Spiritual Orientations

You would think that I, as a Christian, would always love God and Jesus Christ, and would want to know Him and do His will. Intellectually speaking you’d be right, but in the manner that I actually live my life, and within my spirit—in my heart—this can often be something different.

I’m talking about something common to man (I believe) regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, or merely calls themselves one, or is actually something quite different: an atheist, a Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Jew, or something else, or none of the above.

Man is a body and a spirit. I believe this is true, and this fact is foundational and must be assumed in order to understand the rest of my argument. Even if one doesn’t know that they are spirit, and can’t find a way to experience this aspect of themselves, and believes that they are only body, this makes no difference to the truth that man is body and spirit.

In fact, those that might insist that they are only body—and deny that there is a spirit world, and a God who is spirit, through whom all things came into being—these illustrate the very thing that I am hoping to explain and convince the reader about: that the direction and manner that each of us move our own spirit, how we direct the deepest and innermost aspect of our being, is the primary thing that either draws us into closer relationship with God, or causes us to fall away and ultimately to lose sight entirely of all things spiritual, and to become blind to the existence of things beyond the physical realities.

The movement of our spirit is first, and any name we may call ourselves (Christian, Buddhist, atheist etc.) follows only after, and as a result of that specific movement. But what is this movement of the spirit that I am referring to, and how does it affect our daily life? It is the primal cause active within us, which results in our thoughts and feelings and how we respond to our environment. Often we only see cause and effect as it occurs on the physical level, but there is a more fundamental cause on the spiritual level, with more essential effects on how we interact with everything in our daily life. It can be very difficult to perceive this movement of our spirit within us, and it becomes more and more difficult the further we move in the direction away from God. Yet, as we draw closer to God it becomes clearer and easier to see.

If we are unable to perceive the movement of our spirit, we at least can see by our thoughts and feelings the deeper orientation of our spirit. An atheist, for instance will have no belief in God, and no interest in what he believes to be unreal; his thoughts and feelings are indifferent or perhaps even antagonistic towards the concept of God. How could he ever turn back in the direction of a God he doesn’t believe exists? In his or her case probably only by divine intervention can his spirit be turned back in the direction of God, and only by this divine grace will he discover new thoughts—an epiphany, a road to Damascus experience—in which his thoughts and feelings, as if by a miracle, flip and he is converted.

And what of a professing Christian, one who believes and seeks deeper relationship with God, yet maybe they have a weak relationship with God, or one that is basically cold, unfulfilled, or maybe even dead in a sense? They too may be unable to see the state of their spirit as it truly is—its true orientation—because it is hidden beneath the abundance of thoughts and feelings that they have, and the ideas of who they are, or how the ‘should’ be acting and feeling. If they can see their spirit as it moves within them they may see that it is moving without God, and even in opposition to Him. But if they can’t see this, they may be able to notice that their thoughts are not about God at all, but rather about many other things instead; and they may see that their feelings are cold and indifferent or even hostile to God, maybe angry with Him for some reason or another. These thoughts and feelings can show them the true orientation of their spirit, even if they can’t perceive it outright, and these thoughts and feelings give explanation for why they have no connection to the God whom they profess to love.

Because the spirit is difficult to discern, it is often easier to focus on the level of our thoughts and feelings, and maybe to decide that this is really the only realm to be concerned about, and possibly to imagine that this is the only place to focus our attention. It can be very helpful to address our thoughts and feelings, but it can be much more powerful if we are able to address the movement of our spirit. Turning our spirit in one direction or the other has much greater impact upon the course of our life. Like the turning of the rudder on a ship—where the movement in the moment is small and quick—but the change in direction over time can become monumental.

Similarly, the movement of the spirit within us is very fast, like lightning, but after it moves, in its wake thereafter grows a greater and greater impact on the direction of our life, and the flow of our thoughts, and the direction these thoughts will take us. I will share one example from my own life that may illustrate this phenomena, and hopefully I can describe it accurately.

A little over six months ago, in late July, I had been praying for a period of time. Typically I pray standing or sitting before my special place, where I have a number of crosses given to me by people whom I love, as well as some icons of Christ and various saints, and one or more oil lamps. As I was coming near the end of my prayer time I suddenly experienced a shift deep in my being. It was very quick and almost imperceptible to me but I felt it unfold on many levels, and in various ways within me: in one sense it felt like a magnetic change in polarity whereas the moment before I had felt myself pulled, in a sense, in the direction of my prayer nook towards the crosses etc. and then the next moment, I felt my being turning away and drawing back and away from my place of prayer; emotionally I experienced a feeling of anxiety and fear, or concern; and in my thoughts I considered that this was a significant change and something that I needed to take seriously, then I thought that I was overreacting and was making it up, then I thought it may not be serious at all and I laughed a little about it, and then I decided I should take it at least a little seriously and I tried mentally to recreate the experience I had previously enjoyed, but then discovered that I was unable to do so with my mind.

I ended my prayer and over the next couple weeks I didn’t notice much of a difference at first, but slowly my routine spiritual life and activities began to unravel. I continued to pray several times each day but had lost the focus and attention I previously enjoyed. I continued to attend church services, but lost interest in attending vespers and other services apart from the Liturgy on Sunday. I continued to read the Bible but my heart was not in it. Confession, which had been a weekly joy for me, I began to do less and less and I started to lose my understanding of its purpose and no longer felt the inner freedom that it had previously afforded me. I began to realize that the inner shift I had perceived back in July during that prayer session was beginning to take a significant and serious toll on my spiritual life. The problem though is that I couldn’t motivate myself to make a change, I was just losing interest in my spiritual life; and this progressed further over subsequent months so that I began to lose memory of my own first-hand experiences of God, so that I began to question these experiences, so that my thoughts about my spiritual life became more pessimistic, ironic and even sarcastic.

I was startled to see that I was becoming much more secular in my approach to life and losing the insight I had once had towards the spiritual life. And what was worse, I noticed that this didn’t bother me very much, it seemed to me at the time that whatever spiritual life I lost, I could easily replace with an equally absorbing, interesting and meaningful material life. I began to understand how it is very possible to become an atheist, or agnostic or just one who doesn’t think or care much about spiritual reality and truth.

But I wondered about what had happened to me, and why I couldn’t get back to where I had been in July. Fortunately, by the end of the year I discovered a deep reservoir within me of anger and blame towards God, and despair, all related to the terrible and awful facts of disease and death—the eventual loss of everything that we love, and finally the loss of our own lives. Only after struggling for some time with this, and finally coming to understand that God is not to blame for death, and that He actually is the only one who proclaims victory over death and offers us eternal life—only after coming to peace with God in this way, was I able to allow myself to shift again back in the direction of God, away from my flight into worldly and material oblivion. Though I had still wanted to be close to God during this entire time (at least in theory), I realized that it would be impossible to truly seek Him and truly draw near to Him in my spirit, if at the same time I am genuinely angry at Him and blaming Him for all my losses.  I don’t believe we can hate and truly love at the same time, we aren’t multitaskers in that way.

It has now been a couple months since I was first able to turn my spirit back in the direction of God, but my spiritual life is still far from what it had been back in July. Real damage happened in the interim, I truly went in the wrong direction and it appears that it will take time and God’s mercy to restore me. However, real healing is taking place and I can sense that my inner orientation is directed towards Him again and this is making a great deal of difference. The secular approach is lessening within me and the material world is becoming less opaque; I am beginning to experience and see spiritual life and reality once again. The subtlest movement of the spirit, which may be barely perceptible to us can have a great impact upon us and is something to be taken seriously; it is worth searching for and learning to direct in the Way that is truly best for us.

~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ending Fear’s Tyranny

A friend recently gave me a compliment, calling me fearless. He said, “You are completely fearless aren’t you? I think you are completely fearless.” I was startled by his assessment, embarrassed, and also afraid to let him down by telling the truth. My first impulse was to confirm his opinion, by saying something like, “Yes, you know, I guess I really am fearless…aw, shucks.” And, shamefully, I may have actually begun my reply with some similar sort of deceit; but then I caught myself and came clean, assuring him that: “No, I am not fearless.”

I regret the truth that I am not fearless; but still I was encouraged by the fact that he at least thinks I am, and his opinion of me, gave me a little boost of courage, I must admit. And it got me to thinking further about fearlessness, and the characteristics and source of this virtue.

It seems to me, and I’ve heard others say this as well, that it is less important to be without fear, than it is to be able to function properly while in the presence of fear, or in the face of it. We may not be able to eradicate our fear, but we are capable of overcoming it; we can take our fear out of the driver’s seat, and make it a mere passenger, along for the ride—perhaps occasionally giving us some sound advice from the back seat, but certainly no longer taking us for a ride.

I can’t imagine living a life in total absence of fear, however I can envision living a life so bound by fear that it is hardly living a life at all. In fact, I don’t have to imagine this; I’ve seen people destroyed by their fear: afraid of their inner pain, and driven by it into the arms of addictions, numbing themselves with all kinds of distractions. We can fear so many things: we fear being hurt, we fear being embarrassed, we have the fear of being cheated, or made the fool, the fear of unrequited love, fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of the dark, fear of other people, fear of our own inadequacies, fear of telling the truth, fear of being ourselves—and so many others—the fear of growing old, of loneliness, disability, and finally, the fear of dying.

Certainly fear has its place and some fears are helpful: fear may tell us not to swim with crocodiles, or not to thrust a fork into an electrical outlet, or that we should run out of a burning building. But many fears merely stand between us and the lives we desire—the lives we were created, and intended to live.

What is it that can help us transcend our fear; how can we bridge the gap between a life bound by fear/anxiety/worry and a potential life of living free from their tyranny? The fears that bind us are typically not instinctual fears, but rather deriving from our thoughts; therefore, one step to freedom from fear’s prison involves cultivating freedom from our thoughts. Learning to step into the stillness and the silence beyond, or beneath, our thought-world, is a big step towards freedom from fear’s tyranny.

Yet, to step into the silence and the stillness beyond our thoughts, requires courage and a measure of freedom right from the start. How do we find courage when we don’t feel courageous? Especially, how do we find the courage to step into our own inner world—that uncomfortable, possibly terrifying place where all of our monsters reside? I propose that the best, and most perfect, and most complete way is to look trustingly to our Heavenly Father, and more specifically to His Son, Jesus Christ—our Lord, our friend and brother, our guide—He can be our example, role-model and our source of courage.

Jesus, though God incarnate, was also fully human and apparently not without fear. The night before his death—before his murder—he prayed to His Father that this imminent outcome might be removed, but also that God’s will would be done, and an angel came and strengthened Him in his last difficult hours. Here we see prayer to God, and trust in God modeled for us, even in the face of fear or anguish, and then we see God providing comfort and assurance.

Many things may get in the way of our following in these same footsteps, (and knowing this same kind of freedom of action), and most of these things which may obstruct us are thoughts, all kinds of thoughts that we have, such as: God doesn’t exist, Jesus isn’t real, this won’t work for me, God doesn’t understand my problems which are far too complicated, I’m worthless, I can never forgive, I can’t face others, I won’t ever let others see me so weak etc.

I propose that none of these thoughts, nor any of the myriad others just like them, are worth what they give us, nor what they keep from us; they give us suffering and enslavement, and they keep us from love, inner freedom and peace.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him….There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16, 18)

I think that we all should know God, we all should meet and develop relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t say “should” here in the moral sense of right and wrong, but in the practical sense that relationship with God is the beginning of courage and freedom. If we learn love from the source of love, and experience love by seeking that perfect love which is Jesus Christ, and have Him as our standard of action, then we have a great opportunity to free ourselves from the confines of our own thinking (and feeling) and from enslavement to our fears.

Like a child learning to ride a bike, or learning how to swim, we can envision ourselves in this life-long endeavor of learning how to love. The little child looks to their teacher and trusts in that person, forgetting their own fear of falling or of sinking. We can look to Jesus, our teacher, forgetting our fears, and trusting in the way that He enlightens.

Learning to live free from the tyranny of fear, learning to love instead, is a foundational and essential task, I think, for a fulfilling, meaningful and healthy life. Whatever else we may do in life, whatever accomplishments and successes we may achieve, whatever legacy we may leave, none of it amounts to anything if we have not learned how to love as God loves.

Most of us have all sorts of thoughts and ideas about God; however, I believe, that most of what we think about Him actually gets in the way, and inhibits our knowing Him as He truly is. Just as fear keeps us from knowing ourselves and knowing each other, it also gets in the way of knowing God. Instead, we make up fantasies about ourselves, about each other, and certainly about God; making Jesus into who we want Him to be, rather than who He says He is, and who He actually is.

Scripture tells us that God is love; the Bible also gives us many lessons in this reality of love, with the most central lesson being, I think, what is known as the “Great Commandment” in which Jesus gives us the key to life, (freedom, peace, joy) and love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39) This is the way to know God, and the more we will love like Him, the more we come to understand about Him, and the closer we will come into His presence.

Scripture also tells us that God is Spirit and can only be known in spirit. We often anthropomorphize God, making Him in the image of man, and then we reflect upon this misrepresentation, these caricatures that we’ve constructed of God; we argue against whatever straw-man we have raised in our own minds in place of the real God. But this does not change God, it only alienates man further from God. What could be worse and more tragic than alienation from the source of love, in whose image and likeness we are all made (as scripture also describes)? Seeking God in spirit is the antidote for our alienation.

I believe that prayer is the primary activity of our spirit; in particular prayer that seeks God beyond words, though our prayer might begin with words. The prayer that I find most effective in banishing fear, is a prayer that calls upon the name of Jesus, and which seeks the love of God; it begins with words which focus my mind on Christ, but then gradually sheds language, and dives into silence, seeking instead a deeper first-hand presence and experiential sharing. The words I often start with are, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or “Come to my help, oh God. Lord Jesus hurry to my rescue” or I may pray to fulfill the great commandment, and focus all my mind, heart, soul and strength to this end; allowing God’s love to fill all aspects of my being, that I may be made anew in the likeness of love.

Prayer often begins in our spare moments, and then it can grow into our every moment; hopefully becoming the primary activity of our entire being. In time, we will find the stillness that exists behind the veil of our language, and this stillness we can carry with us throughout our daily life. This stillness which we carry within us, allows us to hear and manifest the word of God—the love of God—as we go about our daily life. With the presence of this love, palpable and real inside us, we can enjoy a real and tangible power; but it is a gentle and peaceful power which is able to resist fear’s tyranny, and any other of the things that would try to enslave us. Knowing God’s love is a power that makes us bold and courageous in the face of fear.

~FS

 

 

 

 

 

Visions of Paradise

There is an open space within, so wide and expansive, wild and free, filled with sailing winds which carry your mind joyfully up and away, and where beautiful things live, like butterflies and birds, singing so gently, in love, with your soul. Here, is where the sun resides, powerful and vibrant, so alive and alive within you—beating, beating, and beating—without time; and exploding in a rush of colors, clear and transparent, like glass, or crystal, pure and flowing through you; and you—so pure and flowing—also through it. Light upon light, and light encircling light—over, under and all around—and your breath draws joy deep into your soul. Here you may dwell, in a world of meadow-grass and wildflower, far from the world of man, safe in the arms of eternity, tasting sips of paradise; trust and hope cascading from heaven, and across your mind, flitting like diamonds tossed into the sky, then coming to rest upon your breast—softly, lightly—warming your heart.

~FS

A Mathematics of Love

If a love were built upon mere appearances, could this love remain, after appearances depart? If a love, is truly love, then love will not fade, as looks do fade.

What is the test of true love? Nothing can be subtracted from it; no loss will diminish it—not loss of beauty, or of strength, nor anything. And nothing can be added to it; if one were to win fame or fortune—these will not add anything to true love.

Love multiplied by anything else is still simply love—it is our identity, and the essence of our lives.

True Love is irreducible.

Try dividing a love that is pure, into factions; or try parceling it out incrementally—a little here and a little there—some love for these people, and none for those.

This cannot be done if love is genuine—true love will defy you if you try—only our minds attempt to divide love, and this sort of division is irrational, though we think we are being very rational.

~FS

We Are The Point

If you are like me, you often find yourself in a hurry to get someplace; and it is always someplace other than where you are. When you are at point A you need to get to point B, and when you are at point B you need to get back to point A. If only I could already be at point A at the same time that I need to be there, why can’t that happen?! And all the while you really wish you could just be at point C, that is where you really want to be!

Then sometimes I think, wouldn’t it be great if we could just trade lives for a little while? I’ll stay at point A, where you need to go, and you can stay at point B, where I need to go, and we all can save ourselves a whole lot of time and trouble.

This is the problem isn’t it? We are all so busy going here and there, and in such a hurry to get this way and that—we’re missing the point! And then we get frustrated, and maybe overwhelmed and we throw up our hands and say, “what’s the point”?! And then this leads many of us into all sorts of problematic and destructive behaviors, and this is my point.

Modern life is nuts. We can’t keep up with our own lives; things are so ‘convenient’ that everything has become inconvenient. We’re always late, we’re always impatient, we’re always hopeful that the next ‘G’ will make everything alright again. (If you don’t know what that means, God bless you, stop reading this now and continue to enjoy your life lived at a normal speed.) We had 3G, and now 4G, and 5G is on its way, and I want to say, “G-whiz can’t they just leave it alone for a little while?!”

What might we do, if our lives didn’t constantly feel as if we were being tailgated by the entire world, all the time? Go faster, get out of the way, or get run over.

Perhaps we’d read a book (that is an old-fashioned Kindle, made with paper, that smells like history), or perhaps we’d sit down and converse with a real person (that’s someone like you, who hopefully doesn’t smell too much like history). Hopefully, we could rediscover our humanity.

Is there a forgotten friend you’d like to visit, or a loved-one you haven’t seen in a while? I know there are lonely people out there who need someone to talk with, and someone to listen. Perhaps you are that lonely person too. In our rush to get someplace, we may have left ourselves behind—and lost ourselves along the way.

And this, finally, is my point: by taking the time to encounter another person, we will also encounter ourselves, and this encounter can put the ‘human’ back into humanity. We become less robotic and more alive.

Specifically, I want to encourage encounters with those on the margins of our society. I want to encourage visits with people in nursing homes, and assisted living environments, or visits with those who suffer from illness or chronic pain, and are unable to get out of their homes. Perhaps you don’t know any of these people, but you will if you go, and in time, these strangers will become loved-ones, and they will become dear to you.

“Hold on a second,” I hear you saying, “I don’t have time for this. That nursing home is point ‘D’, and I only go between A and B, while dreaming about C. Also…those places are so depressing…and people there are dying, or even dead. I want no part of that, thank you.”

Now I must admit something to you, I’m afraid of death. I don’t like it. I don’t like it when other people die and I especially don’t like it when I die. I also don’t like being reminded of death, or that I’m going to die. These are powerful and good reasons to avoid places like nursing homes. I often pray I won’t end up in one, and if I do someday, I expect I will be dragged into it against my will, so why would I voluntarily go into one?

Honestly? For love of others. We all have it, but sometimes it takes a lot of effort and courage to dredge it up. Fear gets in the way. Some fears are helpful, they can protect us, but many other fears pretend to protect us, but instead all they are really doing is imprisoning us, and isolating us from each other, and alienating us from our own humanity. I believe we were made to love one another courageously, and this is what makes us human.

I will go further and say that giving love is what makes us mature, no longer like little children afraid of shadows. So, I convince myself to finally put on my ‘big-boy pants’ and ignore the shadow of death, trusting in the power of love instead, and I enter a nursing home, and ask a nurse does she know who would like a visitor today? Who is in need of someone to talk with? Who can’t get out of their room, or possibly even out of their bed? Who is lonely? Who has been crying because nobody has come to see them? Who is forgetting that they are a person with dignity, and meaning and value? Who is convinced that they have no reason to live? Who doesn’t think they matter anymore?

She points me to a room down the hall and to the left. I walk in and meet my new friend, my new ‘beloved’ who I have never known before this moment.  It is a little uncomfortable at first…what to talk about? But nearly everyone likes to talk about themselves, so I ask questions about their life, their memories, special events, special people; so many, many topics to open and delve into. And if I genuinely dedicate myself to this other person, surprisingly, time begins to stand still a little bit. Life slows down to a natural pace, I can catch my breath again, and I feel human and alive.

We smile together, and we laugh together. We have nowhere else to go; the only place we need to be is here, and the only time we need is now. For the moment there are no other ‘points’ to get to, the only point is what is happening between us.

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~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Dogs & Music

Why do I love my dogs so much? Apart from the obvious facts that they are both incredibly cute and funny. Also, the fact that they are dogs, with all of the attendant well-known and time-tested traits which make them man’s best friend: loyalty, unconditional love, patience, gentleness, trust, etc.

And why do we sometimes have more difficulty loving other people as much as we love our dogs? Perhaps because people don’t practice these time-tested traits as frequently, or as consistently, as do our canine friends?

But I think the answer also lies hidden deep within our own hearts, not entirely dependent upon our puppies’ loyalty, nor upon the virtues or failings of our fellow humans. I propose, however, that the answer is hidden within the mysteries of silence and of music.

Think back upon your own life—when were you most happy, most alive, most joyful and at peace with yourself and with the world around you? If you are at all like me, I would guess that it was a time in which you forgot yourself (at least to some extent), and when you were engrossed in an activity which took you beyond yourself in some way. Perhaps you were playing a sport, as a member of a team, serving an organization or another person, or dedicated to a craft or art, or some other kind of discipline; or perhaps you were on a walk in the woods, in the mountains, or on the beach…

When I’m in the surf I feel an exhilaration sometimes bordering on bliss; my senses are heightened and I am attuned: I experience a hush, a quieting of my mind, and a simultaneous widening of my perception. I am as one who feels the waves, tastes the salt, smells the sunlight—and lives hearing the heartbeat of the earth, and seeing the music of the spheres.  My entire being lifted and lowering, rocked like a baby, quiet and silent, listening only to the voice of my mother; my everything focused solely, intently upon the meaning of another.

It can be the same with my dogs—they do not speak with words I can understand yet still, when I quiet my mind and listen to them with my being, I can perceive them. In our shared silence, when I look into their eyes and they look into mine, we can experience the truth of one another. I must admit that it can oftentimes be easier to do this with my dogs than with another person because I am already at ease, free of pretensions with nothing to prove, vulnerable and humble before my dogs.

In other words, I am at rest—I am still and silent within myself—and because of this I am perceptive to those around me. Within my silence I can hear their music. It is true, I believe, that each of us has a signature song—all creatures made with a unique melody that is their trademark; but in order to hear the music of another, we must quiet the noise within ourselves.

True love, a love that is meaningful and giving, and not merely selfish, is born out of truly knowing the one whom we are loving, and knowing is born from silence.

I had a startling experience with a friend the other day because I thought that I knew him. Yet, as our meeting unfolded, I discovered I only truly knew him in part, and his song was much more profound than I had previously understood.  I was tempted to shut out this new information about my friend, so as to maintain my caricature of him, so that I could continue to live within the safe confines of my own prejudices, so that I could interact with him in just the way I am comfortable, so that I could maintain my control; but instead, I risked the silencing of my prejudices and entering the silence of the unknown, that space of truth and reality that exists between us, if we are so bold as to enter.

This friend of mine loves music, he sings on the street to earn extra money. Often when I visit him, I find him practicing his craft, rehearsing songs, working to expand his vocal range. He might spend several hours each day rehearsing, pouring himself into his music. I’ve asked him what it is about singing that he likes so much and he says it keeps him from falling; the discipline keeps him from succumbing to drugs and alcohol. He lives in a small camper, a shell attached to the back of an old Ford F-250, and living like this, in the cold, so close to the elements, it is easy to give up and turn to things to ease or dull the pain. But singing keeps him focused and protects him from this.

He has had an amazing and wild life, something to fill volumes. Over the years that I’ve known him I’ve learned a great deal about his childhood in Europe, his career as a professional bicycle racer and as a business owner. I’ve learned the facts of his life traumas—from the months he spent in an iron lung after having been run over by a motorcycle as a child, to the abuse from and fights with an alcoholic father, to the suicide of a beloved sister, to the years alone as a runaway in Germany.

I was a good listener to all of this, silencing my own voice to hear his, but the songs each of us carry within us are so deep and wide, far surpassing the mere facts of our past. We are not merely a simple melody but rather a symphony, with a multitude of instruments playing within us—harmonious and discordant—rhythmic and syncopated, with themes and variations, movements following upon further movements…

He sang for me. Often when we met he would share what he was working on, showing me the lyrics to some song from Cold Play, or Journey, or Jane’s Addiction for instance, that had a vocal part which interested him. Then he would sing through the song, stopping to explain what he thought was the key to a particular line, or how Chris Martin or Steve Perry might have achieved their effects.

This time as he sang through a song he turned the lyrics so I could read them and motioned for me to sing along. I sang a little of “Patiently” by Journey. I like to sing, but I felt self-conscious standing in the open doorway of his camper, on the side of the street singing with him. But I saw the joy in his eyes as we sang together—he smiled and nodded his head, encouraging me to continue along. I smiled in return and kept singing.

We sounded pretty good together. I was startled by the blend of our voices and how pleasing it was. Next he pulled out the lyrics to “Life in A Northern Town” by Dream Academy. I was perplexed because my role with him had suddenly become uncertain. I had thought of myself as simply an interested friend, though somewhat detached, and now he was inviting me into his most sacred activities, no longer detached, but intimate. We were making music together. I was afraid. As we sang this next song, I wondered what others might be thinking of me, and what he might be thinking. I felt suddenly vulnerable and exposed but I kept singing, resisting the urge to stop in order to return to the status quo.

And then, as we continued to sing “Life in A Northern Town” together I felt a shift and I understood suddenly that though I knew all the facts about this man, I hadn’t known him at all. Singing revealed more about him, about me, and about us than all of our previous talking had shown me. In these moments together, sharing this song, making mistakes and giggling about them as we sang, I perceived something deep and intangible, difficult to articulate, yet existentially powerful. I felt love, for him, for us, and simply for love’s own sake; love let loose and freed.

What must we do to truly love? The answer isn’t simply mathematical, nor is it a reaction of chemicals, but it is more alchemical, because it involves a transformation that is somewhat magical. Music perceived through silence can yield love. The essential truth within each element of creation, the music of our souls, the truth of our being, can be heard through the stillness of our heart, by the silencing of our restless mind, and the silencing of our fears. I believe that love for each other, like love for our dogs, is much easier and closer than it may appear to us at first.

Love is natural, the most natural and elemental aspect in all of creation; it surrounds us and permeates us. Yet we keep ourselves aloof from love. We need courage to enter the silence of ourselves, and we need trust to perceive the music of others. It may be easier to access courage and trust while in the presence of our dogs because they are loyal and trustworthy; though it can be riskier to extend ourselves to other people in this same way, the reward of doing so is a life filled with love.

~FS

 

The Spare Room

There are many good reasons not to allow another—a “stranger”—to move into ones spare bedroom. The reasons are obvious. Axiomatic. We don’t need to convince ourselves of these things, so self-evident, do we? Then why am I up in the middle of the night pondering this very thing—my conscience troubled by that empty, spare room upstairs—by that individual whom I know could benefit so much through its use; there is a need, and there is a solution, so simply available.

But I like my space…I can often be generous with my money, sometimes even with my time, but my privacy? We must draw the line someplace, can’t we?! Come on now… Remember that time several years ago…?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. We once let an older lady stay with us for a few days. She slept on the futon in the living room (we didn’t have a spare room at the time). True, she had some mental problems, she was certain the government was spying on her, and that they had used her for medical experiments numerous times since her childhood. Apparently they were still after her and she was frightened. These things were untrue, of course, but her fear was real. So she stayed with us for several days and we looked after her.

She couldn’t take care of herself. She was incontinent, and urinated on our futon. There was simply too much liquid, so we had to throw it away. But before that, she started a fire on the stovetop. Had not Grace, my first wife, fortunately been home at the time, and able to put out the fire before it grew, we very likely would have lost the house, and this dear lady her life. As Grace battled the flames, she slept soundly upon the futon unaware of the fire she had started by leaving a bag of groceries on the burner, and then turning it on…and then going to sleep.

This is a convincing anecdote I think, good enough to justify my misgivings about the spare room upstairs. I believe I can go back to sleep now, at ease, my conscience mollified by good common sense and experience. I will return to bed now and sleep; but somehow I know this matter is far from settled within me.

Conscience can be polite—ignore it—and it will often go away; neglect it, and it might grow quiet. In fact, sometimes even eating a lot will make it shut up, at least for a time, at least until we eat again—but be sure to eat a lot, so as to shove conscience far down—the weight of food can overwhelm it. However, conscience too can be aggressive, needling us, refusing to stay down. Rising up again like heartburn.

Our spare room—there it was the next morning as I walked out our bedroom door. As I turned to descend the stairs, I glanced to my left and through its open doorway: a nice little room with a queen-sized bed, a nightstand, a chair and low coffee-table. It is a very comfortable room, with a window looking out onto the tree-filled lot behind ours, quiet, with a view of the local fauna: owls, deer, raccoon, and small birds of all sorts. It would be the perfect place for him to stay—it even has a full bathroom adjacent to it! Perfect!

This perfect solution has been dancing around in my head for months. “Dancing” isn’t quite the right word for it, perhaps too playful a word, maybe “jostling” is more appropriate. No, I’m looking for a word that denotes more struggle, and difficulty, and angst—clashed! This perfect solution has clashed against my desire for solitude, and my need, real or imagined, to maintain my sanctuary of personal space: my home, my castle, my oasis, a port in the storm. In this crazy world there is no place like home, but how might that peace be broken and altered by the presence of another? But couldn’t he likewise benefit from a “port in the storm”? Yes, perhaps much more than even I do. Our home could be a “life-saver” for him, or at least a place for him to find stability, possibly feeling the firm ground of a loving home for the first time in his life. How could I deny him this chance? I certainly would be grateful myself for this kind of consideration, were I in his position. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I have difficulty shaking this suggestion (command), which was given to help us learn to love each other a little better, a little fuller, and a little deeper.

“God loves a cheerful giver” and I am not cheerful about this idea of giving our spare room for another person’s use. Well, honestly…I am cheerful, even joyful—if I’m completely honest about it. And since I’m being completely honest: I also feel nauseous about the idea. I ponder alternatives: How could we share our home, without sharing our home? Maybe we could convert the shed into a habitable space instead, or buy an RV and he could stay in that, or maybe buy an empty lot and put up a tiny home for him, which could also be used by others in the future—that would be even better. But these ideas, when fleshed out, and after the math is done, are far too expensive for our means. The spare room, on the other hand, costs us nothing but our privacy (and a little electricity and water). These are a small price to pay. The benefit for him far outweighing the cost to us. And, of course, giving always has a surprise benefit and ‘payoff’ for the giver; so I’m sure, in the end, we’d be happy we did it. Plus, there is always a thrill involved with any act of selflessness; that wild abandon of throwing caution to the wind! Still, oh…my privacy!!

Our spare room is not just a spare room, we also use it to store things which have no other place, we do our ironing in there, my wife has her sewing machine set up there, and in the summer, when our bedroom gets too hot and stuffy, since it is at the front of the house facing south, when it is too hard to sleep in our room, she sleeps in the cool and quiet of this spare bedroom; also to find escape away from the noise of the neighbors, who we hear through our open windows at the front of the house. It is also a guest room—we’ve had sisters, nieces, and brothers-in-law visit and stay with us using that room. How could we do any of these things, any longer, if we invited a visitor to move into that room and live there?

It is not only a spare room, nor even a simple guest room, but it has also become a fulcrum for my thoughts and feelings about how to show love towards my “neighbor”, and the boundaries and limitations of my love. For every good reason I can assert for not sharing this room with our “neighbor”, our friend in need, I can easily find a counterargument in favor of sharing it with him, when argued with empathy and kindness. If I argue simply from my point of view then it becomes rather easy: I need my privacy; I like living with my wife and two dogs and don’t want to share our home with anyone else; I need our home to be a sanctuary so that I can be refreshed and recharged and able to face the world again; I want to walk around without any clothes on if I want to (I don’t often do this, but I could); I want to be silly and say silly things to our dogs and even sing made-up songs to them without worrying about looking silly. All of this is fairly reasonable. But when I argue from his point of view I feel a little bit petty: he has no family and no friends in this area, he is very lonely, and he is a very social person in need of people to interact with on a daily basis; a family of sorts could be a great benefit to him; he has numerous physical challenges which make life quite difficult for him and he could use some help; his job doesn’t pay enough for him to afford to live in a healthy environment, settling for bad situations due to economics, and he has some circumstances which make getting a better job difficult; he could save money by staying with us and prepare for a better future. He could thrive and grow in a nurturing environment such as we can provide for him. On the other hand, this whole enterprise could blow up in our faces, and nobody may be better off for the experiment. There are no guarantees. But is love ever poorly spent? Even if it costs us everything?

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. I cursed when we had to throw away our futon, urine-soaked and stinking. But now, in retrospect, it is a funny story, and makes me smile. I miss that crazy lady; she was interesting. She could have burned our house down, and somebody could have lost their life. Certainly that isn’t funny. But what are we living our lives for, and who are we living them for? Are we living only for today—only for this world, and only for ourselves—or are we also living for eternal life, and for someone beyond ourselves? It depends on how we look at it—for each of us, so much depends on how we look at it.

*  *  *

~FS