Thursday, November 5, 2009

Never Shoot an Iguana

In her book Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen has a section called "From an Immigrant's Notebook", which is a collection of inimitable vignettes.

In one of the stories she tells of shooting an Iguana in the hope of making something from its beautiful skin. She describes the big lizard as having such colorful skin as to appear like a pane cut from an old church window. A strange thing happened when she shot the Iguana, which created for her a memory that she never forgot. As she was walking up toward the dead lizard, it faded, grew pale and all the color died out as in one long sigh. It was the life of the Iguana that radiated all of the glow and splendor, and now that the flame of life was put out, the beauty and soul of the Iguana was also gone.

She wrote a brief commentary on her memory of the experience. Ever since that time when she 'shot an Iguana,' the memory came back to haunt her each time she tried to capture some part of nature's beauty and take it for her private use. She recalled a line from the hero of a book she read as a child: "I have conquered them all, but I am standing amongst graves." She concluded: "For the sake of your own eyes and heart, never shoot an Iguana."

This pensive little story spoke volumes to me. I recalled the many sad experiences that I have had in trying to snatch natural beauty from its living source so that I could have it for myself. I remembered crushed butterflies, dead fireflies in a jar, cut flowers, dead song birds (killed with a slingshot) which could no longer sing, and treasured relationships killed by possessiveness.

Perhaps we have all, at some time in our lives, tried to capture for our own private use something of beauty which really did not belong exclusively to us, only to discover that it slowly (or quickly) died in our selfish grasp. Maybe it was more than a cut flower found dead the next day or a crushed butterfly. Perhaps you have smothered a person in the process of trying to possess them for yourself in a way in which one human being can never belong to another. Perhaps it was a child you did not allow to grow up because you loved them just like they were - dependent. It could be a husband or wife or an employee whose beauty, usefulness, and love died when you held them too close.

Possessiveness is a dangerous characteristic. The desire to take for ourselves that which does not rightly belong to us is the source of so much human suffering. It is the cause of destructiveness at so many levels. It is a primary ingredient of wars. It is most destructive when it is exercised in the small kingdom of the family. A powerful, possessive and controlling parent or spouse can wreak havoc in a family and cause emotional problems in individuals that infect subsequent generations.

In his novel, "The Sleeping Doll," Jeffery Deaver has one of his characters explain why she ran away from home and joined a cult when she was a teenager. "When I was growing up they (parents) were very authoritarian. I had to do everything the way they insisted. How I made my room, what I wore, what I was taking in school, what my grades were going to be. I got spanked until I was fourteen and I think he only stopped because my mother told my father it wasn't a good idea with a girl that age....They claimed it was because they loved me, and so on. But they were just control freaks. They were trying to turn me into a little doll for them to dress up and play with."

This is a story I have heard, in one form or another, hundreds of times. It often comes from young women who left home as soon as they could escape a possessive, controlling and/or abusive situation. Ironically, these women often subconsciously decide to marry a controlling husband and/or join a church or some other group with a controlling leader. They do so without realizing how, or understanding why, they are putting themselves right back into a possessive, controlling and potentially abusive situation. Thus the debilitating impediment moves from one generation to the next, leaving the landscape littered with victims.

Beware of over-weening possessiveness at any level. It is often expressed under the guise of love. Many insecure young women who are starved for love and attention misread possessiveness for love and learn one or two children too late that they have made a terrible mistake. When you kill the spirit of a person with over-weening possessiveness and control, the beauty of the person and the relationship is lost.

In a 'cut flower' civilization such as our own, where we are tempted to separate beauty from its source for fear it will fly away, or for fear someone else will take it, we would be wise to remember Isak Dinesen's experience.

Hold beauty and your beloved with a loose hand. Do not shoot the Iguana.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Saints Day

COMMUNITY........ All Saints DayAffirmation:   We need our ancestors, guides, and fellow travelers in this work of the Spirit.....a Community of Faith ……………………MARK 12:28-34Many think of religion, with all its Commandments, as a burdensome straitjacket.  This may have been true, in some sense, of the Judaism in Jesus' day, and it is sometimes true today among people who claim to belong to God. Jesus wanted to correct this false understanding of True Faith.  He summed up the numerous Jewish Laws in two simple but profound Commandments:  Love God totally and love others as much as we love ourself.  If these two thoughts rule our heart and mind, we will be well along the Path of Spiritual Transformation.   (The Life Recovery Bible)

 REFLECTION:  Circle of Faith.

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors.  All of them are alive in this moment.  Each is present in your body.  You are the continuation of each of these people.  (Thich Nhat Hanh)

 The spiritual practice of love builds community, as do kindness and gratitude and prayer.

 Community is created and renewed when individuals act in love and serve each other.

 Prayer is the rippling tide of love which flows secretly from God into the soul and draws it mightily back to its source.  (Mechthild of Magdeburg)


"Life is like a bottle of wine. Some are content to just read the label. Some drink the wine."  (Tony DeMello)

Which are we?  Do we participate fully in life and share God's love with others? Are we inebriated with Redemption?

The challenge is to stop reading the labels----or labeling one another----and to drink deeply of each experience, each day, and each one's stories.  This affords us the opportunity to see each of those with whom we are in relationship as a lifeline to the deeper mysteries of life where all are connected.

God draws us together to embrace eternal possibilities that God has in store for us:   a place where all are welcome and all find a home.  Each day offers us a new beginning to set our feet as pilgrims on the path to find again this place.  It is the Spirit of God, the very breath of God that leads us to this place.

The path depends more on Enlivening the Web of Connection that will allow the Everlasting Source to sustain Itself and us, the way blood circulates through the body.   ("Making Connections" Joseph Nassal, Fall, 2009)

As Jesus' disciples, our love of others needs to be not just within the community of disciples but outward to all humanity.  This embrace of our human family leads to greater knowledge and acceptance of ourselves.  As Jesus instructs this embrace of the family calls for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To do this authentically, we need to set aside or transcend our own selfish interests and delusions of self-importance.

The command to "love your neighbor as yourself" is a very simple concept. One does not need a degree in philosophy or theology to realize that if all of us would follow it consistently, virtually all violence, war, racial prejudice, and political and economic injustice would disappear from our planet overnight.  The perfection of God's reign would just that suddenly appear in our midst.  The concept may be simple enough, but the headlines in our daily papers and our nightly newscasts make it obvious we humans "don't get it."

To love is "to will the good of another."  The definition implies that we need to make the effort to actively seek the good of the other as the circumstances dictate.  It is not enough simply to think nice thoughts or have warm feelings toward another. (James 2:15-16)   Nor is it enough to "will the good of another" only when it is convenient or does not involve any sacrifice of personal interests.  Jesus taught that "no one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friend." (John 15:13)

 Dear God, help us to see our true Spiritual condition. The key is Your first commandment. And we do know it.  All our good works, all our prayers, all our righteous words can mask a barren love-relationship with You.  We know to love You with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.  Help us to love with all that is in us. Help us then to love others the way that Jesus taught. Come, Holy Spirit, renew our willingness to participate in life this very day. Thank You, Three-in-One God.  Amen.

 "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  (John 13:35) …Jim Savage