Ladies, Lyrics & Laughter and Unspeakable Grief

For the heartwarming story behind this cover image by photographer Jan Somers, see:

A Facebook Post from April 2020

Good morning, family & friends.

Today is Monday, March 52nd, 2020.

Many of us awoke today without some of the gifts that we thanked God for yesterday?

For most of us, those will have included some of life’s most ordinary moments & simplest of joys. Others of us may be suffering from various God-sized holes in our hearts as can result from all manner of loss. Let me share a few words with those who are suffering life’s bigger losses, presently, for it’s you with whom I experience the deepest solidarity & wish to minister compassion & consolation, presently.

The following words are from Gerald May (from 3 different books, perhaps):

“We are conscious not just because our hearts are beating but because they are yearning.”

“The only way to own and claim love as our identity is: to fall in love with love itself, to feel affection for our longing, to value our yearning, treasure our wanting, embrace our incompleteness, be overwhelmed by the beauty of our need.

“Love is present in any desire … in all feelings of attraction, in all caring and connectedness. It embraces us in precious moments of immediate presence. It is also present when we experience loneliness, loss, grief and rejection. We may say such feelings come from the absence of love, but in fact they are signs of our loving; they express how much we care. We grieve according to how much of ourselves we have already given; we yearn according to how much we would give, if only we could.” end of May quotes

What I can promise you, in the vein of always teaching best what I’ve most needed to learn, is that, while God has fashioned each human spirit to heal in its own due time & own unique manner, more generally, He has also formed us as incredibly resilient persons, who, for the most part, will inexorably learn to live again, to love again and, yes, even to laugh again.

There’s a beautiful group of ladies in my hometown who call themselves “The Three Ells,” which stands for Ladies, Lyrics & Laughter. Its membership spans multiple generations. Biennially, in the spring, they put on a variety show (a real healing liturgy for those with Eucharistic lenses) and donate the proceeds to a different local charity. [I’m struggling to keep this short, but my heart gets so full when I write about my peeps & I’ve a neighbor passing on the levee, who’s often whistling Amazing Grace at this particular locale on his daily walk. One can’t make this stuff up!]

When the precious sacred faces of the 3 Ells make their precious sacred sounds in lyrics with laughter, it is because I happen to know so many of their stories, many regarding immense losses of unimaginable proportion and unspeakable griefs of every variety, that I also know that I am a witness to the Resurrection, as we experience it now in part, anticipatorily, and will some day realize it fully in a way … well, “Will we sing hallelujah? Will we be able to speak at all? We can only imagine!”.

Now, for others of us, for example, in quarantine mode with hearts aching & breaking to be unsocially distanced, let me help you imagine your next greatest moment of joy. Below is a song, the refrain of which came to me in a dream, wherein I was walking through downtown Lutcher, near my first ever place of employ on Texas Street. In my dream, a radio was playing through a screened shop window, with a song that I thought was beautiful. I suddenly awakened, grabbed my guitar, and penned the refrain lyrics, charted the guitar chords & hummed the tune into my phone’s voice recorder, so as not to lose what felt like a gift. Then, back to bed. The next day, I penned more lyrics, making it autobiographical, although, in my dream, I had associated the song with an old friend, as I pictured her real life experience of kissing her boy’s coffin, then whispering his name & goodbye.

Well, gotta stop here. But, enjoy the song and imagine how you’ll feel when you can once again Eskimo Kiss those precious sacred faces, whose voices make such precious sacred sounds!


Truly yours,

John Sobert Sylvest

While You See a Chance (for Asceticism) Take It! – forsaking all for the sake of Love

Viktor Frankl taught that a person with a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.

He should know; he learned that in a Nazi concentration camp.

That’s why renunciation, self-denial & ascetical exercises – not for their own sake, but – for the sake of a Loved One can also liberate us, ourselves.

We thus all should aspire to be strong-willed persons, but, as Gerald May distinguished, not willful but willing.

How might we strengthen our will to grown in love, willingness & freedom?

How might we weaken our willfulness & break those bondages which separate us from those whom we love?

How can we transform our “bondage to” into – not only a “freedom from,” but – a “freedom for” the sake of whom we love?

Where might we find a “technology of liberation” that frees us to aspire to a higher love, to life’s finer things, to get us back in the high life again, where all the doors we’ve closed at times might open up again?

Growing one’s freedom to love requires dwelling in – neither the past nor the future, but – the now.

No need to get preoccupied with either the past (as “Jesus paid it all”) or the future (as the Spirit eternalizes all traces of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities).

Nothing to fill in the blank with regarding “I’ll be okay when _______.”

Seriously, to grow my own freedom to love, I constantly sing in my head or even mouth the lyrics: “While you see a chance, take it!

In each now moment, while I see a chance to strengthen my willingness to love, I have better learned to take it, with increasingly few exceptions …

because my WHY to live has become way more important to me than any HOW.

Here, I am less focused on loving, personal interactions, although that remains the end. I refer, instead, to gratuitous self-denials, ordered to what Cynthia Bourgeault describes in terms of exercising & strengthening our “letting go muscle.” She’s talking within the context of distractions in Centering Prayer, but the same dynamic operates here.

While I see a chance for denial, whether regarding something as simple as –

Googling or not to satisfy some seemingly pressing but genuinely idle curiosity,

consuming or not some morsel (digital or vittles),

replacing or not otherwise intrusive worries with psalms,

foregoing or not an indulgence of drama (news-cycles or soapy series), or, more proactively,

climbing out of a chair or not to go walk or

dedicating my time or not to spiritual writing —

while I see a chance for denial, I take it.

And I’m talking about gratuitous self-denials regarding anything & everything, including wholly innocent self-indulgences, which, in and of themselves would be rather insignificant & morally neutral.

Because this exercising & strengthening of my “letting go muscle” has formed an increasingly strong habit in me of turning my attention to and caring ever more deeply about life’s higher loves & finer things, I’ve slowly found myself back in the truly high life, again.

Beginners on the spiritual path get scandalized at first regarding John of the Cross’ severe asceticism or Francis of Assisi’s betrothal to poverty.

Later, they learn to quit beating their heads against life’s walls just because it feels so good when they stop. They better realize that our saints & mystics didn’t forsake all just for kicks, but, instead, for the sake of One, Whom they loved above all. Romance fueled desires inspired their renunciations, released them from bondages to _______ & freed them for the Most High.

The spiritual practices & ascetic disciplines of every great tradition will eventually come to the fore in every life, as each finds the mystical path out of either great love or great suffering, usually some of both.

There may be some biochemistry in the admonition given to addicts – not to smoke as it makes relapses more likely. Beyond that, whether a substance or process addict (and we all have some degree of both, just varying by degrees of dys/functionality), I see the clear psychological & spiritual benefits that would accrue in strengthening one’s “letting go muscle.

Pascal’s Wager has normative impetus even for universalists. At the existential disjunction between nihilism & theism, where one reasonably opts to live as if the pursuit of life’s most beautiful, good, unitive & liberative realities will, more likely than other approaches, thereby gift the most true (as truth often has flown in on the wings of beauty & goodness, lifted by love), those pursuits are not merely instrumental but also happen to be their own rewards! As compelling as the spectre of eternal fire & brimstone may be, life’s Higher Goods, life’s Higher Loves, life’s Finer Things, which can be pursued without moderation, remain both necessary & sufficient to compel their own pursuits & celebrate their realizations, all quite apart from even temporal, much less, eternal rewards. Virtue truly is its own reward. It, alone, leads to the High Life.

So, in addition to the psalms & hymns of old time religion, I commend Disney’s “Let It Go” and Steve Winwood’s “Finer Things,” “Higher Love,” “Back In the High Life” and, most of all, “While You See a Chance.

From “Finer Things

And come morning
There’s a good wind to blow me home
So time be a river rolling into nowhere
I will live while I can
I will have my ever after

The finer things keep shining through
The way my soul gets lost in you
The finer things I feel in me
The golden dance life could be

From “Higher Love

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?
I will wait for it
I’m not too late for it
Until then, I’ll sing my song
To cheer the night along
I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be
Bring me a higher love

From “Back in the High Life

We’ll have ourselves a time
And we’ll dance ’til the morning sun
And we’ll let the good times come in
And we won’t stop ’til we’re done
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched us once will smile and take us in

From “While You See a Chance

Stand up in a clear blue morning
Until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning
Are you still free? Can you be?
When some cold tomorrow finds you
When some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because its all on you

Of interest:
Amos Yong explores sanctification as deification in Eastern Orthodoxy, in general, & in the desert tradition of Orthodox spirituality, more specifically, proceeding in the hope that its “technology of liberation” will provide a bridge for dialogue with the Buddhist tradition.

Pneumatology and the Christian-Buddhist Dialogue: Does the Spirit Blow through the Middle Way?
Amos Yong, BRILL, 2012