April 2, 2022
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This poem, The Second Coming, was penned by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats in response to Bloody Sunday, the aftermath of the Irish revolution of 1916, and the continuing quest for independence from England. Yet how relevant it is for this day, this world, as the inhumane Russian invasion of Ukraine continues and so much radical division exists in our world. How can the “centre” hold?
Much of my Lenten journey this season has been focused on how to stay grounded to the center, which, for me, is God. For others, it might be something or someone else. Today, I continue to look at the Welcoming Prayer, a contemplative prayer that invites a Greater Power (in my case, the Spirit of God) to work within us to let go those things that keep us imbalanced. The first “relinquishment” is power and control. The second is the relinquishment of “affection, affirmation, and approval.” As I said previously, the Welcoming Prayer is not easy because it goes against all we’ve been taught to cling to and obtain.
From our birth, we long to have people love us, like us, admire us, reward us, and praise us. Perhaps you are like me, raised on the mantra, “What will the neighbors think?” and so have spent too much energy doing everything you can to make sure the neighbors (parents, spouses, partners, bosses, co-workers, friends) can only approve and admire. Maybe you, too, have been shamed for being judged as “less than” and have felt the keen edge of another’s disappointment in you or disapproval of you. Many of us choose professions where we can work hard to earn others’ love and esteem by what we do, and so meeting those expectations becomes our first, and impossible, goal. Being first, being best, being loved, being admired, being on top of that rickety pedestal is what drives us. It is exhausting. It is an illusion.
Consider this wisdom written by Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ:
A person who cares nothing for praise or blame knows great inward peace….Praise does not make you holier than you are, nor blame more wicked. You are exactly what you are, and cannot ever be any better or worse than that, in the eyes of God. Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say of you. People look at externals, but God looks at the heart. They weigh actions; God knows your intent….To feel no need of human support and assurance is a mark of inward confidence – of those who truly walk with God in their hearts.
“Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say about you.” I am attending to writing this blog and composing poetry that brings some degree of solace and beauty into this world. I have little idea of who reads it or whether it has any impact. I know others who think I “should” (always watch out for the “shoulds”; they are another person’s agenda for you) be doing something more “productive.” So the truth and challenge of a Kempis’ words relies on our awareness and trust that what is within us is our unique belovedness. We are loved and valued by the One who created us, and nothing we do, or others think, can separate us from that love. We may walk away from Love, but Love does not walk away from us. So we can let go of our need and striving for transitory affection, affirmation, and approval as we pray, “I relinquish my desire for affirmation, affection, and approval. Welcome, welcome, welcome,” and sit quietly, making room for the transformative power of that which is greater than us.
Look to the spiritual leaders and see how they let go of what others thought. Look to the Christ, who kept his eyes on his purpose, not on what others thought of him. Letting go is not an easy prayer to make, but it is a way to greater freedom and a path toward holding to the center.
Walking with you ~ Rosemary
Wherever you are
on your particular ancient path
may you give up expectations,
your own and others,
of what you “should be,”
when you “should have” arrived,
what you “should have” accomplished
along with worry over whether
you have truly achieved
May you leave behind those expectations,
your own and others,
stuffed in the carry-always luggage
you dread hoisting
once more above your head
into the compartment
with bundles and backpacks
of those who could not
May you honestly assess
what you have chosen to carry:
old records coated in dust,
ingrained “shoulds” that did not
arise from your own innocent soul,
snapshots yellowing with age
of what people think of you,
manipulations and mind-traps
of every weight and shape
to make you into another’s image.
May you rummage through your luggage
with courage and keep only
what is you,
by you, of you, and then
may you love yourself enough
to set your suitcase aside,
trusting the lightness
of what is precious
to lead you freely onward.
© Rosemary McMahan
Photo credit: Pixabay