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Archive for December, 2007

I just read this story about a pastor challenging his parishioners to use a small sum of money (that he gave them from a loan) to go out and do something with it that would double the money, in order that it then be given back to the church and from there donated to three very worthy causes. (Warning– the end of the article made me cry.)

What really struck me about the story was the way that it pushed people to look at themselves and their gifts in a new way, making them see what they really have inside them and to use it creatively, to share it with others. The money was, in a way, incidental. People take money seriously, so being handed the seed funds really just ensured that they would take the challenge seriously and not just blow it off as impossible or whimsical.

Last night was the winter solstice, Yuletide, the longest night. This morning, marking as it does the return of the light, seemed like an opportune time to talk about returning to the “light” we each have within us.

Everyone’s heard the saying “Don’t hide your light under a bushel”, meaning that each of us has gifts and talents that are meant to be shared with the world, and that it’s a sort of false humility to pretend they don’t exist. But that’s usually as far as it gets taken– so no wonder people still dismiss it! It sounds like it’s saying that you have to put yourself out there and take the risk of showing what you can do, what you love to do, and opening yourself up for judgment for no reason other than “just because”. (Or, for some people, “Because God gave you those gifts so it’s wrong not to use them.”)

The implications of that truism run much deeper, however. It’s not about showing off for its own sake, or for ego’s sake, or as a holy dog & pony show. Shining your light on the world not only brings you the joy of doing something you love, but also does great things for the world around you. Your joy is infectious; it creates joy and love wherever it touches. The work you do out of this shining is much more powerful than work done out of rote obligation or resentment; it ripples through the world in ways you may not even be able to predict.

Going back to the article, one of the most beautiful things about that story was how the challenge made people experience, tangibly, that doing what they love can be a way for them to help others and benefit the world. It was a glimpse at the kind of talent and beauty that lies beneath the surface of every community. These people all turned to the things they loved to do, things that in many instances they had never thought of as being worth anything to anyone else, and shared them with the people around themselves. They poured beauty and love into the world, and reaped a tangible return that would have a measurable effect on the places to which that return was given– hard evidence of the worth of their lights.

Steve Pavlina has a thought-provoking article on contributing to the world through your career that is a terrific take on what I’m talking about here. One of the difficulties many of us encounter, I think, is that we are taught to undervalue our gifts. In an unhappy culture it becomes necessary to cut each other down out of the fear of what it might mean for us if everyone around us took the risks and lived their love. Those with artistic gifts or talents that are equally difficult to measure in monetary/hierarchical terms are particularly discouraged from trying to make a life out of them. They aren’t “real” or “practical” (or dreary?) enough. Just to be safe, we should get a “safe” career.

Can you imagine Louis Armstrong choosing to spend his life as a factory worker?

Yet that’s what so many of us do. We relegate our loves to small corners of our lives and try not to get too cocky about them, and spend the bulk of our time doing things we dislike or at best tolerate, feeling that we are somehow fulfilling a vague sense of obligation through our martyrdom. And it impoverishes the world around us.

Suppose the pastor had gone to his congregation and said, “Here’s fifty bucks. Go out and donate it to a worthy cause and come back and tell me how you spent the money.” Everyone who participated would’ve dutifully picked some recipient for the cash, handed it over, and been done, and gotten very little out of it. Instead, by being challenged to double the money through use of their talents, they opened up their lives, hearts, and imaginations. They forged friendships, started new businesses, gave each other gifts, created exciting memories, forged whole new identities for themselves.

And when they nearly tripled, instead of just doubling, the money they started out with, the money that was offered to charitable causes was infused with the energy of love and joy, with the commitment and excitement of the participants. In a metaphysical sense, it’s like receiving a handful of fresh seeds versus a handful of old dry ones. The dry ones might sprout, but the fresh seeds will probably take root more quickly and yield much more.

If you’re feeling the tug of the season and thinking about making resolutions for the new year, why not consider one along these lines: If you were given a sum of money to double through the use of your talents, how would you use the things you love to do to achieve it? Maybe even take the challenge yourself– even if you just take a twenty and use it to fund the experiment, with a goal in mind for the money you make. Do it as an offering to the Divine Wow, do it to benefit a charitable cause, or do it to give yourself a reward for taking the risk to see what would happen when you value your gifts. (If you do something like this, please post a comment with the results, or email me– I’d love to hear what happens!)

As the literal light grows longer once again and ripens the earth around us, let your metaphorical light shine stronger and brighter than ever, and ripen your life, your self, your world.

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I did an exercise from Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold book some years ago, when I was still trying to get my head screwed on properly and purge the most unproductive and least interesting of my demons. It was a simple one, but lengthy, and the instructions were merely to write your own biography. But– the important part was, you had to write it from your OWN point of view. Only what you remembered and felt, as you remembered and felt it, not as it had been told to you by family or friends. The point of it was to see your life through your own lens, and therefore to realize how much of your view of yourself and your life had been made up of others’ (often skewed) perceptions.

It was a very revealing exercise; I discovered, for example, that although I had always thought of myself as being a shy child, the evidence of my memories didn’t back that up. I remembered many times when I’d made friends easily, approached people without fear, spoken up, instigated play. But because I was often quiet and lost in my own daydreams, and sometimes reserved in new situations until I felt safe there, others had labeled me shy and I’d simply accepted it.

I want to put that aside for the moment and talk about the origins of the word “romance”. “Romance” comes from “romans”, which meant “of the people” or “vulgar” and referred to the vernacular language spoken in France (to differentiate it from the formal Latin) in the medieval era. During this time, adventurous and epic stories of chivalrous heroes became popular at court. They were called “romanz” stories originally because they were written in that common language, but over time the term came to refer to tales with the elements of heroism, adventure, daring, courage, chivalry, and eventually (perhaps due to their large audience amongst the ladies of the court) courtly love. The archetype of these romances became the story of a hero who pledges his love and service to a (usually married and highborn) lady, and proceeds to embark on one or more challenging quests to prove himself worthy of her. Given that these stories flourished in the south of France where the worship of Roman and Celtic goddesses had been sublimated into fervent Magdalene and Marian cults, it is not hard to see a connection between the figure of the untouchable domina in these stories and the feminine divine; they probably struck the same chord, for example, that is touched now by Superman stories in a country soaked in Christian mythology. (more…)

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