One Day or Night

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, 

for tomorrow will worry about its own things.

Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

Each day holds joy that will escape you if you are preoccupied with tomorrow or even an imagined tomorrow that may never come.

In the daytime, I can usually manage. But the middle of the night is a different story. Why do things– everyday conversations, an upcoming picnic, a job interview, my family troubles, the dog’s bad leg — become demons in the middle of the night?  The conversation is possessed with hidden agendas; I rethink my answer to every interview question; the dog dies and family troubles are born anew, and no one brought charcoal for the cookout. Irrational thoughts or worries?  And they aren’t the day’s troubles, they are between the days.

One thing I am learning is that the more I practice centering my thoughts during the daytime, the easier this is to do at night.

For several months I have been practicing centering prayer.Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 10.35.52 PM And yes, there is an app for that, that actually has been very helpful.  One of the encouragements on the app says “to persevere in contemplative practice without worrying about where we are on the journey.” I need to know that.

For this prayer choose a word or phrase to evoke God’s presence and action within and meditate on this word.  Just like in the night,  it is difficult to focus my thoughts on one word or phrase for even a few minutes. Guidelines for centering prayer remind me that when other thoughts come, similar to those errant intruders in the middle of the night, to return “ever so gently” to the sacred word or phrase.

I don’t practice centering prayer in the night, it is for the day, but the joy of this sustaining presence disciplines my memory. In the nighttime, when my own demons race around, to focus on a word or phrase, an image, or even the steadiness of my own nourishing breath helps me surrender to rest and let tomorrow’s troubles go.

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A Vacation State of Mind

According to the urban dictionary, “suspension of disbelief” is the point at which you must give up all skepticism, and just accept what goes against all that you think you know.  We do that during a magic show or reading fantasy or even a happily ever after tale, and maybe even on vacation.

I just returned from several days, actually 9, at the beach with family.  On the way, I attempted to finish some work that I thought needed to be turned in before I left.  It didn’t and after my first day, even when it was cloudy and raining in sunny southern California, I didn’t think about it again.

On another day I heard some disheartening news. I was concerned, but realized I was powerless in the situation, except to send my love. The concerns were backgrounded as I turned my attention and thankfulness for the gentle breeze and sunshine floating on the surf.

How does that happen?  Maybe it is a mind trick or maybe it is another form of suspending all the belief I had about what is important or necessary at that moment.  Maybe it is freedom to pay attention to the gentle breeze instead of the family storm. Maybe the key is the “all that you think you know” part.  All that I think I know isn’t what could be or even what is. Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey says

Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day.  The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain (and I’m adding worry) about what remains in the dark.  When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go.  Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.

I can see what is before me: a magnificent sunset, my precious sister, a loving husband, a delicious piece of strawberry pie.  I could choose to see: work that is still not finished, what might be happening thousands of miles away, wallow in the what if’s.  It is a choice.  It’s not running from shadows that are real or pretending that the tensions aren’t visible.  It is “sustaining reality,” what is before me, right now, that is worthy of my attention.

Imagining God With Me

Imagining is a powerful way to practice the presence of God.  Particularly in the last year, imagining to know that God is going before me, not to carve out just one path, but many, has encouraged me.  Isaiah 30:27 reminds and reassures me of the kind of presence that a centering joy, the deep down presence of God, allows.  “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left..”  that doesn’t seem like indecision to me, it seems like there is more than one way to find God in our worlds.  No matter where I am, “your ears shall hear a word behind you.”  Ahhh, behind me and before me, I can rest in that image that God surrounds me, going before me to drop bread crumbs for me to follow and going behind me, like today, when I know I will leave much I do, unfinished.  But even if I am unsure, unfinished, the word behind me will be saying, “this is the way walk in it.” I imagine God’s whispering or turning my head in the right direction that shows me a way.  The trick is to trust that presence, to imagine God’s hand upon my shoulder, guiding, comforting, inspiring, lifting, a real presence that I can rest in, even when I am busy doing.

Imagining

“Each of us is a mixture of fact and fiction, a weaving of tales in our real bodies.”

Imagination is not an idle pastime, but real work I believe. What we know about and what is true about ourselves is not “just the facts.” The truth of the line from a pretty weird novel, Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel that begins this post comes to my mind often.

That is what I am, a mixture and that is messy. That is why it is so hard to pay attention to my life sometimes. I don’t always know “what” to pay attention to really. For the past few days I have been working with focus in my professional roles. I realized this morning that, that has been a gift. The work is difficult but not overwhelming. Instead of just thinking about what I need to do, I am actually getting words down on the page (the job at hand). When, I get stuck I do something to help myself like walking the dog, centering prayer, cleaning something small or even re-imagining my work in different ways—that has been productive. Imagining leads me to actions that are true.

A Joy Ride

Joy does not take a ride on every wave of emotion…but I am not there yet.  I pay too much attention to how I feel, no matter if it is inadequate or capable; dejected or supported; ignored or heard; self-satisfied or sadly empty. The key, I believe with all my heart, is in my heart.  To know, as Frederick Buechner says:

NOT AT EVERY moment of our lives, Heaven knows, but at certain rare moments of greenness and stillness, we are shepherded by the knowledge that though all is far from right with any world you and I know anything about, all is right deep down. All will be right at last. I suspect that is at least part of what “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness” is all about.  It means righteousness not just in the sense of doing right but in the sense of being right– being right with God, trusting the deep-down tightness of the life God has created for us and in us, and riding that trust…

The Clown in the Belfry

Radical trust.

A Whisper from God

Someone told me today that God whispers.  She was right.  I even listen sometimes, but don’t always follow through.  Have you ever had an impression or maybe a fleeting idea that you knew deep inside was right? Maybe that is how God whispers with glimmers of possibility.  Unfortunately, when that happens, I think my way out of it.

Oh, its too late now to call _____.  

I don’t really have time today, I have to get _____ finished.

That will never work because…. (and I insert all the reasons here).

What would they think of me if I did that?

But today I paid attention. I heard the whispers in the kitchen when I was chopping vegetables. So, right then, before too much thinking went on,  I called my friend Sam who was expecting medical news a couple of days ago. The conversation was long, I listened, and realized what a gift she has that I was able to affirm.

Earlier in the morning, I had already planned to visit Ella, another friend, who is sometimes challenged to remember who I am. After the unexpected long phone conversation with Sam I started to think that it was too late in the day to go. What you think isn’t necessarily true and this was one of those times– so I went.  She showed me around her apartment, one large room, as if I’d never been there before. She acknowledged through her smiles and hugs, though, what she cannot always summon from her failing memory.  That was a joy to experience.

I didn’t do any of the professional work that has been pressing on me…I still feel a twinge of worry about that but I know for certain that it will be there in the morning waiting patiently.  And I will show up in the morning too, refreshed and ready.

Supporting

Maybe you, but not me, would argue that words are not important here, helping or supporting. Supporting seems to be truer or maybe more equitable than helping. To me, supporting means I am honoring the other person. In my role as a teacher I want to be supportive more than helpful. I don’t want to be the knowledge bearer; we all learn and teach each other in relationship.

In an online class I taught a few years ago, a young woman struggled to remember to post her contribution to the class discussion each week. Her midterm project (that was work that progressed toward a final paper) reflected her lack of engagement. She asked to meet with me about two weeks before the end of the term. She didn’t blame circumstances for her failures. She fully accepted her lot but wanted to do the work she had neglected and fully engage in the inquiry that would result in the final project. And she did. She revisited those “lost” weeks when she didn’t show up in the discussion online and created her own discussion—even though I had made it clear that it wouldn’t “count” for her grade since she wasn’t part of the original time sensitive encounter with others in our class.

She took the suggestions I made on her midterm and went beyond what was required. Her final paper was exemplary. I did not expect such insights, given the circumstances I witnessed. Given another opportunity and some constructive feedback, she rose above the expected. I did very little “helping”. In fact, my efforts maintained my professional role and allowed possibilities. Going alongside, celebrates both our efforts.

The change from helping to supporting, it seems to me, is about intention. And it is about attention. Attention to another person. To see that person as God sees us, not in “need of help” even though we surely do, but to see us in the light of what is possible.