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Category Archives: Leadership

What Do You Plan to Do with Your One Wild Life?

Mary Oliver wrote the beautiful poem The Summer Day. She ended the poem with a question: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Actually, she included several questions, which are not answerable in any certain way. Life is unpredictable, but what we want to do with it echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer who wrote “desire beyond wanting.” To me, this suggests we each aspire, perhaps can aspire, to something beyond simply knowing and planning. There is more to life than we can plan and predict, yet we can hope.

I think, as important, the question is about vocation and what calls us forward and animates each of our spirits. Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer write about how vocation and voice relate to one another and are how we express who we are in life. Merton goes so far as to say some of us are perhaps destined to search without discovering what calls us.

I wonder, “have we lost this sense of spiritual purpose in the early part of the 21st Century?” We look out there, read the newspapers, follow 24/7 news, etc. and feel deep despair and hopelessness, perhaps even disinterest to follow what beckons. I don’t say this lightly. Two incidents led me to wonder about this. First, at a recent community engagement conference, I was struck by how much despair filled the room. Second, in a private conversation with a parent, they commented how a child was struggling with what exists beyond our individual life. The child is experiencing a sense of despair over this. In part, this is exacerbated because the parents are atheists and feel unable to give guidance in a spiritual way. Finding our voice and who we are is more than an instrumental process of work. It goes beyond to the spiritual essence of who each are and how that brings meaning to our lives and the world.

In the latter setting, I emphasized the idea that we conflate religion and spirituality. One can be deeply spiritual and non-religious and non-theist. One can be religious and theist without being spiritual. The essence of spirituality is to find what calls to me and respond with the qualities of life I want to find in the world. I don’t think those in short supply, but, if we listen to the media, we come away with a different view. At the heart of this, might be the great existential questions poets, like Mary Oliver, ask us.

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I include a lovely reading by Mary Oliver of this poem.

My Ojibwa prayer.

via My Ojibwa prayer.

John shares a beautiful prayer and a wonderful segue into a New Year. Many Indigenous peoples, like the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe and Saulteaux) cherished Mother Earth in their spirituality. Also in his post, there is a cover of John Lennon‘s Imagine.

When I read the prayer, I consider what questions arise from the various words and lines John shares. What if each human being prayed for peace? What would this mean? What if we questioned how much an acre of land is worth in human life, lives of other creatures, and destruction to land ? What if we each reflected on sacred places we seek refuge in, whether they are in some remote spot, a city park, or our backyard garden? What do those places mean to each of us? What is the cost to us if they disappear?

John’s words remind me of a story Leo Tolstoy wrote, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The main character Pahom consumed with greed makes a bargain with the devil to acquire as much land by walking around and returning to the starting point by the time the sun sets. As it turns out, Pahom’s greed gets in the way and he fails, giving up his soul and life in exchange for a grave that constitutes the amount of land he needs in his life.

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Kathy took this picture from the one of the overviews on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park.

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of
wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the
greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or
generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken . . .
that does not sing hymns to God.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

via A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

Bruce posts wonderful text, accompanied by exceptional images. This post caught my eye as I looked through Bruce’s blog. It is about Thomas Merton and his enduring work as a pacifist, activist and support of inter-faith dialogue.

I read Merton and book about his writings frequently. I grew up in the shadow of Vatican II, which promoted inter-faith dialogue and Merton, Brother David Steindel-Rast, Karen Armstrong, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. attract me to their work.

I find them to be prophetic and mystical, often signaling challenges we will face long before they are evident to most of us. For example, Bruce included a wonderful quote from a letter Merton wrote to Rachel Carson after reading Silent Spring. Both offered prophetic views, as mystics, of a world to come and challenges we faced in the 1950’s.

I leave you with this quote from Thomas Merton and wish each of you the best. However, we each celebrate we need to share our love for each other and the world we share with each other.

The beginning of love
is the will to let those we love
be perfectly themselves,
the resolution not to twist them
to fit our own image.”
~Thomas Merton

Daffodils, Lake, and Mountain in Glacier

I share this image often. Kathy took it in Glacier National Park. She shared it with me out of love and I share it with my love for the people who will see it and nature we are stewards of, echoing Wendell Berry when we say: We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children

somehow at peace

via somehow at peace

Matthew writes beautiful poetry and this poem is not exception. Somehow, I find myself going against the grain and moving upstream, searching for and finding peace. Perhaps, it finds me.

Mary Oliver wrote a book, Upstream, speaking of the poet’s need to move against life’s currents to find words and express themeslves. I find questions in poetry, sometimes explicitly formed. Other times, they hide and wait to be lifted up as I imagine what the poet asks. Perhaps, a poet’s task is to guide me as I move upstream.

I wonder what would it be like to take the poet’s sensibility into the world? In a world filled with busyness and distractions, I find that challenging. Yet, I find poetry and poetry-like prose spaces where peace emerges through the poet’s words and expressions of the unexpressible. How can I imagine the words in concrete ways?

 

I took this picture as we travelled through the mountains about 1.5 years ago. The river is relatively calm and peaceful, but to move upstream against the current would be hard work, looking to be expressed. The word express means to force something out, usually against pressure.

The Other Kingdoms

In my recent reading, I came across this poem by Mary Oliver. I had not read it before, but found it spoke to me in deep ways.

The other day, on Facebook, I came across a Welsh saying: “Dwi wedi dod yn ôl at fy nghoed.” It means returning to my senses/regaining mental equilibrium or more literally I returnto my trees. I understand this as coming back to my roots and being mindful and present for each sentient and non-sentient being I encounter. The word Druid means oak-knower and the Druids lived in harmony and oneness in nature.

Where do I feel most comfortable? The word comfort comes from com meaning surround and fort meaning strength. In other words, living mindfully in the world has ethical implications. In Greek, ethos means character and also how music influences morals, emotions, and behavior.

As I listen to each of the other kingdoms, what music do I hear? How does the music influence and inform who I am, what I say, and what I do? How am I aware of the music and sounds I hear in these kingdoms?

Consider the other kingdoms.  The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals.  Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze.  Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.  Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

I took this picture several years in Jasper National Park. Kathy and I had gone for an early drive and hike. We parked and took pictures. As I turned, I thought I saw something move and walked towards the movement. The cow elk sat and chewed her cud. She was aware of us and, as I approached, I heard the soft sounds she made in completing the digestive process.

We pointed her out to others and cautioned them to be careful and quiet as they approached her.  After all, we are strangers in those other kingdoms.

 

Please drink of me, my love

via Please drink of me, my love

John provided a wonderful post. He often writes poetry and includes images, but this time he was prosaic. His most common theme is love and he was true to that in his post. The link above includes a video.

Along with images, John embedded a video of one of my favourite performers, Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s songs are poems put to music. This link includes a video from Cohen’s recently released posthumous CD.

I have listened to his music and read his poetry for 40 years. The song John posted, Dance Me to the End of Love, is my favourite Cohen song. I am unsure of its underlying, but I think of it as an ode to perfect love that continues like a great dance. Love of this kind does not die. Instead it lives on and is remembered by those who witnessed it.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about how our ancestors are always present. I think, with a perfect love, people remember it in the stories and people who were part of that love.

Here is the URL for the Leonard Cohen song Sisters of Mercy. He was well known for writing songs about what he experienced. People interpreted this song as being about prostitutes, but Cohen said the idea came to him as he sat in a hotel room in Edmonton watching nuns come and go from a convent. He took some poetic licence in writing the lyrics.

 

 

Sunday Morning

via Sunday Morning

There has been a theme of Nature and trees in my recent presses. When David shared a portion of I Go Among Trees and Sit Still by Wendell Berry, it was an opportunity to continue the theme.

Wherever we find them, Nature and trees offer shelter. Nature is not merely out there. It is close at hand and surrounds us. Sitting in an urban park, feeding squirrels and pigeons we are in Nature as much as as walking on a secluded path in the back and beyond.

When I walk, I hear more than I see, sometimes it is the silence that is most noticeable. What hides from sight can easily be heard and not found. The same is true of life. We each experience much more than we can process, absorb, and recall, yet there are moments, when I am still, I recall a moment that had slipped away. I recall it imperfectly, but it is there.

Yellowstone Elk

I took this picture several years ago in Yellowstone. I got to within 20 or so feet of this elk. He knew I was there and looked at me. Trees sheltered him and me from each other, reducing the threat. As well, I moved quietly to get into position to take the picture, making little noise and posing minimal threat (I hoped).

Just after this picture, I took a one of a bison about ten feet away. I positioned myself between the van and animal, who was less happy with me than the elk and kept the side door open.

A key for me is to remember where I am and that those animals are wild. Even in an urban setting, a wild animal would be unpredictable. Stillness is important in their presence,

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