A community of Open & Honest questions
October 23, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
will tremble at your marvelous signs;
you make the dawn and the dusk
to sing for joy.
This reflection is about an aspect of becoming
constructive, responsible, joyful adults.
But most of all, it’s about demons.
And in other news… (as they say)
Target stores have removed scary clown masks from their shelves
after there were numerous reported incidents
of people in scary clown masks engaging
in threatening behavior.
Halloween – fast becoming an American tradition
to rival Christmas…
complete with sexy costumes, alter ego wigs,
images of terror and death,
black and red fake blood sold by the pint.
It’s touching a nerve,
probably playing with all our submerged and unmanaged stuff,
fear of death, suppressed desires,
consumerist ennui, to get philosophical,
an existential boredom that sets in
when meaning is reduced to shopping.
What were Americans supposed to do
for our part in the Iraq war? Go shopping!
I’m sure what the president meant
is that we need a strong economy.
But it sure made a splash in the shallow
spiritual waters of our dominant culture.
Halloween is of course just fun.
But we also know there are deeper waters down there.
We pretend we’re just playing.
But in some place of our hearts
we know there needs to be more.
Our hearts echo the depths.
A profound longing lies hidden among us. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this about the demons and monsters we play with, in his “Essay on Demonology”:
“Willingly I too say, Hail! to the unknown awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding. And the attraction which this topic has had for me and which induces me to unfold its parts before you is precisely because I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and in every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent and living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. He is sure no book, no man has told him all. He is sure the great Instinct, the circumambient soul which flows into him as into all, and is his life, has not been searched. He is sure the intimate relations subsist between his character and his fortunes, between him and the world: and until he can adequately tell them he will tell them wildly and fabulously. Demonology is the shadow of Theology.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essay on Demonology”, 1875
(Quoted in A field guide to demons, vampires, fallen angels and other subversive spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack)
I often speak about the practice of Courage and Renewal.
It is the practice that emerged from the writings of Parker Palmer.
There is a National Center for Courage and Renewal.
The website is couragerenewal.org.
The name “Courage and Renewal” is a summary
of the experienced effects of deep reflection
and soulful speaking in circles
developed as places of trust, listening, and speaking.
In this congregation, we have one that meets
on Tuesday evenings in the Cole neighborhood
north of City Park.
And we have open that meets on the south side,
most often at the home of Connie and John,
southeast of old town Littleton.
And you see a flyer for our annual retreat
at St. Benedict’s Monastery, near Snowmass.
And we weave silence and listening and speaking
into our weekly worship practice.
All of this is in service to the understanding
that we can listen well to the depths of our hearts,
and to the depths of the world,
not navel-gazing, but listening for what matters
so that we can live and respond well.
Even listening into those un-negotiated places of demons and monsters
that we play with on Halloween.
What are we really connecting with as we play?
One of the key practices that we offer each other in Courage & Renewal work
is the practice of Open and Honest questions.
Open and Honest questions are a way of inviting the other
to continue and to deepen their speech,
listening more and more to the inner teach, the soul,
the well of the heart.
We may do this with each other, with ourselves, and with the world.
Just as with listening to another person speaking,
we may ask these questions:
What is it, heart, that you most want to tell me?
What is it, world, that you most want to tell me?
When we do this, we will open the space where
the un-negotiated demons and monsters will make themselves known.
The flashlight of exploration will shine on some scary stuff.
But, if we do not let ourselves explore those un-negotiated places,
the places of our demons and monsters,
if we never take the time to just gently listen,
and slowly process and integrate some stuff,
then it comes out, as I think we all know,
in destructive ways.
Un-negotiated demons are the source of sexual assault,
of sexism, of prejudice against lgbtq friends,
of fear of immigrants, of passivity in the presence
of a refugee crisis or for people living on the streets,
we think we need to make war or get a gun
so that we can destroy dangerous others.
John Snow knows it in Game of Thrones.
We know it in some place of our hearts as well.
It hurts us to be passive when people are cold and hungry.
It hurts them even more, to be shut out of resources.
And all of our violence goes into the good earth,
and springs up in the strange fruit of repetitive violence.
It does not gather to a greatness of joy and peace,
and yet we continue to repeat it.
Winter’s coming. Winter is here. Winter is and has been among us.
Let us warm each other with our wholeheartedness.
Let us listen to each other, and to our hearts,
and to the world with open and honest questions.
Kind of like we speak to our pets?
What is it, heart? What is it, world?
What are you longing to tell me?
And here’s the great thing:
what we actually discover is that
when we let ourselves listen closely to the deep wells
of the soul,
we discover that there is something glorious
in the heart of things.
We discover a powerful and flowing joy,
and this joy is the energy that enlivens great love.
Then we find ourselves on the streets,
or with our relatives, or closest loved ones,
or the stranger, or the refugee
living in ways that are both riskier and more joyful.
We find ourselves doing things for the sake of love and justice
that we don’t even fully understand,
but we experience the joy of doing what we are doing
wholeheartedly and without reservation,
because in the depths we have found
not only demons and monsters
but joy overflowing.