Parker J Palmer Reflecting of “Sabbath’s” by Wendell Berry taken from “On Being”
One of my favourite poets is Wendell Berry the following is often seen as a poem about death and dying but really it is about generosity the most living giving of all virtues. “Sabbaths” by Wendell Berry
Sabbaths – 1993, I
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.
And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given, only one question arises: “How can I keep these gifts alive?”
I know only one answer: “Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!” As Wendell Berry “Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.”
...I do love Parker J Palmer, he speaks to the soul of me. I love the way he brings Wendell Berry's words to life...
When I awoke on Monday morning, the start of not only a new week, but also a new year, I should have been tired. By rights I should have been utterly exhausted, I certainly expected be so.
Now don’t get me wrong I didn’t leap out of bed, I simply rose into the day. That said I felt so alive. Why was this? By rights I should have been exhausted. I had certainly felt that way for a few days leading up to the New Year. I don’t think I’ve been busier than I have been this last month, so many demands, that I have mainly fulfilled and cheerfully. I’ve got a busy few weeks ahead, this week has been very full too.
Last Sunday began early at about 6.30am and it didn’t end until gone 2am, early New Year’s morning. I had led worship at both of the congregations I serve in the morning as well as other pastoral duties and then hosted a New Years Social and Watch Night service. It’s been full on for weeks, I’ve been giving myself away and its felt like I’ve been running on empty. So by rights, by all reason I ought to have awoken on Monday morning, have begun the New Year, exhausted and utterly empty.
I’ve heard this phrase a lot over the years “Don’t give yourself away.” I question it, I'm not convinced it is helpful, if anything all it does is restrict life, reduce experience and keeps one lonely and isolated. I think the reason I felt so alive on News Years morning is that I had indeed been giving myself away and I’d been sharing in the company of so many other people who had also been giving themselves away. People simply coming together in love, with hearts burst open. On Monday morning my head felt completely clear and at peace, my heart was burst to overflowing and the soul of me had never felt more alive. I had spent so much time in intimate, spiritual community. I was experiencing, what I call true, free and loving religion. Religion as it is meant to be.
I’ve been thinking of Wendell Berry’s poem “Sabbath’s and Parker J Palmer's reflection on it, these last few days. I had shared it during the “Watch Night” service I had led. Like Palmer highlights it is the poem's ending that really gets into the heart of me and I know it got to others too, during the service. “Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”
I have learnt that if you truly want to know yourself, this is how you do it. This is how you will find yourself, how to know love, how your very being gets transformed and you become who you truly are, by giving yourself away. By pouring your heart out, you fill it with love and your mind and spirit know peace. This is the purpose of the religious life of living in true intimate spiritual community. You cannot experience this if you practise your spirituality in isolation. This is what I have experienced even more deeply this last month.
Religion gets a very bad name these days and rightly so, as for too long it has been about control and dogma, but that is not really its purpose, not in it truest sense. I think the core of religion is self transcendence, t is about giving yourself away and in so doing you actually not only find yourself, but become who you truly are.
This brings to mind a favourite quotation on the purpose of true religion, by Karen Armstrong:
These thoughts about the true nature of religious living were passing through my being as I reflected on the recent weeks of my life and the people I have shared this time with. I see so many gorgeous examples of this transformation in them. Just beautiful!
Again as Wendell Berry wrote “Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”
This is about living generously. My word I have witnessed this a lot this in the ordinary people I share my life with. I’m not talking about on the big global scale, I’m talking about the communities that intersect my life. When I look at the big picture, on the news screens, what I see is selfishness and greed and yet when I look at the people around me, what I witness is people being generous, people giving themselves away. It fills my heart. By the way I'm not saying that this is all that is there, no just what is reported. They only tell us about the bad news, so rarely do we hear good news. Look around you, it is there.
Sadly too often we are afraid to do this. In fact we are told over and over again “Don’t give yourself away.”
What are we so afraid?
No! Times is passing by, it is short “Everyday day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”
It’s that simply really and yet at times it seems so complicated. This is the transformative nature of the religious life. It comes alive, as we come alive when we give ourselves away.
Another poem I’ve been thinking of a lot these last few days is “Accepting this “ by Mark Nepo
Yes, it is true. I confess,
I have thought great thoughts,
and sung great songs—all of it
rehearsal for the majesty
of being held.
The dream is awakened
when thinking I love you
and life begins
when saying I love you
and joy moves like blood
when embracing others with love.
My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.
Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.
We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.
Like human fish,
we’re asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.
There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
we can do everything
and go anywhere.
So many beautiful paradoxes in this poem that speak to me of what it means to live spiritually alive and in the company of others. I have witnessed and experienced so much of what it speaks of these last few weeks and it has filled my heart and humbled me. I have bared witness to how the spirit only comes alive in relation. That’s what the spiritual life is actually about you know, relationships. You cannot be a spiritual being, a living one at least in isolation. It only occurs truly in community, as messy as that can be. In so doing we may not transform the world, but we certainly transform ourselves, in that very relationship and this may just one day transform our shared world. I live in and through hope.
If I know nothing else I know that every day I have less reason not to give myself away.
Maybe that is all I really need to know, maybe all I have to do is keep on remembering this and keep on giving myself away. The next time I forget, please remind me.