Kindness | by Holly Hudley

Dear Paul:

Can we talk about 1Corinthians 13:4b - Love is kind - for just a minute? On this I fundamentally agree with you. When love is Love, like big capital T true Love, it is always kind. But the trouble is people who say they love you often get sideways and say or do unkind things. This is being human, right? I’ve gotten sideways a few times before. 

One of the first things a child learns in a healthy family structure is trust. This is experienced through safe affection, responsiveness to cries, affirmation of experiences, and consistency in routines. But there’s this other layer of metacommunication - what someone says without really  saying it. Bono, of the band U2, sings it this way: “You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice!” When a mother’s explicit, verbal communication is, “Honey, you know I love you so much,” but her eyes are hostile and her body is rigid, the metacommunication is confusing and contradictory. When this type of message is consistent over time, Love is not felt as kindness. The child cannot leave the field, so to speak, and her inner and outer experiences are distorted growing up in this reality. Emerging from such a space, coming to believe that “love is kind” is sometimes a life long journey. 

The question again becomes, “How shall we love?” Both so that the love we give is kind and so we can transform confusing love into genuine kindness. I don’t think you meant that love is kind, therefore we should just become immovable doormats in the face of not love. I don’t think you meant kindness is only your wide hipped rosy cheeked granny who says “Fiddlesticks!” with a chipped tooth grin and serves cookies after school. I’ve begun to think that there are two, sometimes competing, forms of kindness - toward self and toward others. 

Kindness toward self might be what one dear friend calls fierce love. There are times when our patterns of behavior no longer work or when the unspoken rules we live by aren’t mutually beneficial. If we live with an alcoholic, or any kind of co-dependent actually, placating them gets toxic and ceases to work for both parties. A kindness toward self is setting limits about what you will or will not tolerate. When you draw a firm but loving line for a boundary pusher that they cannot cross, I guarantee it will make them mad. It won’t feel kind to them at first. But I also guarantee both of you will feel safer. If I sit with a person who says something like, “Your husband doesn’t sound black,” (which has happened) a kindness toward myself, my husband, and ultimately to the sayer could be, “And what do you think a black person sounds like?” It’s a different type of metacommuication that most likely causes an awkward pause, but hopefully opens a small space where a biased thought has potential to unravel. In this space, no one’s dignity is stripped. Such a response has the ability to say, “I’m not really down with what you’re saying, but ok...I’ll ask some questions so we can dialogue about it. Maybe then I can understand you, and you can understand me. Maybe then we can both shift toward each other.” A kindness might also be saying nothing because you can’t grope around for the question past the rising exasperation. Kindness is holding everything and nothing in the same hand, wondering what it’s like to be the other while never losing sight of yourself. Maybe It’s the simple breath that keeps us alive as in Naomi Shihab Nye’s far more elegant summation.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
  Richard Wingfield’s “notes” from class

Richard Wingfield’s “notes” from class

Love is... | by Holly Hudley

A footnote for Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Dear Paul: I want to talk to you about love. It’s such an easy word to toss around. It’s the only one in the English language used to talk about anything we have deep affection for: chocolate, baseball, kids, God. Love is even used to define God: God is Love. It’s kind of mind-blowing that we use the same word to enunciate our feelings for a whole gamut of things. I mean how different can chocolate and God really be? Certainly they do not require different levels of devotion.

Sonnets, Songs, Movies, Bible verses, Books...all of these have committed themselves to helping us understand love in varying degrees. It is, as I wrote before, the hardest, easiest thing. The only way we can understand what we mean by love, is through metaphor, negation, and affirmation. So when we say, “Just go in love, brother” we seem to understand on some abstract level what that means. Be good. Do good. That’s it. 

Ok, but...still the questions, “How shall we live? How shall we love?” ring in my ears. 

1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) says,Love is patient.” Yeah, okay. I agree. I’ve even heard myself advise new moms to call on deep reserves of this. Heck, any of us who engage on any level with another human need gallons of this. Patience is what I strive for when I am shaken out of sleep by my first kid jumping on me. I get up, look myself hard in the mirror, toothbrush in hand, and say, “Holly, today you’re going to be more patient.” When I do yoga and picture that little golden ball of light in my third eye, my mantra is often “patience.” But the day is long. There are 1440 minutes in a day, approximately 420 of those I’m asleep. So that leaves 1020 minutes to practice patience. The best and first test is getting 3 little boys to put their shoes on - not necessarily with matching or even clean socks - without complaint and with relative efficiency between minute 27 and 28 of my day so that they’ll be on time by minute 35. I have yet to master this. But if I love my kids I’m going to be patient, right? Not so. At least not always. I love my kids in a more full-bodied way than I have loved anything ever. I don’t stop loving them even when I lose my patience. I can follow this thread down and say losing my patience is an indication that I’m attached to an outcome. And being attached to an outcome points to the fact that I need to work on my dharma. And needing to work on my dharma implies that I am most definitely not the Buddha. And not being the Buddha means flowers do not spring up everywhere I walk. Let’s face it, though: if the Buddha were a mother, he would not have been the Buddha. Maybe his mother planted those flowers though. 

Rewrite #1: Love is not always patient. Just because you lose your patience with that which you love does not mean you no longer love well.

In 1963, during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late...this is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

His words are not patient. They are, however, full of love. 

For too long justice seekers were held at bay, told to wait just a little bit longer, turned back and away by white faces saying, “Not yet.” The fact is black folks in America had been waiting for hundreds of years. Yesterday was too late. This rings true in our present moment as we consider the Black Lives Matter movement, marriage equity, humane immigration policy, and confronting rampant sexual assault. We live in the “fierce urgency of now,” and seeking justice requires passionate action more than it requires patience. Try being patient when it is your child who is shot in the back because he looked suspicious in his hoodie or when it is your child who is bullied and driven further into herself because she is gay. I am not looking to shock with dramatic illustrations here. I am reaching no further than reality. No, righting these situations does not require patience. It requires Love. 

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, says her work grew from a love note. “Black people,” she wrote. “I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” The movement grew from a steady, deep love and passionate celebration of life. I imagine she could not wait for an unlikely acquittal nor for one more murder to get going. She was no longer willing to say, “We’ll get ‘em next time” as if facing an athletic opponent in a race for some pennant or another. Holding on to the golden threads of those who came before her, she grasped the fierce urgency of now. This is not patience, but it is deep and full with love. 

Rewrite #2: Love is not always patient. Acting on injustice requires us to be in the “fierce urgency of now.”

If Corinthians implores us, then, that “Love is patient” is there ever a time when this is so? It happens in small moments when I take a breath, bend down to tie my boy’s shoes, place my hands on his cheeks, my forehead against his forehead, and remind myself, “This moment, Holly. This one right here.”

It happens in communities when a son or daughter dies from blood loss or loses hope in living and those left hold each other engulfed in despair and grief when all they want is to bottle the last breaths of their beloved. This kind of love is patient. And patience is required of us every time we lace up our boots when we least want to but do it anyway and get back to the work of being human. If the Cosmos is another name for God and God is Love and Love is patient, then there is room inside of all that is vast for messy humanity. There are definitely moments of impatience inside the ginormous container of love, and other moments when an act of love is driven by urgency. I need to work on patience in the small moments, but in the large moments that drive the arc of human history toward justice, maybe a little impatience moves the needle. In the 14 billion years of this universe’s existence, it would take 9.5 billion more years for the earth to form, and still 9,499,800,000 more for modern humans to evolve. That’s a really long time for love to reveal itself in the form of a conscious being. So yes, I can buy it. That Love is patient. I think it’s waiting on us to actually live into love.

The In-Between | by Holly Hudley

Once upon a time, the earth was populated with gods and monsters. There were hundred eyed giants and half horse, half humans. There were serpents with two heads and fire-breathing three-headed creatures with the head of a lion, a snake, and a goat. They had lion claws in front, goat legs behind, and a long snake tail. The gods had dominion over their respective domains - the sea, the earth, the skies, the underworld - but they roamed the earth, frequented their temples, took part in battles, and had sex with humans. Now among the creatures on earth was one most perfect being. Powerful, robust, and strange, the whole lot of them taunted the gods and skittered over the earth with four arms, four legs, two faces set upon the same neck, two sets of genitals, and so on. They moved forward, back, and side to side, spinning cartwheel-like as they ran. They were spherical, the perfect planetary form, male and female they were. It is said that males were born of the sun, females of the earth, but these androgynous beauties were descendants of the moon, that mysterious cratered face in the heavens that waxes and wanes its way around the earth. They were human, but not like you and me. They were flawlessly joined: male to female, male to male, female to female. What they had, inborn in themselves, was Eros. Love. This bringer together of their most ancient nature who tries to make one out of two and heal them. 

For a time these creatures did not know anything but their own perfection, their own wholeness. 

One day the gods decided they were unbearable: too vigorous, too threatening, all together too much. So the God of all gods commanded they be cut in half, slashed at the belly where they once were connected. Their heads got twisted around and forced to face the scar where the skin had been pulled tight like a drawstring bag around the gash at their midsection. They walked upright on two legs, their genitals rearranged toward the front, their many wrinkles smoothed over....except for the place at their belly, always a reminder of what they had lost. It was also a clue as to what they should seek, which was love. In our ancient nature we were wholes, so love is the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole. (1)

This is, of course, just a story. Its mythological form does not make it any less true. It lends us some insight into our inner nature and why we seek to become whole, to find union with others and also with the divine (or the cosmos, sacred mystery, God). Socrates defined love as a state of in-betweenness, a yearning. Falling in love is not something we do in one extraordinary moment and achieve subsequent perfection or complete understanding of its many layers. Love is something we become, an active seeking to fulfill the tension of our in between-ness. Bill calls his current series “Between the No Longer & the Not Yet.” The Greek word for between is metaxy. To exist in the metaxy is the human condition. We are in between life and death, young and old, unconscious and conscious, ordinary and transcendent. There is even a split second between the release of a ball in the pitcher’s hand and its path toward home plate when we don’t know if it will be a ball, strike, or hit. The tension is relieved by excitement or disappointment! If in this in between space we are operating as singular, isolated beings, navel gazing as it were, rather than looking up and seeking that which makes us whole, we might miss the entire point of living in between. Every single one of us matters to the whole making, so the most pressing question becomes, “How shall we live?” Love itself gives birth to what is beautiful, so if we live in pursuit of love, it can only create more of the same, both in our lifetime and for future generations. 



(1) Adapted from Plato’s Symposium c. 385-370 BC. Translation by Seth Benardete.

“I found Jesus!” | by Holly Hudley

One Sunday we piled in the car after Sunday school - an event my kids often attend only reluctantly. While it remains part of our ritual, we don’t have a family practice of reading bible stories, praying before bed, or quoting scripture. Come to think of it, we really haven’t taught them much at all about Jesus or God. I did hear one of my kids say “Great glory and Jesus!” in an attempt at dramatic expression. Score one for mom. (I once heard John Dominic Crossan speak to what we “should” teach kids about God. He said nothing most that God is love. But if he had his way, he said kids would refer to religion as something old people do. In other words, we are primed to seek meaning in the second half of life, but many of us  have to undo damage done by religion in order to uncover its meaning. So why not just start then, when our minds can wrap around poetry and metaphor, instead of badger our kids about sin and salvation and judgement and God’s will when they are young?) One of my sons once asked when we were driving on 45, “If we got in a car accident right now would Jesus swoop down and save us?” After a long pause I answered that Jesus wasn’t exactly a superhero, that he didn’t have a cape and couldn’t fly as far as I knew. His question made me realize how ingrained our ideas are about Jesus and God. The fantasy of being saved is a big one. I mean who among us doesn’t want to know we will be okay and often create elaborate myths and fantasies about how that could be so? My husband (my own personal superhero) used to wear his Superman outfit under his clothes as a boy just in case anyone needed saving. 

I digress. On the Sunday in question, 2 of my boys had black outlined figures of a smiling Mary Magdalene they had colored in. She was cut at the waist with a little brass brad connecting her top half to her bottom half. The brad allowed Mary to genuflect, hands outstretched, from side to side. It looked like she was caught in a rather awkward yoga position, but I think the intent was for her to bend toward the feet of the bradless Jesus cut out, who was the one my middle son brought to the car. When he saw his brothers had moveable figures he had a fit. He threw his Jesus on the floor of the car, tearful and screaming, “I do NOT want Jesus! I HATE Jesus!” (Only at the time he pronounced it Cheesus).

He kept this up the entire car ride home and attempted several times to wrangle Mary Magdalene out of his unrelenting brothers’ hands. When we got home, Jesus stayed somewhere in my car, presumably halfway under the seat amidst snack wrappers and spare socks. It’s not the dryer, by the way, that has your missing socks. It’s my car. Point is, though, Jesus got cast aside pretty unceremoniously. He was immobile and fixed.

Once inside, it didn’t take the Marys long to rip away from the brad, their body halves to separate, and ultimately drift into the trash can. Once the bendy figures were no longer on the scene, Cole spent a good while asking after his Jesus. “Have you seen Cheesus? Mommy? I want my Cheesus back.” His efforts waned and we didn’t look for him again for some days, but I think he fished a brad out of the trash to see if he could give his Jesus some mobility should he be relocated. Later that week we were headed somewhere in the car and Cole gasps in utter ecstasy, “I found Cheesus! Mommy! It’s Cheesus! Ohhhhh! I love my Cheesus!”

Fickle kid.

The whole episode is a condensed parody of my own Jesus journey. I found you, I hate you, I lost you, I found you, I love you. All the while Jesus, patient and smiling, is right under my seat. For a very long time Jesus was confined to the Bible for me, and the Bible was confined to some extreme magical thinking that I could not take literally but had been given no other way, so I cast it aside. I’m usually not a literal thinker. I am an artist who loves abstractions and visuals and big pictures, but I kept approaching the Bible like this pea brained troll trying to decipher a complex code. I am Jacob, renamed Israel, who grabs God by the heel and continues to wrestle. Eventually instead of reading it, I read people and listened to teachers who can paint it with a broad brush. I can tap out of the ring when I’m tired of wrestling. I’ve picked up other wisdom teachings like the Tao. And here’s the thing...every other book I have ever read I take for what it is. If I read about the Holocaust of WW2 I don’t believe it is still happening, but I know it’s important to understand. If I read the Bronte sisters, I can’t take them outside of the context of Victorian England. Sure they might have been frustrated independent women in their time, but in 1846 they could not yet imagine a woman with pixie hair, black skinny jeans, a priest collar and tattoos because she had not been invented. The Brontes gave way to Nadia Boltz Weber. The Bible gave way to Star Wars. 

Yes. I said that. 

They both incorporate the narrative of the hero’s journey. The authors of the Bible could not imagine the Millennium Falcon, a mouth breathing masked villain, and a Wookiee with a sash of bullets draped over his shoulder, so they wrote stories about their reality. We are still in the same story: people trying to find their way to the light through the means that we have. We know more now. The earth is round. Gravity exists. Volcanoes don’t need virgins. The cosmos is expansive. We are made of stardust. We are the earth becoming conscious of itself. Our stories evolve. All of them pave the way for us to evolve as well. I am not suggesting we cherry pick the best parts of our stories, rather that we imagine it all belongs inside of its own context. The threads of Truth in all that has ever been are 1) we seek and 2) we evolve. 

The Bible is a book of war and pillaging, parting of seas and burning bushes, improbable friendships and betrayal, that culminates in a man who faces the bleakest dark but manages to show us a Way toward the light. Star Wars encompasses intergalactic wars and evil empires, gambling and black market arms deals, improbable friendships and forgiveness, and culminates in a man who moves through absolute despair then dissolves into light particles as he becomes one with the Force. Sorry, spoiler alert.

True Confession: I’m in a really uncomfortable space quoting the Bible. There’s a whole lot of what I refer to as Christianese that is just not in my vernacular. Much of that has to do with Bible verses being strewn about and my associations with Jesus that affirms southern, white, evangelical culture. It is possible Jesus is that...but he also stood with the lepers, the fools, the prostitutes, and the God wrestlers. I’m trying not to squirm out of it and no one but me is choosing to do it, so here I go.

John 14:6 reads, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life” (The Message). Just before this, the disciples are like, “But Jesus. We don’t know where you’re going. How in the heck can we know the way?” I wonder if the disciples are being literal: Jesus, please. Just give us the directions to this house with many rooms of which you speak. And Jesus answers them with poetry. “I am the way.” And later, after they plea once more with him (“Just show us, Jesus!”) he says, “Can’t you see? I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” 

Gah. No wonder Jesus Christ is often exclaimed in exasperation accompanied by a palm slap to the forehead.

Maybe the reason Jesus does not give literal answers is because there isn’t one. Discovering the sweetness of “not God, but not other than God; not you, but not other than you” is not a left at the corner, a right by the orange Gulf sign, walk halfway down the block and there you will find the house with many rooms. “The Way to God is in me,” he says, so I deduce The Way to God is also in me. Maybe what Jesus hands us is an invitation to go inside, to look within and greet the fullness of our own being. Once we find that little gem, like Luke Skywalker, we just might dissolve into light and be one with the Force. Meanwhile, I’m sometimes still halfway down the block scratching my head and looking for the house with many rooms. 

The Bible in all of its complex history has been used to justify nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, many terrible things. If pressed I would venture to say most of us think these things unconscionable and not exactly The Way of which Jesus speaks. I’m learning to see the bible for what it is - a collection of writings influenced by the long arc of human culture which is often literal and dualistic. I’m also learning that it has some beautiful poetry and deep nondual teachings. It’s not The Only Truth but it contains many Truths. Between wars, famine, genocides, infidelity, yearnings of the human heart, lots of regulations, passionate love, and so much more, it certainly encompasses the whole of human reality. Seems like it’s just missing some intelligent discourse on evolution and the dinosaurs, but maybe i just haven’t gotten to that part...

Jesus says:

I am the way. I am in God. God is in me.

Another version of this type of nondualism is in the Tao de Ching. While “tao” is more or less untranslatable, it means something like the absolute principle underlying the universe that is in harmony with the natural order. Simply put, it is The Way. 

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not. 
How do I know this is true? 
I look inside myself and see.

~The Tao de Ching #21, transl. Stephen Mitchell

I’m realizing that when something is true, it is repeated in other forms. This thought alone is leading me back to my sock drawer to fish out the Bible and sift through its inevitable truths, to look at it alongside other wisdom teachings. Everything is in everything. The truth is in everything, as are we. I suspect the way to that truth is to accept that we are already participating in it. 

  Richard Wingfield's musings from OL class

Richard Wingfield's musings from OL class

The Rains Came | by Holly Hudley

A year ago Harvey made landfall.

A year ago our city hovered under a relentless downpour that left 52 inches of rain.

A year ago many were filming with dying phones as the water crept under door ways, over toes, and eventually lifted belongings off the floor in a swirling torrent.

A year ago I watched all this from my dry living room, curled up on my dry turquoise couch in the mostly dry Heights. The water rose above the bayou bridges and teased the bottom step of my front porch, but it never came in. On TV I watched a bass boat with confederate flags draped off the back rescue a Hispanic family from the rising water. I watched a white SWAT member cradle an Asian woman and her infant to higher ground. I helped set up a small shelter at an evangelical church that served an undocumented family, an all female black family, and a mother with 7 kids, one of whom was transgender. The water unified us, baptized us in the reality of chaos and cohesion. There was no separation, only a plaintive chorus of despair and coast guard choppers flying overhead. And the frogs. They with their incessant trilling were the only ones reveling in all the water. Or maybe they too were trying to find their way to each other. 

A year ago I got a text: 

“Hi. Could Hailey & I possibly stay with y’all for a few days? Til things calm down. Our home flooded and things exploded between me and {my husband}.”

Yes of course.  Do you need me to come get you?

“No. I’m getting some things together. I’ll come by the afternoon.”

It’s getting dark. Sprinkling again, fat slow drops. She is still not here.

Hi sweets. Are you coming? Would you like something for dinner?

“Maybe I shouldn’t come. Should I come? I’ve been at a coffee shop convincing myself not to come. I can figure this out.”

Come. We’ll figure it out together. Be safe. And I love you.”

She came with her then 20 month old in tow. A year later they’re still here, and they’ll be here for another two. The rains brought me a broken young woman who I’ve known since she was a preteen and her baby. She is like a daughter to me or a baby sister. We are a tribe of 7, a makeshift family, a small village. We’ve had a year of birthdays and potty training and holding and crying and laughing. She is a light in the world - wide smile, infectious laugh, and enough optimism to fill a 500 gallon tank. Despite all the trauma she’s experienced in her life (and there’s been a lot) she believes in fundamental goodness. She is fundamental goodness. When we are all together and people ask, perplexed, if Hailey is mine or if I am Sheila’s (pronounced Saylah’s) mom, we tell the condensed version of our story, and people inevitably turn to Josh or me and tell us what saints we are.

Not so. Sheila is the heroic one. She is doing the Herculean work of rebuilding a life. We just happened to have a soft place to land. 

A snapshot:  A Mexican American young woman(undocumented until about 6 months ago), holding a Mexican/Asian/American toddler in her newly minted Elmo underwear. A Black American man holding steady amidst the gurgling tumbling chaos of 3 curly headed caramel colored boys pawing at their White American mother. This is Us. 

We’ve come further together in a year than most people do in several. It’s hard to tell a story when you’re in the middle of it, when it’s still unfolding. But in between unprecedented floods, a growing tide of Black Lives Matter, thousands of Central American immigrant children separated from their parents, a dozen Thai kids trapped in a cave, and the growing anxiety of White America, we 7 are living and loving each other so wholly. We are what happens when chaos gets creative, when love leads. If it’s possible in a microcosm, in this experiment we’re living, then it’s possible everywhere. 

The rains came. They wreaked havoc and split us from belongings that tether us to being in the world while they also brought the unlikeliest people together with nothing but the damp and some work gloves between them. The rains came and we all got degrees of wet, but I’ve gotten a full immersion baptism in love.


Breadcrumbs to Flowers | by Brooke Summers-Perry

“In these troubled times it’s hard enough as it is. My soul’s known a better life than this.” Lyrics from the Brett Dennen song, There is So Much More

This song has been rolling around in my head since Sunday’s talk. The drive to find my calling and pursue it has been rolling my life around for as long as I can remember. I think I’ve always known that I was surrounded by greatness. In other words, I have been grateful for hard working, compassionate role models. I have parents who are open minded and supportive. Maybe it is because my childhood was stacked high in privilege, or maybe it is because when I was in college and figuring out what I was going to do and who I was going to be, I was following two of the most incredibly talented and skilled siblings, a professional athlete who is now in the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame and a professional singer who sang solos, national anthems, for kings and queens, while I was dropping classes and changing majors as fast as she was getting stamps in her passport, or maybe it is because I am sub 5 foot tall and my need to make an impact had more to do with combatting the endless pats on my head than it did with making the world a better place. The first half of my life I really wanted to do something big. For various reasons, I thought anything less was failure. 

Since I lost my job last year, I have been listening more carefully and walking more softly. I have been noticing what inspires me, what energizes me, and what breadcrumbs I can see when my view is closer to my current location. My perspective was forced by bed rest following major surgery last year. After Harvey hit Houston, I wanted to address the immediate, most obvious needs. I wanted to get out and muck houses. I wanted to work in areas that were the most overlooked. I had to accept the fact that I was physically incapable. My body was in recovery. I listened for other ways I could help. I offered a writing and art camp for my daughter’s friends so that their parents could get back to work. It wasn’t the most high impact, high profile, or the most meaningful work the world needed at that moment. It was a need that appeared in my proximity and it was something that made me giddy with energy and fueled my recovery.

Running that little camp in our home lead me to addressing a greater need in our local elementary school. One of the parents informed me that our school had lost funds for an art teacher and that there would be no art class next year. She asked me, “What would you do with an art ancillary class?” For the past few months I have been working on the answer. I start working with 125 students next week.

As I reflect on Bill’s talk on Sunday, I began getting clarity about one of the reasons I am so passionate about the curriculum I have been developing. It is directly related to Bill’s talk on Sunday. For the past 13 years I have encountered brilliant and passionate students. Young people carrying the burden of global problems, advocates and activists frustrated by the education system’s one path fits all mentality. We live in a world that deeply needs to cultivate creativity, varying perspectives, passion, and action in ways that empower innovation. We need to cultivate the skills that will creatively address our failing environmental, social, economical, and political systems. The curriculum I am building introduces elementary students to the creative process, highlights how art movements, masterpieces, and masters expressed and addressed challenges, creatively integrating and innovating. This art program will host local businesses and see where skills in observation, mindfulness, expression, and problem-solving have real world application. This may not be the largest and most immediate world need, but it is where I find myself occupying space, where my experience and passion meet action that brings me the most energy and meaning.

Bill’s talk this week reminded me that we need to cultivate these skills, developing a spirit of ingenuity, a mind that can detach from the way it’s always been, a heart of compassion for ourselves and others, and a spirit of discernment to see what to address where we can be the most impactful and the most energized and sustained.

We don’t have time for anything else. What is ours to do may not be the most obvious or the most high profile, or the most clear. One of the things I find hardest to do as the stakes get higher, the ads get more persistent, and the voices that separate us get louder, is to sit with the still small voice and listen. And yet, I know this is the only way to be mindful of the spot I stand in and the feet I have to move me. It is the one true guide that knows where my experience, my energy, and my heart know where my work is my play, where I might follow the breadcrumbs and leave a trail of flowers. Here is a poem I wrote this week while contemplating painting, play, and purpose.

Toes in rabbit holes,
solid ground under heels.

Lost in rhythms of strokes,
tinted sloshing wave peaks.

Wrestling edges where
shadows meet vibrant light.

Moist roots, lashes touch,
in mystery of night.

Tangled release reveals
forms, shapes, and matter.

What could come to exist
that already hasn’t?

What is mine to wrestle?
What is mine to release?

What is life without product or impact,
the cost of my peace?

The question rhetorical,
drama, vague, and abstract.

The song of my heart
vivid, alive, and concrete.

The Hardest Easiest Thing | by Holly Lewis Hudley

The Truth is I love you.

The Truth is sometimes it’s really hard. 

The other Truth is sometimes it’s easier than breathing.

That sums up parenting. Really just about any relationship I’ve ever been in. There are a lot of ways I’ve said ‘I love you.’  Through gritted teeth or with a wide open smile. As a last ditch effort to keep someone near. To the grandmother with a whiskery chin and papery kisses. ‘Tell grandma you love her, Holly. Go on...give her some sugar.’ To the gray faced dog of 16 years with his head on my knee as he took his last breath. To my kids when they are sleeping. Or awake. Or pounding their fists in frustration. Or every time they run to me after school, arms wide, no matter how the morning plea of “Put on your shoes” crescendoed from benign to borderline frenzy! 

A friend told me that whenever her kids are being insufferable pains in her ass, she closes her eyes, holds up a finger and says, “Hang on. I’m just reminding myself how much I love you.” I need to put that small mindful practice in my pocket.

It’s the hardest easiest thing, Love.

A saying attributed to the Buddha is, “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” It’s not out there somewhere that love is found, but right here, within. Love must extend outside of us, it must be shared, in order to be experienced. But dang. Can we get real for a minute? Loving everyone? Like literally everyone? That’s hard. 

In Brooke’s last post she renamed God LOVE. (Thanks Brooke! In my last post I toyed with how to greet all of creation. I will try, “Hello Love!”) To me that means love is all things - the beautiful, the sacred, the unholy, the destroyed and broken, the creative and whole. The truest capital T truths are those which are universal. Love is. It is because of it that I’ve ever been able to hold fear at bay and cross the threshold of curiosity and acceptance. When a life long friend came out, and I already loved her, it was easy to keep loving her even though the small god I had been taught about said she was wrong. Love led. When I got an immediate crush on Joel Kelley in 5th grade even though nothing in my small reality told me interracial love was okay, it paved the way for falling for Josh 20 years later. Love led. When I started teaching 20% of my beloved students turned out to be undocumented, and domestic law taught me they were less than Americans. I didn’t see them that way before I learned their status. Love led. Wherever relationship exists, evolution of thought, belief, and action is also possible. I’m beginning to sound like this is easy...just love! That’s it! That’s all you have to do! Well if you lived with me you’d know I don’t always do it well. The idea is easy. Being it...that’s different. We have an incredible example of what it looks like to Be Love in Jesus. I take shelter in the fact that Jesus was just hitting his stride in what would have been considered midlife 2000 years ago! What do we do when loving gets hard?

Idea #1: Love does not mean approval. 

I once heard the dharma teacher Tara Brach tell a story of a monk who’s compassion contribution in the world was to meditate every day over the criminal files of the most dangerous inmates in a maximum security prison. He didn’t know them. He didn’t approve of the murders, rapes, or pedophilia they committed. He didn’t say I love you, therefore what you did is okay. He said I love you anyway. He dared to see himself in them...and vice versa. 

There are several people in my life I put in the metaphorical file folders. I hold their faces behind closed eyelids, and I try to say, “I love you anyway.” On certain days it’s through gritted teeth.

Idea #2: “Sometimes love is fierce”

Kali is the Hindu goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction, and Power. She is also worshipped as the Divine Mother. She is fierce. She is Ultimate Love and Feminine Energy. The word Kali shares meaning with “the fullness of time.” As I understand it, the fullness of time ain’t always pretty. In one moment it’s the first fern unfurling in the perfect light of the sun. In another it’s a planet sized meteor crashing into the Yucatán to wipe out the dinosaurs.

Recently during a particularly fraught time in life, I felt untethered from my family of origin, a lonely star with no planets to orbit in its light, or perhaps the planet who drifted off course. Before I realized the importance of this fibrous tear in the geometry of my individuation, I was in suffering. I did not know how to love and let go and create boundaries all in the same breath. Boundaries felt mean, incongruous with love. One of my best friends acted as my Kali, my protector. “Hol,” she said in her sweet Carolina accent, “Sometimes Love is fierce.” 

In keeping with such wisdom, if I were to define my role as Mother, it is not only to help shepherd my kids into the fullness of their beings, but also to create structures and safe boundaries within which they can thrive. This means I have rules and say no and lots of emotions fly around between us all, but within that my kids have a lot of creative freedom. In a blessing, John O’Donohue wrote, “As water takes whatever shape it is in, so free may you be about who you become.”

Water cannot take shape if it does not have a container. We could have no oceans without land, no rivers without canyons, no bayous without walls. So too we would have no self to become without a body. Often Kali is pictured standing on Shiva, her consort. He, blissful and detached, represents pure formless awareness while she, with her tongue lolling, arms waving, hair wilding, represents form, eternally “contained” by that pure awareness. Within the container she is liberated to step into the fullness of her being. 

Sometimes....Love is fierce. 

Idea #3: Love does get angry

I would wager that every single one of us has heard some version of 1 Corinthians 13 at a wedding or three. “Love is patient and is not irritable or resentful...”

Oh Lord. Help me now.  While I sloppy grinned glassy eyed and said I do to all these things at my wedding, I failed at “love is not irritable” and got mad at Josh the very next day. I didn’t stop loving him, but I was irritated. I don’t resent it, as I can’t even remember what it was about, but I remember thinking Paul was wrong about the Love not being angry bit!

Then, years later, when we had three kids within 22 months, I felt angry and irritable with them. More likely I felt alone and overwhelmed and totally not enough, but it expressed itself as anger at times. I had also never felt love so wholly that I might fly apart as I did for them. I feel  anger often. But I have never stopped loving them. Not ever. I suppose what matters is what I do with anger, how I act on it. Have I yelled? Yes. Have I regressed to feeling 2 years old and throwing a toy truck on the floor in a moment of complete overwhelm? Yes. Have I come back and said, “Forgive me if I hurt you in my anger?” Daily. Cue the newly adopted spiritual practice of pointer finger in the air, other hand on hip, eyes closed: “Hang on a sec. I’m just reminding myself how much I love you.”

If I did not love my brown skinned brothers and sisters, if I did not fiercely love my brown skinned husband and sons, I would not feel angry about systems and ignorant behaviors that continue to harm their psyches and bodies - systems kept in place by my white skinned brothers and sisters. If I did not feel angry I would not feel compelled to participate in restoring justice. As for those who commit acts of injustice, I will put them in my stack of manila folders, place my hand over their faces, and say, “I love you anyway.” Best go ahead and put my own self in that stack. To echo the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.   ~From the poem Call Me by My True Name

1 Corinthians goes on to say “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The important words to me are all things. LOVE (aka God) is big enough to hold all things, including fierceness and anger. Love will help us direct it into a fuller and truer expression of our being if we allow it. 

Last night after the Astros lost and whittled their first place lead down to one measly game, I wore down my adrenaline by reading until 2am. Jacob, a character in the book Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer wrestles with his Jewish identity, the particular in betweenness of his particular midlife, the dissolution of marriage, and his 3 boys who he loves so overwhelmingly “it couldn’t fit into {his} body.” In Hebrew Scriptures, Jacob, which means “heel grabber,” was renamed Israel, which in turn means “wrestles God.” Using Brooke’s logic, I could rephrase that as “wrestles Love.” Foer writes, “‘Only one thing can keep something close over time: holding it there. Grappling with it. Wrestling it to the ground, as Jacob did with the angel, and refusing to let go. What we don’t wrestle we let go of. Love isn’t the absence of struggle. Love is struggle.’”

Love is the Hardest Easiest Thing.