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Fieldnotes: Stay pliable and reap the possibilities
Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
— Isaiah 11:1
A spirit of fresh life and wonder pervades the book of Isaiah from the Bible.
One verse interprets God saying, “Look, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
This God wants to try new things, work together, let bygones be bygones, negotiate and “reason together” with the stubbornest of the stone-hearted. He appears eager to participate in the lowly, grubby details of creation, conveying an appealing, childlike spirit.
This childlike aliveness appears in Lao Tzu’s ancient “Tao te Ching,” the simplicity of people like Mother Teresa, the inquisitive and merry smile of the Dalai Lama, the lives of humble innovators like Helen Keller, George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, even Granny D Haddock hiking across the continent at age 90 for campaign-finance reform.
You’ve seen this pliability in your own Granny, Paw-Paw or the preacher, maybe — anyone who has not grown hard. It is the spirit children exude.
“I just want Christmas,” objected students in their classroom closet, last week, a mere stone’s throw away from deadly gunfire.
Children are less afraid than eager for “what happens next.” They don’t want a game or a story to end. The way of wisdom retains this approach.
The Iroquois Constitution — whose maturity astonished our Founding Fathers — honored this childlike spirit. It insisted, “The cause of peace shall not become old.”
It also instructed leaders:
“In your efforts at law making … self interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the Great Law which is just and right.”
It called for open awareness. “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground.”
Lao Tzu and Jesus both had noted that the greatest must “become as a little child.” They each pointed out the problem with growing hard in our attitudes.
Lao Tzu said hardness was the quality of dead things; pliability, the living.
Jesus compared the dogmatic Pharisees to brittle, dried-up wineskins. If you put new wine, full of life and change, into an old wineskin, the skin would explode. “New skins for new wine!” he urged.
It would seem that few Americans haven’t wished, in the past 15 years or so, for Congressional representatives who could be pliable, listen to one another, laugh, eat supper, party or play softball together, mindful of “the coming generations” who needed their goodwill and brotherhood.
One former congressman used to warn “his side” not to fraternize with “the other side,” told lobbyists they weren’t welcome to “his side” if they had any association with the “other,” and insisted that his party’s reps always maintain one solid-front, robotic party position — not a pliable one able to hear and express many fresh, original ideas.
If they did not conform, he warned, they’d be ousted in the next primary. Many were.
It seemed a great idea for permanent victory and bulldozing ahead, but became instead part of the divisive corrosion that many political analysts perceive as deadening to the spirit of oneness and revival in our nation.
A sealed, stiff stone wall can’t respond to life, because life is fluid and changing, not inert.
“Our God is a God of the living, not the dead,” Jesus told the Pharisees, who were unbudging in their codified views.
Waking the dead
This call to renewed, fresh life isn’t just for politicians.
The Iroquois Council welcomed any volunteer with wisdom and honest concern for the whole. Such a person, they decided, “shall be proclaimed a ‘Pine Tree sprung up for the Nation.’”
This image brings to mind the man in “Psalm 1.” He’s a figure who doesn’t harden himself like the “mockers,” but is like “a tree planted by the watercourse,” whose “leaf does not wither.”
We live in tense times, fraught with death threats to people and planet. It’s the right time for every adult to grow wise and pliable, not hard.
How many children might have a living future, after all, if we their elders could grow green again like verdant, volunteer pines, giving life to their world?
Mr. Scrooge did it, in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Not only did Scrooge help Tiny Tim live on, but also many others, the story implies — all while having the fun, foolishness, prankster spirit and delight of a child, himself.
Who wouldn’t want to end their story that way — a way that has not yet ended?
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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