May 06 2013

Try Something Different!

Published by at 9:00 pm under Minister's Musings

You and I have spoken all these words, but as for the way
we have to go, words
are no preparation.
So begins a beautiful poem called “A Necessary Autumn Inside Each,” by the Sufi poet Rumi, found in The Soul of Rumi in Coleman Barks’s translation.
Something in me stirs whenever I hear a poet, prophet, or philosopher speak about the limits of our knowing. At that edge of what we know, we must step forward into the unknown or else turn back to the familiar and risk stagnation, a kind of death. As my friend Dr. Mark Hicks says, this limit of our knowing is where we “dance at the edge of meaning.” It is where we must learn something new. There, we have the choice to let go of old ways of living and being that no longer bring health, happiness, and wholeness to us and others. It’s where we dare to “try something different.”
Perhaps you are experiencing this edge of knowing in your own struggles to make sense of life.
Rumi’s poem concludes with this urging:
Very little grows on jagged
rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up
where you are. You’ve been
stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.
Photo of autumn leaf

I have included the term “surrender” among our transformational themes because of this mystical understanding of it: that when we “crumble,” wildflowers can grow up through us. This kind of surrender invites us to be humble yet open—to be “right-sized.” When we human beings are right-sized, we do not allow ourselves to feel puny or helpless, as though we have no agency to make ourselves and this world a better place. But neither do we see ourselves as all-knowing and all-powerful, as superior to or more important than other creatures. When we are right-sized, we find our true place in the interdependent web of all existence, and then, using our own best gifts and capacities, we participate in tikkun olam – the Hebrew term for healing the world – knowing that we can do much, yet that we always, always have more to learn.
As I write this essay, we have experienced a horrible week: explosions in Boston, a violent manhunt that continues even as I type; more explosions in Texas, more deaths and destruction; Congress turning down anti-violence bills that 90 percent of us support; and news from my colleagues ministering in the face of violence and loss in their local communities. It breaks my heart. An attitude of “letting go”
and “surrender” seems too passive in the face of so much that needs healing, changing, repairing.
And yet … Sometimes we are called to be still. To let go of our need to fix or control, which is so often driven by fear. We need instead to sit with our sadness, in community, recognizing how tragedy can bind us even closer into kinship. Kinship with all who endure violence daily; with all who cannot fathom how to heal their own suffering except through a violent lashing out; with all who generously weave webs of relative safety, comfort, care, and compassion; with all who mourn and with all who help us find ways to laugh and to rejoice in life and love once again.
Another poem speaks to this moment, and to our theme, too. In “The Real Work,” by Wendell Berry (Collected Poems), Berry says,
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work.
If we are not at least a little baffled by all that life presents to us, then we are not really showing up, this poet suggests. This is when our true journey begins. May this poet’s vision, like Rumi’s, help us move beyond the edge of our knowing into a new and softer place where we can be of use.
With love for the journey and for each of you,
Rev. Nancy

P.S. You can read the full poems on-line:
Rumi, “A Necessary Autumn Inside Each,”
Berry, “The Real Work,”

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