Oct 6 2011

{Day 6} Living in the Midst

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To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact , you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in a casket or a coffin…But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the perturbations of Love is Hell.— C.S. Lewis

Often when we begin to listen and pay attention to what is going on right in front of us, chaos floods our lives, swamps our schedules, and leaves us gasping for breath.

Even to ask a simple question, like from Day One of this seriesWhat do I hear in this moment?–might open us up to hearing and seeing and feeling what we’d rather not. The reason for this is that our carefully constructed walls that protect us from confusion and uncertainty and pain begin to shudder and crack with such a question. Chaos seeps in.

Questions about what we love and what we hope can bring a cascade of joy, but the same questions can bring into stark relief our heartaches and disappointment. They can lead to more questions.

We begin to ask: What do I do now?

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One response to this is to simply stop paying attention. The chaos or grief or even joy is scary. It’s too much. The present moment is too much.

I will be exploring the many creative ways we erect barricades against contemplative attention as this series continues. I will also be sharing some practices from the lives of Christians who have gone before us. While they lived in different ages, their joys and struggles and griefs were not so different from our own.

But what about today? Now?

Keep listening. Keep paying attention.

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Why? Because I believe the only way into a deeper connection with life, those around us, and with God (at least on our part), is through, dealing with what we hear and see and feel directly.

Jesus shows us this path by becoming one of us: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14 MSG) He lived through everything that it means to be human.

Many of you who have followed my blog the past few years have read about my experiences in graduate school and the toll that it took on my love of prayer, theology, writing, even life. This past year I’ve spent with God, wrestling through the experience, what it meant (and continues to mean) as I enter my 7th year (shudder!). Everything from slowly regaining my ability to write without panic attacks to (gently and with a lot of running away) facing that I will never bear children to the overwhelming joy of becoming a photographer. In the dogged determination to walk through, rather than build barriers against, the present moment, I’ve tasted more joy than I’ve ever experienced and experienced more deeply the cherishing love of God.

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Words of wisdom that have helped me are from the poet in Rainer Maria Rilke:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Live your questions today.

I would add, Pray your questions today.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God,who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34-39)

The beauty of our Lord is that he stands before the throne of God interceding for us, and he will patiently walk with us through the questions to the answers.

31 Days

have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Dec 8 2010

Love or Fear

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This morning I pondered 1 John 4:18.  When I say morning, I mean 2am, the standard hour when anything that might worry me shakes me awake and starts whispering. The past six months, since moving to Seattle, I’ve been very grateful for the strength to roll over and go back to sleep.

But this time, it was about writing a dissertation chapter, due this coming Monday. Everything from general incompetence to the lack of future job opportunities to silliness like, “I don’t know how to form coherent sentences anymore,” listed themselves in my thoughts. Needless to say, it’s a vulnerable area.

I’ve asked many times in the past five years whether this path toward PhD-ness is really God’s call or my ego. I’ve asked many times in the past six months, so-totally-joyfully-wonderfully-grateful to be back in Seattle and at my church, whether I can eke out 200 pages of academic writing, battling the fears that steal sleep and energy, or whether I should raise the white flag.

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To surrender to fear doesn’t seem the best option. It might be the easy way, but not the way, as a daughter of the King, to live “to the praise of his glory.” Fear is not our inheritance in Christ. I can write this chapter, this dissertation, with God’s strength. To give up in the face of fears that tell me I can’t write it would mean calling that truth into question.

However, battling the fear, plowing through, doesn’t seem to be a good option either.  All the energy goes into the war and leaves little for much else. And the past year has shown me how much more there is. This Advent of Joy is overflowing with abundance.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8:15)

I don’t want to live focused on winning a battle.

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So, in comes 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror!” (1 Jn 4:18, Amplified)

The focus is on the Love, not the fear. When Love draws me on, fear cannot repel me.  And God is Love, so God casts out the fear. Not me.

Rather than focusing on all the fearful whispers, I’m focusing on Who is the Love that beckons and all the ways He comes into daily life.  Those people, those experiences, those realities which are Love made flesh, Immanuel.

What this means for the chapter, I’m not sure. Somehow in following the Love, rather than focusing on the fear, an answer about writing the dissertation will become clear.

But for now, this gives me a much better response to those 2am anxious whispers.



Nov 22 2010

Deeper Magic

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Worried about the future, a woman stepped out of the campus library into the cold winter darkness. Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. Hungry and tired, she waited for the bus in the street lamp’s glare, wearily wondering where God had gone.  She worried at the question as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. Familiar tears prickled at the corners of her eyes.  She clenched her teeth against the ache and shoved her hands in her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts and eyes to look for distant headlights.

That’s when she saw them, on the sidewalk, just at the edge between light and dark:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the night.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. The tiny lights of a bus appeared in the distance. She imagined supper and bed, warmth and sleep.

Yet a little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart, a little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop, questions stilled by curiosity.

She followed up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

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Today I am grateful…

That Christ is risen indeed!

For C.S. Lewis, whom I remember today, and how the Narnia stories still speak to me of The Story, and that children are still reading them.

For the paw prints of God’s guidance: I may not know where following them will take me, but I know Who waits at the end.

For the story kernel, based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of actually finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” (Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

For my young friend, Jack, who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on his own for the first time.

And for this morning, like going through the Wardrobe, I look out on a snowy world,

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and the feathered friends who eat breakfast with me:

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Nov 1 2010

Word Whisperer

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I worry this morning that pursuing a contemplative life is merely a mask for my own lack of stamina, my inability to exist joyfully at the full throttle pace of this society.

“You could accomplish so much more…” promises a familiar inner voice.

So I take off the mask and pray with Paul, “Lord, may your power be made perfect in weakness.”

Outside, the hummingbirds buzz among the bare branches and finches do leaf impersonations, occasionally fluttering the rain off their wings, and I know if I went fast or did more at once, I would not see them. I might miss them completely, and never know what I was missing, this sharing of a quiet dawn with the rain, birds, the grey cloudy city in the distance.

And so again I choose to do one task at a time, listen to one story at a time, write one word at a time and let the sentences come.

Words and stories are timid creatures. They often skamper away under the pressure to reveal too much, too fast.  So I whisper to them and wait.

In gratitude for slowing down…

Hearing the different rhythms of rain on the roof

A roof and warmth, things I forget to appreciate when life goes too fast

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Birds and other creatures that visit my balcony

Friends who saw me walking and slowed down, giving me a ride to church

Unrushed conversation twice around Green Lake

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Seeing a Great Heron asleep in a tree! (Opps! I woke him up!)

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Noticing rain drops on flowers that looking like ballerinas

Hours of games with adult-friends and kid-friends

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Drinking in the brilliance of autumn

Space to weep over the pain in young adult lives and to pray, “Lord, have mercy!” (Currently reading Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults)

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Celebrating a 4th birthday with my beautiful blue-eyed friend

Smiling at people while out walking, and seeing their face become as bright as the sun

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Mar 1 2010

Worry

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Matthew 6:25-29

At some point in my past, I learned a strange lesson:  if I worry, I can prevent something bad from happening.

Worry keeps me focused on what could happen so that I am prepared, so that I’ve thought through and scripted every eventuality.

But life just doesn’t work that way.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, all the contingency plans are unnecessary, and the 1% of the time a prediction comes true, the moment itself provides many more surprising and often grace-full resources I could never have anticipated.

A friend of mine once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”   Worrying doesn’t make my life any safer or happier, yet I have kept at it, convinced it will.

And I am convinced, more and more, that worry and joy don’t play well together.

Joy lives in the moment, in the sudden smile, the laugh, a loving touch, the sung harmony, the quiet evening, the sparkly snow.  Relationships thrive in the present, watered and nurtured by the unfettered and unexpected joy of simply being together.

One cannot plan or force joy, only be attentive when it happens.  When I am lost in future plans, it’s hard to see what’s right in front of me.

I’ve been told a few times that life begins at 40.  I’m coming to understand this better.  As I get older, I’m less willing to waste precious time on behaviors or patterns which don’t make sense.  As I leave my thirties, I’d like to leave worry behind.

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