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.