But now I believe we can dodge and remove the swords through forgiveness.

We live in a world where words are used like sword…

The power of suggestion… NOT!

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
~John (1:1)
God said, "Let there be light", and there was light.  Some utterances fulfill the intention of the speaker.  They are prophetic words, potent words that create realities from the speaker's mind merely by claiming his vision out loud.

There is tremendous power in this. In the human realm, it is called suggestion. And it works.  If you say something emphatically, and repeat it often enough, especially if it is accompanied by a mental image, you can anticipate the future.  This is where the expression "be careful what you wish for" comes from.  Wishes pack the power of the verb*.  This can do good, but- like all power- it can also harm ourselves or others if we do not wield it carefully. 

When my friend's son was just a kid, his dad, well-meaning of course, told him emphatically, “Son, you will try drugs as a teenager and you will like them.”  It was meant as a warning b…

the meaning of sacrifice

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~ And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

I'm not a Christian but I have struggled my whole life to understand the meaning of "sacrifice", the mystery of the cross, and the human obsession with offering blood (goats, lamb, body parts or whole persons) to atone for our human condition.

Raised by hard-working parents who loved us well but, like many of their generation, reminded us daily that they bore the cost of our privilege and good fortune, I rejected and was unwilling to pass that burden on to my own children.  So in my twenties, I completed a Master's thesis entitled "Le Sacrifice et la Générosité; Réflexion sur Autrui" that skewered the notion of sacrifice in favour of generosity as an act of giving from the feeling of abundance rather than from the pinch of obligation. If this was not love for another, I thought, at least it was not a need for personal atonement.

Still I found myself …