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Gratitude for You

“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”

~Br. David Steindl-Rast

Families throughout the states celebrate thanks today. Though I do not want to proliferate the story we were told as children, I would be remiss not to mention my

Books by Robin

gratitude for you. You, my friends who have read my books, listened to my music, and most of all, supported my dreams.

There are many ways the support has come. Words of encouragement, prayers, editing stories, taking pictures, and through your financial contributions. There are so many of you who have believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Though confident in music, I am less confident in writing. I never thought I would be a public speaker; though I hoped to be a teacher.

©Rick Messina, Advent Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC. Used with permission.

This morning, I think of a host of beautiful people I know. Most live on the East Coast of the U.S. from Maine to Florida and over to New Orleans. Then, there are other angels scattered around the world who have loved me through many difficulties and celebrated when I reached the other side.

I added photos below to just a few of the old and new friends who have changed my life. Working in churches means that I know a lot of people and many I am honored to call friends. Friends are a different kind of family. And family are also friends in their own way. Bless you. I can’t put photos of everyone because I don’t have enough time to thank all those who have made a difference in my life. Yet, I hope this post is the beginning of showing my gratitude for your presence in my life. Bless you.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” ~Thomas Merton

 

 

 

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

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Gratitude, A Way of Life

Gratitude is thankfulness, but without the gluttony, don’t you think? As we enter into the winter holiday season, my mind turns to the aspects of the holidays that we love about the holidays. Some of the holidays are religious, but others, like Thanksgiving were created by a President. These holidays have meaning for us all in different ways. Today I ask myself the ways we can celebrate family or community that aren’t filled with political incorrectness, materialism, or religious antagonism. That may be a monstrous task. Yet, our society has been in disarray to the point where we must look at our lives differently.

 

In my life, I always loved the Native Americans and their love for nature and the land. When, as an adult, I discovered the truth in our country’s Thanksgiving lie, I was torn. Torn because I didn’t want to celebrate what had happened to the Wampanoag, that both saddened and angered me. At the same time, Thanksgiving was the time it seemed my family got together and celebrated. The season was not as stressful as Christmas. Even as a child, I could feel the tension in family at Christmas that wasn’t there at Thanksgiving. At the Thanksgiving meal, everyone was merely peaceful and thankful.

My dear cousin married a Navajo musician and was the first to explain to me why she no longer celebrated the U.S. holiday. She is a kind woman who I know I can talk freely with and explore feelings, thoughts, and even dreams. Also, when talking with my cousin, I didn’t have to explain the tensions or dynamics of a big Southern family to her. She knew and lived a similar experience. Each year afterwards though, I think of the truth of how the Native Americans were treated, used, and then later, not only abused but massacred…some tribes to the point of extinction.

These stories are learned through reading the histories of Black Elk, Tecumseh, and The Trail of Tears. When I lived in Oklahoma, my favourite thing about living there was to see signs saying that the person was entering the Sac-Fox Nation or the Pottowatomie Nation. I was excited to be able to live among such noble people. Yet, they were treated as outcasts. The Native American there was treated like the blacks of the South were treated when I grew up in the 60s.

Years passed and I continued to learn how unmerciful the whites were to the tribes. In the book, 1491 (Charles C. Mann) a history is laid out about how the tribes welcomed the white man or the Spaniard, and then were exploited through the Americas. They were not immune to smallpox brought here by the Europeans. We stole their land and moved them to reservations or Oklahoma. In the comedy show, Latin History for Morons   Netflix says, “John Leguizamo won’t rest until every moron becomes less of a moron.”

Usually, in writing blogs, I like to have plenty of photos to break up the words. As we enter the “holiday season” I exhort you to change the holiday. Let’s take a holiday from bitterness, greed, and strife. Let’s choose to love one another and care for our world and our neighbor so that each day we live a practice of gratitude. Gratitude does take practice too.

Human beings that we are, it is easy for one to focus on the negative aspects of life. We forget the beauty and gratitude of merely waking up. Grief does not rest during these times either and can even be exponentially triggered. Can we take a holiday from the rush-a-holic business of this time of the year to pay attention to feelings: both the feelings of self as well as the other? Can we practice that each time we think something is wrong with a person to try and find what is right?

Even writing that paragraph was a hard practice for me. Why? Because I know that if I ask another to practice something, I must also look in the mirror at my choices and my actions. This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be vocalized and in fact, vocalization can mask a dark reality. Look deep inside of yourself. What do you see there? Can you give thanks for all that you are? I know I can’t. Yet, I can give thanks that I have friends who love me just as I am.

My dog sits at my right foot watching me as I write the end of this blog. She thinks I sit at the computer for too long. Pets teach us the true meaning of gratitude, so does nature. Turn your Black Friday into a green one by going for a hike in nature with a loved one. There are many ways that we can practice gratitude that include all of humanity and our world. Let’s start this year.

 

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Catching Up with Life – Practicing Faith

Beech Mountain, NC ©2018 JRobin Whitley

‘When the powers of nature are the focus of your awareness and your thoughts, you come near to spirit, near to the source of all life. This is why most people love to walk in the woods or by the sea: they come close to the original source, and it is healing just to be in its presence. It cleanses you, brings peace of mind, touches your heart and brings you home to your soul.’
~ Chris Luttichau

The past few weeks I’ve been out of town. I was only gone for two weeks and it’s summer so I wasn’t worried about my condo. The dog went with me, so no worries about that either. Yet, here it is a week later and I’m still catching up on getting my home back in shape.

While gone, nature didn’t stop being nature. The bills and emails all those things that make up “daily life” at home, still happened. I don’t have a personal secretary (though my dog Birdie thinks she is my boss). There’s no maid that comes to clean.

I left my condo clean and in order so that when we came back, we could just pick right up where we left. My hosts and family allowed me to wash my clothing too so that when I got back, all I had to do was unpack. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? We go on a trip, have fun, see family and come home and everything works out perfectly. We might as well laugh at ourselves when we think anything in life works out perfectly.

Murphy’s Law is something most of us are taught at an early age. Yet, even at this age, I remain the idealist. If I plan it, it is so or will be so. No, that’s not really working for me for those who may ask. It means to continue facing disappointments. I remain hopeful nonetheless. Not hopeful that the world will turn as I plan or that life will stop with disappointments. My hope is in something hard to describe. Many call it faith.

As I write, my heart and mind are aware of the many who no longer want to talk about God or the church. It’s understandable because as a lesbian,  there are those around me who still discuss my sinfulness. The irony of it all is how boring my life is when compared to most folks. That’s not to say we can’t be boring and commit sins. I just wonder how they know so much about the state of my soul.

Faith. We use the word willy-nilly at times in the Christian tradition. I say that because it’s one of those words all Christians are supposed to use. Perhaps we use it too quickly. One of my spiritual directors told me never to pray for patience or faith. We laughed about it because I had been praying for both. Why did she say what she did? Because in order to have patience, one has to learn to wait. In order to have faith, one must learn to endure trials.

Oddly enough, the writing that helped me embrace a more realistic way of looking at faith is Herman Hesse’s book, Siddhartha. If you’re curious, the link is an open source PDF for reading the book. I always prefer a real book rather than its electronic version. I like being able to hold it in my hand. That’s beside the point. What helped me look at my faith differently by reading the book happened BECAUSE it was outside of my tradition.

As I try to summarize what helped me in the book, I find that the BBC’s description of Buddhism best summarizes both the book and what I could see in Hesse’s writing:

“Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.”

BBC Religions

 

This sentence, in particular, strikes me, “…Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life.” This blog started out with a quote about nature and it’s because I think the natural world is one that best teaches about the blessings of

A tree with prayer flags.

faith. A tree does what it does and it’s neither right nor wrong, but it just is a tree. The beauty of a tree reaching to the sky never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

Sometimes it seems that those of us who grew up in the church (and the South perhaps) think that if we have faith, nothing will go wrong in life. Some of the more fundamental Christian churches will preach that way. Perhaps it’s something that is the undercurrent in all of the churches in the South. I can’t speak for anywhere else.

Yet, we all know so many good people who have horrible things happen to them. Faith won’t make us be something else. Real faith as I now begin to see it means to accept what is and know that there’s a way through the trial. The way may not be fun and most likely won’t be pretty. When we have a community of loving and kind people, then we can have faith to get through the challenge.

In two or three weeks, life really threw me some curveballs. Nothing that means the end of the world for me, but there are trials with no clear way through. There are things happening to beloved family members and all I can do is be here and be me. I have no magic and I cannot take the pain of life away from them. It’s hard to watch someone you love suffer. My thoughts return to the tree. All we can do is remain a steadfast presence for those who need us.

Many of us know Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. I first heard of the book at some event in college. Some group was doing a skit of the story. I’ve read it and told the story many times throughout the years. I think of it when I walk among the wonderful trees in my neighborhood. There are many gifts the tree “gives” but the essence of the book throughout is the power of presence.

Faith does not try to make us something other than that which we are. As I talked with my priest about the challenges my family is facing right now, he said, “Just be you Robin. Just be you.” As my beloved aunt fades, my nephew and his wife walk through a dark valley, as my niece and her husband seek hope, I am helpless to DO anything. Yes, I can pray, but the larger part of praying is learning to BE PRESENT to the holy. Only once we are present can we know the act that is necessary.

Life is holy, sacred, and good. Yes, it can also be pernicious and in the worst of times, feel like hell. The power of presence is that our loving and kind presence can transform those hard times into gold. Not the gold we can sell, but the golden light of the soul. The light of the soul that comes from being present to yourself in life, being present to nature, being present to the Other.

 

 

 

 

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Calling All Heroes

Calling all heroes, it’s time to step up. At 57, I ask myself again, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I’ve always asked myself and as a result, well, became rather results oriented. The first decision I made was in sixth grade. I was going to be a foreign missionary to India and teach music. I wanted to share the gift of church music in a foreign culture. From an early age, I was fascinated with India. Through Girls in Action (or G.A.s), I learned of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two main religions in India.

 

Though Hinduism was confusing to me with its copious list of gods, Buddhism sounded a lot like what Jesus taught to me. I was in elementary school at the time. Because I was supposed to see the “bad” in a religion that was not Christian, I did not tell anyone that I thought it very similar to Jesus’ teachings. I wasn’t sure how I would address it when the time came but was confident that God would guide me.

 

I went to college to study church music and music education. A pamphlet from the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist church (where I was a member for that part of my life) pointed out the value of mission everywhere a person lived. As a result, I decided that I wanted to stay in church music in the US. I really didn’t want to be that far from my family.

 

Looking back, I can see that the idealist in me thought that somehow, I could play a part in saving the world. I’m using the word, “saving” in the manner more of saving a life from death than one of salvation. I was never a very good evangelist, even though I will quickly speak of all that God has done for me in this life. Free will. I want you to have it just as much as I want to have free will. Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do. You can see the challenges as you read that last sentence. The world is full of people who want to tell us the “right” way to live without any thought to the person in front of them. It always seems like we know better what is best for the other. In fact, nothing is farther from the truth.

Happiness happens when you fit with your life, when you fit so harmoniously that whatsoever you are doing is your joy.  ~ Osho

We set goals that are formulated by our jobs, our faith community, or those around us never contemplating the implication our actions and choices may have on society at large. We are only a small part in the community, right? How can what I do affect the larger world? Many laughed at me when I chose idealistic paths and some may laugh at me still; calling me naive in the ways of the world.

 

What if those of us who are idealists are not naive, but prophetic instead? What if those who seek a common good for the world see the larger picture? What are you doing with your life? Are you living to be the best YOU that is possible? I can’t be you. I don’t have your talents, gifts, stature, power. You don’t have mine. And as small as I feel sometimes, there is always something happening in the world to remind me of the privilege I DO have. Here it must be admitted that there are times I am prone to pity parties. No one comes but me, so it’s never any fun. Then, always, God steps in and reminds me all that I do have and the blessings that have abounded in my life and I end up thankful and humble. Perhaps this is not unique to me and you too suffer in such a manner.

 

What we need to be reminding each other is that we are not alone? No matter what is happening in the world, we are here as presences. Presences that can change lives. When heroes are asked of their inspiration, it is almost always some humble person living a life of integrity that inspires the hero to become heroic.

A cool version of Robin.

Did I want to be a hero? You bet I did. At the time I wanted to be Batman. The “Robin” we grew up on was a dork. I never wanted to be a damsel in distress. Hell, I never wanted to be a damsel or a girl, though it felt better to be a woman than a girlchild; as though I had some kind of power. To be a woman is to hold power, but what kind of power? Our society is full of imagery that denigrates women and shows them as the weaker of the two genders. As many are beginning to address, gender is more fluid than a marking of genitals. Power is something that a human being fosters deep in the soul. There is power that is given because of birthright or wealth or politics, but true power is more than that.

 

True power comes from the center of one’s soul and is unique to each individual. When the lowly shepherd, David, was born, he was endowed with a power that God needed. This wasn’t something the parent or society gave the child or the growing boy. Yet, it was something God identified within the youngest child of Jesse. Once anointed, this small shepherd boy brought down a giant with his power. It wasn’t the power of an army or birthright, but the power of belief in his God-given abilities.

 

It was David’s belief in his shepherd’s ability to aim true that brought Goliath down. Saul’s entire army had been fighting against this giant with all their might. David brought the giant down with a stone because of his talent as a shepherd, not his talent as a warrior.

In our world, we have many giants we face. The giant may be a lifelong goal yet unachieved, or it may be merely a hurdle or mountain to cross in life. The political landscape of our world is in upheaval and it is unclear at times who or what to believe. Now is the time to claim your power. Now is the time that God calls upon all lowly sheepherders to embrace the goodness that you are and aim true.

 

Don’t try to be like someone else. David tried on Saul’s armor and it was bulky and made it hard for the young boy to maneuver. Saul could not have been David and as a result, Saul later tries to kill David out of jealousy. Perhaps we are like Saul and are older. It is time to step aside and allow the young warriors and young musicians to lead life to a better place. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have value, only that our power is shifting.

 

There is beauty in every moment of life. Embrace your current moment. What are you feeling now? What are your sure of NOW? Can you be kind to the person next to you? Then be kind. Can you lift up another’s spirit? Then be a light. Are you called to be a warrior when no one else is? Then choose to be a warrior with integrity.

 

Clearing
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing
in the dense forest of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
~ Martha Postlewait

Moss as a ground cover.

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The Politics of Life and Faith

My friend from India, Reji, a Coptic Orthodox priest gave me this message when I left an ecumenical conference. I asked him, “If you could say ANY THING to the people in the US what would you say?”

I expected him to give me a beautiful spiritual quote on Christianity or living in peace together. He was an Orthodox priest and we were there to study, talk about religion and how we CAN get along even with differences. Here is his response:

“Tell your people to get out and vote. You may not think your vote matters, but for India, it decides whether or not many of my own people can afford to eat. We grow bananas near my town but we ship them to the US and then prices are raised so high we cannot afford to buy our own bananas.”

When there are no more hungry people,
When there is no more poverty (LOTS of artists in poverty)
When there are no more wars or violence against women, children, and those of different beliefs or different races…

Then, and then only will I quiet my voice.

When an artist can make a living doing what an artist does
When a painter can paint AND feed her family
A singer can sing and not have to compromise his or her integrity to make a living

Then, and only then will I quiet my voice.

__________________________________________________________________

The above post is from a writing that I did in October of 2008 on my Redbubble Journal. I was new to the “blogosphere” and trying to find a safe place to write politics. Had hated them all my life until my friend from India gave me the above message.

I can’t say that I like politics any better, but what I do understand now is how political actions or statements can have far reaching effects. I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals as a nighttime meditation. His concerns about the political situation in the 60s resonates with now. Some of the things he discusses, I remember from the things I experienced as a child. Politics have always been a part of the life of what it means to be human. The word “polity” implies civility. Yet, our discourse is far from civil.

Mystics, contemplatives, and other spiritual greats of history always call for non-violent change. Choose justice, mercy, peace is a message that dates to Micah in the 8th century B.C.E.

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

We can no longer be silent about what is happening in our world. At the same time, we must stop pointing fingers at each other. How can we change the conversation? Justice, mercy, kindness is my responsibility. Each of us must look in the mirror of our soul and start there. The only change we can truly “control” is how we act or react to life, events, and those around us. I can only begin political activism by starting with me. I choose to love my neighbor in respect, dignity, and mercy. Make your choice. Are YOU willing to change and “… do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“There is no consolation, only futility, in the idea that one is a kind of martyr for a cause. I am not a martyr for anything, I am afraid. I wanted to act like a reasonable, civilized, responsible Christian of my time. I am not allowed to do this. I am told I have renounced this – fine. In favor of what? In favor of a silence that is deeply and completely n complicity with the forces that carry out oppression, injustice, aggression, exploitation, war. In other words, silent complicity is presented as a ‘greater good’ than hones conscientious protest – it is supposed to be part of my vowed life, for the ‘glory of God.’ Certainly, I refuse complicity. My silence itself is a protest, and those who know me are aware of this fact.”     ~Thomas Merton March 3, 1964[1]

[1] Merton, Thomas, et al. “Part V: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage 1963-1965.” The Intimate Thomas Merton: His Life from His Journals, Lion Publishing, 2000, pp. 215–216.

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