Sunday, December 29, 2013

The little hibiscus - audio version

(Note: this is not new content but an audio version of all four episodes involving the character, "the little hibiscus". It is admittedly rather long...37 minutes...but I enjoyed telling it as a full story. I hope that you might enjoy listening to it. You are welcome to share it with others.)

(I am trying a new host site for audio files. I hope it will be a little more user-friendly.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Love and Joy: Part Two

(Part One may be read by clicking here. If you would like to listen to all four episodes involving the little hibiscus, an audio version is available here.)

The little hibiscus labored long and hard in her blooming. The compassionate one regretted having to leave her alone in this state but it couldn't be helped. She had wrapped a large white towel around her friend’s pot to protect her from the chill, though they both knew that it did little good.

As she struggled, the little hibiscus wondered about her long and painful labor. It had seemed so easy to bring bud into blossom just a couple of months before. Could it be that the One who healed her was now punishing her for having turned away from Him?

When the compassionate one returned home, the beautiful red blossom was almost fully opened. The little hibiscus was spent from her effort and the two of them talked quietly that evening.

The compassionate one explained to her friend that the Holy One did not work that way. He did not punish, though sometimes He did correct. It was, however, never His desire to see any of His creatures suffer. Indeed, He had given the Way of Love to them because He knew that following it would ever bring them joy.

Suffering and toil, she explained, had come to her human kind years ago because they had turned from the Way, believing that they themselves could be gods and create a better way of their own. It ended up not being better, of course, and so suffering came to them – as will happen with any departure from Love.

Once accustomed to living their own way, the compassionate one noted, it was very hard to return to the Way of Love. Not only were there many desires and passions to distract them, oftentimes these passions masqueraded as Love so that the people did not even know the dangerous path they were on. They had even become so foolish as to believe that their way was the Way of Love.

The little hibiscus pondered all of this with deep concern and even some fear, wondering if this could happen to her or any of the other growing things. It seemed a fate too awful to bear and the telling of it had made her realize just how serious her own turning away had been.

Then there  arose many new questions in her mind. “You,” the little hibiscus said to her friend, “how did you come to know the Way, once your kind became so lost and broken? Was it terribly hard to come back? Have all returned to the Way of Love?”   

It was some time before the compassionate one responded.

"The One Who healed you," she began, searching for words to express this great mystery. "we call Him the Holy One - He did not really create the Way of Love."

She paused, again wondering how she could explain this properly to the little hibiscus who now looked at her in bewilderment.

"He did not create the Way because He is the Way," she continued, still feeling that she had not told it properly. "He is the Father of the Way," she went on, striving to articulate something she knew wordlessly in her heart.

"I do not understand," said the little hibiscus. "How can anyone be both the Way and the Father of the Way? How could He be His own Father?" 

"The Holy One," explained the compassionate one, "is not just a Being. He is Being itself. He does not just love - as I love you or you love me. He is Love within His very Being."

She paused, allowing these words to settle into the evening air.

"You asked how I came to know the Way," she began again. "I began to know the Way as many of my kind have. The Holy One longed for His foolish creatures to return to His Way - but He would not compel us. For to force us to come back would not be the Way of Love, would it?" 

The little hibiscus nodded her agreement, though she could not see where this was heading or what it could have to do with her blooming.

"What the Holy One did," the compassionate one explained, "...what He did was He came Himself into our world - as one of us - so that we could understand the Way on our small level, so that we could experience the Way of Love in His very living among us."

The little hibiscus was stunned. "You mean He became one of the tiny seeds in His own creation?" she asked incredulously. She could not imagine that One who was so great as to make the plants to grow and the sparrows to fly and the squirrels to romp and play would ever allow Himself to become so small.

"Yes!" exclaimed the compassionate one, "Yes, it is something like that. But He came as one of my kind so He came into our world as a baby. He was born into the world through one of us."

Again she paused, partly out of amazement at what she had just said. "And He helped us to understand what it meant to be love by telling us of the Love within Himself."

The little hibiscus listened with rapt attention, waiting patiently for her friend to go on.

"He knew that we had not lost all that He had implanted in us about the Way of Love. In the Love shared between fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, He knew that we still understood something of the Way, if only vaguely.

"Therefore, after He had grown into manhood in our world," the compassionate one continued, "He began talking about His Father in the heavens and how they were One. And He even said He wanted us to be in this Oneness with Them. He spoke of Spirit also and breathed this Spirit into us to help draw us into Their Oneness." 

She stopped again, knowing that her little friend was confused. "Remember when you and your brother and sister all lived together in one pot?" she asked.

The little hibiscus sighed wistfully. She had never loved any as she had loved them.

"As deep as that love was, it is not that - it is more," the compassionate one explained. "It is more like having three leaves all on one stem, or three petals all part of one flower. Each pours its love into the others and receives it back again so perfectly that their three-ness is made full in oneness."

Again she fell into silence as these words hung in the air.

"When the Holy One came, we saw Him as person, as Son. But in seeing Son, we also saw Father loving Son and Son loving Father, with Spirit pouring out love in and through Each. For the Way was never broken while He lived among us. Even though He was human, He did not turn away for an instant. And so for us, He is the Way. In Him, we are able to come back into the Way of Love."  

The compassionate one knew that she had not answered a most important part of her friend's question. And so she continued. "Those of my kind who stepped out of the Way...they did not glance away for just a moment as you did. 

"They built a world of wrong ways, teaching it to their children and their children's children. Even with the Son, Whom we call the Savior, our coming back has not been simple or easy. Most of us have not completely returned to the Way. I have not completely returned..."

The compassionate one looked now at her friend with tears in her eyes. "That is why you and I were given to walk with each other. You needed me to teach you - but I need you to teach me as well."

The little hibiscus thought deeply and, for the first time, understood the truth in this. She had never imagined that she could help the compassionate one for she had come to her in time of great weakness. It had not occurred to her that her friend might be weak too.

They sat for a while in companionable silence, pondering the Way they both longed for.

At last, the compassionate one broke the silence.

"Do you remember what I told you about the Solstice?" she asked the little hibiscus, without waiting for a reply. "It is no accident that we commemorate the Holy Birth just days after that turning in time.

"As your Beloved fights off the forces of darkness in the myths of earth and sun, when the Savior came among us, He fought off the Great Darkness, the Darkness that threatens to steal the hearts of all of the living."

The little hibiscus trembled as she absorbed this new information.

"However," the compassionate one explained, "unlike in the myths of old, the true Son does not have to fight the Dark One year after year. Indeed, He has already won that victory for all time."

The tiny plant sighed with relief. But she was shaken when she heard what the compassionate one said next.

"Each year, to celebrate the Holy Birth, some are chosen from among the plants and animals to announce His coming. For He did not come just once into our world but is ever coming in the outpouring of Love that He is.

"And you, my little one, you have been chosen, with the bloom you so labored for, to announce the feast of the Holy Birth."

"Me?" gasped the little hibiscus in astonishment. "Certainly it cannot be me! I turned away...I am not worthy..."

"And that, my friend," said the compassionate one with deep love in her heart, "is exactly why you were chosen.

"Come, it is time now..."

(Many blessings to all as we celebrate this feast of the Nativity, of the Holy Birth. May we find true joy as we walk together back into the Way of Love.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Love and Joy: Part One

(A story began during the Week of Love earlier this year - a story about a little hibiscus plant - click here to read. During the Week of Joy, the story continued - click here to read. Now, Love and Joy come together in a new story about the same little plant. The following is Part One of that story.)

The days had grown shorter and shorter. The little hibiscus was now settled into her pot but found that the nights and even the days resting before the window were often chilly and dark. She could still peek out into the back yard but the flowers no longer bloomed and she hardly ever saw her animal friends anymore either.

Some days it was so chilly that the compassionate one had to close the blinds to protect her and the other house plants from the cold. Those were especially difficult days for the little hibiscus. Not only did she miss watching the activities of the outside world; it frightened her to go a whole day without seeing even tiny glimpses of light shining forth from her Beloved.

Back during the warm summer days when she had been recuperating before this window, she had seen some like herself growing in the side garden. They were much taller than her and their blossoms were purple instead of red, but she knew from the shape of their leaves and blossoms that they were related.

If she was honest with herself (and she always tried to be), the little hibiscus had to admit that there had been times when she had been envious of those grand purple cousins of hers. O to live on the other side of the glass! To sway in the breeze and to feel her roots expand directly into the earth!

She had longed to experience bees' tiny feet digging into her pollen as they came to drink of her nectar. She could almost imagine the squirrels skipping over her roots and the sparrows chirping at her side. And to feel the Sun's love, warming her leaves during those long summer days...

Yes, she had been envious for a time. At first, she had been so grateful just to survive the awful spider mites that had taken her brother and sister from her. But when she became stronger, she had begun to question her life in the pot behind the window, wondering why she could not be free like the flowers she saw in the garden.

But now, now that the season called "winter" was approaching, the little hibiscus found herself re-thinking her earlier longings.

One day in late fall, when she looked over at the side garden, she was shocked to see that her tall cousins had been cut way back, now appearing to be but barren sticks poking out of the heaps of dead leaves at their roots.

Even more disturbing though was the coming of ice and snow. While they were beautiful to gaze upon from where her pot rested, she realized that her tropical roots would never have survived that. With this realization came a deeper understanding.

While lost in her fantasies of being like the others, she had forgotten the One whose wisdom had brought her to this window for her healing. She had turned her heart from Him - just for a moment it had seemed - and had begun envisioning how much more important she would be, how much grander her life would be if only...

She had not meant to turn away - but she had. And because of this, she felt a deep shame.

However, worse even than the shame was a cold fear that had developed deep inside of her. It was a terror so awful she could barely think it, much less say it aloud.

She longed to share her fear with the compassionate one. Her friend still came around regularly to check her progress or just to visit. However, the little hibiscus found herself withdrawing into herself, hoping her anxiety would go undetected.

But it was not to be.

One day the compassionate one stopped by and fingered her leaves gently, commenting, "I think you have another bud developing here! Look, where your old flower was...the place has closed up again and there seems to be a bit of swelling! How wonderful..."

The little hibiscus had noticed this too but said nothing.

At first the compassionate one had let it go, since she couldn't be sure. But soon it became undeniable. The little hibiscus was budding again.

"Why are you not more excited, my friend?" the compassionate one asked her, after making the rounds and giving her a drink. "This is a lovely bud you have here..."

"I'm...I'm afraid it may not open properly," the little hibiscus stammered in reply. "You know, because it's almost winter now," she added awkwardly in response to her friend's puzzled look.

"Oh dear..." The compassionate one immediately worried. "Have I kept the house too cool for you, my little friend? I'm so sorry..."

"No - no, it's not that," the little hibiscus replied hurriedly, feeling even more horrible that she had upset her friend. "Now I must tell her the truth", she thought to herself. "I cannot hide what I did any longer."

And so they talked. The little hibiscus confessed to her friend about her earlier turning, in her longing for the grand world on the other side of the glass, she had looked away from the One who had healed her. She had even started to imagine that her pot and her life inside the window were holding her back from the freedom and glory that were her due...

The compassionate one was understanding. She too had experienced times of turning away and knew the sorrow that came with them.

"But there is more," the little hibiscus blurted, unable to stop as it all poured out of her. "I am afraid that my Beloved is leaving me. That He is going away and will never return. I am afraid that because I turned away, He is withdrawing His light from me and I will not bloom."

The little hibiscus was so miserable that it was some time before she saw the gentle smile on the face of her friend.

"How can you smile?" she challenged the compassionate one with some hurt and irritation. "Surely you have noticed that He has been coming less and less each day! You cannot deny that His light and warmth are almost gone. Surely it is because of me. We will lose Him to another world - and it will be my fault because I turned away..."

The compassionate one gently stroked the little plant's leaves. "You really have been afraid, haven't you, dear one? You really didn't know."

On into the evening, the compassionate one explained to the little hibiscus about the winter solstice. She told stories about ancient peoples and their rituals, how they had imagined that the Sun was fighting for His survival just as they were fighting for theirs during the cold, dark months. And she explained how they would then rejoice when the times of light became longer again, feeling reassured that, for one more year, He had conquered the forces of darkness.

"It is a great privilege for you to be budding at this time of year, you know," the compassionate one commented into the soft night that had grown around them.

"It is?" The little hibiscus felt curiously humble now.

"It is." The compassionate one pronounced firmly. "Your bud will indeed blossom, though it may take longer and be more painful than when you opened this fall."

The little hibiscus pondered this news with even deeper humility.

"Not only have you been given the privilege of announcing the Solstice," the compassionate one continued, "though that in itself is a great honor. There is something more. However, I cannot tell you of it just yet. Soon you will be ready to understand."

The little hibiscus asked no more questions. And in the hours that followed she felt her opening begin...

(To be continued...)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The kingdom of heaven

Jesus struggled for words. How could He explain to them about the kingdom of heaven?

How could He give them a sense of its magnificence, the vastness of its embrace, the fullness of the Love it offers - but not make it seem like something so grand that it was beyond their reach?

How could He show them that the kingdom was not a new and difficult concept that they would have to study? That it was not some far away place, requiring a long and complicated journey that only the smartest and strongest could complete?

He longed for them to understand that, in the kingdom, they could live in Him and know the Father as He knew Him. He yearned to share with them the joy that came from the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father; to share the comfort there was in the Spirit pouring forth from and between them in endless, self-emptying Love.

If only they could see that they were created for this Way of Love, that participating in it was their birthright! If only they could see this, then surely they would abandon their way of false self to join Him - to allow Him to be their Way...

He understood the allures of false self. He had been shown them all from the beginning. As hard, as impossible as it had seemed in those initial long, dark, hungry days, He had only had to say "yes" to the Father - a simple, humble act of obedience - and the fullness of Love which was the Way opened up within Him.

Perhaps if they could see that they too could start with just a little, tiny "yes"... if they planted that smallest of seeds in the soil of their hearts...surely then they would see would see the kingdom growing within them. And having glimpsed that, how could they ever want anything else again?

So He told them a story...

(click on the image below to enlarge it.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

It feels kind of lonely...

I find myself struggling to write this evening. I have been telling myself for a while now that it is time to begin again ("Always we begin again", as St. Benedict reminds) but I have been avoiding. It feels kind of lonely here at the blog and I haven't wanted to face that.

Since a special reader transitioned from this life to the next, as related in my Thanksgiving letter, I have felt a sense of loss. That, in itself, was to be expected. However, with any loss or grief, there are the expected feelings and then a whole host of unexpected feelings, sensations, experiences.

One of those for me has been related to my writing here. I find myself feeling disoriented, as though no longer sure of why or to whom I am writing. Even though this reader was ostensibly not my only reader, it feels as though I am writing into an emptiness, into an unknown space once full of eager anticipation, now vacant and still.

And, as I mentioned above, I have been trying to avoid facing the discomfort this brings. We humans are good at avoiding discomfort and I am no different. I may be able to embrace one aspect of my grief but then am haunted by another and try to hide from it.

We do not get to choose our pain. Trying to only slows the healing of the wound. And so I am here, struggling to write.

It is sort of ironic, I suppose, that I had proposed a time of healing from loss just a few weeks ago in an early November post. Naturally, I was thinking of writing on this topic to help others, not anticipating that I might be the one stunned and wandering aimlessly. This irony can be a good teacher, however, reminding me of the hollowness of words in the face of life's stark realities.

I fear that, in sharing these sensations, I might lead others to imagine that I am barely crawling through each day, pulled down by the weight of grief and sorrow. Let me assure you that this is not the case at all.

Although there certainly are moments of deep sadness, there is much more joy. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to walk someone to the very threshold of heaven... But even beyond that, I sense quite deeply that it is more of a beginning than an end.

It is as though God, for a moment, showed His face, that He made His reality more real to me. The gift of His loving embrace at the end of life appears so much clearer now. And His movement in and through my life seems virtually undeniable. Much grace has flowed from this experience, touching many more people than just me.

However, even when we hold this faith, it is our human nature to sorrow and rage about this death of ours. And this is as it should be, for the Holy One did not bring us to life only for us to be swallowed up by death.

There is something - or rather, Someone - much greater for Whom we were created. My heart knows this and that His Truth draws near. In my humanness, my eyes remain blind and my ears deaf in their sorrow; in my spirit, I ready myself for the approach of the true Life, the Life that does not die.

It is now a time of preparation for this advent, a time of cleansing and of change within. It is a pregnant waiting, anticipating new Birth with both fear and wonder. It is an invitation to walk the Way of Love more and more deeply.

This same invitation was given to a young woman centuries ago, the invitation to humbly let go of self in order to make room for the new Life to grow. She was confused and afraid and knew it would be painful.

But she said yes.

Come, let us each bring our own confusion and fear and pain. Let us walk together that we too may learn to say yes to the Way of Love...