Cattle Crossing –
Today, traveling the back roads of South Central Tennessee, I saw a “Cattle Crossing” sign. It was funny at first, the thought of having a cow in the middle of the road or a group of them causing a traffic jam. The more I thought about a cow jumping, waddling, out of nowhere on the road or stepping out from a hidden place the more I slowed down. A cow would cause tremendous truck and bodily damage. I’ve seen the toll a deer can put on a vehicle. I can’t imagine what a cow would do!
Wisdom tells us that we are given insight and warning signs for a reason. It also reminds us that it is our choice whether or not to take the warning seriously. We proceed at our own risk. Too often we ignore them and suffer the consequences of wrecked lives for ourselves and those we hold dear.
Our lives are not to be lived waiting for the next disaster, challenge or difficulty to come our way. However, if we learn to look for the warning signs and trust the wisdom we have gained through experience and knowledge we can avoid a lot of pain and heartache.
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Three Surprises –
In a recent conversation that included a range of topics including heaven, I told a friend what had been said to me many years ago. “There will be three surprises when we get to heaven. People will be surprised who made it. People will be surprised who didn’t make it. Lastly, people will be surprised we made it!” It’s a humorous yet true statement about the afterlife and Heaven’s membership. There will be surprises aplenty so don’t be so convinced in your beliefs, ability, and acceptability that you lose the mystery of a God who knows more than you, sees more than you, and is bigger than you can imagine. Heaven mirrors God’s nature and love not ours.
Wisdom teaches us that our ways are not God’s ways, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. In the Benedictine tradition, we are to keep our; “eyes tilted toward the ground.” We are to keep our sin and shortcomings always in front of us. Not as a burden to bear but a constant reminder of God’s goodness and a reason to rejoice.
Several years ago I was leading a Bible study and we were talking about God’s grace. I made the statement; “Without God, no matter what we said or did, we had no true goodness or love.” A man in our group spoke up and asked; “If we don’t have anything worth redeeming why does God love us?” “That,’ I answered, ‘is why they call it grace.”
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Surfing or Drowning –
I just finished reading an article from seven years ago today about a father and son who were killed by a drunk driver. The mom shared it on social media and the heartache is still present and the wound raw. I can’t imagine the pain. I knew the father a little. He was in our church’s youth group. He was a few years older than me but always seemed cool. He was an athlete. He ran, biked, swam, and surfed. The morning dad and son were killed they were training for a triathlon. The father was named after his father and the son carried on the tradition. He was the III.
How do you have hope in the midst of such loss? How do you not drown in sorrow? How do you not get lost in such darkness? I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Quips and quotes don’t begin to address the brokenness and reveal our lack of intimacy with death. We do everything we can to avoid it. Most of us try to prolong our lives by any means necessary. When death finally does come we are quick to make the arrangements, organize a memorial or funeral service and push past it as fast as possible. But even then, death finds a way to corner us, trap us, confront us. After the hustle and bustle of meals, flowers, sympathy cards, and services we find ourselves alone when death, misery, mourning, comes calling.
Experts tell us that when we are caught in a riptide to not fight the current or it will surely drown its victim. Let it grab you and then slowly, moving parallel to the shore, slip from its grip. I think this is how we deal with the loss of those we love. There’s no escaping and fighting and refusing to acknowledge its power end in certain defeat. To allow it take hold, scare us, shake our faith, sweep our “normal” life away, but not giving up is the key. Slowly our strength returns, we regain our bearings, we slip from its grip, rise above the waters and live.
What’s on Your Plate? –
This afternoon, at a county health council meeting, a speaker from Vanderbilt Hospital gave us a lecture on the importance of heart health. February is Heart Health Month so it was certainly appropriate. He talked about healthy eating even stating; “If it tastes good it’s not good for you!” That certainly got everyone’s attention. He softened the blow a little by following up with limiting the amount of unhealthy, high fat, processed, high-calorie food and increasing healthy choices. The speaker had arrived late and lunch had been served before his lecture. The food wasn’t what he’d call the best in choices but not the worst either. After he sat down and the meeting dismissed someone mentioned to the attendees that there was plenty of food left over from the lunch and to please take some home. I can only imagine what the speaker was thinking as he watched people make “to go” plates. It certainly is a difficult job to get people to think differently, choose differently.
One of the disciplines of mindfulness is mindful eating. It is the recognition that everything we put in our mouths comes from the world around us. It’s not just consuming but being aware that each piece of meat, every spoonful of veggies, a bite of fruit, is a result of the creation we all apart of, participate in and exist in intimate connection. Too often, however, we just consume. Not only food but almost everything in our lives is used and abused, grabbed and possessed, with no thought of creation or consequence to our consumption.
What’s on our plate is, and is more than, the food we eat but also what we allow to fill up our lives.
Most of us have plenty. In truth, most of us have more than we need. I was speaking with a co-worker this week and he was saying how amazed he was at how people in our organization and fellow organizations step up when there is a need in our community. I told him I agreed.
We work with a lot of folks who are having a rough time. In certain situations it’s their own poor decisions, in others, the community, the state, and the federal resources have failed them. They feel and at times are the forgotten ones. There are residences you go into and cannot believe what you see. The basics of food, clothes, electricity, heat, medicine do not seem accessible and many are at the end of their ropes.
It’s hard when you know the suffering of others to come home. There may be cracks in the walls, leaks in the ceiling, toilet paper runs out and food spoils, but your house is a palace in comparison to these you see and spend time helping. These are the ones who empty and need to be filled. Much of what you have becomes superfluous, extra, easily given away because you know you won’t miss it.
It’s hard to imagine but can you, for a moment, think of living in a world where it wasn’t; “This is mine and you can’t have any!” to a place of sharing and; “What’s mine is yours.” Only when we begin to give away what we possess do we discover we have everything we need.
The River –
“Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, judge it, critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.”
#ThomasKeating, “Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel”
One of the greatest and most difficult realizations is the truth that we are not our thoughts. We are not our actions. We are not our egos. True, each of these can reveal things about us and to the world but we are not these things.
The problem is we’ve been taught the opposite most of our lives. The famous quote; “Reap a thought, a word, an action, then a destiny,” seems right but our thoughts do not have to lead us to who we ultimately become. We can choose to go deeper, change paths, refuse to be captive to our thoughts by breaking free of them.