This past weekend we attended our future son-in-law's graduation as he marked the successful completion of college. The clouds balanced precariously on the edge of releasing the anticipated rain, but the ceremony (mostly) ended before the showers started. The festivities continued at a local inn as we joined the immediate family for a celebratory dinner. Joyful smiles were a dime a dozen, and none brighter than those of the grad himself.
I don't think I celebrate as often as I should. This probably comes from being an idea person; my head in the clouds connecting the dots makes it all too easy to miss what's on the ground in front of me. Quite a few years ago, however, my daughter Kara taught me a lovely lesson. At the time she was teaching herself to play the piano, and after completing a song to her satisfaction, she would sit at the keyboard and clap. I loved to watch as she took a moment to acknowledge her achievements and celebrate herself! When I remember to follow in her footsteps it not only puts a smile on my face, but somewhere deep inside, my soul purrs.
Celebrating oneself is the theme of this poem by Lucille Clifton, brought to my attention by the same daughter while in college. Reading this poem again, I am struck by several things. First, there is the invitation to the community to celebrate with the author. To do so requires knowing when it is appropriate to celebrate, seeing the larger picture, noticing a beginning and an end - what was at one point an idea and has now become a reality. It also shows a vulnerability to community; will they agree that something noteworthy has taken place? Will they validate the result of the efforts?
The poem also underscores the ability in each of us to chart our own course. While it is important to find mentors and be open to the wisdom of others, only our own selves know the path they should be on. I've found myself in conversations with friends (or in my own mind) coming back to this idea that as we live in love, we have all that we need. It is not as if we consciously know all that we need to know for the situations we face, but we have access to what is necessary to live life well. Praying for openness, pausing to reflect, looking around us, these open the doorway for the Spirit of God to direct us. This is what the apostle John talks about in his first epistle. When we are connected to God, connected to love, then we have access to the wisdom that comes from God and have no need for a teacher. (1 John 2:27)
I imagine that Lucille Clifton, in "making up" her life was doing so in concert with the loving Spirit that undergirds our world. That even without a model, standing on a bridge between heaven and earth, she could hear the melody of her life sung by her creator. And when that love that desires to shape and protect us, forms us into who we were meant to be, there is good reason to celebrate.
won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
I'm trying to sort out how to move back and forth between the left brain functions (overly simplified to describe organizational, discrete, time-bound and PRODUCTIVE parts of my day) and the right brain functions (creative, inter-connected, relational and often randomized parts of my day). I believe both ways of being are essential, but I sometimes get lost in the deep regions of one, and can't seem to find my way back to the other.
I feel like my mind is "under construction," building new neural pathways or shortcuts from point A to point B. It can be a little frustrating, like driving on route 80 during the summer months, but I'm convinced there will be benefits further on down the road.
In the meantime, clever blogging seems to have come to a bit of a standstill.
Yesterday, in search of inspiration and with poetry on my mind, I landed in the Song of Solomon. Ostensibly written by the son and successor of King David, the ''Song of Songs" is sensuous poetry, full of succulent imagery and profound declarations. While in college, our concert choir sang a setting based on the passage: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." The experience was so moving, I had the words inscribed on our wedding program.
The passage below seems fitting as the sun-drenched days of spring have finally arrived; its phrases portray a scene as lovely as the cherry blossoms that float in my yard. The verdant landscape, filled with cooing doves, blossoming trees and fragrant vines, invites a bevy of senses to bask in the delights of the season. Then there is the lover, bounding over the hills as virile as a young stag or gazelle. Full of exuberance, he imbibes the same energy that animates the countryside. He delights in his strength, and the glory of the day, but is not satisfied. For he is also enamored of a young woman. Peering through the lattice, he yearns to have her by his side. She is his darling, his beautiful one. This intoxicating day is incomplete without the companionship of the one who owns his heart. "Arise," he says. "Come with me."
This call to enter life together is winsome, alluring. It requires only that the beloved leave her bedchamber and join the lover. And as I read, I find myself strangely moved. What invitation might be offered to me today, I wonder? Living in the aftermath of the Easter story, do I continue to believe, am I still well-satisfied (to use a phrase from Julian of Norwich) that I am beloved, that my presence is longed for? And what does he offer to me today, this resurrected Christ, full of vitality and eager desire? Perhaps it is to believe that the winter is past, and come with him into the season of singing.
Listen! My lover!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the latice.
My lover spoke and said to me,
"Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me."
Photo by Wally Harris: Spring paradise in the Galilee, Israel. Cyclamens and anemone flourish in the shade of olive trees.
Sometimes the movement in our lives seem so small, we can't notice it. Like buds blossoming on the other side of the valley, the changes are imperceptible, as in this poem by Wendell Berry. But the cumulative effect may often be seen by those who have a different perspective. Thinking of a dear friend last night, I can see how they are so much stronger now than they were several years ago. That same energy that make buds swell and anemones bloom has been at work creating peace, confidence, joy and hope in their life. From my vantage point I can see the light is changing around them. Spring has truly begun.
Can I see the buds that are swelling
in the woods on the slopes
on the far side of the valley? I can't,
of course, nor can I see
the twinleafs and anemones
that are blooming over there
bright-scattered above the dead
leaves. But the swelling buds
and little blossoms make
a new softness in the light
that is visible all the way here.
The trees, the hills that were stark
in the old cold become now
tender, and the light changes.
(from the collection "Given" by Wendell Berry)
The news of the death of Osama bin Laden, long on the top of the "most wanted" list, had me pondering all day yesterday about the correct response. I found myself uncomfortable with those who were dancing in Time Square after the President's announcement on Sunday night, yet had to acknowledge that this is where a "war on terror" takes us. I couldn't help but remember the time we took our children to a trout farm in Costa Rica. We paid a dollar, the guys in charge put on some bait, and in went the lines. Kara, the middle daughter, squealed in delight upon catching a fish, then gasped in horror when one of the men took it from the hook, and slapped its head upon the pavement. What did she expect? Obviously, we hadn't told her the whole story.
The taking of life, even if enacted in the most just of cases, is still a sadness. The Hebrew God, whose "life for life" justice set a standard for centuries states: Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23) And the Proverbs admonishes, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice."
While justice can bring a sense of closure, or even relief, it does not necessarily make the world a better place. At best it takes us back to where we were before. It can stem the tide of negative energy, but cannot generate the positive power we need to move forward. That power comes from love, which is demonstrated so powerfully in the Easter story we celebrated this last week.
This little poem by Edwin Markham causes me think about the ways we make (or allow) others to become our enemies. It leaves me wondering if Love really is this ingenious, and if so, what it takes to draw a circle that insists on no divisions.
He drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. from his "Where do we go from here?" speech says eloquently what I tried to express in the comment "justice cannot generate the positive power we need to move forward." I'm thankful for my FB page, and the many helpful links.
“I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”