A Morning Offering
I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
~ John O'Donohue ~
You take a final step and, look, suddenly you're there.
You've arrived at the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.
What did you want to be?
You'll remember soon. You feel like tinder under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change.
The sky is pulsing against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock,
you've made a lasting impression on the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising meandering lifeline.
What have you learned so far? You'll find out later,
Telling it haltingly like a dream,
that lost traveler's dream under the last hill
Where through the night you'll take your time out of mind
to unburden yourself of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.
You've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there, but getting there,
So you're standing again and breathing,
beginning another journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom, The end of endings.
~ David Wagoner ~
This holiday season, for the first time since I moved to England, I spent the week between Christmas and New Years in London. And what I want to know is where did everyone go? Walking around was surreal. This city has a population of about 8 million people. on Christmas Eve, about 7.9 million were out shopping – they were mostly wherever I tried to go. But by Boxing day, there were only 23 of us left!
At the same time, the quiet of the city seemed appropriate for the change in the calendar. As we stand at the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, we are in transition time – what is sometimes called a liminal time - from the Latin “limin” meaning threshold. In truth, we are always at the threshold between the old and the new - the past stretching out behind us unalterable and the future beckoning with possibility. But it is at times like these when we become aware again - and the secular ritual of the New Year marks this time in a very special way.
And as we look into the unknown future, it is the custom among our people to resolve to do things differently than we did in the past. No longer will we eat a pint of ice cream at one sitting - yea - verily - we shall divide it in half. In this New Year, we will quit smoking, lose a stone or two, take up yoga, exercise more, drink less, and spend less money.
And we shall make these resolutions on the first day of the year with great solemnity and with unfaltering commitment. And we shall just as surely break them within the following week!
We all know that New Year’s resolutions don’t work terribly well. It’s also obvious that part of that is due to the kind of resolutions we make. We expect that somehow the patterns that we have established over many years can be changed overnight, just because the calendar is changed.
Despite the poor success rate of New Year’s resolutions, we can change ourselves. Whether we recognised it at the time or not, we have all made decisions that changed our futures – and we make decisions like that all the time. Some of them are big decisions: what we would study, who we would spend our lives with, where we would live, what job we would do. But even the simplest decisions can have great consequences. If you think for a moment about where you are in your life right now, you will surely recognise that any of a number of small decisions, if taken differently, would have put you somewhere else entirely today.
For me, if I had not baked cookies one day many years ago, I would not have had a fateful meeting with my future wife. And if I hadn’t baked one kind – some particularly delicious chocolate lace cookies – we would almost certainly not have married. Everything would be different.
Our futures will come whether we choose to shape them or not.
Anais Nin, the 20th century French Cuban author spoke about change as essential to life when she wrote: “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”
Perhaps one of the most important reasons we come here – why we want to be part of a spiritual community – is that, recognising the constancy of change in our lives, we choose to shape our futures and we come together to learn and support one another in that process.
In the journey of our lives, as in any journey, we must set a course in order to get somewhere. We set a destination. We make commitments. They are not unlike New Years resolutions, but resolutions of the usual sort are not nearly big enough. We need great audacious goals. We will not necessarily realise those goals, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “A man may fulfill the object of his existence by asking a question he cannot answer, and attempting a task he cannot achieve.”
And we know:
Losing a stone or two will not bring life satisfaction
Exercising more will not provide meaning
Eating less meat will not show us the sacredness of life
Quitting smoking will not bring us deep peace
Reducing our drinking will not show us the unity of existence
And spending a few quid less will not bring us into harmony with the divine
Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi death camps to become an author and keen observer of human nature, commends the quest toward a lofty aspiration when he writes “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
We need high aspirations. We need big goals and vast dreams that can change our lives and put us on the path you want to be on. What commitment might truly propel your growth toward wholeness? What resolution will powerfully change your life for the better?
In response to such a question, some might focus on traditional religiosity and reach toward a more devout belief or more faithful observance or practice.
Some might focus on connections to others and how they relate to them. They may speak of compassion, generosity, understanding or love.
Others might think about responsibility and about a sense of taking charge of their own lives or living with integrity.
Still others might focus on recognising the good things of this world. They might use words like acceptance, awe, wonder and gratitude.
In the words of Henri Bergson, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”
How will you choose to continue to create yourself? Let us now share a time of silence as we each consider our own journey and how our commitments today can shape that journey.
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance--
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave . . .
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
A Walk, by Rainer Maria Rilke. As Rilke reminds us, we are changed by what we move towards, even if we never reach it. The quest itself has value.
But we have left unanswered the question of why it is so hard to keep our resolutions - so difficult to live up to our commitments to change ourselves. Scott Peck offers this insight:
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling
deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled
by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for
different ways or truer answers.”
Change comes not with a glass of champagne in the hand, fireworks in the air, and a gleeful “Happy New Year!” on the lips. When we look back at all the times we have changed in a significant way, we are likely to notice that in most of those instances, our hands were forced. We did not easily leave the comfort of the old for the promise of the new.
It is often said that “when one door closes, another opens.” There is much truth in these words, but this maxim cheerfully overlooks the turmoil involved in change. A more complete version goes like this: “when one door closes, another opens, but it’s hell in the hallway!”
A popular saying of uncertain origin helps to clarify the difficulty of change: “The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
It is that sacrifice that is so very difficult. It is the difficulty of relaxing the clenched fingers from their secure handhold that keeps us from making that next move forward. Although the place where we cling to the rock face may be uncomfortable, unforgiving, and battered by icy winds – to move towards our goal means giving up the known for the unknown. But remaining here can not move us forward.
We can not be grateful for life while grasping always for more
We can not know unity with others while hiding ourselves in fear
We can not exercise generosity without confidence that we have enough
We can not experience peace while scrambling for achievement and recognition
We can not find meaning when we are attached to the meaningless
We can not love one another until we are willing to risk being hurt
We can not change until we can accept ourselves as we are
Moving forward requires letting go of something we feel we need – something known, familiar, and seemingly secure.
You should have received a slip of paper and a pencil or pen as you arrived today. Take a moment now to write something you might need to let go of to move forward on your journey - to grow again - to reach high.
This is the liminal time. We stand at the threshold of a New Year with all its possibilities as yet unwritten. When you are ready, take that slip of paper with something that is holding you back and commit it to the flames. Leave behind what must be left behind as you move into your future.
Alan Cohen offered these wise words:
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”
So may it be with you.