Your treasure is right under your feet…look where you stand.

I’ve written recently of the transition my family and I have been experiencing. The potential for this liminal time to disorient us and distract us from the important realities of life was – and still is – difficult to navigate. Over time, we realized Jesus’ presence would be with us regardless of what decision we would make. It wasn’t an A or B, but an A and B type of decision.
Recently I was discussing this with a friend of mine who has been praying for us through it all. After telling him we had actually made up our minds regarding some issues, he sent me the following piece from Martin Buber.
It gets at the existential beauty and treasure of life we often overlook and inadvertently dismiss. Attesting to the holistic nature of life, it addresses the fears and anxieties my wife and I felt as we were trudging through seasons of life shift. In short, it spoke to me at this moment in our life.
I pray it speaks to you, especially if you are in a season of liminality and transition. I pray it speaks to your searching and yearning.

Rabbi Bunam used to tell young men who came to him for the first time the story of Rabbi Eizik, son of Rabbi Yekel of Cracow. After many years of great poverty which had never shaken his faith in God, he dreamed someone bade him look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king’s palace. When the dream recurred a third time, Rabbi Eizik prepared for the journey and set out for  Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare to start digging. Nevertheless he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening. Finally the captain of the guards, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eizik told him of the dream which had brought him here from a faraway country. The captain laughed: “And so to please the dream, you poor fellow wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I should have had to get going when a dream once told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew–Eizik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eizik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eizik and the other Yekel!” And he laughed again. Rabbi Eizik bowed, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under the stove, and built the House of Prayer which is called “Reb Eizik Reb Yekel’s Shul.”
“Take this story to heart,” Rabbi Bunam used to add, “and make what it says your own: There is something you cannot find anywhere in the world, not even at the zaddik’s, and there is, nevertheless, a place where you can find it.”
This, too, is a very old story, known from several popular literatures, but thoroughly reshaped by Hasidism. It has not merely–in a superficial sense–been transplanted into the Jewish sphere, it has been recast by the Hasidic melody in which it has been told; but even this is not decisive: the decisive change is that it has become, so to speak, transparent, and that a Hasidic truth is shining through its words. It has not had a “moral” appended to it, but the sage who retold it had at last discovered its true meaning and made it apparent.
There is something that can only be found in one place. It is a great treasure, which may be called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place on which one stands.
Most of us achieve only at rare moments a clear realization of the fact that they have never tasted the fulfillment of existence, that their life does not participate in true, fulfilled existence, that, as it were, it passes true existence by. We nevertheless feel the deficiency at every moment, and in some measure strive to find–somewhere–what we are seeking. Somewhere, in some province of the world or of the mind, except where we stand, where we have been set–but it is there and nowhere else that the treasure can be found. The environment which I feel to be the natural one, the situation which has been assigned to me as my fate, the things that happen to me day after day, the things that claim me day after day–these contain my essential task and such fulfillment of existence as is open to me. It is said of a certain Talmudic master that the paths of heaven were as bright to him as the streets of his native town. Hasidism inverts the order: It is a greater thing if the streets of a man’s native town are as bright to him as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life.
If we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet devoted relationship to nearby life can give us. If we knew the secrets of the upper worlds, they would not allow us so much actual participation in true existence as we can achieve by performing, with holy intent, a task belonging to our daily duties. Our treasure is hidden beneath the hearth of our own home.
The Baal-Shem teaches that no encounter with a being or a thing in the course of our life lacks a hidden significance. The people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farm work, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it toward its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they in ours, then we shall ourselves we debarred from true, fulfilled existence. It is my conviction that this doctrine is essentially true. The highest culture of the soul remains basically arid and barren unless, day by day, waters of life pour forth into the soul from those little encounters to which we give their due; the most formidable power is intrinsically powerlessness unless it maintains a secret covenant with these contacts, both humble and helpful, with strange, and yet near, being.
Some religions do not regard our sojourn on earth as true life. They either teach that everything appearing to us here is mere appearance, behind which we should penetrate, or that it is only a forecourt of the true world, a forecourt which we should cross without paying much attention to it. Judaism, on the contrary, teaches that what a man does now and here with holy intent is no less important, no less true–being a terrestrial indeed, but none the less factual, link with divine being–than the life in the world to come. This doctrine has found its fullest expression in Hasidism.
Rabbi Hanokh said: “The other nations too believe that there are two worlds. They too say: ‘In the other world.’ The difference is this: They think that the two are separate and severed, but Israel professes that the two worlds are essentially one and shall in fact become one.”
In their true essence, the two worlds are one. They only have, as it were, moved apart. But they shall again become one, as they are in their true essence. Man was created for the purpose of unifying the two worlds. He contributes toward this unity by holy living, in relationship to the world in which he has been set, at the place on which he stands.
Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy. He listened, sunk in grief. Then he raised his head. “Let us draw God into the world,” he cried, “and all need will be stilled.”
But is this possible, to draw God into the world? Is this not an arrogant, presumptuous idea? How dare the lowly worm touch upon a matter which depends entirely on God’s grace: how much of Himself He will vouchsafe to His creation?
Here again, Jewish doctrine is opposed to that of other religions, and again it is in Hasidism that it has found its fullest expression. God’s grace consists precisely in this, that He wants to let Himself be won by man, that He places Himself, so to speak, into man’s hands. God wants to come to His world, but He wants to come to it through man. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of mankind.
“Where is the dwelling of God?”
This was the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.
They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of His glory?” Then he answered his own question:
“God dwells wherever man lets Him in.”
This is the ultimate purpose: to let God in. But we can let Him in only where we really stand, where we live, where we live a true life. If we maintain holy intercourse with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.
Martin Buber, The Way of Man. 169-76

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: End of Summer Compilation

Last Friday was the final day of summer school, which meant it was my final day with Stan. That is, of course, until school starts back up in a few weeks.

As I look back on this summer, I have been hit with the mutual learning that has taken place. As I said earlier in this series, working with Stan, and my other special education students as well, is an exercise in co-learning. It is not just me teaching them; in many real ways I am taught just as much, if not more.

I’ve also been reflecting upon Jean Vanier’s life and work with the less-abled. Back during this past season of Lent, I shared Vanier’s seven aspects of love taken from his amazing book, Becoming Human. The more I marinate in his thoughts, the more I find truth deeply embedded within them. He is not a mere thinker, but is one who has given his life to those at the margins of society: the weak, the feeble, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.

I’d like to share some of these aspects again as they have been at the core of this little blogging project. It has been my conviction that the more we reveal, communicate, and celebrate those around us, the more we begin to live as God intends. Paradoxically, I have found Stan and his friends to be the ones who have taught me much about love, community, and forgiveness even as it seems I am the one doing the above things. There will never be a “Thank you” attached to the work I do with these students, but that does not negate the work my friends and I have given ourselves to. What it has done, however, is taught me the necessity of doing work regardless of it being noticed or not. Furthermore, I have learned the communication of thankfulness transcends the verbalization of the words, “Thank you.” There is a deeper sense of communication that takes place when you move beyond spoken language (especially when it is not available, as is the case with many of my students) and begin to know others through body language, moods, and actions. All of this re-learning takes patience and constancy: the bedrocks of love.

When I step back and am attentive enough, my eyes are open to their subtle revealing, communicating, and celebrating of me.

I pray as you read Vanier’s words below and examine the drawings of Stan that follow, you will ponder who it is in your life – perhaps someone unlikely – that you need to love through revealing, communicating, and celebrating.

To Reveal

The first aspect of love, the key aspect, is revelation…To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention…As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.

To Communicate

Communication is at the heart of love…I have learned that the process of teaching and learning, of communication, involves movement, back and forth: the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly change places. As we begin to understand ourselves, we begin to understand others. It is a part of the process of moving from idealism to reality, from the sky to the earth…We must learn to listen and then to communicate.

To Celebrate

It is not enough to reveal to people their value, to understand and care for them. To love people is to celebrate them…they need laughter and play, they need people who will celebrate life with them and manifest their joy of being with them.

Scan 9 Scan 10 Scan 11 Scan 12 Scan 13 Scan 14

For more in this series:

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Weather”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Airport”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Elephant”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Once Upon A Time” (An Unfinished Storybook)


Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Once Upon a Time” (An Unfinished Storybook)

This morning my Special Education student and friend “Stan” came in enthused about drawing another book. This one was to be entitled “Once Upon a Time” and would center around he being the king of the castle and his sister being the queen.

In normal Stan fashion, everything started out well with just a few crumpled up papers ending up in the trash. After a little while of drawing, the 4 pages below were finished. We moved on to doing some work with the storybook waiting to be continued.

Much to my surprise and dismay, Stan suddenly decided these pages and story were not worth furthering. Thoroughly crumpled, they ended up in the trash can never to be mentioned again.

I’m always stunned when things like this occur because in my mind and eyes, they are great works of labor and love. Yet, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Stan either loses interest, doesn’t like them any longer, or has something else in mind worth drawing. There is never any reason given; they are thrown away as quickly as they are drawn and with the same amount of prompting. It is just something to be accepted.

Regardless, I thought this unfinished storybook was worth digging out for the eyes of you all. Here they are, wrinkles and all.

Scan 6 Scan 2 Scan 3 Scan 4

For more in this series:

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Weather”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Airport”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Elephant”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Elephant”

DSC00857“It’s me and my brudder riding on an elephant, right Mr. E.?”

“That’s right.”

For more in this series check out the following:

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Weather”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Airport”



Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Airport”

The following is the story “Stan” told me the other day through words and pictures. This is the third installment in this series. The first piece explains the thoughts behind what I am doing. The second entitled “Weather” is a detailed account of various weather patterns and related things.

I am beyond thankful for his gifts as they expose the beauty he has within. All of us have stories we long to tell, stories that make up who we are. Some are better at writing them, while others tell them. For Stan, he draws them. For a young boy who cannot always find words, his drawings embody and manifest what it is we cannot see. They bring to life through color and line what he cares about most. Hence, the reason why his brother (or as he would say, “brudder”) is a recurring character in his drawings.

It always brings a smile to my face when I see adults who haven’t been around him see his artwork for the first time. Amazement, awe, and dropped jaws are common reactions. I’m not sure if it is disbelief, dumbfoundedness, or inspiration, but whatever the case may be, I am beginning to believe that for many his drawings are an avenue of seeing a light within a boy many either write off or have doubts about.

And that is what this series is about: letting his light shine.

I’ve tried my best to recount the words he told me that accompany the drawings below. I hope you will find beauty and love as Stan’s light continues to grow and shine.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.  – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


“First my brother and I go through the X-ray machine…DSC00829

Then the woman brings out the big seatbelt because the seats don’t have seatbelts, right?…DSC00830

Then the pilot makes sure everything is turned on…DSC00828

Then we fly over the mountains.”