Thursday, December 16, 2010

Miracle off Fifth Avenue

When my first business failed in 1983, I felt exiled and alone. I was a thousand miles from anywhere I would want to call home and Christmas was coming. I watched slowly, painfully as the auctioneer sold my hard work and dreams away, knowing full well that whatever I had left would go to the banker and still leave me bankrupt. Three months before this moment of darkness, my divorce was final and my life was on a downward spiral. My best friend at the time was a bartender, and nothing seemed right in the world. Iowa is cold in December, that year it was colder than ever.

I spent the next year, waiting for a second chance. But nothing, not the alcohol, not the drugs, not the new job and not even a new relationship made anything about that dull pain O.K. I was alone off Fifth Avenue in New York City walking back from a party I didn't even want to be at, when I witnessed a miracle.  I watched from across the street as a man, a rather wealthy man, walked quite briskly past a homeless man lying over a steaming grate. He took two steps past the man, stopped, turned around, and knelled by his side. The well-dressed gentleman took off his camel hair overcoat and draped it over the sojourners shoulders. This was an expensive coat mind you, easily costing over a $1000 and then he patted the old man gently reaching into his pocket and handing him a wad of money. No words were said. The well-dressed man got up and walked away, ever more briskly than before as if he was trying to make up for lost time.

I knew in that moment that there would never be enough reasons to feel good enough about my life if I kept blaming the world for my troubles.  At that moment I had a revelation, an epiphany, the first light of my own salvation from none other than my own sorry self. I was living in material abundance but my soul was wanting a reason to live. I realized in that moment that there were angels all around me, in that rich man, who was as much a part of the problem as his overcoat solution, they were around the old man lying in the street keeping him warm enough to remind us that we, Yes WE my friends are the hands of God that make a difference, and I, lonely, sad, self-pitying, John Morehouse, was right there in those same angel arms, finding for the first time in years, a peace in my soul.

My way all find the grace of small miracles in this time of darkness.  May we all find peace in this season of light.
With Grace and Grit,     John

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chores of the Season

All of us live with daily chores. Taking out the trash, washing dishes, cleaning the toilet. How often do we see those tasks as sacred work? How often do we realize the deeper metaphors that simple work entails? One friend told me recently that he loathed taking care of his ailing father. Here he was changing his father’s diapers as his father had once changed his. It made him feel something between disgust and pity. Until the day came when his Dad turned to him and said, “I am so sorry son that you have to do this”. Suddenly, he saw the man, not the figure he had resented all those years, suddenly his heart burst with love, an angel within giving him the wisdom to understand that all of us need love no matter what. With tears in his eyes he kissed his dad on the cheek and said “Its no problem Dad, I am just paying you back. I love you.”

The first chore of our angels is to remind us to love and praise. Every angry word, every hurt, while not forgotten can be forgiven. But our angels also remind us to strive, to interfere with what is wrong with our world as Bobby Kennedy once said:

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or interferes with injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

Most of all, I believe the chores of our angels is to help us expend energy where it is needed most. This may be the best scientific argument for angels I know of. The Catholic mystic Matthew Fox and the biologist Rupert Sheldrake make a compelling case that the law of entropy which states that energy flows from its highest to lowest forms might actually have a moral dimension. Who can say the Universe doesn’t think? Who can say we aren’t called to help those who have less energy, measured in money, shelter, health and love, than we have? (The Physics of Angels: 1996) After all, those rich Wall Street Bankers are not taking any of their money with them; they leave it to their kids or the ex-wife, or, if some see the light, maybe even a charity. You get to decide. And who is to say we aren’t being called by our better selves to expend that energy where it is needed most?

Bill and Melinda Gates have it right. Provide more than enough for your heirs but leave the rest to those who need it more than you ever would. Isn’t that a chore we can fulfill? Instead of bemoaning the fact that the Democrats have failed to provide a social safety net for those in need, why not take some of that tax you now won’t have to pay and do their job for them? Your church, a charity, a friend in need; you are already being called. It’s not a bother, it’s a privilege. It’s a sacred chore that might actually be calling us on this holiday season. From greater energy to lesser. The chores of our angels. Calling us to strive for a better world.

With Grace and Grit,  John

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanks and No Thanks

It seems to me that every thanksgiving should have a time to remember what we want to do away with as much as what we are thankful for.  Perhaps this is the purpose of New Year's resolutions but what do we say 'no thanks' to?

I say no thanks to this economic recovery masquerading as "slow but steady".  If this is slow I would hate to see slower.  Yesterday the unemployment benefits for millions of Americans ran out because some in Congress think we are "coddling" the unemployed.  I know half a dozen people who are out of work and I can tell you that aren't feeling coddled by unemployment checks. They are desperately seeking work and barely surviving.

I say no thanks to pretending that climate change isn't a reality just because the party in power says so.  We are melting.  And we need to do something about that now.

I say no thanks to putting up with bullies, whether those we know personally or public figures who think they can call us ungrateful. The reality is that  most people want to do the right thing if they have the means.  In this troubled world, it is sometimes hard to remember the less fortunate. Still most of us try.

Today at the grocery store I saw a woman, while clearly not wealthy herself, gave an extra twenty dollars to the feed the hungry program at the check out.  She inspired me to give forty.

I still give thanks for the millions who, despite their own troubles give food, shelter and money to those in need this holiday season.  They are the real angels on earth, the true embodiment of grace.

With Grace and Grit,  John