What came up for me as I listened to Tara is how beautifully and easily a receptive presence can turn an experience of irritation and displeasure into an opportunity for love and transformation. Receptive presence requires three things: intention, inner listening, and opening to another. It requires staying with yourself and the other person when everything in you wants to flee.
The next day, I listened to Pádraig Ó Tuama. In his talk “In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World,” he begins with this quote.
To turn from everything to one face is to find one’s self face to face with everything. —Elizabeth Bowen.
And this one:
When you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded becomes the centre.– Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
When Pádraig was twenty-five years old, a dream, a sermon, and a National Geographic article led him to enter the very cave he was afraid of and find himself and God there. This eventually gave him the courage to leave the places where he wasn’t safe and didn’t belong and released him to live more fully “with integrity as a loving presence in the world.”
Pádraig talked about the power of language and of story and how reconciliation and healing can happen when we tell our stories again, leaving space to hear something new in them.
So I listened again to my story of how I felt punched in the gut. What I didn’t tell you when I wrote that post was that I was dismissed from a volunteer job managing the Wednesday Lunch Club, an outreach ministry I started ten years before. Within months of that sad event, the volunteers from St. Stephen the Martyr who had been helping out at the Lunch Club and I started hosting a community meal at St. Stephen’s. Eventually, the Wednesday Lunch Club was relocated there as well.
As I look back on it now, I realize that for a long time the church that first hosted the Lunch Club was unhappy with the way it was being run, but I didn’t want to hear it. I kept trying to make it work. I was trying to stay where I didn’t belong.
Something else in Pádraig’s talk stood out for me. He said that in American sign language, the sign for courage begins with the sign for fear and moves out from it. Courage begins with entering our fear.
Eventually, these questions came to me.
- Where do I need to stay when everything in me wants to flee?
- Where do I need to leave when everything in me wants to stay?
- What is in my cave that I’m afraid of?
- How might God be wanting to meet me there and turn my fear into courage?
So I am walking, biking, and praying with these questions. Perhaps you will listen to Tara and Pádraig and find questions of your own. Maybe even these ones.
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Here is a poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama. You may also want to listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Pádraig on On Being or watch his Ted Talk Imagining Peace. More “Tara Talks” can be found here, and there are links to numerous videos and podcasts by Tara Brach on her website and on Youtube.