under these trees, not others

Community is ours for the making, an always-present happening, broken open to each other through a willingness to be vulnerable.

under these trees at Kline’s Run Park along the Susquehanna

“You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am…You have made me a kind of center, but a center that is nowhere. And yet also I am ‘here,’ let us say I am ‘here’ under these trees, not others.”

– Thomas Merton

There’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve struggled with for most of my life: I’ve been really lonely.

It’s a squirmy little truth because it manifests itself in some pretty mundane and unimaginative ways. Here are my top three:

  1. The mindless consumption of plugging in to the dream worlds of never-ending video and social media
  2. An easy rejection enabled by perfectionism – summarily dismissing participation because it doesn’t meet my poorly constructed and usually self-edifying standards
  3. The ugly exhaustion of isolation – not the active, renewing power of solitude, but the inactive, life-draining leech of alienation

And it certainly isn’t because I’ve been alone. For most of my adult life I have been surrounded by an amazing partner, wonderful colleagues and warm friends. The surprising thing about being lonely is that it doesn’t have so much to do with who is around me, but instead it’s about how I am participating in co-creating community with who is around me. Dorothy Day got it absolutely right:

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”  (“The Final Word is Love,” The Catholic Worker, May 1980)

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a proportional response

Love is always the answer…but only when it sits in relationship with truth. 


a feast of proportionality at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking on to Central Park

Public discourse at its best is rich with paradox but recently seems mostly littered with misunderstanding. Echo chambers resound wildly amplifying hurt and fear, both of which, I can say personally, are utterly warranted in this new political landscape. But how to hold the hurt and fear with the nearly impossible paradox that brings love and truth together? What is a proportional response?

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
– Warren W. Wiersbe

And there’s the rub. A truth untempered by love is violence, while love without truth is toothless. I’ve seen quite a few white folks floating Dr. King quotes on the internet, especially this one: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” That seems like an enlightened response, but I’m not sure if it’s completely proportional. I think it’s a great sentiment that makes folks feel good. I think in its original context, the quote is a powerful stand for peace and reconciliation. But reconciliation is about first confronting some ugly truths. The light makes all the dark places known, not just the ones we want to see.  Continue reading

shifting perception

“We should not be surprised or scandalized by the sinful and the tragic. Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming a new creation” ourselves.” – Richard Rohr

of prayer, love, and the touching of other worlds (Dostoevsky)


“My young brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it seems senseless, yet it is right, for all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world. Let it be madness to ask forgiveness of the birds, still it would be easier for the birds, and for a child, and for any animal near you, if you yourself were more gracious than you are now, if only by a drop, still it would be easier.

“All is like an ocean, I say to you. Tormented by universal love, you, too, would then start praying to the birds, as if in a sort of ecstasy, and entreat them to forgive you your sin. Cherish this ecstasy, however senseless it may seem to people.” – Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov

IMAGE: West Hills County Park, Long Island

“This pathology, which took me years to recognize, is my tendency to get so conflicted with the way people use power in institutions that I spend more time being angry at them than I spend on my real work.” – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

There is a grace to being ordinary

“Whatever our part is. Just do one thing. That’s all we have to do.”   – Simone Campbell

Every day I do a quick audit of online reviews for my organization, and I came across this one yesterday:

“There is nothing very special about this place but I find myself going back for breakfast and lunch time and again. It’s comfortable, reasonably priced, pleasant, with nice service and very solid food. It really works.”

I can’t speak to what the writer fully had in mind, but my understanding of the sentiment is that a simple formula, followed with fidelity, may not knock your socks off, but it will, in time, demonstrate its value to you.

When I had a conversation with Miriam Therese Winter, my one big question was “What about us ordinary folks?” As a Medical Mission Sister, Winter has done some extraordinary acts in the service of others, but not all of us share that calling. How does an ordinary rebel, well, rebel?

She said simply to be the most authentic person you can be. Bring your whole self with you wherever you go. And while the context of a life may seem ordinary, our actions and words in that context can be anything but.

There is a grace to nurturing wholeness in the everyday. Small acts of mindful rebellion add up to a life lived with integrity.