Lincoln was trying to make a point. His hearer was unconvinced and stubborn. So Lincoln tried another tack. He said to the disputer, “Well, let’s see now. How many legs does a cow have?” The disgusted reply came back “Four, of course.” Lincoln agreed, “That’s right. Now, suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?” The opponent replied confidently, “Why, five, of course.” Lincoln came back, “Now that’s where you’re wrong. Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!”
“It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth . . .and so it goes away.Puzzling.” –Robert M. Pirsig
“Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline. Truth is the process of inquiry and dialogue itself, that keeps testing old conclusions and coming up with new ones. It is commitment to the conversation.” –Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach.
Long ago, there was a farmer who had problems. He was advised to go and see the Buddha, who was wise and would help him sort his life out. The Buddha asked him why he had come.
“I’m a farmer,” he said. “I love farming, but the problem is that sometimes there’s no rain, and we really struggle those years. Of course, sometimes we have the other problem, and there’s too much rain and the floods destroy everything.” But the man didn’t stop there.
“I also have a wife, Buddha. I love her, truly, but sometimes we don’t get on. To be honest, occasionally, she gets on my nerves. And my kids! They’re lovely kids. They’re great. Sometimes, though, they misbehave like you wouldn’t believe…”
The farmer went on and on like this. His in-laws were bothering him, he had money worries, he’d often tossed and turned in bed at night wondering about the meaning of life, and his left knee hurt. The Buddha listened patiently, smiled, and simply said, “I can’t help you.”
The farmer was astonished.
The Buddha continued, “Every person has 83 problems, every one of us. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe you can do this or that to fix them, but once one problem is gone, another one springs up in its place. More problems are coming – for example, you will lose your family and loved ones one day, and you yourself will die. That’s a problem you certainly can’t do anything about.”
The farmer, probably beginning to regret his visit, couldn’t help but ask angrily, “Well, I thought you could help! What’s the point of everything you teach if you can’t solve my problems?”
“Well, I can maybe help you with your eighty-fourth problem,” he said.
Pain is inevitable. It is an integral part of the human condition. It is our clinging to or resistance to pain that causes us problems.
“Every event has two handles, one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t. If your brother does you wrong, don’t grab it by his wronging, because this is the handle incapable of lifting it. Instead, use the other—that he is your brother, that you were raised together, and then you will have hold of the handle that carries.” –Epictetus
“Every problem has two handles. You can grab it by the handle of fear or the handle of hope.” –Margaret Mitchell
It was Christmas Eve at the famed Riverside Church in New York City, and with William Sloan Coffin, Jr. scheduled to preach, the pews were packed. The Christmas Pageant was on and had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary pregnant with Jesus.
The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who has Down Syndrome. Only one line to memorize and he had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.
So there Tim stood at the altar, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines, and waited for his reply. “There’s no room at the inn,” he boomed out, just as rehearsed.
But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” They turned back startled. “You can stay at my house,” he called.
Bill Coffin strode to the pulpit, said “Amen,” and sat down.
It was, as Marian Edelman says, the best sermon he never preached.
“You can stay at my house.” What does it mean to us? How has this story, this question, formed you and how you live you life? How has it influenced how you live and how you treat all those who cross your path?
What doors might we open this year to make room in our minds and hearts out should and our spirit to invite the love of the Christ Child into our lives more fully?
What doors might we need to open so that we feel less fearful, less anxious, less upset each day?
What doors might we need to carefully close … perhaps the doors that do not lead us to love, justice, beauty, peace, hope and understanding.
BLESSING BY SR JOYCE RUPP FOR THE MERGING NEW YEAR
Standing at the Gates of the New Year Sacred Mystery, Waiting on the threshold Of this new year, You open the gates And beckon to us: “Come! Come! Be not wary of what awaits you As you enter the unknown terrain, Be not doubtful of your ability To grow from its joys and sorrows. For I am with you. I will be your Guide. I will be your Protector. You will never be alone.” Guardian of this new year, We set aside our fear, worries, concerns, We open our lives to mystery, to beauty, To hospitality, to questions, To the endless opportunity Of discovering you in our relationships, And to all the silent wisps of wonder That draw us to your heart. We welcome your unfailing Presence
Once upon a time, there was a secluded island where all the feelings lived. Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, Anger, Trust and all the other feelings including Love. One day it was announced to the feelings that the island was going to sink, so they all had to vacate the island as soon as possible or die. All the feelings and company quickly began to prepare their boats to leave as soon as possible. Love was the only one who decided to stay and hold out until the last possible moment.
When the island had almost sunk, and Love wanted to leave, it found itself without a boat. Someone else must have taken it. Love, worried, decided to ask for help.
Richness was passing by in its most beautiful boat, and Love asked, “Richness, can you take me with you?” Richness answered, “No, I can’t. There is a lot of gold and silver in my boat and sadly there is no place here for you.”
Next, Love saw Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel. “Vanity, please help me!” pleaded Love. “I can’t help you, Love. You are all wet and would damage my boat if I take you in,” Vanity answered.
Sadness was close by, and Love asked for help once again, “Sadness, let me go with you.” Sadness unwillingly responded, “Oh…Love, I am so sad that I prefer to go alone!”
Happiness passed by Love too, but she was so happy and cheerful that she did not even hear anything when Love called her!
Love was in disbelief. It was doomed to go down with the island, but then suddenly there was an elderly voice, “Come, Love, I will take you.” When they arrived at dry land, the elder went on her own way. Love, now blessed and overjoyed, forgot to ask the elder her name.
Realising how much she owed to the elder, Love asked Wisdom, another elder, “Who was that who stopped to offer me a ride?”
“It was Time,” answered Wisdom. “Time? But why did Time help me?” asked Love.
Wisdom smiled and with compassion answered, “Because only Time is capable of understanding how valuable Love is.”
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (The Message)
We may not understand why things are unfolding the way they are but we can trust that Time will eventually reveal Love to us.
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” or as Leonard Sweet puts it, “Let not the sun go down on your dirt” (see Ephesians 4:26).
According to Leonard Sweet, when the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NRSV) he is really saying, “Do the dishes.”
Paul of Tarsus offers the same advice: when testifying to the dirty dishes strewn all over the church at Philippi, he speaks of “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13 NRSV).
Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.
She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little. Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed — incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”
It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries. No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you. If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” –Leo F. Buscaglia
“People get so in the habit of worry that if you save them from drowning and put them on a bank to dry in the sun with hot chocolate and muffins they wonder whether they are catching a cold.” –John Jay Chapman
Once upon a time, a small Jewish boy went to his rabbi and said he didn’t know how to love God. “How can I love God when I’ve never seen him?” asked the boy. “I think I understand how to love my mother, my father, my brother, my little sister, and even the people in our neighborhood, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to love God.”
The rabbi looked at the little boy and said, “Start with a stone. Try to love a stone. Try to be present to the most simple and basic thing in reality so you can see its goodness and beauty. Then let that goodness and beauty come into you. Let it speak to you. Start with a stone.” The boy nodded with understanding.
“Then, when you can love a stone,” the rabbi continued, “try a flower. See if you can love a flower. See if you can be present to it and let its beauty come into you. See if you can let its life come into you and you can give yourself to it. You don’t have to pluck it, possess it, or destroy it. You can just love it over there in the garden.” The boy nodded again.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong to pick flowers,” added the rabbi. “I’m just asking you to learn something from the flower without putting it in a vase.” The boy smiled, which meant he understood – or maybe he didn’t. Just in case he didn’t the rabbi chose the boy’s pet dog as the next object of loving and listening. The boy nodded and smiled when the rabbi talked about his dog; he even said, “Yes, Rabbi.”
“Then,” the rabbi went on, “try to love the sky and the mountains, the beauty of all creation. Try to be present to it in its many forms. Let it speak to you and let it come into you.” The boy sensed the rabbi wanted to say some more, so he nodded again, as if he understood.
“Then,” the rabbi said, “try to love a woman. Try to be faithful to a woman and sacrifice yourself for her. After you have loved a stone, a flower, your little dog, the mountain, the sky, and a woman, then you’ll be ready to love God.”
“If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” –1 John 4:20-21 (The Message)
Once upon a time, there was a giant oak tree in the middle of a city park. Its branches stretched out generously on every side so that the tree was a welcome haven for lots of creatures. Birds and squirrels nested high up in the forks of the tree. One morning, a small acorn in its hard leathery shell fell from the tree and plopped onto the carpet of grass beneath. It was a pretty little acorn. Luckily the jays and pigeons did not notice it, because had they seen it, they most certainly would have devoured it.
The acorn was happy with life on the lush grass and wanted things to remain just as they were. The last thing it wanted—God forbid!—was to become an oak tree. It had heard frightening stories about oak trees that had been cut down by human beings or had been struck by nasty bolts of lightning. The little acorn settled comfortably on the grass, and in the days and weeks that followed, it sank slowly and snugly into the soil beneath.
Eventually, the water from rain and the warmth of the sun conspired together to transform the acorn into a small green shoot. One day, the shoot cautiously poked up through the grass. It was not happy with this new state of affairs; it had changed and become a new self against its will.
“Well,” it resolved, “I’m not growing any taller than this.”
However, the park gardener took a liking to this fragile green sprout and started to nurture it. Each day he came by to see how it was doing, and he cleared away weeds so that the rays of the sun could shine directly on it. Before it knew what was happening, the shoot was on its way to becoming a sapling. It was devastated. Not only was life as an acorn irretrievably lost, but now it seemed that life as a shoot was gone forever as well. This really was out of order. It decided that enough was enough: it would not grow any leaves. But the park gardener was nothing if not persistent, and continued to care assiduously for this tender young tree. He fastened it against a stake to help it withstand strong winds, and regularly pruned its branches. In early spring, the first buds appeared, and then the first leaves. The leaves were large and green, and tipped with bristles. On the underside their delicate veins were clearly visible.
The young oak tree decided that this would truly be the end of the road: it did not want any more change. With all its might, it forbade each leaf from changing color in the fall. But the gentle gardener had other plans. He continued to watch over the tree. He watered its roots when the weather was dry. He fertilized the ground beneath it. Over time, its leaves changed to a rich red. Small groups of people began to gather in the park to look at what had now become a giant tree. They gazed spellbound as its leaves blazed red against the evening sky in autumn.
The huge oak tree became a generous home for human beings, animals, and birds. Squirrels built their dens between its sturdy branches. Many kinds of birds, from woodpeckers to red-tailed hawks, made their nests in it. New acorns grew and dropped from the tree to the lush grass beneath. Some were eaten by squirrels and blue jays. Others sank into the soil and began their own long journey to become future oak trees. The tree’s dense crown provided a cool umbrella against the sun’s glare in summer and the biting wind in winter. Yet the oak tree had still not come to terms with its lot.
But something happened one winter night that led to a groundbreaking change. An icy windstorm descended upon the park and wreaked havoc everywhere, badly damaging the huge oak tree as well. The next morning when the storm had passed, the gardener came by to check on the oak tree and saw that many of its branches were broken. He carefully cut them away and painstakingly applied soothing ointment to the tree. He placed heavy wooden planks around it and encircled the trunk in a wire mesh.
After working a long time on his knees at the base of the tree, the gardener paused for a moment. He turned his face upward. The giant oak tree looked down at his glowing face, a countenance that radiated wisdom and acceptance. At that moment, something changed for the oak tree. It was not a matter of becoming resigned to its fate or tolerating its lot; instead it now recognized its life as a blessing. Its leaves rustled in the wind and even its majestic trunk swayed slightly as it breathed in a newfound serenity and uttered a wholehearted yes.
“Never shy away from opportunity and wholehearted living. Never be fearful of putting yourself out there. The courageous may encounter many disappointments, experience profound disillusionment, gather many wounds; but cherish your scars for they are the proud emblems of a truly phenomenal life. The fearful, cautious, cynical and self-repressed do not live at all. And that is simply no way to be in this world.” ―Anthon St. Maarten
In a particular desert land peaches were very scarce. Some holy people of the land had a revelation which they put down in the following code: ‘Thou shalt not eat more than two peaches a day.’ Later some found the means to convert the desert into a garden. Trees started flourishing, peaches grew in plenty, so much so that they were falling from the trees and rotting on the ground. The young people began to rebel against the law on peaches, but the holy people were determined to maintain the law as they claimed it had been revealed by God. There were some people who ate more than two peaches a day and they were feeling guilty. Others also ate more than two peaches, and they didn’t feel guilty. Those among the young people who proclaimed, ‘It is all right to eat more than two peaches a day’ were punished. (Anthony de Mello)
Does your own code of morality stand up to reason? Does it work in practice or does it bring more inner tension than peace? Does it make you a less loving, a less happy person? Where does it go against common sense, and if it does, how do you deal with that?