Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Wayne Muller. Wayne has dedicated his life to the service of others, having spent the last 20 years working closely with some of the most disadvantaged members of society. He’s the founder of Bread for the Journey, a nationwide relief organization, and TREAT, a community-based AIDS research and care group. Wayne is the author of the national bestseller Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood; How, Then, Shall We Live?; and most recently, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough.
With Sounds True, Wayne has created several audio programs, including Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight; The Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood; and How, Then, Shall We Live?, where he weaves poetry with true stories of love, courage, grief, and transformation in order to show how beauty and wisdom can come to us at unexpected times.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Wayne and I spoke about how the experience of being enough is born in relationship and how we need each other, and the power of reaching out to people who feel isolated. We also talked about how we can see painful events in our childhood as giving us the opportunity to develop certain unique and special capacities. [Finally,] we talked about making time in our lives to relax into enoughness and the importance of not letting ourselves be swept away by the busyness of the culture. Here’s my conversation with Wayne Muller.
In preparing for this conversation, Wayne, I was reflecting on your body of work—the books that you’ve written and the audio programs that you’ve created with Sound True. And I was contemplating, what [are] really the central themes that Wayne keeps coming back to in different ways, again and again? Then I thought, “Oh, I’m going to make my life easy,” and I’m simply going to ask you, what do you feel are the central themes that keep returning again and again in your work in different ways, for you?
Wayne Muller: You know, [it’s] funny that you ask that question because literally, last week, [I] made for myself a list of all of the things that I had done in my life. Not everything I’ve done, obviously, that would be a very long list. “Woke up, brushed teeth.” But all of the projects I’ve been involved with, from when I was a teenager and volunteered at the local cerebral palsy clinic, when I volunteered [at] Head Start [when it] first got going in the 1960s, all the things I did in college, the things I did in graduate school. And I listed them all partly because I was beginning to forget—not forget who I was, but forget that sort of first fidelity.
I think you’re talking about that ultimate covenant with what’s the deepest most sacred thing that we put on the altar of our heart’s attention, and we all get called by different things in different ways. You’ve been called to listen for and lift up the voices of so many wonderful people who, before you met them, were quite beautiful, lovely voices, but [were] not heard by very many people. And that’s one of your gifts to the world.
When I looked at the list of all the things that I had done, it invariably kept circling around a couple things. One is a fundamental belief in the wholeness of people. And, I mean, [that] can sound really glib, but it’s been tested. [I’ve seen it] tested working in the slums of the barrios outside of Lima, Peru, during the period of time during the Reagan administration when I was living with the Maryknoll brothers and sisters when they were being murdered by people on the US government payroll.
[I’ve seen it] in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and working with multiple offending juvenile delinquents, almost all of whom came from very impoverished, usually Hispanic families in southern California. [I’ve seen it] working with gang members and people in prison, and working during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, people whose often very young life was suddenly endangered and, often in those days, taken.
And so it’s not a wholeness that’s a kind of cheap grace. It’s a wholeness that [I’ve seen] in the faces of people who I’ve known who grew up in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. They, as children, watched their [families] murdered in front of their eyes, and still grew up to be people who wanted to help other young people find their way in a world that didn’t make sense on any level.
What is it in those people that—regardless of how they’re broken down or have their heart shredded by the jagged intention of a world intent only on its own greedy satisfaction—refuses to be broken? What is it that remains luminous? And is there some way that my being in their company, and knowing that, feeling that, trusting that [they are still luminous] not as a theory, but almost as a law, just like gravity. If I drop a stone from my hand, the fact that it will hit the ground is not, for me, an issue of faith. It’s a fact.
[It] is also a fact, for me, that people have this wholeness, and somehow, by my being in their company—it’s not that I give anything to them. It’s more that if I can mirror that in any way, long enough for them to begin to see or feel or imagine that that’s true for them, then I think that’s one of the gifts that I hope that I bring to people and situations. [It’s] kind of a thread that runs through a lot of [the places] where I’ve been called, the people I’ve met, [and] the situations I’ve been in. The way I’ve been in community with people is, basically—you have to bank on something You know, you put your chips on black and red, you have to choose one or the other, spin the wheel. You can’t sit on the fence.
So do you believe that people have this goodness and wholeness or not? And if you do, then what’s our role in the face of that [wholeness]? For me, it’s to try and be honorable, honest company, to mirror that wholeness to people who’ve forgotten it or lost it, or because of what was done to them or taken from them, they can’t even imagine that there’s any shred of wholeness left.
TS: So that being a central theme—you said there were several. Was that really the main one that you saw? Or where there a couple others that you want to underscore here at the beginning of our conversation?
WM: I think another one has to do with allowing people to feel seen and known, with mercy, accurately for who they are. And in a way, that helps liberate that wholeness. I did several years of work in Mississippi recently with people—black, white, rich, poor, young, old, people with a great deal of power, people who were almost literally voiceless—who hadn’t been able to collaborate for generations because of all the blood in the soil between them. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that [none of them] felt seen or heard accurately. There were so many stories and myths and stereotypes that people had to live with that it had galvanized into a chronic mistrust.
So it wasn’t that people in Mississippi don’t know how to make things better, it’s that each has a piece of the solution which they hold really close to their chest. And they’re afraid to give it up or share it or even let someone else know they have it, because maybe they’ll take that too, and that’s the last thing they have.
Letting people feel safe enough to see and know one another helps liberate that wholeness. And whatever capital each [person] has—which might be wisdom capital or love capital or experience capital or creativity capital—once they’re seen and known and can trust one another enough to imagine they can work together, then what can happen in that collaboration multiples that capital into what they used to call the “common wealth.” I mean, literally when people would talk about the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the Commonwealth of Virginia, [it] wasn’t just the governmental term. It was a sort of political, theological conception. They were places that were the commons, [they] belonged to everybody, and as long as everyone was free, they can contribute their capital. Weaving that capital together creates a common wealth.
And I think I’ve always just presumed that that was always true and available to people regardless of what financial capital [they] have. I always assumed [everybody] has something of value to bring to the table, and by bringing different people to the table, if they feel safe enough to share it. The wealth that can spontaneously erupt in those circles, in those gatherings, has just taken by breath away.
TS: Now, it’s interesting to me, because as I’m listening carefully to what you’re saying about this wholeness that you see in people, I think most people experience themselves as lacking in some way. You know, “I’m lacking the number of friends I wish I had,” or “I’m lacking [the] really exciting career that I wish I had,” or “I’m lacking the amount of money”—I mean, we could go on and on—“that I wish I had.” And so how do you think people can work with their own sense of lack?
WM: Well, you know, it’s interesting. Having spent a lot of time working as a therapist—that [was] one of my earlier careers before I went off to the seminary. There’s a presumption in psychotherapy that one can do that by oneself, that inside of our soul, our psyche, our spirit, we can find with enough therapy. Or even with enough spiritual practice, enough meditation, enough prayer, enough worship, enough ritual, we can find that wholeness in ourselves.
I’m much more suspicious of that possibility now than I was then. In my life, the most reliable way I can find that in myself, if I have lost it—and we all know when we’ve lost it, because it’s such a terribly lonely place when we feel that deep insufficiency that you’re talking about. I need my friends, I need people who know me and love me and are good, honest companions. [I need people] who will not just tell me the good things about myself, but will tell me the truth about myself in love, and somehow [that’s] one of the things we do for and with one another in community, in circles, in relationships.
I think the sort of hyper-individualism of our culture puts [forth] a kind of presumption of some ability that, if we put our mind to it, we can do almost anything by ourselves. The older I get, the more perverse I realize that is, and ultimately harmful, because people then don’t reach out for help. They feel ashamed that they’re not good enough to reach out. [Laughs] And then it’s a death spiral from there! Because if the salvation is going to come from loving one another, if you feel like you have to reach a certain level of self-worth before you reach out, well then, it may never ever happen.
TS: You know, in your most recent book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, I think [my] most favorite line was, “Enough is born in relationship.” And I think that’s really what you’re pointing to here. I wonder if you can say more about that.
WM: Yes, because it’s all contextual. We’re part of things infinitely larger than ourselves. We’re part of families, we have partners, we have friends, we live in a world, we live in communities, we live in different groups of people of different ages, different races, different nationalities, different belief systems. And part of the way that we harvest the seed that we plant in the soil of the world is through being in communion with other people.
And I don’t mean communion in a religious sense. [I] helped start the charity Bread for the Journey, now some 25 years ago, [where] small groups of volunteers around the country get together, help raise a little bit of money. [And] they find people in the community who have some passion to heal something or create something or build something that often doesn’t need a lot of money, and not a lot of financial capital, but it might need $1,000 or $1,500 to buy some equipment or get a room or get a license to do something.
What that does, then, is it brings out of the woodwork all kinds of other people who have gifts they didn’t know they had. Someone realizes they can help keep the books, or they can cook, or they can build something, or they can put a brochure together, or they can run a meeting, or they can gather volunteers. And without [those people] feeling supported and galvanized into action, [they] would not have necessarily discovered their gifts. A lot of times our gifts are pulled out by the needs of the world we’re walking through. And if we remain isolated by ourselves, then who will call our name and say, “Excuse me, it seems like you have a gift for this. Would you mind sharing it with us?”
So many people who get involved in so many things are surprised by getting involved because they didn’t know what their gift was until it sort of got recognized by somebody else. And many times we can see the gifts of other people—the [same] way that you’ve recognized people who’ve had something to say, but maybe they didn’t even know they had to say. By lifting them up, they can find their belonging in a gift they’d always had but never really appreciated or could drink from until there was that collaboration between you and them.
Somehow that collaboration helped them [realize their] gift. They [always] had it, but [the collaboration] allowed it, like a germinating seed in the spring, to sort of break ground and become visible, whereas [otherwise] it may have laid dormant for their whole lives. Who knows how these things work. But it seems to me that that’s, as often as not, how people’s gifts get recognized and then come to fruition.
TS: I want to circle back for a moment, Wayne, to that person that you were talking about who has some sense of, “I’m not worthy enough to reach out to other people.” You mentioned how that creates, of course, this sort of catch-22. They think they’re not worthy, and then they stay isolated and they don’t get this relational mirroring that helps them birth their gifts. What can you say to that person who has that sense [of] “I’m not worthy”?
WM: Well, you know, as the Buddha said, “Isolation is the world’s greatest misery.” One of the challenges of our culture right now is that not only do people had a natural predisposition, when they’re feeling at their least worthy, to isolate, but now we have so many technologies that not only support but encourage people to be able to seem like they’re in relationship while they’re essentially by themselves. They can get on social media, they can text people, they can email people, they can tweet people. But it’s a real question as to whether that ultimately bears fruit in a real relationship.
Everyone I come in contact with, if I’m being the person I’m called to be, the best I can do is offer my mirror to whoever shows up at my door. To people who are quite convinced that they’re not worthy and have sort of made a choice, a decision, to remain in that insolated despair, that’s a really hard one.
It’s like when people in AA talk about somebody hitting bottom before they’re willing to make a change. The degree of ache that people can have by following the thread of that unworthiness all the way to the bottom of this dry well of their inner life—all I can do is pray that that will be bottom, that will jettison some reaching out on some level to someone for some kind of company. Because you can’t—at least, I can’t go around and find people who isolate themselves and feel deeply unworthy. But I think the function of community is to know and notice when people are beginning to withdraw, people are beginning to disappear, people are beginning to go missing, not just physically but emotionally. That’s one of the beautiful enzymes of any community; by people watching out for one another, we don’t let people get too isolated.
It used to happen a lot in the 1980s, when people were dying of AIDS as often as they were living with AIDS. People would handle the diagnosis in a lot of different ways. And if someone started to disappear, people would say, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?” Then people would, as any family would—[like in] the parable of Jesus leaving the 99 sheep to go to look for the one lost one, which sort of doesn’t make sense because then you could lose the 99. But the deeper point is that we really can’t let people wander too far away from the fire around which we warm one another, because that’s how we survive.
For me—again, it sounds kind of glib to say, “Well, community is the answer.” What does that really mean? But having been part of so many different communities, the best ones seem, to me anyway, to be the ones that notice when someone starts to go missing. And that’s part of our ultimate job in the world, I think. To keep our peripheral vision open for those who are slinking away in shame from what they imagine they don’t have to offer.
TS: Well, and as I’m listening to you, I’m seeing people in my peripheral vision—and I’m imagining listeners might be having the same experience—that I could reach out to, that I haven’t.
WM: Yes, and often we imagine that it would require so much. As you know, I’ve had a couple of life-threatening illnesses that weakened and debilitated me, and there were definitely times when I was really ashamed at how little I could offer or bring to the table in terms of any kind of relationship or even conversation. And so I would isolate a little bit, and my friends would literally show up with food and say, “What are you doing?” [Laughs]
As someone who feels like I’m the guy who’s supposed to take care of people, then I feel like I should have something to bring to a relationship. If I feel like I have nothing, then I can sometimes pull the covers over my head and just sort of hide out until I feel like I’ll get strong enough to be worthy to give somebody a call. And my friends really gave me hell for that. They said, “You’re depriving us of the gift of being able to be with you in the way that you’ve been with us. And that’s really not fair and we’re not going to let you get away with it.” [Laughs]
I think that’s, in part, what love and friendship and community is really about. It’s holding one rather accountable. Not accountable in the sense that the economists or business people or people who count metrics talk about accountable, but accountable in the deepest sense, that we don’t let anybody go missing.
TS: You know, I want to circle back for a moment, Wayne, to the theme that we started our conversation with, which has to do with you having this vision and fidelity to the idea of wholeness. You see this [wholeness] in people and then this is something you mirror for them. And I’m curious, here you are, you’re working with different kinds of people, maybe people who have suffered a lot from all different kinds of experiences. What is it that you see, like if you were to say how you see their soul or how you see what in them has gone uncompromised or unbroken no matter what they’ve been through? When you’re with people and you’re experiencing them, what’s that like for you? If you could talk about it in terms of this wholeness, what you see.
WM: Well, I’ve never actually thought about naming it or describing it. But as you were asking the question, the things that came to mind were—I always see something, either something beautiful inside someone or something true that they could say or know or bear witness to or something that could be of use to the world. So in a way, I see things that are beautiful, necessary, and true. I guess kind of a trinity. [Laughs] But [I] really [see] those three things. People’s gifts are often things that are useful.
People who often feel voiceless are those who can bear witness to things that are true that other people don’t know. And often people who feel the most ashamed are often people who, in some cases—for example, [I] worked with so many children who were abused in some way when they were young. Often the ones who were most intimately abused in some sexual way or some intimate violation curiously are often people who have a tremendous amount of light in them. And I find that the most vile of predators tend to seek out the ones with the most light, because they want to ingest that light themselves. So they find those that have the most beauty inside them.
Sadly, of course, those [people] grow up to be men and women—mostly women, but certainly men as well—who can never imagine ever feeling beautiful again, not so much on the outside, but on the inside. And it’s that internal beauty that initially magnetized them [to] that violence. Not that they did it, not that they caused it, but their luminosity was so desirable on some inexplicable level.
Helping people find that sense of beauty and luminosity—instead of original sin, the original luminosity—helping people recover that, reclaim that, or stand on it or lift it up, maybe for the first time in their conscious awareness is—you know, when you watch across somebody’s eyes, just the hint that they might be able to believe that that might be true, you can see that it shakes their entire internal lineage, their entire neuropathway is just shaken to the core. Because it’s just been impossible, for their whole life, [for them to see] that they could be beautiful and have something beautiful to offer, and that’s such a tragedy. But it’s [also] such a beautiful thing when people allow themselves to be convinced that they can imagine [even] taking a step in that direction.
TS: You know, as you’re speaking, I’m thinking of the title of the book that you wrote that really put you on the map, in many ways, in terms of many people knowing about your writings, which is Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. I was always curious about this word “advantages.” Do you really believe there are spiritual advantages in having a painful childhood?
WM: Yes, I mean, clearly, again, not to be in any way disingenuous about it. It’s not that having pain or suffering [or] anguish is by definition a good thing, or that it’s advantageous to have a painful childhood. It’s more that there are always two things that are born out of a situation like that: one [is] the things that break people down, and the other [is] the things that sort of break people open, which is a conversation I know you and I have had many times before.
If I, for example, growing up in an alcoholic family, know that my father—or knew when I was a child, my father’s been passed for quite some years now—I learned very quickly how to keep my mouth shut and be really quiet and watch things very, very carefully, because how the rest of the evening was going to go was going to depend on my ability to do that. And so many people who lived as children in the context of a general zeitgeist of suffering had to learn to trust their intuition. They had to learn to know how to be still and quiet, which was one way to be invisible so that if the shooting was going to start, they weren’t going to aim at you because you weren’t moving.
And so learning how to be still and quiet and trust your intuition and listen carefully to what people are saying beneath language are all things that healers and nuns and monks are schooled in the world over. Children who grow up in war or terrible poverty or any kind of oppression have to learn these things in order to preserve any sense of dominion over their own soul. Because of that, not all but some of those children can take the gift of that very porous heart that they learn to develop—some will just armor themselves and just turn to stone. Others, in a sort of counterintuitive mode become, more porous. They can take even more information and they become almost painfully empathic. But it does allow them to read how things are, not just for themselves, but for people in the world, people who are suffering, people who are in need, people they love.
So they can become quite beautiful gifts that we both inherit but also have to invest a good deal of our life working on so that they remain gifts rather than things that just make us harsh or bitter or cynical or, as I said, just completely armored.
TS: So, Wayne, there’s something that I’m very, very interested in that I want to hear what you have to say about. Here you are, whether it’s one-on-one with people or in your writing, and you’re reflecting back to people their beauty and their unique gifts and potential to make a difference. And yet, what I’ve noticed, both in myself and in other people, is that there’s [often] this armoring, or a block of some kind, or some way they just—it’s so hard for us to let in how fabulous we actually are, and how much other people love us. It’s like something in us that shields up, you know, like, “OK, great, let’s move on.” What is it that you see? What is it that thing in people that makes it so hard to take in love? And then, more importantly, how do we start loosening it?
WM: You know, Tami, I think it’s so old and so ancient. We can certainly point to a lot of things in our culture that we can very easily say lead to people feeling less worthy. You see the glossy Photoshopped magazines that make so many young women feel so inadequate in terms of their body image. Or certain images of what men are supposed to do or be that make so many young boys feel ashamed of themselves right [off] the bat.
But then I go to something like the Catholic Mass, where the central moment of the Mass is communion. And in the Catholic tradition, the serving of communion is proceeded by people saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” That’s what people say before they take communion. “God, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
And what I find fascinating about that is that like every tradition—there are very beautiful things and really horrific things in every religious tradition. And Lord knows there are [so many] sins we could list that the Catholic church has committed, and we would probably run out of paper. But this particular one is so elegant for me, because once people say that, then nobody’s allowed to say anything. The priest doesn’t say anything. You take communion and then you sit down and you sit in silence with that particular choice point. You’re bringing all of that unworthiness, [and] that sense that wherever it comes from, wherever it got planted—St. Augustine said it was original sin, I don’t really believe that at all.
There is something inside of us that can feel—in the face of God-knows-what—the magnificence of the universe, the beauty of what happens in springtime, the courage of the most noble people we know. [And] we sometimes compare ourselves [to those noble people, or] to God, or to the divine, or to our Buddha nature, and we find ourselves wanting. And we take refuge in that unworthiness.
And right at the center of the Mass, people get to say that out loud, “I’m not worthy.” Nevertheless, “just say the word and I will be healed.” Of course, the root of the word “healed” is “I will be whole.” It’s not even that I’ll be made whole; I’ll remember that I’m whole. I will eat this bread, drink this wine, and in that transformational process, remember the wholeness that I forgot.
And that choice point, that aching choice point, is one that every human being, I think, probably wakes up with, and before they go to bed, have to face at least once every day of their life. Which is why it made its way right into the very heart of the Mass and it stayed there as long as it has. Because there’s something so deeply, achingly true about that particular dilemma that we all live with: [the fact] that both are true, that we feel really unworthy and that we can be whole instantly at the same time.
[So] where do we put our heart’s attention? Where do we choose our first fidelity? Do we put it on our unworthiness, in which case we don’t go to the table and take communion? Why bother? But if we make the choice to go and remember that we’re whole, then we’re different. And then what we can do is different. Then who we’ll be is different, and the world will be different because we’ve been different. I think everybody alive faces that, wrestles with that, struggles with that choice point.
And again, with good, loving, close, honest, honorable friends, we help remind one another of our worth when we forget. And that’s part of the communion of deep friendship, the anam cara that John O’Donohue spoke about so beautifully. It’s that choice point that’s been our sacred friendships. We take that choice point in our hands as we would a small bird and we tend to that tenderest part of being human.
TS: Now, Wayne, when you and I were talking on the phone a few days ago, you mentioned something really interesting to me. You said that you wrote this book and created an audio program on the Sabbath, encouraging people to take at least a day a week where they were not in the busyness of life, but instead attending to their hearts and souls. And the feedback you got from so many people who read the book and listened to the audio program was, “Love that work, Wayne!” And yet people weren’t really practicing the Sabbath because they were too busy, they didn’t have time.
WM: [Laughs] “Love this book! Greatest book I ever read! Yes, but I don’t really have time to slow down.”
TS: And you were trying to piece together, “Well, what’s going on here?” And I’m curious if you can tell us what you discovered about how people love the idea so much, but yet don’t really take the time to do it.
WM: Yes. I mean, it’s heartbreaking, because so many good people that I know, that you know, that we all know who are bringing their gift to the world and feel empowered to do it—parents everywhere, teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, anybody who helps anybody—people are out there trying to bring what they can to the world. And at the same time, because of the enormity of the problem and our excruciating awareness of the problem, and because of some of our theologies and the culture, for whatever reason, there’s no permission that ever quite comes in for us to take that time. There’s always one more thing to do. There’s always several things left on the to-do list.
So there’s never really a good time to stop. And so people sort of sheepishly say, “Well, yes, I’d really love to, but I just can’t find the time.” And I was curious about what this incessant lack of permission was all about, because part of it is that, of course, there’s a lot of demands being made on a lot of people in the workforce. As productivity increases and they lay [people] off, people are required to do more and more at their work. And it is true [that] they’re not getting actual permission to take time off.
But beyond that, what’s the dialogue between me and myself that doesn’t allow me to say, “OK, now it’s time to stop.” And it felt like it had something to do with the fact that we stop when we feel like we’ve done what we can, or we stop when we feel like we’ve done enough for now. But we don’t seem to have that internal thermostat working in our bodies or in our visceral memories anymore. I remember when I was a kid, when my parents or my aunts and uncles or my grandparents would be sitting around talking. You know, when you’re a kid and you hear adults talking, they’d often say, “Well, that’s enough for today,” or, “That’s close enough for government work.” [Laughs] Whatever they would say.
But it was clearly the end of the day. That was it, the whistle would blow, and they were done. And then they would go off, they’d have a couple drinks, play cards, have a barbeque, whatever. That was it for the day. What I’m seeing over and over again is that there is no whistle that blows in people’s lives. There is no, “OK, that’s enough for today.” It’s as if the thermostat is somehow broken, and there’s no device to tell the boiler to stop making heat because the house is warm enough. And without a working thermostat, it ends up burning the house down because it just keeps overheating.
It seems like that’s where people are getting caught. There’s no internal mechanism that says, “OK, that’s enough for today.” There isn’t [that,] “OK, that’s it, I’m done, that was a good day. There’s more to do tomorrow, but that was enough.” And you put your head down and you have a good night’s sleep. Most people have a little pad next to their bed where they jump up at 2 in the morning and write something down in some illegible script [laughs] in the dark. So in the morning, they remember some ridiculously important thing that they forgot that’s now on their to-do list. People actually wake up behind. [Laughs] I mean, how can you wake up behind? But that’s the way people feel, because there’s no, “It’ll be enough once we’ve done everything that we can do.”
Because of the tyranny of access [to] the world through our technologies, through emails and texts and tweets and cell phones and voicemails, the world doesn’t allow us free access to sufficiency. The world is always putting something else on our plate. And so if we’re waiting for things to be done or finished or completed before we can then rest, we’ll never rest. Which is why it was a commandment in the religious traditions, because even this isn’t new. People then needed a commandment to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter. Once the sun hits the horizon, in the Hebrew Sabbath, on Friday night, that’s when you stop.” You don’t stop when you’ve finished the emails. You don’t stop when you get the project done. You don’t stop when you finally fix the garage. You don’t stop once you’ve finally—whatever it is.
You stop because living things can’t live without stopping. Nothing alive goes, moves, grows in that way. I mean, the only thing that grows in that way is cancer. Unrestricted, undifferentiated speed and growth is the sort of biological definition of cancer. And in a way, if there’s no mechanism, no enzyme, no marker for when we can stop, then we just go until our body collapses on us, and then that becomes our sabbatical.
So seeing this over and over and over and over again with people, my conversations turned from talking about the Sabbath to talking about, “What can be enough for this church, this congregation? What can you do and still feel like you have been [to] church for this company? What can you do today, this quarter, this year, and feel like you’ve done a good piece of work, and still be able to live in time with our friends and our children and drink deep from the well of being alive?” If we don’t know what enough feels like, we never ever feel permission to stop.
TS: Well, Wayne, I think on that note our conversation has been enough.
WM: [Laughs] Never! It’s never enough, Tami! I always want more! [Laughs]
TS: I’ve been talking with Wayne Muller. He has worked with Sounds True to create three beautiful audio programs: The Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood, reflections and practices to help us find the seeds of wisdom within the pain of our experiences; a program called, How, Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives; and [the] program Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight.
Wayne, it’s always wonderful to talk with you, and I appreciate this reminder of our wholeness just by sitting with you and having this conversation. Thank you so much.
WM: It’s always a pleasure, Tami.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.