Posts Tagged With: life

What Will Mean Life for You? Lent D2

For a follower of Jesus – for one who seeks to be holy (one with God) – and to bring the rest of creation and all people/s along for the ride – what is fullness of life?  We might look to John 10:10 and see that Jesus’ words there tell us that he came that we might have full and abundant life. We might speak of our sacred responsibility to protect and value and serve human life in all its moments, with all its challenges and differing ‘incarnations’ in abilities and needs, from conception through natural death.  We might speak of enhancing the experience of life for those in need, living in violence, exposed to constant threat, suffering, alone.  We might speak of the Word who is Life (see John 1), the life in creation and of our world, or perhaps of eternal life.  All of these hold great importance.

Today, a selection from Deuteronomy 30 is the first reading of the liturgy.   Within it is the oft quoted, “I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then…”  Well and good, this is a rich passage for reflection and study.  But on the day after Lent has begun, I am interested in the lines that follow. They answer this question:  How are you and I to choose life?  We are given a trinity of instructions.  By…

— loving the Lord, your God —
— heeding God’s voice —
— holding fast to God —

for THAT will mean LIFE for you  (v.20)

Given Lent’s beginning, how do these three echo in you?  How about choosing today one above to reflect on further?  Select the one that attracts you the most or gets on your nerves the most – both are speaking to you!  Some kindling for reflection on each is provided below. Don’t overthink as you read (there’s more there than you need — WAY more), but notice what calls out to you simply and gently.  Create your own additional brainstorming, and follow the Spirit’s promptings to discern the invitation to you today for reflection and/or action!  

 

SAMSUNG

 

Loving the Lord, your God.  Who is your Lord, your God?  Is it the God?  Is it the one revealed by Jesus’ way among us?  Or an imposter? Would you and I rather hold onto our image of God than meet the living God?  What do we need in order to be open and vulnerable to such a meeting?  Is your God (like Aslan in CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) good, but not quite safe and predictable?  Does God surprise you?  How do we love the One larger than the cosmos and tinier than our tiniest microcosm, for whom time and size and limits make no sense, but who became poor for us in Christ in the incarnation and the cross?  (See Pope Francis’ Lenten message, #1 for great insight here, link below — and Franciscan theology and spirituality).  What does love like God’s call you to?  Since God is Love, IS a pouring all of self out for us; how do we pour ourselves out in turn for our Trinitarian God?  Is this God your Lord?  What would that mean?  Are you to love God in the fasting that God wishes (per Isaiah): in releasing those bound unjustly, in serving, in freeing, in giving to especially God’s poorest ones?

Heeding God’s voice.  Implied is that God’s voice is heard.  How else could we heed?  So, how do you and I listen?  Do we listen?  Do we know that to have an ‘open ear’ is to be obedient? How does ‘obedience’ sound to you?  What disciplines do we need in order to better listen? What gets in our way and what helps us? Where and to what do you listen?  Would this call you scripture reading?  Reading some classics in spirituality?  Reading and learning from saints who have listened and loved as Jesus did?  How do you listen to bird song, construction work, keyboarding, baby’s crying, elders’ subtly expressed (or not so subtly expressed) needs, the cry of the hurting, the longings of the bound, waterfalls, the regrets of the sick or dying, planes landing, sharp voices, whispered words, vows exchanged, music and song, your own or another’s heartbeat, prayer and worship?  Do we have selective hearing and heeding — as we hear God or others?  What are we invited to open our ear to today?  Are we willing to consent to what that will do in us, and call us to?

Holding Fast to God.  I admit, this is the one I find myself most attracted to.  What would it mean to hold on, hold fast, to not let go?  What other things or time fillers or attitudes or perspectives might we have to release to put our arms around God?  Can we learn to hold fast from the way Jesus did with Abba, as he lived and worked and prayed?  What if we believe we are already held fast by God, and we have just to return the favor?  What would that do to our perpective?  What must be released from our hands, from our attention, and what must have more of us?  How do we hold fast to our call, to our sisters and brothers, to the Word, to the Church, to the process of growth and transformation?  How do we hold fast when what we experience is difficult or deadening?  How do we hold fast when we want to flit and fritter. or we’re bored?  Does God need us to hold on too?  What could such holding fast mean for God?

If we do these three things,  it will mean life for us.

I wish us each this kind of enriched life – the kind of full life God wishes us to have, the way of life and love embodied in Jesus.

Choose life then, friends and fellow disciples, in the small and larger ways you find an invitation to through Deuteronomy’s offerings this day.  Happy Lent, Day Two (D2)!

*  Pope Francis’ Lenten Message 2014:  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20131226_messaggio-quaresima2014_en.html

 

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IF Work and Life are Art…

…very much like the art of giving something/someone birth or flesh – THEN we should expect to spend a lot of time pregnant, at the edge, on the verge, hungering for odd things, perhaps cranky, wonderfully hopeful, terrified, thrilled, tired, focused, experiencing, kicked, part of something magical and stupendous, at the service of amazement and mystery, wanting to share the wonder, needing support, surprised, glowing, crampy, bloated, a part of creation in a whole new way, expecting pain, anticipating birth, in search of experienced companions and caregivers, in touch with the small in life and the huge in existence, amazingly practical, full of vision, doubting, celebrating, dancing, crying, and plodding along day by day in anticipation, certain of life wriggling and reaching within which will one day burst forth with its own needs and gifts.

I have been reading a good bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s work (again) of late on art and creativity.  (See especially Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and a lovely collection compiled by Carole Chase titled Madeleine L’Engle: Herself.)  Madeleine eloquently tells us that if we are given a work, we are invited to be a servant of this work, humbling learning a little of what it would teach us.  The work that is our life and our lifework has gifts for us, if we would be open to being learners.

Try these examples.  If you are a teacher, your teaching teaches you.  A writer is taught by the process and characters and images, and finds herself written.  A musician is tutored by the notes and progressions and feel of music and quality of sound and tone.  A painter finds himself painted by the colors and shapes used and emerging.  A parent finds him or herself in the child and in the expression of the ongoing relationship that is mysterious.  A physical therapist is entranced by the wonder of body and movement, and the process of freeing that calls to her in others and herself.  A mathematician joys in the logic and mystery of numbers, and their description of the universe, and finds himself counted and measured.  An architect uncovers truth in the process of design and the ways things combine and create, and the ways various components support and make beautiful each other.

In spirituality studies, we say that the study of spirituality implicates the student.  Of course it does!  Are there other ways your life and your work tutor you, as they emerge?

We are all artists and creators, and we are engaged in the mundane and meaningful everyday duty and privilege of serving the life and work we have been given, that emerges through every moment of our story’s unfolding.  We often don’t know the ultimate direction or flow of our life or work but we can awake to the wonder of what’s really going on (most religions call this awareness or recollection or waking up).  We can find joy in serving the mystery of new life unfolding and can even sometimes shape to varying degrees, with due respect for the rules that govern our art, the expression and direction of this gift with our agency, our physical and mystical fingertips!

Today my musings lead me to wonder how our perspectives would change if we understood ourselves truly as artists in this way, engaged – with God – in every moment in the creative process that is the dynamism of life, giving and creating through our living and our work.

  • How would I understand when I feel blocked, stuck, unable?  What would tell me if the block is a normal response to being inbetween and something not being entirely ready yet to emerge – or if it is the result of a practice that keeps me from taking care of nurturing the life and gift I have been given?
  • What new compassion might I have on my own – and others’ – struggles in acting in new ways or taking new paths, given the complexity of the process of ‘birthing’?
  • Where would I find the best midwives for various aspects of my life and work, who would help hearten me as I go, yet keep me moving and nurturing, breathing and pushing, and leading to new births?
  • What systems and practices would I create, or reinforce, that enable me to reflect on my living, so that I don’t lose track of what my life and work would like to teach me?  (journaling? theological reflection? praxis exercises? right brain creations? lists and records?)
  • Who are my immediate ‘family’ of fellow journeyers, and how can we encourage and challenge each other as life-work artists?
  • Who is the God of the artist’s journey – of yours and my journey? Does this lead to any new or sideways glimpse of God-with-us, or reinforce other images?  What images of God are we invited to explore, or to leave behind, as we meet the living, loving, creating and creator God?
  • What are the everyday, mundane, practical, pragmatic, consistent practices that will support you and nurture the creative process?  What one thing might we add?  What one thing might we let go of?  Need more sleep?  Less rich food?  More quiet, reflection?  More time in nature?  More time with ‘midwives’?  Less cluttered space?

IF WORK and LIFE are ART….     how do you finish the sentence?  What question for the rest of us would you raise?

Categories: Art in Life and Work, Coaching, Spiritual Direction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Life is Fragile, Beautiful, Strong

Butterfly wings, daffodil brightness, the head of an infant, bird nests, an elderly person’s hug, the legs of a newborn pony, cherry blossoms, and a million more of ‘my favorite things’ – these are all worth cherishing and protecting and noting their strength in the midst of their seeming fragility.  Spring makes me mindful of beauty’s fragility, of vulnerability’s beauty, and of new ways of understanding strength.

Today is sunny after days of rain, and I rejoice!  The tulips’ bright colors shout, the pansies in purple and yellow and deep red pick up their little heads, and I can almost see them trying to grow strong.  The dogwood tree is preparing to bloom like a bride before a mirror on her wedding day.  Birds are singing and shouting to each other as they romance and hunt nest-places.  If not for school today, children would be calling to each other from their yards or bikes.  Only the occasional car sounds outside my window.  The sun and the season give me joy.  It is my favorite time of year.

Yet I am mindful that the new buds will be full leaves soon, that the bright tulips will not long be with us, that the azaleas – not yet budding – will bud and go to green, that the puppies I see will soon be full grown dogs, that the butterflies that burst forth will have brilliant lives – but oh too short.  And I note the wind on days of rain that too soon robs the tulip tree of its magnificent blossoms.  My own lawn mower runs way too close, in the effort to well trim, and cut a few daffodils, now in a vase.  In the fall, nature’s fading is brilliant but oh so sad to me.  In spring, the temporary and fragile beauties are treasures to be seen and held in mind’s eye and heart’s memory – to be tapped as needed in longer or shorter days.

Human life too is fragile and beautiful.  Infants are born and toddlerhood celebrated, learning and growing and exploring and playing are childhood’s joys.  Little ones fall and get up a great many times learning to walk, and on their way to adulthood…  in early years with an enthusiasm for all of their restarts.  Their grandparents’ falls are sources of concern for middle generations who wonder what harm or limitations will be caused.  The wonder of the human body’s great resilience is near taken for granted by the child and young adult, whose experience is of energy unlimited and then restful sleep.  All of this, of course, varies as pain or trauma, illness or violence – like early wind and rains to the budding tulip tree – can sweep away some or all of the security of youth which is related to a sense that danger is nowhere nearby. 

Adulthood and/or experiences of great change or loss bring a different sense of life’s fragility.  Hearts and minds learn, with time, the seasons of emotions and cognitive reflections that are love and yearnings, frustration and judgments, achievements and new pathways, self determination and interdependence in the complexity of human relationships.  Suffering and illness are encountered through the stories of others – and close to hand with loved ones or in our own flesh.  Human pain – emotional or physical – is a signal of ‘all is not as I thought it was’ to the person, at any age, who has known the beauty and security of sunny days primarily. 

At some point, we all encounter and are invited to learn some peace and acceptance with life as it is – in seasons spring to spring:  beginnings, full life, fruitfulness, fading glorious beauty, dyings and hidings in the earth, and eventual rebirth. 

One of the joys of the Incarnation, of God-WITH-us in Jesus, is the assurance of God who lived and learned these seasons by our sides, at our shoulders, close to earth.  Jesus’ own physical human journey followed this pattern, and he saw beauty and age and fragility and strength first hand in the natural world and in the bodies and eyes and lives of Mary and Joseph, and others he loved.  “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” is a needleworked phrase hung in my room – crafted by my mother .  I imagine Jesus learned this too in his journey. 

Life’s fragility takes us to prayer.  The delicateness of a rosebud or the last blossoms of a cherry tree – beginnings and endings – call us naturally to praise and celebration and longing and confusion.  The thin skin of an elderly relative reminds us of how temporary is our housing here.  The cocoons do fall away at some point, or we climb out of them.  Joseph’s death, however it occurred, must have taken Jesus on a heart journey that included yearning and love and loss – and a reflection on life’s fragile beauty.  He knew the strength of those carpenter’s hands on wood, around him as a child, and guiding him along the way.  His words, not long from his own death, about a grain of wheat needing to fall into the ground and die for new life to occur — these signal the wisdom he has gathered and the lessons from which he learned and lived. 

Not many days now until Holy Week, and we are in the midst of the juxtaposition between fragility and strength, death and resurrection, being buried and new life.  Wherever each of us is in our personal experiences of these rhythms, life’s strength and gift is true; life’s beauty is real; life’s fragile vulnerability is present.  We cannot grasp all these things with our minds.  Our hearts come closer.  But our experiences are the real tutors, and the book of creation around us can be read clearly.  Enjoy it all!  Sometimes the most fragile is, because of its very fragility, the most beautiful.  Some beauties last very long.  Whatever its shape, embedded in all of life is a strength that has nothing to do with a time clock or protective coating.  Each item in creation is strong when it is what it is, and stands in its reality confidently and without need to dissemble.

You and I are God’s work of art, as Paul puts it.  When we can stand in the beauty of our individual and collective creation with confidence, we can give from who we are.  And that giving is unlike what any other can offer.  We stand, as beautiful-strong-fragile-loving-and-loved creations.  And we smile and we cry, we laugh and we sob, we play and we praise, we create and we give — and we help each other with the vagaries of the seasons, the winds, the factors that impact our lives and hearts and bodies.  And we learn, hopefully, to trust and to be.  We learn faithfulness and celebration, treasuring and loving.

Jesus enters Holy Week.  Is he prepared?  What would that mean?  He enters Holy Week as himself, and that will be enough.  He loves and treasures.  He is faithful.  He celebrates.  He remembers times in the carpenter’s shop, times with his mother, fields of flowers and grain, seeds and sparrows, bread and wine, fellowship and obtuse friends, blind men and thirsty women, words and longings and prayer.  And, ultimately, he will give himself wholely.  But those moments of self gift come directly from all the other ones of being in, experiencing, and embracing life before. 

So let us, like him, embrace the life that is ours – celebrate the beauty, the fragility, the strength of what is around us and within us – and commit to the path it takes us.

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