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November, 2001

"And don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone."
-- The Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

This is the time of year is full of entreaties -- both subtle and straightforward --to take time to list blessings. Family and friends and freedom and food. Possessions and professions, and pastimes, and past times. Love and luck. The habit of pausing and listing is as much a part of our culture as giving gifts the end of December and eating chocolate rabbits in the spring. And, indeed, there is much to be thankful for. Knowing what that is, is for me at least, a very different manner.

I've long been fond of the Arthurian tales, of reading different versions from medieval to pop culture. They are full of classic fodder: good versus evil, fatal flaws, fate and free will, and the ever popular unrequited love. It's also a heck of a good story. So I was curious, but not surprised, when sitting in worship a few years ago a scene from the Disney cartoon version of the T. H. White telling floated into my awareness. A young Arthur, metamorphosed into a fish by Merlin, learns some of life's lessons in preparation for destiny. And a question arose for me around the fish in the castle moat. Can a fish understand water? Surly most basic element to a fish's being is water. Yet immersed as it is, how can a fish know water? Perhaps a glimpse of knowing from a ripple or a current or a flash of understanding from jumping out of the water after a mosquito, but a fish cannot know the water.

How like a fish I am. I live my day to day life surrounded by the beauty and grace of the Divine and yet, like a fish in water, it is too immense for me to know. I know gifts largely for the ways they reflect on others. I know I am loved but I the ripples and currents of that are largely unseen. Oh, I get a glimpse of it now and again but I am so immersed in it that I cannot entirely imagine it.

Being thankful is like that for me too. I certainly have some hint of the many graces in my life, but I have not an iota of an understanding of the effects of those things, of the way they ripple and flow and interconnect with each other. When they are taken from me, I begin to see them in a broader context though it is always painful.

Life is like a huge mobiles hanging from the ceiling, moving in a breeze, delicately balanced. When one of the objects is removed the balance is lost and in the crazy lopsided swinging I suddenly and painfully know what I had. And so, I am grateful for not knowing the depth or the extent of my blessings.

I often only understand what I have when I no longer have it. Sad and hard not to know what you've got 'till it's gone. But this I do know. I know because I've experienced it. Gifts and blessings are abundant. They are centered in love. And, being centered in love they cannot be really lost. Only separated for a time.

The Myth of Peak Foliage

October, 2001

Balanced with all consuming world events, the local media has spent the last six week rejoining their annual pinpointing the precise location of peak foliage--that spot where each leaf is both a brilliant color and still hanging on the tree, preferably in dappled sunshine. The roads fill with out-of-state licenses plates driving state and secondary roads looking for that exact spot, camera ready for the perfect shot of the perfect scene of the perfect peak. It's a beautiful time of the year. I understand folks' need to witness and capture it.

It's far from the truth though. There is not a singular spot of perfect beauty in time or space that, captured on film or in the mind's eye can be held onto and saved. Part of the autumn's beauty is in the fluidity. It's organic. It's a process. The color is enhanced by it's ever changing slideto the inevitable of change that enhances the color.

Watching the season's cycle from my car window and trying to wrap my mind around my pacifism and world events I was reminded of a quote by A.J. Muste that moved into t-shirt trite-ism a few years ago: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." It holds a kernel of truth. We need to actively work for peace. Pacifists imply, in our culture at least, a spot--a passive spot. I want to remember to live pacifism--to be a peace maker, active, organic, moving. That is where we will find the grace and beauty of it all. When I search for peace as a spot, as a kind of garden of Eden, I will not find it. The world will invade and I will be constantly drawn away from the place. If I walk the path of peace in my life I come to expect challenges and opportunities; I learn to find joy in the journey.

One of the most powerful books I've read recently has been God Is A Verb by a rabbi, David Cooper. In his exportation of the Kabbalah he talks of the Jewish mystical understanding of God being more process than being, more verb than noun. I like that, and not only because it resolves all those gender issues of God. It both resonates and expands my understanding of the Divine in my life and in the world. How odd that a simple part of speech makes such a large difference. Friends have always found God's presence in work and in some ways God is that work itself.

The beauty of the leaves changing is in the changing. Living a peaceful life is in the living. Experiencing God not as an object but as an organic embracing growth amplifies my sense of beauty and of peace. It's in the making, the doing, the loving, the holding and the cherishing. To search it out as a stagnant point in time is to miss it's mystery and it beauty.

All contents of this page -- Copyright 2001 Carl Williams, All Rights Reserved