Choose Wonder

Speaking of her late husband, Kathleen Norris writes,

I could not make him… but I could be his companion in making a life worth living.

Acedia &  Me , p.258

What makes my life worth living? A BIG question, in the first place, and then the idea that it’s not just me figuring it out; I am a companion in that journey. For me the tension involves the first part of her sentence, how to not make, suggest, control, fix; but to be in that relationship. How does that happen?

My pondering seemed to have run its course, after all these questions take a lifetime. I thought I’d moved on as I was prayerfully reading Luke’s gospel, chapters 5 and 6 that hold stories of many early encounters with people along the way.

First, I noticed that Jesus cultivated relationships that enabled and motivated those people to “rise up and walk” in a myriad of ways (Ch.5). That action in itself is a worthy calling.

However, the rising up and walking stirred the community. In response, “amazement seized them all and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘we have seen strange things today.’ ”

Being amazed, cultivating wonder, being open to seeing the strange in the presence of God each day makes a life worth living.

In Luke, chapter 6, rising up and walking runs into rules and regulations. My rules and regulations are not as noble as keeping the Sabbath and implicitly drive my fixing and floundering to undermine being a companion, walking alongside.

Jesus again elevates being in relationship over the law, to do good rather than harm, to save life rather than destroy it.

Truths to try out for cultivating a life worth living:

Be open to the wonder of God in today.

Choose what gives life.

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Touching My Toes

A “forward fold” its called in Yoga practice; gazing at my chins, the crown of my head near my feet, the skin on my face pulled by gravity so I don’t look quite like myself.  In such a posture, I can’t see the other’s around me as I fold inward and feel release. It challenges my sense of myself physically and mindfully; not being able to see if I’m “doing it right” or comparing myself to others who seem more accomplished, or younger, or leaner than I.

I’ve done some embarrassing things in the last couple of days.  Things that really don’t matter too much except for how it makes me feel– less than adequate in other peoples’ eyes.

I follow a blog written by “THE TWELVE,” people who consider their “purpose is to express the Reformed faith theologically; to engage issues that Reformed Christians meet in personal, ecclesiastical, and societal life; and thus to contribute to the mission of the church of Jesus Christ.”  Today’s post was by guest blogger, Rev. Annie Reilly, and I encourage you to read her post link here.

I began the day feeling restless and unsure after a great night’s sleep.  I felt afraid to start the day; inadequate to approach the work before me.

Annie (I don’t really know her but she feels familiar) says “I need to stop limiting God’s goodness by thinking that I had anything to do with it…[and] to root myself in the identity that God has given me.”

So I’ll take another fold forward, touch my toes and release my hold.

Time Again

My daily schedule is both predictable and malleable. Malleable implies that I am able to shape my time and adapt the hours to accomplish the work before me.

I am fortunate to have great flexibility in how my time is spent. I am usually up by 6:30 with what seems like are many hours before me. Today I woke up at 5:15 with academic writing on my mind to do and yesterday, a cold Sunday morning, I was snuggled in until 7:30 knowing that I could on this day of different kinds of possibilities. Rarely do I not begin the day with personal writing and reading —part of the sustaining predictability and my relationship with God.

Last week I decided that I might consider being more conscious of keeping a daily schedule.  I could designate time for preparing for the classes I teach—that I can easily get lost in—and revising work I am committed to again—that I spend too much time avoiding. In between those professional duties are relationships to nurture; meals to prepare and eat; yoga, reading, and writing that feed my soul; and other sundry stuff that take and maybe even waste time. I could stiffen up that malleability just a bit.

Friday the plan failed. Or did it? I wrote morning pages, read and roughed out a plan for the day before going to yoga; those were the predictable parts. I’m not sure where the rest of the morning went as I sat at my desk, but I know I didn’t do any revising or plan for class and the virtual meeting I prepared for didn’t materialize. So when invited to join two of my colleagues on campus with the intention of working on revisions, I eagerly went—my schedule is flexible and this was the work I planned for part of the day.

While my friends worked productively to scrub video and reconstruct interview narratives, I essentially fretted, sighed, and rearranged words for 3 hours. The rest of the evening I lamented my lack and escaped into mindless television, I think.

The sermon on Sunday was titled Time.

The biblical text, John 2, was the story of Jesus at a wedding that tells us a great deal about time. Since my husband is the preacher, I have the luxury of re-visiting his spoken and written words. Here is his paraphrase of the critical parts for my purposes:

Jesus’ reply, “My time has not yet come” (v. 4) – What do you think that means? Don’t bother me mom, I’m trying to enjoy the wedding, I don’t have time. Or, don’t pressure me about a miracle – I haven’t begun my appointed role yet. It isn’t time for that.

We are presented with two meanings for time again. The sermon goes on to explain.

One is the kind of time with which we count and track the everyday events of our lives. It is the time that is measured in minutes and seconds, hours and days. It is the time we spend standing in lines, literally “clocked in” at work, or waiting at the stoplight. It is mundane, ordinary time and it beats on relentlessly until that time when we close our eyes and escape it’s dull, predictable cadence. This is the time we feel is limited and fleeting, the time that exasperates and deflates and confuses us. This is the time there is never enough of.

Hours and minutes measured the time I spent writing with my friends on Friday afternoon, from around 2:00 p.m. until 5:10 p.m. to be exact. But, there is another kind of time at play, a sacred time, that the Feasting on the Word Gospel Commentaries contends is where all that is predictable fades and what emerges in its place is sheer possibility. This is God’s time, and it punctures through the ordinary canvas and clock of our lives at unexpected intervals to reveal God among us.”

Really?  The hours and minutes I spent in the conference room on Friday were sacred time? I didn’t pay attention to any possibilities; I only focused on fixing my problems. I was too frustrated by my own inadequacy to notice the possibility that God was among us. My limited approach when I began my work that afternoon was to focus on what is lacking, to sink, as the old prayer states, under adversity.

Time as a sacred moment means that God is at work in our occupations, relationships, and family life to care for and redeem the world.

How would this afternoon have unfolded differently if I believed God was with me, evoking his presence as God working along side me in this particular community of people?

The question becomes, how would we look at all the ordinary, everyday events of our lives if we believed God was with us, working through them to care for God’s people. According to Mary, the mother of Jesus and the gospel writer of John, and because of Jesus, whatever time we think it may be, it is also God’s time. The work won’t suddenly be easy, the hours and minutes will still tick away, but the moments will be full of the hope of possibility.

The Face of Love

 So you look at me…
…when they do this thing. You look at me.
l’ll be the face of love for you.

Sr. Helen Pejean, Dead Man Walking

I saw the movie only once and this line stuck with me, even haunted me. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is an adaptation of Sister Helen Pejean’s book by the same title telling the story of her weekly visits with Patrick Sonnier before he was executed in a Louisiana Penitentiary. These are the words she spoke to him in their last meeting before his death.

In October, we attended the Opera, Dead Man Walking, and lecture by Sister Helen during that same week. Sister Helen is a storyteller (in her own words) and for me her story was more than the advertised one about the power of art performances in the anti-capital-punishment movement. Part of the story she told was about her own realization of the pain and journey of all parties involved, mothers and fathers, victims and the accused. Her words differently persuaded my own realization of being God’s face of love and as she also recounted, failing to be that face as we get caught up in our own complicity with our worlds’ perspective. While the issues she presents on one hand seem complex; seeing in each other, no matter who we are or what we do, the face of God’s love is at the heart of our being.

Over the past two weeks, both of my adult children have been here to visit. Now that they are making their own way in their worlds, I don’t know how to be their mother as I thought I knew when they were younger.  Even more challenging is how to be the face of God’s love for them; the children I have attempted to guide implicitly and explicitly. How do I live my own life in the presence of that love and honor the strong and sometimes-disconcerting ways they are learning to live—without saying those motherly things—and just be alongside them?

Frederick Buechner made a seminary commencement address that I am going to take some liberties with—a remix if you will, in modern terms. The words are closely recopied, the emphasis and play with white space are mine. There are no answers to my wondering here; but knowing and sharing “the joy and pain and holiness of our own lives” and lives together is a beginning.

Christ is our employer as surely as the general contractor is the carpenter’s employer,

Only chances are that this side of Paradise we will never see the face

Except mirrored darkly in dreams and shadows, if we’re lucky,

And in each other’s faces.

Christ is our general,

But chances are that this side of Paradise we will never hear his voice

Except in the depth of our own inner silence

And in each other’s voices.

Christ is our shepherd,

But the chances are we will never feel his touch

except as we are touched by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life

And each other’s lives.

Christ is our pilot

Our guide, our true fast, final friend and judge,

But often when we need Christ most,

Christ seems farthest away because he will have always gone on ahead,

Leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path to follow.

And the world blows leaves across the path.

And branches fall.  And darkness falls.

We are here. Christ is with us…

In unseen ways, as subtle and pervasive as air.

We are Love’s face, voice, and even life to each other, as subtle and pervasive as air.

Happy XXX XXXX!

The truth: I hate the saying “Happy New Year!”   It’s another day for goodness sake. Isn’t everyday a new beginning?

Maybe I could use this reasoning for an excuse, a reason that I have such a hard time transitioning into the New Year. Microsoft word even changed what I typed, “new year,” into “New Year” emphasizing the importance of my error. No matter, I want to continue to savor the mornings since December 31st, sitting on my comfy couch until time for lunch, grazing on cheese balls and chips and dip. Then, maybe read myself to sleep for an oh-so-brief two-hour nap because I am on a break.

The truth is that maybe I don’t know how to navigate work and rest; sometimes I’m not sure which is which. For example, cooking a meal when I have all the ingredients and no time limit is not work. Cooking a meal during a major holiday when I have other people to feed is work. Many times I am artfully engaged in preparing for a class or writing and ideas exude in the shower and I hurry to write them down no matter what else looms. Today I spent time laboriously staring at a syllabus and seemingly accomplished nothing. The difference seems to be where I am in the struggle.

In Kathleen Norris’ book, Acedia & Me, I read this insight from Henri Nouwen:

…”the literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest.” The Greek word for rest” he adds, “is ‘hesychia,’ and ‘hesychasm’ is a term which refers to the spirituality of the dessert.” The “rest” … is not an easy one, and as Nouwen writes, it “has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.”

I seem to have lost that sense of rest lately, in the midst of living. Many months ago I discovered in Martin Marty’s book, When True Simplicity is Gained, this prayer by Saint Gertrude.

“Be near to me so that I may not feel the heaviness of labor, nor sink under adversity.”

I have the prayer on my desk and have repeated it before and during some particularly difficult tasks. It works – in the context of giving my best to the work before me—without striving.

Nouwen’s insight offers substance for my claim. Rest not from labor but into God’s provision. I cannot do everything; my work is not perfect, however it is a first step that I can take. As the book of compline encourages, there is a sense of liberation in that fact that we cannot do everything. I can do something and do it well and the rest is an opening for grace to enter.

This kind of focus is the best response to counter my complex understanding of work and rest—as well as the slothful ways I’ve adopted to avoid almost everything this Happy New Year.

Time Still

Time is a curious thing.

The last semester has ended; the dread, different pace, and the wonder of the holidays has passed and a new year begins.  This is regularly a difficult time for me.  I’m not sure I want to move on to the new yet but I’m done with the break in routine..

Anticipation of a new schedule, new courses, and new people in the coming weeks propel me back into what seems like “real” time.  It is so easy to get caught up in thinking about all I have to do, things I suspended in my time off.  What’s really crazy is that I think more about what I have to do or what is upcoming even before I have to start thinking about those things, which I’ve established as Monday- tomorrow.  That kind of anticipation actually takes me out of the time that is now–from living in this moment.

This morning, and most mornings, I sit in the ever so still house, drinking hot tea and wrapped in a blanket.  The other two beings who are here are sound asleep and I need them to stay there. Now is the time I have all to myself that I need so desperately each day. This time is beyond “real” time; call it great time or cosmic time or eternal time.

I am acutely aware that I am not alone. God is here with me, holding me just enough above or outside of this time that I see things differently.  I gain perspective that propels me back into the real world and time and changes how I see it in this moment.  I may get caught up again in doing, passing time or retreat into my inner self at times to hold it still again.