Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Call to Silence & Opening Meditation


A Reading from Parker Palmer

When my first grandchild was born, I saw something in her that I had missed in my own children some twenty-five years earlier, when I was too young and self-absorbed to see anyone, including myself, very well. What I saw was clear and simple: my granddaughter arrived on earth as this kind of person, rather than that, or that, or that.

As an infant, for example, she was almost always calm and focused, quietly absorbing whatever was happening around her. She looked as if she "got" everything-enduring life's tragedies, enjoying its comedies, and patiently awaiting the day she could comment on all of it. Today, with her verbal skills well honed, this description still fits the teenager who is one of my best friends and seems like an "old soul."

In my granddaughter I actually observed something I could once take only on faith; we are born with a seed of selfhood that contains the spiritual DNA of our uniqueness-an encoded birthright knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and how we are related to others.

We may abandon that knowledge as the years go by, but it never abandons us. I find it fascinating that the very old, who often forget a great deal, may recover vivid memories of childhood, of that time in their lives when they were most like themselves. They are brought back to their birthright nature by the abiding core of selfhood they carry within- a core made more visible, perhaps, by the way aging can strip away whatever is not truly us.

Philosophers haggle about what to call this core of our humanity, but I am no stickler for precision. Thomas Merton called it true self. Buddhists call it original nature or big self, Quakers call it the inner teacher or the inner light. Hasidic Jews call it a spark of the divine. Humanists call it identity and integrity. In popular parlance, people often call it soul...

What we name it matters little to me, since the origins, nature and destiny of call-it-what-you-will are forever hidden from us, and no one can credibly claim to know its true name. But that we name it matters a great deal. For "it" is the objective, ontological realty of selfhood that keeps us from reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs-diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives.

"Nobody knows what the soul is" says Mary Oliver; "it comes and goes/like the wind over the water." But just as we can name the functions of the wind, so we can name some of the functions of the soul without presuming to penetrate its mystery:
The soul wants to keep us rooted in the ground of our own being, resisting the tendency of other faculties, like the intellect and ego, to uproot us from who we are.
The soul wants to keep us connected to the community in which we find life, for it understands that relationships are necessary if we are to thrive.
The soul wants to tell us the truth about ourselves, our world, and the relation between the two, whether that truth is easy or hard to hear.
The soul wants to give us life and wants us to pass that gift along, to become life-givers in a world that deals too much death.

All of us arrive on earth with souls in perfect form. But from the moment of birth onward, the soul or true self is assailed by deforming forces from without and within; bu racism, sexism, economic injustice, and other social cancers; by jealousy, resentment, self-doubt, fear, and other demons of the inner life.

Most of us can make a long list of the external enemies of the soul, in the absence of which we are sure we would be better people! Because we so quickly blame our problems on forces 'out there,' we need to see h ow often we conspire on our own deformation: for every external power bent on twisting us out of shape, there is a potential collaborator within us. When our impulse to tell the truth is thwarted by threats of punishment, it is because we value security over being truthful. When our impulse to side with the weak is thwarted by threats of lost social standing, it is because we value popularity over being a pariah.

The power and principalities would hold less sway over our lives if we refused to collaborate with them. But refusal is risky, so we deny our own truth, take up lives of 'self-impersonation,' and betray our identities. And yet the soul persistently calls us back to our birthright form, back to lives that are grounded, connected, and whole.

From A Hidden Wholeness (Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, 2004)pages 32-34

A Reading from the Gospel of Mary

"Then I said to him:'Lord, when someone meets you in a Moment of vision, is it through the soul[psyche]that they see, or is it through the Spirit[Pneuma]?' The Teacher answered:'It is neither through the soul or the spirit, but the nous between the two which sees the vision..."

"And Craving said:'I did not see you descent, but now I see you rising. Why do you lie, since you belong to me? The soul answered: 'I saw you, though you did not see me, nor recognize me, I was with you as with a garment, and you never felt me." Having said this, the soul left, rejoicing greatly.

(LeLoup translation as quoted in The Magdalene Mystique)

Call to Conversation

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