Spaciousness and Spirit

crane-bird-flying

As a society, we tend to be impressed by people who sleep little, as if it is a sign of accomplishment; not taking vacation is seen as a good work ethic, instead of a poor life choice. We need, I believe, to participate in what might be described as a certain vibrant emptiness, what the Japanese call ma. Ma is found in the silences between words, in the white space on a page, in the tacit understanding between two close friends. The Japanese school of Sumi painting says: “If you depict a bird, give it space to fly”.  How do we give ourselves that space to fly?  (from World Enough & Time by Christian McEwan.)

In the Tao Te Ching (translation by Ursula Le Guin), a book of wisdom first written down almost 2,500 years ago, chapter 11 discusses the importance of creating space for living:

Thirty spokes meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t is where it is useful.

Hollowed out, clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not is where it is useful.

Cut doors and windows make a room.
where the room isn’t, there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Where the pot is not is where it is useful. I love this kind of backwards revelation, this reminder that it is the space itself that is useful. Where the room isn’t, there is room for you.

I believe the text is reminding us of the importance of emptiness. The absolute necessity for room to simply live, that spaciousness is a meaningful necessity to humanity. It is the unused space in a room that makes it habitable.This space might be physical but its effect is metaphysical,it allows our spirits to stretch and  unfurl, helps us to find calmness and focus.

In the Unitarian tradition, our chalice, while it can be filled with fire, with water, and with flowers, can also be empty.  Each service we sit together in silence, opening to the quiet silence.  It is these moments that free us to be ourselves. It is in the empty spaces that we can re-connect to the awesome, unnameable sense of the immensity of being.

How do you make space for your spirit to unfurl and fly?

 

excerpt from Finding Stillness, a reflection given at the UU Congregation of Durham on June 9, 2013.

Letting the beautiful stuff out…

from Heath Ceramics

I was rich and I didn’t know it. We are all rich and ignore the buried fact of accumulated wisdom. So again and again my stories and my plays teach me, remind me, that I must never doubt myself, my gut, my ganglion, or my Ouija subconscious again.

From now on I hope always to stay alert, to educate myself as best I can. But lacking this, in future I will relaxedly turn back to my secret mind to see what it has observed when I thought I was sitting this one out.  We never sit anything out.

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.   Continue reading

The Flame Challenge

What is a flame?  When we light the chalice at the beginning of our service, what are we physically bringing into being to symbolize our spiritual orientation?  Can you explain it to an 11 year old?

The Centre for Communicating Science has a new challenge inspired by the always more awesome than awesome Alan Alda.   As an 11 year old, Alda asked his teacher “what is a flame?’ She replied “oxidation”, an answer that may be accurate but certainly did not provide illumination for the young Alda.  Alan Alda, who is not only a world class actor – the only man who ever made me want to vote for a Republican nominee – as well as a writer of humour, honesty and wisdom (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed); he is also a science geek.  Invited to be a guest editor of the journal Science, he offered up the flame challenge.  Describe what a flame is in a way that an 11 year old can appreciate and understand.  The goal is to acheive clarity and vividness.

This is a great contest for Unitarian Universalists.  Our key symbol, that which represents us most deeply, is the flaming chalice.  We are the people of the chalice; part of our orientation is to find spiritual nourishment in the wonder of scientific enquiry.  How do we understand what we are doing when we light the chalice?  How is the symbol related to the reality? How do we describe it to ourselves?  To people who ask us what the chalice is all about?  And can we explain the beauty of a flame without using jargon, but with scientific accuracy, in a way that will capture a kid’s imagination? Can we explain our chalice flame to an 11 year old?

The contest closes April 2nd.  I’m working on my entry….