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Archive for February, 2013

The God of Lost Things

A few weeks ago I turned 52. I suppose I should give my head a shake, but I still can’t quite believe I’m that old. Somehow, I still feel like I’m not that far past my university days. The crates we still use as furniture at our house, (and every year we swear we’ll get rid of them), purchased while we were still poor students, might somehow create that illusion.

Yet, despite my misperception, I can’t deny it – the parents of my students are definitely younger than me for one thing! Other things speak as well, like creaky bones when I wake up, but probably the biggest indicator is how much more I tend to lose things. Not a day goes by at work where I am not shuffling through my stacks in my classroom, looking for something I misplaced. This year I have one student who has the expert skills of the best detective – if I set her loose on a case, she turns items up with remarkable speed. I have jokingly told her I might have to fail her so I can retain her services for another year. I suppose I’ll just have to settle for hollering down the hall for her to come help me out next year.

Catholic-Saint-Anthony-with-Jesus-book-lily

Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things

A few years ago, my friend Bev shared what a Catholic friend from work had told her – about the Catholic saint named Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things. When something is lost, Catholics pray to him, asking for his help. Over the years since I heard this, I have prayed to him many times and invariably, I find what I was looking for. It is actually quite uncanny and mysterious. For example, this week I invoked the prayer when I had a room filled with squirmy students waiting for my math lesson and I couldn’t find the activity they needed to get going. Sure enough, I found my papers.

One of the prayers I found online is quite beautiful. It petitions Saint Anthony for help in finding the lost item, but ends “at least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss.”

As this prayer attests, it’s not just material things that get lost. There are many ways we ourselves can get lost – a lost sense of joy, or direction, or peace. We can lose our way in a way Google Maps can’t help us. One day this week, as I left school and entered my car, I had that sense of feeling lost. I’d failed to remain patient with one of my students that day and feelings of shame were weighing down my heart as I was going home. Nothing warps the perceptions like shame. Paul Patterson (our pastor) says in times like that, that we can’t even “think our way out of a paper bag” and I prayed for help. It wasn’t instant, but after prayers, a good rest, and talking to Lyle, the shame weighing me down fell off my shoulders. The God of infinite second chances and forgiveness had found me once again.

scan0071God has found me so many times in my life that if I were to count them, I wouldn’t come to an end. One of my favorite stories of the Bible is the shepherd who is looking for his one lost sheep, and doesn’t quit until that one is found. If I had to choose a story to tell my life through, that would be the one, and as I get older, my gratitude grows more every day for this huge gift.

This week, I noticed several times of prayer that were immeasurably helpful. There were no dramas of lostness going on, just petitions for the day. As Lyle and I often do, I prayed for our son Joel who is moving out soon, that God would continue to guide his beautiful life. (These prayers won’t be ending anytime soon!) I prayed for patience and love for my students. I prayed for Lyle and our dear friends, and for our parents who are feeling the effects of aging. I prayed for those who are sick and struggling. And I prayed prayers of gratitude for so much help and guidance given in each day.

In the parables of the Bible, God is always searching for the lost things – lost coins, lost sheep, and even a son who was lost. I am so grateful that I’ve been found. Even when I am lost, I know it is only a matter of time before I hear my name and I’m found once again.

Are You Awake?

A good book has no ending.  ~R.D. Cumming

It was 2:30 am last Friday night when I finally gave up the fight for sleep. I’d been tossing for over 2 hours and sleep was evading me, and I decided to get up and make myself some hot milk and honey. I don’t usually have this dilemma, and knowing I had a weekend of report card writing ahead of me, I felt more than frustrated.

present-perfect-finding-god-in-the-nowI picked up the new book my friend Verda had bought me for my birthday, called Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now (Gregory A. Boyd) and almost immediately I had to chuckle. The first heading of the first chapter was “Are You Awake?” Why yes, I happened to be exactly that!

I read the first chapter before attempting (successfully this time) to fall asleep.  The next day, I got my reports done in fine form (plus had a nap), and have kept on reading. All week the book has stayed on my mind. Last night when I saw Verda, I half-jokingly told her I felt like the book was changing my life. It was the clearest evidence of God to me this week, sparking hope and contemplation. Like the above quote says, it has been living on in my thoughts.

As I read the first chapter in my 2 am insomnia, I was introduced to the idea of becoming awake to the presence of God. Actually, I can’t really say I was introduced to this idea. On this blog, I have often quoted one of my favorite lines, that “God is closer to us than our own breath.” I believe that this is true for everyone in the world, no matter what their beliefs, backgrounds or religious outlooks. Boyd, the author, writes that God is present in all places at all times, which is also what the Bible teaches. The New Testament says that “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) I think the question is, how aware are we of this fact.

So, even though this is not a new thought for me, I was being woken up to it again. More important, David-Mackintosh.-Are-you-awake.Boyd invited me to begin practicing this awareness.

Throughout my life, I’ve often been introduced to spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading scripture, and service. The disciplines are excellent practices, but I can sometimes mistakenly think they are about “feeling” a certain way. When I have a warm fuzzy glow as one of my criteria, I don’t feel very successful at them.

The author gave a very timely reminder that it’s not about “feeling” anything at all. In fact, you don’t even have to do anything at all. It’s just about becoming mindful of the fact that, at this present moment, we are “submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love”, just as a fish is always surrounded by water.

I have to admit, this is not usually what I have going on in my consciousness! I usually have a ton of chatter going on – worries and fears and brooding resentments and a ton of hamster wheel thoughts that happen over and over again about life’s million details. My trivial, self-centered mental chatter blocks my awareness of God like a dark cloud blocks the sun. The author says that my experience is not uncommon – many of us become absorbed in the past or future, which causes us to miss the wonder of the present moment. Even though I had been awake in a very literal sense that Friday night,  I realized that maybe I have spent a long time sleeping.

The book offers some easy ways that we can practice the awareness of God’s presence. One that has been particularly helpful for me this week is the one called Finding “Home” in Your Skin. Boyd writes about gravity. Unless we are in space like Chris Hadfield, our body is always in contact with something and is always being supported in multiple ways. Right now, my feet are supported by the floor and my body is resting on a sofa. Tonight my body will be supported by my bed.

Boyd suggests that we use this constant touch as a “little signal that God is watching over you and caring for you.” In this way, our continual contact with the world becomes a sacrament communicating that we are always at home in God’s loving presence.

I have been practicing this a lot throughout the week. No matter what I’ve been worried or anxious about, it has been a good re-orientation. Notice I don’t write that as I’ve practiced, I’ve “felt” better. Sometimes I continue to be on the hamster wheel, but this awareness has been a gift to me. It’s not a psychological trick, it’s just about getting my mind to line up with a Reality that I believe in anyways. It’s like it has been giving me hope for a bigger world.

On Tuesday and Friday mornings, Lyle and I read scripture together and pray before heading out to work and on Friday a verse jumped out at me. “In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord. The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces.” (Psalm 118:5) I have been so grateful this week for how this verse is always true. Tight circumstances transform into wide-open spaces when we wake up to God’s ever-present Love.

I was hesitant to write about this book as my “experience of the week” because I’m certainly no expert and probably never will be. But when I suspend judgment on how I’m doing and just rest in God’s love, I become aware of gratitude for everything, including a book that has become a friend in nudging me towards the wide open spaces.

Who Am I?

As far back as I can remember, people have told me that I’m a “nice person”. I’m not saying it of myself, this is what others tell me.

Almost equally as far back as I can remember, I have also known about the other side of the picture – that I have had life-long struggles with depression, holding grudges, attention-seeking, to introduce just a few of descriptors from the dark side. Those who know me well are not surprised. This week, I did some thinking about these labels after our mid-week Bible study.

One of my all-time favorite poems is by theologian and German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for opposing Hitler. Written while he was in prison at the end of his life, the poem is called “Who Am I?”  Click on the link to read the whole poem. He notices two dietrich_bonhoeffer-grosssides of himself: people tell him that he speaks freely and friendly and clearly, bearing the days of misfortune “equably, smilingly, proudly”, and yet inwardly he knows himself to be “restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,/ struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat…”

He struggles with the contradictions in the poem, wondering who he really is – the strong one or the weak one. Both at once? A hypocrite? A weakling?

Whenever I get someone telling me I’m nice, I sometimes start to protest and get cranky, knowing they are not seeing the whole picture. At times, I am convinced that the dark side is all there is. I have heard it often enough that I wonder who I truly am. With Bonhoeffer I ask, “Am I one person today and tomorrow another?”

At our Bible study this week, we looked at the story in the gospel of Mark about Jesus clearing the temple. He is being touted as a great hero and upcoming king, and yet he acts with seeming contradiction when he enters the temple of holiness (supposedly where he will rule) and loses it, throwing over the tables of commerce that have taken over the temple.

Like Bonhoeffer’s famous question, people wondered who this guy really was. A compassionate healer or an angry revolutionary? Those without power – children, the poor, the sick, the outcasts – loved him for his great compassion but of course, the powers that be thought he was the latter and began to plot to kill him. Jesus could have written his own “Who Am I?” poem.

We talked about why Jesus did it. While we don’t usually go around throwing tables over in revolutionary zeal, sometimes we may say no to the powers – signing a petition, going to a demonstration, buying fair trade coffee or chocolate, or even reading about an issue. We might do these things out of guilt, to be trendy… or out of a deeper motivation. Jesus did it because of his deep love of God and of prayer. He saw what the temple had become and it grieved him. His action came directly out of his relationship to God.

During our discussion, Paul made a small comment to me and I spent the next few days thinking it through. He said I have a naturally friendly temperament and I do nice things for others. But I sometimes forget to be aware of the source, which is God, not me. “You forget to connect it.”

It was a little riddle of a comment that got me thinking. I know all too well that I can do things for others because I want to be liked. In this way, acts of kindness become a compensation for my insecurity. But the Spirit was reminding me of that great question, “Who am I?” If insecurity and a desire to be liked are my deepest motivations, then I will become resentful and bitter, because insecurity is a bucket that never gets filled. This isn’t theory, it happens to me all the time.

Bonhoeffer ends his poem with a prayer. After wrestling with the two sides of himself, he throws up his hands and gives all the questions to God.

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

This prayer heals my heart every time. Bonhoeffer moves from asking “Who am I?” to resting in “Whose” he is – a beloved son of God. Maybe acting in the world is about staying connected to God. Every good gift comes from God, says the Bible. My insecurities will probably always be with me, but when I live out of my deeper identity, acts of kindness become about giving what I have received so abundantly.

IHeart-Take-My-Heartt was my birthday this week, and I was so struck all week by this abundance. I am so rich in friends who love me the way God does – unconditionally, warts and all. May we all be awake, living  with awareness, every moment, of our place in the heart of God.

Make Love Your Aim

When my son Joel was little, every once in a while we would go into what I call “lecture mode” with him. All parents do it, hoping to instill lessons and values into our offspring. These lecture series often came with a tone of impatience, knowing we had usually said it all before. Joel would never enjoy these (what we thought were) insightful discourses, saying with a moan, “Mom, Dad, I know this already.”

This is a bit how I felt this week when we were asked to read a very familiar passage and reflect on it for this Sunday’s homily. The passage is 1 Corinthians 13, a well-known hymn or poem on love.  Phrases of it echo in our culture and even non church-goers would recognize them – “Faith hope and love, and the greatest of these is love”; “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own way…”; “if we don’t have love, we’re like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal”.

Like Psalm 23 or John 3:16, I could almost recite this passage by heart. I played it on piano at my sister’s wedding long ago. I’ve heard it read at countless weddings and heard it in even more sermons. Sometimes passages become so familiar to us they become almost cliché. It’s difficult sometimes to get a fresh take on things. What does it really mean to love one another? Don’t I know all this stuff already?

432207_307612059354512_2106836673_nBut Cal’s invitation to reflect got me thinking about the question “What is my deepest aim in life?” The passage says to “make love your aim”. I remember a poster from my high school which read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” I’m a Christian, a follower of Christ – of course Love and God are guiding my life. That’s where I’m going… right?

Well I’m here to confess that I’m not as saintly as that.  This passage was in my mind as I began to observe my thoughts. Here was a passage about love being kind, patient, slow to anger, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful… this list felt like a glowing white beacon, and compared to it, my thoughts and actions felt like dull grey rags. I shouldn’t even put this in past tense because the ego is a tenacious entity. My thoughts and actions are often consumed with self – how do I look, how am I doing. I have gifts, such as encouragement and hospitality, but often I hide these gifts, crippled by the unconscious aim of “self”, not love.

By mid-week, I realized I was in a fix and couldn’t think my way out of my dilemma. By Thursday, I was doing all out therapy sessions in my brain. “Why am I like this? Did something happen in my childhood that I need to look at?”

Thank God I am never left alone with my thoughts, because God spoke to me through the passage. Cal sent out a quote detailing two things about love: it is patient and it is kind:

“Love is patient – willing to receive slights, injuries, and hardships without complaint, even over a long period of time. Love is kind; it eases another’s pain, soothes anxieties, fears and hostilities, and contributes positively to the happiness of others. The root word occurs in the gospels (Mt 11:30, Lk 5:39, 6:35) and suggests that kindness is characteristic of God, is a concern to eliminate suffering and increase joy. Far from being mere sentimentality, kindness to individuals is a practical demonstration of one’s concern to alleviate the miseries and improve the lot of people in general.” (from The Anchor Bible Commentary by William Orr and James Walther)

I realized that there really is no answer to the clamoring insecurities. I had made the solving of a problem my aim in life when God had already given me an aim and more important, a relationship with a Being beyond myself. What a relief! The insidious disease of “I’m first” had snuck into my brain and even into my relating to Lyle at home.

There’s a great song by Mavis Staples with the lyric, “Jesus is on the main line, just tell him what you want…”. I prayed to God 1corinthians13jpeg1-1024x745and it felt like I was dumping all my questions at God’s feet. I had no answer to them, but God’s answer was simple. “Make love your aim, kiddo. Don’t you worry about all those insecurities. You’ll be fine.”

I was blessed this week to go to the funeral of a retired co-worker. Wendy was a teacher who retired 4 years ago and had battled cancer for almost as long. Very sadly, she passed away last week. Her funeral was very sad but also inspiring as we heard about how her life was so guided and shaped by love. The minister told us that Wendy had chosen 3 scripture passages to be read at her funeral and 1 Corinthians 13 was one of them. The words she spoke felt urgent and I sat up and listened – “Remember to honor your relationships. Don’t let anything less than love guide them. Remember the One who is higher than yourself. Remember to love God.”

I feel honored and forever grateful that God forgives my ragged, grey thoughts and still calls me to something higher. Like my son so long ago, I began the week thinking I knew this lesson of love, but if I’m honest, I know it only in part, like the verses say. Thank God that God knows the way fully. I’ll keep listening and one day, I will be fully healed.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:12-13)

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