Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ah, peace...

News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer. Luke 5:15-16

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Mark 1:35

After he had sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray; and when it was evening, he was there alone. Matthew 14:23

How do you stand it? I mean how do you manage to get anything done with other people around?

I love my family. Don’t get me wrong. I loved spending time with eleven people in that big house in Pennsylvania over Thanksgiving – with all its food and drink and laughter and everyone talking at once and kittens running underfoot.

But I’ve discovered something about myself since Kay moved to campus two years ago. I like my solitude. I need it. And I work better when I have quiet.

I know that’s not the case for everyone. But if you’re like me, how do you deal with it?

Kay’s home with me for part of December. Today’s her birthday and her dad’s here also. Mostly they’ve given me the quiet I need so I can get things done. But once in a while I suddenly wake up to realize that not only are they talking in the room where I’m trying to work but they’re doing it from either side of me!

I grab my hair and massage my scalp and remember that this is all good stuff and I’m glad they’re here and have this time together.

We’re all – each of us – crazy, unique mixes of lively and peaceful, funny and serious, ambitious and relaxed. We each have our own ways.

Last night I got to sit in a big room with about 800 people, most us watching and listening to the others’ gift of music for this season of Advent. I’d been looking forward to that evening for months and it was wonderful. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. (Thank you, A1 music ministry folks!)

Now that my work's almost done, I wouldn’t trade this day either. A cello is playing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on the Sonos. Kay is preparing tea. And Mickey's sitting at the table preparing for his next effort to motivate Kay to leave the house and go out and do something with him.

As I said, we’re all different. I’m learning – ok, I’m slow at some things – that this really is fine and good and, if we let it be, even wonderful.

I love being social – and it’s great to have figured out ways I can “fit in.” (It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t popular in my younger days thought. I’d never have finished anything and I left a great many things unfinished as it was.) I accept that while I can go elsewhere and enjoy that moment with a crowd of people, I’m quiet at home. That quiet if good for me.

I’m getting so much better at accepting others’ ways too. Today, I’ll remind myself that while their ways can be fine (for them), my ways are also equally fine (for me). And if my welcome of their intrusion is somewhat imperfect it’s good enough for today.

Introvert or Extrovert, for this day, for this week, be gentle with yourself. Love yourself as you love others.

John Farrier has posted some great graphs about introverts that seem spot on:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Washing Dishes

Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.”
You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. 
James 4:13-14

Oo, too much caffeine! but I'll persevere. 

Today I talk about being present.

I never really thought about mindfulness until five years ago when it suddenly hurt to think. After an injury my ways of processing – reviewing endlessly what had happened and rehearsing what might happen in the future – no longer worked. They probably hadn’t served me well for a long time but a concussion brought this forcefully to my attention.

It was in the early months of constant headache that I learned that washing dishes could be a spiritual practice. I never would have believed it of myself before then. Now as I took each cup or plate the physical motions of wiping, scrubbing and rinsing grounded me. By working to focus only on what I was doing in that moment I felt less pain.

I haven’t had a migraine in over six months (yay!) but the lesson stays with me. I only practice meditation once or twice a week, usually after I realize that I’m losing my center and distraction is taking over. Still, I hope to keep remembering.

I’ve been rereading my 1976 copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness! In it, he shares his own story about washing dishes.
The cup in your hands
In the United States, I have a close friend name Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we've finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone also. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, "Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them." Jim replied, "Come on, you think I don't know how to wash the dishes?" I answered, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes." Jim was delighted and said, "I choose the second way -- to wash the dishes to wash the dishes." From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the "responsibility" to him for an entire week.
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While of other thing, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future -- and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
That part about “If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either” gets me. If I can’t be present while I’m scooping out the clumps in the litter box how can I be really, truly aware when I’m watching everyone laughing and talking together at a family gathering. Or when I’m praying or playing piano or … well, you get the idea.

Although Sunday’s three days away, we’re into the Advent season. Find something to practice that will get you closer to the roots of who God knows you can be. Maybe it’ll be meditation, maybe not. That’s okay. Just do something that can help God draw you to Godself (and your best self.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hope, Trust & Longing

It’s a gray, rainy afternoon, brown leaves matted on the wet sidewalks. Outdoor autumn tasks beckon me – raking, cleaning up spent beds, mowing once more, mounting rabbit fence around shrubs those ones seem to find tastiest, putting away yard tools and boxes in the garage so there’s room for the car. I enjoy the work, but physically I can’t bear the cool damp. And with only certain days and hours available to me to do such things, I wonder if my experiment will work.

I live five days a week in one location but return to another for rest. This home is, as my superintendent called it, my “cottage”. For five months I’ve explained to whomever wonders at my keeping two places that I plan to retire here. "If," I joke, "God doesn’t laugh too much at my plan."

One day of the week I spend in a fiercely protected sabbath time. I need that rest. If I only worked five of the remaining days, doing all that needs to be accomplished at home would be easier. But I spend part of that sixth day “at the office” on my sofa or at the dining room table. If I was married, my spouse might be willing to help with some of those much needed chores, in or outside the home. But for now at least, there are no such possibilities (and having traveled that road before, I recognize the very real possibility that this imagined person would not share my interests or concerns.)

Until today, I hadn’t thought about how my brilliant experiment might not work. Maybe it’s that I’m tired. Knowing what lies ahead in the next week, I wasn’t as still yesterday as I needed to be. An hour ago, as I stepped away from my sermon work momentarily, I thought, “I may not be able to keep this up.” Then, in the fleeting sadness that followed, I knew that if I must surrender to something other than what I long for, God won’t be laughing but rather grieving with me. And something else good will come of it.

I hope it doesn’t turn out that way, but it's a comfort to remember that this God I strive to honor and obey truly wants joy and peace and love for each and every one of us.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

At Our Core

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through fire, you won’t be burned
    and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
A month or so ago I read – I don’t remember where anymore – that within each of us is a core of loneliness. I wondered about this for a couple weeks. Is it really so? But then I forgot – until this week. Thursday I was listening to the notes I recorded on the drive back from the Church of the Resurrection in September. And there it was.

I believe almost all of us have a yearning to connect deeply with others. This yearning leaves us receptive to all sorts of things – some good, some not so much. It opens us to the idea that God loves us and longs to be part of our lives. It leads us to find friends, partners, and spouses. It draws us into community. People sometimes have kids thinking it’ll fill that empty place in them. It leads others into dangerous or abusive relationships – and keeps them there – because they’re afraid they’ll have nothing if they leave.

Are they the same thing – this core of loneliness and this yearning to connect? I don’t think so, but I only know my own story. Does every person live with a core of loneliness? Does the blazing extrovert who recharges in a room full of people and has “never met a stranger”? How about the one who has a twenty minute conversation on the phone, then afterward says, “Wrong number”? I realize that some people don’t explore their own inner workings enough to find what's at their core. And even if some found loneliness, would they acknowledge it?

I only know that it's at my core; I’ve known at least since I was twelve. I always assumed it was just me. I was the shy one with few friends who would be in the corner at just about every gathering, incapable of small talk but secretly longing to be included. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I learned the term Dysthymia when it came along with my mild ADD diagnosis (which I’ve since learned was off just a bit.)

So I’m not a good one to ask. But I am a good one to wonder. After my 2008 interview with the District Committee on Ministry, they suggested I consider going to seminary because – as the chair put it – I have an insatiable curiousity. (He was right.)

Do you have a core of loneliness at your center?

If so, what do you do about it? How do you live with it? And how is what you do working for you? Although loneliness can be unpleasant, it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can lead us out of ourselves and into connection with others. Then maybe we can appreciate the quiet time when we’re alone without feeling like we’re missing out.

If loneliness isn’t part of your core, what is? If it’s a helpful thing, how do you cultivate it? If it seems unhelpful, do you have ways to turn it so it can be more useful to you?

One person’s path is not another’s. We each have our own journey with its own roadblocks and detours. Still, when we have community, we can be there for each other, and I believe that’s our whole purpose. Take care.
Don’t fear, for I am with you;
    don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you;
    I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. Isaiah 41:10