Saturday, February 28, 2015

Making Out To Nina Simone, & The Ill-Fated Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins


It never feels so good as when it feels so bad to feel so good.

Though it was several years ago now, the memory is still quite clear. I had traveled into the city to visit you; we had been dating for a couple of months and it was Valentine's Day. I met you at the college where you were taking a few courses. After a quick tour, we made a stop at the liquor store and picked up a bottle of red and headed back to your uncle's place where you were staying while in the city. You had bought the juiciest of tenderloins and cooked them up perfectly, along with pine nuts and fresh vegetables. I thought I would be romantic and I did something that I never do - I baked for you. Banana chocolate chip muffins, which were so moist they kind of turned out like cupcakes.

I slept on the couch on the main floor the first night - it wasn't exactly comfortable. The next night you allowed me to sleep with you - only in the literal sense of the word.

But wonderful things happen when you have candlelight, a bottle of red, and Nina Simone. Up to that date, I don't think I had ever had such a great evening. You were always a drop-dead stunner, turning heads wherever you went; I'm sure it must still be the same way. Hours passed, the red wine flowed, your kisses and our passion remain embedded in my mind. The highlight was when Nina started singing the old gospel standard "Draw Me Nearer Blessed Lord." You were still of the faith, I was not, but nothing really mattered in those minutes. God, it was good, so wickedly good.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Divine Curiosity & The Pathway Home


If you're like me, you wake up in the morning (after re-setting the alarm at least twice,) jump in the shower, and have a bit of breakfast. On good days, I am able to stay in the present moment for at least a minute or two until my mind plays tricks on me and either retreats into the past, or it presses fast forward and wonders what might lay ahead of me in two hours or two years.

On most days, whether I classify them as good or bad - these are rigid labels that really aren't that helpful - I recognize that I am capable of empathy, compassion, kindness, selflessness, and love. I also recognize that I am capable of jealousy, malice, racism, hatred, and enormous impatience. It is the latter  which I am thinking about this afternoon.

I believe that we are all born as original blessings (a term that I first heard through author Matthew Fox.) I believe that a main characteristic of the Divine/Spirit/Life/God (take your pick) is one of, well, Oneness. My personal understanding, beliefs, and experiences are ever developing - a flexibility and evolution that I find refreshing. One of my current views of life and the Divine goes something like this:

In the beginning was the Divine, a presence of wondrous, childlike curiosity. This divinity is pure love, unblemished peace, and boundless creativity. Somewhere outside of time this divinity sought to experience the phenomenon known as relationship. This may have been out of her aforementioned curiosity, or loneliness, or both. So the Divine entered what we call time, and splintered herself off into countless radiant pieces in order that she might finally experience relationship. This is where duality eventually came into being. Rather than experiencing oneness in relationship, our ancestors began to relate to one another as being different from one another. At first, this was a fascination, and it bore itself out as celebration and fascination. However, as time went by, centuries, millenia, something entered those of us who call ourselves human; this something was fear.  We feared the elements that we could not control, we feared what once were our animal-kin and the shadows that prevailed at nightfall. As we became self-conscious, we feared our status among other women and men, we became jealous and small as our instinct turned from curiosity and fascination to suspicion and competition. Eventually, we, the ancient fragments of the Divine, forgot who we were almost entirely. We forgot our Oneness and our wish for relationship. 

Fast forward to today. Most of us, especially on the good days, are capable of experiencing and even creating moments of bliss, friendship, generosity, inclusion, peace, and love. These are the stories that do not make the evening news. A man finds out that his next-door neighbour has just lost their job, and anonymously, he buys gifts for his neighbour's kids and leaves them at the front door. A woman spends several afternoons each week at a nearby nursing home playing crokinole with senior citizens. A young boy is concerned for his classmate who has leukemia, so he decides to go door-to-door collecting nickels and dimes for his family.

However, due to our long ingrained notion of duality, we are also capable of  little incivilities and minor hostilities. These are the times when we find ourselves muttering curses under our breath as the young mother in front of us at the coffeeshop tries to decides what donut to order for her two sons. It's when we pass by the obese man in a wheelchair in the local mall and catch ourselves thinking "How could anyone ever let themselves turn into a slob like that?" This duality, this competition, this suspicion is also responsible for the things that we do hear on the evening news. It is Christian vs Muslim, it is the CEO vs the woman in the cardboard "house," it is the air-brushing of Cosmo vs the perfect smile lines of the middle-aged factory worker.

Amidst all of the chaos and noise that we seem to live in, we have something magnificent going for us, that being free will. Rather than being swept away by the prevailing winds, we have the choice on how we are going to live our seemingly little lives, and impact our little worlds around us. Will it be peace or persecution, generosity or jealousy, inclusion or intolerance? We have no hope of seeing a changed world, One World, if we each do not play our part. Furthermore, we cannot make even the littlest of changes if we do not engage in personal, inner work, which often means facing the ugliness that has seeped in do to dualism, fear, and competition.

No one can say when this great experiment called time will end, either personally or for our universe. All we can do is remember our ancient and inherent wonder and Oneness. Let us begin with kindness.

Mark Andrew Nouwen