Living from Inside Out

Last week I spoke of trusting the unfolding process of life from within ourselves. With the help of others, as well as story, music, and other arts, this process involves uncovering and living from our inner core, our heart, out true home. It lies beneath all the accumulated layers added on by others and by our life experience itself.

Miriam Therese Winter expresses this perspective eloquently. She says that home is a metaphor, and it means to live from the inside out. It is to live from that place within us “where the truth of ourselves and all of creation unobtrusively dwells.” She relates this understanding to music, which flows from the inside into the universe of silences and sounds, an “external revelation of inward reality.”

The same could be said of story and poetry. These express in words what is felt within. One such expression is from the 13th century poet Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” These words suggest to me that our inner place precedes and goes beyond all moral judgements. Or rather, we really come to know people when we sense and respond to the inner person, rather than being stuck at the level of outer words or actions. We respond to the person beyond the words or actions. We respond to who the person is, rather than what they have, say, or do. In other words, we enter the “home,” the home space of another and allow them entry into our home.

Another aspect of Rumi’s thought seems to be that it is a question of going beyond our present thoughts on good and evil to a deeper awareness. I would suggest that we may come to think that something is wrong, not because it breaks a law, but because it breaks a person. Conversely, we may think that something is right, not because it follows the rules, but because it affirms the worth of person. To put it in a slightly different way, we are more than the worst thing that we have ever done or the worst thing that has ever been done to us. Our sacredness is deeper than any brokenness. This inner sacred core, rather than our fears or hostilities, is what calls for outer expression,.

We have suggested before that life is a blend of joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet, light and darkness. Life is a both/and, not an either/or. It is a broken hallelujah or a glory hallelujah despite experiences that arises out of trouble. It is within this context, that we are challenged to find both authentic inner meaning and its outer expression.

While acknowledging and naming the hurt, fear, hostility, and even betrayal that are within us, there is a profound difference between inflicting them upon another or entrusting them to another. In the one case the other person becomes simply a target for unresolved and perhaps unfaced issues. In the latter instance, it is a sharing with another the struggles and vulnerabilities of our life, as an act of trust and caring, and an effort to face and grow from these challenges.

There are times when an outward expression may be a path inward for ourselves or others. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had in teaching came when an adult student told me: “You put into words what I always somehow knew but didn’t know how to say.” Sometimes a creative outward expression can name, unveil, and express what is most interior.

This experience may materialize through conversation, but also through story, music, painting, or other art form. Rumi says: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” In another place, he writes: “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” A favourite expression of mine is found in the song, Anthem, by Leonard Cohen. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

May you be more and more in touch with the inner light within you, and live from that light, that home place within you, and may you be able more and more to share that place with others, and contribute to a new society in which the sacred light of everyone is not extinguished but able to shine forth.

Norman King, March 27, 2023

Trust in the Unfolding Process of Life Within Us

To continue the reflections of the last few weeks. I would like to recall an expression that has resonated with me for many years. It is to trust the unfolding process of life within us.

To do so require a number of things. It involves becoming present to and aware of our inner core, our heart, our centre. This has to be uncovered behind all the accumulated layers added on by others and by our life experience itself. As Richard Rohr puts, it involves getting to who we truly are behind our thoughts, feelings, and self-image, with which we may easily identify ourselves. This is the inner journey to the source of our being, as Dag Hammarskjold words it in Markings. It is the journey to uncover our inmost home and live from there. It is to be at home to ourselves so that we can be at home to one another.

This journey also involves learning to recognize that our unique inner core is like a nucleus that unfolds from within into our qualities and gifts, as well as our limitations. It also unfolds in a continuous dialogue with others, the world around us, and our life circumstances.

This journey also involves trusting that inner core. To do so we must come to experience that core as trustworthy, as worthy of trust because it is worthy. This is a recognition that we are of worth, of value, sacred. This can be a difficult process because we are often taught from many sources that we should mistrust ourselves. Much advertising seems to tells us that our worth lies in externals, in appearance and possessions. These are presented as if to give us worth or to conceal our unworthiness. The core of religious traditions (as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights), speak of the inherent dignity of human beings. Yet all too often, we are given the impression that something is wrong at our very core, and so we must mistrust ourselves and follow rules imposed from outside.

Certainly these pressures have more complexity and even ambiguity than presented here. Yet not only getting in touch with but trusting our inner core is essential. Then it becomes a matter of trusting its unfolding process as well. Many authors have expressed the conviction that the universe, at its deepest level unfolds in the direction of compassion and cooperation rather than competition. The Dalai Lama has also said that if you others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want to be happy yourself, practice compassion. Of course, it seems to be a very slow process to uncover our truest and inmost self beneath the clutter of years. That is why Richard Rohr, psychologist Robert Hillman, musician James Jordan, and many others speak of the importance of letting go, of emptying.

One illustration comes from the process of listening to another. In order to tune in to another speaking to us, to hear the person behind the words, it is essential to let go of our own agendas, our own baggage, so as to make space for another. I think one image of compassion is the empty, clutter-free, but caring space we offer around another’s pain or sorrow and to the person beneath them. It is a struggle to do so. And it is also a struggle to tune in to our own sacred core and unfold from there rather than the clutter of our insecurities, fears, and hostilities.

To do so, of course, requires an image, a script, a story that is life-giving for self and others, that includes the whole range of human experience, all the seasons of life. This we may get from silence and solitude, from friendship, from story, music, painting, and other arts, as I have often said.

Theologian Theodore Steeman wrote these words many years ago. “I think that the best moments of our lives are when we do not feel closed upon ourselves or concerned about ourselves and we see life as a task before us, when we are aware that self-concern hinders honesty. These are the moments when we know that life is good, embedded in a mystery of goodness and love and that we have to make our own lives such messages of goodness and love.”

One striking example of this kind of transformation is found in the story. All the Years of Her Life, by Canadian author, Morley Callaghan. The story brings out the transformation of the young son from irresponsible child to a more wise and compassionate adult, both by the experience of his mother achieving pardon for him and from seeing the cost of her action and her vulnerability. It ends with the words: “He watched his mother and he never spoke, but at that moment his youth seemed to be over; he knew all the years of her life by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips. It seemed to him that this was the first time he had ever looked upon his mother.”

Sometimes it is another person simply, by who they are, who calls us to a new awareness, that allows us to see, or rather, be more in touch with something deeper in ourselves. We are then able to move further in our journey to our own heart or core, and experience its more authentic call. It is not the surface clutter or the distorted images that are to be trusted, but the deeper centre of ourselves.

I like to say that we are more than the worst thing that has been done to us, and we are more than the worst thing we have done. It is this “more” that I believe we need to uncover, trust, and follow.

May you find your journey to your true self, your true core, your true home. May you trust its unfolding from within. And may your life unfold from that sacred place in ways that are life-giving for yourself, for those who share your life, and for the society and world in which you live out your life.

Norman King, March 20, 2023

Finding Our Authentic Story

This week’s reflection is presented by friend, colleague, and co-author, Jane Ripley. It is a followup to the last few weeks. We have just published a children’s story. The Rainbow Tear. It is a modern folktale that, like all folktales, offers images to explore the whole range of human feelings. If you wish to order a copy of this book, please contact

The focus of the past few reflections has centred around the aspect of home; that is, finding a core space within us that allows us to speak and act from our authentic voice (our sacred core). To reach that core may be aided by friendship, solitude, music and other art forms, to name but a few. When we may be, metaphorically speaking, “at home” to ourselves, we may then be “at home” to and for one another.

To expand on the notion of how to reach this core of one’s being and then to act from that core, it may be helpful to explore the notion of “script.”We all have a script, or story that we follow and even, at times, that we may wish to shed. First, however, it is important to acknowledge that we do indeed have a unique personal script. That script, says Sam Keen, is a story that in large part has been given to us from, or influenced by patterns imposed by people that have been closest to us. Especially in childhood, but often beyond, Keen says we take or inherit ways of being, fears, attitudes and the like from parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, and so on. These become part of what he calls, our unconscious autobiography. We assume impressions, choices, decision making processes that do not necessarily reflect the core of who we are or would like to become.

As has been suggested in past weeks, the process of what Katherine May calls “wintering” (that is, a slowing of our busyness, with time for reflection and contemplation) is a step in the process of becoming more engaged in our own authentic script.

Medical Mission Sister, Miriam Therese Winter has a wonderful observation that may be helpful as we move in the direction of authenticity. She says that not only does all humanity hold a particular personal script, but that all that is within the universe has a script, a story. In every story, and at whatever point in that story, there is also a “back story.” We all have a story of our own and one that arises from a story that precedes it. This notion, she says, applies to our greater universe story as well. Science confirms a universe story that is the back story, she says, to the biblical account of the creation story.

Winter goes on to say that putting our back story into our current story means that even a familiar myth that we have carried or embraced can be revisited and made new. I believe this is the gift of each new breath. In each breath there is a turn around time, that is, a moment when we neither take in nor let out the breath. It is such a short moment in time that we are not likely even to be aware of it. And yet, in that moment, all we have taken in may be gathered into our own being and given back outwardly as we exhale. What I believe this means in metaphorical terms, is that each new moment in our story may be shared from what that breath has taken in, then where that breath has rested, and finally what we allow or choose to breathe out.

In each new breath, we may take in love, kindness, hostility, anger–the whole range of human emotions and, in that moment before exhaling, we make a decision as to what to release into the next moments of our personal story and, even, in some sense, to our universal story. Our awareness of this turn around time in its reality and its greater philosophical essence, contributes to both stories. We therefore need to be awake to the breath (in Latin, spiritus, meaning at once breath, wind, and spirit), so that we may create a life-giving spirit to and for both stories. Being awake is the essence of a spirituality that is willing to change/grow, hold on/let go, and to embrace the both/and of life.

Miriam Therese Winter says that we are people of the story, a story that encompasses ourselves, each other, the planet and the universe. While we need time in “wintering” to process our story in the quiet and calm, Winter reminds us that the universe is unpredictable and that spirit is not so active in quiet and calm as in restless chaos.

And so, along with caring others on our journey, may we learn to embrace, learn from and wonder at our joys and moments of peace and tranquility, but also from our questions, uncertainties, and even struggles that are part of the unfolding of our own life stories and beyond.

Jane Ripley, March 12, 2023

Giving Voice to Our True Story

Last week, I suggested that our true home is the place of our authentic personal voice. This is the voice that comes from our inmost core, from our sacred worth. It involves our tuning into the meaning and beauty of life. This awareness encompasses life in its both/and dimensions, its light and darkness, its holy and broken hallelujah. We may be helped to listen to and speak from this inner voice through solitude, friendship, and the arts. When we are in touch with and at home to who we truly are, we can then be at home to one another.

One approach is to explore the image of our life as a story. We inherit the script from family, culture, nationality, etc. The challenge is to uncover our own voice, our own story. This story may align with or differ from the inherited story.

In an article, “The Story the Child Keeps,” inner city educator, Richard Lewis, says that children are often given the impression that education is just a matter of returning correct answers. From television commercials, they are told that the purpose of life is to acquire things. At the same time, the pervasive violence of the programs instills the sense that life is dangerous and frightening. He adds that many children can pass an entire childhood without ever realizing that they have an inward life.

He goes on to say that it is important to encourage children to find and tell their own stories. He suggested that they simply tell about a visit to their grandmother, or talk about their walk to school, or any experience. As they do so, they sense that their mind has the inward ability to understand who we are as well as the nature of the world we inhabit. They learn that it is from the inside of ourselves that they are able to grasp and create their story. They are then able to be open to and enriched by other stories.

In a similar way, Irish scholar, Mary Congren, says that it is essential to find ways to nourish the spirit. In her work with women, she says that is crucial to hear them into speech. This task involves listening to their stories. Once again, this thought recalls the issue of uncovering our inmost voice and expressing the story within that voice, the story that voice tells.

Theologian, Tad Guzie, has written that some experiences enter our awareness and are significant, even life-shaping. These lived experiences are most basically retold in the form of a story. Storytelling, he claims, is the most basic way of naming an experience. I would add that telling our story to a trustworthy and caring other is an indispensable part of this process. As Mary Congren intimates, we may listen someone into their own truth, their own authentic script, their true story from within.

Philosopher, Sam Keen, also suggests that we discover our inmost voice, our true story, by telling it to a trusted other. He writes: “Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, an autobiographical myth. And when we tell our stories to one another, we, at one and the same time, find the meaning of our lives and are healed from our isolation and loneliness. … We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the drama of our lives to someone we trust to listen with an open mind and heart.”

Guzie says further that we also need for our personal stories to become part of a larger story. This larger story interprets and gives meaning to our personal story. The challenge is to find a larger story that is not misleading or destructive. The play Death of a Salesman and the novel Something Happened both portray the devastating effects of the external success script.

Every story contains a way of looking at life. A good life story is one that takes into account the whole range of our life experiences. It enables us to celebrate our joys, survive our sorrows, share our life, and help build our society. One example is this brief story called The Gift.
“In one seat on the bus, a wispy old man sat holding a bunch of fresh flowers. Across the aisle was a young woman whose eyes came back again and again to the man’s flowers. The time came for the old man to get off. Impulsively he handed the flowers to the young woman,. “I can see you love the flowers,” he explained, “and I think my wife would like for you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” She accepted the flowers, then watched the old man get off the bus and walk through the gate of a small cemetery.”

In only a few words, this is a story of love and loss, two underlying life experiences. They are symbolized by the flowers which express at once the beauty and brevity of life, as well as the love which gives it meaning. The story further suggests that love grows and life is enriched, not by hoarding it, or being imprisoned by its pain, but by sharing that life and love. Its vision runs counter to myths of greed, possessiveness, and domination.

What these stories suggest is that it is crucial to uncover the script that we are following, however blindly, and to listen to our own inner voice and the script that longs to unfold authentically from within. In the words of Sam Keen: “The task of a life is to exchange the unconscious myth (script) for a conscious autobiography.”

We are assisted in this task by stories–and other art forms–that take into account the whole range of human experience, its joys and sorrows, yet with an undertone of hope.

May you learn to uncover your own authentic voice, and the story it longs to live out. And may you give voice to that story to trusted friends, and share it in a life-giving way with a wider community.

Our Voice from Home

Last week, I spoke of our inner journey as a journey home, a journey to the core of our being. This core is a point of sacred worth. It can be seen also as the centre, the inmost self from which all within us flows and into which all is gathered. It is a place deeper than yet inclusive of the both/and of life, the joy and sorrow, the fear and trust, the light and darkness.

The challenge is to recognize the both/and of life, to live from and to that core. To do so is to be at home with ourselves, in all our dimensions as well as our unity. It is to be a whole person with many dimensions and gifts. If we are at home to ourselves, we may then be at home with others as well, comfortable with their sorrow as well as their joy. We can be present to ourselves and to others in their pain and sadness, and not simply avoiding others or trying to cheer them up. It is not a matter of wallowing in hurt or engaging in condescending pity. It is recognizing what Susan Cain calls the “bittersweet” of life. She see it transformed into the beauty of the songs of Leonard Cohen. In these the hallelujah remains, despite the presence of the cold and broken. The familiar spiritual also follows the line that “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” with the words, “glory, hallelujah.”

One example of this recognition is found in the physiological reality of tears. They flow in times of both acute sorrow and overwhelming joy. This is perhaps an indication that both tears flow from the same source within us. Another example is found in the conversation between trusted friends. We may readily move between laughing and crying, between levity and depth, without hardly noticing the transition. It seems there is a place in us deeper than the separation of apparently contradictory feelings, and into which they are gathered..

It seems as well that beautiful music has a certain poignancy to it. Their beauty heals, delights, and enriches us. At the same time it touches our aching longing that has a tinge of sadness to it. I recall on one occasion spending the day in the woods around Montmorency Falls near Quebec City. Later that day, we listened to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which seemed to name that experience perfectly. Even while totally immersed in the experience of nature and the exquisite music, I was aware of the passing nature of both. It was an experience both of the beauty and brevity of life. The both/and of life were present and even transcended by what was beautiful.

One way of expressing this thought is to consider the voice that comes from our inmost core, from our true home. This would be the voice of our true self, our authentic voice. It would be the voice we hear and speak from when we our in touch with our sacred worth. It would be the voice we hear when we are aware of the both/and, the light and darkness of life, yet the meaningfulness that encompasses them all.

Often the voices we hear–and that perhaps we listen to but should not do so–are the voices which push us to conform in order to be accepted, which push us to external success, which call us to be perpetually busy, to acquire things, to live from outside. These may be the voices that call us a failure, that tell us that we are not good enough. They may even be internal voices that yet push us to run from ourselves for fear of what we may find within.

Yet if we sit quietly, we may hear our authentic voice, the voice beneath all the distracting clutter and clamour. Wayne Muller speaks of this voice in his book, Sabbath. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us. He calls to “consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true.” and to honour “ quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

We may listen to that sacred authentic voice in times spent quietly by ourselves. We may tune in to that voice when it is echoed in a story, a work of art, a piece of music, a walk in a natural setting. We may discover it in time spent with a friend when we are valued for who we are, not just what we do or accomplish.

In another book, How Then Shall We live?, Wayne Muller speaks further of this voice. He asks: “What is our song? How do we name ourselves? Which word, when we speak it, reveals what is most deeply true about this inner voice, our deepest heart, our fundamental nature? He then offers a response he uncovered during a silent retreat.
Then it got quieter than ever. … I could feel a place inside, below all my names, my stories, my injuries, my sadness–a place that lived in my breath. I did not know what to call it but it had a voice, a way of speaking to me about what was true, what was right. And along with this voice came a presence, an indescribable sense of well-being that reminded me that whatever pain or sorrow I would be given, there was something inside strong enough to bear the weight of it. It would rise to meet whatever I was given. It would teach me what to do. …Neither my pain nor my confusion can stop the relentless companionship of this true and faithful voice. Something more vital, strong and true lies embedded deep within me. Sometimes I barely see it, can’t quite touch it. Then I experience a starry night, a forest after a rain, a loving embrace, a strain of sweet and perfect melody–and that is all it takes to remind me who I am: a spirit, alive, and whole. It helps me remember my nature, hear my name.

The challenge is to come home, to tune in to this inner voice of our sacredness, and to let it unfold in compassion for ourselves and others, with a sense of who we are beneath all the voices that clutter our lives.

May you listen ever more fuller your authentic inner voice, the voice of your true home, the voice of your sacred worth. And may you listen with more compassion for yourself, tune in more fully to the true voice of others. And my you uncover and share ever more generously your many gifts.


Longing for Home

Last week, I suggested that at the very core of our being, there is an aching longing. This is a longing that may be at once uncovered and responded to by the experience of beauty. That beauty may be experienced in music, in art, in story. It may also be encountered in another person.
If we look at this longing, we can picture it in a number of ways. The very experience of longing seems to come from our inmost core. Yet, it is a reaching out beyond ourselves for something more. Longing, therefore, is an experience of incompleteness; since completeness would put an end to longing. It also then involves a tendency to grow and develop.I really appreciate the images that musician, Miriam Therese Winter Therese , uses in speaking about this longing, in an article entitled,  Music, the Way Home.
“We are all homesick for wholeness. We know that we are incomplete and less than whole, that part of us is always away from home.  We long for at-homeness with ourselves, with others in human warmth and affection, for the felt presence of transcendence, for the human family, and all of creation. We are in need of healing, and healing means coming home. We are always journeying home, and to come home is to experience completion, at least momentarily…. .Home is somewhere within us, … it means to live from the inside out. To do so is to be at home. … Wholeness, healing, integration: that is what the inner journey is all about. … For some, music accompanies their inner journey; for others, it is the journey itself, the journey into ultimate meaning. When we embrace music as a healing presence, we are already home.”
Miriam Therese Winter uses the images of journey, home, and meaning. In a similar manner, Dag Hammarskjold has written in Markings that the longest journey is the journey inward to the core of one’s being.
Mythologist, Joseph Campbell, speaks of this inward journey as the journey of the hero, which he sees as the underlying theme of all stories. It involves, leaving home, struggle and victory, and return with a gift. Implicit in this journey is its beginning with the experience of incompleteness which flows into longing, and sets the journey in motion.
What we leave home, we leave our present level of growth and development, our present level of understanding and caring. The struggle is to see clearly beyond any blindness, and to reach an inner freedom beyond compulsions. It is a struggle with whatever prevents us from acknowledging and living according to our own worth and that of others. It is a struggle, therefore, with our fears and hostilities–the fear that we are worthless and the hostility at the limitations and pains of life. These are often lived out without awareness and projected on to others. The victory is a profound sense of awareness and a resulting compassion for self and others.
The final stage in the “hero’s journey” is a return home with a gift. The gift is that of wisdom and compassion, and courage in the struggle. This journey moves with our personal gifts and the concrete life situation, and struggles against conditions that foster blindness and hostility. Above all, it is to be at home to ourselves, to be in touch with and live from our own inner spirit, the sacred core of ourself. This core is deeper than and untouched by our limitations, mistakes, or betrayals.
Music, story, and all forms of art may open pathways to our inner spirit. Music that is beautiful, for example, may help us reach behind walls we have built around us and reveal our own inner beauty. Stories and art may also help us get in touch with our experiences by naming or illustrating it in images.
The beauty of all forms of art may also call us to gratitude for its presence, to hope we may uncover our own inner beauty, to glimpse the beauty in others, and to invite and challenge us to live from that beauty.
May you continue the journey to your sacred core, and find a home there. May you uncover your own authentic gifts and share those gifts with others.
Norman King, February 20, 2023

The Healing and Challenging Power of Beauty

The Healing and Challenging Power of Beauty
I have spoken recently of winter as a time of slowing down and listening to the deepest voices within us.  I also spoke of disturbing feelings that need to be listened to and named in a safe place. The same is true of the sorrow that is an inevitable part of life. Still another element of winter is its own unique beauty. This beauty is reflected in the silence of the falling snow and the intricate design of each snowflake.
Recently, I listened to an exquisitely beautiful piece of music sung by Sarah Brightman, called Nella Fantasia (In My Imagination). I found that this song reached into me and touched and evoked an aching longing. This longing is perhaps what is deepest within us. At the same time, the beauty of the music was almost overwhelming. It seems that the music opened up the longing and yet also responded to it. I was grateful to hear this music, to experience something so beautiful. It seems that our aching longing reflects perhaps the tinge of sorrow that springs from the brevity of life and its limitations. Yet, the beauty that is also an inherent part of life makes us thankful that such beauty exists, that are lives are enriched by it, and that the gift of life, however limited, is meaningful. We may therefore live out our lives with a sense of gratitude, even though at times it may be painful.
Some forty years ago, I made my first trip to Europe. I was to meet in Munich with a revered theologian, Karl Rahner. At the same time, I made excursions to France and Italy. I was overcome with the beauty of the architecture and the sculpture and paintings that were to be found everywhere. This experience uncovered in me a previously not fully recognized need for beauty. And yet the need was revealed in the very experience of beauty.
On one occasion, I stopped in a little chapel across from Notre Dame Cathedral, called Sainte-Chapelle. It contained some stunning mosaics. While I was sitting there by myself completely absorbed in these mosaics, a group of tourists came in, took pictures, and left, in barely more than a few seconds. I felt that their rushed activity was a violation. It seemed that the tourists simply tried to dominate, to capture the scene without ever experiencing it, and perhaps later to inflict their photos on others.
After some reflection, it struck me that perhaps there is a fear or at least a reluctance to opening ourselves to the experience of beauty. This experience would run counter to the cultural norm of control, possession, and domination. This life model is one of taking. It is one of reaching out for things to own, to take into ourselves, as if it would fill up any emptiness inside.
The experience of beauty is quite opposite. A favourite quotation of mine is from an article by Eva Rockett in an earlier issue of Homemakers magazine. She writes: “The beauty of music reaches behind all our defences and touches the core of the condensed self.” I think that, like Nella Fantasia, the experience of beauty can reach deeply within us. At the same time, it draws us out of ourselves, not to possess or grasp, but to admire, that is, to look with wonder, to respect, to appreciate.
The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote a poem about contemplating a statue of Apollo, the ancient Greek god and symbol of the sun, healing. and fine arts. He was also, so to speak, for the Greeks, the mirror of an ideal human being. Rilke concluded his poem by saying that it was as if the statue saw him and spoke to him, with the final words of the poem. “You must change your life.”
Certainly, it is not a literal voice that can be heard, but rather the call that the experience of beauty evokes in us. It is the call that summons us to become the person we can be, to become the best we can be. Shakespeare has written that the purpose of art is to hold the mirror up to nature. That would seem to mean that a good play, novel, painting or sculpture reflects us back to ourselves. It allows us to see into ourselves and challenges us to grow into the person we can be. I would add that a truly good person does the same. Who they are is an invitation and challenge to us to become all that we can be. This is not a matter of becoming other than who we are, but of uncovering the inner beauty of the person we truly are–and really the beauty of all that is–and living gradually out of that beauty.
May you experience much beauty in your life. May you come to recognize your own beauty, and the hidden beauty of all that is. And may your experience, over time, unfold in the direction of healing and wholeness, for yourself, and for all who come within the circle of your light.
Norman King, February 13, 2023


Winter as Passage

I have spoken recently of winter as a time of slowing down, resting, doing things we enjoy for their own sake, and listening to the deepest voices within us. I also spoke of disturbing feelings that need to be listened to and named in a safe place, either in solitude or with a trustworthy other. We may then decide whether or not to express them.

In thinking further about winter, I recall the Greek myth of Persephone and the more recent folk tale of Oscar Wilde, The Selfish Giant. In the myth, the young woman, Persephone is wandering through the spring flowers. Suddenly, the earth opens up and she is snatched away by Hades, the king of the underworld, the realm of darkness and death. Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of grain and the harvest, and all growing things, goes into unconsolable mourning. Nothing then grows and it is winter in all the land. Her daughter is finally restored to her and it is once again springtime. Yet Persephone has eaten four pomegranate seeds while in the underworld and so must return there for four months of every year. During that time, her mother, Demeter, once again goes into mourning, and winter again returns for these four months.

At one level, the myth is telling a story about the recurring seasons of the year. It is also a recognition of our inseparable connection as human beings with the world of nature. This is a theme of Karen Armstrong’s recent book, Sacred Nature, Restoring our Ancient Bond with the Natural World.

At the same time, the myth of Persephone also brings out the notion of inner seasons, winters of the heart. It is a time of dormancy and rest certainly, as expressed in the last two weeks. Yet the story also reflects the experiences and feelings of what we may call the winter of grief or sadness or loneliness in our hearts. While these moments are inevitable, the myth of Persephone also suggests that they are seasonal experiences, and need not last forever. As with Persephone, they remain within us and are part of us, but they do not need to imprison us for life.

As early as childhood, yet often in later life as well, we tend to think that what we are feeling at the moment will last forever. I recall, around the age of six, saying to a neighbour child one morning that I would never play with him again. Not surprisingly, we were back playing together that same afternoon.

In the story of The Selfish Giant, the giant chases away the children playing in his garden and builds a wall around that garden so they cannot enter again. Afterwards, it is always winter there. No birds sing and no flowers grow. In effect, the giant builds a wall around himself and excludes all new life. He becomes frozen in a winter of his heart. Only later, when a crack appears in the wall, do the children once again appear. Then flowers bloom again and birds once more start to sing.

Only when we allow cracks in the walls of our heart is new life and new growth, possible. Only then does a wintry heart give way to spring. I think that the story is saying that we can get stuck in our arrogance or grief or sadness, and live behind their walls. Still, even a small crack of openness or vulnerability can herald a new springtime of the heart.

Later in the story, The Selfish Giant, a different experience of winter occurs. “He [the giant] did not hate the winter now, for he knew that it was merely the spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.” Once again, I think there is a recurring theme. As part of nature, we are seasonal beings. We need a rhythm of activity and rest, of light and darkness, of involvement and renewal. Thomas Merton has called our modern age one of a violence of over-activity, of doing, with no space for being. Wayne Muller writes, too, that for want of rest, we are losing our way; we are missing the quiet that would give us wisdom.

Seasons of sadness and grief are an inevitable part of life, and may be imagined as a winter of life. But they need not be the whole of life. We may allow ourselves gradually to feel the sorrow, name it, perhaps share it, let it be part of us, but not cling to it. We may then grow into a new joy that flows into gratitude and generosity. I have spoken at times of how our pain may first be felt as a prison that envelopes and encloses us. It may then become an identity that names us or by which we name ourselves. Yet finally, it may evolve into a resource that nourishes us and provides the strength to respond creatively to the events of our lives.

The key insight here is that sorrow is an inevitable part o f life. It is important, in a safe place, to feel and name that sorrow and not cling to it. It is also crucial not to build excluding walls around our pain, but to remain open to new life and growth. If we do so, we may discover a renewed joy and meaning on the other side of sorrow. That openness may be the crack that lets in the light.

May all your joys and sorrows gently clear a path behind all walls and let new light enlighten your life and radiate into our world..

Norman King, February 6, 2023