“Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom,
and a little flower.”~Hans Christian Andersen.
My father was chaplain and teacher of Bible Knowledge at a high school in the heart of Jamaica. Since the school was founded under the ‘auspices’ of a Christian School, the subject was not Religious Knowledge. There was no discussion of other world views or creation stories, no chapters on Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam, the only textbook was the Bible itself. And yet my father did not teach the subject as an extension of his pulpit (since he was a parson, that could have been tempting). He took pains to show how the book itself was a wealth of history, geography, poetry and culture. He did not claim it to be accurate, infallible, or teach that it should be followed literally, since it was subject to the will of those who had to manually rewrite it (the only means of preserving it for posterity). Those scribes were human, and could amend and edit with impugnity, reflecting what was politically correct (or incorrect) or expedient at the time.
Like any book, the Bible can inspire or scare, it can horrify or calm. There are those who use it as a divining tool, opening the book at random and blindly pointing to a verse looking for a prediction, or a word of advice. There are those who use it to store important documents, to list the family tree, to preserve beautiful flowers. My mother’s Bible was filled with flowers she had picked and dried and pressed, reminders of the beauty of Mother Nature. When I visited the Grand Canyon, the sheer grandeur of the view made me immediately want to start chanting a psalm.
This morning a memory of the Magnificat woke me, the song supposedly sung by Mary: “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. One of the things about my personal spirituality is that I do not follow the proscriptive path of my father, my personal beliefs are far broader. I am closer to Buddhism than any other formal religion. But when you are raised in the church, there are certain things that stay with you, that can vibrate at a level that brings comfort and hope.
When I worship, I worship in the open. I soak in Mother Nature, I kneel at the sight of a perfect marigold, I inhale the glory of the mountainside, clouds nestling around the peaks. I chant a psalm at the feel of a cool breeze, a touch of dampness in the air. The restorative and healing power of the great outdoors has been documented elsewhere. The cure for what ails you is a visit to a natural place: a park, a stream, a field of flowers. It helps to put the grind of your daily routine into perspective. Even in the midst of the city there can be plots of earth, inner city gardens can grow vegetables and hope.
Those of us who grew up in an island like Jamaica, but then left it, go back and bask in its beauty. Those who still live there may take it for granted, but have only to leave on vacation to recognize upon their return that they are blessed. Last weekend I was able to escape the incredible election results and prospects of doom and gloom to go and restore my soul as I was absorbed into the hillside of Jamaica. I drew strength from the sights and sounds of a more natural rhythm to be able to gird my loins in preparation for an uncertain future under an uncertain President.
And yet there are those in Jamaica who know a far less pleasant reality. There is currently a civil war playing out in the heart of the concrete jungle, a place where gunfire can erupt in the middle of the day, where children are scared to go outside to play. I have a nephew who lives there with his family, and rather than scoop them up and run to country he has chosen to stay and protect all the children, not just his own. Foolish? Or honorable?
The freedom to choose our path is one of our greatest freedoms. How often do we say: I don’t have a choice. And yet, is that even true? We may not want to do anything other than that which we think we must. Some of us are driven by an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, a feeling that we have a duty to behave a certain way, or live up to the expectations of others. But it is a choice to live this way. It is our choice.
I believe we are being given some very clear choices at the moment. We may choose to feed into negativity, to be passive in the face of what appears to be inevitable. Or we can choose to be more vocal, more active, more involved, to try to influence and inspire. We can choose to try to educate those who are uninformed and fearful. We can choose to demonstrate a better way to be, more inclusive, more diverse, more open-minded and open-hearted. We can choose to support organizations that are determined to be the voice of the silent, the strength for the weak, the defenders of justice and equality for all.
On this fantastic Friday morning, I hope you are choosing to be happy, and to recognize how many choices you have. And even if you think you don’t, trust me, there are many people in the world with far less choices than you. So make sure you are appreciating your freedoms, you are appreciating all of the possibilities of your life.
Let us choose to be hopeful, and have a great weekend Family!