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  Dear Friends,

I recently had reason to read once again a wonderfully wise book by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Letters to a Young Poet.

In 1906, a 21 year old student took the bold step of sending some of his writing, mostly poems, to Rilke to ask him if he thought they had merit. Rilke developed a deep friendship with the young poet, although, I don’t think they actually ever met in person.

Rainer Rilke was the first poet I read when I decided I was in my mid-life crisis 25 years ago. I return to him often and I recommend him to you. Much of his poetry is available on the Internet.

His, Duino Elegies, are a wonderful source of ideas when you are letting your feelings drive your bus and when you are not sure why it matters and what it is that is going on.

Rilke was born into the Catholic Faith but the stultifying experience of Christianity and Catholicism in the late 19th and early 20th century exhausted him and left his imagination impotent.

I offer you here some of his thoughts in his advice to the young man, advice that I would offer to our young people today.

Feelings are incredibly important and make our lives thrive or collapse but we are more that what we feel and we are infinitely more mysterious than we think we are on any given day.

Here are some of Rilke’s words:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend.

“Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.”

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.”

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”

“Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life”

“It is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical will live the relation to another as something alive.”

The Gospel story from Mark this weekend is about dislocating our minds from the familiar patterns and routines of making meaning in our lives and going places we never imagined we would go.

Cultivating practices that address the habits of hearts with some little difference, a new observation, a more probing question that we bring to the day or the hour or, just, the minute can be an extremely liberating and thrilling experience.

Peace,
Father Niblick