Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Life on an Urban Farm



“Color me green,” an old environmentalist friend used to say whenever we at Annunciation House of Worcester were undertaking an initiative that met with his approval. It was a nice but also very apropos way for him to signal agreement especially when what we were doing had to do with urban gardening, solar energy projects and the like- with the greening and the regreening of our own little patch in the wide world! It was also nice to know we were pleasing someone in the know about these things even if our efforts seemed to us quite modest considering the great needs of a planet in peril. Still we tried to be a microcosm of what could be done in an urban clime by folks who would have the Spirit move among us “renewing the face of the earth.” Conscious of some calling to this we tried and try to share who we were and are as a simple household blending a variety of influences- Franciscan, Benedictine, Catholic Worker, interfaith, hippie... praying and working for a more just and peaceful world by means quirky and personalist! Our particular vocation seems to be just trying to be open to the designs of the Divine- to utter our own distinct "Fiat" to God as best we can despite or even because of our being of the rascally sort. 

We named our house many years ago at the suggestion of a former Trappist monk and carpenter. At the time, he was refashioning an old garage of ours into a chapel/prayer hut/”poustinia” (translated from the Russian, “desert place”). It was a great labor of love on his part for a family with a bunch of kids now settled in what was once a farmhouse built by Irish immigrants a century and a half earlier. Our home seemed necessarily to have a social dimension to it. There had been an old barn on the property but it had been torn down long before we arrived. But there was still an old garage, a chicken coop and a good bit of land attached to the old house here on the outer edge of what is now the second largest city in Massachusetts. It seemed to all fit together. We experimented with doing what we could to make use of the gift we had received largely because of the generosity of my wife’s mother who had bought the place from old Swedes who followed the Irish in farming here for years. We inherited what was left of the old farm. Because of my Catholic Worker connections, I was particularly inspired to include some of Peter Maurin’s (the co-founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement) vision into our own family’s based on the pursuit of his three “C’s as he used to call them- “Cult, Culture and Cultivation.” 

Cult has to do with the spiritual life, with giving priority to prayer, liturgy, meditation. So we have a chapel with a name inspired by the weathervane that has long perched atop the old garage displaying a hunting party on a horse following a dog in hot pursuit of a fox that was fleeing from them all. The image and story relayed in the weathervane reminded us of Francis Thompson’s famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” and so we named our chapel after the Hound who we knew to be in pursuit of us too as he was of Thompson who had been an opium addict in late 19th century London. We gather for “Centering Prayer” as a small group and take refuge in the place when “labor and heavy burdens” make for a homecoming to the one who offers us rest there. We have hosted anniversary Masses for our beloved dead and held retreat days in the chapel as well. We’ve a wood stove there to keep us warm in the winter months.


Culture has to do with the life of the mind or what Maurin called “clarification of thought”- meetings in which to talk matters over in a somewhat scholarly but also practical way. In this regard, we have a grape arbor behind the chapel and in good weather we gab there about what we hold or should hold dear.  In inclement weather, we meet in the living room for discussion and reading groups. We gather here to read and comment on books we find helpful to our spiritual and thought life. We have read from Bernard of Clairvaux’s writings and Julian of Norwich’s “Showings of Divine Revelation.” We are currently reading Dorothy Day’s diaries “The Duty of Delight.”  Following our sessions of nourishing spirit and mind, we share a pot luck supper. There is a sense of appropriate and joyous feasting and also of fulfilling Peter’s wish that there be houses of welcome, houses of hospitality. 
  
Cultivation has to do with Maurin’s express desire that farming communes or “agronomic universities” serve as an antidote to those aspects of industrial culture that were and remain irreverent or indifferent to creation. Agricultural and craft pursuits were to be and also suggest to others the pure means whereby a more sanctified economic order could take root in the shell of the old. To this end, behind and to the side of the arbor are our gardens where we grow fruits and vegetables in the spirit of Peter’s vision that we pursue a “Green Revolution” (blessed agriculture) as the basis for securing a whole and holy life. Here we grow a lot of the usual vegetables- tomatoes, cucumbers, squash (summer, zucchini, acorn, and butternut), broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, peas, beans (pole and string), peppers, lettuce, beets, potatoes, Swiss chard, kale, Brussel sprouts, leeks, asparagus, rhubarb and pumpkin. Last year we harvested some garlic for the first time. We have two peach trees which bore abundantly last year and growing cherry and hazelnut trees. We’ve blueberries and black raspberries, apples, pears and Japanese quince and Concord grapes too but the birds have been enjoying those more than we of late. We have in the past made grape jelly and juice. We have put up apple sauce and are still enjoying a large jar of quince jelly. Mind you, we are still city people and the gardens are of a scale as to feed the family here mostly and gift a few friends with a little something fresh and good at harvest time. We used to have chickens that provided us with eggs but gave them up some years ago and in place of what was once the coop is a greenhouse so we can get seedlings ready for planting and have a good storage space for tools. Gardening keeps us close to the soil and to an appreciation of the natural world. It draws us closer to Source and sources reminding us that we too proceed through seasons comparable to those involving sowing, weeding and harvesting. Farming puts us in better touch with our own cyclic experiences of struggle and joy, dying and rising.   

When newcomers visit, a tour is in order and once we’ve traversed the landscape and stopped by the chapel, the arbor and the gardens, the point is made that Peter Maurin’s three “C”s are all here in a row. Although the scale is modest and we need be very humble about our venture, it seems apropos that each “c” is given some attention. Like three little seeds, might they just contain the possibility and potential of generating much new growth? We sure hope so, God willing, God blessing!
(Annunciation House of Worcester has a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/297981285119/)               
    
Michael Boover
First Published in Living City

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walk Together Children


Hey y’all. As many of you know, I have spent the last week participating in the National Park Service’s 50th Anniversary Selma to Montgomery Walking Classroom. And now it is time to head home again. What do I even say? It was spectacular. This experience has been touted by the National Park Service as “life-changing” and “history-making” and although I think it’s a little preemptive to claim either of those titles already, I will say that it was such an incredible experience that I am sitting here struggling to find any words to do the journey justice. 

And it was a journey. 6 days ago feels so far away and thinking of returning to my home in Enfield feels even further. I have grown accustomed to walking, talking, singing, and chanting and in some small way I have given a piece of my heart to this 54 mile stretch of 80 East from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Leaving behind a piece of your heart – whether with a person, or a place, or both – can leave you with a strange numbing sort of pain for a while. A pain that you don’t actually want to escape because in some ways it is like being surrounded by a cloud of genuine gratefulness and awe. It is this joyful sadness that I feel today. 

Talking to a friend from the march about this feeling, we both immediately thought of the same quote from Mother Teresa – “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” This hurt in our hearts, comes from an abundance of love. Love for the people we walked beside. Love for the foot soldiers who came before us. Love for the unity that bound us together in the splattering, wet rain or in the sweat of the beating sun. Love for the openness that let us share deeply as our feet moved together. Love for the sound of voices from across the nation rising as one. Love for the rangers who fed us, taught us, counted us, and kept us safe. Love for the green pastures, cloudy skies, and even for the far-off cows who were mostly oblivious to our presence.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” In many ways, I feel that this proverb is all that needs to be said about our journey. “Walk together children and don’t you grow weary.” Bam. Done. Walk together. Truly walk together. I love that adverb “together”. It’s not “walk near”, “walk with”, or even “walk alongside”. It is walk together. When you walk together, you are one.

Ubuntu (another African concept): “I am who I am because of who we all are.” In walking together, camping together, eating together, singing together, marching into the capitol together we built an impromptu family. The word that keeps coming to me is intimacy. There was a deep shared intimacy amongst us. We learned – not through lectures or reading, but through doing and living – that our strength comes not from any individual but from our unity. Walking by myself I would just be lonely, tired, and wet. All things I hate. Together the hills did not seem so big and the journey did not seem so long. In fact, it is surprising how quickly you can become accustomed to walking 12 miles a day. Days of 3 or 6 miles, we complained, were just not far enough.


At the beginning of the trip, I mentioned that I find it is easy to feel alone in “fighting the good fight” and so maybe the most important part of this trip is just that I don’t feel so alone. This week I saw potential and passion oozing around every bend in the road. People with incredibly diverse interests joined together. Feet that kept walking even with blisters. Honest connections and conversations. It left me feeling like there is a lot of hope out there. Just like my photojournalist friend Albert trains his eyes to look for the best shot, I’ve just got to tune my eyes for the hope that is all around us and then keep on walking. Keep on walking. Together. And don’t grow weary.
Jennifer Arnold
Guest Blogger
First Published at The Education Exploration




Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Seeing Each Other as "One of Ours"



The program began before it had started, its meaning expressed in a chance encounter of two people standing by the threshold of an open door. Chaim had arrived, delivering kosher Middle Eastern food. It used to be when I would place the order and request delivery to the mosque in Roxbury, there would be a moment of confused silence at the other end of the phone. Now it seemed so natural, change over time; Rabbi Reinstein, the mosque, imams and rabbis. As I stood with another rabbi greeting Chaim, Mohamed, a partner in dialogue, walked briskly across the tiled floor of the grand foyer of the mosque. There, at the threshold he extended his hand and began speaking to Chaim in Arabic. Without missing a beat, the Jewish deliveryman responded in animated Arabic. As the two men began to laugh, Mohamed exclaimed, “I thought he was one of ours.” Greeted as a lantsman/countryman, a Yiddish term from Eastern Europe just as foreign to him as to Mohamed, Chaim explained that he had grown up in Libya speaking Arabic. In the relaxed atmosphere and good humor that filled the entry space, others having joined us, drawn to the sound of laughter, we were all, each to the other, as “one of ours,” lantsmen.

With Chaim’s arrival, we were setting up for a program of Building Bridges through Learning. During a time of ugly controversy, fomented by opponents of the very mosque in which we were meeting, a Muslim colleague and I started Building Bridges, seeking to create a different reality by bringing together imams and rabbis to study together. Always with a thematic focus explored through Jewish and Muslim texts, we learn with and from each other, but most importantly, we learn about each other. 

There is a natural bridge between Jews and Muslims that is too often forgotten today. Both peoples are a people of the book, ah’l al kitab/am ha’sefer. Building bridges through learning, we create common ground upon which we, and through us our communities, can come to know each other. With the experience now of nearly ten years of learning together, a depth and sense of trust has developed that brings a growing sense of ease to our interactions, even as we welcome new people. 

Seeking a lens through our texts by which at times to address challenging issues that beset us, and at others to discover and delight in threads of connection, we were exploring on that day a fascinating weave of thematic connection. A little known bond between Jews and Muslims is our common celebration in sacred text and calendar of Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery. While not observed on the level of Passover in Jewish tradition, for which the more likely parallel may be Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the freeing of the Hebrew slaves on the fast day known as Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharam. It was a particularly timely theme for the Jewish participants, in the midst of preparations for Passover. During our learning, a Muslim woman at my table said that when she fasts on Ashura she “feels like we are in solidarity with the Jewish people.”

As the planning committee considered the Exodus as a focus, strains of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” spontaneously rose from among us and floated around the table, Jews and Muslims joined by a Jamaican Reggae singer. As the Jewish story of liberation from Egyptian slavery offers universal metaphor and inspiration in the quest for human freedom, the essential question is how to make the story real. To Bob Marley’s question in song, the answer is ours through deed, “Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom? 'Cause all I ever have, Redemption songs, Redemption songs.” In our gathering was the beginning of an answer, one small step along the path toward a new way, people joining together, breaking the shackles of all that would divide, familiarity and friendship to replace distance and suspicion.

In a time when despair comes so easily, there is hope in the simple encounters of people with each other, planned and unplanned, always open to possibility and unexpected signs of change. Looking toward the morning light from the midnight hour of our ancestors’ departure, we begin the walk toward freedom. That is the message with which the weekly Torah portion of the week of our program, the portion Tzav (Lev. 6-8), opens and the message of the Shabbat that precedes Passover, Shabbat Ha’gadol/the Great Sabbath. In the first verses of the portion Tzav, the Ascent offering is to be burned upon the altar through the night until the morning, when the new day’s fire shall be kindled from the dying embers of yesterday. In the prophetic reading for Shabbat Ha’gadol, the Prophet Malachi bids us look toward the dawning of the new day of liberation for all, the meaning of Passover and Ashura fulfilled, of swords turned to plowshares, “Redemption Song,” upon every tongue: Lo, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God, Who will turn the heart of the parents to the children, and the heart of the children to their parents.

On that Shabbat of new possibility preceding Passover, we stand by the threshold of an open door, looking toward a time when all shall laugh together and see each other as “one of ours.” In the excitement of encountering another whom we only thought was “one of ours,” we suddenly realize that our “mistaken” thought is in fact true on a deeper level than our initial thought. We create in that moment of realization a portal to sacred space, the beginning of relationship before we have even started. Hearts turning to each other in openness, we are all lantsmen who speak a common tongue, the language of the heart.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Belonging


    As a person who cherishes a life of “double belonging” - - embracing both Christian and Jewish life and practice, holidays and liturgies, I find the season of Lent and the close proximity of the central ritual observances of both traditions to be a strenuous time of year - - strenuous, and profoundly rich and challenging.  I am about 12 years into this journey and each year has brought its own blessings and insights, questions and confusion, revelation and integration.   This year as the first night seder of Pesach and the observance of Good Friday coincide, the richness and the challenge deepens.  

    Earlier this week, in a study of some of the midrashim (a form of exposition and commentary on Torah) related to Pesach, my teacher drew the class’s attention to a few words from the Passover story: “…On the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household;”  …..and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregations of Israel shall kill it at dusk.” (Exodus 12:3,6)

    The question for discussion was “Why the 4 days between obtaining the lamb and sacrificing it?”  My classmates and I wrestled with the text for a couple of hours, coming up with a variety of understandings, none of them satisfactory. We finally ended up consulting a rabbi friend.  Within minutes she shed light on a possible meaning via a mystical approach to the text.  Briefly, she explained that the number 4 is the numerical value of the 4th letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is dalet.  In his beautiful volume titled The Book of Letters,  Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains that dalet is “the door” - - which is delet in Hebrew.  Once we had that bit of insight, we were on our way to understanding that perhaps the 4 days between the obtaining of the sacrificial lamb and the evening of its slaughter might represent a “portal” or doorway through which to pass into whatever exists on the other side.   Just a few verses later, the instruction is given to the Hebrews to paint the doorways of their homes with the blood of the sacrificed lamb so that the angel of death would pass over them. Israel subsequently passes through those doorways into freedom from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  

    In my “double-belonging” state, it is impossible not to see how the tradition of midrash continues on in Christian texts as the Gospel writers have Jesus saying of himself “I am the door….” And how the early Jewish gospel writers take up the task with the tools at hand and create a midrash for the infant community that arose around the memory of Jesus. The gospels come into being to help that community make meaning of their struggles with Roman slavery and oppression.  For them, Jesus would become the door through which they could move into a future free from the fear and death that Rome represented as a later re-branding of Pharaoh and Egypt.

    For many generations, in many times and places, Jews and Christians have been in an uneasy relationship at best, and in horrendous, prejudicial, life negating conflict and oppression at worst.   Alarmingly, anti-Semitism is rampant again in Europe.  The life and safety and well being of an ancient people and tradition is again coming under threat in the western world.   As a person of “double belonging”, much of my own journey has been about  asking questions, educating myself, examining my birth tradition, looking at my own culpability, immersing myself in my Jewish community where I live, studying texts with Jews - - and ultimately embarking on the inner task of re-uniting and re-integrating that which has been so broken and scattered for 2000 years. 

    The great stories of redemption and liberation at the core of Judaism and Christianity are inseparably intertwined this year.   Simultaneously, the human community is fractured by violence, fear, mistrust, disrespect – all symptoms of oppression under the 21st century manifestations of Rome and Pharaoh – human trafficking, economic disparity, militarism, food insecurity, homelessness, violent fundamentalism and on and on.

    The human community needs to find a way to “double belonging” - - a way of being together on this planet with each other’s best interest at heart – a way of belonging with and to each other.  An 18th century teacher, the Baal HaTanya, taught that compassion destroys hatred and awakens love.  The simplest definition of compassion is  “to suffer with; to have a sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress with a desire to alleviate it.”     Our “double belonging” begins with learning compassion and with the realization that we do not belong to ourselves alone – that we are responsible for and accountable to one another as human beings in life together.  When one suffers , we all suffer.  Our work is to find the doorway, mark it visibly, and walk through it together into a future unmarred by the oppressive violence and fear of the Pharaohs of today.  We belong there - - together.


Vicky Hanjian
   

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Detritus of War


We owe a debt of gratitude to the folks who put the Great Plains Writer's Conference and the recent Harding Distinguished Lecture together at South Dakota State University. What powerful evening presentations we heard!

Kristen Iverson, the author of Full Body Burden, was featured the first night. Hers was the story of growing up near the Rocky Flats, CO, nuclear weapons plant. Her remarks wetted my appetite for the full story, so I purchased the book. In the book, the secrecy, stalling, denial and duplicity of the national security state we live in, is revealed in all it's starkness. 

It becomes obvious that when the lives of the average citizen need to be sacrificed for the sake of the military industrial complex, in the name of national security, they are! All those who worked in the plant and lived around it, risked their lives and the lives of their children's children on the sacrificial altar of the nation state, often without the full knowledge of how and why.

Why in heavens name should the U.S. government, in the name of national defense, produce 70,000 plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, in the hope they will never be used? And the debris and detritus from those triggers polluted a huge populated area for generations, for thousands of years to come. 

The Rocky Flats story illustrates how the principalities and powers (St. Paul's language), like the huge corporations running the plant, the real estate industry interested in developing the contaminated land around the plant, and the government agencies and politicians in collusion with those powerful economic interests, all work together to crush the seekers of truth and the truth tellers, like the county health director, fired for doing his job of protecting people's health.

It's a story we see in so many places these days. The fruit of killing others, or even preparing to do so, is to hurt ourselves. The detritus of nuclear war preparations is cancer, big time! We will never know all of those who died from the contamination at Rocky Flats, although we get lots of names in the book. We can also thank Hanover, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pantex, Savannah River, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the Feed Materials Production Center, the Nevada Test Site, and all of those other places where "accidents" in preparation for nuclear war leave their mark on us. And that detritus remains in the air we breathe, the soil we plant, the water we drink.

And then I heard the same story, repeated, with a different cast of characters and a different principality and power, the next night.

Dr. Vandana Shiva presented her take on "Who Really Feeds the World?" It was a different point of view from the one we normally hear from industrial agriculture. She begins in a very different place, since she sees the world and everything in it as connected and related. So if you decide to use Round Up on your yard or your fields, there are complex consequences. It might kill the weeds in the field. But the eventual by product may be super weeds, super bugs, and cancer.

Interestingly, as Dr. Shiva spoke, the World Health Organization had just announced that glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto's Round Up, was probably carcinogenic. Other studies, like the Seralini study, indicated the same thing. As the head of the cellular neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute stated, "There are a number of independent, published manuscripts that clearly indicate that glyphosate … can promote cancer and tumor growth. It should be banned."

We want to kill weeds, so we end up developing chemicals that kill ourselves and our children. And it's another story of secrecy, stalling, denial and duplicity. Monsanto has been a leader in working the revolving door in Washington, purchasing educational institutions, buying off GMO labeling efforts and monopolizing markets. 

So almost all of the corn, most of the soy and much of the cotton in the U.S., is genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto's Round Up. Their killing detritus is all around us.

Organic farmers around the world are demonstrating that organic agriculture works for people and the environment. Dr. Shiva's own farming community in India is a model. The food is more nutritious, the originally depleted soil is now rich and fertile, and the crops are fruitful and tasty without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Glyphosate is currently under review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It should be banned. Then watch the howls of protest from our S.D. Congressional delegation. They will call it Obama administration over reach. They will say it's taking away a person's freedom to farm. 

We need to say to them, our health and that of our children is more important than anything. We need to tell them no more plutonium triggers. Ban nuclear weapons along with the glyphosate. We need to say we're tired of raising money for cancer research to help our cancer riddled children. Stop producing the stuff that causes it!

Kristen and Vandana tell a sustainable story, about love for horses and pets, about love for the soil and it's rich and complex organisms. Working in harmony with the sustenance nature gives us, we can construct a different more life affirming reality. If only we have the will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wisdom


One of the Journals I sometimes purchase is "Parabola: Where Spiritual Traditions Meet." Each issue has a primary theme that is explored through many different religious and spiritual traditions. Some of the themes over the years have been: Silence, Home, Birth & Rebirth, The Heart, Forgiveness, Nature, Suffering, etc. One of the issues centers on "Wisdom."

One of the more thought provoking articles in the "Wisdom" issue is written by the poetry editor of the journal. He raises the question of where wisdom resides and the relationship of wisdom to knowledge. He writes, "Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge … It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and unsurprisingly, it's directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent. And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words; activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing."

We see this imprudent activity all around us. There is an utter compulsion for productivity, for doing more; for growth, for bigger and better everything; for progress and development; for larger GDP and greater energy security and more distractions in more glamorous products that promise more health and happiness; ultimately, all of them, leaving us more or less unsatisfied and wanting more. And then when our time on earth ends, we wonder what it was all about. We ask "what did it all mean," a wisdom question.

Indigenous cultures understood that one should resist doing anything without considering the impact on the seventh generation. Today such an idea is considered outdated; a sign of a civilization that was slow to progress and having a poor work ethic.

So small towns like Brookings, where I live, that are able to sustain and support an excellent public infrastructure and many other amenities of small town life, are culturally compelled to grow, beyond what they can plan for and afford. It's all in the name of economic development. And you have horror stories like Williston, North Dakota. It's really de-development when you have rents higher than anywhere in the nation.

In Williston, a 700 square foot one bedroom apartment costs on average $2,394 a month. That's more than New York City at $1,504 or Los Angeles at $1,411. The population of the community has doubled since the 2010 census. I assume this is the kind of growth decision makers in my own state are hoping for, should oil money follow the Keystone tar sands pipeline into South Dakota. It will surely be a big boom for some and a big bust for many.

For me, I'd rather have less fossil fuels, not more. I think we would be better off with smaller class sizes in our schools, not larger. And why would we want to put more and stronger toxic pesticides on our fields, rather than finding ways to use less? Is more really always better?

This emphasis on activity and growth is also evident in the recent decision by our State Senate to put an unexpected nest egg of unclaimed bank accounts and other assets, worth $30 million, into the Building South Dakota Fund. The emphasis will be on projects costing $20 million or more. 

In the meantime, we can't afford to make sure our own citizens, close to 50,000 of them, have adequate access to health care through the medicaid program. And we apparently can't afford to aid another 70,000 of our citizens to access health insurance where they would receive tax credits. Not to say anything about the continual penny pinching when it comes to education.

There's a difference when development asks the "why" question first and foremost. With "why," there's an innate orientation to considering things that have meaning. These days, it's simply a "how" question, and involves making more money.

There's amazing irony to me in a run away economy, addicted to consuming and devouring everything, mirrored in our national health. Cancer, a run away disease that consumes us all, continues to devastate our families and communities,. Cancer cells eat ravenously, just like our addictive economy and culture. Why is there this similarity?

To make prudent decisions is the essence of wisdom. And prudent decisions derive from foresight, from paying attention. As the writer in Parabola says, "attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; … attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

I'm afraid the internal life, the residence of wisdom, has gone the way of everything else in a throw-away culture. That's not sustainable! 

We need wisdom as badly as we need knowledge. We need the cultivation of an internal spiritual life. We need to revisit the important questions of meaning. We need to ask again the questions of earlier generations, of what truly sustains us, and what will sustain our children and grandchildren for many generations to come.

Carl Kline

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Truth and Beauty



A few years ago I was reading a novel where the author drew this image of flying in a plane over hundreds of Turkish carpets, laid end to end in a field. In the story, the carpets had been soaked on the ship on their way to  the U.S., so they were drying in the sunshine. Perhaps it was the prose of the author. Perhaps it was the image that rose in my minds eye. Whatever it was, I had this revelation about the nature of beauty. It made me think of the quotation from John Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Truth was never much of a problem for me. My parents made sure of that. When my father asked a question, you tried not to even exaggerate or leave anything out. His question demanded a straight-out story, no deviations from the truth. And my mother, honestly, along with having an eye in the back of her head, she could just look at me and melt my made-up story and start the tears and a complete confession.

Then, of course, there was Gandhi. I was introduced to him and his Truth on my first trip to India in 1977. For Gandhi, "Truth was God." One has to understand the Sanskrit language Gandhi used to understand this concept. In Sanskrit, "satya," the word for Truth, incorporates "sat," the word for Being. This isn't just any being, this is the Big Being, with a capitol B. 

So with Gandhi, truth went from something one told his parents to a conception of what governs the universe. When Gandhi coined the word satyagraha as his method of combatting violence, he was countering military and physical force with the force of universal Truth. In a terribly limp English translation, we have called this force nonviolence, sometimes "truth force" or "soul force."

My appreciation of beauty has come slower. Of course, I was usually able to appreciate beauty in people; not just the outside physical appearance but the inner grace as well. But the beauty of objects generally escaped me, distracted as I was by a vocation that focused on the human and spiritual side of life.

Or perhaps it's partly a male thing. I've never been very color conscious. My wife has to tell me, "you can't wear that shirt with those pants." In buying a new car my first question is not, "what colors do you have." I think other men have a similar problem, from what I've heard from wives. 

But then a male friend of mine, after recovering from a heart attack, talked to me about color. He said all of the colors were brighter now than they had ever been before in his life. He was noticing! There was subtle variation that had escaped him before and sometimes a brightness that was profound. I wanted to see what he was seeing, so I started to look more closely.

Color is one pathway to beauty. There's a new awareness of the changing colors in the cardinal family in our back yard and the subtle change in the sunlight through our southern windows. There's beauty all around if only I open my awareness to it.

I'm not sure, like Keats, if that's all there is, truth and beauty. But at the moment, it's plenty.

Carl Kline