Kathleen Hirsch | Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch
Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch including an archive of her columns for BostonGlobe.com and Cruxnow.com
Spiritual writing, Kathleen Hirsch, crux, cruxnow
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Resurrection

She couldn’t remember how long she had moved through life like an open, well-disguised, wound.  She was articulate and beautiful, and her pride was a rapier intelligence.  She’d have made a good litigator.  I know, because she could reduce a theological proposition to dust in a heartbeat with one of her challenging questions.

A psychologist by profession, she had exhausted every avenue of self-analysis without finding relief for the problems that beset her:  a push-me-pull-you relationship with a partner, alienation from her family, a sense of dislocation.  She came to my door feeling numb.

She told me that she wanted to “try God.”

By this, I soon discovered, she meant, “take God on.”

We spoke together over many months, discussing books, ways of praying, ideas, Scripture.  It was an intellectual dance, and I began to see that it paralleled an exterior life of perpetual advance and retreat.  She stayed in one place for only a year or two, laying plans to leave before she’d settled in.  She took up multiple partners.  She was a master escape artist.  Always, she had an out.  And she’d always taken it, moving away, finding a new job, a new city.

One day as I sat across from her, feeling her vulnerability behind the mask of calm and cool, I asked her, “Why are you here?”

She hadn’t expected this.  Her dance partner had dropped back, to look more closely at the steps we were repeating over and over again.

It was a labyrinthine dance of pain, but also of safety.  Round and round.  An exercise in propping up her problems, or images of God, only to them strike down, to reject or dabble, or explore as intellectual propositions.

We sat with a lot of silence that day.  Words were incapable of reaching into the place where the dance ended.

After some time she asked, in a small, exposed voice, “Where was God when I needed him?”

It was the first expression of genuine feeling I’d heard from her in all those many months.

None of us escape the desolate hours.  How many times have I asked the same question?  Wakened in the middle of the night feeling existentially alone, moved through weeks not knowing in hindsight what got me through?  Her adolescence had been shattered by a mentally-ill parent around whom the family navigated, with many raw edges.   What died in her during those years wasn’t just hope, and it wasn’t just faith.  What died was the idea of God as a source of love, comfort, affirmation.

She’d been wandering ever since, walled off from the worst of her pain by her brilliant mask, never daring for a moment to release her grip on the strategies that had “worked” – at least, had gotten her through.  But at a price.

She left, and I didn’t know if I would see her again.

Time passed.

Recently, she came to visit.

“I’m thinking of staying, getting a new apartment, “she smiled for the first time in months.  “I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to leave.”

This wasn’t all.

“I saw my mother a few weeks ago,” she went on. “She told me that she hopes I’ll stay, and for the first time in years I heard this as a genuine expression of her love.”

Tears started running down her cheeks.

“Something has shifted,” she told me.

Sometimes the dance needs to stop, the masks be removed.  Only in this way can we find our way back to the beating heart that hides, protecting itself, sparring with shadows.  It’s very hard to do this alone.  We need each other to name the dance of our harsh inner tapes, our inability to forgive, or spinning in circles – however elegant or articulate.

What had changed? I asked her.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she said, “but I seem able to appreciate everything I have more fully.  I’m paying attention to things, realizing that I actually like some of the people I work with.  I have a lot to be grateful for.”

“God never left you,” I told her, able to share what I have had to learn over and over again in my own life.  “You asked where God was when you needed him, in your darkest times.  God was there.  It was God who was weeping in you.”

This is the discovery.   When we slip out from under our rocks of hurt and unworthiness and anger and shame, when we allow the light of a love without agenda to crack our stone walls, something amazing happens.  We let in a power that can destroy our self-made tombs, and begin to emerge into something bigger and more real than we’d imagined.

It is scary to do this.  It’s much easier, I suspect, to be a blade of grass than a human being.  But the newly greening grass helps to remind us:  Resurrection is all around us, quiet as a smile and a direct glance where once there was evasion, self-protective wit, a distance of fear.  It takes a friend, a teacher, a gardener, someone who is genuinely interested in the answer to the question, “Who are you really?  Tell me your story.  Why are you here?”

 

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Breaking Cookies: A Story of Necessary Conversation

Over spring break I gave my students an assignment:  Find someone who holds opposing political views and conduct a civil conversation.

Ask questions, I told them.  Listen without judgment.  Try to find common ground.

Predictably, some chose roommates.  But a handful did the difficult thing.  They talked to strangers.

One travelled to Kent Country, MI, to build a Habitat home.  There, on a rooftop, she met an 82 year old who uses his skills to help neighbors in need.

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Spring Into Your Creativity

To My Fellow Writers, Seekers, and Artists

With the thaws this winter have come a few exciting creative ventures.  Upcoming is one that, if you are local, you may want to check out:

On Saturday, May 13, I am collaborating with a highly gifted book artist, Susan Porter, to offer a new workshop called Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab.  It weaves together my creative and contemplative writing techniques with Susan’s astonishing color, collage, and folding repertoire.

For more details, go to “Spirit Works” via the home page at http://kathleenhirsch.com/.

 

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Remembering What Matters

The velocity of events in our public life feels like a low-grade form of violence some days.  I notice this when I am alone, in the early morning, on walks in my neighborhood or writing in my journal.  Then, I become aware of how defended I am, ready for the next blow. Without my wishing or willing it, my better, deeper capacities for empathy and insight have gone into hiding.

How much of our life is lived like this?

Last Sunday was a time to look again.  It had snowed during the night.  The roads were wet, the skies low and very dark, when I set out.  Crows darted out of trees, sharing a secret.

The week had delivered its payload of appalling accusations, rebuffs, and retreats on the part of our so-called leaders, with no sign of any accountability in sight.

As I walked, I began to think about how this works on us.  What seems to happen is that moral repugnance festers.  It takes on a life of its own.  We get caught up in argument, labyrinths of justification.  The urge to have the last word.  And reaction robs the essential self of its freedom.

The price is a blindness to my own heart, a total white-out of what’s Real, what is right before my eyes.

It wasn’t yet 7.  I walked past the local hospital, down a street of few structures, a farm, and a nursing home. I enjoy walking the grounds of the nursing home – the “Independent Living Facility” — because they back into woods, and sometimes I see deer, or rabbits, or hawks and remember the existence of all that doesn’t participate in our sorry human constructs.

This morning, I happened to look up at the five-story high complex, where the residents’ windows were still dark and sleep still held peaceful sway.  Directly in front of me, on the fourth floor, a reading lamp was on. By its light, I saw an old man, alone, bent over a book.

I wanted to believe that he was reading Scripture, or poetry. His intent gaze and bent head had something of reverence to it.  In a grey dawn, in his dwindling days, he sat studying the mystery of his life’s journey.  Its wonder and magnitude.

There is, still, this, I realized. This is still available to us. Reverence, wonder, a kindness of the self to the self.  How could I have forgotten so completely that it is this that we most profoundly need?

Then I noticed the black women who were driving round to the back of the facility. Women who had left their families on a Sunday morning to start their work days, tending to these frail lives. They park at the rear and enter through the service door. They prepare to be the face of kindness and hope for another day.

We need these glimpses of our better selves, every day, not just on Sundays.  Especially now.  Go out and look for crows.  Embrace rainy mornings.  Take solitary walks.  Thank your chances to be with children, and to observe the slow unfolding of the daffodils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The All New “Attention Collection”

I spent some time this week with a smart, provocative book by David Dark.  It’s called life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious.

Dark is an unlikely prophet for yours truly – an evangelical former English teacher turned theology professor in Nashville.  But since he teaches college-aged seekers as I do, I was interested in his take on things.

If you like being challenged to consider the autopilot mode that keeps sending you back to your church, or the Starbuck’s on the way to work, or the Internet – that self-satisfied voice that keeps telling you you have it all together – this is a book for you.

His best wake-up call is one I want to give a shout-out to here.

Dark tells us that we all need an Attention Collection.

I love this.  It makes me think of the little figurines my grandmother gathered when she had a few extra pennies.  The quarters from every state my son once painstakingly collected (he never quite got to all 50).

Dark says that we need to see what we see.

Easier said than done.

We need to pay better attention than we do just hurrying through our daily lists and hop to the addictive techno-twitches that offer instant gratification and long-term emptiness.

We need to notice the hawk on the bough, remember the inspiring poem we heard on the radio, the look in the eyes of the 10 year olds along for a college tour with the sibling they would too soon have to say goodbye to.  What we truly attend to seeps into our beings and forms the mind and soul that we are.

As a lifelong keeper of writer’s notebooks, a hoarder of overheard conversations, lines written on the back of receipts, I can’t say enough about this concept.

Dark writes,  We have an obligation “to make sure you’re still taking on this business of being awake to yourself – to be a witness to your own experience, to listen to your own life, to see what you’ve seen…What could be more socially essential, more sacred?”

Once we begin to see the sacredness of the smallest particular (Blake’s great cri du coeur), we start to have a better sense of how good work gets done.  (As opposed to a lot of the work we actually do, by the way.)

Attention is a miracle.  It is the gift we are given, first, to see what we see, and then to share it.  We get to sift through our grab bag of impressions and insights each and every day, and decide which items are worth passing along.  In the process, we get smarter and better about what we don’t need to erode our precious, miraculous attention on.  A major fringe benefit.

Sharing our “attention collection” is the ultimate act of collaboration with the great project of consciousness.  We give little gifts of goodness, value, hope by sharing what we have been fed by.  Daily bread.

I’m seeing what I see much more vividly, thank to Dark.

“The surest evidence of what we believe is what we do,” Dark writes.

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Warm Words in a Cold Season

Dear Readers,

I have received such an outpouring of beautiful notes after my piece, “Civics at the Yarn Shop” appeared on The Boston Globe’s Opinion Page yesterday, that I need to thank you all for your words.

We live in a time when conversation, dialogue, meeting one another however we can — face to face, face-time, and using the tools of our sometimes-overbearing technology — is the essential business of each day.  To share comfort, questions, and images of hope.

One of my favorite notes came from a woman in Australia, who asked me to continue to share my own stories of hope.  This is the objective I aim for each day when I get up from my desk and enter the stream of the day.

Yesterday, hope appeared in several shapes.  First, your letters.  Second, my church is about to launch a concerted effort to support refugees.  Third, a relative in need of ongoing support found someone to act as a guide.  Fourth, but by no means last, my overweight cat — after a month-long regimen of low-calorie gruel — appears to have lost half a pound.

I am attaching the link to the Globe piece, in case any of you missed it and want to take a peek.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/03/09/civics-yarn-shop/uFp95rutuafbekz7rS7uII/story.html

Have a hopeful day.

Kathleen

 

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