The Urgency of Love: A Birthday Remembrance

IMG_0576

November 30, 1957.

Here’s my father, George J. Kimmerling, Jr,. dancing with his mother, Mary (nee McKenna), at the wedding reception which followed his marriage to my mother, Amelia (nee Fritz). Today, September 12, 2015, would have been his 95th birthday. He died in 2010, a day before their 53rd wedding anniversary.

This morning, I recalled a beautiful conversation I had with Dad, years ago, via phone, about the engagement and wedding plans. It may help to know that my mother and father married at ages 36 and 37, respectively. In 1957, they may have been considered a bit long in the tooth for such things.

Introductions had been made, years earlier, through siblings and cousins who attended school together. But, there was quite a span of time between meeting and marrying. An intervening bout of TB caused my mother’s parents to send her off to the Trudeau Institute, on Saranac Lake, to “take the cure”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trudeau_Institute

Upon her return, the story goes, she left a note on his windshield (though another version holds that she wrote on his windshield in lipstick; I like that version) proclaiming “I’m back”.

Dad told me that when they reunited, he suggested they make marriage plans post-haste. Mom was for a Spring wedding. Dad’s retort: “Why wait?” Dad’s persuasive nature (he was a successful salesman all his life, it seems) won the day.

As he and I continued our conversation, I remarked on the impact of his desire, and their decision, to marry without delay. We would have been a completely different family had they waited ’til spring of 1958 to marry. I, for one, would not have been born on December 1st of the following year. Somewhat like the “Butterfly Effect”, multiple subsequent configurations (marriages, grandchildren, etc) would have been vastly different in the years to come.

For me, this story is about the eagerness of love. How it propels us into action. How it changes our history, the history of those around us, and of those who follow us. Indeed, my parents’ love began my history.

I am not suggesting that pure love is our only motivation. We are human, after all. I have been propelled by far lesser and more damaging desires. The desire to accumulate. The desire to judge. The desire to be right; the sort of right that makes others wrong. The desire to hide from my truth. To wallow in solutions that harm instead of heal.

But, when love propels us, beautiful things ensue. I thank you, George J. Kimmerling Jr., for the power of your example.

With love,

Paul

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Loving the World: My Learnings

Last week, I led a wonderful group of people in my contemplative photography retreat. We explored such questions as:

“How do we see now?”

“Might we see differently?”

“In what ways do our inner lives influence our outer vision?”

We referenced medieval mystics, such as St Francis and Meister Eckhart; modern poets such as Mary Oliver; and photographers like Minor White.

As I do this work, I find that our awareness broadens. We begin to consider our relative degrees of comfort, ability and willingness to really see people (including ourselves), places and things. We begin to ask about empathy and compassion.

I find this remarkable, and, at the same time, not surprising.

When we consider the relationship between our inner lives and how we see the world, a gentle awakening begins. When we adopt an internal posture of curiosity (“I notice…” and “I wonder…”), we slow the mental leap between our seeing and what often comes next – evaluation, judgment, and categorization.

Those activities of the primitive brain – assessing danger, for instance – are very useful. And, for our own survival, they happen in a split-second. Our capacities for evaluation, judgment and categorization drive remarkable discoveries with which medicine, science and other disciplines continue to gift us.

And, yet, in other contexts, these capacities create unhelpful boundaries, close us off, keep us separate.

Hence, I find the simple lead-ins of  “I notice” and “I wonder” to be so transformative. And, when I forget to use them, I remember that, although I may not be able to control my first thought, I do have a choice about my second.

These are great techniques to employ in the moment. If you want to create greater interior spaciousness through a consistent practice, I recommend Centering Prayer and Mindfulness meditation. On the first, you can rad more at Thomas Keating’s website, http://www.centeringprayer.com/ Or, a personal favorite, http://www.contemplative.org/, with Cynthia Bourgeault. On Mindfulness, please see Jon Kabat-Zinn, at http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/

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One Photo Inspires Many More

In place of a new blog entry, I would like to share one by my friend Larry Gaissert, who took one of my photos as inspiration for his own contemplative practices. Here is my photograph, below. And, following that, is the link to Larry’s piece.

 

door knob Ephrata

 

 

http://soulmakingspace.blogspot.com/2014/04/less.html

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Idolatry

 

What ponderous love is this?

 

A love that scolds and shames,

and casts aspersions in the name

of righteousness.

 

That lays a path of petals, beckoning me to

take rest in a minefield

bedecked as pastel Spring.

 

This is the love of a misshapen god, indeed, and only,

whose commandments of brittle obedience peck at the heart;

whose comfort never comes;

whose judgments scorch like jagged bolts.

 

Before you, I have made endless altars of supplication.

I have no more hopes to sacrifice;

they mound now, as ashes, about my feet.

 

So, I will be remade, not in your graven image

but, turned by my own hand, and

fired in the kiln of compassion.

 

 

 

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Darkness is Not Dark

I attend, with fair regularity, mid-week evening prayer at St Mark’s, the local Episcopal church. It’s a welcoming, intimate group of 10 or so, whose members take turns leading the ritual and reading the passages. It is simple, focused, and intentional. It feels just right for me, right now.

I hope to allow the readings to reach me at an intuitive level. “Allowing” has been the simplest, most effective, and yet historically, for me, one of the most challenging postures. I can execute a wide array of oppositional stances – reluctance, stubbornness, refusal, and denial, to name a few. I remind myself that openness can be as subtle as a door left slightly ajar. A thin beam of light, cast across a dull, shoe-scarred floor, is light nonetheless.

What strikes me, one particular evening, is this line from Psalm 139: “Darkness is not dark to you”.

I imagine the psalmist had an external reference for this phrase – perhaps the cycles of day and night. Yet, the writer had an inkling that his perception was limited. Carl Jung posits an internal reference point for humankind’s bifurcation of the world:

 “How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright day-world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious? “

 (from “Psychological; Aspects of the Mother Archetype, 1939)

We now know many things the ancients did not, and this knowledge has broadened our view.  Day and night are the yin and yang of our planet’s 24-hour revolutionary cycle. They, together, comprise the full picture. On a cosmic scale, they are not “either/or”. It is always daylight, or nighttime, somewhere.

Yet, scientific understandings may not influence our interior worlds. Head and heart may not be in sync. Despite my modern understanding of the universe, I can still hold a divided view of myself  – my light and my darkness. “Darkness is not dark to you”. What is the difference between my perspective and that of the Eternal or Divine? Have I made false distinctions between light and dark? Is my construct too limiting, oppositional, simple?

One of my favorite authors, Cynthia Bourgeault, recounts an exchange in her book, The Wisdom Jesus (2008). When a student bemoans the dark forces in our lives, Cynthia responds:

“Don’t you see that by judging it you only make it worse? By trying to stop the black – to make it all white, all good; by saying that this we can accept and this we must reject, you keep empowering that cycle of polarization that creates the problem in the first place.”

Bourgeault goes on to assert that the “God is light” construct is a fatal trap, in as much as it denies or rejects the dark side.

I have, over time, labeled my own darkness, on a continuum from shameful, perhaps even unforgiveable, to mildly embarrassing. I can see distinctions among my various manifestations of darkness –

  • the darkness I know and have welcomed into my circle;
  • that darkness of which I am aware and yet want to disown;
  • and (most intriguing and potentially dangerous), that of which I am unaware, but which propels me to action, and is visible only in retrospect, once the deed is done.

To see myself as one; to resist compartmentalization; to increase my awareness; to embrace my less-favored aspects with tenderness – these are my desires. And, how do those desires become actualized? Often, for me, this happens in relationship.

There is an inestimable redemptive power in sharing with another. The contexts may vary – confession; the 12 steps; soul friendship or spiritual direction; an intimate partnership or marriage.

The key is compassion. Parker Palmer speaks openly about his clinical depression and the power of compassionate relationship:

“What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.”

 From an interview on NPR’s “On Being”

A posture of loving openness, perhaps the very same “allowing” I alluded to earlier, has a great, transformative power, and thus can be the better choice among fixing, fighting, giving advice, or judging.

 

“With arms wide open under the sunlight

Welcome to this place I’ll show you everything

With arms wide open

With arms wide open…”

Creed

 

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Stay Awake for the Home Invasion

My morning prayer practice includes an email from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, NJ, with daily readings and reflections during Advent. One this week read:

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.                      Matthew 24: 42-44

What strikes me is the juxtaposition of awake-ness and what we, today, might call a Home Invasion. That expression has often been used in news reports to describe a break-in, especially in the better, leafier suburbs.

On a literal level, I understand the prudence of conscious guardian-ship to protect and defend one’s home – including one’s family, especially the elderly and the young, as well as one’s possessions. If thievery is most successful when unsuspected, then constant vigilance is paramount. ADT and gated communities profit in response to those fears. But if our spiritual goal is to be Awake, what invasion are we guarding against?

I have quite a history of reluctance, and possibly fear, about a different kind of in-breaking – that of Truth and Wisdom – which challenged cherished assumptions, ways of being, or harmful habits that I had jealously nurtured. An in-breaking was most needed, yet most resisted or undervalued, especially when I firmly believed that my best thinking (!) had gotten me so very far. But the cost of that journey, its treacherous twists and turns, and its unsavory road-side attractions were not fully obvious to me then.

I look back and see that the road is littered with what I had finally jettisoned, but had guarded closely, sometimes long past the “use by” date.  In those days, I was known for my tenacious grip. And, what I was holding was more costly than the letting go. But the devil I knew seemed safer than the true Freedom I had not yet tasted.

When I began to really feel my misery, to wonder about another way to live, and to recognize my inability to get there on my own, I saw the window bars as obstacles to my own escape. I recognized that my gated community was small, too small; it shut out so many possibilities.

Buddha was asked, “What are you?” He simply replied: “I am awake.” Buddha means “the awakened one.” How to awaken is what he taught. From my experience, wakefulness is the beginning as well as the path. It is the state for which I strive, though I often fall short.

My grip has softened, but is still quite operable. On my better days, I can feel the muscles begin to clench, can assess the cost a bit sooner, and do damage control with myself (before, I hope, it affects others). I can choose to be Awake and watch new paths unfold.

 “If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the house

near the corner, which I have named

Gratitude.”

From “The Place I Want To Get Back To” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst. © Beacon Press, 2006.

I offer that quote, above, as an invitation. A dear friend has suggested that more details would be useful to some of you. If you wish to know more of my story, and want to share yours in complete confidentiality, send an email to pgk442002@yahoo.com

 

 

 

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Harvest

Halloween.

Samhain.

All Souls and All Saints days.

The end of Daylight Savings Time.

It’s a full week of observances, whatever culture or tradition you claim. And we may also observe, daily, the seasonal change.

Our blessed earth has followed her timeless turnings and brought us back, again, to this point. Sunlight slants at gentler angles, departing earlier each day. The garden looks spent, having yielded what it could for another year.

So much has allowed us to be here, now. What comes to mind for me are the yields of this summer’s garden, and the souls who have come before us.

Most of us know well our own lineage – our parents, their parents, and, perhaps further, into our respective family trees. And, we may know some of what it required for them to bring us forth and set us off on our individual trajectories. The little luxuries that were spurned for our school shoes; the sleep lost to sooth our childhood night terrors; the worry lines gained while wondering why we hadn’t come home yet.

Among the blessings of that time, there may have been deficits – the support not given; the nurture withheld – or excesses, like the overcrowding of unmanageable emotions. As it can be in the garden, the soil of those days was perhaps dry and unsustaining; the weeds overwhelmed the seedlings; the vines, untended, groped for support, only to collapse to the ground or to grasp what was nearest, though not best.

Our harvest may yield both bounty and disappointment. Round ripe fruit and stunted shapes. We may feel whole, in part, but not in all. And, in response, we may return to traditions we abandoned, and find new nourishment there. Or, turn to communities and rituals that give more meaning and life. We come back to our families, or find families of choice. Slowly, we are made whole, and help bring others to wholeness as well.

I sat with my mother the other day. Her memory, both short and long, is gone, for the most part. But, she is very present in the conversation as long as it’s about “now”. We do what we can, which is great fun – provoke each other to laughter. We tease, and express love, in quick-witted fashion. In response to one of her gentle verbal thrusts, I parried, “Well, you’re the only mother I have, and the only mother I want.” We both agreed that was good.

Those words fell out of my mouth. They sound glib, but are nonetheless true. I am grateful for their grace; for the truth that they tell; for the healing that has preceded them.

Amen.

 

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Happy Anniversary

Seventeen years ago, today, I came out.

I was, as some later remarked, a bit long in the tooth compared to others who took that step much earlier. And, as many others admitted, my news was not news to them.

This was followed, some years later, by the acknowledgment of other truths. A major one begins with the recitation “We admitted we were powerless…”.

I like the word “admit”. It’s not just about confessing. It’s about “letting in.” As in, admission to a movie, for example.

I once conceived this as opening a door to allow a new truth to gain access to the deepest parts of myself. And, I see now that some truths do come in through the front door.

But, I now conceive this specific truth differently. I was really opening the innermost door to the sub-basement of my psyche, to free a deeply significant core truth, which I had boxed within a box, and padlocked.

I say this now, having experienced that this truth, acknowledged and lived, has a most vitalizing energy, one that radiates from my core, through me, and then outward to everything.

This by no means suggests that once the truth radiates, everything becomes easy. Lives may change, relationships may crumble, and people fall away. Many of life’s familiar markers disappear, are knocked down, or lose their meaning.

But, inner guidance can sometimes far exceed outer markers in substance, stability and integrity.

So, to all of you who have embraced your truths, whatever they are, and now live from them – thank you and bless you.

To those who still struggle with your truths, I thank you and bless you. And, I send love and mountains of courage.

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Full Circle

For E, with love, who encouraged me to keep writing.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption, calls me back to a much earlier and formative time – my Catholic childhood. And, although I left the RC Church decades ago, and subsequently joined the Episcopal Church, certain remembrances have resonance with me from those early days.

My recollection is that there was a special devotion to Mary, often observed by women in the church, especially by my Father’s mother, also named Mary. There were yearly ceremonies, such as the May crowning (May being dedicated to Mary), which held a reverence and solemnity that was joyous and moving.

For me, now, it is not important to hold firmly to an assertion that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven. Today, this feast day brings me back to the Annunciation.

The Day of Yes. Where it all started, according to the recountings.

These two moments, Annunciation and Assumption, frame a lifetime. And, they both represent, for me,  transition and expansion. In the first instance, an expansion that only “Yes” can bring. “Yes”, when uttered in a moment of possibility that seems so terrifyingly right, can be the most transformative word in our language. Terrifying and freeing. “Yes” can set into motion powerful changes, some quick, some glacial. Whereas “No” constricts, “Yes” releases.

“Yes’, in the right moment (and moment after moment), allows us to participate in the kenosis, or self-emptying, practiced by all the spiritual masters. For Christians, Jesus is the Master of this Way. You may know of, or revere, others.

Death, the other transition and expansion, frees spiritual energy from the material body, allowing it to become more greatly accessible. Many have witnessed to this. Hence, death, as well as “yes”, has transformative power.

Many of us have experienced one, or more, “little deaths” on this plane of existence that have created greater space and smoothed the transition to newer life. Saying “yes” to a “little death” may be preceded, at least in my case, by years of clinging to ways that didn’t work or weren’t honest (and aren’t those often the same?); holding tight to things or people I didn’t really need; and/or without the belief that Life will provide what is best for me.

I have come to see that saying, “yes” to life is also saying, “yes” to death.

 

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet

Muhammad.

Have wings that feared ever

touched the Sun?

 I was born when all I once

feared – I could

love.

From Die Before You Die, by Rabia Basri,

Female Sufi saint (717 – 801)

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The Tenderness of the Soul’s Longing

I have returned from leading a group retreat in Assisi. As I reflect on my own learnings and experiences, as well as what others tell me about theirs, the following become clear.

  • We make pilgrimages for highly personal reasons.
  • While there, we may see the same things, but in different ways.
  • In fact, we may see entirely different things.
  • We make unique meanings; see unique connections.
  • We come away with highly personal learnings, even revelations.

So, what is it that we all share? I think it is the longing. The exact object of that longing, the process of seeking and finding, and even the depth of desire, may all be different. But, we all have the desire.

We may be separated in our particulars, but we are united in our universal seeking…in and through the intention, the openness and the quality of focus.

In, and from, this commonality, is born a sense of hope, support, perhaps even joy. And, a quality of tenderness toward others on the journey, as we know the courage and vulnerability that seeking requires.

 If you are seeking,

Speak truthfully to yourself of your desire.

And, while being truthful,

Please,

Also be tender.

Cradle your longing,

Lest you judge yourself, in haste,

Unworthy of its satisfaction.

For, we can be quick to shame,

To blink and disavow,

To deny our exquisite truth,

When the depth of its

Beautiful blue desire

Would seem to swallow us.

Yet, it knows what we do not:

We can breathe

Underwater.

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