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In the Storm Still

Exploring "engaged presence" in the midst of the turbulence of our times.

 - reflections excerpted or carefully crafted to accompany you in your practice of 'engaged presence,' as you draw the world of crying need and awesome complexity into your heart and center.
In the Storm Still comes in regular installments as reflections, resources and reminders for engaging spirituality in times like these. Created by Joe Grant, Louisville, Kentucky. Reproduced with permission.

Gracefully Grounded

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up, increasing and yielding thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.  Mark 4:8

When was the last time your soles graced the ground beneath your feet?

Daily, we tread
or trample
a lush carpet of life.

Upon this thin floor
of muddy vitality
the elements of our existence depend.

What disdainfully we call dirt
(as in dirty) or soil (as in soiled)
is actually the miracle beneath!

People usually consider walking on water or air a miracle.
But the real miracle is not to walk either on water or thin air, but to walk on earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Our given scriptural name
“ADAMAH” or “grounded one”,
describes our earthy roots.

“Human” reflects humble origins,
for we are “humus-beings”;
earthlings realized from sacred soil.

The Holy One formed “Adamah” from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life. Genesis 2:7

Dirt is no dead thing.
Each topsoil ounce holds countless communities;
billions of invisible microorganisms.

One in four forms of life
on our planet
thrives in the dank recesses beneath our soles.

Unseen and unknown decomposers
recycle the necessary elements of life
till even deserts bloom in their season.

Earth purifies water, absorbs waste,
and, in the end, takes us all back
to remake our empty husk into a life-giver.

Source of nourishment,
sacred soil provides raw material for reality,
and cradles the bones of our ancestors.

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. Exodus 3:5

When walking the woods,
for the recovery of soul,
I cast my gaze upon the loamy litter scattered about me.

Such mucky wisdom, earthy lessons,
fruits and seeds of innumerable seasons,
lie strewn at my feet.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes. Elizabeth Barret Browning

While briefly living along the Amazon,
I was awed by the community of crawlers
that cover every available centimeter of forest floor.

To this day, the aroma of wet leaves
carries me back
to my Amazonian epiphany—

from our insect planet
rooted in a thin film of mud,
every imaginable form of breathing life erupts;

from towering mahogany to scarlet macaws;
in over-abundance
we have yet to name.

In our fleeting lifespan we are gifted
with a multitude of graces
in three dimensions.

Illumined Grace gasps in wonder;
at sunsets, ocean vistas,
and misty mountain peaks.

Darker Graces visit us unbidden,
with the embrace of suffering;
the letting-go and losing of all we hold dear.

Then there is Earthed Grace
well-mixed into the messy buisness of living—
bounty revealed to the lowly, who live close to the ground.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

With dusty hands and muddied feet,
may you know gratitude for the blessing of being human,
graced to humbly walk God’s good garden.



Love Hurts

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down your life for your friends.”

John 15:12-13

When have you truly loved?

There are places
on our precious planet
that never fail to move me.

There are people in my life
I like and admire,
who always seem to inspire.

There are tastes,
sights, sounds, activities
that give me joy.

I might say “I love”
these, places, people,
things to see and do.

What I mean is;
they bring pleasure,
fill my days with delight.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8

There are also places
I avoid, people I fear
and deeply dislike.

There are realities
in our world I despise;
differences, difficulties, I cannot reconcile.

There are transgressions
in my life that are shameful; 
experiences I am unable to accept; abhorrent actions and attitudes.

Try as I might,
I cannot escape
these distressing aspects of life.

Yet, there is another, disturbing dimension; 
a level of connection, a place of encounter,
embrace and engagement.

This state of being;
beyond like or dislike;
defies adequate description.

It lacks those hardened boundaries
that keep reality at arm’s length:
objective, separate, manageable.

What we call LOVE
is so often misrepresented, 
so broadly misunderstood.

I look into your eyes
which are sometimes green and sometimes gray,
and sometimes full of humor, but often not,
and tell myself, you are better,
because my life without you would be
a place of parched and broken trees.  Mary Oliver

Here is a costly truth,
learned by letting LOVE take me out of bounds,
across lines of affection and disaffection: LOVE hurts!

This does not mean we allow
people to abuse or exploit us or anyone.
Suffering-LOVE neither quails nor quivers!

It boldly demands that we listen,
let life look us in the eye, 
and see our true selves mirrored in our care.

Suffering-LOVE dismantles barricades. Where there is a barrier—
“This far shall I love and no further!”— we remain within the limits of affection,
protecting ourselves from LOVE’s harshest truth.

Suffering-LOVE is a liberating force.
It neither clings nor holds captive.
It is expressed only in raw release.

Everyone, everything we love, we must let go.
We know how deeply we love —something, someone, our lives—
in that moment and wrenching act of letting-go.

The deeper the LOVE,
the more devastating
the letting-go.

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Fyodor Dostoyevski

At this poignant-painful point
of relinquishment,
we enter the blissful-broken heart of our Greatest LOVER:

the Most Moved Mover,
whose essence is life-giving,
liberating, suffering-LOVE.

Now at last can we know
how the Holy One feels.
May it be so for you.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:16, 18



Dying to Live

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here but has risen.”  Luke 24:5

How do you hold the living and dying within the reach of your arms?

In a Rwandan marketplace,
I picked up a carved, ‘Y’ shaped twig,
in the likeness of a person with arms outstretched.

Captivated by this Christ image,
I questioned the craftsman;
“Is this Christ crucified or risen?”

With a beaming smile,
the vendor responded;

Like every other
encounter in Rwanda,
this response provoked newness out of me.

But first, I protested.
“How can this be? Surely, it’s one or the other;
either dying and dead or risen and living.”

Flashing another smile,
he shook a calloused finger;
“In Rwanda, Christ is always dancing between dying and living.”

Either the world is coming together
or else the world is falling apart—
here—now—along these letters,
against the walls of every heart.  Peter Cole

With increasing frequency,
losses, letting-go and daily dyings
come tightly-wrapped into living.

Each time I let myself be moved
by the aches of neighbors dear and distant,
I am drawn down into the broken, Sacred Heart.

So strange,
how I have also savored joy
in these touching encounters.

When I wait for life to come into focus,
or lean into the news of the day,
I perceive the strains of this dying-rising dance.

Like buds on blackened branches,
or that hint of rotting fruit
in the scent of the blossom,

joy and suffering, darkness and illumination,
living and dying emerge and subside;
fluid movements in a seamless symphony.

Perhaps we migrate between love and suffering.
Oh praise the soul’s migration.
I fall. I get up. I run from you. I look for you.
I am again in love with the world.  Mark Nepo

When we welcome life’s changing seasons gracefully,
arms flung wide,
we affirm our faith in darkness before birth;

in life before death; in love leading to the cross;
in the cross opening a doorway to unimagined breadth of being
—compassionately contorted and connected.

All that is asked
is a willingness to bear witness
and abide in the belly of paradox;

to place ourselves in-between the poles,
to straddle inner and outer conflicts,
to deny categories, to defy divisiveness.

Resurrection beckons,
whenever we make space for the needs,
deficiencies and potential of our fellow pilgrims.

Hung between opposing forces,
the cruciform Christ
illustrates the power of dying to live:

eternal icon to the mystery
that dying also makes room
for something new and unforeseen.

If we can die to our need to be right,
we might also crack open a space
wide enough

to hold the impact of our global consumptive culture;
to lament social deprivation and planetary desecration;
to begin together to undo ethnic, national and religious supremacies.

Surely these dyings
connect us to holy,
humble, hurting and healing lives.

Come Life-Giving Spirit,
lead us in your birling dance,
from death to life and back again!