Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Perfect Present

Recently I’ve been thinking about the notion of perfection. Although we tend to think of perfection as flawlessness, I wonder if a better definition of perfection is the fullest appreciation of the present moment.

I spent a quiet day yesterday at Green Bough House of Prayer. It’s a place I go when I need to hit the pause and reset buttons on my life. As I sat outside yesterday morning on the porch of the retreat house, anticipating the silence, a mockingbird war broke out in the yard in front of me. Fully distracting and plenty loud, three mockingbirds hissed at each other and flew at each other, fighting in midair. They did this over and over again. There was nothing quiet about this quiet space!

I could have gotten frustrated with the lack of quiet but instead I thought, “Perfection is being here, not having perfect silence.” Isn’t this true about many of life’s situations? Perfection could be having your grandchildren visit, even if your picnic is rained out. Or maybe it is putting up a batch of peach jam for Christmas gifts even though one jar doesn’t seal (that’s the one you get to eat). Or maybe it’s getting the garage cleaned out enough to get a car in it, but not completely empty.

When we can celebrate the present moment’s blessings instead of falling into the defeating attitude of “if only” thinking, that, to me, is perfection. Rejoicing in what is going right helps us to be light-bearers for Christ. When we wallow in regret and discontent, we extinguish the light of Christ within us.

Paul, even while imprisoned said, “Be glad in the Lord always. Again I say, be glad.” (Philippians 4:4) Certainly if perfection for him had been the ability to move freely in the world, he would have not been able to be so joyful. But Paul had the fullest appreciation of the present moment, and God’s presence in that moment. If Paul could be joyful in prison, what is holding us back from perfect joy?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mindfulness vs. Busyness

And I find [God] never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.
–Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

This past weekend my husband and I attended a wedding in North Georgia. We were in the heart of Georgia wine country, and because we had arrived prior to the time we could check into our accommodations, we decided to stop by one of the wineries to pass the time with a wine tasting. The tasting consisted of half a dozen different dry wines, two white and four red. Paying attention to the often subtle differences among the different wines, I was reminded of the importance of mindfulness.

We sniffed, sipped and noted the hints of flowers, oak or other characteristics of the various samples. I expected to be able to differentiate between the tastes of whites and reds, but was surprised at how I could tell the differences among seemingly similar red wines. Because my full attention was devoted to what I was doing, and because I was not in any hurry, my senses were more acute to details I might have otherwise missed.

We stayed the night at an eco-friendly lodge. On Saturday morning after breakfast, we had the opportunity to tour the grounds and learn about permaculture practices the owners had adopted. While there was more than I could absorb in one walk around the lodge, what I did learn was that the owners paid attention to which areas received morning or afternoon sunlight and also the direction of prevailing winds. They grouped plants so that the different plants helped each other by providing shade or beneficial insects or important nutrients. For them to experience success with their practices, the owners had to approach their project with mindfulness.

The process of slowing down enough to pay attention enough to taste the differences in wines, or to notice which way the wind normally blows at one’s home, or to see that someone’s eyes are sad even as they are responding “fine” to you as you ask them how they are, requires practice for most of us, because we are so used to rushing from task to task and place to place. Living our lives at a frantic pace is not following the way of Jesus. Jesus could minister to people because he was deliberately mindful.  Jesus promised a light burden if we follow him. Following “The Way” means mindful living, not panting feverishness.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Understanding and Indifference

Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.”  Genesis 11:7

Our church is doing a summer sermon series on Genesis. This past Sunday, the message was about the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-10). It has been good to revisit a familiar story that I probably haven’t read closely in quite a while.

This account explains why we have different languages. Yet even when we speak the same language, we don’t understand each other. It’s more than dialectical differences that separate us. It’s the differences of culture and family history and economics (to name a few) that keep us from understanding one another. Frankly, I’m not sure that we always want to understand each other, because that puts us in the uncomfortable position of recognizing that we need to change—our beliefs, our habits, our ways of seeing others and the world.

We can choose not to change, but when we make that choice, we grow a calloused layer of indifference around our hearts. This is an evil indifference for it arises out of knowing and not caring. Once you know something, you cannot un-know it.

Understanding is risky business. It is deep and disturbing and that is why we are much happier in our ignorance. When we don’t understand, we can spew our shallow knowledge at each other, using our limited understanding as a weapon to defend our position rather than letting knowledge grow into something that draws us to those who are different from us.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If knowledge is a tree, we too often choose to cut it down for spears to hurl at each other rather than nurture its growth and welcome its gift of shade for us, inviting others to join us in its shade. When I see the way we treat each other, I wonder if any of our ancestors really did eat any fruit of the tree of knowledge. Our unwillingness to understand each other seems evidence to the contrary!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Way to Peace

“This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you . . . Peace I leave with you.”     John 14:17, 27a

Truth and peace go hand in hand. If we have Christ’s peace, we also know the Spirit of Truth. It dwells in us and gives us peace. The world doesn’t know truth because it cannot recognize peace. At least it seems that way in our culture. We are a fearful, anxious, reactive society. We put our faith in impermanent things—money, status, power and possessions—but because they are impermanent, we are perpetually anxious.

We need to recognize that truth is not found in worldly power but in letting go, in generosity, sacrifice, humility and weakness. It is the way Jesus came. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) This is about how to live. The way is a life of downward mobility and humble service, the pattern of living that Jesus modeled for us. We have turned it into an exclusivity that allows us to build ourselves up materially and egotistically. We never get to truth and life if we don’t even follow the way.

It is why we cannot recognize the Spirit of Truth, because what we recognize is ego, power and accumulation of wealth. We don’t understand that to be strong, one becomes weak. To gain one’s life, we must give our life away. To be born in Christ, we have to die to self.

We cannot have the peace of Christ if we are constantly protecting our egos, our possessions, our status and our power. We think peace is found by defeating our enemies, but we find peace by defeating our ego and its overwhelming appetite for control. When I have nothing left to protect or defend, nothing I must possess or control, when I release the burden of self-preservation, I then have the unshakable peace of Christ and a home within for the Spirit of Truth.