Though I was definitely late to the party — the party known as watching “American Idol”— I always like to tune in around this time of year to find out who wins the prize after the field has narrowed. And enjoying the young singers’ incredible gifts, their talent for expressing themselves so soulfully through their music, always reminds me of a weekend many years ago in which I learned a powerful lesson about the importance of acknowledging one’s own gifts and talents.
It has been said that the Divine speaks to us through symbols, and this week’s reflection is on the many ways in which symbols surround us. In the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity three times to spend two days and nights completely alone in nature, which is always an amazing arena for viewing the symbolic. I was visited during my waking hours by deer; in my dreams, I was visited by a white heron and a green snake. Later looking up these symbols in the reference book Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews lent additional layers of meaning to both my inner and outer journey.
And we can work with the symbols we’re given in creative ways. Once I was in a drugstore and saw tiny, six-inch plastic trashcans for sale in the dollar bin. I thought to myself, “What would someone do with those things?!” The very next day, during an appointment, someone I was counseling spoke about noticing the “Divine residue” all around her — bits of animal fur, dried flower petals. I was very captivated by this image and the exercise that it suggested of collecting the bits of Divine residue that surround me every day. And I thought of the perfect container for gathering these discoveries — that same tiny trashcan I had dismissed the day before! It has become a great joy to use this symbol to become more mindful of the beauty and possible messages found in otherwise overlooked elements.
And when I once overheard a peer counseling someone to put one of those life lessons we all receive into her “learning basket,” I was delighted when that person later told me that she was literally going to make a learning basket as a reminder to be gentle with herself as she grows and evolves. Symbols can support us in becoming who we want to be and in contributing what we want to contribute.
May we each take the time to notice our symbols — to notice how God is speaking to us through all the beings and small details crossing our path –and to create creative containers for them, so that they can support us in living our most mindful, connected, and sacred life.
The reflection for this week is on words — the power of words and also the limitation of words. Words are slippery things; they can carry different meanings for each listener, a fact of human living which invites us to choose our words with care. Chosen carefully, words are extremely valuable to us, as they can connect us to another, create a bridge of understanding or kinship that did not exist before. Used carelessly, words can destroy those bridges — or at least create enough damage for some major roadwork to be necessary! And this, we know, also applies to the words we choose for our own interior conversations, as well. Our words to ourselves can also create, or destroy. As Aldous Huxley wrote, “Words form the thread on which we string our experiences.”
I once read a book in which the author noted that the most telling evidence of who a person will be five years from now is found in the books that the person reads and the people that the person spends time with. It seems to me that the common denominator in both of those situations is words — the words we take in and the words we share with others. Reflect for a moment: Are the words you’ve been reading recently creating something in your life? Are the words you’ve been sharing with other people lately — and saying to yourself — constructive? How does your future look, based on what’s on your night table or what you’ve talked to friends about recently?
As Charles Capps once said, “Words are the most powerful thing in the universe….Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind…” But the great thing about words is that they can be changed, shaped, re-written, revised at any time. Today. Right now. May your words bless you and be a blessing; may your words create your most deeply held dreams.
As we are fortunate enough to be seeing signs of spring here on the West Coast, we may find ourselves reveling in the beauty of nature. And whenever I think of our beautiful planet Earth, I often visualize some of the amazing images of American photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in powerful depictions of our natural world. Watching a PBS documentary on his life and work a few years ago, I was intrigued to learn that, according to someone who knew him well, he probably would have vehemently disdained any term suggesting the religious or spiritual to describe his work. He did, however, see his art as reflecting something that was larger than himself — a “giving and taking” of beauty.
Anyone who has ever looked at an Ansel Adams photograph and who is comfortable using spiritual terminology would no doubt categorize Adams’s work as being intensely evocative of Spirit. Yet one doesn’t need to have a belief in anything other than the reality of one’s existence in the here and now to know that indeed, artwork such as this does point to something larger and more timeless than the course of a human life. In the end, as the example of Adams suggests, terminology and beliefs become secondary to the commitment of devoting one’s life to something larger than oneself, for the purpose of contributing to the larger good. In the words of Black Elk, “A vision without a task is a dream. A task without a dream is drudgery, but a vision with a task can change the world.”
May we commit to devoting our lives to something larger than ourselves — the life of a child, a church, a cause, the earth itself. May our visions be aligned with our tasks, and may our contributions help to change the world.