773. Lifted Faces and Flashing Eyes

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From the blog archives (February 11, 2016), a post about the human spirit:

I’ve been reading a book by Elton Trueblood, Alternative to Futility. Trueblood, a Quaker theologian, wrote the book in the late 1940s in response to the prevalent sense of futility in society around him despite the end of World War II. In many ways he could have been writing today.

This paragraph jumped off the page at me:

“Joy has gone out of much of our lives. Millions go through the motions as though they were waiting for a catastrophe. What we miss, almost everywhere, is the uplifted face and the flashing eye. Men [and women] cannot live well either in poverty or abundance unless they see some meaning and purpose in life, which alone can be thrilling.”

Trueblood goes on to describe societal ways in which the human spirit can be renewed. While some of his suggestions and ideas are a bit dated, this key – and timeless– theme emerges: the need for communities to be a place of renewal for each other.

In a chapter called “The Habit of Adventure.” he wrote:

“Here then is our clue. The method which succeeded before must be tried again and we must not be dismayed by its amazing simplicity. The best chance for the renewal of the human spirit in the twentieth [read: twenty-first] century, as in the first, lies in the formation of genuinely redemptive societies in the midst of ordinary society. Such fellowships could provide a sense of meaning for the members within the societies and, at the same time, maintain an infectious influence on the entire culture outside.”

Through my little blog and my little books, I’m trying, in a small way, to offer this to you. A space of community and camaraderie in which we lift our faces and not only open our eyes, but flash them, as Trueblood wrote. I like that image of emanating light. It’s my hope, and assumption, you have other real-time spaces in your life for this renewal: churches, family, friends, book groups, special interest groups, and so on. There are also opportunities for such spaces online, and I hope you’re finding what you need wherever you can. Please consider letting me know how I can do better at providing such a space. Also consider letting me know where else you find community and and camaraderie that encourages you to lift your face and flash your eyes - if I get enough response to this I may include them in a subsequent newsletter or blog post.

Thank you for taking the time to read. As always, I appreciate it so very much.


[Photo: taken of a new walkway along a nearby creek. I love how the sun is flashing off the metal coils.]

743. Reading Mystics and Misfits: A Communion of Saints

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In her new book Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, author Christiana Peterson writes about her life in a Mennonite intentional community and also shares a few letters she wrote to Saint Francis. And a letter to Simone Weil. And to Clare of Assissi and Margery Kempe and Dorothy Day. These weren't fan mail letters, nor were they just a narrative device in a beautifully written memoir. She wrote to these Christian saints and mystics, whose own works she'd been reading, out of a need for companionship on the journey through life, out of a desire for mentoring, out of a longing to go deeper with God. Of course, no return note landed in her mailbox, but I imagine an outside-of-time-and-place thing going on, an authentic communion of saints that helped shape and buoy her.

Here's part of her letter to Simone Weil on the topic of attention:

"Maybe that is why I'm not so good at this yet, Simone. I am digging up the darkness inside me, uncovering my shadows, looking at them one by one, and am trying to see that God loves and accepts me even there. I want so much to love others well, but it takes energy and a kind of discipline, yes, attention, that I never anticipated.

Your words have been discomfiting. But I see now that in many ways, you understand more than I do. And I confess that I am defensive because you have poked at my weakness.

Still, I wonder what you would do if you appeared in our community...."

After reading Christiana's book I've started to think about writing a letter of my own. I have someone in mind. To whom would you write?


[Photo: Taken of a page from Mystics and Misfits.]

736. Ashes to go

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A picture in the current issue of Sojourners magazine caught my eye. On a city sidewalk stand two women. One is wearing a clerical robe. The other is a wearing a winter jacket, and, to me, it appears she has the beginning of tears in her eyes. The woman in the robe is marking the woman in the jacket with the sign of the cross on her forehead. It is Ash Wednesday. Instead of waiting for this woman and perhaps a man walking behind her and a couple running to their bus and an untold number of others to come inside a church, the church is going out to meet them. During the last month I've been slowly reading through the gospel of John. Here Jesus is at a wedding, here he is just walking along, here he is in the countryside, here he is getting water at a well, here he is by the sea, here he is walking ON the sea, here he is on a mountain ridge. All the while, he is meeting people where they are.

This short video expands on the story in the magazine picture. You can see the pair I described above at about 45 seconds in. It's quite a moving video; I hope you'll have the two minutes to take a look.


[Photo: taken of a staircase at St. John's University]