Lanterns in the Church

Sometimes you find a story within a story. This story is one of those. I heard it nestled within a story called “Christmas has a secret” by Michael Drury.  The larger story left me kind of wanting. It was about giving bread to others while you are comforted by the knowledge/hope/expectation that in your time of need you will be given all that you need – and more. For me that is kind of like the platitude that the measure with which you give you will receive in turn, and you will receive it back pressed down and flowing over.  I KNOW I am missing something with those stories, but I keep hearing them as teaching that you should be generous because of what it will do for you in the long run – generosity as self-serving and selfish.  Call me old fashioned, but I want to be able to find it in myself (and others) to be generous just for the sake of being generous! Altruism for altruism sake.   But, that is another blog.  So here is the story that really resonated for me (of course with my own little quirks and tweaks:

Once, many years ago, outside a small village in the Tatra Mountains in Poland a lone Gypsy woman heard the bells of a church ringing. Intrigued and cold, she followed the sound thinking she might find some warmth in the church.  When she found the church, it was dark and she could not see anyone else around. But she decided to wait for a while and watch. What else did she have to do that evening?

After a short while, she began to see lights like fireflies in the surrounding woods. As she watched the lights grew brighter, and soon she could tell that those lights were lanterns carried by the families of the congregation as they assembled for the evening’s service. As each family entered the church they would hang their lantern on an iron hook secured within the church’s stone walls. As the families arrived, the church began to glow with the brightness of each and all of the lanterns. After the service, each family removed it’s lantern from the hook and set off through the woods back to its own home.

The woman lingered after the service and asked the pastor about this practice. It was after all a unique way of lighting the church.

The pastor shrugged and said, “it is the only means that we have of lighting our church. When the church was built, it was far too costly for the parish to provide candles to light the church. But it was usual for families to carry their lanterns with them to services. Our church has chosen to carry on that tradition. Now, even to this day, if one of our families does not come to a service, we all feel it. The church is darker by one lantern.  The light and brightness of each family contributes to the whole.”

In the dark night when the earth sleeps – in the time of the winter solstice, of Chanukah, of Christmas, lights dance, the air is scented with hearth fires and spices, homes are polished and decorated. Bells ring and voices are raised in laughter and song. People greet each other and exchange gifts and more freely share their love – all because each human being makes it so. It is up to each of us to shine our light and brighten the darkness.

This time of year is a poignant and powerful reminder of the importance of each lantern, of each light, of each act of loving kindness.

Indeed, if everyone lit just one little candle . . . if everyone gave just one little smile . . . if everyone shared just one act of kindness . . . ah, if!

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On Giving Away All Your Marbles

So, I’ve been thinking a bit about hope and love recently, and that got me to thinking about trust, which got me to thinking about full hearted generosity – and the all too human inclination to hold just a little back, you know just in case, just so we don’t look foolish, just so we have a little something in reserve, just in case. And I came across this story …

Esme and Biron were two young children whose families lived next door to each other. One day, Biron was shooting marbles in the park across the street from their homes, when Esme walked over to see what he was up to.  Esme was eating some candies from a paper sack, and watched him for a while.  After a few minutes, Biron offered to trade Esme his marbles for her candy. Esme thought about it and agreed.

But Biron pocketed his favorite marble before they made the exchange.  Esme on the other hand simple gave Biron her whole bag of candy in the exchange.

That night, Esme slept deeply and peacefully, while Biron tossed and turned and could not sleet at all.  He was haunted by doubts about whether or not Esme had hidden some candy from him the way he had kept back is favorite marble.

The moral of the story of course is that if you don’t give your very best one hundred percent in your relationships and in your interactions with others, you will be haunted by doubts about whether the other person has given their full measure as well. So, do your best, give it all you’ve got, and you will be able to sleep at night with a full and open heart and a clear conscience.

Dream well my friends!  Live full throttle with an open heart and a peaceful soul!

 

The Magic Eyes of Understanding

So I was surfing around the internet the other day, thinking about forgiveness, and I came across the fable of the magic eyes … see what you think!

a fable about THE MAGIC EYES.

 

Once upon a time in a land that was far away and near to my heart there was a small village which had a baker, Zed, who was well steeped in righteousness. Zed was a tall thin man, even his face was long and thin. He was so upright and righteous that he seemed to spray righteousness even as he spewed vituperations on any who came within his sight. So, people mostly stayed out of his sight.

In contrast, Zed’s wife, Amia, was short, soft and plump. She just looked cuddly, and her soft cuddliness invited people to come closer to enjoy her warm, open cheerfulness. Now, Amia loved and respected Zed, but his upright righteousness kept her at arm’s length, and she yearned for something more. And in that yearning need was the seed of sadness within Amia’s soul and between Amia and Zed.

Life went on and wants and needs followed their course, and one morning, after Zed had been working since dawn preparing his doughs for the oven, he came home for a brief rest and found Amia with a stranger in their bedroom. Amia’s indiscretion became the talk of the town. Now scandal was in the house of Zed the righteous.  Everyone expected that Zed would send Amia away. Everyone thought that his righteousness would demand it of him.

But, Zed surprised everyone, and simply said that he forgave Amia as the holy scriptures said one should do. But as we all know the heart and the mind are not always in harmony, and in Zed’s heart of hearts he should could not let go of his anger and disappointment with Amia for bringing shame to his home and to his name. Whenever he thought about her, as much as he tried to forgive her, he only felt angry and began to despise her as a whore. Even he began to recognize that his forgiveness was a thin veneer for the punishing righteousness that he heaped upon her. What he really came to feel for Amia was hatred for betraying him as her faithful husband.

As life went on, over some time, Zed’s internal duplicity began to rankle his guardian angel. This angel was a wise old soul, and so each time Zed wallowed in his animosity and resentment of Amia, the angel would drop a tiny pebble into Zed’s heart. Each time a pebble dropped into his heart, Zed would feel a stab of pain. The more he hated her the more pain he felt, and the more pain he felt, the more he hated her. Soon enough, Zed’s heart grew heavy with the weight, and he now walked bent over from the waist from the weight in his heart. Zed became so weary from the pain and the weight in his heart, that he began to wish he were dead.

At that point Zed’s guardian angel, Tess, appeared to him in the image of Della Reese. Tess told him that to be healed of his heart ache, he would need magic eyes. Through those magic eyes he would be able to look back to the time before his hurt and to see Amia not as a betrayer, bur as a weak woman in need of his kindness. Through the magic of seeing through these new eyes, the pain of his old wounds might be healed.

Zed was not convinced. His righteous self said that nothing could change the past, and that Amia was guilty of betraying him. Tess agreed that the past cannot be changed, but she said, you can change how you see the past. Your vision of what happened is open to re-vision, and you can allow it to be healed through the magic eyes.

Zed was still not convinced and his hatred of Amia had become a refuge for him, but he was a desperate man, and so he asked Tess how he might look through these magic eyes. Tess said, “You only need to ask with a sincere desire to see through them, and their vision will be granted to you. Each time you see Amia through the magic eyes of understanding, one pebble will be lifted from your broken heart.”

Zed still had his doubts, but he asked for the vision of the magic eyes with all the sincerity he could muster. Tess smiled her blessing. Zed felt that he had been touched by an angel.

Over some days Amia began to change in Zed’s eyes. He began to see her as a sad woman with unmet needs rather than a heartless evil being. Zed’s vision changed and his heart began to soften as one by one each of the pebbles lifted from his heart. This took a long time, but over time Zed’s heart became softer and lighter. As these changes grew in Zed’s heart, his whole being began to change. He began to stand straighter and his countenance softened. He no longer spewed righteousness, but was less sharp than he had been. Eventually he welcomed Amia back into his heart, their hearth grew warm together and together they resumed their journey through the second season of their lives in hope and humility, together learning to temper righteousness with compassion with eyes of understanding.

Who is stingy now?

I found this story about Gessen the stingy artist the other day when I was surfing the web. It made me think about all the times I judged someone for being a jerk … hope you get a few moments of self-reflective beard stroking from it too.  It is from a book called ‘101 Zen Stories’, also known as ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’

 

Gessen was an artist monk. Before he would start a drawing or painting he always insisted upon being paid in advance, and his fees were high. He was known as the “Stingy Artist.”

A geisha once gave him a commission for a painting. “How much can you pay?” inquired Gessen.

“‘Whatever you charge,” replied the girl, “but I want you to do the work in front of me.”

So on a certain day Gessen was called by the geisha. She was holding a feast for her patron.

Gessen with fine brush work did the paining. When it was completed he asked the highest sum of his time.

He received his pay. Then the geisha turned to her patron saying: “All this artist wants is money. His paintings are fine but his mind is dirty; money has caused it to become muddy. Drawn by such a filthy mind, his work is not fit to exhibit. It is just about good enough for one of my petticoats.”

Removing her skirt, she then asked Gessen to do another picture on the back of her petticoat.

“How much will you pay?” asked Gessen.

“Oh, any amount,” answered the girl.

Gessen named a fancy price, painted the picture in the manner requested, and went away.

 

It was learned later that Gessen had these reasons for desiring money:

A ravaging famine often visited his province. The rich would not help the poor, so Gessen had a secret warehouse, unknown to anyone, which he kept filled with grain, prepared for these emergencies.

From his village to the National Shrine the road was in very poor condition and many travelers suffered while traversing it. He desired to build a better road.

His teacher had passed away without realizing his wish to build a temple, and Gessen wished to complete this temple for him.

After Gessen had accomplished his three wishes he threw away his brushes and artist’s materials and, retiring to the mountains, never painted again.

From http://www.deepspirits.com/words-of-wisdom/zen/zen-story47.php

 

it just goes to show, you never really know what someone’s motives are, what they are really up to.  so, I guess we all might just as well assume the best and ask how we can help?

The Good Woman and Huldukona: an echoing yes to life and to love

Once, or maybe twice, in that time when things we dream really do happen there was a woman in Iceland who trusted her dreams, she was a good woman. She was a hard working peasant woman, married to an average kind of hard working man. There was nothing much remarkable about their lives. They lived each day as best they could. They worked hard. They had little, but they had enough. Life was not easy for them, but it was their life and they made the best of it. To look at them you would find nothing very remarkable. And yet if you stood with them for a while you would feel a depth, a resonance, a rootedness.

One night as this good woman slept, she dreamt that the elfwoman Huldukona came to her. In the dream, Huldukona asked her to put two quarts of milk a day in a bowl, and to set it in a corner behind a cupboard. Huldukona asked the woman to do this every day for one month. Huldukona explained that she needed the milk for her child, the child of her heart and hearth. The good woman was moved by compassion and promised elfwoman that she would do this.

In the morning when she woke, the good woman remembered her promise, and put the milk in a bowl in the place Huldukona had pointed out. The good woman did this even though she and her husband had only enough to get by. Every day for one month the good woman put out the bowl of milk. And each day when she returned the bowl was empty. The good woman was faithful to her promise and continued her gift faithfully each day.

At the end of the month, Huldukona again visited the good woman in her dreams. Huldukona thanked the good woman for her kindness, and asked her to accept the belt she would find in her bed in the morning when she rose from her sleep. Huldukona then dis-appeared.

In the morning, when the good woman rose from her sleep she found a stunning hand wrought silver belt, more beautiful than anything she had ever seen, the gift of the grateful elfwoman.

 

When we think of heroes the first image that comes to mind is likely to be that of a warrior – a strong burly man engaged in a physical struggle of muscle and violence. But, today I am inviting you to think again. This good woman was a hero, maybe a new transformative kind of hero. She trusted her dream and her vision. She was willing to give from her heart to nurture a life. She believed in what was asked of her. She said yes to life and to love. What could be more heroic? And yes, in the fable she was richly rewarded in the end for her generosity, but I think that may well be beside the point. The point for me is that she said yes to life and to love … in a small unremarkable way, but in a way that made all the difference for those to whom she responded. And that made all the difference to them.

So, today in some small way, let us each wake up and say yes to life and to love, with a small act of kindness and generosity giving just a bit more than we might have first thought we were able, because after all, kindness and generosity are an echoing yes to life and to love.

Cathy Heying and the Lift Garage

Social workers are a hard working lot, often working long hours for little pay, with their hearts proudly and humbly worn on their sleeves. Social workers encounter more than their fair share of impossible situations, often impossible situations that are miles outside the range of their agency, (both personal skill range and institutional scope of mandate). It can be enough to leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. And for some it is. But not for Cathy Heying!

Cathy Heying is a social worker in Minnesota. Minnesota, the land of Lake Woebegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Cathy Heying is both strong and above average for sure. While she worked as a member of the pastoral staff at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church she noticed that many of those who passed through her office were financially struggling because they had lost their jobs. And being a keen observer of the interconnectedness of life events she noticed that many of those folks lost their jobs because their cars broke down and so they were unable to get to work on time. Single mom’s had it particularly bad because they had work schedules, childcare schedules and bus schedules to coordinate. Car repairs were simply out of the question, there was no money in the budget for such luxuries. But no car repairs meant no car, which came to mean a collapse of schedule coordination, a loss of job and a near complete deterioration of the budget, and too often homelessness for the family. Far too often a family’s war on poverty was lost for the lack of a bolt!

Some social workers would have seen this as overwhelming. Some social workers would have seen this as a system failure in the community’s public transportation system and would have launched into a campaign for better bus schedules. Some social workers would have seen this as a lack of compassion on the part of employers, and would have advocated with particular employers for individual clients. And maybe Cathy tried those things too. But, what we know Cathy did was that she recognized the need for client access to affordable car repairs. So, Cathy took the bull by the horns, enrolled herself in the Dunwoody Institute, as one of a few women amidst the 18-year-old young men, and she earned her auto technology degree.

Cathy Heying didn’t just stop there. Working with others, she has created The Lift Garage which has state non-profit status, so that it can now operates as an independent 501-c3. Currently the garage is open on Saturdays to individuals and families who have been referred by a social worker or who demonstrate financial need. Services offered range from basic maintenance, such as belts and batteries, to full service repairs such as suspension and steering. The Lift charges a flat fee of $15/hour plus parts, for anyone who has recently taken a car to a garage, you know this is way below market price.

After I heard Cathy’s story, my first reaction was, “this is GREAT!!” And then I thought, well, but what does this change? And then I remembered the story of the starfish thrower, and then I remembered the community building practice of ‘each one reach one’ from the civil rights movement. And I thought, well, this is something. And that’s a good thing.

So, go check it out at http://theliftgarage.org/. It is a struggling new venture; maybe you have a few dollars to send their way? http://theliftgarage.org

A Picnic with Ants and a Grasshopper

Summer lingered as a most welcome visitor among the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene. It is true that the convent is not air conditioned and peak summer humidity could render the inner rooms into steam baths some afternoons, but none the less, the bright sun and blue sky were a welcome invitation to celebration among the sisters. Even though October was edging its way onto the calendar, this day the sisters decided to evoke the memory summer as cause enough for a picnic. And so just after 6PM, they packed up salads and sandwiches and carried them out to the court yard where they gathered for supper and recreation.

 As they finished their food, Mother Magdalene smiled to herself as she said, “Having a picnic always makes me think about ants. Sisters, do any of you remember the story of the ants and the grasshopper?”

Sister Septimus, one of the older sisters, allowed that she could remember the story from her childhood. She said, “I believe that the ants worked hard all summer to store up enough food to carry them through the winter, while the grasshopper merrily hopped over the fields chirping and singing without a care in the world. Then when winter comes, the grasshopper finds herself without food and starving, even while the ants have plenty.”

“Yes, the very story” says Mother Magdalene. “The grasshopper begs the ants for some food. But the ants rebuke the grasshopper, ‘You sang all summer, why don’t you just dance your way through the  winter.’ So, Sisters, what do you think about the ants and the grasshopper? Who behaved wisely? Who acted well?”

Sister Beatrix, the new postulant at the cloister, thought for a moment before she replied, “My first thought is that the ants were correct. They were wise in storing food for the foreseeable time of need, and the grasshopper was foolish for not planning ahead. But, I’ve been here in the cloister long enough now to suspect that there is more to the story than this. What am I missing?”

Sister Septimus beamed. “You are a daughter after my own heart, dear Beatrix. Not so long ago, I would have whole heartedly agreed with your first analysis and declared that the end of the story. But recently I have come to more fully appreciate the importance and need for celebration in all of our lives. It is far too easy to dismiss the work and the contribution of the grasshopper. We need to joy of music for our lives to truly flourish. Without the grasshopper to remind us to pause and celebrate our lives would be dreary indeed. A touch of foolishness is the salt we need to flourish. Too much salt is not a good thing, but a touch brings out the fullness of flavor. Too much foolishness is not so good either, but a bit, well, laughter and song are the best medicine.”

Sister Visentia added, “I can’t believe that I am saying this, but  yet we do need to be aware of the virtues of hard work and the perils of improvidence, do we not? To work today is to eat tomorrow, yes? And, yet I can’t help but feel that the ants are just a bit greedy!”

“Indeed,” replied Mother Magdalene, “and don’t fail to notice that the industrious ant gathers the produce of others work in planting. We are all part of a larger community. Let us be a community of generosity From each according to her ability, to each according to her need. … I feel like someone else said that somewhere? Who might it have been.” Mother Magdalene mused.

And the Sisters enjoyed the waning light of the sun as it continued on its path behind the western hills.

Herbert Hoover, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and generosity

Herbert Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. Both of his parents were Quakers. His father, Jessie Hoover, died in 1880 and his mother, Hulda Randall (Minthorn) Hoover, passed away in 1884, leaving Hoover an orphan at the age of nine. Hoover lived with various relatives until he entered Stanford University in 1891, the very year that it was founded. He earned his way through four years of college working at various jobs on and off campus.

As one of his extracurricular entrepreneurial ventures, in 1892 Hoover and a couple of his friends decided to bring entertainers to campus. They heard that Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist, would be touring through California, and so they persuaded him to give a concert on the Palo Alto campus of Stanford. An agreement was reached, contracts were signed, the concert was scheduled, and the young entrepreneurs set about selling tickets with the hope/expectation of being able to cover their tuition costs for the semester with the proceeds.

What the new concert promoters failed to notice was that the concert was scheduled during the University’s Spring Break, so many of the faculty and most of the students were not on campus the day the concert was scheduled. Ticket sales were abysmal. Paderewski had agreed to perform for about $2000, which was substantially less than he would normally charge for a performance. They had sold tickets totally only about $1600. So, the day before the concert, the Hoover and his two associates asked to meet with Paderewski. They explained their situation to him, told him that they would give him the entire $1600, and promised to pay him the remaining $400 as soon as they could raise it from other concerts. Paderewski, who was known for his rather gruff demeanor, looked the young men in the eyes, and told them that would not be acceptable to him. Then they notice bit of a twinkle in his eye, and he said to them that they should keep enough money to cover their expenses for producing the concert and to cover their tuition for the semester. He would take whatever money remained as payment in full for his performance. The young men were stunned and grateful, and thanked him profusely.

As you can imagine, Hoover and his friends were greatly relieved. They learned from this lesson, and became much better event planners and more carefully organized the timing of future events, building in a slush fund from successful events to cover the cost of those events that did not fully cover their costs. In 1985 Hoover graduated from Stanford University with a degree in geology. 

In 1914 World War I broke out. An odd phrase that – to say that war broke out, like a zit on a teen agers face, like a convict from prison. But by 1914 the world was in the midst of World War I. At the beginning of the war, Hoover was working in Belgium to help organize the return of United States citizens back to America from Europe, and then to help organize the distribution of food to war victims. In 1917 the United States entered the war, and President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration, the agency for the administration of the allies’ food reserves.

World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918. Hostilities can be officially declared ended on a specific date, but the effects of hostilities carry on well into the future. By 1919 millions of children in Poland were starving. The newly formed government of Poland had no resources with which it could buy food. Desperate to help his people, the Prime Minister of Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, turned to the United States Food and Relief Administration for help. The request was sent to Herbert Hoover, as head the agency. Hoover was a Quaker and a generous man. He coordinated the transport and shipment of tons of food to help feed the Polish people until the next year’s crops could be planted and harvested.

On his next trip to the United States, Paderewski, the Prime Minister of Poland, sought out the head of the Food and Relief Administration, to express his personal gratitude and that of his nation. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover, Hoover stopped him and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I am the one who should be thanking you. You may not remember this, but several years ago you gave a concert in Palo Alto, California. The young men who organized the concert could not afford to pay you from their ticket sales, and you generously forgave then the debt, helping them to work their way through college. I was one of those young men.”

There is much suffering in our world. There is much that needs to change. And, there are also moments and places of wonder, joy and generosity. What goes around comes around. Pay it forward. Celebrate compassion and generosity with an open heart!