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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)

Be holy where you are ...

I am thoughtful this week about the idea that most of human unhappiness stems from within.

We are unhappy, many of us, with ourselves.

I often wonder what kind of energy might be freed up in the human soul if we simply were done disliking ourselves, berating ourselves, wishing we were someone else.

This is why I love the Merton quote I posted yesterday: “A tree brings glory to God by being a tree.”

That simple line says almost everything I want to say about self-acceptance, but also about the most profound way to glorify God – by simply becoming oneself.

So, more on this topic from Mother Theresa:

“The president of Mexico sent for me. I told him that he had to become holy as a president: not a Missionary of Charity, but as a president.

He looked at me a bit surprised, but it is like that: we have to become holy, each of us, in the place where God has put us.”

What might it look like for you to “become holy” in the place where God has put you?

Give up the idea that you should be somewhere, someone else.

Use all your God-given energy to become more and more who you actually are, right where you are.

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)

Leadership ...

“Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others.”

(David Cooper, Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry)

Take up space ...

I don't often do this...

That is, post thoughts about "being a woman."

But, I have been pondering this for a bit:

I enjoy a hot yoga class a few times a week. At my age, a perfect form of exercise!

And one particular instructor often pushes us to "breathe... breathe so I can hear you!"

And sometimes she says to the room full of (mostly) women, "Take up space! Fill up the air around you... be large!"

Sounds kind of weird, but in the room, in the moment, in the poses we are working on with sweat dripping down our faces, it makes sense; it feels right. And when she says it,  you can literally hear the room full of women take a collective deep breath in order to expand our lungs and become a bit "larger."

And I find myself thinking: In what other venue do women get urged to "breathe loudly" or to "take up space?"

Not very many places...

And the church, historically, has not done this. We have instead urged women to be quiet, be small, to take up less space, rather than more...

And I get it. I really do. As followers of Jesus, we are all supposed to point to Him, to die to ourselves, to serve others; both men and women are called to these things.

But Christian women often "hear" these things differently - and these commands too often cause us to be quiet when we should probably speak, to try to be invisible when we should probably shine, to be small when God might be asking us to become "big" for Him.

So, I found this "I am a Dangerous Woman" statement, and though the title may freak some of you out... read it.

See what you think.

And picture me, in a hot yoga room, sweating like crazy and "taking up space!"


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)

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.

Feast on your life ...

I believe one of the biggest hindrances in life is self-hatred.

So much time wasted berating ourselves for being human, fallen, fallible, flawed...

As if we're the only ones...

Maybe it is my age,

or perhaps I am just done picking on myself,

but I am finding peace with who I am these days.

And it is so nice...

Reminds me of this little essay I keep tucked in my planner:

"The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door,

in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other's welcome.

And say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to yourself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life,

who you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life."

(Derek Walcott)

If you haven't yet made peace with yourself,

I urge you to do so.

See yourself as God sees you...

fatally flawed,

but fully forgiven,

and so deeply loved.

You are so deeply loved...

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)

It's simple ...

So the other night some of us in the Shirey family were talking about the various imperfections of our bodies.

It was a fun/funny conversation.

In the midst of it, we talked a bit about trees, and how imperfect almost every tree is, and yet how we pay such little attention to their imperfections; we barely even notice them.

It reminded me of Thomas Merton's statment that has stuck with me for years:

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

I doubt if a tree spends very much time, if any, trying to "fix" their imperfections.

They just are... and even in their imperfection, they bring glory to God.

Listen to Mary Oliver's poem, "When I am Among the Trees:"

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness,

and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves 

and call out, "Stay awhile."

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,

"and you too have come

into the world to do this,

to go easy,

to be filled with light,

and to shine."


Go easy, my imperfect, but glorious friends... be filled with God's light and just shine!

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,



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.


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)



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


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

simply by being


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...

Let your gaze be straight ...

Proverbs 4:25-26 says,

"Let your eyes look directly forward,

and your gaze be straight before you.

Keep straight the path of your feet,

and all your ways will be sure."

During the middle of our hot yoga class we often do balance poses; poses which demand our full focus and attention.

After several years of practice, I began to notice a pattern in my experience.

We are told at the start of each class,

"There is no comparing in yoga class.

Your practice is your practice.

Keep your attention on your own mat and your own experience.

Your neighbor's practice is theirs; yours is yours."

Seems easy, right?


All practice long I find myself glancing around at others in the room:

How are they doing?

How flexible are they?

Do they drop to their knees for push-ups?

Did they take the easier modification in a pose?

Am I better?

Am I worse?

Am I sweating the most?

I am embarrased to admit this ridiculousness.

But this comparison problem builds to a fever pitch during balance poses, which are just as they sound - poses during which we contort our body into various shapes and well, poses - that all demand various levels of balancing skill.

Here's the pattern I have noticed:

When I keep my gaze straight, when I fix my eyes on my own eyes in the mirror, turning my focus neither to my left nor to my right, lo and behold I balance! I stand! I rarely stumble.

But when I start to glance around, surreptitiously peeking to see how I am stacking up against my balancing neighbor, lo and behold, I fall, I tip, I stumble out of the pose, awkward and red-faced.

It has taken me years to recognize this rhythm: Eyes look directly forward, I stand. Eyes glance right and left in comparison, I fall.

A truth in yoga, an even deeper truth in life.

I love this Proverb and it will fill my mind every time I step onto the yoga mat.

I pray it fills my mind every time I step into my life, as well.

Fix my gaze straight before me, focus on who God made me to be, not casting my eyes to my neighbor in comparison, in envy or in arrogance. Keep my focus on my own "mat," so to speak... and all my ways will be sure.



Our unlived lives ...

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.

I remember reading this quote from the psychologist Carl Jung when I was in the messy midst of parenting three teenagers.

I had been conflicted all of my parenting years about working outside the home versus being available to my family. 

As I was in the process of pushing each of my birds out of the nest, this quote was a strong motivating force that pushed me to invest deeply and meaningfully in my own life as a person, not only a mother, as my children began to leave home for wider skies.

Parents, as our children make the journey into adulthood, it is crucial that we, too, make our own journey...

A journey more deeply into our own "lived lives," to use Carl Jung's language.

It is critical that we live our own lives, so that our young adult kids can live theirs freely and fully without the drag of our "unlived lives" weighing them down.

Wherever we are in the parenting process, let us make time to truly live.

It is one of the very best gifts we can give to our children.


Service to others ...

"Service to others will help you become deaf to a voice inside of you that does not believe in happiness."

(Hafiz - Persian mystic, 1320-1389)

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