Human identity is complex. Nothing is ever given simply or immediately. Even the simplest act of perception has many layers…Time and memory often reveal things later that were staring us in the eye, but we never noticed them. The quest for the truth of things is never ending. To be human is to be ambivalent. Every experience is open to countless readings and interpretations. We never see a thing completely. In sure anticipation, our eyes have always already altered what awaits our gaze.The search for truth is difficult and uncomfortable. Because the mystery is too much for us, we may opt to settle for the surface of things. Comfort becomes more important than true presence. This is precisely why we need to hear the discerning voice.
Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge…Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside..Yet much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love. That whisper brings forgotten nobility into an arena where violence has traduced everything. This faithful voice can illuminate the dark lands of despair. It becomes both the sign and presence of a transcendence that no force or horror can extinguish. Each day in the world, in the prisons, hospitals and killing fields, against all the odds, this still, small voice continues to echo the beauty of the human being. In haunted places this voice carries the light of beauty like a magical lantern to transform desolation, to remind us that regardless of what may be wrenched from us, there is a dignity and hope that we do not have to lose. This voice brings us directly into contact with the inalienable presence of beauty in the soul.
— John O’Donohue, from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (pp. 74-75)
With hopes of saving the world I went to graduate school to earn degrees in social work and theology. I was starting my career of full-time social work when I was invited to audition for a modern dance company.
Here I was, helping the elderly and the forgotten, working for justice – receiving full benefits and a hefty salary. But dance called me to unite my mind and body, to escape the partiarchial heirarchy of agency work and stretch my creative side. What was I to do?
Dostoyevsky said, ‘The world will be saved by beauty.’ I read this in the context of a catholic worker books study. I expected to hear that the world would be saved by feeding the poor and protesting the war. ‘the world will be saved by beauty?’ What does that mean? The mystery of these words invited me to dance–they blessed me in leaving social work.
In the past four months, I have discovered how dance can be an an art of hospitality and peacemaking – of protesting violence and making space to share joy or deep lament.
Dance can express truths and emotions that are deeper than language, allowing us to envision a more peaceful world. And yet, sometimes as a I watch a dance performance, I think, ‘This is ridiculous, all this time rehearsing for such a brief offering on stage.’
Maybe dancing doesn’t make sense in a time when our country is at war, or a time when there is great disparity between the rich and the poor. But for me, the act of dancing has become an act of resistance. An act of hope. A way of praying a new world into being.
–Katie Brennan, “Dancing Protest” from Geez Magazine
If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance. The fact is: Whatever you think the world is witholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give…
…The source of all abundance is not outside you. It is part of who you are. However, start by acknowledging and recognizing abundance without. See the fullness of life all around you. The warmth of the sun on your skin, the dispaly of magnificent flowers outside a florist’s shop, biting into a succulent fruit, or getting soaked in an abundance of water falling from the sky. The fullness of life is there at every step. The acknowledgement of that abundance that is all around you awakens the dormant abundance within. Then it flows out…
…Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality. Jesus puts it like this: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Let us be present to the now.
It’s all we have
and it’s where God will always speak to us.
The now holds everything, rejects nothing and,
therefore, can receive God, too.
Help us be present to the place
we’re most afraid of,
because it always feels empty,
it always feels boring,
it always feels like it’s not enough.
Help us find some space within
that we don’t try to fill with ideas or opinions.
Help us find space so you, loving God,
can show yourself in that place
where we are hungry and empty.
Keep us out of the way,
so there is always room enough for you.
–Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness
What bothered me was the assumption that because I was a woman in her early thirties, I must be “desperate” for marriage. At first this seemed only irritating; every romantic encounter arrived in the same cumbersome frame I had to repeatedly dismantle. But after a while, the fixedness of this belief felt not merely claustrophobic and repetitive but downright pernicious. Figuring out how you feel about another person is a notoriously complicated business. The ubiquity of received attitudes about what men and women did and did not want seemed to relive everyone of the responsibility to actually examine their desires, leading to some pretty bizarre behaviour.
— Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (p 138)
Marriage today has come a long way from Neith’s time, but one aspect that hasn’t changed at all is its fantasy of certainty… Freedom is unbearable. We opt again and again for the sugarcoated confinements of matrimony, a promise that life will work out just the way we want it — without that promise, false as it may be, the institution’s many encumbrances might be impossible to bear.
I have come to think that one of the main reasons Neith married Hutch is because she suspected that her innate introversion and desire for stability and order would eclipse and distort her fierce autonomy — that, left alone, she actually would, in a sense, become a “dotty spinster,” insofar as that means turning away from the world instead of sating her curiosities by living in it; in her case, a romantic partner was an escape hatch back to reality… For her then marriage was a way towards more questions, more uncertainty…
This willingness of Neith’s to exist inside the ungraspable strikes me as the bravest stance of all.
— Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (p 119)
If a woman wanted to live in peace and quiet and keep her house neat, without somebody tracking it up, and wanted to make preserves and potpourri of rose leaves, and sit by her window and sew a fine seam, why shouldn’t she? There was always enough who wanted to get married and carry on the race… If a woman liked to play with words and set them in patterns and make pictures with them, and was taking care of herself and bothering nobody, and enjoyed her life without a lot of bawling children around, why shouldn’t she?
— Neith Boyce (1872- 1951), quoted by Kate Bolick in Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (p 109)
The far-off security of a boyfriend was almost better than having him nearby. I busied myself furnishing my little room, set up a bank account so I could write checks to my landlord and the utility companies, and started to pay off my student loans. Most extraordinary was waking alone, into my own thoughts. I’d plump the pillows and stretch my legs until my body spanned the entire mattress, and I’d lie suspended in that gauzy dreamscape between sleep and real life for as long as it lasted. Once the spell broke, I’d get up and dress and follow the day wherever it went… This is when reference to a mysterious “spinster wish” first appears in my journals — shorthand for the extravagant pleasures of simply being by myself.
November 12, 1995: A long, perfect spinster wish of a Sunday, read all day, took two naps.
— Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (pp 32-33)