Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Scent of God

Although I tried to stretch it out the last few days, I have just finished reading The Scent of God by Beryl Singleton Bissell. I think she would appreciate the fact that, just as I put the book down, I was suddenly struck with the sweet-strong smell of fresh brownies wafting upstairs from the kitchen, where my daughter had been baking.

I will have to spend some more time letting this extraordinary book sink in awhile. It is a book full of touch, smell, sight, and sound, infused with spirit.

When passions get thrown beneath a train

Somehow my mind and heart are drawn to radically different thoughts and ideas, often at the same time. I'm currently experiencing some difficulties that seem to call for both dispassion and perhaps even separation from people and things I hold very dear, putting self and self-interest aside [see "East and West" below], and, at the same time, speaking out of my deepest passions and asserting my true self. Paradoxically, both seem required.

Here is what struck me deeply this week from the speaking side:
I do not know how or where I learned it, but I had learned not to say what I really thought or truly believed or most desired. I internalized Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: women who express their deepest passions get run over by trains. The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat the words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life.
* * * *
Throughout church history, however, the words of women and children, of the poor, the sick, and enslaved, have often been silenced by words of the wealthy, learned, and powerful. And if no one listens, you learn not to speak. When such voices are lost, the Word is diminished. I could express few genuine words. I needed to find my voice. Poet Marge Piercy writes in “Unlearning Not to Speak”:

She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as an infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.
From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002) (From "Unlearning not to speak" at Speaking to the Soul.)

These words seem to cry out what the dignity of every human being requires, the "I" that will not be thrown to the rubbish, will not be dismissed and devalued as something less than the "I"'s or "We" in power. The problem is how to speak with dignity and pride, not in one's self but in one's humanity, created and loved by God, with the spark of his divine image, without inflating one's self into a monstrous, fiery, steam-driven engine of power that seeks to dash others beneath the rails.

Update: Read an excellent essay today on control and letting go by Tandaina at Snow on Roses.

East and West

I have no parents
I make the heavens and earth my parents
I have no home
I make awareness my home
I have no life or death
I make honesty my divine power
I have no friends
I make my mind my friend
I have no enemy
I make carelessness my enemy
I have no armor
I make benevolence my armor
I have no castle
I make immovable-mind my castle
I have no sword
I make absence of self my sword.
14th c. Japanese samurai (quoted by Joseph Goldstein in Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom at p. 13, Shambhala, Boston 2003).

From Sunday's Lectionary reading, Luke 14:25-32:
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
ESV Bible