There Is A Balm In Gilead …

Blessed are you in whom the light lives, in whom the brightness blazes— your heart a chapel, an altar where in the deepest night can be seen the fire that shines forth in you in unaccountable faith, in stubborn hope, in love that illumines every broken thing it finds.

Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

At times, it’s hardship that opens us, like a shovel splitting wet earth. At times, the light of another filters, like sunlight, through all the blinds we’ve drawn. And sometimes, like now, I’m softened by the glow of those entangled in the dark. They move about like stars that can’t stay still, looking for light everywhere but in themselves. I’ve done this when in pain, or lost, or after I’ve hurt someone I love. Last night, I couldn’t sleep. So I imagined that my breathing was coming and going through the crack in my heart. This relaxed me. So I closed my eyes and imagined that with each inhalation I was owning my mistakes. And with each exhalation I was sending a drop of mercy to those who are hurting, whether I know them or not. Then everything began to quiet — the noise of my pain, the noise in my mind, the noise of the world remaking itself faster than we can break it. And in that winded spot, I felt the air of love lift me. This is why I thank you when we meet. In case what helps me came from you.

— Mark Nepo from Things That Join the Sea and the Sky

There Is A Balm In Gilead

The Hebrew prophets deeply loved their tradition and profoundly criticized it at the same time. Such truthful love is a very rare art form and a hallmark of prophetic identity. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time of deep grief and loss. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians and his people had been exiled. He critiqued the false prophets of his day who denied such necessary suffering and pretended things were better than they were. He poured out his heart to God and famously asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22). The hope for a healing “balm in Gilead” provided inspiration for the African American spiritual tradition and Civil Rights Movement. Today’s meditation is a reflection from the mystic and theologian Howard Thurman about the beloved spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead.”

Continue reading “There Is A Balm In Gilead …”

Time To Go Into The Dark (Winter Solstice) …

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
— David Whyte from The House of Belonging (Sweet Darkness)

 

We risk the life we’ve known to discover something new . . . The unknown territory will open before us only to the extent that we turn our whole being courageously toward it . . . And then we must venture wherever the road leads us, in spite of the dark, in spite of the quivering of our heart.
— Jack Kornfield from A New Set of Eyes by Paula D’Arcy

 

If we listen through our broken heart, love can gently point the way to a deeper understanding of how human life contains both darkness and light. At some point we realize that we still have choices: We will either open our heart to be healed, or we will close down to avoid the pain.
— Paula D’Arcy from Winter of the Heart: Finding Your Way through the Mystery of Grief

 

Signs and Wonders

Reading: Mark 13:24-37

Mystery is rarely comfortable. We want to understand what we are doing here, to see more clearly how God is at work, to know how the future will unfold. This Gospel passage confounds us, reminds us that God works in the darkness as well as in the daylight. We see this in the book of Isaiah, where God says through the prophet,

I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (45:3)

In her book The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming—a beautiful reflection on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—Wendy M. Wright relates words given to her by a novice master of a Trappist monastery, who said, “To be a Christian does not mean knowing all the answers; to be a Christian means being willing to live in the part of the self where the question is born.” Advent brings this home in a fashion that may seem painfully direct but can also be tremendously freeing: it tells us that we cannot see everything, cannot know everything, cannot predict everything. It tells us that, ultimately, we live in mystery.

But it also tells us this: if we stay awake; if we open our eyes in the midst of our life, with all of its wildness and wonders, then we will see: something is coming. Drawing closer. Stealing home.

Jan Richardson from Through the Advent Door

 

A shadow is never created in darkness. It is born of light. We can be blind to it and blinded by it. Our shadow asks us to look at what we don’t want to see.
― Terry Tempest Williams from When Women Were Birds

 

Light Moving in the Darkness

It’s not the darkness itself that we must understand. It’s the force behind the darkness and within the darkness…the force moving through life that we must know.
This is the great passage: to see deep into our own nature by meeting its reflection in everything around us. To swim with something very big. To allow the Universe to love us and to love deeply in return…to allow this story to trace itself through the chapters of our life. To live within the miracle.
— Paula D’Arcy from Stars at Night: When Darkness Unfolds as Light

 

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.
― Hafiz from I Heard God Laughing

 

Flow

Scientists say we are made of stars, and I believe them, although my upper arms look like hell. Maybe someday the stars will reabsorb me. Maybe, as fundamentalist Christians have shared with me, I will rot in hell for all eternity, which I would hate, because I am very sensitive. Besides, I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.

What comforts us is that, after we make ourselves crazy enough, we can let go inch by inch into just being here; every so often, briefly. There is flow everywhere in nature — glaciers are just rivers that are moving really, really slowly — so how could there not be flow in each of us? Or at least in most of us? When we detach or are detached by tragedy or choice from the tendrils of identity, unexpected elements feed us. There is weird food in the flow, like the wiggly bits that birds watch for in tidal channels. Protein and greens are obvious food, but so is buoyancy, when we don’t feel as mired in the silt of despair.

― Anne Lamott from Almost Everything

 

You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.
― Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

 

Darkness Is Where Incarnation Begins

Darkness is where incarnation begins. The gorgeous texts of Advent, christmas, and Epiphany shimmer with the light that God brings into our midst, as in the prologue to John’s Gospel: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). Yet if we lean too quickly toward the light, we miss seeing one of the greatest gifts this season has to offer us: that the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the christ who was born two millennia ago, for the christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.

Can we imagine the darkness as a place where God meets us—and not only meets us, but asks to take form in this world through us?

― Jan Richardson from This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas

 

In the morning
when I began to wake,
it happened again–
that feeling
that you, Beloved,
had stood over me all night
keeping watch,
that feeling
that as soon as I began to stir
you put your lips on my forehead
and lit the Holy Lamp
inside my heart.
― Hafiz from I Heard God Laughing

 

Star

Remember
to practice
the nobility
that comes
with promise,

to drive out west,
the eyes level
or lifted
the mind cleared;
the steering wheel
invisible
below the eye
but still
charting
the needed course

and the body
almost at tiptoe,
leaning toward
the windscreen,

the breath held
and the eyes
a-shiver for
a falling plume of sky;

the clear, pinpoint star
that just appeared
above Leenane,

one you
did not realize
you were following …

― David Whyte from Pilgrim

 

May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.
May a window of light always surprise you.
May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.
May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.
May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And though the darkness now is deep,
You will soon see approaching light.
— John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us

 

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Love (Advent Meditation)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
—1 John 4:7–8

 

The beginning and end of everything is love. Only inside of this mystery of the exchange of love can we know God. If we stay outside of that mystery, we cannot know God.
— Richard Rohr (adapted from Love Is the Only Message homily on May 13, 2012)

 

The First Evidence Of Civilization

Someone once asked anthropologist Margaret Mead what she considered to be the first evidence of civilization. She answered: a human thigh bone with a healed fracture found in an archaeological site 15,000 years old. Why not tools for hunting or religious artifacts or primitive forms of communal self-governance?  Mead points out that for a person to survive a broken femur the individual had to have been cared for long enough for that bone to heal. Others must have provided shelter, protection, food and drink over an extended period of time for this kind of healing to be possible. The great anthropologist Margaret Mead suggests that the first indication of human civilization is care over time for one who is broken and in need, evidenced through a fractured thigh bone that was healed. Continue reading “Love (Advent Meditation)”

Hope (Advent Meditation) …

Because when all is said and done,
the last word is Immanuel — God With Us.
— Isaiah 8:10, The Message

 

Hope and Fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay. Invite one to stay.
— Maya Angelou from Sacred Threshold by Paula D’Arcy

 

A Pilgrimage of Discovery

There are no manuals for the construction of the individual you would like to become. You are the only one who can decide this and take up the lifetime of work that it demands. This is a wonderful privilege and such an exciting adventure. To grow into the person that your deepest longing desires is a great blessing. If you can find a creative harmony between your soul and your life, you will have found something infinitely precious. You may not be able to do much about the great problems of the world or to change the situation you are in, but if you can awaken the eternal beauty and light of your soul, you will bring light wherever you go. The gift of life is given to us for ourselves and also to bring peace, courage, and compassion to others. Continue reading “Hope (Advent Meditation) …”

Dawn’s Altar (New Year’s Meditation) …

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Waves of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more. Continue reading “Dawn’s Altar (New Year’s Meditation) …”

Witness To The Light (Christmas Day Meditation) …

Light shimmers through the Gospel reading for Christmas Day: the stunning Prologue to the Gospel of John. Tonight, revisiting my luminous Book of Common Prayer, I read John’s words—which the book renders in the King James Version, of course. In this passage that I love and have read approximately a zillion times, what struck me tonight, in this version, were these words:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all . . . through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
— John 1:6-8

Most times when I read this passage, I’m focused on John the Evangelist’s elegant and moving description of how Christ came as the Word: the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that came as life and light. As a woman with a passion for the Word, and words, and the connections between them, I never cease to be stunned by the power of this poetic passage and what—and how—it tells us of the One who entwined himself with us as life and flesh and light. Yet tonight, amidst the luminous words about the Word, my eye keeps going back to John—the one whom we call the Baptist, the one who prepared the way—and how, as the King James Version puts it, he came “to bear witness of that light.”
Even as Advent calls us to honor the gifts of the dark, this season bids us recognize our ancient longing for illumination, and to celebrate the One who came to us as light. Amidst the shadows—some necessary, some horrendous—God beckons us to look deeper, to look more closely, that we may find the presence of the Christ who shimmers there. And, finding that presence, to bear witness. Continue reading “Witness To The Light (Christmas Day Meditation) …”