Some call it spirit. Some call it love. Some call it the universe. Some call it God. Some call it interconnectedness. To me, it is what fills the heart and soul, amazes the mind and makes us feel awe. It is that un-nameable, un-definable spark inside each of us that binds us to each other, to the past and to the future. It is what makes us appreciate beauty, grieve over loss and separation, seek love and knowledge. It is what makes us yearn and strive and reach out to those in need. It is what makes us weep when we hear stories of heroism or great compassion. It is the part in us from whence compassion emanates. It is what allows us to have hope in the most difficult of times. It can never be adequately defined, and yet, it is the very thing that we strive to illuminate and describe through literature, poetry, music, dance, sport, the arts – all of which heighten our feelings of connection to each other, and often to the world around us.
What do you call it?
Please feel free to add a picture, a story, an idea, a hope or dream for humanity, or for your self. Let’s open this page up to the vast capacity of the human heart; to the individual and collective spirit that makes us so truly amazing. Namaste.
This is a poem that speaks to my heart, as do so many poems by Mary Oliver.
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
Since my blog's name is inspired by all that a heart can hold, it is not surprising that I was awestruck by this beautiful poem
Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.
"The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire." Teilhard de Chardin, 1936
I love this quote because it speaks to the amazing potential of love to totally revolutionize the way we live. But, only if we harness the energies of love with the same fervor and dedication that we have devoted to harnessing the resources of the natural world.
It is so interesting to me that Teilhard predicts we will finally understand the power of love after we have learned to harness space, wind, tides and gravitation. So much of the 20th century was devoted to figuring out how to "conquer space." Why is it that we use such a militaristic term to describe our desire to explore our solar system? As if we could, somehow, control or contain the vast universe of which we are such a tiny part.
So what does it mean to harness space, the winds, the tides, even gravity? I think that Teilhard, in 1936, meant "harnessing" in the sense of learning about and understanding these things in order to use them in a way that protects the earth.
He viewed gaining knowledge as a step in our quest to understand our relationship to divinity. As a scientist, he sought to understand the natural world and as a priest, he sought to understand our relationship to God. He believed in the continuing evolution of the natural world and the continuing evolution of the human capacity for understanding.
Most importantly, to me at least, he believed that the natural world and the spiritual world are intricately connected. To grow in reverence for one is to grow in reverence for the other. He meant, I think, that the natural world is a manifestation of God's all-encompassing love. The more we understand the mysteries of nature, the better able we will be to understand the mystery of divine love.
Now, in the early 21st century, we have come to a tipping point of enormous consequence. The natural world faces all sorts of threats caused by our misunderstanding of our relationship to it. We are in danger of depleting our natural resources, as well as eliminating species in both the plant and animal world.
Due to our unrelenting search for sources of energy that come from the earth and our unsustainable agricultural practices, we are in danger of losing the capacity to harness the most incredible and powerful source of energy in the universe - love.
Was Teilhard suggesting in 1936 that when we come to understand space, wind, gravitation and tides, we would learn to how to use them for energy production without damaging the natural world? And was he also suggesting that only when we finally learn to produce energy without harming the natural world, will we be ready to understand the true power of love?
What a mind-blowing concept that is!
We tend to think of love as something that exists for us and in us, despite how we live on the earth. But maybe, the love that we experience is just a tiny fraction of the love that is waiting for us when we learn to live in harmony with the earth. Maybe, there is a love so powerful and energetic that we can't even imagine it and, maybe, it is accessible, not in some after-life state of being, but here and now... vibrant and living within the natural world, waiting to be discovered and released.
Maybe, we who are living now at this period of environmental peril are the ones who will discover how to truly harness space, wind, tides and gravitation with reverence for the natural world and gratitude for all it provides. Maybe we are the explorers who will discover and unleash the incredible power of love that has surrounded humanity for all of its existence.
Maybe, just maybe, you and I were chosen to be emissaries of that divine love.
Personal note about my discovery of Teilhard when I was a student at Boston College.
Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and a scientist. He fell out of favor with the Vatican due to the nature of some of his writings...writings which are now taught in theology and philosophy classes in many Catholic universities.
I came upon this quote at the beginning of the first chapter of the now-classic, Chicken Soup for the Soul. The first chapter is about love. Reading this quote brought me back to my days at Boston College in the 1960s when the Vatican still considered his work to be erroneous, if not heretical. Like many other students, I read his writings with great interest. I was particularly struck by Hymn of the Universe.
Although, I had not really thought about him in quite some time, I believe that his writings have had an influence on how I think about the earth, the cosmos and our place in both. Finding his quote as I was thumbing through Jack Canfield's book was a revelation to me. There it was so succinct and elegant - a quote that expresses what I feel and believe.
I wanted to find the date of the quote so I googled him and came upon the American Teilhard Association. Its objectives are:
- A future worthy of the planet Earth in the full splendor of its evolutionary emergence.
- A future worthy of the human community as a high expression and a mode of fulfillment of the earth’s evolutionary process.
- A future worthy of the generations that will succeed us.
I might have to join this organization. I think I would find kindred spirits there. I embrace their objectives and explore some of them in my novel I Call Myself Earth Girl and its sequel which I am writing now.
The first time my five-year-old grandson spent the night at our house he woke up before 5:00 a.m. This really should not have surprised me because I know he wakes up early every day at home. As a matter of fact, part of the reason I had him sleep over was so his parents could get an extra hour or two of sleep. Of course, with a three-year-old and a seven-month-old still at home the possibility of that happening was rather low.
Nevertheless, we planned the sleepover and he was extremely excited about it....so excited that he woke up around midnight and could not get back to sleep for two hours. Although I wished he would fall right back to sleep, I consoled myself with the assumption that he would make up for those two hours in the morning and sleep until 7:00. This was an erroneous assumption.
By 4:45 a.m., he was wide awake and ready for the day to begin. I was wide awake too, but not ready for the day to begin. I kept trying to find a way to make him fall back to sleep, but nothing worked. Back-rubbing and lullaby-singing did not work. Logical explanations about how tired he would be later on did not work. Pathetic descriptions of how tired I would be later on did not work.
So we got up and began the day. But we had to be quiet so that we didn't wake anyone else up and it didn't seem to me like he could really being having much fun with me saying, "Remember we have to be really quiet" every five minutes. To be honest, it probably wasn't much fun for him to see the look on my face when he would forget and make a lot of noise.
I thought about this for a few days after the sleepover and decided that the next time he slept over I would take him to see the sunrise. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I would wake him up (turnabout is fair play!) when it was still dark. We would dress quietly and leave the house. I decided to add a sunrise picnic to the plan. He was more than enthusiastic when I told him what an adventure we would have.
Memorial Day provided the perfect opportunity. No pre-school for him. No work for my husband. Nothing that had to be done early in the morning. He came at dinner time Sunday night and had his two favorite foods - plain pizza and applesauce. I expected to get him to bed early because he usually goes to bed quite early....no doubt exhausted from rising at the crack of dawn. But he was too excited to sleep. We were using the bed in the guest room which has a great view of the sunset. So I kept the blinds open and watched the sunset. Then I closed the blinds, assuming he would drift quickly off to sleep. Another faulty assumption on my part.
Just thinking about getting up and leaving the house in the dark was so exciting that he could not fall asleep. He would look and sound like he was asleep. Just as I would start to tiptoe out of the room, he would pop up and ask "Is it time to get up in the dark yet?"
His level of anticipation was so high that he woke up about once an hour all night. Luckily, he was able to fall right back to sleep. Until.....
Until 3:30 a.m. This was a full hour before I planned to get up. Again, I tried back-rubbing and lullaby-singing to no avail. As I rubbed and sang, a pitiful thought crossed my mind....wouldn't it be nice if someone would rub my back and sing to me every night. I want to be asleep. He doesn't. He should be rubbing my back and singing lullabies to me....
Realizing that would never happen, and also realizing that I was simply making my self more tired, I laid back and told him that we had to wait until 4:30 to get up so he should close his eyes and sleep. I think he tried to comply. If tossing and turning is any indication of trying to fall asleep, he was definitely trying. Covers up, covers down, feet hanging off the side of the bed, arms across my neck, feet wedged between my calves, arms behind his head. He tried one position after another and eventually it was close enough to 4:30 for me to give up.
We got up, dressed quickly, grabbed the pre-packed picnic bag and headed into the night. It was just beginning to get barely light out and I was beginning to wonder if I had waited too long. We drove to my chosen spot - one recommended as the place where one of the local churches has a sunrise service on Easter. But this chosen spot happened to be across the street from the town's baseball diamond and this looked way more appealing to him.
So we carried our gear across the street, walked down the hill and laid out our picnic on the baseball diamond. The view was definitely not as good, but he seemed happy and the sun would have to rise above the surrounding trees eventually. A ten minute wait can be very long to a 5-year-old. It can be pretty long to the grandmother of a 5-year-old too. So I decided that if we stood on the bleachers we would see the sun appear sooner.
By now, it was clear to me that this was not going to be one of those spectacular gold and pink streaked sunrises. I was disappointed. I wanted his first sunrise to be gloriously impressive. This one was going to be run of the mill. I thought of telling him that this wasn't the kind of sunrise I had planned. But then I looked at his face, lit up with anticipation and I realized how silly I was being. This was a great adventure no matter how pink the sunrise.
It was early morning. We were the only people there. No cars were going by and the birds were singing. It was peaceful. It was beautiful in its simplicity and it was joyful. I stopped for a minute to take it all in. The sun was just beginning to show over the trees.
Once the sun crowned the top of the trees it became too bright to look at. But I didn't want our adventure to be over. So I drove to a lake where I knew the reflection of the sun on the water would be beautiful. When we got there he recognized it as a place we had hiked during the summer. I asked him if he wanted to follow the trail and he said yes. It is a short trail that leads to a field and a tiny beach. We were the only people there and the sun was shining softly through the leaves making shadows and patterns of light. I kept pointing out how pretty it was.
I don't know if he was even paying attention as I pointed to the way the light shone on certain leaves, or how the shadows played on the rocks. It didn't matter. He was enjoying the moment for whatever it was to him. As we reached the water's edge two ducks swam into view. The sun sparkled on the water. He watched with fascination. When the ducks left our view, we headed back down the trail to our car, holding hands and singing "Zip A Dee Doo Dah Zip A Dee Ay, My oh my, what a wonderful day."
It had already been a wonderful day and it was only 5:45 a.m!
Sometime life challenges us by forcing us to accept things that just don’t make sense to us. I experienced this in a very profound way watching close friends struggle against terminal cancer at the same time that my mother – much older than all of them – was suffering from living too long.
Within a few years, four close friends were diagnosed with cancer. Each of them chose the most aggressive treatment options because they desperately wanted to live. They chose chemotherapy that caused relentless nausea, weakness, skin infections, and often kept them away from the people with whom they most wanted to spend time – their children, grandchildren and friends. They were in their late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Not young, but by today’s standards, definitely not old. During this period my mother was in her mid-90s and having a hard time.
My mother’s depression was probably rooted in my father’s death after a long decline from Alzheimer’s disease. But for some reason, she could not admit this, not even to herself. Instead, she convinced herself and all of her friends in her retirement community that she was dying. She wouldn’t get out of bed and had doctors convinced that she was suffering from some sort of physical condition. When test after test revealed that she was actually quite healthy, she refused to believe it.
When I would cheerfully tell her how great it was that the tests found nothing wrong, she would reply that the doctors were wrong. One day she told me she knew they were wrong and that she was going to die soon because she wanted to die. She told me she was tired of living; that she had lived long enough and that all she wanted to do was die and go to heaven.
When I forced to get out of bed, to eat and to shower, she said she couldn’t understand how I could be so cruel to her. Why didn’t I just let her stay in bed and die, she asked.
At the time, the question made me very sad, but more than that, very angry. I had friends who wanted desperately to live, who still had reasons to live; who were not, in any way, ready to die. And they were all dying. Yet my mother, at 94, was eager to die. She was finished with life and ready to let go.
I spent a lot of hours during those years wishing I could trade my mother’s life for the life of one of my friends. That is embarrassing to admit, but true. As each one of them died, I noted with some bitterness that my mother was still alive and she didn’t want to be.
Mom is now 97 and hanging on pretty well. She has lived with me and my husband for the last three years. Being with family ( and a good dose of anti-depressants) has changed her outlook. She no longer says she wants to die, but she has expressed complete peace of mind about it. Whenever it happens, it will be okay with her. If she lives to be 100, that is okay too.
Bearing witness to the death of those who struggle and suffer to stay alive has taught me about the strength of the life force within us. Bearing witness to my mother’s desire to die and her eventual acceptance that she is very much alive has taught me about the effect of grief and loneliness on that same life force.
But most of all, it has taught me about the space between life and death. We all will dwell in that space some day.
It is a space that can be filled with the love of life and the desire to live it fully, even as the body is letting go of physical life.
It is a space where a battle can be waged by a healthy body determined to continue even when the desire for life is gone.
If one is lucky, it is a space that can be one of acceptance and serenity, knowing that the love that ties us to our life never dies. The love lives on beyond the space that we call life and the one that we call death.
It is a space that beckons all of us to look through its window with compassion and understanding for those confined in it, no matter what the circumstances.
It is where my mother lives, more of a home to her now than our house is. She lives in the space between and she lives there well.
Do you know anyone living in the space between? How has it affected you?