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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning to Fall

So, I've been meditating and praying about my sermon/eulogy for Gail tomorrow. I'm so close to her, my grief is still so fresh that I'm having problems putting thoughts into words and putting them down on paper. I need your prayerful support as I write this sermon.

The gospel is John 15 - the Vine and the Branches. I'm seeing images of how we are connected through our relationships in the One who is Incarnate Love.

The psalm is the 23rd - King James Version, of course - which has influenced a great deal of the music we've chosen.

The first reading is taken from Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons. It was one of the last books Gail was reading and she talked about it with me at great length.

When I picked up her book to look through it, she had underscored this particular passage, so we felt it important to include.

I am haunted by it and the memory of our conversations about courage and hope. Here it is. Tell me what strikes you about it. And, thanks for your prayers.

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There’s a well-known Zen parable about the man who was crossing a field when he saw a tiger charging at him. The man ran, but the tiger gained on him, chasing him toward the edge of a cliff. When he reached the edge, the man had no choice but to leap. He had one chance to save himself: a scrubby branch growing out of the side of the cliff about halfway down. He grabbed the branch and hung on. Looking down, what did he see on the ground below? Another tiger.

Then the man saw that a few feet off to his left a small plant grew out of the cliff, and from it there hung one ripe strawberry. Letting go with one hand he found that he could stretch his arm out just far enough to pluck the berry with is fingertips and bring it to his lips.

How sweet it tasted!

I suppose I could stop here and wrap this all up with a neat moral . . . but . . . I’m writing . . .to say that life is not a problem to be solved. . . .at it’s deepest levels life is not a problem but a mystery.

. . .And, what does a mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence, that we fully, consciously, hand ourselves over.

That is all, and that is everything. We can participate in mystery only by letting go of solutions. This letting go is the first lesson of falling, and the hardest.

I offer my stories not as illustrations of a problem but as entrances into the mystery of falling.

* If spiritual growth is what you seek, don’t ask for more strawberries, ask for more tigers.

* The threat of tigers, the leap from the cliff, are what give the strawberries its savor. They cannot be avoided, and the strawberry can’t be enjoyed without them. No tigers, no sweetness.

* In falling we somehow gain what means most. In falling we are given back our lives even as we lose them.


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7 comments:

FranIAm said...

Oh Elizabeth- may Gail rest in peace.

So many prayers for you, I will go write her name and yours in the prayer book when I attend daily mass at 9am.

So many things strike me in that reading... The one persistent thing that comes to me is the Rilke poem, about loving the questions and living the questions. I am not sure where or how that helps you or not, but that comes to mind.

Another thought is from Viktor Frankl - which is to say that suffering is one thing, and potentially neutral. It is what we do with that suffering that holds the potential to transform us. Which is of course a very Christian thought although not necessarily intended that way.

Suffering in common union, as you did with Gail and as we all may do, is the place of some sort of unity or being one with God.

These are my prayers and my thoughts, albeit a bit rushed as I head off to church.

Peace and much love to you dear sister, at this time of need.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Fran. Wonderful thoughts. I'm going to sit down and write some more thoughts later this afternoon. Now I'm off to tend to a thousand details. There are many miles to go before I am able to write, but your thoughts and prayers have already helped me on that journey.

whiteycat4104 said...

Elizabeth, thank you for this! May God bless your efforts as you continue to write. I am going through some difficult situations right now and this message spoke to me more than you will ever know. I am so glad that you posted this.

Blessings be upon you as you prepare for this service!

Bill said...

Elizabeth, You’ve got me thinking about something I’ve just read.

It’s “The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality, by J. Philip Newell” In it he talks about the “wildness of creation” . If we live life safely, we don’t live at all. It’s only by taking chances that we experience the fullness and richness of life. The thought of being caught between two sets of fangs and claws is what makes the berry so sweet.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I suspect it's why you ride a motorcycle, Bill

MerryO said...

I'm not sure I agree that we need to pray for more tigers. The tigers come whether we want them or not and our challenge is to notice and savor the strawberries amid all the sharp teeth, claws, and tiger drool headed right for us. I wonder, too, if tigers can teach us if we turn and meet them face-to-face. I've seen this in friends and family who've had life-threatening or life-changing events and stayed conscious and awake through the journey and chose to befriend their tigers instead of run from them. I'm a relatively new reader to your blog but I've enjoyed it immensely. I will keep you and your friend Gail in my prayers.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Bill, I have an inkling of an idea that when we choose to follow Jesus, he very likely will grab our hand and drag us off the well-lit sidewalk and off into the briars and brambles for an off-road adventure...but he won't let go of us, either.