Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Security by William Stafford

My son found and passed on this poem by William Stafford.


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

Praying When Life Cracks Open

This current round of chemotherapy treatments reminds me again that I really don't know that much about prayer. Other things play with my body and emotions. My mind gets crazy.

When I get in this place where my body lives in such an altered state, jacked around by chemicals that are so powerfully present in my system, I'm not sure what is real, what is authentic. Bodily sensations tell me lies. Emotions get stacked to one side or the other. Incidents that ordinarily would have little meaning suddenly suggest a huge impact, to which I either over-react or non-react. Sleep deprivation leaves me tired but unable to rest. I'm reminded constantly of how fragile life is, how little control I have over my moment-by-moment existence.

So my "normal" patterns of prayer get thrown out the window. I used to feel guilty for that, as if I was locked into certain ways of relating to God. Then when I felt lost temporarily to those ways, I'd be lost to God.

Years ago, during a particularly devastating life-crisis, I first experienced the drying up of prayer, the days when all the normal patterns and usual "tricks" didn't work any longer. Prayer during those days became an act of faithfully sitting in the chair where I had grown accustomed to praying. Just sitting. Often sitting and weeping. After weeks of guilt over that, I finally heard my own (and God's) release, that my simple act of showing up, weeping, giving my little attentiveness . . . all of that was the only prayer I could offer during those days. And so my little world of prayer was cracked open just a bit.

I carried that framework for prayer into those early days of chemotherapy and cancer treatments after the original diagnosis, finding that the chemicals in my body and the absense of sleep so altered my consciousness that I could not longer pray as I thought I should. Slowly I dropped the "should" and took my own long-given advice: "Pray as you can, not as you cannot!" Dropping the "should" was not easy, mostly because it meant that I had to be as graceful and generous with myself as God is with me. That is an ongoing challenge for me.

Yet, here I am again. During these days of treatments I have less anxiety about getting this right. I have more resolve to stay in it faithfully, not having to conjure up some holy feeling or religious impulse to draw meaning out of the experience. I can still get scared that I'm doing this "all wrong," but I learn day by day the generosity of simply sitting, being loved, and offering my love in the only ways I know how.

Years ago, during one of those particularly difficult times, when I was frustrated with my lot in life, when I wanted to resist the pain and the difficulty of the dark valley I was invited to walk through, I wrote a simple, three-line poem that contained some wisdom not native to me. It is a poem I continue to hold onto, especially in days like this. It is simple, and it reminds me that life is not somewhere else, that running from where I am does not solve anything.

My life cracks open.

I stand in it,
careful not to run.

To stand and not run, to be where I am as faithfully as possible without having to escape the pain, to be with the incongruity of my life, to hold the tensions of my fragile existence . . . these are the invitations I sense as I move through this season and into the next season of soul.

Learning to Bear the Beams of Love

"We are put on this earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love." (William Blake)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I need less and less convincing of the "little space" which is given to me.

The phrase "wasting time" seems blasphemy.

To "pass the time" means ceding moments that will never come back to me.

I can think of no more dangerous activity (or non-activity) than boredom, the tediousness of a life not given to anything in particular, to random acts of "filling time" with that which is mundane and numbs the soul. That I -- or anyone -- would get to the end of life and say, "I never missed an episode of 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'American Idol,' seems to denigrate the little space, the holy life, that we have each been offered.

I do not downplay the ordinary, the mundane, the "fun"; however, there is a time for most all of us when the ordinary, mundane, and fun becomes distraction and not pathway. It turns our face away from the "little space" and its urgency, rather than calling us more deeply into the "little space."

"Learning to bear the beams of love," though, may be too much for any of us. We have settled into petty loves, psuedo-loves, all the things that pass for love and fulfillment. Boredom and distraction are the human reactions to the weight of bearing beams of love.

As a human, I find that I'm willing to taste almost anything, even if I know it won't bear the beams of love, just to try it out, just to see if it might satisfy my soul-hunger. Of course, an entire parade of things, even good things, cannot satisfy that desire of soul for which I/we yearn. One by one they point us to the One who alone satisfies, to the One who alone is able to fill the void within us, the One who Authors the beams of love.

Bearing the beams of that love will take a lifetime, the short years I have remaining. I have no time to waste, no hours to burn, no hours to spend mindlessly.

Mary Oliver updated Blake when she wrote:

"Listen -- are you breathing just a little
and calling it a life?"

More and more, at least for me, if it is not borne of love, if it is not an act of bearing the beams of love or radiating beams of love, it may be breathing, but it is not my life.

I'm sitting in the midst of another cycle of chemotherapy and all the accompanying drugs that are supposed to poison not only the cancers in my blood, but also that which is intended to give me health and bodily well-being. In this place I'm aware of my own "little space" and my own interior burning to bear beams of love to the world.

For too long I have been breathing, taking up space, and calling it a life.