Reading – From Krista Tippet’s Interview with Sister Simone Campbell, “How to Be Spiritually Bold”
Gerald May, in this amazing book Will and Spirit, says that the only thing that we bring to the contemplative life is a willing heart. And that the two things that shut down the contemplative life are fear and holding on, grasping. And so what I’ve come to realize is that, for me, this journey is about continuing to walk willing towards the hope, the vision, the perspective, the opportunities that are given. But it’s all about where people are hungry. I get invited to where people are hungry. And I’m willing to try to be food for them, just be available, just be present, and listen to their stories or tell mine and — but it’s all about keeping my heart open to what’s around. And not closing up. Because one of the things I’ve discovered — because some people say, “Oh, you travel all the time. That must be exhausting.” The only time I get tired is if I start worrying about me. If I start focusing on myself thinking, “Oh my god,” looking at my schedule, “It’s terrible — ra-ra-ra.” Then I lose energy. But the whole contemplative life thing is about “walking willing” aware that we’re one body, and that I’ll be nourished in the process if I give myself over to this bigger need.
Sermon – “The Walking Willing” – Gretchen
A little later in the interview, Sister Simone goes on to describe her Zen meditation practice, which is the foundation of her contemplative life. As she tells it, the cushion – in her Zen practice, is the easy part. On the cushion, she feels, with total confidence and absolute knowing, everything is connected to everything – we are all one body.
Then, she leaves the cushion. And things are less easy.
And yet, “off the cushion” is when contemplative practice matters most – contemplative practice means nothing without the contemplative life. Moments like Sister Simone describes – moments where we are deeply aware of our interconnectedness – these moments show up in many of our lives – sometimes on purpose – like through a Zen meditation or other spiritual practice, sometimes, as a surprise, like a gift, like wow.
When it happens, this kind of awareness can be overwhelmingly beautiful, and yet also somewhat painful, or terrifying. I don’t mean those moments where we say we are interdependent, where we think about it, but those moments when we feel it, in our guts. When we feel we are one body. One body with those we most admire. One body with those we most despise. One body with the most vulnerable. One body with the most powerful. One body – all of us.
In these gut-awareness moments, Life calls to us to pay attention, wake up – like: there’s more to life than just you. You are a part of something way bigger. There’s so much going on beyond what you can see, or control. You are not in charge.
This awareness can sometimes feel like good news. And sometimes it’s unbearable.
Either way, from this awareness, as Sister Simone says, we realize all we really have to offer in this life, is our willing hearts, and our open hands.
And with these small yet worthy offerings, we walk towards all that is hungry in our world, walk towards and with all the other members of our one body, and simply try to bear witness.
Perhaps like many of us, I was raised with the idea that if I did the right thing, and worked hard, in most cases, the outcome I sought would turn out. This strong ethic of self-determination impacts how many of us think about how we parent, our friendships, how we do our jobs, how we act in the world – everything.
We base our assessment of right action in the efficacy of that action – which means, if things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped, we question if the action we took was actually the right action, or if the relationship doesn’t go the way we thought, maybe we should never have tried, never said yes, never taken the risk to love at all?
Living with an awareness of our interconnectedness brings a new way of thinking – where we let go of our ideas of right action leading to right outcome, and instead live with the reality that there are no guarantees, no matter how carefully or responsibly we may have acted. Live with this reality, and yet remain open, and willing, and present.
If you know me personally, you know my partner and I adopted our children through the foster care system. Early on, we were just exploring our options, and we were in the informational session with the Department when the worker said, “you always hear the horror stories, the kids before – but you don’t know what’s possible with consistent love, what kinds of change can happen.”
This was like sweet-talking us. We both so believe in the hope of transformation by way of steadfast love. We were enrolled in the fost-adopt classes within a few weeks.
We felt called to parent a child who had been through abuse, or neglect – maybe a two year old, or even three. We read books about toddlers who had missed early attachment, and the path for teaching those critical skills. The books were scary, but we clung to our capacity to offer that consistent, full-hearted love and the hope that love could heal any wound.
When the call came for a 2-day-old baby girl, we thought they had made a mistake. Maybe they meant 2 years old.
Carrying that 5 pound infant down the hospital elevator just a few hours later, it all became very real. We spent the next few weeks – however – in constant fear. It was what they call, a “high-risk placement.” Which meant, birth mom still had parental rights. Every time the phone rang, we were sure it was the Department calling to say, she couldn’t stay. We wouldn’t let our friends buy us anything. And we didn’t want to name her, or act as if she was going to stay.
Imagine the heartbreak, we thought, if she has to leave, and we are left with all her stuff. We couldn’t.
A couple weeks after we got that first call, I was talking to my sister, telling her how we were being careful not to love the baby too much. “She might not get to stay.”
With a real sisterly love, she responded, “That is so stupid.”
“To her,” she said, “you’re already her moms. You can try to be all distant, but you’ll miss out on what’s happening right now, and if she doesn’t stay, your hearts will still be broken.” We knew she was right, but we were still sacred.
A few days later, we were telling our friend about our fears, and she told us plainly, “You need to name her.”
Finally that night, in our kitchen, we did. We took that great leap of faith to open our hearts, relying on the mysterious bigger picture, and walked willing into whatever would come next.
Nearly ten years later, the beautiful presence of our daughter Gracie Ella – her name means, “she who is a gift” – as well as our son Josef -whose similar call came 2 and a half years later – seem to offer a tidy package proving the goodness of opening your heart like this. It’s like evidence for all those who like to say “things happen for a reason.”
However, as any parent knows, as anyone who has ever gone all-in on loving someone knows, there is nothing tidy here. While the legal piece of our “high risk” placement is in our distant past, the risk of loving our kids has never and will never go away, and there is nothing guaranteed about how it’s all going to turn out. There are some things that love,
even consistent and courageous love – can’t fix or save.
We don’t talk about this very much. When we talk about opening our hearts, and loving, we talk about the rewards – the success stories. But the truth is, when we open our hearts to receive everything – everything comes. When we walk through life – willing – we experience greater loss, and disappointment, and failure.
And when that happens, it’s so tempting to look back and second-guess, like – we should’ve been more cautious. But these outcomes don’t make the choice to love or live with an open heart, wrong – they don’t mean we shouldn’t try. We don’t show up to love because of some pre-determined guarantee. We don’t show up because we know for sure where we are going, or how things will turn out, we show up because of who we already are – the reality of our relationship in the here and now, our promise to keep loving, and our commitment of faith that we are one body.
The invitation of our faith is to go all-in. All-in on life, all-in on wherever the path of a faithful life might lead, all-in on humanity – in all of its difficult, disappointing, beautiful, transformational reality. In our practice of faith, our contemplative life, may we cultivate our willing hearts, and be food for one another, and our yearning, hungry world.