This morning I decided to share with you, gentle reader, a longer passage from one of Greenleaf’s essays.  I will not comment upon it and I invite you to spend some time reflecting upon the story and Greenleaf’s interpretation in order to see what emerges for you.  Greenleaf writes:

One day a friend told of coming upon a scene in which two boys were kneeling in great concern over a grating that protected a sunken window well.  In the enclosed space was a beautiful butterfly that had apparently gone there in its earlier state.  When it emerged from the chrysalis as a butterfly it could not escape the bars; and the bars were firmly fixed.  Behind the two boys stood two women who had been attracted by the boys’ concern for the hurt of the natural world. 

But it can be seen another way.  Every aspect of it: the butterfly, the bars, the boys, the women can also be seen symbolically.  This simple scene then has the possibility of a great drama upon the inward stage in which these are parts of each of us. 

The butterfly might be our beautiful loving self (truly a gift of grace).  The bars can be the hardened attitudes of the inhuman in us that keep our natural loveliness imprisoned.  The boys could represent our creative capacity for awareness – youthful, naïve, trusting, wondering.  The adults may be our rational, responsible – perhaps impersonal – self that thinks of its role as good but would not be aware of the imprisoning beauty except as that awareness is mediated by the boys.

Seeing the story this way does not answer the human dilemma; it is not a key or a way out.  But it is a message – perhaps a great message – from the environment that could pass unnoticed.  It is part of the vast world of symbolic communication, the riches of wisdom in which we are all constantly immersed but which some of us miss altogether.  This could be what prompted William Blake to say, ‘if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to me as it is – infinite.’ 

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Greenleaf writes: The greater evil is in the hearts of those who deny their neighbor rather than in the wrong itself.  And I share this, too.  I may have more control than some, but I carry as great a burden of potential wrong as the next man…  The realization of this burden is partly what makes me a seeker.  And I do not expect that by some gift of grace I will be relieved of it, but rather by learning to love and to accept my own evil impulses, the way will be opened to growth…  I feel grateful that I am as other men; otherwise I would not have this opportunity.  ‘Every saint had a past; and every sinner has a future,’ said Oscar Wilde.

‘Who is my neighbor?’  For Christians Jesus responds to this with by telling us the parable of the Good Samaritan [see the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10 beginning with verse 29].  As human beings we are wounded (by ourselves and by others) in one or more of the four dimensions that define us as fully human beings.  We have a Physical Dimension, an Intellectual Dimension, an Emotional Dimension and a Spirit[ual] Dimension (for some, the concept of Spirit resonates and for others the concept of Spiritual resonates more and for others both resonate). 

Our ‘neighbor’ is the one we reach out to and serve when we find a person in a ‘ditch’ – wounded.  How often are we like the ‘good’ people who see the wounded person and walk on by or worse (I think) we do not even take notice of the wounded person?  Am I willing to ‘name’ my lack of response or my refusal to even notice as ‘evil’?  The great Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel (a favorite author of Greenleaf) powerfully reminds us: ‘Few are Guilty, but All are Responsible.’  The great Anglican minister, Phillips Brooks chimes in with: ‘If you want to know the worth of a human soul, try to save one.’

Am I willing to admit – and feel grateful – that ‘I am as other men’?   Am I willing to admit that I have impulses that move me to choosing the ‘good, the beautiful, and the true’ and that I have impulses that move me to choosing the ‘evil, the ugly and the false’?  Greenleaf reminds us, over and over, that at our healthiest we are living paradoxes.  How often do I resist, if not deny, this about myself?

At this time in his life, Greenleaf was a Quaker and in his writings he invited us into his faith-tradition via his word/concept choice.  In this passage he speaks directly about his need to ‘learn to love.’  Earlier in this essay he wrote: ‘Then I married a woman [Esther] who taught me what love could mean and that it is, as Paul said, the greatest.  And we learned together.’  He also reminds us that he had to learn to accept my own evil impulses.  Both journeys are deeply rooted in the Quaker tradition. 

Greenleaf adds another Quaker belief: The Way will be opened.  For the Quaker who is paying attention, first to ‘in here’ more than ‘out there’ and who is committed to searcher and seeking (and is constantly preparing) ‘Way Will Open’ – and, of course, ‘Way Will Close.’ 

If I choose to ‘see’ and be open to ‘responding to’ my neighbor ‘The Way will be opened.’  If I prepare myself I will then be able to respond with the ‘better angels of my nature.’ 

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Greenleaf writes: the search is a lonely affair.  …as with the early Christians, there are brilliant bursts of a group effort, they succumb quickly to the leveling effect of organization.  This may be for the best, I do not know.  But I do believe that every seeker must face who he is – alone; and that it is disturbing – sometimes terrifying – until he learns to love himself as he is and to see, as Emerson puts it, the good of evil born (not the evil in men’s deeds but the evil in men’s hearts).

Our great President, Abraham Lincoln, reminded us that it is crucial for each of us to tap into and live into and out of ‘the better angels of our nature.’  He was intimately aware that he, like each of us, is, at his best, a living paradox.  Greenleaf notes that as living paradoxes we have the potential to be BOTH good and evil (his words).  Others have described our living paradox as ‘virtue and vice’ or ‘light and darkness.’  Those who view themselves as all light forget (or is it deny) that with light comes shadow and darkness – Big Lights cast Big Shadows and cover Great Darkness. 

Because of certain life experiences some come to view themselves (or others come to view them) as primarily ‘evil’ or ‘vice’ or ‘darkness.’  The good, the virtue and the light are hidden from oneself and from others.  It is easy to forget that even the most dastardly person who ever lived was at one time an innocent four year old child – full of light.  Christians have a guide – which we do not like to be reminded of – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!’  The more modern version of this is: ‘You live in a glass house, so don’t throw stones.’ 

As Greenleaf notes, the search for who I am as a living paradox is a lonely search.  No one can do the search for me.  Because I am a living paradox my search, if diligently attended to, will reveal to me – and others – both my light and my darkness, my virtues and my vices, and my potential to do great good and to do great evil. 

Receiving the support of a community can help me as I search.  The community can also help me avoid or deny one or the other of the two polarities of good-evil, virtue-vice or light-darkness.  Some communities focus on the ‘good,’ or the ‘virtues,’ or the ‘light’ and downplay, if not deny, the ‘evil,’ or the ‘vice,’ or the ‘darkness.’  Other communities believe that we humans are not truly living paradoxes but that we are, by nature, ‘evil’ or ‘vice’ or ‘darkness.’ 

Greenleaf, Lincoln and Emerson provide us with support: We are living paradoxes   and we can call forth the better angels and we can birth the ‘good’ that lies dormant in our hearts.  By the by, none of these three folks – nor has any wisdom figure throughout the ages – used the phrase ‘this will be easy’.  This is our life’s work and we must continuously work our work and we must remain vigilant for the forces of evil, vice and darkness are powerful indeed – especially those that lie within each of us waiting to be called forth. 

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Greenleaf writes: I did not begin to find my way to a knowledge of my own uniqueness until by chance (but there is no chance) I became aware of seekers who were on the path ahead of me, not necessarily going in my direction but men and women whom I came to accept as guides, guides who only had at heart my getting lost.  Because they were seekers some of them were lonely and welcomed my interest in them so that they could show their interest in me.  Interest became the lamp.   

Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Directive’ is a challenge to understand AND is easy to love.  Greenleaf also loved this poem and in the quotation today he directly references Frost’s poem with this words: ‘guides who only had at heart my getting lost.’  Here are the opening lines to Frost’s poem: Directive

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost. . .

The story the poem tells is deceptively simple: We are led on a walk through the woods by a mischievous guide past the site of a former town. At a brook, beside a “house that is no more a house,” the guide produces a broken goblet and encourages us to “drink and be whole again beyond confusion.” 

What it was that had become “too much” for Frost, whether a personal grief or the “universal crisis” engendered by the war years, is hard to say. Whatever the cause of Frost’s apprehension, his withdrawal from the world is total. His “Directive” to readers (for he is also our guide, who “only has at heart [our] getting lost”) takes us on an interior journey into a remote countryside, where civilization has been effaced. Only when we are completely lost may we come to our true selves: “And if you’re lost enough to find yourself / By now, pull in your ladder road behind you / And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.”  This recurring theme of having to become lost in order to find oneself is thousands of years old and so, for me, it is a    theme that I must pay attention to as I search and seek. 

As always, Greenleaf begins in here and not out there.  Our search is first and fore-most an inner search.  Our guide is our inner guide or is our inner guide in the guise of an outer guide – a seeker one meets along the way; a seeker who is on the path ahead of the one seeking.  This seeker knows that the journey is an inward journey and it is manifested outwardly.  This seeker also knows that one must become lost in order to find.  The guide’s task is to help us become lost.  What a guide!

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Greenleaf writes: I went through a long wilderness period in which I sought resources outside myself and ignored the rich endowment in my own uniqueness – the great inward source of inspiration which every man can claim as his own because of his own access to it.  Only as what is uniquely me emerges do I experience moments of true creativity, moments which when deeply felt temper the pain of long periods of frustration that are the common lot of most of us and give me the impulse and the courage to act with force and wisdom in the outside world.

Anyone who has spent time in ‘the wilderness’ knows of what Greenleaf speaks.  Greenleaf’s ‘What’ gives me pause for it is a ‘What’ that I am intimately familiar with.  ‘What’ he was doing in his wilderness was seeking ‘resources outside’ of himself.  I cannot begin to count the number of books I have read, the number of workshops and seminars I have attended all for the purpose of finding ‘the answer’ outside of myself. 

My outward focus denied me, as it did Greenleaf, access to the in here that Greenleaf speaks of in his writings.   I was aware of all of the wisdom traditions that counseled one to go within, be quiet, create inner space and allow one’s inner teacher-guide-advisor to emerge and speak.  Because I was focused out there I was not able to believe and trust the wisdom traditions and so I was unable to invite my inner guide to speak – my external focus successfully quieted my inner guide’s voice.  Simply stated: I did not trust my inner guide; I did not trust myself. 

Gradually, with the help of my mentors over many years, I began to ‘experience moments of true creativity’.  With the support of many folks I embraced my fear and found lurking behind my fear ‘courage’ (think: ‘heart’) waiting to be called forth.  With the support of many I embraced my fear and courage and began to trust my creative gifts and to act with force – if not always wisdom. 

I continue to seek to learn from resources that reside outside of myself – and in times of great doubt and frustration I still stumble and rely upon them to bolster me up.  Overall, however, I am more trusting of my own inner guide and of my own gifts, talents, abilities and capacities.  I am less fearful to bring my creative energies to the outside world.  I even seem to be growing in wisdom. 

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