What if?

I've spent all day working on my teaching for the upcoming & Women's Conference at Orchard -- Rise and Shine Women's Retreat --  and I am just filled to overflowing right now with God's good heart toward his creatures. I am filled to overflowing with the knowledge of how much he wants for us... and how very often we refuse his good gifts.

In some of my reading today, I came across this little bit of writing from David Whyte and it just struck me to the core with its painful truth:

“Sometimes reading … I look out at everything growing so wild and faithfully beneath the sky and wonder why we are the one terrible part of creation privileged to refuse our flowering.” (David Whyte)

What if we simply did nothing except refuse to "refuse our flowering?"

What might our lives look like then?

Set the world on fire ...

"Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire."

(Catherine of Siena - 1347-1380)

Be a tree ...

"A tree brings glory to God by being a tree."

(Thomas Merton)

Don't be Moses ...

"When I reach the world to come, God will not ask me why I wasn't more like Moses.

He will ask me why I wasn't more like Zusya."

(early Hasidic leader, Rabbi Zusya)

Unless you say no ...

I wonder how much our lives would improve...

how much the QUALITY of our lives would improve,

if some of us said no more.

Not just so we can "say no,"

but so we can say a really big YES to the things we are sure God is calling us to.

What might your life look like if you said "no" a bit more often?

"You've got to keep control of your time, and you can't unless you say no.

You can't let people set your agenda in life."

(Warren Buffett)

Summon the courage ...

"It's not for me to judge the gifts I have to offer the world,

but it is up to me to summon the courage to offer them.

There are as may ways to be of use and to express our love as there are people on this earth.

Some save lives in emergency rooms while others flip pancakes in church basements;

some compose symphonies that make our spirits soar while others sing lullabies to sleepy children;

some open their wallets to fund a museum wing and some open their hearts to a cat who shows up at the door;

some prepare haute cuisine in fancy restaurants and some cut sandwiches into triangles at an old folks home;

some prepare court briefs and some prepare garden beds.

And there is worthiness and beauty in all these efforts."

(Katrina Kennison - Magical Journey)

Simplify, simplify!

Seems right, as summer begins, to ponder a bit of writing from Henry David Thoreau:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,

to front only the essential facts of life,

and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,

and not, when I came to die,

discover that I had not lived...

Our life is frittered away by detail...

I say, let your affairs be as two or three,

and not a hundred or a thousand ..

Simplify, simplify...

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?"

May your summer be filled with at least a tad of what Thoreau proposes...

a few quiet nights,

a couple lazy weekends,

numerous unhurried meals,

a few less things on your schedule,

time to live in such a way that when you come to die... you find that you have really lived!

What is mine to do?

I read this from Thomas Merton today and it hit home:

"The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

More than that, it is cooperation in violence.

The frenzy of the activist...destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."

I am no good to anyone, I "destroy my own inner capacity for peace... destroy the fruitfulness of my own work" when I say yes to too many things.

It is a spiritual discipline of the deepest kind to know one's own limits.

It feels humbling... humiliating even, to say "This is all I can lovingly, wisely do."

But I am starting to wonder if this is just pure godly wisdom at work, rather than something to be ashamed of.

"What is mine to do?" This is the question for all of us...

What is mine? 

What is yours?

Do that. Do it well. Do it with all the love you have.

And let the rest go.

The impeded stream ...

This is for any of my friends who feel "stuck" right now...

Who are facing decisions that feel big and hard and confusing...

Who don't know which direction to turn, which fork in the road to take...

Don't be afraid. You are in a good place;

a place of your "real work."

A poem by Wendell Berry:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we may have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

It is not only prayer ...

"It is not only prayer that gives God glory,

but work.

Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall,

driving horses, sweeping, scouring --

everything gives God some glory if,

being in his grace,

you do it as your duty.

To go to communion worthily gives God great glory,

but to take food in thankfulness and temperance

gives him glory too.

To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,

but a man with a dung fork in his hand,

a woman with a slop pail give him glory too.

He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should.

So then, my brethren [and "sistren!"],

live."

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

 

This is the true joy ...

This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances,
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

                                                                             (George Bernard Shaw)

The shadow of the Almighty ...

I am reading through the Psalms this summer,

starting with Psalm 50... because I usually fail to get that far in this Psalm reading exercise!

I loved what I read about the opening lines of Psalm 91

in one of my study Bibles.

Here is Psalm 91:1-2:

"You who live in the shelter of the

Most High,

who abide in the shadow of 

the Almighty,

will say to the Lord,

'My refuge and my fortress;

my God in whom I trust.'"

This is what my study Bible said about this passage:

"Living in the 'shadow of the Almighty,' reminds us of a child walking with a parent

and making every effort to stay in the parent's shadow.

It also hints of a condition where the child is so uninhibited and in love with the parent

that he or she has no desire for public recognition.

How difficult has it been for you

to place your

'public relations department entirely in the hands of God,'

as Dallas Willard puts it in

The Spirit of the Disciplines?"

Isn't that a beautiful image? 

A child who loves to walk in the shadow of his or her parent...

A child who loves the parent so much that

the child could care less

about who sees them? 

A child who simply adores, trusts, and believes in the

sheer goodness of their parent...

And isn't that a great question:

How difficult is it for you to trust God with your reputation?

May you walk in the shadow of the Almighty today...

happy,

secure,

confident,

loved. 

May you also trust your own "public relations department"

completely to your Father's good heart.

And breathe a sigh of relief...

No need to work hard to get others to notice how awesome you are.

God knows...

And that is all that really matters.

Your one job is to just stay in His shadow...

 

Truth at your kitchen table ...

The world of the church, throughout history,

has tended to be a "man's world."

In many places, it still is.

And yet, even in the early church

there were whispers...

names mentioned...

women who led,

taught,

funded,

were at the center of,

Jesus' ministry,

and the start of the church.

As one who teaches,

some would say, preaches...

(and happens to be a woman)

it has been an interesting ride.

Fifteen years

of serving God

in this unexpected way.

And as I take a look behind me

at the amazing young women God is using

all over the world,

but especially in my little neck of the woods,

I cheer.

I came across this poem the other day

and post it as a hat-tip to my fellow

"kitchen table theologians."

God sees you,

and he cheers, too.

Laywoman

Were you a man and single,

the Jesuits would have you in a trice.

But you are a man's wife, 

lovely hair coarse and wild as a Morgan's tail,

on each hip a fine son, and one on your shoulders.

Your bent for theology is more startling

than your renegade humor, 

your ease on a good horse, fast and wild as he can be.

You are no cut-out saint.

Bus-stop apologist, 

training your eye for truth at your kitchen table,

turning worn pages in the weary night

as your tea grows cold.

The day has come for your kind.

Venerable Jenn,

you are better than you know,

stirring the oatmeal,

reading Aquinas,

shoveling the snow.

(by Nancy A. Henry)

 

 

No such thing as the right place ...

I love what Henri Nouwen has to say about calling,

and life choices.

We Western Christians get so caught up in trying to figure out

God's will for our lives...

who we should marry,

where we should live,

what we should study,

what our career path should be.

All the while, God is saying,

"Here is my will for you:

Love me.

Love your neighbor.

And be grateful and 

filled with joy."

See how Nouwen puts it:

"There is no such thing as the right place,

the right job,

the right calling or ministry.

I can be happy or unhappy in all situations.

I am sure of it, because I have been.

I have felt distraught and joyful in situations of abundance as well as poverty,

in situations of popularity and anonymity,

in situations of success and failure.

The difference was never based on the situation itself,

but always on my state of mind and heart.

When I knew I was walking with God,

I always felt happy and at peace.

When I was entangled in my own complaints and emotional needs,

I always felt restless and divided."

Walk with God, friends...

and you will be "in his will."

Don't Worry ...

Don't Worry

Things take the time they take.

Don't worry.

How many roads did St. Augustine follow

before he became St. Augustine?

(Mary Oliver)

But what about you?

It was Thomas Merton who wrote:

"A tree brings glory to God by being a tree."

I have lived by this idea for years - one of the most powerful ways

we can bring honor and happiness to God

is by loving who he made us to be,

and by becoming that very unique person 

God so lovingly designed.

Easy to say; hard to do.

Here is another Merton "riff" on this same idea:

"The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by his own creative wisdom and it declares the glory of God.

The pale flowers of the dogwood outside the window are saints. The little yellow flower that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God.

This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and strength.

The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.

The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God's saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.

But what about you?

What about me?"

Merton is asking,

Do you have the courage to be who God made you to be?

No comparisons...

No wishing you were someone

or something

else...

Do you have the courage to believe that you can bring glory to God

simply by being

you?

Go with our lives where we most need to go ...

My dad is 80 years old today.

He is still working full-time as the senior partner in his law firm.

Part of why he still works is that he loves what he does.

Always has. Always will.

Another reason is that he believes he is wiser now about law

and life

than he has ever been.

This is why he has tried to keep his body and mind strong -

so that when he is at his absolute wisest and most experienced,

he can still be an advocate for people who need help.

As I watch him live his amazing life, 

I am reminded of this Frederick Buechner quote about vocation and calling:

"We should go with our lives where we most need to go

and where we are most needed.

What can we do that makes us gladdest,

what can we do that leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north

and of peace,

which is much of what gladness is?

If it is a thing that makes us truly glad,

then it is a good thing 

and it is our thing

and it is the calling voice that we were made to answer with our lives."

Carry on, Dad!

I cheer you on...

What is your ground to till?

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own, very real, limitations.

I have a certain level of capacity.

After 51 years, I have a pretty good sense of when that capacity is tapped out.

Often, that occurs before I wished it did.

I used to think I should do more. 

Rest less and do more.

I wished I could be more like "so and so" who has more capacity, more energy, less limitations...

But I can't.

All I can do is be me, limitations and all.

There is great freedom in this knowledge,

if you accept it.

I love how Gordon Smith puts it:

"We cannot be all things to all people. We need to choose, and our choices will mean saying no to some alternatives and eagerly embracing others. This may sound easy, but I know from my own inner journey through midlife that it can be characterized by much inner turmoil."

Then, Smith quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"There is a time in every person's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel or nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on the plot of ground which is given to him to till."

Smith ends this train of thought with this statement:

"... this is the heart of the matter - to accept our limitations and to take responsibility for our giftedness."

I think the question we all must ask at some time in our life is:

What is the plot of ground God has given me to till?

And, if this is that plot of ground,

what do I need to say no to

in order to devote myself to the work God has called me to do?

If we don't ask ourselves these questions,

we risk

skimming the surface of much of life,

and especially our vocation,

and that, 

to me,

is a tragedy.

Being fully human ...

"When people wanted (Jesus) to tell them what God's realm was like,

he told them stories of their own lives.

When people wanted (Jesus) to tell them God's truth about something,

he asked them what they thought.

With all kinds of opportunities to tell people what to think,

he told them what to do instead.

Wash feet.

Give your stuff away.

Share your food.

Favor reprobates.

Pray for those who are out to get you.

Be the first to say, 'I'm sorry.'

For those who took Jesus as their model,

being fully human became a full-time job.

It became a vocation in itself,

no matter what they did for a living."

(Barbara Brown Taylor - An Altar in the World)

Teach me to live well ...

King David writes in Psalm 90,

"O God, teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well." 

I have been pondering that plea lately.

Here's what I've noticed:

I am incredibly distracted!

I know I have written about this before,

but guess what?

I haven't solved the problem.

I have so many thoughts about how distracted I am I can hardly sort them all out to write about them!

So I am just going to start and see where I go...

I went into work a day ago and was flustered and frenetic and flailing when I arrived.

I shouldn't have been.

I had work to do, yes, but nothing that should have made me hop around my office like a crazed woman.

So, I thought about my morning, what I did before I arrived and I noticed a theme.

I got up early. Check.

I read quietly, journaled and prayed. Check.

But then I decided to watch some morning news, I walked the dog and listened to the radio while we walked, I checked Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, then I got in the car and tried to connect my phone to the bluetooth audio system and couldn't get it to work, which caused me grief (as if it was a big deal). So I listened to more morning news... checked my phone one more time before heading in to the office...

And when I arrived at work my head was full of noise and words and alarming stories and breaking news and tweets and...

I am generally a smart person, but I have been rooked.

God never shouts at me. But he is rather persistent. And I have been feeling a growing sense of unease about all the noise and words I am taking in, all the while wondering why I feel so jumbled, so scattered, so darn distracted.

So, this morning after some exercise, I sat in silence for a good chunk of time. As I prepared breakfast, no tv. I put the phone away. Left the computer off until I actually really needed it. Walked the dog in the sweet quiet of the early morn. Listened to classical music as I drove.

And when I sat down to work, I got out one project, just one. Not twenty. And I focused, and felt my spirit settle in to good work that I love. And my brain was calm, open, quiet, and available for wisdom that can only make itself known in stillness and peace.

It's a battle, isn't it?

O God, save me from distraction. It is an insidious, sneaky little thief that promises life, but actually sucks the very life right out of me. O God, teach me to live well... teach me to live wisely and well. AMEN.

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