It’s Father’s Day. The commandment says ‘honor your father and mother,’ but love can’t be commanded…can’t be made a rule. It’s a result. It grows out of the day-to-day process of interacting…of playing, working, learning, testing, failing, and trying again. “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years”
– Mark Twain
We keep learning things about our fathers, especially when and if we become fathers…or when we reach the age they were when we were born; or when we experience with our own child something he experienced with us…then we understand, and that level of understanding deepens our appreciation and makes our love more mature.
Thoreau’s journal entry always comes to mind in mid-June: “I wish to begin this summer well, to do something in it worthy of it and me.”
One thing worthy of the summer is some ‘time out.’ The summer must include some Sabbath moments.
The Sabbath, as you know, is simply a time to stop trying to alter the universe…a time to stop trying to fix things, to change things, to make things right.’ If you’re not trying to fix things, to change things, to make things right, there’s no possibility of failure. The only failure is failing to allow Sabbath moments.
Sometimes the phrase ‘a time out’ is a euphemism for disciplining a child: stop that, now, or you’ll get a time out!
For most kids in Fairfield County a time out could be a tremendous blessing! No school, no music lessons, no dance lessons, no orthodontist appointments…time out!
Before you know it those kids will be putting on a cap and gown and listening to commencement speakers, and they’ll be trying to figure out why they call graduation a commencement, a beginning.
At this time of year there’s lots of talks about success – they’re called commencement addresses. “You’ve worked hard, you’ve earned this diploma, now go forth and conquer the world. Be true to yourself and as true to others as they will allow. Go with the flow. Honor your mother and father–after all, they made your graduation day possible…they put you through this far, now get ready to go on your own.” Etc.
A few weeks ago, J.K.Rowling, of Harry Potter fame and fortune, gave the Harvard Commencement address; instead of talking about success, she extolled the benefits of failure.
She began by sharing her response to the commencement address delivered when she graduated from college. She said,
“The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard. “
She talked about the powerful and lasting benefits of her personal failures. She said, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
“Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies. “
(Seems like she failed again; the Biblical reference to rubies is not about a friend, but a good woman: “A capable, intelligent, and virtuous woman–who is he who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies.” [Prov. 12:4) J
Failure, she said, is the process whereby one gains that valuable thing we call ‘humility.’ Humility is an inward experience; it’s liberating. To make the point she quotes the Greek writer, Plutarch, who put it this way: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. “
Humility is essential to this thing we call spirituality. I had an interesting encounter a few days ago, after officiating at a funeral service for Paul Zalon’s mother, Jean, whom I didn’t know, but learned about from Paul; she was almost 90 years old, the first generation of Russian Jewish immigrants. She was an adamant atheist; a strong-minded, strong-willed woman. We were careful not to include anything in the service that would offend her religious sensitivities.
The encounter I mentioned was with a middle-aged couple who approached me after the service, thanked me and said, “That was a very spiritual service.”
I smiled and said, “Yes, and it wasn’t religious.” They looked at one another, a little surprised, I think, by the directness of my response, and he said, “Yes, as a matter of fact that’s what we were just saying, that Jean would have liked that service because it was spiritual without being religious.”
The religions call to mind walls of separation, institutions, with rules for membership and the confession of certain beliefs. Religions are nouns.
Spirituality calls to mind an inner freedom; a willingness to explore…move beyond boundaries… spirituality is more like a verb than noun…it’s more like a river than a pond…more like the rain itself that fills the ponds and rivers, rain which nourishes the earth whose moisture made the clouds from which the rain would come; the Source of All.
A summer time out — some summer Sabbath moments – could be nourishment for the spirit. Nancy Wood summarized it nicely:
“My help is in the mountain where I take myself to heal the earthly wounds that people give to me. I find a rock with sun on it and a stream where the water runs gentle and the trees chich one by one give me company. So I must stay for a long time until I have grown from the rock. And the stream is running through me and I cannot tell myself from one tall tree. Then I know that nothing touches me nor makes me run away. My help is in the mountain, that I take away with me.”
May we each find the help we need—in the mountain, the ocean, a walk at Compo Beach along Long Island Sound, the backyard, our Memorial Garden. Find a place and take a ‘time out.’ You can’t fail.