The New PPP: Prophets, Philosophers and Poets




















“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.”

~ Sister Joan Chittister

As we emerge from the darkness of the 2020 pandemic, the devastating physical threat of this virus is beginning to recede, but the emotional, mental and spiritual impacts of the collective trauma wrought by this challenging year have been planted deep in our individual body-mind-spirit systems and into the collective psyche of the world. While scientists and medical experts are providing us the information and expertise we need to understand the nature of the virus and to deliver vaccines and treatments to abate the avalanche of physical suffering and death, the healing of our body-mind-spirit systems requires a different kind of science and medicine.


Like so many, for me this has been a year spent gripped by the breaking news of the day while being stripped of time and mental space by the demands adapting to life inside a global pandemic. In my professional life, I was swallowed up by the demands of my job managing the critical human resources of a large school district whose employees were literally a lifeline for students and families living through the isolation and tumultuous uncertainty that has ruled all of our lives for the past year. The sparsity of blog posts this past year reflects the reality that most of the free space in my mind has been dedicated to understanding the virus, analyzing the threat, and making plans with my colleagues to support students and staff while the sand literally shifted under our feet day-by-day. This survival level of functioning naturally tightens our focus and pares down our activities to allow us to meet the challenges that confront us. But this narrowing of life takes its toll physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and our energy and mood today likely reflects the struggles we have all faced in adapting again and again to the pernicious path this global pandemic has cut through the heart of life across the globe.


But it appears clear that there are better days on the horizon and seeds of hope are germinating like spring flowers with the potential for a return to the connections, life rhythms and daily rituals we are all yearning for to restore a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. But even with better days ahead, there is no denying that this pandemic has turned life upside down and has ravaged the structures and certainties of our lives and communities like a ferocious tornado that tears through the heart of a community. We can all be grateful as the storm quiets, but we are left with the ravaged streets and decimated structures, and the long process of clean-up and rebuilding must begin. We may be clinging to a sense of gratitude for having survived, but we must also grieve the death and destruction left behind. Life goes on, but life will not be the same in so many ways.


In times like these we need to reach for a new kind of medicine. Not the science of epidemiology or the medical science of the body, but the science of the Soul. We need a new kind of PPP for this next leg of the journey, and I think we will find that necessary medicine in the Prophets, Philosophers and Poets, both ancient and modern. The wisdom of Prophets, Philosophers and Poets is the medicine that is required as we attend to the calling of our Soul. If we slow down, create some inner space, listen deeply and are prepared to respond, our Souls will call us out of this trauma and into deeper, fuller and more life-giving ways of living with ourselves and with each other. This pandemic has only heightened our awareness of the desperate and imminent need for a deeper form of healing and restoration in ourselves, and in community with others, locally, nationally and globally.


My uncle John, our family priest, philosopher and sage, like a good Zen master once posed to a group of his young nieces and nephews this question: If you knew the world was going to suffer a fatal assault of some kind and you could only take twelve people with you into a bunker who would have the task of rebuilding the world, who would you bring with you? As young people we were busy thinking about the various scientists, computer gurus, medical geniuses, tactical experts and other kinds of physical world technicians that would be needed to reconstruct the physical structures of the day. But sage that he was, he listened patiently and then gently reminded us of the power of the poet to tell the deeper stories of humanity and to speak the words that would inspire our imaginations and ignite our higher aspirations. He cautioned us to take a philosopher who could help us to puzzle through the existential questions of life and call us to wrestle with the deepest truths of human experience. And he recommended we consider the prophets, who are trained to watch the unfolding of the world with their eyes on fire and to use their voices to call us to our most sacred purpose as humans created in the image of the Divine. He also chuckled and told us not to forget the comedian, who would use laughter and love to keep us all humble and light through the difficulties ahead.


So as we emerge from the storm of the pandemic and our focus can begin to shift from the intense energy of adaptation and survival, it’s time to move into a period of healing, restoration and transformation. We need to heal from our individual and collective traumas, we need to restore our energy systems with increasing levels of calm and peace, and we need to use this trauma to transform our lives and our communities. Transformation doesn’t connote “going back” to the old forms of normal, but rather it propels us to move forward into new forms of consciousness and connection that will better serve ourselves and the world. This is truly the work of the Soul, and our Prophets, Philosophers and Poets are best suited to lead us on this next part of the journey.


My bookshelves are lined with this kind of PPP and in my coming blogs I will hope to share with you these wisdom teachers that can provide us with inspiration for the clean-up, restoration and transformation of our lives. Today I would like to start with a prophet. One of the prophets of our modern times is Benedictine Sister and Abbess Joan Chittister. Sister Joan speaks with the grit, candor and impatience of my Irish elders and describes the prophets as the “wise and wild voices that lead us back to spiritual sanity.” Now in her mid-eighties and a prolific writer and teacher, Sister Joan is well suited to take her place among the prophets of old. Sister Joan has been described as “a rabble-rousing force of nature for social justice and fervent proponent of personal and spiritual fulfillment.” The work of prophets is to keep us awake, not to let us go numb or grow complacent when the world is losing its way. Prophets awaken our awareness and this has been the work and vocation of Sister Joan for many years. Here is a quote from her latest book, The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage, where she describes the path of prophetic spirituality and gives us a cornerstone for setting off on our work of transformation:


“[Prophetic spirituality] is the spirituality of awareness,

of choice, of risk, of transformation.

It is about the embrace of life,

the purpose of wholeness,

the acceptance of others,

the call to co-creation.”


We have all been through a period of trauma where by necessity we had to narrow our focus and hunker down in survival energy. Now we must enter a period of transformation and co-creation. Transformation requires reflection, quiet, awareness, intention, courage and resolve to move through a cycle of grief and growth (because there is always some hidden grief even in periods of growth) to a new place of wisdom and wholeness. As we emerge weary and worn down from living in the depths of this pandemic, let us resolve not to “return to normal” but to use this time of trial to push us forward in our spiritual growth and to create lives that are deeper, wider, fuller and wiser. From that ground we can restore our own sense of balance and reorder our lives with intention and purpose. From that ground we can rebuild our relationships with our partners, parents, children, friends, colleagues and communities with awareness and commitment to the greater good of all. From that ground we can notice our collective traumas, both past and present, and use our hands, hearts and minds to mend the fabric of our collective lives. This is the work of the Soul and I invite you to listen deeply for the call of your inner prophet, with open hearts and minds, as we work to create the world that our Souls imagine.


Wishing you the blessings and light of the Soul, as you create the life you imagine.

Tracy





STEPPING STONES:

As a woman who was raised as an Irish Catholic by a mother with a prophetic sensibility, I am reminded of her energy at this time of the year. Our faith tradition of course would be preparing for the celebration of the resurrection at this time in the liturgical calendar, but she grounded that resurrection story into our bodies, hearts and minds as she called us into the yard and the gardens each year in March to prepare for the emerging life of spring in Minnesota. I can still remember her joyfully preparing her gardens covered in mud while telling us all with fierce conviction that the resurrection wasn’t just for Jesus; that like our gardens, we all have to go through death and resurrection over and over if we are to become who we are meant to be in the fullness of our Divine light. She was always willing to listen compassionately to the trials, traumas and death experiences of our lives, but she also always called us to rise up out of those tombs, to see ourselves as co-creators of our lives, and to choose to be wiser versions of ourselves in the wake of those challenges.


As we begin the process of healing from this pandemic and resolve to use this time to become wiser versions of ourselves, I recommend that you commit to a journaling process to anchor your journey. I am an on and off practitioner of journaling, but have committed to myself to be more steady in my practice this year to allow me to “stay awake” to the transformation process that is underway. Journaling doesn’t have to be an onerous or time consuming process. Spend just a few minutes a day writing to yourself about something that your Soul brings to your awareness. It might be just three sentences, or it might be three pages, it doesn’t matter. It might be time spent naming the suffering and griefs that have visited you this year, or the glimmers of new life and resurrection that you experience in quiet or unexpected moments. It might be a poem or a story that inspires you to open your heart or mind in a new way, or a kindness or gratitude you have experienced in your day. Some days the journal entry may be rather mundane, and other days might be filled with the fire of insight and awareness. Just commit to the process and I am certain that your healing and growth process will be deepened and accelerated.


For this week, spend some time journaling about this quote from Sister Joan:


“[Prophetic spirituality] is the spirituality of awareness,

of choice, of risk, of transformation.

It is about the embrace of life,

the purpose of wholeness,

the acceptance of others,

the call to co-creation.”


Here are some transformation questions you might consider:

  • What parts of myself have been grieving or suffering this year?

  • How has this year reopened old traumas or pain?

  • What new awareness about my life began to surface when I slowed down my movement in the world?

  • What feelings have I been avoiding through busyness, activity and outside commitments that I noticed bubbling up during this time of confinement?

  • What am I feeling right now, today?

  • What parts of myself or my life need more attention and healing?

  • What relationships or connections have been injured or challenged?

  • Who are the people in my life who have also been suffering that need my compassion, acceptance and understanding?

  • What is my Soul yearning for that feels out of reach or too risky to think about?

  • What small choices can I make today that will begin the process of healing and wholeness?

  • What does my Soul want to tell me as the stone is rolled away from the tomb?

Namaste


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