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Archive for May, 2014

Naming

Blue headed vireo - Ft.Whyte Alive - Photo by Lyle Penner

Blue headed vireo – Ft.Whyte Alive – Photo by Lyle Penner

Those who know me know I’m a birder or, a term I heard lately, a “bird nerd”.  I have all manner of bird feeders and baths in our small West End backyard. For most of the year, they attract many sparrows and squirrels, but also woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. When the month of May comes, birders in Manitoba polish their binocular lenses because of the amazing bird migration passing through on its way to Canada’s boreal forest.

As both Lyle and I watched and listened in rapt attention these last weeks, I’ve noticed a curious tendency I have to want to name them. Though I

Bluejay in our backyard - Photo by Lyle Penner

Bluejay in our backyard – Photo by Lyle Penner

can identify some bird songs, when I hear one I don’t know, an inner itch begins. I have to find out what it is, and until I do, I become a detective.

I try to whistle the songs and perform them for any birding experts I meet. I record birds and email the file to my favorite birding store, the Preferred Perch, for the owner Sherry to listen to. She humors my requests and solves my mysteries. Once I know the name, I  begin to study the bird, its habits, markings and any other details.

I’ve wondered about this obsessive need of mine to know. Is it a way of capturing mystery? An old yoga teacher of mine used to caution us about holding too tightly onto the names we give things. For example, naming an illness by diagnosing it can help us, but it can also begin to limit our imagination on our healing journey. There is always more of an element of mystery to things than we know.

I guess names give us a way of structuring and mapping the world in our minds. When my son Joel was little, naming the universe was the best part of being a mom. “That’s a tree.” “That’s a flower.” The name that gave him the most joy was “Lights!”  As I named things, I felt the way the Creator must feel, opening the world to a mind filled with wonder. Like all parents, we also put a lot of thought into the choosing of his name, and like all kids, he went on to gain many nicknames from us and others. Moe Joe. Bud. Leoj (Joel spelled backwards). Many names for the same person.

The Bible has many names for God, but there is one that seems to trump them all. When Moses saw God in the burning bush he asked, “Who should I tell them I saw?” God gave him a most puzzling answer. The name (Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh), translated means something like: “I will be who I will be”. That’s no name! That’s a riddle! No wonder it has sparked endless study and discussion in the 3000 years that followed!

Aviva Zornberg, an Old Testament scholar, believes that God is being evasive on purpose in the answer to Moses. Somehow, Zornberg says, God is saying, “I’m not giving you a handle. You want a handle of some kind to hold on to, to say, “Now I’ve got him. That’s a name.” And God is not willing to allow himself to become in any way fetishized.”

Along with Moses, God answers us and asks us to be content with the name that is not a name. In the years that followed, Moses would go on to free his people from Egypt, the most oppressive land of slavery there was. No one thought they could get free from it. The word “Egypt” in Hebrew means “the narrow places” of one’s life. This God without a name was with the people as they escaped the narrow places. Zornberg translates the mystery name to mean that God says, “I will be [with them in this trouble] what I will be [with them in future narrow places].”

I guess I am so consumed with naming these days because I am in a state of waiting and watching. What is my future, after this leave of absence from work is finished? Like Moses, I want to know! I am impatient and my mind strains to understand. Like a many faceted jewel, I turn my life over and over in my hands, trying to name what I see.

Blue headed vireo - Ft.Whyte Alive - Photo by Lydia Penner

Harris’ sparrow in our backyard – Photo by Lydia Penner

Like Moses, God is asking me to be content with mystery and with whatever is becoming, and to trust that “all will be well” in due time.  As I take a breath and let go of my striving, I recognize a name that is here already – gratitude. How grateful I am for the space these days have given me. I am reading, writing and resting more in a “being” mode than I have in such a long time.

Maybe I’m not the only one pondering the jewel of my life. Maybe God is doing the same thing, calling me by name. No doubt God is leading me out of the narrow places of my life.

God says, “Do not be afraid. I will set you free.

I have called you by name. You belong to me.”  Isaiah 43:1

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Waiting

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31

I have the sense these days that I’m waiting. In the silence of each day, I’m waiting to understand things, waiting for answers to inner questions, waiting for healing.

535051004_1b8ed51c58_bLately, the winter dormancy of my hibiscus plant has given way to a bounty of spring buds. It sits by the window of my meditation room, and I’ve watched the buds slowly grow and swell.  One bud in particular has been ahead of the rest. Reaching toward the window, it has been quietly holding a promise of beauty. It has become my symbol of waiting.

Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest, writes  that we can trust the “slow work of God”, and his words came to me this week as I kept gazing at my slowly evolving hibiscus buds. I who am so impatient always want to skip the waiting part, and get on to the new. Yet, nature keeps reminding me that I cannot force what will be. As Henri Nouwen, the Dutch Catholic priest and author once observed, just as an orange can not make itself ripen any faster by trying hard, so too we are encouraged to wait in hope for God’s good timing.

I finished a book this week which has been instructive in the art of waiting, called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, by Cynthia Bourgeault. It describes a meditation practice called centering prayer, a way of way of letting go of thoughts as they arise by gently saying a chosen “sacred word”, such as love or peace. This “gesture of surrender” helps us let go of expectations of how we think life should be, how people act, even how fast God works. Like an inner GPS, it keeps the outer part of us aligned with our yearning for God and God for us.

The hope is that our “false selves” give way to our true nature in God. Our false self is what sees only the surface of things, that “jumbled, reactive landscape of ordinary awareness”.

As I’ve been practicing this way of prayer, I have found that my inner world is not a nature scene of pastoral meadows, but a crowded traffic jam of thoughts! It’s pretty much bumper to bumper in there! Buddhism calls this monkey mind. No worries, encourage teachers of centering prayer. All we need to do is gently say our chosen “sacred word” (such as peace or love) when thoughts come up, giving up our thought processes, and continue to sit.

Prayer periods with monkey mind are not “bad” meditations (even though they might subjectively feel this way). One is just encouraged to see them as an aerobic workout for the “muscle of surrender”.

One phrase in particular has stayed with me. Bourgeault says that we are often tempted to “make a religion out of our better moments”. We want to brush under the carpet all the so-called negative emotions, the difficulties that we all encounter so regularly, and be “good” for God. Just like the ice still plugging the pipes of Winnipeg homes, this just blocks the free flow of our being. God doesn’t want me just when I’m at my best. God wants the people we are, in the mess of our humanity. Teachers of centering prayer say that we can release the “emotional wounds of a lifetime” to God. It’s all good, and it’s such a relief to continually learn that God is like the old A&W commercial, inviting us to “Come as you are.”

Two days ago, the first hibiscus bud finally bloomed. I marveled at its beauty and couldn’t resist snapping picture after

The hibiscus flower finally blooms!

The hibiscus flower finally blooms!

picture, but of course, none fully caught the miracle.

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 want to force flowers open before they’re ready.

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 instability16114511136850645_i3ikemky-1
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

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