Set Fire to Heaven…

“I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that no one worships God
for fear of hell or greed of heaven.”
Rabia, Eighth-century Sufi mystic poet

Photo Courtesy of Dave Grant, 2011, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Dave Grant, 2011, 2015

Night Drenched

The night dripped fat wet drops of rain down from fluttering leaves overhead…down, splat…smacking down on my clothes. The top of my head, sending prickling sensation waves drifting through my skin. A pat here, a splotch there. Silence rustling through the trees, bushes whispering wordless meaning richer than that last inspiration blast from the latest booming voice. To sit there was meaning itself…inhaling great gulping breaths of air heavy with life, with all the purpose bees know and flowers grow without so much as a word of wisdom or motivation to guide them or trip them up on notions of fancy living, quietly unfolding this song no one can fathom beyond the moment, intensely singing out their color ministrations oblivious of their purpose. Yet, so fat with it. My feet thanked the earth’s hum, an hour gone into my skin, my bones, my blood a pounding thank you to the pulse now sounding me to sleep ‘neath covers revolutionized by the feel of earth-laden body. The song of trees, flowers, dirt and rain coursing through my veins, reminding me no great mission, no mighty aspiration compares to the fullness of a now spent and spending stories in my skin, night’s breeze wiping away strife, drowning out all the clutter.

Not Your Business…

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

Quote by biographer Agnes de Mille in “Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham”

The world experienced a unique expression of vitality in the active life of someone I loved from a young age. And sometimes I circle ’round and ’round the conundrum in my mind created by the somewhat immature conflict over why it is I can be so very glad he did what he did when I don’t share in the basic premise of his beliefs, that we have all sinned and fallen short. But I land on this quote and find the conundrum is only in my mind.

The soul makes sense no rational thought can fully comprehend.

The one who had such a profound effect on many, and died this past Friday, was very much a “Christ-in-you,” highly religious person but oftentimes with an undercurrent of Zen flow. John was more like a highly believing inspiration. And it was a challenge to fathom that combination of Zen Christ-likeness. And in retrospect, I cannot fathom except through this quote.

“There is a vitality. A life force. A quickening.”

And in this one man, it was contagious. It came through and was received by many as a call to Christ. And when I walked away from what I had embraced of the semi-fundie world I formerly resided, that which came through was not completely lost. Love remained. Acceptance remained. The same soulful transaction took place but my “receptors” had changed. This is not true of everyone I’ve encountered from my past life. Their channels are clogged with judgement and fear. His were not.

We often, if not always, translate who we are by the sometimes ancient, sometimes recent code of dependency, particularly dependency on beliefs or thoughts we are either intentionally or unintentionally embracing. And in that translation, the world either rejects or embraces us. Or is ambivalent. John mostly experienced hearty acceptance and he embodied what is best known of Christ, beyond the ultimate sacrifice. He loved regardless of ________.

I have no stomach for sin-fixation or a basic premise of need for a savior. But in the celebration of John’s life, the undeniable reality shines through all the confusing mental riddles. He translated the life force we all partake of and that translation imparted hope, strength, a desire to live outside of fear and in love. Both in and out of the realms of semi-fundie confusion. He said often “You are the Your Name Here expression of Jesus.” And many were blown away by it. It set aside the “WWJD” fixation and required a personal expression of Christ. In my view, both in and out of that particular flavor of Christianity, it is the purest form of Christian practice, evoking the highest possible walk of integrity within the structure of that religion and it has my high regard.

And so today I came across this quote again from a source supreme. And I found peace in the words not because they solved the riddle as much as because they pointed me to the reality of soul, of life force and of how it is we can receive the best from those we may not totally agree with and we can receive because there is that life force nourishing us within and beyond all belief systems.

“Keep the channel open.” He was able to keep the channel open through his faith in Christ. And not many, in and out of Christianity, have found a way to keep that channel open. His life and passing into the next grand adventure reminds me that we don’t know what we think we know. “Christianity is bad because it…” The truth is, when we are sick within, whatever we embrace will be corrupted by that sickness until we face it, heal it and translate life anew. Whether we’re heavy into our atheism or our religion or…

Keep the channel open…accept who you are without denying how you’ve fallen short (we all do, whether we believe there’s this thing called “sin” or not) and…

stay in love.

Drops of December…

Drops of December don’t always feel bright or cheery or anything short of challenging. Of course, there’s always the “drop” and “down” aspect of that word, that gee, trajectory? Wait. Wrong direction! Or maybe not. In any case, snow falls down in drops of frozen wonder. I wonder if this means my downward spirals are a cosmic display of something lil kid gods squeal with glee over as they sit at their windows from on high, happy to miss creation school or lightning bolt assembly day… “Oh look! It’s snowing!” (I’m a snowflake, ok? Stick with me.) What do we know, really…? Maybe we’re all drops of something for some unfathomable force out there to curse at or delight in or build something with. Or.

Ok, nevermind. Maybe this is how I feel today. (Maybe?) Like a whimsical flotsam for the gods. But not. There’s a sense of being this delight of shining something. (Even when I’m “down.”) Why? Because at every turn, with all the challenges and daunting obstructions, there’s this inevitable ground zero reality I can only call love. I may run into yet one more dilemma with one of my kids but we land on our feet, and we’re closer for it. There may be one more delay, one more setback but it doesn’t hinder our capacity to open up to love, to kindness, or even to the wonder of restful repose.

So, drops of December … here’s to a pile-up of delight. Or a redburst of berry pleasure or…

j. ruth kelly, 2012

j. ruth kelly, 2012

Specifically Human

This Sunday my youngest son participated in the bell choir at a local church. It wasn’t just any worship service. It was a Moravian feast candlelight service. I sat there (and stood and sang hymns and held the candle and broke bread) looking up at the chandeliers and all around at the lights and decorations of the season and wondered why I felt glad to be there. Former semi-fundie no longer of religion sitting in a pew. With sister to my right and son and daughter to my right and the father of my children too. It was, once again, an odd arrangement of purposes. I was there to honor my son’s love of the bells and all things group. He loves community and has felt estranged from it all by our very unique way of living. His parents co-parent ‘though divorced and don’t fight, squabble or otherwise do anything but support each other in nurturing three beautiful lives. This is odd. We foster love and generosity in their lives and educate them on different paths of spirituality, as we’re able. And we live in a town that is 99.9% uber Christian. So, we are even more odd. And add to that the fact that we sit in what is actually a beautiful church with thoughtful and caring souls and we are that much more odd. We can go where we don’t “belong” and yet find belonging. And I realized, as I sat there, that I was glad to be there apart from the wonder of hearing my son in chime rhyme with all of his choir friends.

It was perplexing to me. On the one hand I knew immediately that it was that part of me longing to belong to a group bigger than my own clan, my own little world. I watched the bell choir director and her passion, knowing from her own revealing that she was struggling with some deeply challenging grief. And she stood there giving with whole heart.

There are, to my mind anyway, so many deep flaws in Christianity and so I walked out. But there I sat. Glad to be. And today I find this from Fromm:

“The most important sphere of giving…lies in the specifically human realm. What does one person give to another? He gives himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other–but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness–of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

And I realize that the source of perplexity in my mind was the recognition that there was something deeply and authentically good about my being glad to be there. And that it didn’t mean I had changed my mind about my place in Christianity (not IN but with those who can be in it without being destructive). It meant that I could appreciate the flow of giving that occurs in these odd arrangements of purpose. I wondered, as I sat there, why are these folks here? Each family. Each person. Why? Do they do it by rote? Is it just another habit? And as I wondered that, it occurred to me that even that didn’t matter. I knew, without being able to say so to myself, that they were there to partake of each other. Even if stiffly assembled in long pews of wooden restriction. It is a place of sharing, of opening up to receive and reaching out to give.

And in the one most cherished verse of a long-favored hymn…

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel…

We inherit our delusions sometimes, or our blind acceptance of long-held beliefs passed down from generation to generation. Or we openly, knowingly choose our walk of faith. We are an odd arrangement of reasons and purpose. And we resonate to what is inherently human within both our delusions and our beliefs. We do the best we can until we learn what more we can give, what more we can know, what more we can discover.

And sometimes we make ourselves odd. We disrupt the rhythm and cast off the tradition. But ultimately, we all want the same thing. To know and be known in love, to give and receive of our stories. The only way to do that is to meet each other where we are, as we are, without insistence on agreement in all things. We have this common ground…

j. ruth kelly, 2012 all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2012 all rights reserved