Reigning Fists

hazelnut

Photo from Into the Expectation blog

 

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is
made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”    
— Julian of Norwich

Punishment is easier to preach than grace.  Well, punishment is more available in the theological vocabulary of my life and that of my parishioners.  We understand the concept. Steal a piece of candy, get caught, shamefully confess, work hard to do better and be satisfied without candy. Yell at your kids for some inconsequential infraction, see the humiliation dawn in their eyes, feel the recriminating glare as you look in the mirror, skulk to the bedroom to cry out the pain you were yelling at them.  Hear a joking, yet critical, remark about how you handle the impending deadline at work.  Snap back a much too hasty and sarcastic remark.  Realize your mistake after reacting poorly to your haggard co-worker.  Spend hours wondering what causes you to be so sensitive and flagellate the little bit of God-image left after years of self-righteous indignation over how ineptly you have learned the “God-way.”  You poor little human, you deserve no less than punishment.  How you wish and hope that one day you can leave behind this human shell and get the “God-thing” right.

But on Christ the King Sunday, we see the error of this way.  Julian saw the crucified and risen Christ not inflicting punishment, rather cradling “all that is made” with tender protective love.  In the shelter of Christ the King’s palm, Julian saw the littleness of the universe and the littleness of our often misguided hearts held by crucified hands.  The hands of One impaled because he refused to fight the system of oppression in the same way that system fought him.  The hands of One pierced because he saw in every outcast the circumstances of her heart and the root of pain that had grown into self-serving action.  The crucified hands that hold the hazelnut of our existence, these hands were dead and now live, these hands knew suffering and pain and have risen again sharing the conquering healing of God with all who have known death and destruction.  The scarred hands of a crucified and kingly Christ reign over the universe with tender compassion for those who have been blinded by ignorance, self-pity, and hatred.  These wounded reigning palms reach out to set us free from the tyranny of self-doubt and self-hatred.  These hands coax us into a grace that is harder to accept than punishment.  The crucified and living Christ who sits enthroned over all that has been made does so as one who gave himself up to suffering in this world, not because he had to, not because God made him, not because some old human debt had to be settled by a divine blood-letting [punishment].  The crucified reigning Christ entered into our human existence not to “teach us a lesson” but to invite us into a new way, a way that acknowledges and accepts a brokenness in creation that will not be fixed by punishment, a way that accepts and surrenders to death which shall be overcome by the power of Unrequited Life in God.  Hear the invitation to participate in the reign of a Kingdom unfettered by our need to do anything other than accept our inheritance in it and to see the royalty of straw and rags in an humble stable and to be embraced in the mighty and impenetrable grasp of One whose reigning fists are closed tightly around the wounds of the cosmos.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2014

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The Dark is Me, Too

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I don’t know when or where or how or from whom I learned not to look at the dark side of myself.  It’s not like I don’t have a dark side.  I have plenty of dark side.  And I don’t mean that I  learned to pretend that I didn’t have a dark side.  I knew I had a dark side; I simply learned not to look at it.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I managed not to look at someone who had spoken unjustly to me.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I both recognized and avoided the person I was embarrassed or ashamed to talk to.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I haven’t looked at some of the buskers near the subway stairs.  I know they are there; I hear them; I see them.  I just don’t have the time and money to spare, right now.  Nope, not right now.

And my dark side, let me clarify.  I’m not talking about illegal activities or heinous omissions of ethical behavior.  It’s pretending that I am listening when I am really forming a judgment about why you should be listening to me.  It’s believing I am calm and peaceful and forgiving while I am in an all-out brawl with anger and resentment, refusing to acknowledge their presence and throwing them out the back door of the “I’m So Good” Club hoping no one else ever saw them come into the place.  My dark side is the place where I know I could see (if I took a good hard look) the full reality of my brokenness, my humanness,  and my incompleteness.  My dark side is the part of me that is me, the part of me I wish weren’t me, that I was hoping would somehow change, disappear, or mature if only I could put enough distance between us.

And here’s what caught me, the question of attention.  Would it be okay to give my dark side a thorough gaze?  Or would this serve to fuel the darkness residing therein?  If I looked at the darkness, would I be swallowed up within it, rendering me incapable of ever leaning out toward the light again?

“But,” I sang to my Self, “attention need not be laced with shame nor approval.  Attention may be clarifying while gentle, humble yet accountable.”

May the light of my eyes, cast a luminescent glow, one encompassing net, about my dark side.  May the gift of a sacred attention irradiate what I have been unwilling to fully acknowledge.  May I learn to love my darkness, for that is me, too; and may the Light which has never been overcome by darkness be my guide.

***

What have you learned about yourself and God when you turned your attention to your darkness?

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

To Speak and To Listen

“Listen, and I will tell you a mystery…”
                                                                (I Corinthians 15:51)

When I was in the fifth grade, our teacher instructed the class on the practice of effective listening.  “Watch the person’s lips,” she admonished, “Don’t watch her face.  Watch her lips.”

Listen to Lips

I remember a time in my late teens when I was trying to listen to God.  How are you supposed to do that?  God doesn’t have lips to watch.  And without lips to watch, I heard a cacophony of voices in my head giving directions, offering advice, and issuing threats.  The voices tumbled over one another in an endless cycle as if my mind were a dryer with a glass door.  I was listening, but not to God.  The tumbling voices were attached to all the people who had praised me and loved me, who had scared me and hurt me, who had cajoled me and manipulated me, who had taught me and challenged me.  People had lips; God didn’t.

In the passing years, I realized that the tumbling voices came from a gift; I am a good listener.  Listening well means more than watching lips.  Listening well is hearing tone and sensing emotion.  Listening well is to pull back the Self in order to create as much space as possible for the Other to speak, to play, to emerge, to soar, to spill, to spew.  To listen is to pay attention to the hands and the shoulders, trace the arc of the eyes, hear the pattern of verbs, and to follow the billowy, lacy, delicate web of thought, gossamer thin and light, sheer, yet, defining.

Soon, if you are listening, you begin to see the delicate web is everywhere.  I saw it all; all of us like Charlotte’s babies spinning our silk and ballooning from one place to another.  And I began to wonder if spinning my silk to the breeze was a betrayal of the gift of listening I had been given.  All those years of listening, observing, making room for the Other to speak, became obstacles to listening for a God with no lips, obstacles to listening to my True Self.  When I tried to listen for God, I heard everyone else. When I yearned for my own voice, I could not discern my whisper among the tumbling voices; the voice of my True Self was as hard to find as a lost sock.

Wondering, I asked, “What if I listened to myself with as much attentiveness and gentleness and interest as I had listened to others?”  As I became a better listener, I learned that listening well means that I must not forget that I am the one who listens.  To hear the tone and sense the emotion, I use my faculties and my intuition.  To pull back the Self is not to say the Self can or should disappear.  To pay attention to hands and shoulders, I watch with my eyes; to trace the arc of your eyes, I use my vision.

I listen; but when I listen well, I also speak.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

A Different Epiphany Journey

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Father Thomas Keating describes centering prayer as being like a scuba diver settled on a large rock upon a riverbed.  You do not rest on the rock alone; God is present alongside you.  The river is Life, streaming, flowing, trickling, cascading and altering current and course with flood and drought, with falling rock and shifting ground.  Anchored by God’s presence, you allow the waters to flow past you, over you, and around you.  Above the riverbed your thoughts and feelings float like boats on the water’s surface.  From your underwater perch on the river’s floor, you can distinguish each thought and feeling, observing the boats come about, heel, pitch, heave to, and founder and thus giving freedom to your thoughts to be just as they are.

On this day of Epiphany, on this day of enlightenment, of gift-giving, of insight, I allow the vessels of my thoughts and feelings to jostle against one another – sloshing and spitting water, spraying and listing. Some are catching wind.  Some lay dead in the water, awaiting a brisk breeze.  I am aware of them.  I know from a glance at their sunken underbellies what lies tucked away in each hull above.

But for this Epiphany, on this day of light, I will sink to the riverbed; and I will place my openness before the Ground of Being, before the Source of all Light, before the One who gives desire to travel far and to see and know wonder.

For this Epiphany, I will sit on the river’s bottom with the One who birthed my being and know that these boats sail only for a time; and then, they will pass.  I will wait in the deep down place knowing even I, too, will be changed from “glory into glory,” knowing that once I was no more than a slumbering hot water bottle radiating heat on my mother’s chest.  I will rest below the river’s surface for this Epiphany knowing in the end, I will release the mainsail of my breath and I will surrender the headsail of my ego and sail on in another river as another vessel.

In loving memory of Wayne and his puckered whiskered lips, ready for another smoke and his next witty retort.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013