J•W•B

Creative Presence in a Wild Existence

I believe a well-rounded approach to writing and the arts is probably the only way to save a world. Even just the small one I get to live in.

The Marvelous Synchronicity of "The Letters"

Monday was a very strange night for me. By strange, I mean a curious mixture of big feelings and "what just happened" wonder. What did just happen?

I watched a movie called The Letters (2014) on Netflix, starring Juliet Stevenson. This movie was about Mother Teresa: the story of her calling, her work among the poverty stricken, and her spiritual struggles related through letters written to her spiritual advisor.

I guess you could say it was a docu-drama? It took a very empathic approach to storytelling. I found it beautiful and touching, but also stirring in deep places. Mother Teresa heard the voice of the divine calling her distinctly to serve the homeless, hungry, and sick. She battled through great resistance to gain respect and support to begin and continue her work. There were times it looked like she would have to sacrifice her position and standing in the church, but she was relentlessly devoted to God's call no matter what it cost her.

When hearing the story of Mother Teresa from a quick historical narrative, I hadn't really heard it in such detail, and in the past had come away with a glossy impression of her steadfast devotion. In reality, it cost her a great deal. She battled feelings of darkness, loneliness, separation, and loss. At times, she would report that it seemed God had abandoned her.

This is where it got weird for me, because the day before I watched this, I had confessed the same struggles to my faith community, and it felt uncanny to stumble across one of history's and religion's great heroes and find a shared experience. Those who speak of her speak of a woman of great faith, and she was indeed faithful to her calling in spite of how she felt. Her spiritual struggles persisted through 60 years! That takes some supernatural dedication to love and compassion and mission.

I'm not going to be the one who chimes in with a platitude about faith not being about feelings here, because it is. It surely is. Anyone who says otherwise is asking you to exclude a piece of your true self. We are not just our feelings, but they are a part that cannot be separated from us without causing a rift in our wholeness.

What struck me here is how those in the movie who represented the findings in Mother Teresa's letters portrayed the importance and significance of her feelings. It was a touching validation and something that I see largely missing from our modern day faith communities. We are often handed the model of John Wesley, who when dealing with faith struggles was told to preach faith until he had it. I think the world was done a great disservice on that advice, and continues to perpetuate the harmful fake-it-till-you-make it formula. Mother Teresa's advocates seemed to understand the nuance of spiritual sojourn throughout the course of a person's life, and continued to respect and revere her for the whole person she was and the work that flowed from the place of her conviction.

The movie didn't end with "she figured it out in the end." It didn't hand you the answers. Instead, it showed that throughout her service, she would not tolerate any attention on herself, but would point all toward her Christ. The conclusion directed the audience to a meditation on the prayer attributed to St. Francis, which brought tears to my eyes (for the 3rd or 4th time in the movie, at least!)

Lord, make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, may I bring love.
Where there is wrong, may I bring a spirit of forgiveness.
Where there is discord, may I bring harmony.
Where there is error, may I bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may I bring faith.
Where there is despair, may I bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Amen.
— Prayer of Saint Francis

I am still in an ongoing shift in my faith and my idea of God. I am still sharing that same struggle that Mother Teresa's letters described. Yet I felt distinctly as though I were being spoken to through this film in a way that said "You are okay where you are, whether or not you find meaning to this mystery. Be faithful to the work of your convictions. Be steadfast in your commitment to hope, light, joy, and freedom. It matters. With or without answers, it matters that you continue. You are not alone."

I highly recommend you see the movie. It's on my life list of Must-Watch films. If you do, please jump into the comments and share with me if it spoke to you, and how it stirred you.

You Have The Right To Remain Present

Life is truly a remarkable thing! It is easy to take for granted outside of special events we refer to as a "wake-up call."

What if every day contained a wake-up call? How would it shape our way of existing?

There is a beautiful invitation always before us to embrace the present moment. Somehow, in spite of that, we humans can easily find ourselves wrapped up more in what’s coming next than what is now in our grasp. Making plans for the future is wise, but dwelling always in them at the expense of here and now has come at a price.

We’ve all heard this quote:

Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.
— Bil Keane

Sure, it is a gift. Yes. I want to be very clear about this, though: The present is also a necessity. It is everything to us in this moment. It is our birthright! And yet time and time again, we let the gods of productivity and performance steal it away, along with our joy and peace.

A constant state of urgency as a way of living means we will always be reaching and sacrificing for a yet to be realized goal. The future is a horizon that moves out before us as we take each forward step. To live as though it were all that mattered is a common foil, and the source of much heartache.

As an Enneagram Type 7, this happens to me a lot. I struggle to make peace with the present because I need to know exactly what’s required of me in this moment in order to ensure that my future is as pain-free as possible. Not only that, but my future actually needs to be pretty glorious: full of adventure, excitement, experience. Not a day goes by that I’m not worrying about whether any of my dreams are going to be realized. As a result, I push myself daily, hoping that if I just do far more than enough today it will speed up the timeline of dreams coming true.

The information available for the future is derived from information and experience in the past, and because life has had so few moments of ease, worries abound. Taking time for creative presence can often feel like cheating, as though we are borrowing from our futures to pay for a temporary relief.

Who wants to live that way? And yet, I do. I often do. I do it so well I don’t even think about it most of the time. It’s The Way Things Are.

It needs to change. I have never been more certain in all my years that the time for change is now, and it starts right here in this moment, in this choice: The choice to love my life. Not the idea of my life, but my real, actual presence; to love the me I am today, in place, time, body and energy. It would be a huge error to call that cheating, when in fact the opposite is true. In order to enjoy whatever future comes my way, I'm going to have to take care of myself now.

Will you join me in this endeavor? I have never been good at waiting, so I'm going to need your help and I would love to lend you mine. We can do this hard thing together.

What is one thing you can do today to engage wholly in the present? (Pro-Tip from an overachiever: Choose something that doesn’t feel like hard work!) Let's learn from our collective wisdom.

May your life be beautiful today!

Love,


Jamie

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