Via Negativa: Just Say No: Say No to Beauty

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

“You visit the earth and water it,” this ancient desert dwelling Hebrew poet wrote of God so long ago, in Psalm 65. “You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water;  you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.”

“You want to see some beauty?” this nomadic poet asked. “Just have a look around at this amazing creation.”

“The river of God is full of water.” That water brings rain and grain and beauty of forests and fields and feeds the birds of the air and gives the fish abundant life. If you want to be gobsmacked by a profusion of unbridled beauty, stand in one spot and take a look at the wonder of creation.

There is beauty waiting to be discovered in every nook and cranny of this world.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,” wrote a more contemporary poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Take off your shoes, Jubilants, because you, in this moment are on Holy, beautiful ground. Even in the dirt, even in the muck of everyday life, there is something beautiful blooming, something gorgeous begging to be noticed and appreciated.

The Zen Buddhist tradition in Japan gives us a philosophy called “wabi sabi,” which invites each of us to embrace the simple beauty of the ordinary.  Wabi sabi instills in each of us the ability to see the hidden beauty of this world. The word “wabi” originally meant the loneliness of living in nature, but has come to mean rustic simplicity and quietness. “Sabi” means “lean” or “withered,” but now is understood as the beauty that comes with age. Wabi-sabi then, connotes an ability to see beauty in the flaws of this world.

Author Robyn Griggs Lawrence explains wabi-sabi by quoting from D.T. Suzuki, the foremost scholar of Western Zen Buddhism. Suzuki “described wabi-sabi as ‘an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.'” Griggs writes: “He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. ‘Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau,’ [Suzuki] wrote, ‘and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall.'”

Isn’t that true beauty, Jubilants? Isn’t the real beauty, the real passion of life, found in the small things, like the taste of good food, the sound of rain on the roof and a true appreciation of the small, often seemingly insignificant and ordinary joys of life?

Breathe deeply.

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Via Negativa: Just Say No: Say No to Growing Up

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

If you pay attention to Jesus as he moves through his world, you’ll find a man with a keen sense of the danger of growing up. While it’s true that Jesus was an adult, and did many adult things – I would submit that Jesus never really grew up, and encouraged his disciples to say no to growing up as well.

There was one incident, recounted in Matthew 18, where Jesus puts a child in front of his hard-headed grown up disciples and tells them clearly, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

That word “humble” in Greek means to put aside our pride, to become unassuming and live simply. This is the key to not growing up, Jubilants, because when the world says we have to grow up, that means we have to start measuring ourselves not by our own standards, or even God’s, but by society’s standards, by the expectations placed on us by our family, our friends, our churches and other groups.

When we grow up, we begin to see this world as a competition. We have to be faster, smarter, better looking, richer, taller, happier and healthier than other people. We have to keep up with the Joneses and measure up to what the world calls “success.”

Those who refuse to grow up, however, have an advantage on all those grown-ups in the world, and this is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples, and us. Children have a special knowledge of this world that begins to fade when they buy into this idea of grown-up competition and struggle.

Children have the ability to still see wonder and awe in this world. Children don’t really need fancy toys or a lot of money. Instead, all they need is an intricate spider web to study or an anthill to watch all afternoon. Children can lie on the ground and pick shapes out of the clouds and invent stories about the characters they see floating in the sky.

Children have what the Zen Buddhists call “a beginner’s mind.” They have not yet been corrupted by the world around them that expects them to grow up, get a job, get married, be a success and make their parents proud.

All those things are good for adults to do, but even if you do all those things, Jesus says, you still have to be able to see the world through a child’s eyes – to constantly put on that beginner’s mind and be awed and astonished by the world around you.

It’s when we become childlike in this world that we most often find ourselves saying:   “Oh, Yeah!”

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Via Negativa: Just Say, “No” – Say No to Compassion

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

It’s fair to ask, I think, why Humpty was up on that wall in the first place. I think the answer can be found in this world that can make us crazy. The world expects us to climb walls, to rise high in this world. We’re told that our sense of worthiness is based not on the strength of our character, but on the size of our bank account. We’re told that we’re only considered to be truly successful when we climb the corporate ladder. We’re only worthy of notice and respect when we climb the social ladder.

We’re constantly taught, from the cradle to the grave, that to matter in this world means to climb as high as we can and gain as much wealth and notoriety as we can. Humpty apparently believed this – so up he went to sit on that high, dangerous wall of society’s approval and expectations.

Some Christian preachers, in fact, might even use today’s passage from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 30:9-14) to prove those expectations as God promises to “make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.”

Ah, but there’s a catch to that prosperity promise that most of those kinds of preachers just skip right over. God is saying prosperity comes when we follow the law and turn to God with all our heart and soul.

Which begs the question, what is the law? God’s law has nothing to do with accomplishing the social climb, and God’s true blessings have little, if anything, to do with worldly success or material gain.

The law God calls us to follow is the law of love – the law of true compassion, not just for the world, but for ourselves. This is why the ancient Hebrew author of this passage says “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

We can only practice the law of compassion in the world when we begin to obey that law inside, toward ourselves. Compassion in the world is impossible without first mastering self-compassion.

I don’t know about any of you, but the person I show the least compassion to is myself. All it takes is one clumsy move and I berate myself with angry, hurtful words that I would never say to another human being – even to my worst enemy.

Self-compassion is how we reveal our true colors, not just to the world, but to ourselves. Self-compassion is where we learn how to truly care about others, because we know, deep inside, how cruel the world can be, because we have been so very  cruel to ourselves.

Self-compassion invites us to stop judging ourselves, to stop criticizing ourselves and to stop discounting our own pain. When we can end our internal war against ourselves, and learn that the word – the Holy – is very near, as close as our mouths and our hearts, then we can begin to understand the true path to compassion in the world, begins right here, in our own hearts and minds.

Self-compassion helps us realize that we are all Humpty on the wall – and we have all experienced a great fall. Shame and humiliation are not unique experiences … they are part of the universal human existence. When we realize we are not alone in our fallen and broken nature then we can finally learn to love and accept our own true colors – that inner beauty of the Holy that dwells – and shines – in each of us.

– Breathe deeply. –

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