Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Restlessness vs. Persistence

We live in a culture that seeks to keep us in a constant state of excitement. When things stay the same, we lose interest in them. We are not always willing to hang with things for the long haul. Our short attention spans numb us to the sometimes long, slow, seemingly unchanging circumstances of life.

We grow impatient with slow recovery from illness or surgery. We want those who have experienced loss to “get over it” and get on with life. We grow disinterested when asked to pray for people and we see no change in their circumstances.

We bore easily. Familiar prayers are often said without conscious awareness of the words spoken. Do we really want just our daily bread? Most of us are not content with simply enough for today—we want the whole loaf. We want excess, more than what we need. Yet we pray for just enough every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

We see catastrophic events in the media and we are riveted by their unfolding—for a short period of time. Then we lose interest and shift our attention to something newer and fresher and more sensational. When’s the last time you gave a thought to those affected by Hurricane Katrina? And yet, how many people are continuing to struggle with the changes wrought by that storm almost ten years later?

Even names on a prayer list lose our attention. It is easy for us to forget that behind every name, there is a person, a family, a life, an oftentimes long journey of uncertainty and woundedness. Compassionate care for others requires a commitment to attentiveness.

The desert fathers and mothers recognized the danger of acedia, which is a restless boredom. Evagrius Ponticus describes acedia as making “the day seem fifty hours long.” One of the ways to combat acedia is to persistently stick with something. Abba Moses said this, “sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” In other words to fight the temptation for constant variety, be still and stay in one place.

Our hunger for variety and stimulation leads us to a rootless existence. We cannot grow deeper in our relationship with God if we have yielded to the temptation of acedia. What penetrates our hearts is not a constantly changing kaleidoscope of stimulation but the slow, steady, persistent, faithful practice of stillness. This penetrates our hearts the way persistent drops of water will create indentions on stone. When one practices stillness over a period of time the familiar becomes cherished, not despised. Patience replaces boredom and there is room for compassion to grow and flourish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Suffering and Wholeness

Some who claim to be Christian in our society identify themselves as followers of Christ while denigrating the poor, verbally attacking those who “different” and enthusiastically pursuing material success and excess. How do we justify such behavior since the centerpiece of our faith is Jesus, who owned nothing and was rejected and killed because he didn’t condone religion that put rules before people? Jesus revealed to us that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, that self-emptying love trumps religious rule-following, that the poor, the prisoner and the outcast are the image of Christ in our midst.

Rachel Remen, a physician who counsels those with chronic and terminal illness makes this observation in her book, My Grandfather’s Blessings: We are a culture that values mastery and control, that cultivates self-sufficiency, competence, independence. But in the shadow of these values lies a profound rejection of our human wholeness. As individuals and as a culture we have developed a sort of contempt for anything in ourselves and in others that has needs, and is capable of suffering.

One of the most obvious ways I’ve seen this contempt is in our unwillingness to acknowledge our wounds or the wounds of others. Sometimes it happens through company bereavement policies that offer minimal time off following the death of a close family member. It may happen through our own impatience, because if we are “just” listening to another’s story, we feel unproductive.

This contempt can manifest itself in denial of woundedness. We don’t share our hurts with others, often because doing so makes everyone uncomfortable. And we may use denial to avoid carrying the suffering of others, as when I’ve heard folks say they simply don’t believe that there are hungry children in the United States. If we don’t acknowledge suffering, we can absolve our indifference toward it.

Dr. Remen reminds us that when we deny our wounds and when we refuse to acknowledge the suffering of others we reject wholeness. This challenges our cultural notion of independence—to recognize that in failing to bear the suffering of others, we are diminished in our own humanity, we are less than what God created us to be. We simply are not independent of one another. When another suffers, I too suffer. I either suffer by my indifference, which keeps me from wholeness, or I can choose to suffer in a Christlike way by bearing their pain with them.

Our productivity oriented culture can’t deal with suffering because suffering cannot fit into a neat formula or a particular timetable. Choosing to suffer with others by coming alongside them in their woundedness means rejecting the efficient, productivity driven way of being in the world. Others will not understand if we choose to move more slowly, if we focus more on being with others than on checking off a to-do list. But that’s okay. The One who said “Follow me” shows us that even death can be overcome if we are willing to bear the suffering of others.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Saturday at the Ball Field

Although Lent is over, I've been out of town on retreat so I thought I'd share another of my Lent poems this week, one that speaks of living in the present moment.

The day after the first
day of spring
I am at the baseball fields
where two young friends
are playing.
A beautiful day and memories,
laughter and folding chairs,
snacks and a toddler
keep me fully in the present moment.
No worries,
no to-do list.
What if every day could be lived
like this one?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Looking Up

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)     Mark 16:2-3

Three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, arrive at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. They are busy discussing how to get into the tomb, because when they were last at the tomb, on the Friday of Jesus’ death, they saw the stone put in place and knew it was more than they could move themselves.

I know I am often so busy looking down, limiting my vision to what I know, to what is seen, that I forget to look up, to be open to how God can transcend my limited ways of being and doing. Looking down limits what I can see. When I look up, my vision is expanded greatly.

As I thought about the difference that looking up makes, I recalled an experience I witnessed many years ago. It was about this time of year, a time when cedar waxwings migrate back through Georgia toward their summer home. A holly bush beside the parking lot outside my office window was shaking from the number of waxwings filling its branches and eating the red berries. Even with the distance my window was from the bush, I could hear the faint peeping of the birds. I watched a coworker pull up in his car, parking right in front of the bush. He got out of the car, never looking up, and walked into the building. When I asked him later if he had seen the birds, he had no idea what I was talking about!

During Lent, a friend shared a prayer about looking at others with enough attention to notice the color of their eyes. If we are looking down, we may be unable to see the face of God in the faces of those in front of us, we may miss the wonders of nature that our Creator has placed around us, and we may not see that the stone has been rolled away, as the three women only experienced when they looked up.

The stone is rolled away! God made a way when way was not possible for others to see. God is still rolling stones away for those who can see God’s work in the world. The Kingdom of God is among us and beyond us! Are we looking up to see it?