This last weekend I attended a training held at one of my favorite places, a local Trappist Abbey. The first morning, before it started, I took a walk by the ponds. The morning felt a little damp with a low fog, making everything a little mysterious.
As I walked between the two ponds, there was a large splash across the largest pond, and an animal of some sort was swimming straight towards me. I could not identify it and wondered if it was a dog with an owner close by. My eyes scanned the fields behind the creature, but I only saw another dog, possibly a coyote. I began to wonder what was going on - this felt very surreal. What was swimming directly towards me? What do I do? Should I be concerned?
I kept watching the creature, still unable to identify it except to recognize it was large with huge ears that stood straight up. The rest of its body was completely submerged in the water. It continued to swim directly toward me. As it came closer, I could tell it was a deer. I have never seen a deer swim before.
The doe stepped out of the water about 3 to 4 feet away from where I was standing. Her front right leg was severely wounded. It looked like it was broken and entirely out of place. It seemed swollen and painful. She pulled herself out of the water and stood on 3 legs while surveying the space around her noticing my close proximity.
Across the pond, I could now identify the coyote jumping around looking for a way to get to its intended next meal. It moved quickly and came around the same side of the pond where the deer and I stood. Further down the path it crouched, watching and waiting for what the deer would do next - would she run, would she come towards it, what would she do?
The doe’s little heart must have been beating with fear as she navigated what to do with this strange person close by, a coyote closing down on her, and the Abbey presenting a place of safety ahead. Her brown eyes connected with mine and my heart was filled with compassion for her predicament. I could tell her leg wasn’t something that would heal on its own, it needed to be reset to be functional again. All I could say as she slowly walked by was, “I’m sorry baby, I’m so sorry.”
As the deer slowly walked in front of me and past my right side, the coyote watched from its crouched and ready position. I stepped between the two out of instinct. This obvious, expected process of the natural circle of life would not happen on my watch. The doe walked up towards the safety of the Abbey and the coyote, recognizing its defeat, turned and walked away. My heart was drawn to compassion for this beautiful coyote losing its prey.
As I have reflected on this surreal experience and my training at the Abbey this last weekend, I began to see a parallel in what I saw and what I experienced. In one session, my own story was triggered by something someone else had brought. I was able to do what I needed to do in my role, but my heart felt a harshness in the experience, a lack of compassion for myself. Sometimes we need to do what is before us and take care of how it makes us feel at another time. Yet, being careful to notice the pain that can get triggered is not only essential to notice but also essential to hold with compassion, grace, and love. We can actually do both at the same time. Being present and having compassion are not opposites and do not preclude one another.
The woundedness of the deer, her deep pain, fear, without any hope of the situation changing reminds me of the pain I felt being triggered during the session. The pain and the triggered experience doesn’t define me, as the wounded leg doesn’t define the doe, yet it is an invitation for compassion. We are invited to recognize, acknowledge the painful parts inside of us with an intention to return in a safe spaciousness, to hold the pain with compassion, grace, and love.
How do we do that? Well, for starters, we do it very imperfectly. We can recognize and become more tolerant of the tension we experience in discovering a place of pain, either in us or in those around us. I tend to try to fix whatever I discover inside myself. But what if it can’t be remedied so quickly? What if the gift of embracing the pain is the invitation? Instead of fixing or covering over what we discover we allow it to do the work in us. If the journey of spiritual formation, this growing in our understanding of our own belovedness, is about letting go, then we let go of the escape or numbing practices we may have and hold ourselves and those around us with compassion, being present to what we discover.
Doing so doesn’t make us stuck in a victim mode either. Being a victim or a martyr isn’t a place of compassion. True compassion doesn’t rescue or fix anyone, but it is about walking alongside while feeling with the other, even ourselves. It is treating one another and ourselves with kindness. When we try to reduce or fix an issue, it is usually about us being uncomfortable with the tension. Can we hold the tension of not being able to fix it? I didn’t fix the issue for the deer but only gave it space to live another day.
Sometimes, there are things we can do to fix the systemic issues that cause places of pain. Stepping in the middle of this natural cycle of life delayed it for another day. Both coyotes and deer deserve to live, and the natural circle of life isn’t something to fix. Yet, there are many kinds of systemic injustices in our culture that do invite us to step in the way of what seems like a natural consequence.
I believe holding pain with compassion is the ground of being able to step into places to fix systemic issues without making enemies of the other side, those who disagree with us. The coyote wasn’t doing anything but being a coyote, the way it was created to live. The coyote deserves our compassion too. The question I have been considering is who in my, your, world is an invitation for compassion today?
So much demands our attention! So many things clamor for what we have, what we can give, and who we are. The world we live in expects status, power, things to fill us. The more we strive after what we desire, the less we feel at peace. Our hunger for whatever we perceive will fill our desires never seems satiated. When is enough, truly enough?
Often there is nothing wrong with what we want in or out of life. I mean it is one thing to seek after power to use it over people but for the most part that isn’t what drives us. Maybe we are fighting for someone else or even just to make ends meet. When our desires tend to be the focus of the issue, we deny them, feeling satisfied in that solution.
I read this verse in worship the other day.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
In this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about leaving them and the Father sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. I can imagine their confusion and fear hearing the message that their teacher, this rabbi who was going to save them from Roman oppression, was leaving them. But Jesus promised peace, perfect peace.
How do we live out this promised peace given all there is to do? My own schedule seems busier and busier as things continue to grow. Working is easy for me to do. Many times, I walk by my computer to only get sucked into something that needs to be done.
Jesus promised something different. Jesus promised to provide all that we need (remember the birds) and peace. As I was reflecting on this verse, I noticed that Jesus stated he did not give as the world gives. When I chase after what I think I need, it never satisfies. It is never enough. When I stop chasing, I can become content with what I have and where I am.
So, how do I stop chasing when my own ability to pay my bills rests on my working? Do I really believe the promises of Jesus? I think this goes deeper than my ability to believe. I used to think that I needed to believe hard enough like Jesus was a magician to give me what I thought I needed. But we can look around, and see that just isn’t a lived experience of many who are suffering, starving, wounded by the world in one way or another.
It isn’t like the work I do is a bad thing - it is good, very good. Often it feels like play which is undoubtedly connected to how easy it is to get sucked in by my computer when I walk by. The work is good and meaningful. And yet, God invites us to rest.
For me, the invitation is taking a Sabbath each week. It is closing my laptop and walking away while following the leaning of my heart for the agenda of the day. It can be a walk at the Abbey, in the midst of trees and the sound of running water, a chat with a friend, or a much-needed nap. The flow of the day can be whatever leads me as I rest in the day with the Creator of my soul. The One who created me to work, rest, and play.
If Jesus gives us peace, perfect peace, then our invitation is to rest in that peace without the striving, achieving, and getting it right that comes so naturally for us, for me. But to rest requires intentionality on my part. I have to know what I truly desire in my life. Getting to the guiding values of my life has been a place of knowing myself and seeing the gaze of God upon me as unconditional love, not something to be earned.
I can only live in my values and my work of hosting space for others if I lean into the rest I am offered. My intentionality started with a Rhythm of Life - a structure that is framed around what I truly desire in life. Walking through understanding and forming my own Rhythm of Life was part of my journey through seminary. Examining its usefulness and making adjustments has been a continuing of that same journey of discovery of both myself and God in the midst of my life.
Trusting Jesus’ invitation to peace, which is only possible in the space of rest in my life, hasn’t been about believing through rational thought that it was true but in resting in the trueness of it being a reality. In it, I have discerned my own guiding values - Choosing Love, Being Real, Living Simply, Embracing Family, and Valuing Life. When I can hold each of my invitations for work, life, and play through this matrix of values, I am able to discern the way forward. Can I live an authentic life according to the values I have come to realize are the core of the way I want to live? Not a forcing of believing but a living and walking out of reality. It comes not from my rational thought but from a lived groundedness deep within. This informs our discerning of the value of enoughness.
Lynn Holt and I are starting a course on March 18th which will be a space to walk through this process within a safe community. The course will be online with virtual zoom sessions to share the wisdom of the gathered community as we process what our own invitations are. If you would like to join us, please check it out on our website.
Recently, while finishing up my morning quiet-time routine, I reflected on the important place that this morning routine has on my preparation for the day. As I sat and reflected, I had the impression, of climbing up on a ladder attached to the high dive platform of a swimming pool. This impression had me feeling resolved to go through with an action that I had done a number of times before, making a high dive. I was used to the pattern of getting up on the diving platform by climbing the ladder and standing there, mentally preparing for the dive. I imagined a brand new pool and felt the comfort of looking around, knowing that all was in order, seeing how clear and still the water was, and knowing that just like all the previous times, I would stride to the end of the board, dive off and enter the water cleanly, knowing just what to expect and being met with those expectations. On the other hand, I also imagined myself in a derelict building, the lighting was dim, the walls were dingy, the water was a bit murky, and the ladder was slippery. Now, I did not have the sense that I had been up there many times before, and I was not ready because I did not have a routine. I had some fear that when I dove, some mishap might occur.
I see this high dive platform experience as a metaphor for my morning routine, a jumping off point for my day. As inconsequential as my process of having a cup of coffee, reading the bible, reflecting quietly, and then writing in my journal might seem to another person; for me, it is life-giving because it is a routine that I depend on to bridge from the world of sleep to the world of endless possibilities for my day. Will I view the day from the well-established and supported platform, or from the slightly off, unsure platform? I’d like to go into the day saying;
“I am a creator today, just like my Creator! What is on my agenda today, what do I want to create? Perhaps I will create a happy occasion for another person, maybe an opportunity for someone to achieve a goal. I might create a barrier against harm for myself or others. I could create space for my own contemplation and growth. Or, I might make some art that will cause someone to feel, to sense, to remember, to experience, or to wonder. All of these are possibilities. I can take advantage of the open invitation to create and I believe that what I make will be useful, edifying, encouraging, comforting, or loving for another person, for myself, and for my community. I am a creator!”
The book of Genesis prompts us that mankind is made in the image of God. Being in the image of God grants to us the ability and determination to create. When I think about creating and shaping the moment, I see it as an opportunity. Recognizing my role as a creator is both liberating and empowering, while at the same time, I recognize that being a creator comes with responsibilities. And what are those responsibilities? Is it to be true to my art? Is it to steward my resources? Is it to use my gifts to bless others? These are all good aims, good and true. And why do I say that? Because I have the belief that this is what my art of creation is, the shaping of goodness and light. Regarding the opportunity and responsibility of creation, what else is there for me to do but to trust the Spirit’s leading?
In following those leadings, I accept the core responsibilities of a creator; stewardship, integrity, and blessing others. When I move forward with stewardship, integrity, and blessing, I am able to proceed, even if the exact details of my day are not known. For I can live in light of the following questions. In this moment, in this day, am I stewarding the gift of creativity? Am I preparing myself to be creative by my recognition of God’s leadings, and the needs and opportunities around me? In being true to the art of creation, am I acting with integrity to take what I have been given and share it faithfully with those around me? Sometimes a prompt to speak or act may make me uncomfortable. To be faithful in the moment requires me to disregard the doubt and discomfort. I do not know who needs to hear or receive and I don’t know who will benefit if I am faithful. Finally, am I creating blessings for others by kindness or faithfulness or goodness? What am I creating today that helps others, serves others, and influences others for good?
My morning routine does prepare me for the moments of the day. I can choose to view the world as a beautiful place in which I can contribute on a daily basis or as an ugly or difficult place I want to avoid. Each day I have that choice, and each day I can steward the moments for the purpose of blessing others. My morning routine of reading, writing and silent prayer and reflection provides the springboard for me to enter in to the day in a pleasing and energizing way.
This last week has been a difficult one for my family. My daughter with her family live, or lived, in Paradise, California. The massive devastation through the CampFire has been beyond difficult for the community of Paradise. Many people have lost homes, schools, and their town. And others did not make it out alive. How do we manage such places of loss?
My daughter called me early the morning of the fire, to tell me she and her family were okay but that they were being evacuated. She had actually started leaving her house just before the mandatory evacuation. I am so thankful for her decisive action and their safety. One of the things she remembered about leaving their home was that the trees around her house were crackling. The fire wasn’t there yet, but the trees on her property were making crackling sounds.
I don’t know a whole lot about forests. Once when I was researching, I discovered that trees in a forest or grove are actually connected underground through their root system. What one tree lacks due to pests, drought, or disease, other trees send through their roots.
I wondered, was this crackling due to the heat and the approaching fire or was it the community of trees sending on the message to those further ahead? Could this be a warning to whoever or whatever was ahead of the fire?
This image - born in time of devastation - offers a beautiful illustration of community. Together, we live this life in healthier ways than if we are isolated. When we can walk alongside others within community, we can learn to share our needs and meet the needs shared.
This is what I noticed for my daughter and her family in California and for myself as I was holding my family from so far away. My daughter and son-in-law are surrounded by a community that is supporting them as they navigate life after such great loss - as they find a place to live, replace toys for the kids, and clothes for each of them, even a space for their dog. So many needs as they have lost everything.
I also see community and support being offered to them from afar. People, family and friends, who have known us throughout their lifetime, are providing support and love. I can say this speaks volumes to my momma’s heart as I watch their sadness and courage in the face of such a devastating loss.
I’ve been surprised at the impact on my own heart in watching my kids suffer. I live 500 miles away and am not able to rush down and give them a hug. Even if I could, I would not be able to make the pain and loss go away. But my heart hurts to watch them. So much so that I am unable to think about much else. I find I am paying attention to the news and the progress of the fire. I even checked to see what view was available through Google Earth. (Just so you know: it is only updated every one to three years.)
The intentional community I live in has been a place where I am welcomed just as I am. These relationships allow me to understand the intensity of my own emotions, to be honest with permission to allow the pain of holding the hurt of my family.
I wonder if this is living in community - our empathy with the others in our lives, feeling with or even in the emotions of others. When the people around us are suffer, we get to hold that burden together, and that makes it a bit lighter for all. Maybe it is in the sharing of the weight of the load that allows us to benefit from sharing the weight of the pain and also the gift of the joy together. Maybe this is the way we are designed to live, sharing the struggles and joys of life in community together instead of in isolation in this individualistic culture in which we live. This seems to be more like the trees with the root systems connected under the topsoil.
I’m thankful for the community that is surrounding my family. I’m grateful for the community that is surrounding me. I’m also grateful to be part of a community of family and friends that allows us to experience each other's grief, happiness, sadness, and joy. In community, the load is lightened and more beautiful. It comes from how we understand God - if God is about relationship, being with us, then it seems that living life in community, one with another, there is both the experience and the reality of a God who is always with us.
What if this is how we experience the goodness of God? We experience this goodness within relationship, within love, within a community of people where we can both see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved.
In my last blog post, I shared the beginning of Dorothy Day’s journey toward faith and her distinct leaning toward social justice. It was the integration of these two aspects of Dorothy’s understanding of the world that shaped both her work and life. There was something about her desire to know God and her view of people on the outside that brought her mission in life into focus.
A primary driving force for Dorothy was seeing those who were oppressed in the systemic divide created during the industrial revolution and the depression. The world experienced great suffering as the gap grew between those in power, business owners, and their workers. Unions were viewed as an affront, linking them to feared socialism. This was a tumultuous time where people were either thrown into poverty or looking out for their own self-interests. Those who were different from others were seen as the enemy. The church navigated this growing divide between the haves and the have-nots with a thrust toward evangelism, “saving souls,” over taking care of basic needs.(1)
Dorothy continued fighting for social justice through journalism and protests. This mission in her life gave her purpose, but she desired to love and be loved. She became involved in a controlling romantic relationship, but when she became pregnant, her boyfriend wanted to end it. Dorothy had an abortion to try to keep him, but he ended the relationship anyway. Dorothy became depressed and suicidal. As she looked back over her life, she could see that her desire to love and be loved was a guiding influence in her search for God. After her abortion, she continued to have gynecological problems and feared she would never be able to become pregnant again.(2)
Dorothy moved to Staten Island after selling the movie rights to her first book.(3) She sought a restful space to continue to write. During this time, she met and fell in love with Forster, an anarchist and biologist. Forster did not want to commit fully, so they were never married. He cared for Dorothy yet lived as if he was single. In spite of this, Dorothy experienced a greater happiness than she had understood was possible. Living with Forster awakened in Dorothy an understanding of her desire to be loved, leading her to pray.(4) It seemed living with Forster awakened her desire for more of God. Forster was against religion and argued that Dorothy’s preoccupation with faith was “morbid escapism.”(5)
This was an arrangement that Dorothy could live with until she became pregnant. At 29, she felt she would never be able to become pregnant again, and she experienced this as a precious gift. She wanted to raise her child with religion and was also aware of the cost if she did so. She didn’t want this baby to wonder and wander through life, as she had, without knowing about God.(6)
After Tamar Teresa, named after Teresa of Avila, was born, Dorothy was in conflict over what to do. Yet, she knew all along what choice she would make.(7) A nun helped her go through the process to have her baby baptized, learn about Catholicism, and to become baptized herself. Forster left her many times during this time. Dorothy became sick with the stress of wanting two things that couldn’t coexist, following her desire toward God and living with Forster.(8) She was falling in love with God and desired to be united to her Love, as obedient, chaste, and poor.(9)
After Forster left, she left Staten Island and took up journalism jobs once again. She became incredibly lonely, realizing that neither child or husband met her need for deep community. Through this time, her spiritual life deepened.(10) She discovered that women, even all of humankind, desired community. One experience that supported this understanding was becoming severely ill with the flu in Chicago. There wasn’t a supportive community available to her as a single parent in illness.(11)
Dorothy continued to be passionate in her stand against social justice issues and was bothered by the absence of Catholics in the struggle. She participated in a hunger strike in 1932, a march organized by the Communist-led Unemployed Councils; demanding relief and condemning evictions.(12)
In her confusion, Dorothy met a Peter Maurin. He had been told Dorothy was someone he needed to meet, and he became a teacher and mentor for Dorothy. In reality, they were a gift to one another. Peter brought the background Dorothy needed in Catholic history and a vision forward for the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy brought the energy and perseverance necessary for the work ahead.(13)
Peter’s vision was “building a new society within the shell of the old.” He saw more for the world, and he believed that the way to God was through humankind. Humankind could do great things, if only it were open toward God. The gift rooted deeply in both Peter and Dorothy was their understanding of seeing and loving the Christ in others.(14)
Together they formed the Catholic Worker Movement, developing a paper to help inform the worker and the unemployed. They taught the importance of living in community like Jesus did, individual action for social justice, pacifism, and voluntary poverty. In their teaching, they spoke against many of the political issues facing 20th Century America.
In the first issue, Dorothy writes that the purpose of the paper was to inform the reader that there was a social program in the Catholic church concerned not only about the readers’ spiritual but also their material welfare. Dorothy continues to ask the question of the possibility of being radical within a belief in God. That one would not need to become an atheist to care about others. The first edition was published by donations and scrimping from their monthly expenses.(15) The paper to this day is still run on donations, and a copy may be purchased for a penny.(16)
In 1933, when the paper started, there were 13,000,000 unemployed people.(17) Dorothy saw a need and worked diligently, within her faith of God, to meet people in their need. In Dorothy’s desire for God, she was moved to live out the incarnation with people, those who were oppressed on the sides of society. She was not content to only help those in need. She desired to be right in the midst of life with those who were on the outside. In my next post, we will take a look at her ministry as it developed.
(1) Nancy Koester, Introduction to the History of Christianity in the United States, Kindle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), loc. 4892-4916.
(2) Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography, 138–40, 181.
(3) William D. Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982),163.
(4) Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Chicago, Ill.: Thomas More Press, 1989), 135, 139-142.
(5) Miller, Dorothy Day, 188.
(6) Day, The Long Loneliness, 165.
(7) Ibid., 165–67.
(8) Miller, Dorothy Day, 190.
(9) Day, The Long Loneliness, 177–78.
(10) Ibid., 187–88.
(11) Miller, Dorothy Day, 208, 211.
(12) Albert J. Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 71.
(13) Day, The Long Loneliness, 202.
(14) Ibid., 203-204.
(15) Dorothy Day, “To Our Readers,” Catholic Worker Movement, May 1933, http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/12.html.
(16) Raboteau, American Prophets, 77.
(17) Day, The Long Loneliness, 218.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!