It was Wednesday morning when the idea first came to me. As usual, I had been scouting the week’s events for blog topics. It love having this muse as it focuses my thoughts on what gives me hope. I’ve noticed after months of doing this that more and more topics come to me, and that alone seems hopeful.
It was Tuesday and I was at the first Monarch Teacher’s Network meeting of the year, starting to plan next summer’s workshop. The teachers on the committee received the good news that we were recipients of a grant for more flowers for our school gardens. After the meeting, I happily loaded two trays of prairie plants into the back seat of my car – Joe Pye, brown-eyed susans, milkweed, pearly everlasting. Coming back to the car after stopping off for an errand, I discovered this lovely, subtle aroma of plants pervading my car. I wouldn’t have time until the next day to unload them, so the next morning, with the plants still in the car, I headed off to work. They still smelled beautiful.
Ah ha! I thought. A blog topic. Isn’t faith a lot like this? The effects of faith are not loud and splashy, but more of a subtle thing in one’s life. Noticing the life of the Spirit takes an awareness and openness, like noticing a beautiful tree or a smile from a friend that shifts a day towards hope. Many times my mind is scrambling around with a crazy to-do list or other such worries and I miss a lot of what God is saying.
All day I had fun playing with this idea of the subtle aroma, and I looked forward to heading back to the car after work, ready to inhale the lovely smell in the car again before I took the plants out.
When I opened the door, however, I was a bit startled to find that a smell that was no longer lovely. Maybe it had been too hot in the car all day, but my face turned a bit sour as I noticed a pungent aroma. Not only that, but now there were several flies buzzing around my head, not to mention a wasp that perched on my cheek. Not exactly the sweet aroma of the Spirit that I’d been musing on all day!
It was like that sour smell became enacted in my evening. First there was a frantic feel to getting supper ready, and then a feeling of depression set in as the music group practiced. Normally I enjoy practicing, but an oppressive feeling of all I had to do pressed on me. The last straw came at 3 am when I woke up with a headache and my mind was just spinning. Like a fast moving video stream from a movie, anxious thoughts rushed through me non-stop. I tried to breathe deeply to steady the swirl, but it didn’t seem to be working!
It occurred to me that “ideas” just don’t really cut it at 3 am when racing thoughts dominate the spirit, threatening to take over. Nighttime is like that. Mark Twain once said that we are never quite sane in the night. There are no distractions and the anxieties that we often block out during the day come to the forefront. The blog topic I’d mused on during the day seemed like an idea, not a real experience of God. Where was God now? I prayed but my prayers felt like the “hitting the ceiling” variety. Eventually I fell asleep.
God heard my prayers despite the feeling I’d failed at conveying them, for in the morning, a chapter in a book by Walter Bruggemann was infinitely helpful. Our community had been asked to read it in
preparation for our annual retreat at Falcon Lake (which we just got back from). (You can read it online here.)
Bruggemann writes about our temptation to become “secular autonomous people”, paying lip service in which God is an ornament but not a real factor in life. I thought about my “blog idea”, wondering how many times I think poetic thoughts about God but then get caught up in the cares of this world in the blink of an eye. The temptation seemed to apply to me – in getting ensnared by the cares of the week, I became secular, forgetting my absolute dependence on God. Like the plants in the back seat of my car, something was smelling a bit sour. Or to quote Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”!
Bruggemann writes about Psalm 73. The Psalmist is also tempted by worldly thinking, being taken over by cynicism, envy and self-indulgence…until he goes into the sanctuary of God (vs. 17). “In that holy mystery, saturated with Torah memory, the psalmist receives a second, revised version of reality.” As I read the passage and the chapter by Bruggemann, I felt that I was receiving a revised version of reality as well. I felt forgiveness and peace return to my tired heart as I prayed with the Psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but You?
There is nothing I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
I guess we all get our desires confused. Often I think my top desire is to get that to-do list in check. But the psalmist reminded me that morning that it is good to be near God. The aroma in the car was actually a wonderful metaphor, it was just that I forgot to do what the metaphor was all about – take whiffs of the more subtle things. Amid the food prep, I forgot to be grateful for Lyle and Joel. Amid my to-do list which made the music practice feel burdensome, I forgot to take a breath and remember that everything always gets done in good time as we entrust them to God. And as I tossed in bed at 3 am, I forgot there is a deeper current beneath the swirling emotions.
I may have forgotten, but thankfully God did not forget me. I remembered that I am God’s child. I am not protected from the struggles of life, but I can always enter God’s sanctuary, which is not a where but a when – whenever I remember whose kid I am.