How do you expand a mind?

Mind you, I’m not plotting to expand yours. You may keep reading free of the fear of that.

What I am considering here is my own mind who wants expanding regularly, but rarely gets the chance. Because I am very busy confounding its attempts by confining it and pointing it in its rightward direction. Any veering off course is met with a swift kick to get back on track…This you know. This you do. This is yours and not theirs. This is the pattern we have established here. Stop being silly and get on board.

So, I am asking myself, what expands a mind? And while we’re thinking about it, how about its alternative: what constricts one?

Oh, I’d like just to invest in a prescription. Dole me out some prednisone to reduce the inflammation, and NOW the blood will flow more freely to those cerebral spaces. But that’s too chemical. Too controllable. Too directed. Can a constricted mind even unconstrict itself? No, I think expansion desires a different way.

One might consider, here, today’s popularly proffered solution: seek out “opposing points of view” and listen “with an open mind.” This generally doesn’t work for me. My sit and listen tends to spin off and spiral into ways I can defend my position just as soon as you are through.

Clearly, this is no recipe for expansion. Expansion, I fear, has more to do with letting, and perhaps with its calming companions, lessening and releasing. Instead of breath-holding, these three invite me to blow out that old dead air in order to accommodate some refreshener. To make ample room in my mental meandering for question-asking, what-iffing and perhaps even a bit of wit and whimsy.

Like…

What if gravity didn’t hold? What if humans could walk through walls? What if magic was real? What if stars could speak? What if (gasp) I didn’t have to abide by all the rules of best behavior? I know this is NOT a mind expansion for many of you, but it’s a biggie for me. And it’s my mind we’re investigating here, so come with me …

What if we could be issued an exemption from always having to behave according to expectations? Even a momentary exemption, say the moment when a foul ball came into my possession at a recent pre-season baseball game and everyone in the stadium expected me to hand it over to a kid. No respectable adult would KEEP that ball. Heck, the guy in the NYY hat whirled on me and shouted, “Give it to a kid!”

I didn’t want to. And I didn’t. Yep, that’s what this is all about. Me, reconciling that moment. When my mind — normally constricted by guilting, shaming and shoulding — broke out of that mold. No guilt, shame or shoulds here. Everything dilated to allow a little breathing room. And it was okay.

What, I’ve been wondering since, what if this expansive moment could last?!! What if we could activate it ON PURPOSE?!

Really is this such a stretch? I mean, our eyes do it all the time. When darkness descends, our pupils dilate to help us see. That’s hard-wired into our subconscious. So, why not will ourselves to let more figurative light in to our cerebral spaces? Intentionally, invite our minds to skip freely down new paths opening doors to new ideas, and new ways accessed by new passageways? Dare we suspend the mathematical and equational, even the sensational and emotional, in service of the … mystical? supernatural? Let’s call it super-rational… where, a bit more light might help what’s been hidden to show itself?

Ah, try as we might, we humans only have meager success at controlling the subconscious by intention. A few may be especially capable, but alas I am not one of these. Try as I might to pry my eyes open to let more light in, my reflexes resist and my eyes slam shut, smarting from the effort.

I have more success actually in the darkened room when I shut my eyes tightly, excusing them from trying to extract visual input where there isn’t any. Don’t waste your time; just let yourself see. Somehow that “letting” allows perception to travel through different channels creating a new inner dialog.

Something like… you won’t die if you keep this baseball. (Who told you, you would?!) and… If you let yourself, a giddiness will overtake you every time you look at it. Go ahead… And when you hold it, it will transport you to long ago memories of major league games your mom took you to.

Games when your 8-year-old self wished the big-leaguers would hit it right to you so you could catch it in the mitt you hauled all the way from home. Games at 10 years and 12 years old, when, as a consolation prize, you brought home the game-day-give-away, a Dal Maxville signature bat. (You weren’t bold like the other kids who asked for bats signed by the heavy hitters instead of the light-hitting shortstop. No, you would never ask; you took what they gave you.) Oh, you brought home memories for sure.

And you brought them with you to tonight’s game, so that when you gripped that ball, you tucked it deeply in your pocket. When kids surrounded you awaiting their handout, you didn’t comply. You broke the rules and kept that ball. And gave it, sure as day, to the kid in you who’s been waiting decades for that catch.

Light. A veritable blooming.

There’s a light in our darkness

I didn't see the light left on. 
It was such a small beam directed downward.
A task light, meant to illuminate
what was cooking, to give a
progress report on the scrambled eggs
which had been long since consumed.
I didn't see the light left on. 
What with the sun's rays drowning it in their showy display,
splashing their way across the fingerprint-streaked kitchen appliances and reflecting onto the floor,
where yesterday's crumbs mixed with this morning's paw prints all clamoring to be cleaned.
I didn't see the light left on. 
The overhead luminescent so immediate and far-reaching.
The days' news face-up, unwilling to wait with its urgent communications,
and night-before items strewn, awaiting retrieval,
while two impatient hounds whine their displeasure
from sleeping quarters half-a-room away.
I didn't see the light left on. 
Those perpetual under-the-cabinet LEDs so unforgiving!
Every corner exposed, every surface uncovered.
"Coffee's ready!" insists a tiny green light, dismissing its "2:00 AM" digital display.
Little liar. Pay no attention to the coffee pot clock.
It used to brew on command, back in the day.
I didn't see the light left on
until it was time to leave; and I
switched off the overheads,
extinguished the LEDs and
bid the sun's rays farewell as they moved mercifully
onward taking their attentions and affections elsewhere.

"Excuse me," beckoned the light,
its beam still focused on its solemn assignment --
standing sentry over the cooking coils,
long cooled and fully forgotten.

until the darkening dared it to proclaim itself.

"I'm still here."
I wonder what else I am not seeing,
drowned as it often is in the invading ambient light.
I wonder what else I am not hearing, 
quenched as it often is by the parading ambient noise.
I wonder what else I am not sensing, 
habituated as I've become to the pelting of ambient turmoil.
I wonder what I might discover, if
I let myself attend to the light left on:

Its dedicated beam
Its resolute stare

Its stalwart attention
Its deep concern

What is it trying to show me?
what is it trying to tell me?
What is it dying to say?
Perhaps only darkness could bring this to light.  

The Good we can do… together

Have you ever read the parable of the Good Samaritan? Yeah, me, too. At least a billion times. Well, nearly.

But I’m not sure I understood it until today.

When my twenty-something daughter, who has traveled to Berlin on a Fulbright award, contacted me to say, “Mom, I’m getting ready to go to the Berlin central train station… to bring stuff for the Ukrainian refugees coming in, who are mostly women and children. If anyone wants to contribute you can send me money to get some more stuff. Here’s the items they need right now.

And I looked at that list. And I cried. Some things are listed as “urgent.” Some things are “just important.” baby bottles. wipes. diapers. shampoos. detergents. hand cream. combs and hairbrushes. panty liners and tampons. lip balm. toothpaste. shower gel. disinfectant. coloring books. matchbox cars. plushies. sketch books. stickers. URGENT.

Oh, please someone buy so many sketch books and plushies.

The former me thought that it was a cop out just to send cash. Today’s me is waking up to a world that needs all I have to offer. Whatever I have to offer.

Oh, but that Good Samaritan from Luke, Chapter 10, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho … he set a very high bar. he stopped to help the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. He dressed his wounds. He transported the man to safety. where he took care of him. and then he could be cared for. and he could rest and recover. And, after covering expenses, he told the caregiver, whatever it costs, put it on my tab. I’ll be back to settle up the expenses.

When I read the parable of the Good Samaritan, I “hear” this is what you need to be. This kind of good neighbor. who does it all, going above and beyond for his neighbor, whom he doesn’t even know.

Today, I am a continent away from one who needs my help. Who needs me to stop and look, treat their wounds, attend to their needs, deliver them to safety, ensure their care, and provision them for the journey.

All I can offer is, “any expense you have, I will reimburse.” But my understanding today says, that is enough. Because I know someone, who by the happenstance of circumstances, can provide for the one who has need and can reimburse the innkeeper for the kindness he or she is administering.

I had always set the Good Samaritan as the highest of bars: Stop. treat. Deliver. Care. Provide. Reimburse. All of these in order to fulfill my obligations. The “what more must I do? clause.” By this standard the Kingdom is very far off and always will be.

But today, by the grace of God, and amidst the disgrace of mankind’s behavior to his own kind, I see the Good Samaritan not the work of just one man, but as the work of all of us together. For you who are bold enough and brave enough and whose circumstances have placed you in the midst of this fray, you can be the stoppers, the treaters, the deliverers, the carers. And may God bless you and protect you. We, whose circumstances place us at a distance, can be the providers, the reimbursers and surely, oh surely, the prayers of prayers.

Together, not alone, not separately, but all together, we can be The Good Samaritan: not just proclaimers, but demonstrators, purveyors and benefactors of those who are being the Good News. News you can believe and believe in. Because you see it in living color. In the person next to you. In the one far from you. And inexorably in the deepest version of you.

Together, let’s believe the good news of the gospel as we live it out.

In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

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