"We need not get frantic.
God is at the helm.
And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace,
for all is well."
"We need not get frantic.
God is at the helm.
And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace,
for all is well."
Eugene Peterson loves the psalms.
He has helped me to love them, too. And to use them as my guide for prayer.
I start at the beginning. Starting with Psalm 1 I read a psalm each day when I sit down to think, pray, and journal.
I don't care if the psalm fits with my mood, or my concerns, or what is on my mind. I just read the next psalm in order. There is something steady about this plan, solid beyond my flimsy whims and fancies.
I read the psalm slowly; sometimes aloud, sometimes to myself, whatever seems right.
I often read one verse at a time, pausing to see if the Spirit wants to speak to me through that verse, or if perhaps my spirit - sparked by that verse - has something to say to God.
Sometimes nothing really happens. That is ok.
Sometimes I pray in ways that don't fit with the verse or the psalm I just read. That is ok.
But sometimes the words I read in the ancient poetry of the psalms connect with my heart, my life, my struggles in ways so profound I barely have to add my own words.
Whatever happens I keep reading, and I keep praying ... psalm after psalm after psalm after psalm.
I just finished a round, from the beginning to the end - all the psalms read and prayed through.
And though I am looking at other biblical places to land, my heart decided to go back to Psalm 1 and simply start over. Fresh things will happen for sure.
This is what Peterson says about the psalms:
"We learn to listen reverently and attentively by praying the psalms ...
the psalms are poetry, as distinguished from prose ...
Poetry is language used with personal intensity.
It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech.
Poetry is designed not to teach us about God, but to train us in responding to him.
Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us.
Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself.
They do it not by reporting on how life is but by pushing and pulling us into the middle of it.
Poetry grabs for the visceral."
I don't know about you, but for me, in this distracted and distracting age, I need something that "grabs for the visceral" to wake me out of my stupor and shake me awake to the presence of God around me, and within me.
Thank you, God, for the psalms ...
Reading my way through Eugene Peterson's most recent-and possibly final-book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
His thoughts on prayer are worth repeating and pondering:
"Prayer is first of all a means of listening.
Prayer is an act of attention.
We are not used to this. We suppose we are in charge of prayer.
God has spoken. We are required to enter a world of listening to God."
I need to take Peterson in small doses; to ingest his words and to let them slowly spread into my soul. To ponder them for days before I ingest any more.
To read his thoughts quickly, to gulp down too many words at one time without thinking about them, is a waste. It is like drinking a beautiful glass of red wine in one swallow.
Will you ponder this one little nugget of his writing with me today?
What does it mean that "prayer is first of all a means of listening?"
What does that mean in your life?
How do you operationalize that?
Do you teach this to others, or when you talk about prayer in your life and ministry, is it always as if prayer were primarily the act of talking?
What about the idea that "prayer is an act of attention?"
In a world where our attention is bought and sold by the shiniest object on the internet, this is a sobering thought.
What might prayer look like in your life if you believed it was primarily about listening and paying attention?
More in a couple days ... this is enough Peterson medicine for now.
Stay awake today.
There is no such thing as an ordinary moment.
Despite our labeling of parts of our day as boring, repetitive or meaningless, every single moment is God-saturated.
So wake up.
And stay awake.
When you turn toward a task you consider boring, say - washing some pots and pans - remember the wise words of the ancient mystic Teresa of Avila, who said:
"God walks among the pots and pans."
And as you scrub, you can even say to God,
"Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."
"Hello God, I am glad to be with you in this moment."
"Show me your beauty today."
"Thank you that I am blessed enough to have pots and pans."
Just don't miss the moment.
Don't miss God.
For God walks among the pots and pans, however clean or dirty.
So stay awake.
I was watching a storm roll in this weekend. I love impending storms.
So I stepped outside onto our screened-in porch and gazed up at the roiling sky.
It was a strange confluence of events ... it was raining, dark clouds were flying past, and the sun was peeking out, all at the same time.
A hawk caught my eye, high up in the sky. It was coasting on the shifting winds, up near the darkest clouds, peaceful and slow it coasted as the wind swirled, the thunder rumbled, the sun shone and the rain fell.
And the beauty of it all took my breath away.
It reminded me of some great writing I had just finished reading by Kent Dobson:
"The spiritual life is my actual life ... The sum total of our experiences, in all their messy glory, is where we live our spiritual lives. The walls come down between sacred and secular. The car ride on the way to church, when we're yelling at our kids to shut up, is just as much our spiritual life as the music we pretend to like when we get there.
Who we are, right now, is enough. The life that we're living right now, is enough.
God will not show up if we're good enough, right enough, spiritual enough, or somehow have the moral fortitude to ward off all ambiguity and messiness. God will not meet us on top of a mountain, just because we make a big deal out of going there. God is not actually hiding somewhere or waiting for us to play the game of beliefs in order to pass the eternal mega-test.
We have to learn to trust our real life again, the one we live in our body, spirit, and heart ... the secret to this kind of spirituality is to pay attention to the ordinary.
That's where God shows up."
Watching that hawk,
experiencing that impending storm,
hearing the rain pitter-patter on my roof,
feeling the wind of my cheeks,
looking for the rainbow,
I was "paying attention to the ordinary."
This IS the spiritual life; there is no other life. The porch from whence I witnessed these things was my temple. My spirit worshipped. My heart sang. I whispered "thank you" over and over and over. This ordinary moment became holy.
Or maybe I should say, this ordinary moment always was holy - every moment is holy. I just became still enough, awake enough, attentive enough, to notice.
In reading through a great book called "The Listening Life" by Adam McHugh
I came across the idea of what McHugh calls "The spiritual discipline of the long walk."
By this he means ... well, exactly like what it sounds.
A long walk,
not for the purpose of exercise,
not with earbuds in,
A long, slow, quiet, contemplative, listening walk.
This is what McHugh writes about this idea:
"I want to propose the spiritual discipline of the long walk. It is long because the monologue racing through our heads takes awhile to talk itself out, and it is a walk because moving any faster would make the world blurry, and this is a practice meant to slow us down.
The long walk is about attentiveness, about receiving each moment as a gift and listening to the sermons creation is preaching to us.
The long walk can be practiced anywhere ... the idea behind it is to unplug in order to connect with the Power that surges through the world.
For the first ten minutes ... I am allowing the fog to drift out of my soul, silencing my mind and heart and giving myself over to God's gifts in my immediate surrounding.
Then I begin to notice what I see and hear, no matter how big and loud or small and quiet ...
Then ... I start to pay attention to anything that flashes or sings out at me, something specific that draws me in ...
There is no pressure for our observations to be theological or spiritual; we are simply waking up to the craftsmanship of God's handiwork around us and listening.
If something grabs your attention, carry it in your mind and heart as you walk. Let it preach to you for awhile. Allow it to draw you into dialogue with the One who imagined it and made it.
Let it roll up into gratitude for the beauty, mercy and wisdom he has surrounded us with.
End with 'thank you.'"
I did this this morning. I set off on a walk with no phone, no earbuds, no watch, no pre-selected route, no hurry.
It was so, so lovely.
McHugh was right, it took me about 10-15 minutes for the fog in my brain to clear ...
And then ...
I started to notice the leaves - multi-colored, lightly waving in the breeze, tumbling gently to the ground ...
I noticed the birds, singing quietly as autumn approaches ...
I said hello to a couple neighbors and noticed a skip in my soul from the kindness ...
I thought about my kids and everything they are up to ...
I prayed for friends and colleagues ...
I thought about an upcoming sermon I am working on - (even came up with quite a nice outline in my head) ...
I composed a couple e-mails ...
I thought about how grateful I am for this past summer ...
I picked up some trash and dropped it in garbage pails ...
I smiled at the garbage men out on their weekly rounds ...
I stopped and stared at a hawk circling in the breeze ...
I noticed the blue sky ...
I told God he was pretty darn creative ...
and then in an hour I was home, and as I approached my driveway I said, "thank you."
And it was done.
And my oh my, was that lovely.
I hope to do it again soon.
The discipline of the long walk - a powerful way to quiet your soul and listen to creation as it sings the tune of divinity.
Thanks, Adam McHugh!
This summer I have been swimming laps at noon at our local public outdoor pool.
It is so beautiful there.
Just a few folks swim; it is a well-kept secret.
Picture a large, clear, Olympic-sized pool,
our roof, a blue, blue summer sky with just a few puffy white clouds,
a touch of a warm breeze,
and the quiet sound of people swimming.
Some of the swimmers choose to walk their laps, however, rather than swim.
Often as I swim by them, I catch little bits of their conversation.
Here was one bit I caught the other day:
Walker #1 - Hey! So great to see you! How are you?
Walker #2 - Well, I'm here ... that's all I can say.
Walker #1 - Yea ... I guess it beats the alternative.
Me (under the water so no one could hear me) - Are. You. Serious?
Now, don't get me wrong - I understand that some days aren't great.
Some days are hard.
Sometimes it really does feel like our experience of the day is just one step away from what we think it might feel like to be dead.
I am not a Pollyanna, and I certainly don't espouse silly, perky talk.
I despise it.
But, here we were ... in a swimming pool at noon! In the middle of a work day! The sun was out. The air was warm. And we were just swimming and walking and chatting and no one was forcing us to do anything else. We were well enough to move our bodies. We were well-fed enough to exercise. We had transportation. We had lungs breathing in beautiful clean air!
We were not being bombed.
We were not being imprisoned.
We were not starving.
We were not oppressed.
We were not fleeing for our lives.
"For the love of God", I thought, as I continued to swim ... "for the love of God, look around you,
realize how very blessed you are on this earth,
and practice, even on the hard days, being grateful."
It was a little mini-sermon I preached (silently) to the walkers, but also to my (sometimes ungrateful) self.
This all reminded me of Alice Walker's brilliant quote from The Color Purple:
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
Amen, Alice Walker, Amen ...
For what are you grateful today?
And how can you express that gratitude as others ask how you are?
And for the love of God, don't piss God off!
The other night my adult son was outside shucking sweet corn for dinner.
He came inside with the corn and said, "It is so nice outside it almost felt like a sin sitting out there," or something to that effect.
This reminded us of a time when my son was much, much younger, say 5 or 6 years old. We had just spent a relatively raucous evening at a local restaurant with my extended family and there was general frivolity, laughter and telling of legendary family stories.
On our van ride home, in the dark, quiet of the aftermath of our party, we heard his little voice ask this question:
"Dad, does the Lord love it when good people have a great time together?"
We could tell he felt a bit concerned about the level of fun we had just had.
My husband answered, "He does, Will. He really does."
We talked about this memory together and laughed at his boyhood question. We talked about the hint of its remainder in his current statement about the potential sinfulness of the beauty of our Iowa summer evening.
This conversation sparked a memory of one of Dallas Willard's best thoughts ...
"Arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
And then something like, "This is your greatest defense against sin."
How beautiful is that?
Does the Lord love it when good people have a great time together?
Does the Lord love it when we luxuriate in a perfect summer evening?
Does the Lord love it when friends laugh together; when we share a good meal, a fine bottle of wine, a chewy loaf of bread?
Does the Lord love it when we find deep joy in this life we've been given?
He does, Will ... the Lord really does.
So it has been a week (almost) of fasting from cable TV news.
Aside from a little 15-minute "cheat" the other night I have stayed the course
and some really nice space has opened up in my soul and my mind.
This morning I read a poem by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet, and his ancient words rang so true to me.
He writes about fasting from food but the truth can be transposed to any type of abstention.
See what you think:
There is a hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music comes.
But if brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song
comes out of the fire.
The fog clears and new energy
makes you run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier, and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with your reed pen.
When you are full of food and drink, an ugly metal
statue sits where your spirit should. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it
to some illusion and lose your power, but even if you have,
if you have lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, penants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents, Jesus' table.
Expect to see it when you fast, this table spread
with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.
I am curious ...
From what do you need to fast so that Jesus' table can descend to your tent?
In what ways do you need to live with more emptiness so that brain and belly are burning clean?
What new songs might emerge from the fire of your fast?
Do you need the fog to clear and new energy to run up the steps in front of you?
Consider fasting from something that stuffs you so full that no music comes,
and watch for good habits to gather like friends who want to help.
Preach Rumi, preach!
Late July ... It's that time of summer, isn't it?
The freshness of the season has worn off,
the air thick and hot,
the grass browning at the edges,
the flower gardens blooming with both goodness and weeds,
the bugs out.
I was thinking about a Thomas A Kempis quote recently while elbow-deep in the itchy process of separating flower from weed in my overflowing garden.
A Kempis said: "Fight like a man. Habit is overcome by habit."
As I untwisted weeds that had wound around the life-giving stem of my flowering phlox I started to ponder which habits of the summer had wound around my life in such a way that they were squeezing the life right out of me.
One in particular stood out - the habit of listening to cable TV news during the day when I am working around my house. It started during the epic and horrifying/fascinating election season and hung on, like many bad habits do, well past its time.
It was time to untangle bad from good.
It was time to fight like a (wo)man.
It was time to overcome habit by habit.
So, I told a few trusted friends my plan and then simply turned the tv off as I made supper or did dishes or folded laundry.
My new habit? Classical music, interesting and uplifting podcasts or the beautiful deep well of silence.
What have I noticed in the past week or so?
A clearer mind.
Time to think and pray and be still.
A sharpened ability to notice.
More mental and emotional space.
A sense of peace about the world, not based on ignorance or closed eyes, but on a renewed sense of priority about what deserves my attention and a sharp refusal to buy into the lie that everything is "BREAKING NEWS!"
A Kempis is right - putting a new, healthy habit in place of the old is powerful stuff.
This is the best way to fight.
When I am working from home, I simply turn on KUNI-classical and let it fill my mind and soul with beauty, power, and everything good.
Cable news pales in comparison.
My weeding is paying off.
A new habit is overcoming an old.
Tommy A Kempis would be proud.