Congratulations!! We made it through December 21st, 2012 – the greatly talked about “end of the world.” The “end of the world” has come and gone many times in human history. What is it in us that fears it so – or longs for it? Why are we trying to predict the future? (Successfully trying to avoid the present?) We do that all the time, don’t we? We try to anticipate what will happen in an interview or in a relationship or if we say “no” to someone’s request. Oh…we predict the end of our world many times a day as we contemplate outcomes we fear. We do this so we can feel more secure and more in control – ahead of the game. As responsible human beings we can prepare for and do our best in the situations we face noting successful patterns and probabilities, but in the end life still has its way of surprising us.
As I ponder this entire situation, I think the “end of the world” predictions have a shred of truth to them even if the world, as we know it, survives. Isn’t all of life always changing? Ebbing and flowing, ending and beginning, dying and being born? Seasons come and go in what seems like a continuous cycle and yet there are always new adaptations, unique expressions; unexpected outcomes that make life anew. Science tells us that our entire cellular body is renewed about every seven years. We are not in the same body even though it appears that our bodies continue to exist. Endings and beginnings are sometimes hard to pinpoint.
We can experience change in our thoughts, beliefs, energy, values, goals, and feelings. We also experience change in our jobs, social standing, living arrangements, and friendships. Life hardly ever is standing still. Cultures change. Financial structures change. Weather patterns change. Life has its way with us. Why do we continue to be afraid, amazed and surprised by endings and change?
As human beings we tend to like the idea of security and certainty but it gets us into a lot of trouble. One of my favorite quotes is by Helen Keller, a deaf/blind American author, activist, and lecturer. She said, ”Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” While that might sound intoxicating in the moment, most of us are challenged to embrace such a belief wholeheartedly.
We create a lot of our own anxiety when we try to control life to feel secure. We fail to control the one thing over which we have control – our own response. We wonder if we are being punished for our wrongdoings or judged for our mistakes. We try to avoid the unknown, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. That is, except for those of us who love adventure, excitement, and risk – but we too pay a price. Life costs us regardless of the choices we make. No one gets a free ride. Fear and opposing views creep in. Endings we do not like happen anyway.
We may need to embrace the fact that change and “endings” are just part of life. What if life always is asking us to grow and to shake us out of our routines, complacency, and our self righteous ideas and open us up to be just a little bit more human and a little bit more divine? On my refrigerator I posted this quote. “They say we pray to God when the foundations of our world are shaking, only to discover it is God who is shaking them.” This is both a disturbing and a comforting statement to me. In other words, I have no choice in the matter and yet I am completely safe to live life to the fullest knowing God has it under control. “Let go and Let God” is a famous passage of recovery in our world today with the same message. Such simple words; such complex inner work.
Recently, the Reverend Thomas Sweet, the pastor of the Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, quoted in one of his messages to his congregation a poem by Hafiz, a well known Persian mystical poet of the fourteenth century:
Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God…
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one.
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days…
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a playful mood
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
What do we do when the Beloved decides that it is time to shake up our world? We want the sweet talk, do we not? We like the singing angels and fuzzy kittens and the feel-good movies. We want love to shelter us but sometimes it is “tough love” that comes. What if the Beloved has entered our lives chaotically to give us a chance to heal and to grow up through the very situations in which we find ourselves?
What if life is asking us simply to forgive ourselves and each other in each moment? That does not mean we do not protect ourselves when we must or have healthy boundaries when we need to – because we most certainly do – but it also does not mean we cannot open our hearts at the same time. As humans we learn to have appropriate responses (if someone is hitting us we leave) but with a divine nature we can love and forgive (hoping the person that hit us truly finds greater peace, too.) When we close the door on “the shaking” we also close the door on the fullness of life that is being offered to us.
After sharing the poem by Hafiz, Pastor Sweet went on to say, “I don’t know about you, but I need that kind of shaking from time to time. It always is tempting and tantalizing to run so that I can keep my “nonsense” intact, but the older I get the more I want to be free of it, to face the truth of myself and life, and to know the grace and freedom within which God desires for me (and us) to live. The process sometimes can be painful and on more occasions than I care to admit I have “high-tailed it out of town.” But I have discovered that no matter how great the escape, wherever I go, there I am. As I have said before, I do not think it is so much that God wants us to be born again as to grow up! Perhaps the “secret” of faith is to trust that “the Beloved wants to do us a great favor” and that “shaking all the nonsense out” is a grand and glorious part of God’s great love.”
For me, December 21st represented a shift in our world on a level that we simply cannot see with our physical eyes. Then I ask myself – But isn’t that true of every day? We are constantly, every moment, changing and being offered a new beginning in our own hearts. Like the Grinch that Stole Christmas – our hearts can grow into a fullness that overcomes fears, resistance, obstacles, and “nonsense.” We have a chance to grow up as a human race and as individuals and we can come to embrace our lives and all the changes (free of fear or guilt or shame). We can become more compassionate with ourselves and “forgive our own trespasses” which then frees us to forgive others.
It is possible that the great age of change is upon us to shake us up in new ways. Perhaps some part of the world as we knew it really did end on December 21st, 2012. The endings and beginnings of things are sometimes hard to pinpoint. But if we have faith and if we can open our arms with loving acceptance, trust in something greater than ourselves, and find humor and even joy in the adventure, then we may bring a new world into being from a heart-centered place regardless of dates on a calendar.
From my experience, the people who come to retreat at The Mandala Center (and all people who take time to contemplate and learn and grow and seek in all corners of the world) are longing for this balance and this blessing that comes with embracing both endings and beginnings. They are trying to hold that paradox that we live within both and neither and everything in between and life is simply an adventure to be lived. May you find 2013 to be full of life and Spirit and meaning and new possibilities. Happy New Year!
The Mandala Center
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