Seeing the Blessing in a Crisis

About half-way through President Obama’s speech in Selma on Sat Mar 7 (see below), he quoted James Baldwin.
“We are capable of bearing a great burden once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”
Our theme for March is Brokenness. And while I’m going to talk today about personal and individual crises, and how they bring us to arrive where reality is, it bears remembering on this 50th anniversary of the Selma marches that brokenness is also relevant on the national scale, and that our national crisis 50 years ago cracked us open so that more light could get in. As a nation, we still have more breaking open to do.

As individuals, we do too. It takes a crisis to break through the shell of habits and assumptions that we live within. Not that you’d ever want a personal crisis – in fact it can’t be a genuine personal crisis unless you really, really don’t want it. And there’s no guarantee that personal crisis will break you open. People respond differently when hit by a stroke, a terrible accident, a divorce, loss of a job, death of a spouse or of a child.

In the face of such full-scale and personal catastrophe, some people “lose their spirit, and never fully recover.”

Others become “more bitter, more reactive, more cynical....They protect themselves fiercely from any kind of change, until they are living a half life, safe yet stunted.” Still others, however, work through the grief, the pain, the loss, and come at last to discover “a clearer sense of purpose and a new passion in life.” They “turn their misfortune into insight,” and “their grief into joy.”

All of us have been cracked in ways that, at the time, we didn’t want. And none of us has broken as much as we’re going to. Illness, pain, separation, loss and death come in time for us all. We’ve all been broken, at least a little, and we were for a time lost. Some of us might be feeling lost today because of a recent loss. Or possibly it wasn’t recent, and lostness has become an enduring reality of your life. Some people stay lost, and my heart goes out to them.

Others build a hard cast around their brokenness, a cast to protect the fracture so it can heal, but then they never take the cast off. They are bitter, reactive, and cynical because that protects them from more hurt. They are safe but brittle, guarded but closed. They are no longer lost, but they avoid being lost in the world by keeping their world small. My heart goes out to them, too.

Then there are the ones who come through and understand in a new way that...

That what? What do they understand?

If words could tell you what they came to understand, then they wouldn’t have had to break -- and break open -- to understand it. Words can only be suggestive hints. What these people understand is that that love is the only law. That every moment aches with beauty. That no one is or could be alien to them. They feel as if wakened from a dream – a dream of being separate somehow. They saw the blessing in their crisis. My heart goes out to them, too – but because it is pulled out by the attractive force of their joy in being.

They see that every second of just being alive is holding “the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.” They move toward a continuous gratitude for all things, every gesture whispers “thank you,” and every individual thing becomes, itself, nothing but gratitude. Like I said: Words can only be suggestive hints.

Thomas Merton wrote:
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun....They are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers! If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed....I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
That peculiar gift is in all of you. It’s there, I know it, I catch glimpses of it sometimes when I’m with you. It’s there. You don’t have to do anything to produce it. You only have to uncover it. But we don’t know how to uncover it, can’t know how, until we break.

* * *
This is Part 1 of 4 of "Broken Open"
Click for other parts:
Part 2: The Miracle of Becoming
Part 3: The Wisdom of No Control
Part 4: Pain's Surprising Lesson

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