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Posts tagged ‘Julian of Norwich’

God in the Mess

A few weeks ago, I was hurrying out the front door, car keys in hand, ready to go to the gym.  When I got to the garage (after a quick side trip to the compost bin), the keys were gone. I muttered in annoyance and hurried to the front, expecting to retrieve them quickly, but the keys had vanished.

Has anyone seen my keys?

Has anyone seen my keys?

Over the next two weeks, Lyle and I became amateur detectives, spending literally hours shoveling and digging in the deep snow and in the compost bin, hoping to spot the keys. Every time we walk past the area, we squint at the snow, hoping to make them materialize by our concentrated effort like some crazed magicians. We even borrowed a friend’s metal detector but as of today, the earth has still swallowed them. We keep looking, but it’s all in vain. The keys may just have to wait until spring to be discovered.

I have observed an increasing tendency to lose things, so much that my students have begun to notice. The other day, when I was rummaging for something or other, one of them said, “It’s because you’re old Mrs. Penner.” Another student came to my defense, saying, “She’s not old, she’s just medium-old.”

I had to laugh at both assessments, but I wasn’t laughing the week I lost my keys. How could anyone lose something so thoroughly in such a small area? Despite knowing this is definitely a “first world problem”, I couldn’t shake the feeling of franticness that made me realize I’d lost not just my keys, but my perspective.

I got a text in the days following the key loss from our friend Cal. “Remember Lydia,” he wrote regarding the keys, “God is in the mess.” I knew it was the sermon topic for the coming Sunday, but it hadn’t occurred to me that God meant even this mess.

His message stopped me in my tracks and totally changed my feelings of frantic frustration. In all my Christmas rushing around, my imagination had once again become smaller. I had my eyes on what was right in front of me, and forgot the bigger picture – that God can appear anywhere, especially in the messes. Not only had I lost my keys, I’d lost my perspective, but thanks to God working in Cal’s text to me, I was nudged back to the Kingdom.

The passage in our Sunday homily was about Joseph, the father of Jesus. He too was reeling from a mess. He was engaged to Mary when she became pregnant with Jesus, allegedly by the Holy Spirit. He wanted to “dismiss her quietly” to save her the public shame, but an angel assured him to trust in God despite the ambiguous circumstances. When Joseph cried out to God, God

Matthew 1:20

Matthew 1:20

showed up with unexpected assurance that all would be well.

In the days of Jesus, the people had specific expectations of what the Messiah would look like. They expected a King who looked more like a superhero, not a baby whose parents were too poor to find a decent hotel for the night. Not a baby whose genealogy in the gospel of Matthew included 4 women of ill repute! The people’s expectations were shattered by how God showed up. We were reminded through this story that God is always bigger than we can conceive, and that God can show up in all our outlandish situations.

I had to think through this again for this blogpost. What exactly does it mean that God is with us in the mess? I was reminded of what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the messes are necessarily cleaned up. It didn’t happen for Joseph and Mary. In fact, their mess just got bigger! It wasn’t long before they were a fugitive family, on the run from a murderous king.

But it does mean that God’s friendship changes everything, like how we see things. Joseph received a dream on how to navigate his difficult circumstances. Wise people came, affirming that God was with them on their path.

And God has been with me, both “in weal and in woe”, as Julia of Norwich so famously said. I was grateful how my frantic feeling vanished with the reminder that God was with me in my imperfections, not once I’d figured things out. And I have seen God’s bounty in so many other places lately:

  • I have seen God’s presence in our community’s Christmas celebration and in our lively  singing. There seemed to be a palpable presence of joy with us.
  • In the gift of faithful friends who help me feel more myself so regularly, by always pointing me to my deepest values.
  • In the Christmas concert at school when everyone banded together and our best came out despite many challenges.
  • In stories of amazing generosity and love poured into the lives of those who are in difficult situations in our community and beyond.

I hope I can always remember the lesson of my keys – that God is with me in every ambiguous circumstance, providing in ways I can’t even imagine.  Here’s one of my favorite Christmas poems, where Madeline L’Engle says it much better than I could.

The risk of birth

This is no time for a child to be born.new-comet-mcnaught-1-100608-02
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

Two Small Words

A few weeks ago, I wrote about two words that have been helping me make a fresh start in the school year. “Good enough,” has been my guiding mantra. I didn’t write it at the time, but there’s been another one nudging me in the right direction.

Lately, my thoughts have been turning back to these wise words. They were given to me by my pastor Paul Patterson at the end of summer. I had asked him for guidance on how to avoid the over-emotional bent that I am prone to. His words seem so obvious, yet I’ve been finding them just as orienting as the words “good enough”.

“Be rational,” he said. His words were a caution against letting my anxieties taking over the reins. We talked for some light_switchtime and I gained a new perspective. I can’t explain it, but these two words were like a light switch, bringing balance to my thoughts and actions. Maybe my feelings had become a bit like spoiled children, demanding attention from me the indulgent parent. “Good enough” and “Be rational” have been my two mantras. Teaching is never easy, but I’ve felt more balanced and happier.

I’ll give you an example of how it works. Coming up with lesson plans every day can be a daunting task, and in the past, it has often left me feeling swamped and drained. But that’s the feeling end of things, and focusing my attention there doesn’t exactly lead anywhere profitable. In fact, it makes my world smaller, and I know God isn’t in the business of creating cramped worlds. So instead, the words “be rational” have invited me to think of the way things really are, in a bountiful universe filled with God’s blessings.

So I’ve begun to think that the lessons already exist out there, and God the creative one  is brimming over with ideas for the students. So I take a breath, say a prayer, crack open the books and wait to see what sparks come. This way has led me to be more relaxed and trusting that God has my back. In fact, God is the Teacher behind the teacher. I’m often surprised that despite myself, something always falls into place. Even when a lesson falls flat, I can remember to “be rational” (as opposed to feeling like a schmuck!), and remember that tomorrow is a new day to try again.

Another application of these words is how I think about my students. Some of these precious kids come with lives already so burdened by problems beyond their control. If I’m being guided by emotions, my shoulders crack as I worry and try to carry the load on my own. Instead, it has helped me immeasurably to think of them first and foremost as God’s children. I pray for many of them every day, saying, “Take care of your dear child”, placing them before the God whom scripture says loved us all even when we were being formed in the womb. My mom also prays for them as do my friends at church.

All-WBW-Black-and-OrangeCome to think of it, that’s how God remembers me too. The other night as I was falling asleep, worried about a recurrent problem, I suddenly heard the voice of my dear neighbor, “Tante Bargen”, who was like my second mom growing up. I heard her caring voice as she said my name, and my crusty heart melted as I remembered that I was immeasurably loved and that as Julian of Norwich said, “All will be well”. Thinking about it even now draws tears to my eyes. I know God used her to restore me to myself.

So thanks Paul for the wise words this August. I’m certainly not applying them without flaw, but then I remember the other two words, “Good enough,” and I’m good to go.

“God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Be alert and of sober mind.” 1 Peter 5:8

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