The Light and the Dark of Things

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It feels like such a gift…the day the time “Falls back” and for a moment it feels like you have an extra hour of sleep.  Then, suddenly, even before the required (recommended)  battery change on the smoke detectors, the dark creeps in and replaces the light.  There is a merging that happens as the boundaries between day and night disappear — children find their way to school in the night and the dusk falls on them as they patter home.  The veil between dark and light begins to disappear.

Then again, perhaps the blending of Halloween along with Saints, Souls and remembrance — when it often feels to me like those who are absent are fully present.  I marvel that grace winds itself through me and leaves a crack in my heart so that I remember.  I think I hear her laughter for a second and a tear gets turned into a chuckle as I remember the early morning jokes my departed friend would tell me as we pounded the pavement in her passion to see me fit.  I catch a glimpse of the stars and I remember that they are brightest from the bottom of the well and I begin to wonder what God’s experience of all of this is. If the star is a crack into the heavens, I wonder what it’s like when there is no separation between light and dark.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Parker Palmer, an educator and theologian (and I like to think of him as my friend although I have never been even close to being in the same auditorium with him)…on a radio interview where he described the connection between the expectations of God and the expectations of parents.  He said something like this, “God loves us unconditionally, but has high expectations of us.  There is unconditional love, but it is not a blank check for irresponsibility.  It comes with high expectations.  Just like every parent.  Just because God has high expectations of us doesn’t mean there is not unconditional love and don’t be afraid that loving and expecting great things cannot co-exist.”  I think that’s the way it is…unconditional love, but high expectations.  There is both light and dark.  We can expect something extraordinary from one another and be willing to love the human.

It reminded me of our great friend, Bob Rosenfelder, SJ who worked at one moment with those who, in the grasp of the imprisonment of addiction, had killed someone while driving drunk.  He worked with them after the trial, the sentencing, and the inital time in prison when life was at the most bleak.  He recounted to each one the promise of the unconditional love and forgiveness of God and the civil consequences that come with action.  One does not erase the other.  There are consequences for our actions and there is love for the human person who seeks a new beginning.

It seems to me…this season of leaves crunching beneath our feet, when light and dark seem confused somehow and when the extra hour of sleep resembles the definition of illusion…it is a time for both the unconditional and the choice.  We can choose to believe that the buds will come or we can act like the leaf that refuses to let go.  We can be those who trust that even when we have defiled the high expectations, the unconditional new beginning is just around the calendar…but not until we spend some fallow time in the darkness of being made ready — the gratitude of remembering what we have been given.  The confidence that the light will come.  The inkling that light and dark are really the same — just different parts of the same day.

It’s time to rake the leaves — to collect what has been and to let the bare branches do their work of remembering how to create.

I’ll race you to the leaf pile!

Of Brightness and Lite

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“Lite…what does God look like?”  ” What does God look like, Brightness?”
“God looks like that wheat field.  You plant the seed and you take care of it and then you harvest it. That’s what God looks like.  Why do you ask?”  “I just wondered,” I said.

 

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“Brightness, what do you think it’s like when you die? I mean…like how do you know for sure that you are there and it’s not just that you finally have tickets to the Nebraska football game?” “I hate it when you ask me these questions at half-time,” I reply wrly. “I don’t really know for sure, but I think it must be sort of like a wheat field before harvest.” “I think you are right”, he replied.

I don’t really know when I became Brightness or he became Lite, but it happened that way. As long as I can remember it was just that way. The “Light of my Life” that I called Lite. Two-thirds of the whole, combined with my mother — we formed the trinity. Never separate from my brothers and sisters, but because I was what my Dad described as his mid-life crisis (…”some people got a red car, and I got you”…)…I arrived as the view at the top of the corporate ladder wasn’t all that he expected…and he always had to correct the teachers that he was not here for grandparent’s day — he was my father.

Three years ago today, his light was extinguished in the arms of my two beloved nieces who cared for their grandparents with a generous love that has been one of the greatest teachers in my life. And, when people would commend them, my niece would always respond, “no applause. that’s just what we do.” Those of you who follow my stories have heard some of his…and will undoubtedly again…but today, it’s not the story of the farm, or the LST, or the lessons of corporate life and death that have shaped my own leadership…it’s not the way he raised kids with a tough set of high expectations and even tougher self-doubt that always left him feeling less than the image of perfection he had of my wise and wonderful grandfather. Today it’s not this corporate genius transformed into “Big Gramp” who loved to compete with his great grandaughter to see if it would be Dora or the Cornhuskers who won the test of will. Today, it’s not the man who idolized my mother and felt that she sacrificed a great deal to marry him…and was grateful that she didn’t have to experience the anguish of being the one left by the harsh blow of death.

No…today, it’s not the idealized man that I miss — it’s the very human one. For, part of my inheritance from him are the rough edges of character we share…the wry humor, the cryptic remark, the sometimes too-short fuse, the roaring laughter over something that could be mildly offensive and the fierce lecture given while drying my hair as he did every morning in the mirror as he shaved. Today…it’s not the man who was twice fired for being a Catholic and refusing to give up his faith…it’s the man who struggled with faith and with whom I spent long hours as we pondered who God is and where God is and why some people live in war and some in peace. Today, I remember the man who taught me to cry and the one who showed me what a living amend looks like…the one who wondered as my sister and I drove him to the assisted living home if he had been a good father, husband and grandfather and if I thought my mother knew how much he loved her.

It is not the certitude, but the questions that made him my light. It was not the words, but the ability the two of us had to be silent together that created Brightness. It is his willingness to be real…that I miss today…that I give thanks for today — the Brightness of his Light.

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Reciprocal

Farm

A great deal of what I understand in life, I learned from the farm.  I learned about the cycle of life and the impermanence of nearly everything (change is guaranteed) along with the powerlessness in the face of nature (it’s not fair doesn’t apply to tornados, blizzards and drought).

I remember standing with my father looking at an irrigation system and having him explain that each segment of the pipeline that brought the water from beneath the Earth to the corn crop that was threatened by drought was more expensive than our home…and was the lifeline for all of us who depended on the farm.

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Reciprocal: equal exchange — to both give and receive — to be willing to give when you have enough and to be willing to receive when you are in need

To both give and to receive and to know that both will be asked of you — required of you. Those of us who depended on the farm learned early that in the bountiful harvest, when the silos were overflowing and the bank accounts were full — to act with justice as there would be a moment that we would find ourselves on the other side. Times to support the bank loan and times to need it. To be in the position of being reciprocal.

We find ourselves in the fourth week of school. The early resolutions of both students and adults wane in the face of reality. The promises of homework done and benchmarks made and high expectations begin to waiver in the face of challenge. For more than three decades, I have watched this experience among our most commmitted students and I know it myself — that promise that I want to have happen is confronted by the challenge of trying to control the impossible. I fight the temptation to want to rescue our students, or to finish the job left incomplete by colleagues — to prevent the embarrassment that some will know in less than satisfactory progress and to keep holding and looking into the reflective mirror that is required before we can make real change.

And then, I recall the lessons I learned in my early morning walks through fields hanging on to the ring of cloth intended for a hammer on my father’s work pants. Reciprocal — it is to realize the lessons of give and take To receive the gifts of the harvest, we have to give the effort of the planting. It’s never immediate and there is no guarantee, but the harsh teacher called nature provides example for us — as parents, grandparents and educators — to let resilience be harvested with our planting of responsibility in the lives of our children.  If we rescue them from the simple choice they have before them today, we strip away the autonomous gift given in understanding the mystery and magic of “reciprocal.”

They need “reciprocal” — fundamental to both leadership and citizenship — to learn the power of humility in receiving and the power of compassion in giving…both born of being given the space to learn that the seed you cultivate is the one you harvest.

Make today count…”Reciprocal” in process

Something NEW

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Today, we gathered to be present to the unimaginable…to the mystery and the miracle of students and adults of all ages, faiths, and experience joining with our international Sacred Heart family to learn from Pope Francis about how to create a community.

It wasn’t easy to build bridges of relationship between people of difference — to open the hearts of those whose roles and livelihood depend on being in opposition to one another.  He used our “mother tongue” and forced his own speech to be labored with the effort of making each word count.  With emotion born of compassion, I listened and I watched as our adolescents exercised the discipline of attention even in the midst of discomfort and difficulty hearing and understanding….I found my heart bubbling through the unusual experience of tears as I realized the profound power of technology to connect us to an experience of the world. I shared a few moments with some of our youngest children as they thought that the Pope was on “Face-Time” and believed that he was waving right at them. And quietly delighted as one of them said to me, “You two must be on the same team because he has a cross like you.”

I rather like thinking of myself as being on the same Team…and creating a world where the integrity of Lincoln and the ferocious leadership of Martin Luther King finds voice in the lived compassion of Dorothy Day grounded in the experience of God made visible in Thomas Merton. I was challenged, encouraged and inspired with the experience of being with this school community to which I have gladly given my life as a Religious of the Sacred Heart in this moment of being ready for “Something New” … but most of all, it is the JOY of Pope Francis…given in SERVICE that inspires me to sit in silence and to find myself “WILLING” …to allow God to use my limitations as well as my gifts…my need to be forgiven as well as my desire to forgive without keeping score…to trust that the agenda of the day is exactly what is needed…and to be ready to “Give it to God and go on” — because it is when we trust one another enough to create community… SOMETHING NEW is possible.

Thank you…for the miracle of this day