Walk a mile in another person’s shoes!
We’ve heard this before in response to understanding, and not judging, another person. This call to empathy is easier said than done. However, the more I live and the more I learn, both about myself and in others, I am recognizing the complexity of humanity.
People, we, are complicated.
From nature-nurture, to the Freudian analysis of our early years, to what happens to us and by us, we a convoluted species.
I feel this most when I make a mistake. I look back and wonder how and why I acted in that way. It takes some unpacking to get to the heart of the matter. Perhaps something was unprocessed. Maybe I was just tired or having a bad day.
After a mistake, I feel bad. Then, I internally ask for that person’s understanding. I hope they grant me the mercy because of my humanity.
I raise this because most days, especially at work, I see and hear the best and not so best of those around me. When I invite God into my reflection, I am invited to understand.
It goes beyond the benefit of the doubt and it doesn’t ignore accountability. It does invite forgiveness, patience and love.
In April 2014, Pope Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Square the following:
“But, to understand the situation in depth, as God understands, this is the effect of this gift. And Jesus wanted to send the Holy Spirit so that we could have this gift so that we can all see things as God understands, with the intelligence of God.”
The Holy Father added, “This is a beautiful gift that the Lord has given us all. It is the gift with which the Holy Spirit brings us into intimacy with God and makes us part of the plan of love that He is weaving into the plots of our lives and history. It helps us to understand the true meaning of history.”
From complexity to understanding, we can “see as God understands.” What a beautiful image. Although difficult, this is our challenge as we live a life of peace.
If you are finding this too difficult, if you cannot understand, or if something or someone is bothering you, recall the words of Carl Jung: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Be not afraid.
As a Christian, these words quickly remind us of the Angel Gabriel, in “his” mandate to Mary after she heard of God’s will for her.
Be not afraid.
It is one of my favorite lines in the Gospels because it reveals Mary’s humanity. It is easy to forget this as we glorify her with statues, prayer cards, and churches, schools, and states and communities in her name.
She was a kid being asked to do the impossible. Of course she was afraid. It doesn’t matter how old one is, if this was God’s will for you, fear would be one of many emotions.
Mary knew what being pregnant meant. Her partner, Joseph, would know it wasn’t his child. If it wasn’t for Gabriel appearing in his dream, Mary would have been brought to the edge of town to never return (she would’ve been destined to death if it wasn’t for Joseph’s kindness).
Mary was afraid. I imagine it was an emotion that never left her, even to the cross where her son hung and died. (I wonder what she felt in seeing Him resurrected. While she was likely in awe, did she still miss Him?)
For my whole life, I reflected on this scenario and I resonated with Mary. Like us all, I felt (and feel) fear. Trusting in God has to be more than words, it has to be a foundational belief. This can be really difficult at times.
Parker J. Palmer, in his book “Let Your Life Speak,” writes this insight into this notion.
“It is no accident that all of the world’s wisdom traditions address the fact of fear, for all originated in the human struggle to overcome this ancient enemy. And all of these traditions, despite their great diversity, unite in one exhortation to those who walk in their ways: ‘Be not afraid.'”
“As one who is no stranger to fear, I have had to read those words with care so as not to twist the into a discouraging counsel of perfection. ‘Be not afraid’ does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to eat from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world which fear is multiplied.”
We do not need to be the fear we have. What a wonderful lesson.
Palmer understands that what we feel is real. We need to honor the feelings we possess. But we do not have to become it.
Mary could have become fear, but it would have been impossible for her to be the mother that Jesus needed.
While there was only one Mary and one Jesus, there is only one you, and only one me.
The good that God calls us to do can be crippled by being fear. If we can manage this, then imagine what miracles God will call us to bring into this world.
So how do we keep fear in its’ place. How do we manage it.
I offer three simple steps.
We are not fear. We are love. God’s love. With that, how can we be truly afraid?
When I first saw my daughter, she was swept away by doctors and nurses during an emergency c-section.
We didn’t hear her cry for a while. A while was probably 15 seconds. It felt like 15 minutes.
After she was cleaned, she was rushed to the NICU due to some complications. The nurses brought her to my wife for a kiss. My wife wouldn’t see her for 10 hours as they both recovered. It was a bittersweet and frighting time for our family.
Two hours after this exchange, I visited my daughter. Her roar was heard down the hall (a great sign given there were concerns with her lungs). I went into a small room, saw her before me and tried to understand.
She was covered in tubes and wires. She was in a plastic box surrounded by several other newborns. (Fully aware of the pain of the parents around us over the next few days, there was a deep sense of solidarity and prayers as we rotated in and out, visiting our children. Most faced taller mountains to climb than our daughter did and I pray for them and the babies presently fighting and healing in NICU’s at this present moment).
The first words I spoke were, “You are so cute.” Throughout my wife’s pregnancy, I would say, “she is going to be so cute.” I did not premeditate saying this to her. The words just flowed from my mouth.
Amazingly, she stopped crying. The nurse stopped in her tracks. She said, “she knows her daddy.”
In that moment, she wrapped her old man around her little finger. Then she wrapped her hand around my finger.
This was almost 8 months ago.
And every night, she holds my finger. Last night, I reflected on this journey. I was struck by the power of touch. With her crib next to our bed, my hand and wrist tightly fit through the white, wooden bars. This contact helps her sleep. It helps me too.
I know (and pray) there will be a day when she will hold my hand as she attempts to walk. And when she holds on tight before her first day of school. I also know there will be a day when she will let go. She will hold someone else’s hand. I hope this same hand will be offered to help a stranger and to lift up a friend. I pray her hand is opened in peace and not clenched in fear or anger. I pray she feels the love I presently own.
For now, I cherish this exchange each evening. Some nights it may last only minutes, while some nights it continues for hours. Within this touch is love: the love of a father and daughter. It is also the love that God extends to us, and through us.
As I count my blessings each day, this little girl and her heroic mother are on top of my list. I pray that in return, by extending my hand to others, I can be that same blessing for my brothers and sisters in need.
It is the power of touch. From the holding of a finger as a newborn baby to the care of our neighbors, we are invited to love. In this invitation, there is an opportunity. Together, let us recognize the power of our hands, and our touch. Let us be for one another that open hand in a closed world.
I am spending a significant amount of time focusing on vocation. I have been here before, as I tend to be reflective and aware of what Wayne Dyer called “spiritual breadcrumbs.”
Those breadcrumbs can direct us, as it is often looking back where the confusion makes sense.
In my work at the University, I am involved indirectly in some of the departmental efforts for religious vocation. As a Campus Minister, vocation is on top of the charts in what we speak about, right there with academics, relationships, and questions of faith.
We often use the word “vocation” in regards to priesthood or religious life as a brother and sister. How often do we use the word vocation in its truest form as being aware to the sacred voice inside?
For some, this voice directs people into a sacramental ministry. For others and most, it directs us into different roles and responsibilities. The challenge we all face is discerning the voices in our lives to recognize and then follow the true voice within.
After a recent disappointment in a rejection letter from a publisher, I turned to my large bookcase of most spiritual books that are a combination of inherited and purchased resources.
Minutes after receiving the disappointing email, I felt the need to turn to the bookcase. I was grateful to be in my office as I received this notice. I could have easily been walking across campus looking at my phone or sitting in a meeting.
I believe that “no,” led me to that bookcase. There, after opening and closing a few old favorites, I did not feel the inspiration and peace I was searching for in that search.
I started to pack my bag to head home, but I went back to the bookcase and I came upon this small book titled “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” by Parker J. Palmer.
I opened the book and noticed my handwriting in the upper right corner. It read “PSB 14.”
This was referring to Dr. Pam Shea-Byrnes. Pam was my boss, mentor and friend who died suddenly on Christmas Eve 2013. In the months after her death, I was invited to go to her abandoned office to take something to remember her by.
I grabbed a few books, an envelope opener and a small plastic paper clip holder.
In the books, I wrote “PSB 14,” to remember where they came from.
Three years later, my old friend gave me another gift.
I am more than half way through Palmer’s intimate and inspiring guide. In sharing his own life and discernment, I find myself relating to his journey.
There are countless spiritual nuggets that can and will need more reflection, but I found this one most important for today.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it,” Palmer writes, “listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
So many voices. From ghosts of past authority figures, to present authority figures, to our culture, religious institutions, and society, as well as our own human complexity, it is difficult to shut out the loudest of voices for the most silent but important.
It is in that sacred voice that we all possess where we find clarity, purpose and direction.
As I discern my vocation(s), I am reminded to take time to listen. Through prayer, meditation and in the quiet, I search for that voice that is God. I invite you to join me in this discovery as the more we can do this together, the more we will all benefit.