Friday, August 28, 2009

Wisdom from a Leaden Figurine

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. This unique assemblage~~ 83 marvelous pairs in all~~now resides in my home on the wooden wall rack my father constructed for them more than 50 years ago.

I’ve placed one of my favorites next to my computer as I write this. An Amish woman sits on a black rocking chair, hands folded quietly in her lap. Both woman and chair are cast of lead~~an unfortunate choice to hold substances to be sprinkled over food~~and together are less than 3~1/2 inches tall. The woman detaches for a sprinkling of salt, while the chair itself holds the pepper.

As I gaze intently at this figurine, my Amish woman begins to whisper to me. She tells of a multitude of interconnected stories, each a part of her journey to my desk.

She introduces me to miners and smelters. I watch a man in a small factory pour molten lead into the mold that births her, and an artist paint her features and clothing. I sense, too, the innumerable forces that brought each of these people to their place in my Amish woman’s tale.

We travel to a small country store where she abides for a time. I see my parents, decades younger than I am now and unburdened by the weight of years, walk through the store’s screen door, setting the attached bell to jingling. I feel their joy in finding this rare pair, woman and chair, on a shelf in a far corner.

My Amish lady and I travel back in time, before my parents meet. I observe the hard economic conditions that brought my mother north to a teaching job in Baltimore, and my father east from his depression~ decimated mountain town to climb poles for the telephone company.

I am shown the forces that brought my parents together, including the mailman whose crush on the widowed Mrs. Mac led him to encourage my father to rent a room from her. I watch my father move his few possessions into the three~storied brick house, where my mother, it turns out, shares a room with a girlfriend. I see my parents’ individual and family stories weave together, and watch my siblings and me rise from the mix.

And beneath it all, the earth carries lead in its veins, and grows seeds into edible plants to nourish all preceding and subsequent generations of laborer, craftsperson, store owner, postman, Mrs. Mac, and my own family. I watch upper air currents bring moisture to crop and animal alike, as ocean becomes cloud, and rain, and stream, and ocean once more.

I see the earth turn on its axis and revolve around a sun’s warmth, as that sun moves through an inconceivably expansive universe.

My Amish woman on her chair holds all of this and more within her. Remove any one of these elements, and she would not be exactly the same. As naturalist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir, writes, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The idea that we have a separate and independent existence is, as Albert Einstein says, “a kind of optical delusion of…consciousness.” The trick is to experience life as it truly is~~not a collection of things separate, but something whole and indivisible.

My little Amish woman on her rocker is, indeed, hitched to everything else in the universe. And now she is hitched to you.


Loanne Marie

Monday, August 10, 2009

Opening To The Eternal

When an untrained person attempts to draw a table, he will tend to draw what he thinks a table looks like. Even with a specific table before him, this undeveloped artist simply won’t accurately perceive how much longer the legs closest him appear or recognize that the top seems more trapezoidal than square or rectangular.

The mental image of a table takes precedence over the table as it actually exists, and the subsequent drawing suffers. As artist and educator, Mick Maslen, states, “Before you are able to draw, you have to learn to see.”

A similar statement can be applied to the art of living. In order to live well, we must learn to accurately perceive~~and fully experience~~life as it truly is.

Too often, our energy is devoted to conceptions about life rather than to the experience of life itself. The present moment is abandoned, either to reveries of past or future, or to a running commentary about what is occurring, complete with interpretations and positive or negative judgments.

Meditation is one method to override this very human tendency. In meditation, we learn to attend to what is, to fully perceive and savor this moment and nothing more.

At first, of course, we become acutely aware of the restlessness of our minds and the extraordinary variety of ways we are lured from the present. Unfortunately, folks often misinterpret this universal reality as evidence of their inability to meditate. But if we stick with it awhile, we become more skilled at leaving the bait of a fidgety mind unbitten. And then something marvelous occurs.

We open to the majesty of what is. For within each moment, a jewel awaits. As theologian, Forrest Church, puts it, “Hidden by the veil of time, eternity is pregnant in every moment of our existence, here, everywhere and always: the eternal now.”

The eternal awaits us, and it awaits us in this very moment. It flows as a perpetual stream, bubbling through our temporal lives, animating and infusing each minute of our existence. Because this is so, theologian Paul Tillich states, “…every moment of time reaches into the eternal,” as well. All we need to do is still our incessant busyness and open to it.

While specific periods of meditation are quite helpful in this endeavor, any activity that seems to stop time can bring us to the here and now. Immersing ourselves in nature, filling with the rich strains of music, deep intimacy with lover, child, or dear companion~~all these and more can bring the breath of the eternal to our awareness.

But there are no special external conditions required. I don’t need to sit on a wooded hillside overlooking a mountain stream to partake of this essence. Since the eternal enlivens every moment, it is available wherever I am. Even now, as I sit at my computer typing these words. Even now, as you sit there reading them.

With focused attention, and a bit of practice, we can learn to pull back the veil of our ordinary preoccupations and open to the glory that is here always.

May you feel the touch of the eternal in the coming week.


Loanne Marie