Saying Yes

“Yes people” – those people who, when faced with a question, an invitation, a new idea or possibility, or chance for new or greater relationship – those whose first instinct is to say YES to life – these are my people.

This has been true my whole life, but it really became clear when I was working in the theatre where it would’ve seem so much more obvious to say “no.”  We worked with basically no budget, and very little time, with mostly students doing the work.  What I realized quickly is that saying “yes” under these constraints usually meant we pushed ourselves to increasingly greater levels of creativity and imagination. Of course…it could also mean a good deal of stress and not a small number of moments where we weren’t sure if we could really pull it off.  Wonderfully and incredibly, however, most of the time, we did.

Over time I’ve realized that saying “yes” starts by learning how to say “no.” Not everything is worthy of that great YES leap of faith.  Not everything serves that place that Frederick Beuchner called the place where “your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger”– that place of untouchable and infinite joy.  Some things, it turns out, actually get in the way of serving this joy– so that saying “no” becomes another way to say “yes.”

I used to believe that saying “yes” requires a basic trust – a trust of yourself, a trust of everyone else, and a trust of Life in the most ultimate sense.  But I’ve realized, “yes” also means being open to life’s disappointments, losses, betrayals and failures – and experiencing more than a few of these, over and over again.

So, I’ve started to instead believe that being a “yes” person requires not trust, but faith.

A faith to act as if we will still all create the world we long for, as if we can still do and be the impossible, together, as if there is a love that is holding us all, connecting us all, healing us all.  Faith connects me to that joy that drives and sustains the YES in the center of my being – and the YES at the center of Being.   Through faith, I find the resilience to keep saying yes, which is to say, keep loving this broken yet still beautiful world.

 

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Gordon “Bucky” McKeeman was a highly regarded Universalist minister throughout the 20th century, and a charter member of the Humilati, a spiritual society dedicated to authentic worship that restores the human impulse to the good.

 

 

Winnow My Heart, Torture My Mind

Acting on what matters challenges me.

First, I have to figure out what matters. A sort of alchemy of discernment that only arises when I can paradoxically shut off the outside world so I can deeply listen to it. And then once I am imbued with a sense of what actually matters, grazing the edges of possibility, I am usually filled with a tremendous degree of fear and anxiety.

Who am I to possibly act on what matters? What can I do? How do I start? Is there a plan that someone else has made I can follow?

With all of these questions swirling around my mind, I am driven to do what I know how to do: open my inbox and begin responding to all the emails I have been putting off responding to.

And then after my inbox is trimmed, I pause and take a deep breath, usually feeling satisfied with myself. Wasn’t I productive! And with that sense of accomplishment in tow, I feel content to leave that giant swirling ball of ‘mattering’ for another day. And another. And another.

Peter Block writes: “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers”. We are a culture that values ‘what works’ over ‘what matters’, and I so love practical answers. They are so comfortable and seemingly meaningful, they promise control and predictability. Who doesn’t want that?

I am trying to wean myself off our cultural addiction to ‘what works’ and those practical answers. Because if we only live there, we become accomplished at accomplishing. We live in the sheltered harbor of what we know how to do. And not forge into the great winds, that yes threaten to toss us overboard, but also promise passage to a new creative land.

Alfred Storer Cole (1893-1977) a Universalist minister, wrote these haunting words:

“Touch not my lips with the white fire
From the glowing altar of some peaceful shrine.
Thrust not into my hands the scroll of wisdom
Gleaned through the patient toil of the centuries;
Give me no finished chart that I may follow
Without effort or the bitter taste of tears.
I do not crave the comfort of the ancient creeds,
Nor the sheltered harbor where the great winds cease to blow;
But winnow my heart, O God; torture my mind
With doubt. Let me feel the clean gales of the open sea,
Until thy creative life is my life and my joy;
One with the miracle of Spring and the blowing grain,
The yearning of my fellowmen and the endless reach of stars.”

May we find that creative life and joy with each other. May we swim in the endless reach of stars.