Friday, August 19, 2016

rediscovering reverence...

It has been almost two weeks since I have had the space and focus to write here - much has been taking place in the Lumsden realm of late - but now that is done. Our various visits from beloved family members is finished, the informal committal "ceremony" of my parents' cremains is complete, and most of my liturgical planning for the next quarter is written and in the can. Soon, Di and I will be taking it slow in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, CA for a few days. There is a weekend art exhibit we're eager to attend in Bromont -"Bromont en Art" - that will be engaging por deux flâneurs(check it out: Then we will quietly slip into Montréal for a week of wandering, feasting and honoring the gift of love we share. My soul is ready to shift gears.

Two broad concerns have been swimming around my head and heart as August
incrementally shifts towards autumn: the recovery of reverence as an antidote to cynicism, and, the place humility in our humor plays as a part of this subversive spirituality. For the past five years, I have been consciously aware of how awe has been squeezed out of our language, worship, politics, music, art and everyday existence. Not only are most of us too busy to smell the proverbial roses, we don't even see them - except to curse their thorns when they hurt us. Dianne and I were wandering around Lac Brome Books one afternoon when I found myself drawn again and again to Ralph Heintzman's, Rediscovering Reverence: the Meaning of Faith in a Secular World. Perhaps you've had the experience of reading a snippet of a text, putting it back only to be lured for a second - and third - reading? Such is the subtle call of the Spirit and most of the time these days I try to pay attention to this summons. So, I coughed up the $30 dollars and haven't regretted it once.

Heintzman teaches at the university level in Ottawa, CA and states his case directly:

Reverence conveys a human attitude of respect and deference for something larger or higher in priority than our own individual selves; something that commands our admiration and our loyalty, and may imply obligations or duties on our part. In a gesture of reverence, either physical or mental, we acknowledge superior worth, our relationship with it, and our potential obligations toward it. "Reverence results from humility" as a Jewish text puts it. (p. 18)

He goes on to assert that awe is the emotion "we feel when we encounter someone or something that transcends our normal life, and embodies qualities of excellence, or beauty, or some kind of power or authority that (awakens) our admiration." Reverence is a commitment - a virtue - and awe a feeling. In much of Western culture in the 21st century, both have been banished by an addiction to busyness and the illusion of control. Indeed, we no longer have awe within our vocabulary and cannot imagine committing to a practice without an immediate physical or financial pay-off.

...  the hunger for reverence sometimes expresses itself in surprising
ways (in our era.) Starved for other ways to express itself, reverence re-emerges in new forms that can risk flipping over into a caricature of the real thing. The rock concert, the most pit, and the rave, for example, are all expressions of a hungry search for connectedness and ritual that are not satisfied in other ways...Sometimes this unsatisfying hunger goes beyond caricature to express itself in radically evil forms, as in the Nuremberg rallies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s (or, I might add, the recent political extravaganzas of Donald Trump.) As the American classical scholar, Paul Woodruff, remarks: what modern societies have lost is not reverence itself, but rather the idea of reverence... Our public language, the language of self-assertion, excludes any reference to that which connects us to something greater... This makes i hard for us consciously to nourish or develop the virtues of reverence so essential to the kind of society any of us would want to live in.

This reality confronted me in an unexpected way while gathering with my loved ones last weekend. It was an emotional time: laying my parents to rest in a place we have all loved for decades. Each of us, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, shared a complicated love for them that was unique. Somehow we never claimed the time to speak of this complicated, real, uplifting and at times troubling shared love.  Yes, we were all gathered in the same place, to be sure we toasted their memory with their favorite Jim Beam (yuck) and we set their ashes into the lake. Later, we sang songs together as a family - passing the torch, if you will, to my generation - but the significance of this generational shift remained implicit, maybe even masked. We all felt something but never were able as a group to give these feelings expression.

That troubled me - and not just for my small and cherished family. It drove home for me what this absence of reverence and awe might mean in this culture. Put bluntly, it suggests a confusion about how to go deeply into the mysteries of real life including pain and grief. Without an awareness that we need guidance in listening to the wisdom of life's mysteries, new insights cannot be born from within these complex feelings. Our inner and outer transformation, therefore, remains frozen within our feelings. Without rituals and metaphors to lead us into and then beyond our emotions, we struggle to
make sense of these truths in private and truncate our transformation towards 
greater tenderness and compassion.  From my perspective, without conscious ways of intentionally expressing our feelings - and giving them meaning beyond the moment - it is extremely difficult to move into an adult spirituality. As my mentors in AA like to say: if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. In my Christian tradition St. Paul urges us to learn to trust and see even as through a glass darkly:  "When I was a child, I spoke like a child and thought like a child. But as I matured, I put childish ways of being away... for now we see as through a glass darkly; later we shall see face to face... faith, hope and love remain and the greatest of them is love."

There was tremendous love in our family gathering. It was palpable. And for that love I continue to return thanks. And... we each seemed to wrestle with ways of expressing that love in this time out loud. Some of it took place in private, I know, because we shared it as I huddled with my sisters alone, with Di each night and then later with my brother and sister-in-law at breakfast. My sister and I found ourselves embracing on the peer in tears as our parents' cremains drifted to their final in the lake. We each perhaps shared our own silent prayers of gratitude and farewell as we tossed flowers upon the water, too. And still I couldn't help but sense that even during the toast, a common moment of silence and an honest articulation of what this moment meant would have helped me go deeper. Maybe that's because I am now the unofficial patriarch (not that there is anything beyond chronology in this for most but it is staggering for me.) I'm not interested in sentimentality. And God knows I don't want a sermon from anyone - myself included. Rather I am looking for a clear way of marking of this moment in community with my loved ones.  These words get close to giving my feelings - and change of heart - some shape and form.

To those who came before me in seasons long ago
To those who are the loved-ones that I have yet to know
To those whose noble names I bear,
whose light within me burns
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned
To those whose lives of courage prepared the way for me
Whose works became my heritage,
whose harvest I may reap
Who left for me a legacy that I have yet to earn
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned
To those who came before me in days and years long past
To those who are the family that I shall know at last
To those who seek the blessings
of the truth that I have learned
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned
(Sally Deford)

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