About two years after my husband and I began our co-ministry in western Massachusetts, I decided to put a small garden out in front of the Parsonage in which we lived. What I had not realized was how big the front yard was, and the garden I envisioned (and originally planted) looked like someone had accidentally dropped a flower pot on the lawn.
Over time, the garden grew to 40 feet in width and 16 feet front to back. Which finally looked right in proportion to the yard and house, but (as any gardener knows) required more than the occasional 10 minutes of sprucing up. In fact, since I knew close to nothing about gardening when I began, there were more than a few mistakes that required pulling out and discarding (or pulling out and replanting somewhere else) what I suspect were scores – if not hundreds – of plants.
I don’t know about other people’s experience, but I learned that every single year was a new journey of discovery. And I learned rapidly that I could either adapt or give up. Clinging to what I wanted the garden to look like was a non-starter. I wanted lupin, and it came back with exuberance twice before vanishing. Every single replacement lupin I planted after that died in a season. I wanted roses, but only one rose bush lasted. So it became a singular sensation. The garden had its own persona and trying to impose my image on it was an exercise in frustration. I needed to learn to love what the garden became in its every-year-new beauty. The old could not be kept or contained or controlled or repeated. Nature understands this instinctively.
The Christian community is in Advent, listening to the promises that come on the other side of expectant waiting. We are hearing the prophet Isaiah tell us that everything that is will be dissolved (de-composed, deconstructed), so that the new will have space in which to unfold. Even if we love our life exactly as it is right this moment, it is changing even as we cherish it. The prophet is not telling us something that we don’t already know (if we are paying attention); his or her words are simply a reminder of the miraculous renewal of the universe, second by second, breath by breath, ad infinitum.
We human beings, though, tend to cling to what we know. We tend to resist what is new and get snarky about giving up what is familiar. I offer the following meditation as a lens through which to look at our resistance. The words the voice speaks are from the book of Isaiah.
Close your eyes if you are comfortable doing that. Or you may prefer to use the flame of the candle as a focal point to help your mind be still. Become aware of your breathing and allow it to be slow and deep, until you feel centered and calm.
Let yourself imagine:
You are aware that you are awake. You are standing or sitting, but you cannot move easily. In fact, to move at all feels a little like being inside a suit of armor. Your arms and legs are enormously heavy and stiff. Turning your head is awkward and ponderous. Turning your torso is burdensome.
Pause a moment and feel this strange sensation. Notice not only how your body feels, but how you respond emotionally. Notice the physical sensations in as much detail as possible. Pay attention to what you hear, see, taste, smell, and how your sense of touch is affected. Notice as many emotions as you can; some may be contradictory.
From a distance, you hear a voice speaking. The voice says, “The elements will be dissolved with fire, and everything will be disclosed.”
A woman walks into sight. You know that she is very old although she doesn’t show any of the diminishment we sometimes associate with old age. Her body is upright and strong; she moves easily. She radiates confidence and peace. She pauses and looks deep into your own eyes with great wisdom. You don’t sense any judgment from her, only a feeling of concern.
She says, “How did this happen? Why did you choose this?”
Pause and listen to your thoughts and feelings. Do you understand what she is asking? Are you puzzled? hurt? angry? afraid? worried? hopeful?
You hear the voice again in the distance: “The elements will be dissolved with fire, and everything will be disclosed. Since all things are to be dissolved and disclosed, what sort of person do you want to be?”
The woman continues to look at you with confidence and wisdom.
She asks, “What sort of person do you want to be?”
Pause and consider. What do you respond?
She holds up a mirror and you see that you are not in armor, but you are covered with layer after layer of masks, all the masks that you have chosen to wear in your life. Some you intended only for a specific occasion or to protect yourself from a perceived hurt. Others are part of the way you want others to see you (smart, attractive, capable, patient, generous, happy – whatever it might be.)
The woman asks you again, “You can choose. How much are you willing to dissolve to disclose the beautiful image of holiness within?”
What do you choose?
If you choose to let go of some of the masks, you draw strength from her presence and stiffly, awkwardly, you peel away a mask you are willing to relinquish. It drops to the ground and dissolves. Do you take off one? three? seven? more?
If you take off more than one, you begin to feel yourself moving a little more easily each time, as the layers dissolve. You also notice that you feel a little raw, fragile, and exposed (maybe like a lobster when it is molting.)
You are free to stop whenever it feels right. When you stop, the woman puts away the mirror and blesses you. Then she smiles and walks away.
When you are ready, take 3 or 4 more deep breaths and then open your eyes gently and let yourself become centered in this time and place. Take some time to write or draw some reflections on the meditation, something that you can return to this week and consider again.
You may want to use this blessing as you think of those mentors in your own life (whether they are people you know or people from history or literature you admire) who encourage you in being who you really are.
Bless you, angels-messengers-friends,
for unfolding me into exuberance;
for risking the wilderness with me
where Spirit saturates the air with pure energy;
for companioning me into starshine,
and the soft feather-grey of dove breasts;
for waiting with me between breath and breath,
dripping with the sweetness of wild honey.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2012, 2014 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The photo above is from a fiber piece called, Hygeiatokos (Bearer of Healing). The whole piece can be seen in the fiber art section of the Store on the website. It is available on limited loan to persons engaged in healing professions.