*Brian Wilcox. 'welcome'. Flickr.
I was a United Methodist pastor, in Gainesville, Florida. The leader over the churches in the area I served in set up a meeting between a pastor of the largest church in the region and me. She hoped he might invite me to serve as a minister of spirituality in his congregation, since she discerned contemplative care and teaching was my strength.
I entered the office of this pastor, and I never felt at-peace there. Possibly, this was partly due to my being somewhat progressive and he more conservative. Also, partly this was likely the result of this simply not being the place for me. Regardless, I never felt comfortable there, from the time I entered his office, and that is often a sign not in favor of something being within the divine Will.
What I most recall is how this man picked up a mug and asked me something to the effect, "What has this got to do with a spiritual life?" I looked at and inside the mug. I simply had no answer arising to reply. I searched, but nothing that felt right came forth.
To me, what is my favorite answer to that is what I write about often ~ openness, spaciousness. Possibly, that nothing would arise in that moment was, again, a sign that the potential opportunity was not for me to fill. Also, I had sensed this highly esteemed leader never "came down" to meet me, but remained elevated in a power-position "over" me. While my district leader was for this position, from the time I stepped inside the office, I never sensed this was a desire of this pastor.
Still, after this over 15 years, that moment of looking into the mug returns to me. I, sometimes, see it with humor, and am amazed that I did not recall what was so central to my life and teaching.
* * *
Openness allows something to become, openness is welcome. A mug can hold many things, not only fluids, but if it is filled with something, the openness is not openness. So, the vacancy within the mug is as important as the mug itself. In fact, we cannot logically say the mug is other than the spaciousness inside the mug. There is no mug without that receptivity; and, if there were such a mug, that mug would have no purpose, even as we lose innate meaning and fulfillment when we lose touch with the natural welcoming essential to our well-being.
So, openness in the mug and the mug framing the openness are one. Without the mug, there is no openness, without the openness, no mug. The structure of the mug-openness provides the welcome for something to happen, to become. So, the mug-openness is one with the becoming, also. There is continuity between the mug and the entire life-span of the mug. That fruition, unfolding, is what led to the formation of the mug, in the first place. Without that potential of becoming, who would fashion a mug?
* * *
Of import here is I am not speaking of the personality, or person, being open, being welcoming. Who we are, more subtle than person, which is a formation in time, with a personality of varied traits, is not soul, spirit, essence, or subtle self. This subtleness is always, already welcoming, is spaciousness, is receptive. The self can only be brought into the openness of the Self, by the Grace of the Self. This Grace of the Self seeks to bring into surrender to Itself the appearance we call person, someone. Again, the person can only be welcoming, truly, when surrendered by the Self to the Self. I would prefer to say, the person only appears to be welcoming. Recall Jesus saying, in the Gospels, "Of my own self, I can do nothing." And the same Scriptures says, attributed to Paul, "Walk in (or, by means of) the Spirit (or, spirit), not, "Walk in (or, by means of) yourself."
* * *
Part of the role of intentional, prayerful silence is to grow in this welcome, so openness. This is a return to our natural estate, or spontaneous being. Then, in that space, one can listen to subtle guidance, one can witness how Grace works to bring to fruition our intent for the good, true, and beautiful. Without that openness, we over-rely on deciding based on past experience or authority outside us, not what arises out of the present moment. Without this natural welcome, we live as autonomous beings, rather than a being-with Life and others.
* * *
So, we choose again and again to return to this open receptivity, this fertile ground for newness to arise and greet us. Our welcome to Life becomes the welcome of Life to us.
In moving to Maine for the winter, or more, I came in the awareness of this openness. There was no doubt, no fear, only Love. I could feel this in the body, it arose in thought and affect. Now, with decisions to make about where to go next, and some potential answers that have not worked out, I have reminded myself of that openness in coming here, and the need to return to that welcome, what many Christians have called Divine Providence.
* * *
When a hospice chaplain, I saw this conversion to welcome over and over. I saw the grace and joy when persons entered openness to say goodbye to the body. I witnessed, amid the slow loss of bodily functioning, bliss, love, and fearlessness. I have seen many beings dying beautifully, including my own birth mother, welcoming what many call death. As one of the patients I got close to in-spirit was days from death, she told me, on my last visit, to rejoice in her passing, not to be sad. I affirmed I would rejoice. She had no fear or confusion, as she neared the end. So, through life we practice this welcome. We pray that when our time comes for the body to release us, we will welcome the release, and be thankful to the body for how it served us. We pray we, too, can say to others, "Rejoice with me, don't be sad."
With my mother, she came to peace and forgiveness in the Grace of the openness. The melanoma was misdiagnosed twice and, when finally correctly diagnosed, it had progressed too far. She was prior a healthy woman, age 68, now she was facing the end. She initially was angry about the misdiagnosis, and angry at the doctor. Yet, true to her gracefulness in life, so in death, she released the anger and welcomed in peace the end. She showed her family how to welcome death, how to move on fearlessly, and lovingly.
* * *
Ironically, openness was present in that meeting with the pastor, when I could not see the message of the openness within the mug: I can, now, see that I was open to what Grace might show of Itself. I had entered not clinging to wanting the position, I entered with welcome to be given it or not, and not wanting it, if it were not meant for or best for me. Everything in that meeting pointed away from that being the place for me. "This is not for you," so to speak, filled the mug of receptivity. I was grateful I was not offered it, and still am.
* * *
Our role is to nurture connection with Grace and remain in a listening posture, totally present with the body, for the body often is central to discerning. What does this body say about this? Is the body having feelings of peace? Does the body feel at-home here? And, also, it is okay that we return again and again to this welcome. There is not much around us to encourage this patient, receptive posture of allowance, rather than trying to make things happen as we think best. We need not be harsh with ourselves for how we close off the welcome. When we notice we are not in the welcoming posture, this is the invitation to return. Opening is not difficult, it only takes a moment. We return to that moment, as many times as we need to. Over time, we become more alert and sensitive to when we need to return, and to when we are living in this spaciousness. See, in this openness we are not, strictly speaking, open, we are living in openness, a oneness with the welcoming of Life. And this openness is Love.
*Steve Pamp. 'Just another sunrise'. Flickr.
The Sacred in Me Bows to the Sacred in You
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2019