A CENTRAL ATTITUDE. . .

Greenleaf writes: A central attitude for him who believes it his duty to remake the world and bring it more in accord with virtue and justice, with his own heart, is, ‘This is the day!’  So many able people I have known have nullified their effectiveness by living in a past that will never return or in a visionary future that may never materialize, and the opportunity to be grasped here and now slips by them…

There are moments that contain eternity.  Try to see the moment ‘now’ not as an instantaneous fraction of clock time but as a focus of intensity in which the bright intense center ‘is’ this instant of clock time but which, as the intensity of the light recedes from the center, extends back into historic events and forward into the indefinite future – a sort of moving average…

Even if the present center of this span of time carries for you illness, suffering, and loss, this is the day.  It is what you have now!

I love these three passages.  I remember the first time I read them – 1978; I recall that I put the essay down and reflected upon these passages – they still give me pause.  Do I hold a ‘a central attitude’ regarding my ‘duty’ to help ‘remake’ the world ‘in accord with virtue and justice’?  Do I hold a ‘central attitude’ about anything?  If so, what?  If I do hold a ‘central attitude’ what do I choose to then enact?

Greenleaf reminds me that ‘This is the day!’   There is no other day.  How often do I neglect ‘this day’ and ruminate about the past or spend time imaging the future?  To what extent do I believe that my ‘effectiveness’ is directly related to how much time I spend in the ‘now’ rather than ruminating about the past or imaging the future?  How many ‘now’ opportunities have I missed?  What is the opportunity ‘now’ – sitting right here as I put finger to key?  Right now am I holding an attitude that as I put finger to key I am helping to ‘remake’ my world, if not ‘the’ world?

Do I ‘see’ and ‘experience’ this ‘now’ with a focused intensity?  This is the opportunity!  This is MY opportunity!  Because I took the time in 1978 to stop and reflect I now have the opportunity today.  Because I have stopped at other times during these past decades and reflected upon this passage I am more aware of the opportunity ‘now.’

Greenleaf concludes this passage with another idea – no matter what, ‘This is the day!’  This is, truly, what I have now!  So. . . How will I choose to spend this ‘now’?  I now have an image of Clint Eastwood glaring down at me and I can hear him asking me: ‘Well, punk, what are you going to do with your day today?’

Tomorrow is promised to no one. –Clint Eastwood

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DON’T WRITE US OFF. . .

Responsible people build –Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf writes: … ‘all’ of my generation are not hopeless – just some.  Don’t write us off.  Rather make note that some crucial roles in remaking the world to bring it more in accord with virtue and justice, with our own hearts, can best be carried on by ‘old’ people.  If you really want to use your life well, if remaking the world concerns you ‘now,’ file a little mental ticket to the effect that ‘some’ of what you can do about it can best be done when ‘you’ are old, and some whose leadership you should now be following are old.  …in old age, they can do what striving people cannot do.  Had John XXIII been made Pope at fifty rather than at eighty, he might not have left his great mark upon the world.  He might have been too enmeshed in the bureaucracy, too concerned with his place in it.  He would have had to think of living with his mistakes for another thirty years.  At eighty he could rise above these concerns. 

But the sensitivity, the strength, the mature humanity needed to play his great role were not suddenly bestowed upon John at eighty.  These attributes were the fulfillment of a life style that was set in his youth, and he nourished them, kept them alive, through sixty years of bureaucratic participation.  He was a great human being all of his long life because he made some important choices when he was young. 

To what extent does our culture in the United States seek out those who are ‘eighty-wise’?   In what ways do we provide those between the ages of 14-60 (to pick an age range) access to those who are ‘eighty-wise’?   Sitting here this morning I can only think of one ‘eighty-wise’ person I know (and this person I do not know well).  I can image a number of folks who are in their 70s and whom I deem to be ‘wise.’  Some authors whose words continue to deeply influence my thinking wrote in their 80s (Tolstoy comes to mind); many others, however never lived long enough to celebrate an 80th birthday.

I do remember John XXIII.  I was deeply moved by his commitment to ‘open the doors’ and let fresh air in – along with the Holy Spirit.  The current Pope, Francis, although he is not eighty-wise is also committed to letting some more fresh air in – along with the Holy Spirit.  The Roman Church is a great example of an aged bureaucracy; one that needs to be challenged by those who possess ‘eighty-wise’   thinking.  For me, an irony is that many of the folks in the Roman Church bureaucracy who are in their 70s and 80s are rigid bureaucrats and will continue to resist, if not abhor, the fresh-air (perhaps even the Holy Spirit).

How might we seek out, invite, and learn from the voices of the ‘eighty-wise’?  How might we then connect those between ages 14-60 with the ‘eighty-wise’?

Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead is the watchword of the wise –Goethe

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‘RESPONSIBILITY IS A DIFFICULT THING’

In 1966 Greenleaf wrote: Responsibility is a difficult thing to talk about.  It is often seen as that which others should have more of.  Few of us think of ourselves as irresponsible; the admission would be too devastating.  We all do pretty well at rationalizing our own acts of commission and omission that bear on responsibility.

 Most definitions of responsibility imply conformity with conventional expectations, conventional morality, or being deterred by consideration of known sanctions or consequences.  Such definitions imply that the rules and penalties are all set and the responsible person is one who carefully stays within bounds.  I prefer not to use the word responsibility to mean conformity to expectations (although a sensible person always does some of that).  Rather I think of responsibility as beginning with a concern for self, to receive that inward growth that gives serenity of spirit without which someone cannot truly say, ‘I am free.’  One moves, then, to a response to one’s environment, whatever it is, so as to make a pertinent force of one’s concern for one’s neighbor – as a member of a family, a work group, a community, a world society.  The outward and inward are seen as parts of the same fabric.  Responsible persons have both. 

Once again Greenleaf invites us to reflect by reframing a concept, in this case the concept is ‘responsibility.’  He, as is his pattern, begins with ‘self’ – ‘Who’ I am powerfully influences ‘What’ I will choose to Do.  He also reiterates his belief in ‘growth.’  This particular growth gives us a gift: ‘serenity of spirit.’ As usual, Greenleaf does not define certain words; in this case the word is ‘spirit.’  In later essays he defines ‘spirit’ as ‘entheos’ – the animating spirit that sustains us.

Responsibility entails ‘response.’  In this case, our response demonstrates a ‘concern for one’s neighbor.’  Who is our ‘neighbor’?  Greenleaf is clear.  Our ‘neighbor’ is a member of our family, is a member of our work group, is a member of our community (and we are members of many different communities) and is a member of ‘a world society’ (which pretty much covers all of us).  Greenleaf’s definition of ‘neighbor’ is not a limited one and his definition itself challenges us to reframe a common definition that limits the number of folks we would call ‘neighbor.’  How many of us truly ‘see,’ conceptualize and respond to everyone we meet as our ‘neighbor’?

As reflective searcher and seekers we are challenged by Greenleaf to not only consider his reframe of ‘responsibility,’ we are challenged to take some time for reflection – to reflect more deeply upon what he has to offer us.  Of course we have choice.  We can choose not to take the time to reflect.  We can choose to dismiss out of hand what Greenleaf offers us to consider.  This has always been one of the beauties of Greenleaf’s writing – he seldom says, ‘This is the Way!’  He is more interested in our choosing to engage with him in a search.  He offers us the stimulation for the search; it is up to us to choose whether to search or not.

As Greenleaf often reminds us, the one rooted in ‘surety’ will not choose to search; why would he or she?  So, to what extent am I ‘sure’ about the meaning of ‘responsibility’?  My ‘response’ will help me become aware of my willingness to choose to search with Greenleaf or to dismiss what he offers for consideration.

 By the by, here is a definition that I have found to be helpful: Responsible = having a capacity for moral decisions; answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power or control.

 

 

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‘WE AMERICANS ARE ARROGANT’

In 1976 Greenleaf wrote: we Americans are arrogant.  It hurts – but I accept the charge.

Our arrogance stems, I believe, from the fact of our great power.  In the years that the British were the great power, they were seen as arrogant.  When the next shift comes, the nation that emerges into that unfortunate spot will quite likely be seen as arrogant.  Civilization, it seems, has not advanced to a point where, as a natural gift of grace, either individuals, institutions, or governments are likely to be both powerful and humble without some basic changes in public thinking that are not yet evident.  Some may make it but the odds are against it.

…I have learned from Father Benjamin Tonna of Malta that humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully to receive the gifts of, the less powerful.  It is in my experience to know this… 

Arrogant = making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud

Arrogance = offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride

I am sitting here recalling the time I first offered Greenleaf’s observation to a group, the negative response whelmed me over.  ‘We are not an arrogant country’ one person shouted out (with a tinge of arrogance, I might add).  A brief study of our history beginning in 1945 regarding how we relate to other countries reveals the extent of our arrogance.  Greenleaf wrote his observation in 1976 – are we less arrogant today?  Today, more than ever before, this question causes me to pause and reflect.

To what extent is our arrogance rooted in fear?  Fear of other emerging countries – China, for example.  Fear of losing our economic position in the world – which we are losing.  Fear of other countries holding us accountable – we fear being members of the World Court and yet expect others to abide by their decisions.  Since we humans have been tracking our histories a common denominator is that the most powerful countries demonstrated arrogance rooted in fear.  We seem to be no different.

What would it look like for a country to be ‘both powerful and humble’?  How would such a country respond to other countries?  What type of leadership role would such a country display?

Father Tonna provided Greenleaf – and us – with an interesting and challenging insight: ‘humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully receive the gifts of, the less powerful.’  Talk about a challenge for our country; talk about a challenge for ‘We the People’.  I have known individuals (and I have at times been one of them) whose arrogance hindered, at times directly blocked, their ability to be open to learning from or receiving the gifts of certain others.  I have known organizations that have also demonstrated this – my sense is that you, Gentle Reader, also know such organizations and such individuals.  I have read the histories of other countries that have demonstrated this arrogance – if it was true for them then why not for us?

Are we, as a country, arrogant?  How do we know?  Do we want to know?  What if we are?  If we are, does our arrogance get us what we want?  What do we want?  Are we a fear-full country?  What might contribute to our being fear-full? What are we afraid of?   Many of us claim that WE ARE A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY.  If this is true then why are we so afraid; why are we not able to embrace the most used phrase in the Christian Scriptures – ‘Be Not Afraid!’

Some say that Greenleaf’s observation was not ‘on the mark’ – perhaps not.  But what if he was?  What if his observation is true today?  Are we even willing to entertain the idea?  If not, why not?

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NO ONE CAN JUDGE. . .

Way Opens! –Quaker Proverb

Greenleaf writes: No one can judge, from where one now stands, how difficult the next step along the road of . . . growth will be.  …We cannot assume with assurance that we are relatively advantaged or disadvantaged for any stage of the inward journey.

 To be on with the journey one must have an attitude toward loss and being lost…however painful the impact is seen to be it does not appear as senseless or destructive.  Rather the losses are seen as opening the way for new creative acts, for the receiving of priceless gifts.  Loss…creates a vacuum into which will come (if allowed) something new and fresh and beautiful, something unforeseen…  The source of this attitude of loss and being lost is ‘faith’… faith in the wisdom of the great events of one’s history, events in which one’s potential for nobility has been tested and refined; faith in doubt, in inquiry, and in the rebirth of wisdom…  By these means mortals are raised above the possibility of hurt.  They will suffer, but they will not be hurt because each loss grants them the opportunity to be greater than before.  Loss, by itself, is not tragic.  What is tragic is the failure to grasp the opportunity which loss presents.

Today is the fourth day of the New Year.  I sit here a bit stunned that this New Year is 2020…as I think about it I am more than a ‘bit’ stunned!  When I read this quotation from Greenleaf I thought it would be an appropriate one for us to reflect upon at this time, early in the New Year.

Some folks ring in the New Year with wine, some with resolutions (new or old), some with hope, some with despair, some with faith, some with resignation, some in good health and some with failing health; some grieving a loss.

For each of us the New Year will present us with difficult steps – for some the steps will be few and for others the steps will come rolling up upon them like a tsunami.  For some their inward journey would have prepared them to take the steps with confidence (from a small bit of confidence to a great deal of confidence); for some their lack of inward preparation will leave them without the resources (faith, hope, love, courage/heart) so that even the smallest step will whelm them over.

I think I can safely assume that each of us has experienced ‘loss’ this past year.  How we respond to the loss is, as Greenleaf notes, crucial to our well-being; and it is crucial as to how we will take — or resist taking — the next step(s) on our life’s journey.  As we grieve our loss (if indeed our loss will require our grieving) will we also be opening space for a ‘way to open’?  Will we get ‘stuck’ in our grief and hence not be able to take another, much less ‘the next,’ step?  Will we, as Greenleaf noted, ‘suffer but not be hurt’ by the loss? – A powerful question, I think.

Am I willing to grieve my loss(es) AND discern and ‘grasp the opportunity which loss presents’?  For me, this continues to be a disturbing question and a most daunting of challenge.

Way Closes! –Quaker Proverb

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‘SEARCHING’ QUESTIONS. . .

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. –Seneca

As I sit here on 30 December, 2019, I pause.  I reflect.  I consider.  As I look back on this past year I have experienced more ways closing than opening.  As I look ahead to the new year that will present itself to me in two days I find myself searching — searching for. . .for what?

I am thinking of a Quaker concept: Way Opens & Way Closes.  Am I searching for ways opening and am I open to embracing ways closing?  Am I open to discerning ways opening and am I open to discerning ways closing?  Is being open enough?  Is there something(s) that I must do?  What will guide my search – or is it ‘who will guide my search?’

I love questions so perhaps there are a few questions that might help guide me today.  Let me think. . . Here are four; I call these essential life questions.  These have no final answer; they are companions that travel with me on my life’s journey.  As I hold them I am thinking of Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to the young poet: ‘Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’ 

Some ‘perhaps.’  Here are my four questions:

Who am I?  What is my ‘essential’ nature – my ‘true’ nature and how do I find it?  I have choice so: Who am I choosing to become?  Why am I choosing this becoming?    

 What do I love?  What I choose to love will help shape who I am and provide the threads that weave my inner and outer life together into a seamless fabric.

How shall I live, knowing I will die?  From my first breath I have been traveling a life journey that will end, now sooner rather than later.  Someone once determined that a long life is about 744,600 hours thus far I have lived more than 664,000 hours.  Have I lived less by ‘accident’ and more by ‘purpose’?  A disturbing question for me to hold.

 What is my gift to my world? I am unique. My contribution, my gift, to my world therefore is also unique.  What is it?  What is the gift or legacy that I am called to give to my world?  What have I received from my world?  How do I balance the two – giving and receiving?  Some think of this as ‘life’s purpose’ or ‘life’s call.’  Some liken this to the sowing of seeds as in: What are the seeds I have sown these many years? This is another disturbing question that I hold.

Gentle reader, as you live into this last days of this year, what questions emerge for you?  What are the questions that you are holding that will be your companion as you open the door and prepare yourself to step across the threshold into 2020?

And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. –Rainer Maria Rilke

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‘AWARENESS’. . .

Awareness does not bring comfort. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf writes: Awareness, letting something significant and disturbing develop between oneself and a symbol, comes more by being waited upon rather than by being asked.  One of the most baffling of life’s experiences is to stand beside one who is aware, one who is looking at a symbol and is deeply moved by it, and, confronting the same symbol, to be unmoved.  Oh that we could just be open in the presence of symbols that cry out to speak to us, let our guards down, and take the risks of being moved!

 The power of a symbol is measured by its capacity to sustain a flow of significant new meaning.  The substance of the symbol may be a painting, a poem or story, allegory, myth, or Scripture, a piece of music, a person, a crack in the sidewalk, or a blade of grass.  Whatever or whoever, it produces a confrontation in which much that makes the symbol meaningful comes from the beholder.

Once again Greenleaf reminds us, as have the ancients for thousands of years, that what is important when it comes to ‘awareness’ is being open and waiting; not asking.  What develops ‘between’ one’s self and a symbol is then ‘significant’ and ‘disturbing’ (remember, Greenleaf suggest that ‘awareness does not bring comfort or solace’ but more often brings ‘disturbance’).  And, what develops is not just any old thing, it is something of ‘significance.’

I have had the experience that Greenleaf refers to; in fact I have played both roles.  I have been the person who was deeply moved by a symbol while standing next to a person who ‘didn’t get it’ and I have been the person who didn’t get it – I was confused because the person next to me was deeply moved by the symbol.  How many times during my life have ‘symbols’ cried out to me and how many times have I not been open to hearing their cry?  Too many to count I think.

I love Greenleaf’s next statement: ‘The power of a symbol is measured by its capacity to sustain a flow of significant new meaning.’  I am sitting here recalling several such symbols – a few poems, Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’ is one; a few quotations, Gandhi’s ‘Be the Change you want to see in the world,’ is one; the ‘lone cypress’ on the 17 Mile Drive is another.  There are also certain books that provide me ‘new meaning’ each time I sit with them and savor their message.

Gentle reader, what are the symbols that continue to have the ‘capacity to sustain a flow of significant new meaning’ for you?  What motivates you to be open to a symbol?  What might block or hinder your being open?

I remember Robert Frost responding to a person who wanted to know the meaning of a poem that Frost had written; the poem was a challenge for the person – ‘understanding’ it was not within the person’s reach.  Frost smiled – the smile of the wise that some of us have experienced – and told the person: Read it…Read it…Read it…Read it…it means what it says to you.

For certain symbols, ‘one reading’ is not enough.  It may take many ‘readings’ before ‘it means what it says to you.’  How many of us have this kind of patience and openness required?

All commend patience; few are willing to practice it. –Thomas a Kempis

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