Category Archives: Contemplative
About the Journey –
As a Benedictine Oblate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblate), I receive a monthly newsletter from the Archabbey I was adopted into; Saint Meinrad’s (http://www.saintmeinrad.org/). Last night I read the newsletter for February. The newsletter’s chosen subject was stability and faithfulness. Included in it was a story; “The Worn Path,” by EudoraWelty.
The story is below but the point of it is missed by most. When Eudora Welty was asked if the grandmother was able to save her grandson with the medicine, she replied; “It doesn’t make any difference if the grandson is alive or dead because the story is about the journey.” She went on to say that it is the force of the grandmother’s will and her willingness to face danger, hardship, setbacks and the longest of odds to journey to and from the doctor to procure the prescription. Her fidelity, faithfulness, and stability to see it through to the end no matter the outcome.
In our world getting what we want, when we want it, without waiting or struggling to achieve any real meaning in our lives is because there is no journey to travel, no roads to wander, no paths to navigate.
Too often we miss the point of living. It’s not arriving that makes it worth doing. It’s how we get to the end and beyond.
If you have the time, read the “The Worn Path” below. Reflect on it and be sure you’re in it for the journey.
It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. . . Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites…. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way.” Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.
On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.
The path ran up a hill. “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. “Something always take a hold of me on this hill— pleads I should stay.”
After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come. “Up through pines,” she said at length. “Now down through oaks.”
Her eyes opened their widest, and she started down gently. But before she got to the bottom of the hill a bush caught her dress.
Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear. “I in the thorny bush,” she said. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.”
Finally, trembling all over, she stood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.
“Sun so high!” she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes. “The time getting all gone here.”
At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
“Now comes the trial,” said Phoenix.
Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
“I wasn’t as old as I thought,” she said.
But she sat down to rest. She spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands over her knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. “That would be acceptable,” she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.
So she left that tree, and had to go through a barbed-wire fence. There she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps. But she talked loudly to herself: she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not pay for having her arm or her leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was.
At last she was safe through the fence and risen up out in the clearing. Big dead trees, like black men with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field. There sat a buzzard.
“Who you watching?”
In the furrow she made her way along.
“Glad this not the season for bulls,” she said, looking sideways, “and the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep in the winter. A pleasure I don’t see no two-headed snake coming around that tree, where it come once. It took a while to get by him, back in the summer.”
She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook and was taller than her head. “Through the maze now,” she said, for there was no path.
Then there was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her.
At first she took it for a man. It could have been a man dancing in the field. But she stood still and listened, and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.
“Ghost,” she said sharply, “who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by.”
But there was no answer–only the ragged dancing in the wind.
She shut her eyes, reached out her hand, and touched a sleeve. She found a coat and inside that an emptiness, cold as ice.
“You scarecrow,” she said. Her face lighted. “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said with laughter. “My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know. Dance, old scarecrow,” she said, “while I dancing with you.”
She kicked her foot over the furrow, and with mouth drawn down, shook her head once or twice in a little strutting way. Some husks blew down and whirled in streamers about her skirts.
Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field. At last she came to the end, to a wagon track where the silver grass blew between the red ruts. The quail were walking around like pullets, seeming all dainty and unseen.
“Walk pretty,” she said. “This the easy place. This the easy going.”
She followed the track, swaying through the quiet bare fields, through the little strings of trees silver in their dead leaves, past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boarded shut, all like old women under a spell sitting there. “I walking in their sleep,” she said, nodding her head vigorously.
In a ravine she went where a spring was silently flowing through a hollow log. Old Phoenix bent and drank. “Sweet-gum makes the water sweet,” she said, and drank more. “Nobody know who made this well, for it was here when I was born.”
The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. “Sleep on, alligators, and blow your bubbles.” Then the track went into the road.
Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave.
A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. “Old woman,” she said to herself, “that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”
A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.
“Well, Granny!” he laughed. “What are you doing there?”
“Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be fumed over, mister,” she said, reaching up her hand.
He lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down. “Anything broken, Granny?”
“No sir, them old dead weeds is springy enough,” said Phoenix, when she had got her breath. “I thank you for your trouble.”
“Where do you live, Granny?” he asked, while the two dogs were growling at each other.
“Away back yonder, sir, behind the ridge. You can’t even see it from here.”
“On your way home?”
“No sir, I going to town.”
“Why, that’s too far! That’s as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble.” He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. “Now you go on home, Granny!”
“I bound to go to town, mister,” said Phoenix. “The time come around.”
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!”
But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket onto the ground.
“How old are you, Granny?” he was saying.
“There is no telling, mister,” she said, “no telling.”
Then she gave a little cry and clapped her hands and said, “Git on away from here, dog! Look! Look at that dog!” She laughed as if in admiration. “He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big black dog.” She whispered, “Sic him!”
“Watch me get rid of that cur,” said the man. “Sic him, Pete! Sic him!”
Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even heard a gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lids stretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almost to her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and the nickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved. “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing.”
The man came back, and his own dog panted about them. “Well, I scared him off that time,” he said, and then he laughed and lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix.
She stood straight and faced him.
“Doesn’t the gun scare you?” he said, still pointing it.
“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” she said, holding utterly still.
He smiled, and shouldered the gun. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you.”
“I bound to go on my way, mister,” said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions, but she could hear the gun shooting again and again over the hill.
She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains. Then she smelled wood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps. Dozens of little black children whirled around her. There ahead was Natchez shining. Bells were ringing. She walked on.
In the paved city it was Christmas time. There were red and green electric lights strung and crisscrossed everywhere, and all turned on in the daytime. Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her.
She paused quietly on the sidewalk where people were passing by. A lady came along in the crowd, carrying an armful of red-, green- and silver-wrapped presents; she gave off perfume like the red roses in hot summer, and Phoenix stopped her.
“Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?” She held up her foot.
“What do you want, Grandma?”
“See my shoe,” said Phoenix. “Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn’t look right to go in a big building.” “Stand still then, Grandma,” said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside her and laced and tied both shoes tightly.
“Can’t lace ’em with a cane,” said Phoenix. “Thank you, missy. I doesn’t mind asking a nice lady to tie up my shoe, when I gets out on the street.”
Moving slowly and from side to side, she went into the big building, and into a tower of steps, where she walked up and around and around until her feet knew to stop.
She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.
“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.
“A charity case, I suppose,” said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.
But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skin shone like a bright net.
“Speak up, Grandma,” the woman said. “What’s your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?”
Old Phoenix only gave a twitch to her face as if a fly were bothering her.
“Are you deaf?” cried the attendant.
But then the nurse came in.
“Oh, that’s just old Aunt Phoenix,” she said. “She doesn’t come for herself—she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace.” She bent down. “Well, Aunt Phoenix, why don’t you just take a seat? We won’t keep you standing after your long trip.” She pointed.
The old woman sat down, bolt upright in the chair.
“Now, how is the boy?” asked the nurse.
Old Phoenix did not speak.
“I said, how is the boy?”
But Phoenix only waited and stared straight ahead, her face very solemn and withdrawn into rigidity.
“Is his throat any better?” asked the nurse. “Aunt Phoenix, don’t you hear me? Is your grandson’s throat any better since the last time you came for the medicine?”
With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor.
“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’
At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.
“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”
“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”
Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”
“Throat never heals, does it?” said the nurse, speaking in a loud, sure voice to old Phoenix. By now she had a card with something written on it, a little list. “Yes. Swallowed lye. When was it?—January—two, three years ago—”
Phoenix spoke unasked now. “No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing medicine.”
“All right. The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it,” said the nurse. “But it’s an obstinate case.”
“My little grandson, he sit up there in the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself,” Phoenix went on. “We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don’t seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird. I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.”
“All right.” The nurse was trying to hush her now. She brought her a bottle of medicine. “Charity,” she said, making a check mark in a book.
Old Phoenix held the bottle close to her eyes, and then carefully put it into her pocket.
“I thank you,” she said.
“It’s Christmas time, Grandma,” said the attendant. “Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?”
“Five pennies is a nickel,” said Phoenix stiffly.
“Here’s a nickel,” said the attendant.
Phoenix rose carefully and held out her hand. She received the nickel and then fished the other nickel out of her pocket and laid it beside the new one. She stared at her palm closely, with her head on one side.
Then she gave a tap with her cane on the floor.
“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”
She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor’s office. Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.
Up Ahead –
Earlier today I was on my way to an appointment when I ran into a long line at a traffic light. The light showed a green arrow when the turning lane I was in could go. After only a few moments the arrow turned green and nobody moved. I waited, waited, waited and began to grow impatient! “Don’t you see the arrow is green?!?!?” I thought to myself but still no one advanced. It was then I spied an ambulance moving through the intersection and it, of course, had the right away.
I sat there reflecting on my frustration at the situation. The driver at the front of the line saw the ambulance when I could not. They knew not to go, to wait, that patience and yielding were in order. It was a great reminder to me that life is not always about going. There are times, seasons, it’s about waiting, allowing others to move while we wait, hopefully, patiently.
The struggle is real! This morning it was 7 degrees outside. 7! Being Sunday this morning also means community worship at church. The blankets pulled up as I sat on the couch, the heating pad on high, a cup of coffee and the thought; “It’s too cold to go anywhere!” was running through my mind.
Beth, however, got up, began to get ready and this meant; “Up and at em!” So, on this frigid morn, we made our way over still partially snow-covered roads to church. We were running a little late but as we walked into the sanctuary we were right on time for communion. The pastor was quoting the familiar phrases and verses to prepare our souls for this sacred moment as we found our seats.
The elements (small pieces of unleavened bread and grape juice) were passed around to everyone and together we celebrated the; “The Lord’s Supper. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist).” As we digested the tiny morsel of bread and the taste of the grape juice was dancing on my tongue I felt, as John Wesley famously said; “My heart strangely warmed. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldersgate_Day)” and was thankful to be among the people of God this cold, wintry morning.
The Cycle –
I thought of someone today, a person I haven’t thought about in a long while. It was a song that stoked images, feelings, pain and regret. It’s been years since we’ve laid eyes upon each other and both of us have moved on but it is amazing how quick hurts begin to ache, old wounds begin to bleed, prejudices come out of the dark. After the song was finished, the emotions faded too and the rest of the day was typical.
Wisdom teaches us that forgiveness isn’t a one-time act, a single recitation of a phrase. Forgiveness is an ongoing process that takes years, perhaps even a lifetime. Forgiving the other is to also recognize our own injured ego, the part of us that still longs for revenge or recompense. When we forgive, especially those who have grievously mistreated us is not just accepting and then letting go what was done to us but recognizing and releasing what were still holding on to.
A Little Quieter –
Our Siberian Husky, Trooper, has a bed in our living room. When Beth and I are sitting watching the television or messing with tablets or the laptop most of the time he is the room with us. We haven’t always had a bed for him here but after we had to put Belle, our Golden Retriever, down we knew he would need some extra attention. Everything has worked out fine until the last couple of months. For some reason, he has become extra sensitive to noises coming from the TV. Explosions, gunfire, yelling or loud music in a movie rattles him and he begins to get up and wander around the living room. We’ve tried turning down the sound on the television as much as we can and this helps. We’ll also watch a documentary where there is mostly talking and this works. However, any type of movie or show with startling noises and/or blaring musical score and he gets up and we tell him to get back on his bed and this scenario is repeated until finally one of us takes him into the kitchen.
I was thinking about him today, this behavior which has developed, and decided maybe he’s not the one with the issues. When I think of 2016, the year which has passed, I think of noise. Most of it came as a result of the political season and the candidates, the talking heads on television and radio, the choosing of sides by almost everyone and a cacophony of opinions, predictions, debates between candidates and their followers, accusations, lies and boisterous babel that still hasn’t stopped.
I’ve decided, like our dog Trooper, I want a quieter 2017. Please…and world peace would also be acceptable.
Nipping At Our Heels –
Monday I watched the documentary; “Weiner.”(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTpnBDu6Y6Q) It is the story of Anthony Weiner’s rise and fall on the political landscape not once, but twice, both times because of a sexting scandal. Anthony Weiner is a flawed character that could come straight from a Greek Tragedy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_tragedy). The sexting wouldn’t work but the narcissism, short-sightedness, being your own worst enemy, destroying everyone and everything you love, certainly would make a fitting template.
The question I came away from the documentary is; “Why?” Why would a person who is obviously charismatic, appears to care for the people of his community, is by all accounts a decent person, except of course the giant gorilla in the room…his addiction to receiving attention no matter the damage, and there’s the answer.
In the end, it cost him the mayoral race of New York, his reputation (again), his marriage and his child. He’s now a television mercenary, for hire to anyone who’ll interview him, put him on a TV show panel, feed his need to be in the spotlight.
Wisdom teaches us the demons of pride, envy, wrath, gluttony (the insatiable want of things), lust, sloth (laziness), and greed are always nipping at our heels waiting for us to think we’re invincible, can control them to sink their teeth into our soul and destroy us and everything we love, hold dear.
Uncontrollable Words –
The other day I was cornered by someone who felt they needed to tell me something…actually, it was a lot of somethings. This person kept going on and on and on. I could literally feel myself wearing down from all the words, phrases that were being thrown my way. We weren’t communicating. I was doing my best to listen at first but after a while, I noticed they were just throwing words at me hoping something would stick. I was wrestling with which would be better; sticking my fingers in my ear while chanting; “La, la, la, la.” Grabbing a passerby and introducing the person to them hoping their focus would shift and I could sneak away or just making a break for it, running and seeing if they would pursue.
I was speaking, communicating, with another person last week about the art of talking and listening to another person. Wisdom tells us that true conversation is a sacred act. Meeting someone new, hearing secrets, weaknesses, dreams, memories, connecting on a deeper level requires not just words and phrases but silence and pauses. We allow the other’s being to be revealed and we share our own. This can’t be done if we never take a breath, if we are only wanting to be heard not also wanting to hear.
Attention Span –
Beth and I spent some time in our second home today, also known as Lowe’s Home Improvement Store. We needed some wood, a screen door and some other odds and ends. We filled our cart up and then headed to the garden section. We made our way down the aisle leading to outside there was a young mother, her baby and what I assumed was the grandmother. The eldest woman was holding a cup of coffee while the mom spoon fed the little one. They had to move out of the center of the aisle as we passed and something on our cart caught the grandmother’s attention. As she stared, the mom handed her the baby food container and as she grabbed it, still staring at our cart, the coffee cup slipped out of her hand and splashed on the floor. I couldn’t quite make out the expletive that escaped from her lips but the momentary frustration was soon followed by laughter from both the women.
I smiled at the situation because it seemed like something which would happen to me. It also caused me to reflect on the wisdom lessons of embracing what’s important, being fully present in the moment, not distracted by shiny things, and allowing things which aren’t necessary to slip through our grasp.
Genuine Voice –
This morning I walked outside and across the road, in a large field, was a herd of cattle. Straggling behind was a small calf seemingly looking for its mother. I cupped my hands around my mouth and gave my best and loudest; “Mooooooo!” The calf stopped and looked over in my direction and; “Moooed!” back. Before I could return the moo, another adult cow, possibly mom, mooed and grabbed the calf’s attention. I took a deep breath and; “Moooed” one more time but the calf was no longer paying attention to me. It had heard the genuine call, its mother’s voice, and I was a poor substitute not worth the time or effort.
Wisdom teaches us that there are many voices calling out to us, pulling us in several directions, seeking to confuse us, lead us away from peace and guidance. To know the genuine voice, the one which will lead us in love toward our purpose is vital if we are to follow the good path, the way we should go. This comes from a relationship with the One to whom the voice belongs. The voice of truth wants to lead us but hearing it, knowing it, recognizing it, only comes through our connection with the divine.
Where We’re Going –
Last week, when I mowed the grass, there was a lot of dust, a few weed patches and sometimes it was hard to look and tell what I had cut and what I hadn’t. This past week we’ve had a good bit of rain and the grass grew quickly. When I mowed the back yard today I could tell where I’d been and needed to go.
A couple of days ago I heard an 80’s song which reminded me of a friend I had in high school. This friend had done something which hurt me and we were never the same after the event. As I listened to the song I realized there was no more pain just regret at two young people who didn’t know how to get over thoughtless actions and adolescent feelings of rejection.
As I cut the grass this afternoon I reflected on both of these and was thankful for emotional and natural growth.
Too often we think knowing the future would be the greatest of intellectual gifts. However, wisdom teaches us that knowing and learning from where we’ve been gives us a better view of where we’re going.
Good and Bad –
Earlier this week a link to an old style entertainment wrestling video appeared in my Facebook feed. I recognized the wrestler and I admit succumbing to the temptation to click on the link. Watching it I was taken back to my childhood and enjoying these entertainment wrestling shows. My parents weren’t fans so my brother and I made sure they weren’t aware of what we were filling our brains with on the boom tube.
These wrestlers were incredible. They wore flashy clothes, had muscles everywhere, took a beating, kept on going and most of the time the good guy won the match. One of the reasons I liked wrestling as a kid was because you knew who the good and bad guys were by the way the dressed, talked, wrestled (good guys never cheated) and behaved in and outside of the ring. As a kid these were real life heroes and villains fighting for right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice every Saturday. Back then I didn’t know it was a lot more entertainment than wrestling. As I grew up I came to realize it was athletic acting, a male dominated, sports soap opera.
Someone asked me a few days ago who they should vote for in the upcoming presidential race. “Both candidates have tremendous flaws! As a Christian, how should we vote?” I shook my head and simply said; “I think you should pray.” “About who to vote for?” they asked. “No,’ I replied, ‘I’m not sure as a Christian you can, with a Holy conscience, vote for either one. But you can pray.”
The older I get the harder to tell who the good and bad people are anymore. Our world is so full of mixed signals, compromise and confusion. I don’t think its going to get any better. Prayer, humility, serenity of spirit is what it takes to survive and hope in times and seasons such as these.
Not so Fast –
Liturgy is one of my favorite parts of worship. I like the rhythm, the movement, the flow of a service. Contemporary worship, for me, is lacking this undertone of structure and meaning. Yesterday, I wrote about a gentleman in a “Declaration of Independence” shirt (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/07/03/what-are-we/), but it wasn’t the only thing trying to disrupt the rhythm of the service.
When scriptures, creeds, prayers and responsories are being read/said, I like to utter them slowly. I want to soak in the words, hear them in my heart, let them resonate with my spirit. However, behind me in service yesterday, was a woman who spoke loudly and quickly. She was often ahead of the priest as he was leading the congregants. It was almost as if she was in a race to see who would finish reading first. Because of her hurry and volume I found myself distracted and was having difficulty allowing the words to make their way past the surface. With frustration rising, I took a deep breath and did my best to let her pace not dictate my own. I focused on my breath, the words on the screen and allowed the voice of rushing, haste and swiftness to fade. It wasn’t gone but also wasn’t imposing its pace upon me.
On my was home I reflected upon the woman’s rapidity and how easily it is to allow the speed of others to set the tempo for our lives. It’s a difficult discipline to learn; to live slowly, purposefully at a speed where we revel in and soak up each moment. Every breath and experience can be worship if we’re willing to resist the rush, find the rhythm which leads to harmony, balance and peace.
“The wise person can find the whole universe in a single drop of rain.” #wisdom #proverb
What are We? –
This morning I walked into a sanctuary, on this 4th of July weekend, with this shirt staring me in the face. On the back of it was written the Declaration of Independence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence). I found it odd to be wearing this shirt in church but understand that being a Christian and an American go hand in hand for a large number of people. I often wonder which one folks would choose if the choice was forced upon them.
I focused my attention on the words being sung, the scripture being read, the prayers being recited. The final hymn we sang was one I had never heard before but the lyrics moved my spirit. It was entitled; “Lord of all nations, Grant me Grace.”
1 Lord of all nations, grant me grace To love all men of every race And in each fellow-man to see My brother, loved, redeemed by thee.
2 Break down the wall that would divide Thy children, Lord, on every side. Let me seek my neighbor’s good In bonds of Christian brotherhood.
3 Forgive me, Lord, where I have erred By loveless act and thoughtless word. Make me to see the wrong I do Will crucify my Lord anew.
4 Give me thy courage, Lord, to speak Whenever strong oppress the weak. Should I myself the victim be, Help me forgive, remembering thee.
As we lifted up this song my attention was once again drawn to the man wearing the Declaration of Independence shirt. It seems our country is run by two things; hate for those who disagree with us and fear of those different from us.
The song asks the “Lord of all nations” to allow us a heart big enough to love all people, to see them as our brothers and sisters. At a time where many are wanting walls built this song asks God to break down the wall that would force God’s children to choose sides. It challenges us to reach out to our neighbor regardless of race, color, creed or political preference. If we fail to do this we are to ask forgiveness for acts and words that do not espouse “God’s love.” We are also challenged to have courage when we are oppressed or when we find ourselves on the side of the oppressors, asking forgiveness and speaking God’s truth to power.
I wonder how many would wear a shirt with the words to this hymn imprinted on them as the man wore his shirt today. I also reflected on our nation, its claimed Christian heritage, and how we have lost our way.
Brian Loging (Twitter)
in the Moment –
Yesterday, while watering flowers, a beautiful bright green Dragonfly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragonfly) landed on the wrist of my left hand. I froze! My first thought was; “Awesome!” My second thought was; “Do Dragonflies bite?” The third was; “This’ll make a great Instagram photo!” I slowly began to walk toward my phone which was about a hundred feet away. I tried not move my arm or scare the insect in any way. Finally, I got to the phone, gently leaned over to pick it up, turned it on, entered the lock screen code and pressed the Instagram icon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instagram). It opened but at the same time the Dragonfly decided it would leave and fluttered away. “No!” I screamed. “Sigh.” So close.
It was an exasperating reminder that no moment can be taken for granted nor forced to last longer than what is intended. Instead of worrying about taking a picture, sharing the photo for “likes” and “comments” I should have simply enjoyed the Dragonfly sitting on my wrist and the bliss of the unique moment. In wanting to capture it I lost the joy of it happening and felt the corresponding disappointment of the moment fly away, slip through my fingers.
April showers might bring May flowers but very little rain in May might not be a good sign for the rest of the summer.
Yesterday evening the Mrs. and I were outside looking at the skies hoping for rain. It was cloudy, gray and looked promising. As we watched it began to rain on a field across the street. We stood and watched the rain so tantalizingly close but seemingly not moving our way. “Come on!” I yelled, not sure if rain had ears but willing to take a chance. After what felt like forever the drops of rain began to move across the field and toward our house. Slowly, steadily we watched it soak the street, the driveway and then it began pouring all over the yard. It was wonderful! (If I had known yelling at rain would make it come to me, I’d have done it sooner.)
Life can be this way at times. We enter a season of dryness when our spirits and emotions are barren. We search for renewal and restoration and may even feel they are incredibly close but nothing seems to happen. We shout at the heavens pleading for the rejuvenation we so desperately need. Wisdom teaches us that in time, and on time, revitalization will come. It cannot be forced or coerced but if we are willing to accept, what is beyond our power to control, we will be strengthened and enlightened when the moment and our path are in sync with our need.
Out of nowhere they come. Like an assassin’s bullet or blade. Unexpected, unwanted and overwhelming. Moments, seasons which reveal our most painful weaknesses, deepest struggles, greatest need and darkest secrets.
The path of life is never easy nor allows us to become too comfortable. Setbacks, those sections of the journey where our way seems blocked, progress grinds to a halt, backwards the only direction, retracing our steps, navigating through places we thought we’d left permanently behind.
Setbacks. Getting stuck. Walking in circles. The journey of life can drain us of our purpose and passion. We wonder how long we’ll wander, why the journey must be this difficult, if it’s worth the struggle, why we wrestle with the same demons and obstacles so often.
A favorite wisdom quote, and comfort, when the way is hard and setbacks many;
The obstacles (setbacks) in your way are your path to freedom.
What’s the difference between comfortable and contentment? Is there a difference? I was part of a conversation this morning and when I said; “comfortable” the person I was speaking to didn’t like the word choice so I asked; “Is ‘contentment’ better?” and she said; “yes.”
Since the conversation I’ve been reflecting on the two words and the meaning we associate with both. Comfortable, for me, is to be at rest, not striving but satisfied with life or certain circumstances.
Contentment is to be accepting, non-judgemental, allowing life and events to unfold with a deep trust the path will lead us in the best direction for our lives.
As I look at my understanding of the two words I believe I would rather be content than live in comfort. Being content I can still rest in acceptance, not see life as a competition and be satisfied in all things and seasons.
This morning, Beth and I celebrated Easter Sunday with our brothers and sisters at a small Lutheran church. I have enjoyed being a part of this intimate faith community several times over the last eighteen months. However, this is Easter Sunday and there were many more people than on an average Sunday. We found our seat and soon there were two women who occupied the wooden pew (another reason I like the church) in front of us. It didn’t take me long to notice them noticing others who walked in and found a space to sit with their families. A mom, whose hair was the color of a red came in and the two women looked at her and then each other. Another family with two rambunctious kids sat down and the two women again caught each other’s eye. Throughout the service they would look at each other and smile a slight grin. I wondered what they were thinking and if their glances signaled judgement, curiosity, or something entirely different.
At the end of the service everyone was invited to the front and receive the communion elements of bread (a symbol of Christ’s body) and wine (a symbol of Christ’s blood). We were sitting in the back and able to watch as others partook of the Eucharist. Everyone kneeled in front of the cross. All were equal. Moms with red hair, kids who had a hard time sitting for long periods of time, elderly and young, those in their new Easter outfits, those wearing shorts and sweat pants and two women. None were greater or less but all in a position of humility at the feet of the One Master.