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Weeks ago now, I had a meeting with my house leader.  These meetings are called Functional Accompaniment, which is just a L’arche-y way of saying the house leader takes time to make sure the new assistant is doing well, addresses any questions or concerns they may have and gives feedback on job performance.  It was such a good opportunity to find out the back-stories of some of the things we do that I did not really understand the reasoning behind, and to bring some of my new ideas to the table to address existing difficulties.

Through the whole meeting, the thing which struck me the most was the simple phrase “choose not to struggle.”  It has stayed with me over these weeks and is slowly, very slowly, changing the way I approach difficulties and conflict in the house.  Like any other human being (including myself), some of the people I live with can sometimes be moody, even stubborn.  And it’s such an odd thing that I have been given this ‘authority’ in their lives.  I am younger than all of them.  I have significantly less experience in community living.  I am new.  And yet, there are times where I must find a way to ensure the things that need to get done are getting done.  And sometimes it can be a struggle.

When it becomes a struggle I tend to try to exert this authority I have, or think I have.  And yet, the other person knows that there isn’t really anything I can do to make another person do something they don’t want to do.  I end up frustrated and our relationship is bruised.

I did a study on non-violence as part of my B.A. and I thought I had at least some understanding of the core principles of non-violence and its application in my life.  And yet it’s only as I experience these moments of struggle that I am understanding how power is linked to violence and how non-violence is really about creatively approaching conflict, and only possible when power is laid down.  By trying to use ‘power’ to influence a situation, I inevitably make things worse.

Choosing not to struggle changes my approach to a situation.  This however is not to be mistaken with giving up or ignoring conflict.  Non-violence is about action.  In my daily existence, non-violence is about laying down power and choosing to love the other, because I believe this will help me reach my goals more effectively and more humanly.  In the end, we’re all looking for the same result – fulfilled lives and meaningful relationships.  And with this goal in mind, conflict resolution becomes entirely different.  It’s not about one person winning out over the other, but both finding paths to the same conclusion.

But the application of this in a society driven by power is not always easy.  It is ingrained in us.  It seems to take endless conscious effort to overcome our desires for power.  Of course, patience in all of this is key.

The quote below, which came from Inward/Outward, sums up this idea incredibly well, so I will leave you with it.

“One of the most crucial dimensions of letting go is the recognition that there is no need to change an event or person.  This is extremely rare and demands a respect and reverence that is beyond most of us.  But, we argue, shouldn’t we want to change an undesirable happening, or to change a person who obviously needs changing? The answer is, no.  We can be there, and God’s presence can be there in us and through us, and that’s all we can do.  Whatever changes are appropriate will occur.  But that is quite different from our struggling to change people and trying to change events… The task, I think, is to enjoy the other more.  To experience the wonder of the person, to be more open, more attentive, to learn from the person, and to revel in the surprises that are given.  If the person changes, good.  If not, you’ve celebrated who they are.  You’ve lived in the Now.”    – N. Gordon Cosby

Peace, in the deepest sense.

Last night someone asked me to spend three solid, uninterrupted minutes describing what I imagine heaven will be like.  This task is only possible if one accepts the premise that heaven exists, which I am not entirely sure is knowable.  (I’ve never met anyone who has been to heaven, nor have I been there myself.  Then again, I still believe Finland exists and no one I know has ever been there either.)

Still, I can let myself accept the premise for the sake of the excercise.  Actually, when I was a kid I frequently had terrible nightmares, and my mother’s response was always “think about good things”.  So I would do my best to imagine up good things, and being raised in the church, one of the best things was supposed to be heaven.   I would imagine big houses, filled with all the things I thought meant something – all the movies in the world, TONS of stuffed animals, whole rooms filled with clothes, the coolest toys, chocolate bars, and most of all MONEY.  I dreamt about treasure chests filled with money that was all mine, that I could spend on anything I wanted.  I thought when church people talked about streets lined with gold, they meant gold that you could spend to buy things.

(Tangent: It now occurs to me that if everyone in heaven had access to infinite amounts of money, the need to purchase items would become obsolete.  Everything would essentially be free.  Money only really makes sense in a world where some people can afford things and others can not.  It also seems that a lot of the material goods we value now would loose that value if everyone had the ability to posess them.  Isn’t having the most expensive car or handbag or house at least partially about knowing who you are better than?)

So the initial question brought this old image back up into my mind again.  I initially felt sad that I couldn’t come up with any other image, any other ideas about what heaven might be like.

And then the seven year old at our table, when it was her turn to talk for three uninterrupted minutes, said “I think there would be no right and no wrong.”  Perhaps she’s been reading the thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi, who once wrote:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

Little seven year old Zoe sparked a new idea in my mind.  What if heaven is less about what we will experience and more about how we will exist.  Remember in grade school when you learned that all things are made up of elements, and how those elements have been around for thousands and millions of years, and how when something dies the elements that make up that something decompose and return to the soil and become part of new somethings?  This is the cycle of life that has continued and is continuing and will continue (fingers crossed) forever.  Even if we damage the earth to the point that it can no longer sustain human life, the molecules that make up our bodies will continue to be absorbed and used and broken down.

There’s a song that say “one day I’ll be sand on the beach by the sea.”

I am not a theologian.  I don’t have proof to back-up this hypothesis.  This is just what I imagine… if I were to dream now like I did as a child, I would dream of this heaven.

It’s six thirty in the morning, and it’s raining outside.

Every so often, it seems necessary for me to have a sleepless night in order to gain perspective on the daylight.  The best nights are usually the ones that end with a sunrise.  So sometime last night, upon realizing I had been up for most of the night, I decided today would be a good morning to watch the sun gradually wake my city.

A few blocks from my house there is a bike path that climbs its way up the escarpment.  For the first week or two after I discovered this trail I would routinely head up there after work.  I love the long, slow climb contrasted with the invigorating ride back down.  But like most things in my life, my best intentions faded away into half-hearted excuses and plain old laziness, and I haven’t biked up there in a few weeks.

Still, the early morning promised to be a good chance to revisit this old friend and see the sunrise from a great vantage point.  I didn’t even let the low rumblings of distant thunder around four thirty discourage me.  After all, clouds only make the sunrise more dramatic, yes?  And with the heat wave and humidity we’ve been having, a little rain might even be welcomed.

So at five o’clock this morning I was rolling my bike out of the garage under the first few drops of rain, undeterred.  A few drops slowly became a steady downpour and by the time I returned from the ride I was thoroughly soaked.

And I didn’t see the sunrise.  From the top of the escarpment all I could see was mist and gray.

But I am still thankful for the experience.  It turns out I needed the rain as much as the gardens.

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