Surrender

Surrender is not acquiescence, reluctantly yielding; it is an opening up to unknown possibility.  In Whistling in the Dark, my dear Mr. Buechner explains sleep as surrender.

…a laying down of arms.  Whatever plans you’re making, whatever work you’re up to your ears in, whatever pleasures you’re enjoying, whatever sorrows or anxieties or problems you’re in the midst of, you set them aside, find a place to stretch out somewhere…

An inner yieldedness, Cynthia Bourgeault calls this state.

As I enter a week of out of the ordinary opportunity, I want to remind myself of how to be open on the inside. Too often I am anxious, controlling, and self-conscious.   How do I soften, open and yield.

Surrender is not an outer state, like rolling over and playing dead, that is precisely what troubles me about the idea of surrender I learned from my childhood faith.

Bourgeault continues in Wisdom Way of Knowing.

On the contrary, interior surrender is often precisely what makes it possible to see a decisive action that must be taken and to do it with courage and strength…action flows from that place of relaxed, inner opening.

Setting aside or laying down all anxiousness, all the reasons “it” won’t work, all my inadequacies to stretch-out in God’s provision.  

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Life’s Interruptions

The best things that happen in life rarely make good sense.

From The Coal Tatoo, a novel by Silas House

One spring evening several months ago, I decided to check out one of the chapel speakers at the upcoming Writer’s Workshop I planned to attend at Princeton Seminary.  He happened to be the President of Princeton Seminary, M.Craig Barnes.  The sermon wasn’t recent but the message to me timely, “When Life is Interrupted.”

He spoke about deaths, falling in love, loosing your job and aging– life’s interruptions–some wonderful and some not so much.  When interruptions occur your life is in a different place.  The only way to get from one place to another is through the wilderness.

Navigating the wilderness can only be done in complete trust.  There is a temptation to go back but the only way out is to move forward.  Life is not going to be what it used to be- it is going to be something new.

18 “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.  Isaiah 43

I give thanks for the interruption; I have changed.

Well Wishing

So I’ve been working on squelching the “conversations in my head” that distract me from awareness of the present.  Technically, I don’t intentionally construct these conversations; the talking takes flight when I’m walking the dog, in the shower, trying to get to sleep, or even when I’m reading something that isn’t engaging enough to talk over those other voices.  Anytime I’m not consciously attentive, fixing my attention on what I’m doing, the chatter begins.  I want to not speculate or fantasize about my life so much as I am aware and engage with the world around me.

A few days ago, I read Frederick Buechner’s definition in Wishful Thinking.  Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well.  Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.  He states, “an angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like ‘It was just one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive…”  Hmmm, I wonder.

Then, I went to the grocery store, the smaller local one with not so many people crowding the aisles. It was early afternoon.  I saw my mailman who had a day off and a regular cashier at the store who was a shopper today. I noticed her stop briefly to ask a quite elderly couple how they were doing.

The couple walked side by side both leisurely pushing their cart. He was clearly in charge of getting items off the shelves as she held fast onto the cart’s handle. As they neared, I took notice, looking up from my grocery list.

Determined to “pay attention” I purposely looked into the lady’s eyes, a kind of silent greeting.  She lovingly looked back, a sparkle in her gray blue eyes who’d seen many more years than me.

It happened so effortlessly.  She put two fingers to her lips; kissed them and pushed her hand gently but squarely toward my forehead, holding my gaze.

I’m not sure what I believe about angels.  But she did wish me well without words.  I sensed a tangible blessedness to be in that moment.

Trees Talk

This is a story I need to tell.  It is an incredible one where words, trees, grey hair and God speaks. This story is one I am ashamed to tell because I’m not sure I really believe the truth…yet.

I went to Gethsemani planning to work through the retreat, “Hannah and Samuel, General intention: Renewing one’s call” from Emilie Griffin’s book Wilderness Time.  

I arrived in the afternoon. On the small wooden desk in my guesthouse room was the schedule for the liturgy of the hours. Vespers, at 5:30, would be the next time to join the monks in the Abby.

The scripture for that day was Acts 10:9-16.  It is the story of Peter who was unwilling to visit Gentiles because they were unclean.  During prayer time as he awaited his dinner, Peter had a vision. He saw the heavens open and a white cloth descended filled with all kinds of creatures. Three times he heard a voice saying, “Get up Peter; kill and eat.”  Three times Peter replied “by no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”

What are the things inside that make me cry, “by no means, Lord.”  What makes me hold back?

What do I profane that God blesses?

As I walked the grounds and sat looking at the large sycamore tree in the center of the garden, I asked myself this question, over and over.  My first thought was an academic life.  I have felt that this life is selfish and thinking serves me more than others.  How can such a life be holy?  Maybe the monks have something to teach me.

What’s holding me back?

I went into the chapel and found a seat close to the front of the balcony, so I could see the monks as they entered. Looking straight into Jesus’ face on the banner that hung above the altar, I continued to ask: What do I profane that God blesses?  That  Jesus seemed to move as I held my gaze, but no words came.

What was holding me back?  A job?  Must I have a certain job?  Does a job define me?  Over and over I asked: what does God bless that I don’t?

A line of monks was entering the chapel when I looked.  They were filing in,bowing their heads toward my Christ at the altar as they entered.

Their heads.  Their heads were white, snowy white or salt and peppered like mine. I noticed that one wore sandals with dark socks.  I noticed their white heads, again, and then I gazed again into Jesus’ face.

AGE

That is what I profane that God blesses, my age.  That is what holds me back in my mind.  I’ve struggled that I’m too old for a new job; to begin again, just like Hannah I was there to retreat with.

Father Seamus, the guest master, gave his talk for new retreat house guests the next morning.  I walked by and was beckoned in by his voice, noticeable in this place of silence. Some of his words were “be who you are, who God made you.  If you are an introvert, be that.”

For me, I heard, if you are a thinker, a lover of words, theories, and thinking; be that. If you are 62 and your hair is gray and black and a yellowish color; be that.  

Father Seamus came to Gethsemini when he was 70, twenty years over the age of admittance (25 – 50 years).  They told him to come try it out anyway; he never left.  He had to go through the formation, 5 1/2 years, even though he was already a priest.  It didn’t matter here.  He is 84 now and has been the guest master for a year – a new job for him.

“Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  Be satisfied, find your fill.  Take action to do so.  Don’t be concerned about rules and regulations.

Oh, and I noticed another Sycamore in the woods, standing strong like the one in the middle of the Garden. I even noticed the beautiful gray bark this time.

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Abby of Gethsemani Photo by Stephen Greb, Kentucky Geological Survey.

The Wideness and Wildness of God

Earlier this year I spend a long weekend at the Trappist monastery, Gethsemane, and reveled in the solitude and intentional openness to God’s spirit I experienced there.  How wonderful it was to leave my “real life” behind for those few days, or did I?

It is said that when Thomas Merton was novice master at the Abby of Gethsemane he told the men in his care, “before you can have a spiritual life, you’ve got to have a life.”

Parker Palmer notes that Merton’s point is that we find our spiritual lives in the god-awful mess of our lives; “in its earthy realities, unpredictable challenges, surprising resources, creative dynamics.”  I relish his idea of the “wideness and wildness of God.”

She who seeks her life shall lose it, and she who loses her life…shall find it.

Lose, let go, hold loosely.  Life happens; pay attention in gratitude.

The Gift of Another Reality

In one of his delightful and insightful poems from Sabbaths, 1998, Wendall Berry writes these lines.

This is the time you’d like to stay.
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
The fireflies lift light from the ground.
You’ve shed the vanities of when
And how and why, for now. And then
The phone rings. You are called away.

Where and how we find such moments?  Many mornings, for me, temporarily in this time of solitude or later pausing to watch the birds and squirrels intently go about their day and in God’s presence, I have hope and a renewed spirit. I realize the when, how and why don’t matter in this moment, the moment that is really all I have.

But then, talk, circumstances, what some might call my reality brings me back to that self conscious, vain, selfish awareness that the when, how, and why do matter and are in that moment, everything.

How do I stay longer, linger in that place, that place of a different kind of knowing?

Wilderness Time

Wilderness is a word loaded with transforming potential from a personal perspective.  Moses and the children of Israel spent 40 years there and Jesus wrenched through 40 days of transformation in that place.

Wilderness is a landscape defined as “the most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure http://www.wild.org

I’m considering how the wilderness is a place, real or imagined, where I am not the one in control. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have any control.  There is a difference.

For over a year, I’ve anticipated change; actually more than a year because I anticipated the possibility of change in my professional job and where I live much too soon.  To put it simply, I strived and fretted and reworked and retried more than one avenue to get there. I was concerned more about the things I had no control over rather than doing what I could to be whole in the time…Climbing the mountain with blinders on; ignoring the beauty along the way.

What happens if I surrender in the wilderness?  Not give up but loosen my grip on what I control and take a look at the vastness around me.  Cynthia Bourgeault tells the story of her friend whose car broke down on a remote stretch of highway (before cell phones, so think “no service” in this wilderness).  At first she panicked and her mind raced through all the what if’s.  Then she decided that this might be as good a time as any to begin practicing surrender.  There was literally nothing she could do to fix her car or call a friend.

What happened next was that she found herself caught up in the buzz of activity around her; life stirring itself awake in a nearby pond.  She was so caught up in the beauty that she didn’t hear the rumbling of the tow truck that just happened by.

The interesting thing about this story, that Cynthia points out, is not that the tow truck just happened by; that is a side effect of surrender.  The real miracle was her friend being able to relax enough to notice the “life force dancing all around her”.

It’s not doing nothing or being anxious about everything.  It is being open, noticing, and yielding to make room for possibilities to emerge.

Surrender, from the inside of me, makes it possible to see enough to keep walking even when I’m not sure where I am going. Its the wilderness, the roads aren’t there yet.