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Tag Archives: Emmanuel Levinas

How do I listen?

When I began to look for a poem today, I chose one by Hafiz. It reminds me of the following Buddhist proverb:

How do I listen? The question is eloquent, as it does not have a fixed and expected answer. It suggests being present and mindful as another person speaks and as the universe speaks to me. Hafiz counsels me to treat what the other says as a gift to be cherished as the last words of a Master.

It is when I listen that the teacher appears. I am ready for the teachings of the Other. Emmanuel Levinas capitalized other to point out an unconditional responsibility for the Other. How I listen reveres the Other, who is my teacher in that moment.

How

Do I

Listen to Others?

As if everyone were my Master

Speaking to me

His

Cherished

Last

Words.

 

 

 

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We Stand at the Edge of a True Wilderness

While I was on my sabbatical, I attended a retreat. One of the highlights was meeting Parker Palmer. The people from the Centre Courage and Renewal who organized the retreat use Parker’s teachings as the foundation for these retreats.

Like Parker’s written work, the retreat focused on rich conversation, reflecting and writing, and poetry. Some poets I was familiar with, but others I did not recall hearing before. One of the poets who fell into the latter category was Barbara Rohde.

This poem reminds me my life is a continuous entering wilderness. No one entered my wilderness before. I don’t have a path or map to show me the way. I walk alone in a sense, but I am not alone.

The etymology of companion is to break bread and share a meal with others we meet on a journey. As we meet each other and hear our music, we can sing it back to each other and share it like the bread we break together. It is in sharing we can overcome fear and anxiety that comes from feeling a sense of loneliness in our lives.

We can encourage and place courage in one another. Emmanuel Levinas capitalized Other to signify an unconditional responsiblity for others. It reminds me of the line in Spartacus where others stand and say, “I am Spartacus!” What would it mean to say “I am Muslim! I am Hispanic?” We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and responsbility before us.

We stand at the edge of a true wilderness.No one has entered it, nor worn a path for us.  There are no maps.

We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and possibility before us.  Yet there is also something in us that causes us to face the unknown territory cautiously and anxiously.

Now, in this place, we take time out of time to look back, to see where we have been and what we have been, to reflect on what we have learned thus far on our journey.

We gather together to remind each other to see our True north, and to encourage–to place courage in–one another.

When we leave this place, we must each find our true path.  We must walk alone.

But now and then we may meet.

When we meet, may we offer each other the bread of our being.

And oh, my brothers, and oh, my sisters, if you hear me plunging wildly, despairingly, through the thicket, call out to me.  Calm me.

And if you find me sleeping in the snow, awaken me, lest my heart to turn ice.

And if you hear my music, praising the mornings of the world, then in that other time, in the blackness of my night, sing it back to me.

Every Movement

The philosopher and Talmudic scholar Emmanuel Levinas proposed that events are ongoing and remain incomplete, including creation as an event. In a sense, God’s creating is never completed.

Hafiz suggests something similar when it comes to understanding God’s work. It is a movement, an event. I find it easy to say no without pausing and being attentive. What does this mean? Am I able to understand its meaning at this time?

There is little patience in waiting for the luminous movement of existence. Quite often, we want something and set forward in a singular way captivated by the thoughts of that might mean as if living is done in moments. When we are patient, mindful, and attentive, the luminous movements appear at the most unexpected times that cannot be measured and described in any complete way.

I rarely let the word “No” escape
From my mouth
Because it is plain to my soul
That God has shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
To every luminous movement in existence.

Lingering in Happiness

Mary Oliver writes mystical and magical poetry. The words, the silences, and the images invoke and evoke something deep within my spirit. The etymologies of invoke and evoke, along with vocation, is “to call” in a ministering sense.

For me, teaching was/is a calling. I am still becoming a teacher. I reflect on what I experienced and arrive at new understandings about what those experience means. Emmanuel Levinas described an event as something that transcends time and place.

In that sense, becoming a teacher is an event as it continues to happen in many ways. Not only am I making sense of what that means and who I am, others do, as well. Even who I am becoming is an intersubjective event that shared with others.

Similar to the rain drops that slowly fall and nourish the oak, becoming some one is something that takes time. The drops and memories may disappear, but not vanish. They leave traces in the tree that grows and the person who is always becoming.

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground
where it will disappear – but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;
and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

Looking for the Differences

Tom Hennen wrote about the differences that can fill our senses each day. Sometimes, humans do not notice what is different as differences can hide in nooks and crannies of our daily lives. When we do sense the differences, they can excite our senses and call us to take care around them. In their daily existences, these things are “royalty in their own country.”

The words thing and objects used in the poem can be replaced by persons and subjects. How many people do we miss and avoid, because they look, speak, and act differently? There is a strangeness in the royalty of the other that calls upon us to question not them, but our self.

Hans-Georg Gadamer suggested that when some one or something different shows itself humans pull up short. Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas wrote that when the stranger appears at the door the host is faced with a paradox of unconditional responsiblity and risk. When we greet the stranger and what is different, we do so with uncertainty. The words host, hospitality, and hostile share etymological roots. We cannot know in advance who and what strangers represent when we greet them, but in Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the host is responsible for the care and well-being of that stranger.

Perhaps in being attentive and mindful to the world we exist in, we can better serve the stranger and what is strange when they appear.

I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their sameness.

The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a branch in the

tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be noticed by people,

out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against the scaly pine bark, busy

at some existence that does not need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward the rest

of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on earth has its own

soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is filled with the mud of

its own star. I watch where I step and see that the fallen leaf, old

broken grass, an icy stone are placed in exactly the right spot on the

earth, carefully, royalty in their own country.

The Warmth of Gratitude

The Warmth of Gratitude.

When we measure happiness based on material wealth, we miss the importance it plays in living a grateful life.

Today, Kathy and I discussed how the ordinary is in the extraordinary. It is there. When we pause, it reveals itself. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about being present and mindful when drinking tea is an act of gratitude. We are grateful for the work that created the tea, the cup, the pot, the energy, etc.

Emmanuel Levinas proposed ethics as an event preceding and succeeding this particular time and place. In this sense, space knows no  temporal and spatial boundaries. I am grateful for what preceded this moment in drinking tea, what succeeds this moment, and the gift sent from many places by others who are taking responsibility for my tea drinking without knowing me.

Once you realize…

Once you realize….

Nisargadatta is new to me, but the short message is inspirational. Responsibility for who we are and the way we live is essential to living. Emmanuel Levinas called it being response-able. We are able to be responsible for living and becoming the person we are.

When we let the world inside shine onto the world outside, we are able to respond to the world more fully. Levinas’ work is often connected to ethics and living a good life. Ethics is about a practical rather than theoretical way of living. It is easy to take the moral high ground. It is not so easy to live the moral high ground. Being able to respond, to be mindfully responsible is essential to living well and fully.

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