Something Infinitely Richer (New Year’s Meditation) …

We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives … not looking for flaws but for potential.
Ellen Goodman

 

Interruption Is God’s Invitation

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done. It is strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path” (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together

 

There Is A Season

The seasonal metaphor deepens our understanding of the others. Seeds move through their life stages in an endless cycle of seasons—and the cycle of seasons reminds us that the journey never ends. Our lives participate in the myth of eternal return: we circle around and spiral down, never finally answering the questions “Who am I?” and “Whose am I?” but, in the words of Rilke, “living the questions” throughout our lives.

The seasonal metaphor also gives our inquiry new scope. It takes the quest for selfhood and vocation out beyond its origins in the depths of the inner life, out beyond the human community and its call to leadership, into the world of nature, that most vast of all the visible worlds in which our lives are embedded.

Metaphors are more than literary devices, of course: most of us use metaphors, albeit unconsciously, to name our experience of life. But these personal metaphors do much more than describe reality as we know it. Animated by the imagination, one of the most vital powers we possess, our metaphors often become reality, transmuting themselves from language into the living of our lives.

I know people who say, “Life is like a game of chance—some win, some lose.” But that metaphor can create a fatalism about losing or an obsession with beating the odds. I know other people who say, “Life is like a battlefield—you get the enemy, or the enemy gets you.” But that metaphor can result in enemies around every corner and a constant sense of siege. We do well to choose our metaphors wisely.

Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life, I think. It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all—and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.

If we lived close to nature in an agricultural society, the seasons as metaphor and fact would continually frame our lives. But the master metaphor of our era does not come from agriculture—it comes from manufacturing. We do not believe that we “grow” our lives—we believe that we “make” them. Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.

I once heard Alan Watts observe that a Chinese child will ask, “How does a baby grow?” But an American child will ask, “How do you make a baby?” From an early age, we absorb our culture’s arrogant conviction that we manufacture everything, reducing the world to mere “raw material” that lacks all value until we impose our designs and labor on it.

If we accept the notion that our lives are dependent on an inexorable cycle of seasons, on a play of powers that we can conspire with but never control, we run headlong into a culture that insists, against all evidence, that we can make whatever kind of life we want, whenever we want it. Deeper still, we run headlong into our own egos, which want desperately to believe that we are always in charge.

We need to challenge and reform these distortions of culture and ego—reform them toward ways of thinking and doing and being that are rooted in respect for the living ecology of life. Unlike “raw material” on which we make all the demands, this ecology makes demands on us even as it sustains our lives. We are here not only to transform the world but also to be transformed.

Transformation is difficult, so it is good to know that there is comfort as well as challenge in the metaphor of life as a cycle of seasons. Illumined by that image, we see that we are not alone in the universe. We are participants in a vast communion of being, and if we open ourselves to its guidance, we can learn anew how to live in this great and gracious community of truth. We can, and we must—if we want our sciences to be humane, our institutions to be sustaining, our healings to be deep, our lives to be true.

— Parker Palmer from Let Your Life Speak

 

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