Category Archives: Inspiration

The Hope of Spring in Her Spirit

th“Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, BRING ME A UNICORN, p. 138

It’s been too many years since I’ve lived in a climate that supported forsythia. We don’t have them in Southern California. But I remember them in New Jersey, where they lined the highways in a blast of yellow in the spring, and I remember them before that, in Missouri where I grew up.

We had a forsythia bush in my backyard, down by the creek that flowed at the bottom of the property. As a child I didn’t try to learn the names of trees or bushes, but I absorbed many of them from hearing my parents talk. My mother always remarked about the forsythia when its yellow buds began to swell. “Oh, the forsythia’s almost out.” Or “Oh, the forsythia is out.” She would comment on the progress of the forsythia as she looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes. I knew these simple statements meant something. She was on the lookout for spring. For some reason my parents never planted daffodils, so forsythia was the harbinger of spring at our house.

My mother must have loved forsythia. It meant that the long tedium of winter was over. She was a housewife with a husband and three children and a house to take care of, and one of her supreme joys was escaping it all to go shopping, or play bridge, or go to her garden club. Long cold winters and snow cramped her freedom. Spring also meant she could go back to hanging wash outside instead of in the basement, as she did when it was cold. She didn’t believe in using her dryer much.

I miss the miracle of spring. Living in a climate where flowers and trees bloom all year long is a lovely thing. But I miss the drama of the cycle of death and rebirth borne out in four seasons. Spring pushing up out of the bleak, harsh, dead of winter is hope epitomized. When you live in it, you feel indwelt by it somehow. After the long tedium of dull, cold winter you feel lighter, buoyed in optimism, warmed and reassured of renewal deep in the marrow of your bones.

One Easter Anne reflected that the signs of spring are the Resurrection made visible: a reminder that no matter what, there is love and beauty and goodness and spirit in the world.

Not an ounce…of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia… Yellow clouds of forsythia blossoms rest lightly on their slender branches, bursting in color against the grass beginning to green again, unaware of it own importance–what it means to a world dormant in gray.

(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

Love and the Stream of Compassion

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s thoughts on love seem especially appropriate to be reminded of today.th

“Love is a force in you that enables you to give other things. It is the motivating power. It enables you to give strength and power and freedom and peace to another person…It is a power like money or steam or electricity. It is valueless unless you can give something else by means of it.”    

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS AND OPEN DOORS, p. 231

 

Anne’s thought on what love really is came on the heels of a stimulating conversation she had with Margot Loines, the woman who would later marry her brother. Even as a young woman Anne began to understand that love is not an entity that you can give: “…like an armful of flowers. And a lot of people give love like that–just dump it down on you, a useless strong-scented burden.” [i] Rather, it is a power, a flow that energizes you to give other things out of it.

I think this is profoundly true. More and more I see that love is not this thing that I possess, that I hand over like I would a Hallmark card. It is something I am inside of, that I give out of. Instead of “I give you my love,” it’s “All that I do toward you comes out of this force inside me.”

It reminds me of Anne’s metaphor for God as the stream of compassion. When I am “in the stream,” I love. All that I am, all that I do comes out of this place that flows through me. When I live out of this place, I can be a channel for love to flow through.

To be in the stream of compassion–to love–begins with me. I have to be present to myself, honest with myself, and compassionate and merciful to myself to open the door. And then I am free to love. The presence, honesty, and compassion that I give myself, I can give to another. It enables me to really see another person, empower them to be themselves, and to want the best for them. It doesn’t feel hard to do this; it’s not a burden or a sacrifice. It feels natural, as if it comes out of a flow inside me. It is a power, like money or steam or electricity. It’s not sentimental and it’s not always pretty. But it wants good and power and strength for the other.

I’ve experienced the difference between what it’s like to live out of this place and not live out of this place most dramatically in my teaching life. I’ve taught elementary school students off and on for many years. It is one of the hardest jobs you can imagine. If you’ve ever planned and carried off a children’s birthday party, think about doing that five days a week for six hours a day–only the activities you plan have to be meaningful and educational, keep the students involved, and get them ready for life. Not only that, children bring their emotional lives into the classroom and generally sit them right out there on their desks. Hel-lo! Here I am. They don’t have the ability to hide their emotional lives as adults do, so you’re dealing with that as well. It’s exhausting.

I used to experience the responsibility of all this as crushing. I felt the weight of all of it–it felt like it was up to me to carry and solve all the problems and make everyone and everything okay.

It doesn’t feel that way anymore.

As I get more in touch with myself and my inner life, my ability to discern what I am responsible for becomes clearer. I can’t solve everyone’s problems and fix everyone. I don’t have that kind of power. No one does. Letting go of unrealistic expectations of myself frees good will to flow unencumbered. As I’ve grown to be more compassionate toward myself, I become naturally more compassionate toward others. It doesn’t require effort. It just happens.

I’ve noticed a subtle yet noticeable difference in the way I teach. I’m better able to connect with my students when I’m connected with myself. I’m freer to share my real feelings with them. If I’m proud of them or pleased with them, I let them know. If they annoy me or make me angry, I let them know that, too. There’s an honesty and good will that flows between us and I know it’s because I’m more aware of myself than I’ve ever been. At the end of the year I’m always amazed and touched by the kinds of cards and notes they write me. They’re full of love toward me and gratitude for all they’ve learned–and it’s because they have felt loved and respected by me. The stream of compassion has flowed through our classroom. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to reach for or will to happen. It’s felt organic.

And so I find Anne’s ideas about love and the stream of compassion to be true. When we are in touch with ourselves and merciful to ourselves, we open ourselves to dwelling in a flow of energy that is greater than we are. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is more than a commandment; it’s really the only way that can even happen.

[i] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Locked Rooms and Open Doors (New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974) p. 231.

(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

Growth Underground

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(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

 

“She said too what I have learned lately, that when one is ‘vegetating’ one is growing.”    Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS AND OPEN DOORS, p. 374

Anne was visiting with an old family friend, Mrs. Neilson, the wife of William Allan Neilson, the president of Smith College. They discussed marriage, love, the importance of not separating the body and the spirit, having passion for work, and a German poet–Rainer Maria Rilke. It was a rich conversation for Anne who gleaned wisdom from Mrs. Neilson both in what she said and what she didn’t say.

And she confirmed Anne’s growing sense that even when she felt herself to be in a fallow period, she was still growing.

The past year had been difficult. The highly publicized trial of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering her child and the death of her sister, Elisabeth, rekindled Anne’s grief. She struggled to be hopeful about the future and to move forward. She was ready to begin her second book but found it hard to settle in to work.

But she had a feeling that even though she seemed to be in a state of dormancy, below the surface her creativity and energy simmered. She was learning, and in due time this would be apparent.

She was right. Not long after Anne’s conversation with Mrs. Neilson, she and Charles and their three-year-old son Jon moved to England. There she found relief from many pressures and painful reminders and settled in to a life of peace that enabled her to write her next book Listen! the Wind. It proved to be a richer, more complex book than her first. She had clearly grown.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s work became increasingly important to Anne, both validating and shaping her understanding of her life and herself as an artist. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke wrote in 1903 what Anne came to know for herself:

Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.[i]

Anne came to see that she could trust whatever stage she was in. That even during times when she didn’t feel herself to be flourishing and wasn’t outwardly productive, below the surface, deep in her unconscious, life was brewing.

I know this too. When I was a seminary student I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s work and became impassioned by it. I knew then that I wanted to write about her someday. I was far from ready to do it, but a deep desire was born then and continued to grow. Now, after a gestation period of nearly twenty years, I am writing a book I couldn’t have conceived much less written then.

As much as we’d like to, we can’t put our dreams on a schedule. “In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing.”[ii] Did it ever seem like I might never write my book? Many times. The curves that life throws you often seem like obstacles between you and what you desire. But the reality is they are opportunities to take you further into yourself, into that deeper place Rilke speaks of that is the genesis for all our creativity and passion. Like the tree ripening in the spring, he says, we can stand confidently in the storms, unafraid that summer may not come afterward. Summer does come.

If we pay attention to what’s happening in our inner lives and trust the wisdom that comes from there, fruit that we can see and touch will appear.

 

[i] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to A Young Poet, trans. by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House, 1984) p. 23-24.

[ii] Ibid.