Wise Words – By Our Love, Not By Our Thinking

By our love not by our thinking

“By our love the Sacred may be touched and held; by our thinking, never.”

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6


Thinking is not wrong, it just gets too much air time in our hyper-productive, over-stimulated society.

When applied to problems it is good at, its answers seem complete:  How many grams are in a cup? When is the next solar eclipse? How much weight can this bridge design hold? These are questions with definite answers, and logic is ideally suited to deliver them. This leaves the false impression that thinking is a superior pathway to understanding. 

But we humans are multi-dimensional. For all its usefulness, logic cannot reach the parts of life we hold most dear:  the waves of love we feel holding our newborn child or grandchild; the subtle smile in the eyes of our spouse or partner; intuitive bursts of creativity; an inspired refrain of Bob Dylan or Beethoven; the upswept majesty of entering a cathedral. These are sacred experiences and no logical explanation of them is complete or fulfilling. They need to be embraced by another dimension of our being.

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Thirty Dollars and Forty Cents

“Thirty dollars and forty cents,” the checker tells the couple. I’m third in line, and the carts are backing up behind me.

“Your debit card is declined, balance too low.” The couple is using the state system for food assistance. The woman looks at the ground and shakes her head. The man offers his card instead. We wait for the checker to reset the system. His card is rejected too. We wait for the reset again.

People are being polite, no one says anything, but I feel an impatient tension rising. I only have three items. The young man in the jean jacket in front of me has one.

A tangle of emotions forms a knot that threads back and forth in a small loop between my shoulder blades. I feel empathy for the couple who don’t have enough money to buy a meager parcel of groceries. And I have to admit, I’m irritated at the delay. And, I’m also a little ashamed that I’m irritated. But I know you can’t unfeel emotions that are present, so I stand there and try to pay attention to my knotted shoulders while I wait.

The woman starts pulling items from the bag, picking out what to return. The knot at my shoulders sinks lower like a lead weight. I take a long breath and try to soften the knot, but it sits there, prickly and heavy. I wonder if I should pull out my wallet and pay for the groceries. Would the couple be grateful or offended? I would have to squeeze past the guy in the jean jacket. Would that call more attention? What’s more important, saving embarrassment or providing food? Am I doing it to relieve my discomfort, or to hurry things along? I stand there watching, stuck.

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Why Spirituality?

Why do we pursue a spiritual path? What is the spiritual impulse that fuels our seeking? What are we trying to achieve?

Spirituality is personal. It touches everyone differently according to their understanding, nature and season, so we each engage these questions in our own way. Let me offer my response with the following possibilities.

I want guidance in walking this impossible human life, a paradox both extravagantly abundant, delicious and fulfilling, and supremely challenging, grievous and painful.

I want to grow. I know there is a vast potential beyond my current boundaries that wants to emerge. I want to discover and express the core of who I am.

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Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis


A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

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What Is the Spiritual Response to Gaza?

The war that ignited last week in the Middle East has left me deeply distressed and confused. Distressed that heinous acts and the rageful reactions they provoke are feeding a murderous cycle; confused as I struggle to find a meaningful spiritual response.

I see the wheel of violence and revenge rolling forward, ages old, and I desperately want something to change, to make this time different, to free us from the macabre theater that will play itself out over months or years until our capacity for carnage is exhausted.

I am confronted with the bloodshed and atrocities of war and the prospects for a widening conflict destabilizing the region.

I am staggered by the devastation of cities and homes, the sickening loss of life, the oceans of grief, and the trauma that will last for generations.

I am paralyzed by the cultural and geopolitical complexities that fog our collective vision as we seek a path out of the bramble bush.

I am consumed with a desire to distinguish right from wrong, to understand what drives people to commit slaughter and to fathom a reply that does not match its depravity. I long for a clean line that separates good from evil, that labels which acts of violence are justified, even as I realize that the maelstrom of war eventually blurs and breaks those lines.

And I yearn for guidance. I cry out for answers in a landscape where answers don’t make sense.

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Wise Words – The Argument Against Foxholes

“The phrase, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes,’ is not an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.”

James Morrow


We sometimes get distracted by the wrong spiritual questions. The flashy ones can take us away from the real inquiry.

“Do you believe in God?” is not a useful question. It leads to an exercise in rhetoric around the words “believe” and “God.” Linguistic precision is rarely the best road to spiritual insight. Too often, atheism is a reaction to a cartoon version of God, an action-figure straw man who bears little resemblance to the deeper well most serious spiritual people want to drink from.

The interesting question posed by Morrow’s quote is not, “Is there a God?” but, “Why are there foxholes?” a question that implicates us all.  

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Aikido – The Art of Peace

I had been practicing Aikido for about two years, which is a dangerous time. You know just enough to think you know what you’re doing. This was the state of my Aikido experience the morning I exited the coffee shop and saw a man harassing a woman.

I had always felt weak as a kid, humiliated by bullies. I stuffed my anger, opting for physical safety – stay small, don’t stand up for yourself, give in. As an adult, I learned Aikido to defend the frightened child still inside me.

Aikido is a martial art with outer and inner elements. Its outer form uses balance, footwork, joint locks, and your opponent’s momentum. Aikido’s inner form uses ki, the abundant life force that exists and flows through all things. 

My Aikido teacher explained that cultivating ki was the true power behind all the physical techniques of Aikido. I wondered if ki was real or just a poetic metaphor, but my sensei assured me it was real and powerful.  

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Wise Words – The Worth of Our Wounds

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.”

Elbert Hubbard


Medals make sense to me.

School and work teach us to set goals and reach them. Success, and even survival, require us to become good at procuring the things we need. I’ve spent much of my time pursuing and displaying them. It’s easy to view achievement as the primary purpose of life.

But scars? That grabs my attention. 

When I think of scars, I first think of wounds, the places we have been cut or pierced. It’s more than a bruise. A scar results when the skin rips and we bleed. 

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Wise Words – Love Is Metaphysical Gravity

“Love is metaphysical gravity.”

Buckminster Fuller


In the physical world, gravity holds everything together. It pulls the planets around the sun; grounds us to the earth; makes the rivers flow; moves the tides across the shore.

In the physical world, gravity is universal, an unseen force that acts on matter everywhere. The presence of one affects the whole.

Newton viewed the physical world as a collection of objects with gravity acting on each. Einstein proved that gravity is a field that holds everything together – matter, light, energy, even time, all move together in relationship within the curves of this field.

We don’t know why gravity exists. Maybe the best physicists can say is, “That’s just how the world works.”

What about beneath the physical? What holds the metaphysical world together?

Love.  

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Giving Money on the Street – My History of Failure

I live in Sacramento. Like many urban areas, the number of people living in tents under the freeway continues to grow. People wait at intersections or outside stores and ask me for money.

I am moved and want to help, but I don’t know what actual help looks like. The scope of the problem paralyzes me – immense and complex with a confusing mix of structural, societal, economic, medical, psychological and personal factors. The situation requires me to ask, what are the limits of my moral obligation to others?

I feel powerless to affect real change at a large scale, but there must be something I can do at the human scale, a response that alleviates suffering in a meaningful way. I have tried different approaches over the years, struggling to find something that does more good than harm. I never know if I am succeeding.

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