The Art of Un-Doing

Ilia DelioIt is now August, and a new academic year will soon begin across colleges and universities. Summer vacation brought some relief to those who gathered with family and friends. Yet, all is not well. We are walking on a pandemic landmine. The ambiguity around mandatory vaccines, the resistance of pandemic gainsayers, and the constant newsfeeds full of conflicting reports has given rise to an atmosphere of super-anxious, fearful people. Coupled with the pandemic pandemonium is the frightening rise of global warming and its ensuing consequences, including massive fires, heat waves and drought. For all our higher education, we are doing very poorly on planet earth.

Recently, I spent some time at a cabin in the woods of Pennsylvania with some friends. The cabin was about 500 square feet with no television or internet; however, it sat above a rolling creek of singing water. Each morning we gathered on the back deck to sit quietly and listen to the gurgling water spilling over the rocks, while the herons and other birds soared in flight. We did nothing more than simply be, but in those moments of being, life exuberated joy and goodness all around us. Only in silence and stillness can we realize that matter is spirit, moving slowly enough to be seen.

Vacation is a good word, from the Latin, vacare, to empty out. We need a type of enduring vacation because, in truth, we are killing ourselves and the beautiful planet that sustains us. As the earth suffers, God suffers, a suffering divine love that bears the pain of our wounded earth. A suffering God is a God of infinite love, a love that endures through death into new life. Such is the power of divine love. To know this God of infinite love, however, is also to know ourselves. And to know ourselves, we must stop running headless around the world. We are killing the earth because we ourselves are partially dead, inert, pretending to be alive. Aliveness is not measured by what we do, or how many breaths we take; the fullness of life is measured by what takes our breath away.

The fullness of life is a paradox, as many mystics realized. What seems full is empty, what seems empty is full; what seems light is dark, and what seems dark is light. On August 11th we celebrated the feast of Clare of Assisi (d. 1253), a medieval woman, a co-founder of the Franciscan movement, a woman who resisted the power of prevailing Popes and who dedicated her life to the paradox of God’s love. Writing to Agnes of Prague, a woman she never met but wrote to as “half her soul,” she said: “If you die with Him, you shall reign with Him” (2 Lett 21) and “transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation” (3 Lett 13). How do we understand these insights in our own time?

First, we must let go and stop doing as if we are gods. To stop doing is to be, and to be is to do in a deeper way. Let God be love for you in the everyday things of the world, the trees, the sun, the neighbor, the small stone by the side of the road. Let yourself be loved, and from this center of love, extend who you are into another, so that you and the other are not billiard balls bumping into one another but little centers of love seeking to become greater wholes in love. If we continue to act on the world as an object of our power, we will destroy it; the only way to change the world is to change ourselves. To change oneself does not require a program or a method or a purchase on Amazon. We are invited, rather, to sit quietly, let go of everything we store in our minds and hearts; then we are to welcome into our being, the being of the grass, the metal of the car, the wood of the desk, the fur of a cat. Let yourself be loved by all of these because each is a little center of God’s love seeking to grow in love, to love and be loved. When love begins to spill over from your life then get up and walk the streets because something or someone unloved is waiting for you. There is so much to do by staying still in love.

We must slow down and learn the art of un-doing. What is not accomplished today will hold new potential for tomorrow.  Today is our future; tomorrow is our hope; love is our now. We can change the world by never moving from a place of rest, simply being our truest selves, living in the freedom of our own skin, loving the good of our own lives. Did you ever see a grove of trees vying one another for space or scrambling their roots back and forth to claim their turf?  Trees stand tall and still because their inner lives are filled with dynamic energies of aliveness, communicating quietly in the deep tunnels of their interconnectedness, saying to one another, “I am here for you.” Trees begin to sway and react when the winds grow violent, or they can whither when the earth becomes parched. On its own, a tree does nothing more than be a tree and in being a tree, gives glory to God. We must be like the trees, content with the incompleteness and ambiguity of not knowing what the next moment will bring, because we are alive and free in our own beingness.

I hope you see my point. Looking into the pandemic mirror, we are not going to make it far into the future, as we are. Of course, we will continue to discover new things, biomedical breakthroughs, new planets, new technologies, but the earth may not cooperate with our deified wills. We need days, perhaps weeks, of undoing. This is the hardest thing for us to do, as we saw in the recent global shutdown. We insist on doing things our way, what we consider to be “normal”. We truly are the silliest of all species; Jesus might have said “blind fools.”    Perhaps if schools close their doors again, we might sit quietly on a porch and listen to what nature teaches us about life. We might hear the words:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love” and I will remain faithful to you, if you do not try to destroy me.

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  1. Ellen McCormack on August 24, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    Profound, Alice! Thx for sharing the gift of you.

  2. jim baesler on August 18, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    A few things struck me after i read your post:

    1) YES, we need “enduring vacations”–i try to have a “mini vacation” every day–some call it prayer, some meditation, some relaxation, some un-doing, whatever the name, we all need some thread of “enduring vacation” that connects our days in loving ways.

    2) the phrase “stop running around headless” reminded me of Richard Lang’s insights on the “headless way”, a very different kind of being “headless”, one that opens us to expansive, boundless awareness, open to all life, much like you write of being open to experiencing nature in her many forms and forces.

    3) i LOVE the idea of “little centers of love,” reminding me of Christopher Alexander’s design notions that emphasize “centers” of light (and love!).

    4) finally, i’m reminded of a small note that an Ursuline Sister wrote me as a young adult over 40 years ago, during Advent, she spoke of finding a “way into the center of our being and doing…and may the birthing that wants to happen in us find us ready”–thank you Clare Morris for your words ring true for me now as they did then…

    peace and love to all, Jim

  3. Alice MacDonald on August 13, 2021 at 11:15 am

    How I wish we could look into the pandemic mirror….and see ourselves there. This Corona Time is a Kairos moment, a visitation, an invitation to deepen our relationship with ourselves, God, nature and others. There is more going on than meets the eye in this current pandemic. This virus is REAL. The scope and effect of this disease on the globe is unprecedented. People are suffering on many levels and dying. This is causing widespread fear and panic. At the same time the invisible, spiritual reality, that underlies the pandemic, is equally REAL. They are two sides of the same coin. We look through what is on the surface to the hidden spiritual message calling us to wake up to our connectedness and our Divinity because we have strayed far from our calling as the Beloved of God. This virus is not “out there” somewhere. WE are the virus on the Earth at this time. Humanity, the “crown” (Corona) of creation…the protector and “steward” of our sacred Earth, the one through whom heaven and earth come together, has become a parasite infecting everything with the illusion of separateness, fear, and scarcity.
    What has gone viral in the human family today is the “illusion of separation.” Like Moses holding up the poisonous serpent that was killing the Israelites so are we witnessing in the mirror of this pandemic our own poisonous souls in the hopes we will wake up and change. We are seeing in all this suffering and death not just what we have been doing to animals and nature but what we have been doing to ourselves in all the polluting and consuming and poisoning of the Earth.
    We have slowly lost over time our genetic connectedness to the Whole and feel threatened by a worldview of scarcity, living in the fear that there is not enough, that we are in control, and that we need to protect our own survival. We have turned on the “host,” the source of our life here, draining Mother Earth’s resources until the Earth herself is becoming unsustainable and is literally dying. Our Mother is dying.
    Of course the Earth doesn’t need us and can easily birth a new species more worthy and grateful of her. Out of what I call Fierce Love, she is putting an end to this abuse by allowing us to take responsibility for the choices we have made and continue to make. It wasn’t enough that millions of animals and wildlife died in the fires in Australia due to Climate Change created by us, but then the desecration of what is sacred in nature manifested most disturbingly in the wet markets in Wuhan, China. This became the “last straw” at which Mother Earth said “No More.” She held up the mirror of our own darkness so that we might look on it and be healed. Like Moses holding up the poisonous serpent that was killing the Israelites so are we witnessing our own poisonous souls in the hopes we will wake up and change. We are seeing in all this suffering and death not just what we have been doing to animals and nature but what we have been doing to ourselves in all the polluting and consuming and poisoning of the Earth. We are all connected. What happens to one part happens in some way to the Whole. We are one Body.
    Policies, procedures, and vaccinations are needed to temporarily relieve the suffering, but this will not cure the problem long term. This will not be over until we wake up and take responsibility for our part in what is happening. The enemy isn’t “over there” or “out there.” As the saying goes, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
    This is a spiritual crisis manifesting in a physical way. To separate them and not take them BOTH seriously is to our own peril.
    When we stop polluting, consuming, hating the “other,” and drawing borders and boundaries between the sacred and the profane, then we may find ourselves returning to some balance, harmony, and order where we value everything as Holy. This will be reflected in a return to a more harmonious environment.
    Mother Earth is wise. Everything came to a halt. The children were sent to their rooms for a “time out” to reflect on what they have done, to repent and resolve to stop the madness and lead simpler, more sane lives….and love one another beginning with their own families…and then reaching out to the world family until we are one Holy Communion of Persons in Loving Relationship, a mirror of the Love that is our Source.
    Jesus told us that when we pray we should go to our “inner room” and pray to the Source of our Being and find there our Belovedness. This is what Jesus invited Nicodemus to do in order to be born again. It is a spiritual birth to a new way of seeing ourselves and our world and acting from that wholeness.
    Jesus was whole, body, soul, and Spirit. He did not carry the virus of separation, and therefore he could not infect anyone. He had no need to protect himself, or defend himself, or promote himself. He saw others in this same Beloved Relationship, in their wholeness, which is how he healed. And he wasn’t afraid to touch the sick because he might get infected. There is tremendous force and healing energy in whole persons that can draw others into its embrace.
    For Jesus to see everyone walking around wrapped in coverings would to be like looking at the walking dead, or the dead Lazarus who had been in the tomb for four days. He would weep when he heard us pray, “if you had been here they would not have died.” And he would say, “unwrap and unbind them. They are not dead, but asleep.” Jesus is calling us to wake up and rise to our collective destiny as the Beloved of God, as a new Humanity where the needs of all are met. This will be the new, transformed virus, the “coronation” of the New Humanity which is built on a Love that restores lost connection, repairs community and is already shining through the cracks of the world of separation. Then we will have reached the full stature of our humanity. We will have shed our protective coverings with the glad shout of the freedom of the sons and daughters of God coming into our own.
    “Our Crisis is a birth,” as Barbara Marx Hubbard has said. It takes labor, hard, hard labor to bring to birth the New Creation. The signs are all around us that now is the time to begin. This is our Kairos Moment. The challenge is not to fall back into old patterns of separation that brought us to this point. We must ask where we go from here and be willing to participate in whatever way the Spirit leads us. We must bear down with the pain of this labor, keep breathing, and trust the call of Love that is greater than our fear of the unknown, the other, or of death.

    The Lord answered me and said:
    Write down the vision
    Clearly upon the tablets
    So that one can read it readily
    For the Vision still has its time
    Presses on to fulfillment and will not
    Disappoint; if it delays, wait for it
    It will surely come, it will not be late. ~ Habakkuk 2:2,3

  4. Joe Masterleo on August 12, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Beautiful renewal awarenesses only a stillness immersed in nature can bring. And very joining with others similarly centered. Said Shakespeare, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” Taken a measure deeper, or an octave higher, one touch of Spirit makes the whole world one in Itself. Many will experience the bard’s poignant words. Relatively few will experience those of the Christ, restated in modern mythological terms: “I am no Jedi, but I know the Force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes . . . feel it . . . the light . . . its always been there . . . it will guide you” (Maz Kanata, Star Wars).


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