Part Two - Being Real About Life  
Printable Portable Meditation
Featured Speakers & Writers

“When life
confronts us with
our limits,
those who have
with limits all
their lives
most profoundly."

Belden Lane,
The Solace of


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The popular wisdom is that the words “[holiness]” and “realism” don’t go together. Holy people, like poets, are dreamy and sentimental. Never get places on time…. Holy people are not of this world. [They are not real about life]. Their mind is always on higher things, including perhaps the old pie in the sky. ...

My goal today is to overturn [these] false notions of holiness, for I believe that it surfaces in human beings precisely when we are being most realistic, most grounded, most down to earth. Holiness is never fussy or sentimental. Neither is a good poem; it’s ultimate realism. My evidence for this belief is that holiness endures, persistent as a weed through the depredations of all the ages, throughout all the terrors that we human beings can inflict on each other and have inflicted over our history on this earth. Holiness prevails, and poetry. Religion and poetry are among the most ancient of human activities, predating even agriculture. And battered as they are today by secular indifference or co-optation … by legalism, fundamentalism, or terrorism, by right-thinking ideologies, [or] tyrants; religion and poetry are with us still, still witnessing to hope at the dawn of the 21st century. Both holiness and poetry [may seem] anachronistic, … [but they are] peculiar forces with a life of their own in the face of the dog-eat-dog world we know too well, and as necessary as breath, giving us the hope that evil does not have the last word. …

[Another] point about holy realism is that it is grounded in the present, in the real world, and especially not in our heads. We have in our society so many temptations to live in our heads. We’re constantly invited to live our lives through the carefully packaged lives of celebrities, even people who are famous only for performing some infamously stupid or vulgar act. We might imagine ourselves in the glossy magazine ads. Our lives would be centered on a purse or a pair of sandals. We see a dress in a store window lit as if it were an object of devotion in a church. Holy realism rejects these false images of the world and human life, and it reminds us of who we really are. …

I believe that we need poets … and we need religion to keep bringing us to our senses. I recently read a fine book by Garrett Keiser entitled The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin, in which he suggests that the recent phenomenon of road rage in America is a good example of anger that results from our living in our heads, from our exaggerated subjectivity. Like many forms of quick trigger anger, road rage is ultimately, as Keiser says, “a loss of reality. Both the perceived offense and the response to it are completely out of proportion.” It’s ultimate narcissism, just one example in our culture where we could all use a good dose of humility and to sort of adopt what I think of as the ultimate Benedictine attitude, to say, “Well, who am I? I'm a mere mortal, like the person who just cut me off in traffic.” …

Holy realism asserts that life does matter, how we live it matters. It’s not willing to accept … that the endless daily drudgery is all there is to life. Holy realism takes a stand for awe and wonder and beauty even in the midst of ordinary daily activities. That is asceticism to me, I think. In a prose piece, [poet] Kate Daniels … writes of a burgeoning poem that she was forced to set aside, in a typical day of teaching, and couldn’t get back to [that] night because her children and her husband were coming home and had to be fed. “Like me,” she wrote, “they are tired and over stimulated. The events of the day are clamoring inside them. The good events want to be shouted out, the bad see the inside or are precipitously acted out in ferocious sibling wars. We have all come home to each other to be healed and hailed, to be soothed as a victim, chastised if a perpetrator, and morally realigned. But we are so tired and we lash out in irritation, frustration, anger.” That sounds very familiar to me. In the midst of chaos in her kitchen, the children doing homework are littering the floor with paper scraps, the dog overturning the garbage pail, Kate Daniels takes a stand. “Try as I may, and I do, I have a hard time browning the ground turkey I'm planning to mix with canned spaghetti sauce for the glory of God. I try to find the poetry that exists even here. I know that God is here but in the chaos and the noise, I can’t seem to find Him.”

Now this is a woman who can find God in the midst of changing a diaper, so we know she’s morally realigned and very strong. But now in that kitchen she feels bereft of any consolation. And I connect with that very much. I don’t have children, but I have been a caregiver for my husband for about three or four years. And so I really do understand that you sense that God is there but you really can’t find God. ... But even the fact that Kate Daniels or I am aware of the absence of God is a form of holy realism. We can have faith and hope that there is something better than the ordinary pains and frustrations of life. Holy realism is grounded defiantly in the daily chores of life. …

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