Keeping My Head Above Water

I have missed some days, but not many, in my Lenten practice of daily centering prayer. It is difficult for me to keep my mind on one word though. Even though my mind wanders quickly, as suggested, I gently remind myself where I am and what I’m trying to do… and it works for focusing me for another minute or so.

Images are powerful for me. Even when I listen to words, it helps me to see the words on the page. So I’ve been trying that out in my centering prayer, not looking at the word, but fixing an image instead of a word in my mind. Imagining God’s hand on my shoulder or a gentle hand in my hand, I can even feel that kind of image and touch.

In the last week the image has been one of keeping my head above water. There is much to consider in my life right now and it seems particularly pressing down on me some days and especially in the middle of some nights. Centering prayer in the middle of the day sets me apart from “real time” into that space that is beyond time as I go about the day.

Metaphors of rivers flowing and streams in the dessert are common in scripture.  I’m reminded of this poem, a Hopi elder prayer, that invites me to consider more.

This is the Hour…

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.  And there are things to be considered . . .

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”

There is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.   And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

— attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder , Hopi Nation,  Oraibi, Arizona

I am pushing off from the shore—taking on new challenges in a new place—and right now my head is barely above water. However, the image in this prayer goes beyond that straining to keep myself afloat.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. 

We are not alone and this is holy ground.

Scarcity in Abundance

Scarcity and abundance… words that radically change the ways I live and consider my life.

I’m blessed with abundance, but twist opportunity into anxiousness for control that shrinks possibility and the radical trust and letting go that abundant living requires.

I have a new job in a new place. Scarcity thinking edges in when events seem to hinge on “just the right…” as we look for a house, a time to move in the midst of lots of other commitments, and meaningful work for Mitch to do. The notion that there is an order to all of these things seems sensible, however, the same “sense making” leads to striving, anxiousness, and uneasiness that fail to quiet the heart and clear the eye.

Today I read the story of Jesus feeding a lot of people with a little. The classic miracle: doing a lot with a little; all things are possible with God; use what you have and God will multiply your efforts; trust God and God will take care of your needs. While these are timely lessons readily implied by us in the story, this wasn’t exactly what I noticed.

Jesus had just instructed his disciples to go out and preach the kingdom and heal and added, “Take nothing for your journey,” seemingly ill prepared advice.

The apostles return and the next scene unfolds. The crowds of needy people follow Jesus to the remotest of places. No provisions are there where Jesus told his disciples to feed those crowds—real scarcity. And the part of the story that stood up in front of me today?

 And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:17 (RSV)

An abundance.

Parker Palmer writes,

Sadly, the scarcity assumption leads to all kinds of things that kill the spirit: anxiety, resentment, hoarding, overwork, competition, and an inability to enjoying life.

 When I find myself drifting in that direction, I return to this poem. If I read it slowly enough — savoring what Wendell Berry celebrates about nature and human nature — I am better able to open my eyes and see the truth in its last line.

The Wild Geese   by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,

harvest over, we taste persimmon

and wild grape, sharp sweet

of summer’s end. In time’s maze

over fall fields, we name names

that rest on graves. We open

a persimmon seed to find the tree

that stands in promise,

pale, in the seed’s marrow.

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear.   What we need is here.

 Parker concludes with insights I continually grapple with, too.

The “scarcity assumption” is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more I live as if it were true, the truer it becomes for me. Abundance comes as I break free of scarcity thinking and remind myself again and again that “What we need is here.”

 What we need is here and there. Consider the lilies that are coming up in my backyard.

Puppy Dog Tales

My dog is my friend. We call Hunter Velcro dog for obvious reasons; even now he is resting close by. About two years ago he had surgery on his leg for a small tumor. The vet said it needed to come out, eventually he thought Hunter might stop using his leg. Usually I’m the one who says, “He’s a dog” – meaning no extreme or costly measures. However, when we walked, even though he briskly made his way down the street, I worried.

The tumor was removed and the place on his leg actually was a little bigger rather than smaller. Just fluid, they said. To make a long story short, as the saying goes, we have another vet now and the growth in my dog’s leg is huge. And, he still walks briskly down the street and runs around the yard. Yet, I worried; now, with the added burden of the possibly that I made the wrong decision in the first place. Sometimes I would wake up in the night and wonder what I will do when he can’t walk or imagine something even worse. Irrational and even rational fears are real at 3:00 in the morning.

I even prayed for him. I remember when our young daughter filled out a prayer card at church for her pet mouse who was suffering. Our wise pastor sent her a letter and she was encouraged by his care. God cares.

Distressed that I was getting more anxious about a matter I could do nothing about, I decided to change tactics.

Instead of praying for the dog, I prayed for myself. I prayed that I would accept what was obviously a growth in his leg about which I’d made the best decision I could at that time.  I prayed that I would serendipitously find a solution; meet someone who had expertise or could guide me to someone who did. Fairy tale prayers, Frederick Buechner calls them, even for a dog, I thought.

The idea of such prayer requires that I pay attention expectantly. “Expectantly” means something entirely different than “with expectations.” Cosmic flirts, my friend calls them, those nudges from God, maybe, that let you know that you are heard.

These were my nudges that put me over the edge of worry to acceptance. Synchronicity let’s you know that you don’t have to strive and control or fret anxiously. Not that everything miraculously is happy but the worry is mediated by a peaceful surrender.

On the weekend we went to our daughter Margaret’s for a party. Hunter went with us.   Erin, Margaret’s college roommate, noticed Hunter’s leg and asked, “Does he have cancer or is that just one of those growths that dog’s can have?” She went on to tell me, somewhat matter of factly, that her brother’s dog had a big tumor on his chest that started out as a little lump. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. Hmmm, a familiar story that resonates with the hopeful part of my own story; the part about “it doesn’t seem to bother him at all.”

Then, a few hours later on the same day, Mitch came back from taking a walk and the dog happened to be along. A lady made her way out of a beauty shop they passed to say hello. She had Weimaraner’s like Hunter. Of course she noticed his leg. Her dogs had those tumors, too, even had one taken off and it grew back even bigger. Another nudge.

Now these two casual encounters weren’t the solution I might have expected. In these not so everyday conversations to me, my fear and worry were lightened and maybe even taken away for this time. I haven’t been awakened by panic of Hunter’s demise; the tumor is still there as he plays and runs and jumps and isn’t bothered at all.

Fairy tale prayers challenge the fairy tale that I construct at 3:00 in the morning; so that, at least for a moment, I am required to exercise trust in a disciplined and wonderfully childlike way… to notice and let it be.