Beth and I were talking over the weekend about perspective. It amazes me as I get older the more control I lose and the greater perspective I gain. Whether it’s a few moments, days, months or years, our lives, which we like to plan, can come undone.
The world has never been predictable. I was speaking with a friend the other day about the instability which surrounds us. Our political systems, family and community systems, even our environment seems to be spinning out of control. Nothing, if it ever was, is normal nor inevitable.
Last night I read a quote from Eugene Peterson, a pastor, writer, and scholar. He writes;
“The whole of the spiritual life is learning to die.”
This quote resonated with my spirit and experiences over the last several years. Dying takes many forms. Death of all things is a given but we seem to organize our lives as if we might be the ones to escape the fate of everyone else. Death is not a negative word if you’ve learned to die. If you do not hold on treasures and trinkets, live each day as if it’s your last; being kind, grace-filled and loving, never putting off to an uncertain tomorrow what can be done now, in the present moment.
We are but sojourners on this path called life. We are not meant nor built to last for long. With this perspective; how we choose to be today could be how our transient life is remembered tomorrow.
Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion.
“The best description and praise of God is silence.” This thought has reverberated in my mind for almost two years. I was reminded this morning, as I meditated on Psalm 66, of the need to long for, thirst, seek and embrace, the seemingly elusive, treasure that is silence.
Even in “farm country” Pennsylvania serenity is hard to find. Often there are cars, tractors, barking dogs, chirping bugs and squawking birds. Today, everything was in “silent sync.” No traffic, no canines, birds and bugs nesting, and a stillness that was palpable.
Is this abnormal or do we miss the “silent sync” because it is we, not the silence, which is elusive?