August 8, 2016
by:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Seeing this Unity Garden in South Bend last week made my heart sing!

Is it possible that the difficult election cycle in which we find ourselves is taking a toll on Americans in unexpected ways?  I find drivers a bit more aggressive, people crankier with each other in public places, and, in general, I observe more intolerance with one another than usual. 

Perhaps I wouldn’t be noticing if we hadn’t just returned from two weeks in Europe, where we found strangers quite respectful of each other and of us as we traveled many modes of over-crowded public transportation and visited sites brimming with hoards of people, where it would have been easy to get in each other’s way and lose patience with the masses.

I’ve been intent this last week on noticing the happy things, the encouraging things that go on around me to help dispel the destructive chatter everywhere.  When the world gets nasty, how can we fill our eyes and ears with good things to counteract the overload of negativity?

How do we neutralize the violence and pain we are sure to absorb when we watch the news, interact with social media, read the local newspaper?  How do we digest well what we see and hear, at least to stay in the know and offer care where possible, but at the same time pay attention to our own wellbeing? 

I’m still thinking about silence as a remedy, if you read last week’s post, but also intrigued this week with curiosity about how to balance with good input the assault from the fire hose of bewildering information just waiting to drown us with pummeling force.

I am grateful that my Facebook friends continue to offer positive posts.  Mary shared this version of Hallelujah, and Rose’s “The Earth Has Lungs.  Watch them Breathe” cheered me up as I thought of the amazing ways in which our world operates without our knowing or understanding. 

I’m taking time during August to participate in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2016, in which she offers a daily photo prompt and urges participants to post on Instagram and a private Facebook page.  She suggests that her followers “pause, look around you, and shoot what you see. Live inside each moment. Pay attention to what’s there. If it’s the summer where you are, it’s a lovely way to be present to the moments that will be gone before you know it. If it’s the winter, what better way to liven up your day than with a creative project to play with?” 

And I have favorite poets and authors to whom I turn when the world looks bleak.  For me it’s Jan Richardson or Parker Palmer or Krista Tippett or Mary Oliver or David Whyte.  You probably have your own list of favorites whose writings cheer you when you need cheering.  David Whyte’s post on memory this week suggested this upbeat thought:  “Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable.”

John O’Donohue stirs great excitement in me with his comments in The Question Holds the Lantern.  “Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realize how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits.

Yes, surely, I don’t have to wear myself out further with election news.  My high school and college classmates are turning 70 this year and I’ve enjoyed watching how they are embracing the decade.  The four grandchildren continue to advance in years, and it’s fun to watch them preparing for the start of a new school year as a sixth grader, third graders, and three-year-old pre-schooler.  I was mesmerized last week by Zion UCC's Unity Garden (in photo above) offering free food for the taking and excited to consider volunteering some marketing assistance at Just Goods. 

Finally, I unearthed Jan Richardson’s A Blessing Called Sanctuary, a personal gift for me which showed itself just in time to use in words for worship Sunday at Kern Road.  Truly sacred, inspired thoughts about turning the personal sanctuaries we have found on the journey into sanctuaries for others.  Yes, that, too, will help cure what’s wrong with this election year.

As I was wrapping up this entry Sunday night, former suburban Chicago neighbor Sue posted a Chicago Tribune article by Mary Schmich that closed with this sentiment: “This country has a great ability to self-correct. It veers off course then lumbers forward toward something better. As hard as it is to believe on days when the news is dark with the terrible things people do and say, we live in a world that is safer and fairer than the one I was born into.”

We can only hope Mary is right; in the meantime, let’s try making it a spiritual discipline this week to fill our minds with the good, the positive, the encouraging, the helpful, the useful, the informative.  And pass those things on to folks around us…