Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Contemplation, The Color Purple, And Gentle Breezes

Yesterday I spent part of my lunch break sitting in the park. It was a hot day but I was protected by the shade of a tree that was planted by someone I do not know. Occasionally a gust of wind would blow through the trees making all the leaves appear to be turned inside out. It was nice to have a moment of quiet and solitude in a day that was mostly filled with activity and people. When I am in solitude and lost in silence I feel like I can breathe more easily.

One person wondered what I was talking about in yesterday's thoughts when I said "Have you noticed the color purple"? It was a slightly obscure reference to a conversation between two characters in the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie version, is talking with another character and she says, "I think it makes God angry if you don't notice the color purple". It's another way of saying that it is important to stop and smell the roses in life. I agree with Celie. Living a good life is not just about not breaking rules or commandments. The world is full of beauty and good things. We should notice and enjoy them.

Another person asked me about the questions that I suggested might be our final exam in life. Their question centered around the idea of who gets into "heaven". I have been a Christian my whole life but I do not personally believe we have a monopoly on heaven, whatever that turns out to be. The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist. Gandhi was a Hindu. Moses and the great prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, not to mention Jesus, were Jews. The poet Rumi was a Sufi Muslim. We are all children of God. No one is excluded from the life of God. My personal beliefs are influenced by all these people and their traditions. Another aspect of spirituality is the idea of unity. One of my spiritual mentors, Thomas Merton, a Christian monk, said something to the effect that one of his goals was to integrate into himself all the best and common threads of all religions. Imagine a life that is comprised of Christian love, Buddhist compassion, Hindu non violence (as evidenced by the life of Gandhi), and Jewish perseverance. If heaven is a big party with God, everyone is invited. The more the merrier.

I like when people challenge my thoughts. It means they're thinking and that's part of the reason I do this. I want to be like the Robin Williams character in the movie "Dead Poets Society". I want people to challenge people to think and understand there is more than one way to look at life. Like Robin Williams in the movie, sometimes we must stand on top of our desk in order to get a new and different perspective on life. If our only perspective is the one we have from sitting in the same chair and looking in the same direction, we're missing a great deal of the total picture.

In the major religions there are definitely contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a religious person. In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life and simply breathe. The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane. It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also willing to stop and smell them. It's being present to life in all it's details (mindfulness). Perhaps you are aware of the story of the prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures. He had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel. To make a long story short, Elijah won so they ran him out of town. He hid in a cave on a mountain. There was thunder and lightening and earthquakes and all that kind of stuff but God was not present in them. Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze. Elijah hid his face for in this God was present. The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present. If you are constantly running through life, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities. Slow down and be alive.

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