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Archive for June, 2013

God Now Here

* * I am dedicating this blogpost to my dear cousin Evy who passed away this week and will be buried today. The world has lost a wonderful human being, but she will never be gone from my heart.

I received a few helpful correctives to my thinking this past week. It is very easy for me during times of physical and mental stress to begin to strategize and control and over-think the process. You might know the drill –  take the right vitamins, read the right book, do the right exercises, see the right doctors, eat the right food… and the list goes on. I figure if I do it right, I can control my health and well being.

In math I teach my students that the = sign means “the same as” 2 + 2 is the same as 4. Well, outside the math class, the equation does not 110660-glowing-green-neon-icon-alphanumeric-equal-signalways compute so literally. This past school year, I took vitamins galore, ran miles and miles, ate countless spinach salads, read fantastic books, but ill health still visited. Strategic efforts do not always = well being. Certainly exercise and healthy eating are not bad ideas, but I’ve been reminded lately that they are not a guarantee that all will be well.

Last week, in one of his daily email meditations, Richard Rohr was writing about memory and not being too quick to heal all of our bad memories. If we bypass them too quickly in an effort to avoid pain, we do not feel them deeply or learn what they have to teach us. “God calls us to suffer (read “allow”) the whole of reality, to remember the good along with the bad. Perhaps this is the course of the journey toward new sight and new hope.”

I drove to work that morning, taking some deep breaths, trying to focus on “what is” rather than “what I wanted”. There’s a classic play on the word “nowhere” and it came to mind. I had been assuming that God was nowhere in my experience, but God was nudging me gently, suggesting that maybe I’ve been  reading the word wrong. God was helping me reconfigure it, reminding me that God was not “nowhere” but “now here”, right in this experience. Not after I got better, but within it.

Rohr went on to write that we sometimes gather all our energy around a hurt, around what is wrong.  How much better to remember, like the prophet Baruch said, “Rejoice that you yourself are remembered by God.” (Baruch 5:5) (Baruch is part of the Bible’s Apocrypha.) No matter what is going on, God is still with us, loving us more than we can imagine.

As if to drive this point home, I also received a mentoring letter from our pastor Paul. It was as if Rohr and Paul had been talking. “God is not the source of your pain,” wrote Paul. “God doesn’t necessarily take your difficulties away, but just like your dearest friends, God loves you, suffers with you and teaches you through them.” Another deep breath.

imagesAnd so my prayers lately have been, “God, help me discern Your best hope for me amid whatever I’m experiencing. Use the “here” of my life to draw me closer to You, to understand others better and to learn to see You clearly beyond my small situation.”

I have sensed a re-gathering of my energy and a re-kindling of hope. A hope that is not based on how I’m feeling, but comes from being reminded that whether God takes me through my difficulties or around them, I am guaranteed of God’s love, the love of my community and a significant life. As Stephen Fearing sings in one of my current favorite recordings, “Turn the key from hope to trust.”

Two Kinds of Bread

I enjoy the experience of buying groceries. I’m grateful not just to stock up, but to have the chance to amble up and down the aisles. I love the leisurely look at food, making choices, ticking things off my list. But what I love most of all is people watching – smiling at babies and children, exchanging friendly words with people, and generally contemplating all the life circumstances around me. Sometimes I’m too rushed to enjoy it, but if I am mindful, it all feels a bit like prayer.

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Photo by Paul Patterson

But after buying my groceries this past Friday, my heart was heavy as I was trying to get to sleep. I have not been able to put my finger on the source yet, but lately I’ve been more stressed and that night I was feeling discouraged and a bit despondent. I know I have a faulty imagination when it comes to these things. I’m hard-wired to have catastrophic thoughts, thinking the worst, so I shouldn’t have been convinced by my fears. But there I was late at night, tossing and turning and in need of hope.

Lyle prayed for me, chasing off the demons of doom, which in itself was a huge help in fixing my perspective. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what my blog topic would be and thought back to the now full fridge of groceries. As good as that food would be, it still could only fill me for a while. Hunger would always return. I thought back to the faulty imagination of mine which gives me trouble. Where was the aisle in Superstore that would fill this grasping hunger once and for all? My full fridge just wouldn’t cut it.

Last Sunday morning, our church had talked about two kinds of bread. Scripture tells us that all the food money can buy will not keep our deep inner hunger away. For that kind of hunger, we can only turn in humility towards God. Our own striving and planning will not keep our inner thirst away. So many things in this life seem to promise that we’ll be ok and that we can make it on our own efforts. I myself felt that way in my younger days, but not any more. Good food, my beautiful garden, my accomplishments (such as they are), all my “stuff” – the older I get, the more I realize that there is no saving help in all these things. It’s not that they are not good, but they don’t ultimately help when I am beset with worries or fears. All these worldly things are what is called “earthly bread.”

We all have experiences of crying out to God, saying, “God, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty. I need the bread and water that can only come from You.” This kind of food can’t be bought at Superstore. My particular hunger lately has been to keep my eye on hope as I get through a tougher time.

The scripture from Sunday morning came back to me. An invitation from God.

“Come, everyone who is thirsty—
here is water!
Come, you that have no money—
buy grain and eat!
Come! Buy wine and milk—
it will cost you nothing!
(Isaiah 55:1)

The flour was not used up - Photo by Paul Patterson

The flour was not used up – Photo by Paul Patterson

This verse is an echo of the Old Testament story of the woman who had hardly any oil or flour left to live on. Yet, when she gave what little she had away to someone in faith, the oil and flour did not ever run out.

I was grateful for Lyle’s prayers for me, but also for the Sunday morning homily. It came back to me at the moment I needed it as I tossed on my bed with my fears. I was reminded that God would not forget my hunger for hope.  I woke up with a lighter heart the next morning because of God’s offer of mercy. I knew I wasn’t forgotten.

Trust in the Slow Work of God

A phrase has been turning over in my mind lately, whispering to me daily like an encouraging friend: “Trust in the slow work of God.” It came to me through Greg Boyle’s lovely book Tattoos on the Heart, and was originally written by Teilhard de Chardin. It has been tempering the impatience in my heart; the agitation I’ve felt as I’ve waited not just for the end of my cold, but also for greater peace of heart. 16114511136850645_i3ikemky

These are not easy virtues to come by. Spring came slowly and late to Winnipeg this year, and we’ve had to exercise patience and hope as gardens inched up ever so slowly. I could water and weed and wait, but I could not force those new shoots to come one minute sooner than they did. It was certainly a time to trust in the slow work of God.

At this time in the school year, it’s not uncommon for teachers and students alike to be counting down the days until summer break. 14 more days. Caught in between life as it is and life as it will be, we are tempted to tap our inner feet impatiently. Living in the moment becomes harder. Why focus on the moment when change is around the corner?

I begin every day with prayers, asking God to help me meet the challenges ahead. I ask for patience and compassion for my students as I enter the million interactions that make up one day, and I pray twice adding the names of certain students who are my greater teachers. Every day, I see the hand of God at work, but I also see the “not yet” of life. Many situations don’t get resolved overnight and require a steady dose of patience and hope. In the meantime, waiting can make me edgy and impatient.

It’s the same thing in our hearts. We have to wait for our characters to grow in God’s own timing. My prayer guide reminded me of this same thing with a scripture passage. “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5:3, The Message translation)

Shouting praise for troubles is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when I’m faced with them! It seems I’d rather fret and complain! But God tells me I can take this view of my troubles because through them, God is doing the slow work of developing patience and trust.

glass darklyThis is difficult to do because everyday life can seem murky. Scripture says that we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13). We don’t always understand why certain situations or people have to be in our path, like detours that makes our drive longer. Stuck in the middle of our life stories, it’s easy to forget that it’s all going somewhere, and that something new is surely being formed in the hands of God, the loving Potter.

Staying disciplined with physical exercise is easy for me, but it’s the exercise of patience and hope that is much tougher. Lately, it feels like I’ve been getting wake up calls, reminding me to trust in the slow work of God. I’m so grateful for this phrase that has softened my impatience and turned my face back to God.

Here is the whole poem by Teilhard de Chardin. It is well worth the read. Perhaps today I’ll print it out, place it in my pocket, take a breath and read it when I can’t see the way.

Above All,
Trust in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.

Amen.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, and philosopher. 1881-1955

Renewing Places

Going through the experience of a funeral is meaningful but also tiring. You enter a time of reflections and sorting through someone’s life  – both physically as you clean out their living spaces, and spiritually as you consider their legacy. In a real way, you leave “ordinary time”. Lyle and I arrived back in Winnipeg pretty exhausted. We both felt we could have slept forever.

Returning to work was like going back into another universe. It felt a bit like stepping  into a boat in the rapids when you’ve been on different, quieter terrain. Whoosh, and you’re off, ready or not! I think my inner self was choosing the second option, hollering, “Not ready!”

Our community has a study night on Wednesday. This week (as is often the case), it was perfect timing. For all of us, whatever rapids we’re in, our boat is invited to pull over and stop for a while in a quiet side pool to regroup and refocus. 255281_10150942601020748_623907858_n

When I was a kid, maybe 8 years old, a advertising jingle made an impression on me, “Hop in the car, come as you are to A & W.”   Hot, sandy and grubby after a weekend at the lake, I was in in a sweaty undershirt when our family went to the A & W drive-thru (remember the window trays?). I was embarrassed to look so disheveled, but I grew totally happy as I  remembered the jingle – I could come as I was! I didn’t have to be perfect first. (Ok, I was a weird kid!)

This is how I felt (and always feel) on Wednesdays, and I wasn’t let down. The topic for the evening was C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia. We’d been invited to think of a scene from the books that has always stayed with us. As three themes from Lewis’ classic works were presented, we shared our memorable scenes.

The whole evening was really helpful in refocusing me. It might sound like a small thing, but just remembering the deeper stream of life again was helpful. I had been swept up in the surface swirls and eddies of life, forgetting the more sustaining currents beneath me.

Lewis believed that most of us are so pre-occupied with ourselves and myriad worries that we aren’t thinking straight about who God is. We know we’re “supposed” to love God, so how come it so often feels like a should? His aim in writing the Narnia books was to step over the “shoulds” and experience God through a story. He wanted to “help us sense what the experience of God is like, as if we had never before really thought about it.” (Rowan Williams in The Lion’s World541901_549580118385577_1944612391_n)

It is no accident that all the children’s adventures starts with a door in a wardrobe. They were stuck bored in a house on a rainy day, and they walked through it to another much more adventurous world. Their lives were never the same. As we shared our favorite passages from the books, it was as if each person had walked through the same door. I was renewed and strengthened from our discussion.

I am thankful for all the doors I can walk through which take me to the deeper places.

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