A few weeks ago I met a friend for coffee at one of my favorite haunts on St. Paul’s Eastside. It is a cozy place that always displays local artist’s work on the walls and up a sunny staircase. I settled in with my cup of strong coffee and one of their signature spice cookies with brown-butter icing and began taking in the paintings that lined the equally buttery colored walls. Most were shadowy prints of people…probably musicians I know nothing about. But one painting grabbed my attention and I had to snap a photo of it…for its truth and its confrontation.
“We are all horrible & wonderful & figuring it out.” I thought of the truth of that statement and how I most often want it to be one or the other. We live, particularly in these days, in a world that draws stark black and white, either-or, dualistic pictures of our fellow humans. Being horrible usually means those who don’t agree with my way of seeing things, my way of being in the world. Being wonderful means, of course, all those folks who see the world with a lens pretty similar to my own. Walking the balance of this tightrope is a constant battle.
While I may argue with the notion of being horrible, I have certainly done horrible things and will likely do many more before I leave this Earth. I wish it weren’t so. All humans have done horrible acts. As one who holds with the idea that each of us is created in the image of the Sacred, I lean toward the idea of being wonderful. And that shade of wonderful is a gift to everyone…even those who have a drastically different take of what Creation holds than I do. It is humbling.
But the part of this piece of artwork that is most compelling to me is the “ & figuring it out” piece. Every day is an act and an art of ‘figuring it out’, isn’t it? Every day I get up and am confronted once again with the myriad choices of horrible and wonderful. It becomes the breakfast cereal of dailiness…horrible? wonderful? And sometimes the fine line between those two carry shadows that make choice perplexing.
This morning I read the teaching of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn: “I take one breath to let go, one breath to be here, one breath to ask now what?” It seems to me this is our daily work as those who are both horrible & wonderful & figuring it out. Breathe in..let go what might be nudging us toward horrible. Breathe…be here and embrace the wonderful in us and in the world. Breathe…as we figure out the ‘now what’? Over and over and over.
Each day is another opportunity to figure it out. The energy and presence we bring to the world is our chance to shine forth the wonderful image of the Holy in which we were all created. It will, I believe, take much deep breathing.
Ready, set, go….
Another year, come and gone. It is a year that has known highs and lows…like all years. It is a year that has seen beauty and tragedy…like all years. It is a year that has seen moments of peace and deep divide…like all years. It is a year when love has been strong and hate an unwelcome companion…like all years. We have seen births that have brought joy and deaths that have ripped at our hearts. Illness has visited. Inspiration has triumphed. Creativity has blossomed. Failure has cut us to the quick. Despair and delight have been our dance partners.
And now we stand at the cusp of another year. Resolutions have been made. Goals have been set. Regrets have been named, forgiveness is within our reach. Hopes are ever present as they always are when the page on the calendar is turned and its newness, its blank canvas is before us. And while the numbering of days and the shift of the year is in some ways artificial, created for order from our human need, there is something about the turn of New Year. It spells another chance to become the fullness of who we believe ourselves capable of being.
As I have looked ahead to this new year with some trepidation, I have thought of a very short two verse poem written by Coleman Barks that made its way into a collection of poetry compiled for the turn of the millennium. Remember that? The power and promise of the year 2000! Barks writes: “A child stood on his seat in a restaurant, holding the railing of the chairback, as though to address a courtroom, ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.’ Then his turning-slide back down to his food, relieved and proud to say the truth, as were we to hear it.”
I remember the first time I read this, I laughed out loud…at the wisdom and audacity of the child…as I imagined the people in the restaurant’s reactions…as I imagined what my own might have been. But each time I read these words, I am struck again by their truth. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.” We may plan. We may hope. We may speculate. We may wring our hands and drop to our knees in fear or prayer or both. What will happen next still eludes us, is often outside our ability to shape it.
There is a deep sense of uncertainty that abounds as we enter this new year. Perhaps it is an uncertainty that many of us have never felt so profoundly. And still the truth is that we do not know what is going to happen next. And yet, as I have shared in the uncertainty and even given in to anxiety, the one thing that prevails for me is that I believe the Holy is in the midst of it all. I continue to believe that the Universe tilts toward goodness and that light is always stronger than any darkness that threatens.
And so I step into 2017 knowing little about what will happen next but confident of the One who breathed us all into being and walks with us through uncertainty each and every day and onward into eternity.
Blessed New Year to you all….