A poem for today ...

Poetry has been saving my weary soul lately.

I have been reading Padraig O Tuama's spiritual memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World and it is rich with his poems.

Here is one that took my breath away this morning.

Collect

God of watching,

whose gaze I doubt and rally against both,

but in which I take refuge, despite my limited vision.

Shelter me today,

against the flitting nature of my own focus,

and help me find a calm kind of standing.

And when I falter, which is likely,

give me the courage and the kindness to begin again with hope and coping.

For you are the one whose watchfulness is steady.

Amen.

God of silence,

who watches our growth and decay,

who watches tsunamis and summer holidays,

who cares for the widow, the orphan,

the banker, the terrorist, the student,

the politician, the poet, the freedom fighter.

We pray to be nurtured in our own silences.

We pray that we might find in those silences

truth, compassion, fatigue and hearing.

Because you, you, you see all, and are often silent.

And we need to hope that you are not inattentive to our needs.

Amen.

God of darkness

You must be the god of darkness

because if you are not, who else can we turn to?

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because it is dark here.

And we are in need. We are people in need.

We can barely remember our own truth, and if you too have 

forgotten,

then we are without a hope of a map.

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because you turned toward us in the body of incarnation.

You turned toward us.

Amen.

 

 

 

Most of what I love ...

I heard a poem yesterday ... or I should say, a part of a poem.

I am not sure who the author of the poem was.

I am not even sure I have the phrase right.

Nonetheless, I have been captured by its truth, this little, potentially misquoted, phrase.

Here is it:

"Lord, most of what I love mistakes itself for nothing."

I urge you to read that phrase aloud, perhaps several times in a row.

S-l-o-w-l-y ...

Most

of what I love

mistakes itself

for

nothing.

A cup of hot coffee made by my husband, often delivered to me in bed.

A late afternoon phone call from one of our adult kids, full of news of their life.

My mom's smiling face as she pulls out of our driveway with a fresh loaf of my homemade sourdough bread.

My dad's voice on the phone when he hears it's me calling ... "Hey, Al!"

The resilience of a student I know who is rising up and out of generational poverty.

The prayers of a faithful elderly widow friend.

A hot bowl of stew on a chilly night.

A lovely glass of dry red wine.

A sunset on a Thursday night.

Fresh sheets on our bed.

The friendly wave of a neighbor as I leave for work.

The smile of an immigrant new to our community whose language I do not speak.

Should I continue?

What things (or people) you love tend to "mistake themselves for nothing?"

What might you do to force yourself to see the gift these ordinary, everyday, often-overlooked gems actually are?

Why do you think this poet starts this statement by addressing God?

Is this sentence a prayer?

If so, how might it become yours?

"Lord, most of what I love mistakes itself for nothing."

(God, I pray I am quoting this poet correctly! But if not, what a fantastic mistake I have made. Forgive me.)

There is your task ...

Psychologist Carl Jung said : "Where your fear is, there is your task."

I am not sure what Jung meant by this. Nonetheless, it has impacted me as I have battled fear lately.

Here's how:

* First, it has caused me to get very specific about the details of my fear. Though it is a strange way to hone in on something like fear, I have asked myself "Where is your fear, Alice?"

Being forced to look clearly and seek intensely for the source of my anxiety, the exact location of my worry, has proven fruitful.

You can't fight what you haven't named.

* Instead of seeing fear as an enemy, as something to be run from or suppressed, I have taken Jung at face value and have started to view my fear as my task.

I ask the fear - "What are you here to teach me?"  "What do I need to learn from you?"  "What do I need to let go of in order for you to dissipate?"  "What misguided ways of thinking are causing you to grow out of proportion to reality?"

There are deep lessons to be learned when we are afraid. I don't want to miss them.

* When I approach fear as something I can learn from rather than something I should run from my whole mindset changes.

I no longer feel in the grip of fear. Instead, I feel empowered by my own curiosity. Fear is not something to be afraid of (see what I did there?) but something I can learn from, grow through and eventually leave by the wayside once it has served its purpose. Once I have done the work.

What I have been discovering is that there is something underneath fear that needs attention. 

When I see that deeper issue as my task, as a thought or a belief or a circumstance that is asking for my focus, the true work begins.

This has actually turned into a rich time of exploration of some issues that were badly in need of some scrutiny.

I leave you with some questions:

Where is your fear located?

What is underneath it?

What might it have to teach you?

"Where your fear is, there is your task."

Get to work, friends ...

 

 

What is anxiety?

I have been learning a lot about fear lately.

More than merely feeling  fear and "learning" that way, I have been digging in to the literature on the topic. Learning from those who study fear for a living.

Three definitions have proved inordinately helpful as I wrestled with my own thoughts and emotions of late.

Fear - The perception (thought) of imminent threat or danger to an individual's safety or security.

AnxietyAn enduring emotional state when individuals anticipate a personally aversive, unpredictable and uncontrollable future situation that is perceived (thought) to threaten their vital interests.

Worry A persistent chain of repetitive, uncontrollable thinking (there's that thought thing again!) that focuses on uncertain future negative outcomes. Also, repeated mental rehearsal (thought!) of possible solutions that fail to resolve the uncertaintly about the impending threat.

Recognize yourself in any of these definitions?

Sometimes the naming of things helps right-size them.

Putting into words what is going on in our minds is the first step in gaining some kind of upper hand over these thought processes that can feel overwhelming and overpowering when we are caught up in their vortex.

One thing I noticed with each of these definitions is that they all have to do with thoughts, perceptions and the imagined future we all create.

Now fear of an immediate danger is vital to life - think braking hard before you blow through a red light.

But all kinds of other fears - in my life at least - are simply made up. They are not reality. They are mere perceptions, thoughts I create.

All kinds of anxiety simply stems from me drumming up potential bad outcomes for future events I have either invented or over which I have little control.

Worry is merely a stubborn habit of my mind.

Naming these truths has been powerful for me. I hope they help you in some way, too.

More thoughts coming about ways I have been learning to help my poor, overworked, anxious mind in the midst of the uncertain times in which we all find ourselves.

 

A relentless effort ...

I have been thinking lately about fear, anxiety and worry.

In fact, I've been experiencing this fun little trifecta quite a bit as I go throughout my days.

I am sure the world has felt this shaky and uncertain before but I certainly don't remember it during my lifetime.

A global pandemic ...

Fresh, painful, almost daily reminders that our country still bears the deep wounds of racism ...

A toxic political environment ...

All combine to create fertile soil in which fear can take root and grow like a late-summer weed.

This sentence that has stuck in my mind as of late:

"A relentless effort to seize control is a basic element of fear and anxiety."

I read that and a sly smile crossed my lips.  "Who, me?  Relentlessly try to seize control of the universe? Well, I never ..."

But of course it is true.

Is it true of you?

When the world spins faster and faster, when chaos reigns, when even the simplest of things no longer feel manageable, don't you want to double-down on control, too?

The problem with this very understandable plan is that it sets us up for even more fear and anxiety than we originally experienced.

If a "relentless effort to seize control" is a basic element of fear, then it certainly seems that the better strategy when we feel fearful is something that looks and feels like a softening, a yielding, a kind of surrender.

Ponder this today whenever fear, anxiety or worry bubble up in your soul. Remember that control is an illusion at best, and a thief of your joy and peace at worst.

Instead, open your hands, take a few slow, deep breaths and,

Ask yourself:

*  What can I do to soften?

*  How can I yield control rather than grasp for it?

*  What kind of relentless effort do I need to surrender?

*  What might God want me to learn in this moment of fear?

 

 

 

How can they know?

Every time there is a tragedy, a Christian leader feels obligated to tell us all what God is doing.

To announce to the world what God is saying through this catastrophe.

They even deign to tell us what God is thinking, what is motivating God to allow the destruction.

And every time this happens, I feel extremely uncomfortable.

I listen ...

I ponder ...

And I wonder:

How does this person know what God is doing?

How do they know what God is saying?

How  do they know what God is thinking?

Here's the truth -- THEY DON'T KNOW.

They don't.

But they are pretending they do. It feels powerful. It feels authoritative -- superior, even.

The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:2:

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

So, when you hear someone start to pontificate about what God is doing, thinking or saying through this current pandemic, be wary. 

God is a great Mystery.

God's ways are beyond our ways; God's thoughts beyond our thoughts.

When great tragedy strikes, we must refrain from making pronouncements about God.

Instead, we must remember that God is doing what God has always been doing --

Drawing people to himself in love and grace. 

Commanding us to show love for him by showing love to our neighbor, especially our poor, marginalized and down-trodden neighbor.

Weeping alongside us -- over the destruction, the sickness, the pain, the callousness of the powerful.

One thing we can know, no matter the time or season --

God is with us.

God is with us.

God is with us.

And if that is all we know, it is enough.

There is much we cannot control ...

I read a great article by Gregory Hillis called "We're All Monks Now," which contained a helpful nugget of wisdom for me this week.

Hillis writes:

" ... it is admittedly difficult to focus on the spiritual life in the midst of the anxiety so many of us feel right now. The monks I spoke with acknowledged this, but at the same time they suggested that we can use this moment to live into and be freed by the realization that there is much we cannot control.

So much of our anxiety revolves around wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the pandemic can teach us the futility of this.

According to Father Mark, we need to be attentive to the present moment and so focus on that which we can control:

'If I can concentrate on being in control of that very small circle of reality that is entrusted to me and in some sense depends on me -- how I use my time, how I take care of myself, how I care for my family and friends, how I daily and hourly turn my concerns over to God -- then my anxiety diminishes.'

I wonder if some of the exhaustion I am experiencing stems from a constant feeling of being out of control,

of being bombarded with anxiety-provoking news about sickness and unemployment and hunger and strife,

most of which I can do nothing about.

I wonder if trying to attend to all of that is futile and what the Bible calls "chasing after the wind."

I wonder if I should shrink my span of concern, while at the same time expanding my circle of prayer?

Focus on what I can control, which is not much.

Practice lifting up to God all that God can control, which is pretty much everything.

I wonder if that is the set of practices called for right now?

Get my face out in that sunshine, support the local Food Bank, check on a neighbor, call my mom, plan a nice dinner, feel the spring breeze on my face, pray for those in need, clean out the kitchen sink, go to bed early in freshly washed sheets ...

Control the tiny bit I can control. 

Give to God what is God's.

We're all monks now ...

Everything takes longer ...

It's Monday.

I think it is the 5th or 6th Monday since we shut down our country and I am still not in any kind of groove with my life.

One thing I am noticing: Everything takes longer.

Take grocery shopping, for instance.

What I would usually do in a quick hour or two took my entire morning today.

Washing my hands, masking up, planning our list, wiping off the cart, trying to get the plastic vegetable bags to open without licking my fingers (so MANY MINUTES!), attempting and failing to follow the arrows on the floor of the grocery aisles, swerving to stay 6 feet apart from other shoppers, pondering whether or not I should really buy an item, waiting for the very kind check-out person to completely spray down the little conveyer belt, packing up the car, returning the cart to a new location so it can be disinfected, spraying hand sanitizer on my hands, driving home and carefully unloading it all, careful to wash down the produce extra well ...

I looked up and it was well after noon!

I was upset with myself for not being more efficient!

I internally berated myself for being slow, sluggish, behind ...

It wasn't until I was able to sit down at my desk and take a breath that I came to my senses.

This is not about me.

This is not about something internally wrong or deficient with me.

This is about a new normal and about doing things in such a way that I protect my neighbor and myself.

So I whispered:

"It is ok."

You are not behind.

You have nowhere to go anyway.

No one is judging you.

Everyone else is working too hard to judge you.

This is not your fault.

Slow down ... breathe ... relax. 

You did as well as you could do.

It is ok."

Wondering if any of you need to whisper these same words to yourself right now?

About schooling your own kiddos?

About too many Zoom meetings?

About dealing with an overly full, or an overly empty, home?

About doing errands that take six hours as opposed to one?

Where do you need to treat yourself with kindness and compassion?

Where might you need to speak to yourself as if you were an exhausted child or a dear friend?

Sit down.

Take a deep breath.

Relax your shoulders.

Everything takes longer right now.

Whisper to yourself:

"It is ok. You are ok. You are doing the best you can."

Hugs from me to you.

 

A God of abundance ...

the end of our little journey through psalm 23

You drench my head with oil; my cup overflows the brim.

Surely goodness and kindness will accompany me all the days of my life

and I will dwell in the house of the Holy for the length of my days.

Three final lines of this beautiful Psalm,

one expressing abundance,

one accompaniment,

and one the sense of being at home.

Let's look at the first of the three:

To place oil on one's head, during the time of the Psalmist,

is a sign, a symbol of God's anointing, God's favor, God's presence and power.

King David says that God "drenches his head with oil."

This to me is a picture of abundance.

To add to this, David adds the image of having his cup overflow ...

Isn't that beautiful?

God is a God of much-ness. 

He is not stingy with his presence, his power, his favor.

He is a God who drenches with blessing.

A God who pours his goodness into the cup of our lives until it "overflows the brim."

Watch for this in your life today - where is your cup overflowing the brim?

Second line:

David is confident, even though he is walking through the valley, overshadowed by death,

that God's goodness and kindness have not left him.

These two things accompany him every single day he lives.

I picture my mom accompanying my son when he played his violin in his grade school talent show. Her strong, steady hands on the piano while he fiddled away on his pint-sized violin, her eyes never leaving his presence. When he slowed down, so did she. When he sped up, she did, too. When he got lost or confused, she led the way.

God's kindness and goodness accompany us through all the days of our life - the slow days, the days we trip over the notes, the days we speed through.

These two essential things - kindness and goodness - never leave us.

Watch for these two things in your life today. Where do you see kindness? Where do you experience goodness?

And the final line:

We can be "at home" with God for the length of our days.

All of creation is the house of God.

David is not talking about a church or a temple or a synagogue or some kind of set-apart location.

He is saying, no matter where we go, no matter where life plunks us, we can be "at home" with God.

And maybe, in the end, this is enough.

Acknowledge today that no matter where you are, you can be at home with God.