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The Sustainable Fuel in My Life

Do you remember the first time in your life that you wrote a to-do list? Before that, it is likely that you had time to play, hang out, think! What happened then? Yes, yes, life got complicated: too much information, too much communication with demands and expectations to match. All our “fuel”, then, is directed to fulfilling these endless tasks. Check off an item of the list just to add another two, or three, or four. When was the last time I had nothing pending and leftover fuel? When did I finish checking off all the items in my list and breathed with deep satisfaction? In all of this complexity, is there time left to pray? Can we pray anymore? Or is it prayer one more item in the endless to-do list, most probably not a priority one? Is prayer even sustainable in our modern world?

In my experience, prayer has become the “sustainable” fuel in my life. Even more, as time went by, the act of praying underwent a transformation: it started permeating my daily tasks, those items in the to-do list, until it became life sustaining. Before, I used to pray while exercising; now, I exercise so I can pray. Before, I prayed while working; now, work gives life to prayer. Before, I prayed while going to study; now, I study so that prayer expands beyond limits. Now, I live so that my life can be a prayer. Prayer is certainly sustainable in our modern world, and as meaningful as we choose it to be.

Do you pray?

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The Poet's Desk

Did you ever ask yourself where poets write? Is there a place that inspires them the most? Do they have a formal place, an office let’s say, where they go every day to write? Or do they just write their poems on a notepad wherever they may be and whenever the muse inspires them?

Pablo Neruda is one of my favorite poets, and a great inspiration to me. Therefore, when I visited Chile recently, I made sure to visit his house at the edge of the ocean.  “Isla Negra” (Black Island), as he called it, is in a place of stunning beauty. His many collections are displayed there for visitors to enjoy: seashells of all sizes and colors, vintage bottles with ships, masks of various cultures, and so much more. They reflect his attention to detail, the interest he had in everything, especially in sailing and the sea.

As I was pacing through the different rooms, a small rustic desk called my attention. The caption read something like this: “One morning, Pablo Neruda was looking out to the sea when he saw a piece of driftwood from a shipwreck. He said: ‘The sea has brought the desk to the poet’ and went to the beach to sit down and wait for it. It is at this desk where he wrote great part of his work.”

The eyes of the poet see the potential in what many of us can easily overlook, take for granted and readily dismiss. I wonder how many times a possibility, an opportunity has gone by without me noticing. How many times did I fail to find beauty, meaning, depth, taking life for granted? All I need to do is to be able to see with the eyes of a poet, find a desk in the piece of wood adrift, the desk where life becomes a poem.

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The Morning of the Indigo Bunting

It was an early spring morning and the bird feeders outside our kitchen window were well stocked and busy as usual: Niger seed for the American goldfinch, sunflower and millet for the cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatch, and all the other finches and sparrows that breakfasted regularly near our Community house in suburban New York State.   The noise and happy chatter was not unlike one of our recreations, I thought, those times when we get together after a morning spent in silence, each with our own tasks and work, each with a quiet prayer for peace in the world and assistance for all in need.

But this morning was different.  One of the perches was still, and there sat one quiet bird, one that we had never seen before.  The intensity of the color blue was a color I had never seen before:  rich, dark, intense, even brilliant.  “That must be an indigo bunting!” I called to the others, who came to peer out the windows in eager anticipation to see the newcomer. 

The bird lingered, a minute or two, quiet and solitary, amidst all the action of the other finches. Then he flew to the trees, then to the sky, and we have not seen him since.

Every so often, even on an ordinary day, we get a glimpse of the unexpected, a reality that we know exists but seldom see, reminding us that there is always mystery and beauty all around us, other dimensions of life, if we are but quiet and still, and ready to see.  

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Second-language medley - #1 – Tongue-tied

Being something of a transplant from one place to another, one culture to another, one language or regional dialect variation to another, is rather a common variation on a theme in Cafh, in its Communities, and for so many many other assorted people all over the world, through time, and very especially in these, our times of massive population movements.  The other way around applies, too – with some of one’s companions & co-workers coming from other climes & backgrounds, and us having to merge in and be bridges, everybody on all sides having to deal with those quirky, sometimes irritating, sometimes enchanting foreign ways.

Though there have been some other twists of the tale (like Colombians getting socially acclimatized to Chile, or Argentines to Brazil), for many of us here that has mainly been a process of North Americans getting used to Latin culture and Spanish, and of South Americans getting immersed in “gringo-land” and English. That’s spawned quite a lot that could be reciprocally shared of all these so-similar yet so-distinct experiences, the instructive, the funny, the harmonious, the culture-shock miscommunications and noise.

For understanding the lingo, so much depends on those divergent modalities of culture, history, ethnic influences, etymologies…; on and on. Not to mention body language and gestures – a whole other kettle of fish! What in the world does that wagging finger mean? Or that scrunched-up nose? That jut of the chin? And physical distances from each other? how close is too close, intimidating and presumptuous; or not close enough, cold, arrogant, unfriendly; or in that just right sweet spot, putting people at ease?

For sure it’s a joint, team effort, multi-directional multi-dimensional experience – learning/teaching from/to each other, from others’ “mistakes”, when someone tries to imperfectly give “corrections”, finding how much changing accents, opinions, moods and styles play a part, finding you never really knew your own language all that well and must learn more, dig deeper, expand contexts. In the process, who hasn’t been made fun of, laughed at – or maybe shared the joke together; or even sometimes unfairly, too, at others’ expense. Speaking or writing Spanglish, for better or worse – and getting so used to it that you can’t always tell the difference?  We all need to have patience, learn to care for one another…

Probably one never reaches an end point, where one can really say “it’s over, I’ve learned, I’m finished;” – unless you yourself dig your heels in, have “had enough,” and decide, “Enough! I’ve arrived.” Perhaps one recognizable milestone, though, is when you’re no longer routinely translating, directly and awkwardly, practically word for word, but rather just speaking & thinking in it, flipping back & forth seamlessly between the two tongues.

It’s good to find you’re dreaming at night in this new language, where it’s natural, not strange at all. And maybe a key is getting that “taste” for the language, a love for it – when you feel and appreciate the beauty and meaning, the history and all that’s gone into it… Maybe yes, then, in a certain sense, you have indeed arrived, and everybody around you has arrived somehow, too, along with you, together.

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Light Oh Resplendent One

Attending the funeral of Rebeca Gurfinkel in June 2015 was a profound experience for me.  I listened to such inspiring words from her daughter Debora Farber, from her three grandchildren Laura, Ryan and Ronnie, from Laura’s husband, Tomas, from her two great-grandchildren Christopher and Jessica and from Debora’s dear husband Sergio. Many other friends and coworkers also spoke.  I could perceive through their words the positive and transformative impact Reva produced in so many areas of their lives.

Personally, I learned about Reva when she was working as a science teacher in a public high school, the way she motivated her students and coworkers to learn and look for solutions to problems. Her beautiful ceremony of Ordination took place in the Community and every time she came to visit, she greeted each member with much affection and respect, and shared her enthusiasm for poetry, singing, teaching and learning. During her 100 year birthday celebration, her gentle smile invited me to be in the loving yet mysterious presence of the Divine.

I was so touched when at her burial site, her Daughter Debora recited the same prayer/poem I say every day during my short morning walk. This poem is attributed to Reva’s beloved late husband and spiritual teacher Abraham Gurfinkel, better known as Gur. 

Light Oh Resplendent One

Light, Oh Resplendent One, the triple flame of my heart.

  That by it my thoughts, acts and feelings be pure.

That the purity of my soul be so great that it allow me to return to the time of my childhood and, trusting, repose on my Divine Mother’s Holy Bosom.

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