Gorgeous Enlightened Thoughts by Parker Palmer

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I’ve read this meditation twice now. So good. So refreshing. So sparkling in this time of winter darkness. May it bring you a cool breath of fresh thought as well!

(read originally on Krista Tippet’s On Being site)

When Words Become Flesh: Risking Vulnerability in a Violent World

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.” — John 1:14

As a kid growing up in the Methodist Church, the Christmas Eve service always made me teary. Everything about it moved me: the story, the music, the candlelight, the scent of pine, the silent night, the comforting presence of family and friends. I was especially moved by the curious claim that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

I was blessed, as all children are, with what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind,” so the theological distinction between “the Word” and “a word” escaped me. Free of creedal complexities, I was mesmerized by the notion that something as airy as a word could take on human flesh. I was too young to understand why this moved me so, but today I do.

There’s often a huge disconnect between the good words we speak and those we incarnate in our lives. In personal relations and politics, in the mass media, in the academy, and in organized religion, our good words tend to float away even as they leave our lips, ascending to an altitude where they neither reflect nor connect with our lived experience.

We long for words like love, truth, and justice to become flesh and dwell among us. But in our violent world, where hate speech generates rabid support for certain wannabe “leaders,” it can be risky to infuse our frail flesh with the language of heart and soul.

In the Christmas story, God — an airy word if ever there was one! — takes the risk of incarnation. In fact, God doubles down on that risk by choosing the flesh of a vulnerable infant, not a warrior king, a claim that brought me to tears of wonder when I was young. But my adult knowledge of that infant’s fate — a fate shared by so many who have devoted their lives to love, truth, and justice — brings tears of grief and anger, along with a primal fear of what might happen if I followed suit.

As a Quaker who believes that “there is that of God in everyone,” I know I’m called to share in the risk of incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, I’m asked to embody my values and beliefs, my identity and integrity, asked to allow good words to take flesh in me. Constrained by fear, I often fall short. And yet I still aspire to walk my heart-and-soul talk, however imperfectly.

Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born time and again in the shape of my God-given self — which means embracing the vulnerability of the Christmas story. It’s a story easily lost in a culture that commercializes this holy day nearly to death, or in churches more drawn to showtime and bling than to the real thing, or in creedal food fights over whose theology is best. But the story’s meaning is clear to beginner’s mind.

An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as human beings get, and what an infant needs is simple: food, shelter and protection from harm. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls that long to become embodied in our midst. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to be incarnated — to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming us and the wounded world around us — they need to be swaddled in unconditional love.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best gift we can share with others, whatever their faith or philosophy may be, are two simple questions asked with heartfelt intent: What good words within us are waiting to take on flesh? How can we love one another in ways that allow those words to be born and dwell embodied among us?

 

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The Eternal Gift Shop

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The very first episode of my very first self-hosted radio show aired last week. The show is on Whidbey Air and is called “Ear Candy (a piece of sound candy for your mind to suck on)” and the episode was called “The Eternal Gift Shop”. The scripting went something like this, and is purposely in sync with the season:

Welcome to the The Eternal Gift Shop.

What’s in this ethereal souvenir booth for tourists and wayfarers like you and me? Postcards from the edge”? Trinkets wrapped in soulful paper? Things that jingle, dangle, tinkle from the inside out? Surprises?

In childhood, there’s an expectation, an ideal; there’s magic to gifts- it’s that thing you’ve always wanted sparkling in your mind’s eye, rattling lifelike in the toy store of your imagination. . . and sometimes it’s that thing you’ve never ever wanted or never even thought of before, but it appears to you, as a gift from the world’s lost and found, something like Phil Harris found in his song “The Thing” (I’d recommend looking up the lyrics, it’s quite funny, and crescendos with ‘get outta here with that boom boom boom before I call the cops!’ A “gift” with some unpleasant twists for sure).

When it’s our turn to be the giver of gifts, we get to turn the twist around; we get to surprise others and hope their eyes will shine. Even if the gift is not worthy of what the receiver should receive, there is something so shiny and shimmery about the act of giving itself, the gift . . . of giving. I heard someone once say, “it only lives when you give it away,” (Bruce Cockburn).

Some gifts can truly surprise us, not wrapped in silver or slathered in pink frosting, but by themselves, naked, without paper or ribbons, sitting quietly under our feet or scented subtly under our noses; they are legacies, remnants of love from the people who love us; they are acts of service, acts of kindness.

Gifts can also be treasures disguised as hidden pennies at the root of a sycamore tree or the outlines of birds costumed as the outlines of our souls taken into pure magical flight. Mary Oliver once said in her poem, “The Uses of Sorrow”, that “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”

They come in so many shapes and sizes, don’t they?

What gift will you unwrap in the darkness or in the starlight or in the splendor of broad day?

What will you take away from the Eternal Gift Shop?

Thank you for “listening”.

Christmas at “The Outpost”

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This year, I am celebrating Christmas at what feels like “the outpost”. Miles away from our closest friends and family, I sit up here in these colder regions wondering what the holiday will look like. I mentioned to my daughter the other day, bemoaning this circumstance, “I’m missing the sparkle!”. “The sparkle” representing those gatherings where the tinkle of laughter, the way the candles glow on wine or punch glasses, or the wintry magic of holly flutes a descending staircase.

Not this year. Travel costs and body reparations post surgery forbid it.

But, “the outpost”, I discovered the other day, is a great place to re-play (and I mean emphasis on “play”) old memories that still have some juice and giggle to them. I turned on a copy of an old Christmas “album” and sang along, full voice. My husband, a willing audience, got to hear the tales of sisterly shenanigans of long ago, interpreting and misinterpreting the holiday song offerings as they played on the living room stereo: stomping around the room to “The Little Drummer Boy” a la Harry Simeone Chorale with my faithful oatmeal canister as drum-drum-drum, my sister imitating the rich male voice that rings out “Rise up shepherds and follow!” with its own weird and unusual consequences of doing so (family loyalty forbids me from sharing what happened next, although, I must say, we heard the familiar words from my mother at that point, “why is your sister’s hair wet?”) And hearing “All I Want for Christmas is You”- a song that can drive some people crazy in high-voiced pop familiarity brought me merrily back to my experience over a decade ago of Christmastime in New Zealand . . . warm weather, an outdoor park concert, and holding my “adopted” nephew in my lap, eventually falling over in a heap of people due to overly excited children in the vicinity amongst a crowded field of picnic blankets.

Some years, it seems, are just meant for cherishing what’s already come. New experiences may arrive next year, but this year, it’s about re-viewing, re-living, and re-playing with the old. The toy box of the past has baubles worth revisiting and giggling about.

“Ordinary” Wrapped up in Extraordinary

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We continue to edge deeper into the holiday season, leaving the green grass and gentle breezes of ordinary time behind. This is not to say there has not been the extraordinary, both beautiful and excruciatingly challenging within the reeds and gentle winds, but the temperature is now dramatically changing. The challenge now is to find the “ordinary” within the extraordinary. The small spaces in the largely decorated places. The remembrance of warm cups of coffee and a glint of sunlight amongst a big season, loud, wonderfully in-your-face season.

I hope to be able to hold hands with both “the biggies”- the extraordinary, and the ordinary things that come my way. These are a few ways I might try:

– biggie: buy and write out cards   -ordinary: brew a hot cup of tea and let the card                                                            writing last for 1 1/2 hours instead of 1- moving a                                                        little bit slowly and nourishing the process

-biggie: shop for presents online    -ordinary: stop and read a great passage from a                                                           inspiring book, chew on it for a few moments,                                                             even have a conversation about it with someone

-biggie: try to use up all the Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator

-ordinary: re-member how each dish was shared, people’s reactions to it, mine as well, and incorporate it into a new dish, now re-imagined with memory and gratitude.

May you make the ordinary feel extraordinary in the gratitude of the moment.