Welcome to Practice Makes Presence!
A Journey filled with candor and compassion
Podcast and Blog of Matt Sandoval
There has been a lot of talk lately about power, supremacy, and division. Tensions are high in the United States and opinions are as diverse as the people who make up the country. I certainly have my inclinations and feel the pressure that demands action. But, what action? What will actually help our situation?
In the New Testament book of Galatians the author, Paul describes his first encounter with his former enemies as “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” This is the reaction of the first audience of a transformed Paul. In our modern world, it is tempting to take all spiritual or religious tales and label them as an irrelevant fantasy. However, regardless of your faith tradition (or lack thereof) Paul’s experience points to a powerful experience of reversal. What causes this?
It seems that falling off of your horse will do this to you. As the story goes, Saul (soon to be renamed Paul) had a vision and encountered the force he thought he was serving only to find out that had been leading the opposition. The book of Acts does not tell us whether it was a “high horse,” but we are told he falls to the ground and the effect was powerful. Imagine the moment when you realize all of your life’s work is counterproductive, harmful, and disgraceful. How does he recover?
Blindness and solitude will do this to you. We are told that for days he lost sight and for at least three years he was mentored in the desert of Arabia. The unpacking of a wasted life is done by listening and depending on a close group of people that will demonstrate an important balance between love and justice. Many would have demanded justice toward Paul since he had been part of groups who murdered others with whom he disagreed. But this story demonstrates how love is the foundation of justice. How can this be today?
Justice that restores entire societies and communities but it’s love that restores a human being. Regardless of our history, our suffering, and our personal inclinations the restoration of our whole society depends on our ability to make amends with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes “love your enemies” and “love your neighbor” are different labels for the same thing. When hate and separation are the tools of the trade, it’s someone in deep pain doing the work. When we see a complete reversal it is our duty to meet their change with acceptance. Love and justice are the tools of unification yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The door to peace today
is locked by the past
I give a turn and twist
forming a new path
I see the child
once me and ever still
the past has no answer
despite my wish and will
new message received
the child's worth recovered
by a memory thief
I embraced the one
lost and hiding inside
when I learned to love him
it was me who smiled
I could drain this pen with my list of things that ought to be. Making a list like this makes me feel like the course of things in the universe is up to me. It’s not. I like to pretend otherwise, and when I do, that is when the trouble begins.
Tomorrow, my mother will lose her eye. That isn’t how it ought to be. She has had trouble with the eye for a few years. When she called to tell me the news she was strong and spoke clearly only breaking down to admit how broken hearted she is about it all. The doctors have done all they can and there is nothing left for them to do. I could only answer her with “I love you” and a reminder that we are not our bodies.
At moments over the last few days, I close one eye to gauge how she will see, and maybe understand how she will feel. I also tell myself fifty/fifty is a good proposition and maybe it won’t be so bad. I know that is up to her and I also know she’s made the best with lesser odds to get this far.
My recent experience has taught me that to move forward I have to renounce the way things ought to be and accept reality just as it is. Any clinging to my demands of fairness is like a swimmer violently thrashing to push back the incoming tide. The tide is coming anyway, and it will rise, fall, and pass on. This renunciation only takes a pause and the willingness to practice mindful acceptance.
This pause is between hiding and reactivity, between denial and being overwhelmed. This sounds to me like the idea of meekness in the Beatitudes or the “middle way” in Buddhism. This pause makes space between the mind, the body, and the circumstances we face. Today that space needs to be filled fearless presence. Mothers are more than just flesh and blood, you don’t need eyes to see that, you just need love and courage to sit with our circumstance.
*Illustrating this point, I wrote this in a public space where the AC repairman came in, talking on his phone, and walked by me while never acknowledging the guy in the corner who was crying while typing this. Who needs perfect sight to see what is important?