This last Tuesday, my friend Lorna gave me a ride to work after I dropped my car off for a tune up and the switch to winter tires. We work close to each other so we sometimes help each other out. Talking to a good friend, however briefly, is always a great way to start the day.
“How are you doing?” she and I both asked each other in the 7 minute ride. She was battling a headache, and I the edges of depression, but our quick conversation didn’t become a complaining session. We both reflected on stuff we’d been reading and we mused on how so often we get stuck in thinking these human battles are who we are.
The day before, I had stopped off at Safeway on my way home, and I realized how incredibly tired I felt. Walking through the aisles, all I kept thinking was how I felt dead inside.
I kept remembering that “this too shall pass,” and of course it did, but it’s amazing how tempting these times are. I am tempted to think the passing clouds are the only story there is, but we are so much more than these passing human battles. “Lady Wisdom” (wisdom is often personified in the Bible) can weave her way through our lives, no matter how we’re feeling. We had talked about her in Watershed’s Sunday service the day before and I wondered what she would have to say to me in my tired state here in Safeway. What would she say as Sunday’s wisdom met the grind of Monday?
This is the snapshot I shared with Lorna. Tiredness, headaches, struggles – they’re all part of the human lot we have to face. “I’m trying to remember that I am not my body,” Lorna said to me, to which I quickly said that I was trying to remember that “I am not my feelings.”
In reflecting back over the week, this little interchange is what kept popping up as where I saw God bringing wisdom to bear on my very human life. Like a stone dropped in a pond, the words were small, but they kept rippling in my thoughts. God used Lorna, and I heard the words as a whisper in my ear, reminding me of the bigger picture.
I was reminded of Richard Rohr’s words in the daily email meditations I receive. He said this week that our life’s pains, such as they are, teach us a paradoxical lesson – that we must go down before we even know what up is. Like the title of a book from my childhood, Up the Down Staircase (anyone remember that one?), the way “up” to wisdom often seems to happen whenever we are on the “down staircase” and in some kind of normal human pain – pain that Rohr defines as simply “whenever we are not in control”.
I don’t know about you, but my first impulse is to resist pain by complaining and letting negative thoughts run rampant. What I’m finding is that this only leads to more pain. It’s like the lesson I learned at my pre-natal classes, over 20 years ago now – breathing deeply and facing the pain as calmly as possible helps you move through it. Bracing against it makes it worse.
For me, breathing deeply looks like this – remembering moment by moment that God can always transform our wounds into sacred wounds, and help us find deeper meaning in them. It’s like I have to make a conscious choice to send my thoughts there, instead of toward darker thoughts. God can use any situation for good.
Remembering this is like taking a deep breath, giving my often jumbled emotions to God, and asking God to give me strength to face the day with courage and wisdom. And like I often remember, I have never yet been let down by God. I think the friends at my house church would say the same thing.
As I watched the Dog Whisperer (one of my favorite shows) with Lyle this week, I realized God/Lady Wisdom is like the dog whisperer, taming the wild beast in us that would otherwise keep wreaking havoc. We saw how Cesar Milan hold a dog gently but firmly, letting the dog thrash around until it got the idea that there was another way. It could let go of its fear and impulses and surrender to the trainer. We saw a snarly beast (whose only future up to that point was euthanization because it was such a danger), transform into the unconditionally loving gift that dogs are created to be. The transformation needed reinforcement over the next while, but it happened.
One of my favorite pictures about Lady Wisdom is in Proverbs 1:20: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares.” She doesn’t call out to us once we have it “all together” in some ivory tower, but in the nitty gritty of every day. The public squares the verse refers to was the open market of ancient times. Vendors would call out, advertising their wares.
I remembered my time in Israel as we walked through the open market. Small shops on either side of us were never quiet. Just like the verse says, we heard everyone hollering for us to come look at the deal that was better than all others. Lady Wisdom is like one of these vendors, shouting “Hey you! Come over here! I’ve got something better than what you’re trying!” Like the classic optical illusion of the old lady/young lady, we can choose to see her.
As we left our Sunday meeting, we were told to look for Lady Wisdom this week, listen to her calling out to us. As Sunday met Monday and I strolled through Safeway, feeling depleted, I couldn’t help but remember this. I wondered what she’d say to me in this market place. She spoke this week, but as I walked, it was enough just to remember her. To remember that my small story wasn’t the only one. The first thing she said to me the next morning were simple words, “You are not your body. You are not your feelings.”
I felt grateful all week that she called out to me. I seem to have a major memory problem and I keep forgetting all the things she teaches as I fall into the same old habits, but lucky for me, she is always calling out, always speaking, always reminding me of who I am.