Posts Tagged With: practices

Why Not Live Our Whole Life as a Dance?

SAMSUNGJOY!  SMILES!  DANCING!  Advent (and LIFE!) practices!

This year I have been reading a number of ancillary works on Therese of Lisieux, my ‘confirmation saint’ and one of my (thank God, many!) familiar companions within the communion of saints.  As I finished one of these texts today, I came across an excerpt of a song that I wanted to share with you all, as Advent’s O Antiphons draw us daily closer to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Joy, rooted in utter confidence in God’s mercy and love, was for Therese a way of expressing her love of God.  She invited the novices she mentored to PRACTICE SMILING.  This joy of which Therese spoke was not for her – or for her novices, or us – the absence of suffering or the presence of comfort and consolation. It is a way of making concrete our gratitude for God’s tenderness with us and for us, and God’s entering into everyday companionship with us.  It is a way of making concrete – literally – with our faces – our trust (or desire to trust) the Abba that the Babe of Bethlehem will tell us about and connect us with in wondrous ways.  It is a “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” sung in the very everydayness of each of our lives – from laundry and dishes to errands and bill paying, from creative work to doldrum must-dos, from loving and caring to weeping and mourning.

In a time when we hear of Laughter Yoga meetings and the great value of humor and lightheartedness for our health, it strikes me that this young Carmelite friend tutors us to live this in a very grounded way.

thereseLife brings moments of happiness and of suffering — seasons sometimes of both.  Our weaknesses and sufferings Therese sees as opportunities to both let God lift and carry us (Jesus’ arms as the elevator, as she puts it), and as ways to give our lacks of courage or downright failures or very difficult pains to God who can meet and transform and use these.  Her confidence in God’s love – felt or not – is a reciprocity to this extravagant love she has received.  And she insists that that confidence should appear in our manner of speaking, walking, talking – and appear on our faces!  Smiling and communicating a positive presence are possible for us to choose — and they make a difference in others’ days as well as enhancing our own.  Truth is more that whatever this moment’s emotion, pain, joy, work, delight, grief bring.  Truth is that we are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians).  Will we choose to inform our way of being with this truth, and so communicate Good News?  Evangelize, if you will.

What better way to prepare a way, these last days of Advent, for our hearts to welcome the Child of Christmas with true eyes that see hope and wonder?  God enters our vulnerable flesh, our everydayness, our seasons and moments.  Can we live in the reflection of that joy, that gift?  Can we inform our faces?  Our lives?  Our tones of voice?  Our interactions and chores?  Our work?

Can we just smile?  How about practicing that this week — all of us?  Perhaps we might find we can do more than smile…. we can make of life a dance!  Or better, we can wake up and say yes to dancing, as our Dance Partner stands by with hands and arms outstretched, inviting our entering in.

Check out this prayer/song, from the text on Therese of Lisieux.  May we celebrate being here and now – alive as we are in this moment, with whatever music is playing!

“Teach us, Lord, to put on anew every day
Our human condition
Like a ball gown, that makes us love about you
All its small details like indispensable jewelry.

Make us live our lives –

Not like a game of checkers, where everything is calculated,

Not like a sports match, where everything is difficult,

Not like a theory that breaks our head –

But like a feast without end
Where the encounter with you is being renewed
Like a ball,
Like a dance,
In the arms of your grace,
To the universal music of love.” *

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us!  May we open our hearts to learn this lesson, this way.  

* [1] Song sung by Madeleine Delbre (1904-1964):  Nous autres, gens des rues.  Quoted in Therese of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity: The Transformative Relationship of St. Therese of Lisieux and her novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity,  by Pierre Descouvement, trans. By Alexandra Plettenberg-Serban

Categories: Advent, Carmelite, Saints | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Uses of Sorrow, Darkness, Temptation: Mary Oliver and Lent D5*

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

               (Mary Oliver, from Thirst, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006)


On a Sunday when the Gospel sends us to find Jesus in the desert, Oliver’s poem seems apt.  Coming across it reminded me of the line from Isaiah that reads “I will give you treasures out of the darkness”.  It takes years indeed, it seems to me, to discover the gifts in darkness, sorrow, temptation.

I like very much the view of a few who have reflected that part of the experience of Jesus’ temptation in the desert was discovering what being God’s Beloved (as he was named at the Baptism) was not.  It was not to always be fed and full.  It was not to have power and control.  It was not to be rescued.  For us as well.  We are Beloved – but we are sometimes/often empty and yearning.  We are Beloved – but our experience and fact is often of being poor in power to control events or people or even ourselves.  We are Beloved – but that does not mean we are rescued from every harm.  But we are God’s Beloved Ones, right along with Jesus, and these things do not make that Belovedness somehow less.

Who are we to measure love so meagerly, or not to unwrap the gifts we are given in deserts and darkness?

It’s in the desert that we are “allured” by God (Hosea 2) and where distractions are less and we might hear and respond.

It is in the darkness that we may discover where light (Light) comes from; where we may find ourselves too in solidarity with other dark-traveling journeyers, and offer and receive the support of pilgrim companions. There we are not over others, or under them – but we find ourselves side by side in need of way-walkers we link arms with and hope as we go step by step.  We may find, surprisingly, new strength from walking this way, and learn to differently see and value and love and relate.

It is in the temptations perhaps that we learn the art of listening for the homing signals that say ‘this is off target, this is on’, ‘beware’, ‘this is plastic, this is gold’.  It may be there we discover (again from Isaiah) that the Teacher is behind us saying “This is the way, walk in it, when you would go to the left and to the right”: and we know he’s right because we know what was the wrong way.

A friend today posted a line she heard at Mass on temptation:  “Our temptation is often that of forgetfulness… forgetfulness of how much God loves each of us. When we try to remember that amazing truth, we will be home again in the arms of Christ.”   I love it.  My only edit is with the last line: “we will know again that we are home in the arms of Christ”.  We’re already there, but as noted, we forget.  Our darkness, deserts and temptations make it hard to see.

But let’s practice what we believe – literally.  Practice by focusing on what we know to be true – such love – whether or not we have sand in all the wrong places, we can’t see well, or we’re off kilter with confusing messages or off-center longings or attachments.  If we just live and love from here, knowing we are in the arms of God in Christ…  whatever our circumstances…  we will find ourselves “coming out of the desert, leaning on [her] lover” (Song of Songs).  We will learn the uses of sorrow, darkness, desert, temptation – and perhaps be more clear on who and whose we are in our everyday.

Blessings on you as you receive whatever gift this day and Lenten season brings.

                                                                                                                             * Lent D5 – Day 5


Categories: Lent, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lenten Savings Time – Losing an Hour

Daylight Saving Time“The hour we are going to lose this weekend is the one I was planning on going to the gym.”  LOL, right?  I saw this today and thought it was pretty funny.  Attributing to the hour we are losing due to Daylight Savings Time something we weren’t all that committed to anyway — that’s art!  It’s like making the cosmos the responsible party for our cheating.  Great idea, right?

Well, after I laughed I started thinking about how this plays for Lent, but backwards.  Perhaps the hour we are losing might be put to good use, so to speak.  What if the hour we are going to lose is the hour this week that…

  • we were going to waste piddling around on social media so as not to face or encounter someone/something, or…
  • we were going to delay before calling that person we are uncomfortable with or estranged from, or…
  • we might have filled with judgments or gossip or negativity after being slighted by someone, or…
  • we were going overindulge in something not good for ourselves or others, or…
  • we were going to shop for something we don’t really need right now, or…
  • we were going to get through, but not devote the kind of energy our family or our work or our relationships deserve, or…
  • we were going to secure our priorities and financial good, with little consideration for those in need, or…
  • we were going to pray, go to church, read scripture… but not really be present, or…
  • we were going to feed resentments or bitternesses or angers, or…
  • we were going to waste before bed and not get sufficient sleep to give our best to the next day, or…

I wonder if you and I could determine that the hour we’re losing could be lost for our gain (and that of the world!).  What behavior or activity or attitude or character trait do we feed by engaging in or thinking about repeatedly?  Could we consider having one less hour of some specific thing this week, attributing it as “lost” due to Lenten Savings Time?  Just one hour less of something that has a hold on us…  setting the clock ahead on that behavior or attitude, claiming there’s just not time for it.  Can we do it?

So now I think that simple piece about the gym and Daylight Savings Time a bit of a gift.  In addition to losing an hour of something not so on-target in our lives, let’s do something else for Lenten Savings Time.  Let’s not make the gym excuse!  Will we, during this first full week of Lent, make sure that we don’t lose a positive we have opted to more include in our living?  Let’s not let go of the good we hope to nurture as habit, but stick with the discipline slowly, gently, hoping with God’s good grace it becomes part of our skin and our being.

Don’t forget to turn those clocks ahead tonight!


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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

While We Know Joy, God Discovers Tears: WITH-ness this Lent

In a stable Mary holds her infant son, and wonders at his crying.  The story tells of shepherds, of wise men/kings, of angels and Glorias, the Star, and of celebrating on the part of all the human witnesses.  And Jesus cries, as all babes do – and Mary must have listened – aware of her son, aware of this son – and pondered the mystery.  God takes on human flesh.   “Mary… is stunned at what the exchange is meaning: while [man] is getting to know joy, God is discovering tears.” *

What has this to do with Lent?  It’s the Christmas story.  But we know that incarnation and self-donation and presence and cross and resurrection are all of a piece.  As one Advent hymn lyrically captures 2 Corinthians 8:  “He became poor, that we might be rich: Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone”.  God’s great desire to be one with us creates the salvation we so long for, and the way home.  God’s desire for us and this salvation are quite literally way and truth and life to us in the here and now.  God, willing to enter tears and joy and all humanity, redefines love.  With Gospel eyes, we can’t miss this love in Jesus.  If only we take off our too-familiar-with-the-stories presuppositions and perspectives.  This is where seeing like children (as Jesus often encourages), with fresh wonder, is essential. 

What if we ask to have the scales fall from our older eyes so that we might truly see the following? 

Faith means literally to set one’s heart by (as has been explored in pre-Lent posts): and we are not the only or the first ones to set our hearts.  God is faithfulness, God doesn’t do faithfulness.  God’s heart is always being set.  In Trinity, we know the Father, Son and Spirit set their hearts on one another and pour out all unceasingly.  This Trinitarian God desires the same kind of communion with us.  It is God, therefore, who “faiths” first: God sets God’s heart on us!  God believes in us.  Why?  That question makes no sense to love, which needs no reason – it is in essence always free. 

God enters all of our reality to save us from the inside out.  WITH is then not only Emmanuel’s translation (God is with us), but our greatest peace.  We are never ever alone, whatever our circumstances and the feelings and thoughts that connect with them.  We can, in trust, cast all our cares on God who cares for us (1 Peter 5).  Why?  Again, because our very identity is found in being God’s Beloved Ones who have God WITH, always:  a loving, humble God who finds it delightful to accompany us at every moment of our journey. 

This Lent, perhaps what bears reflection is this WITH-ness of God, who always sets his heart first on us.  All we do is response and grace.  In response, you and I who know ourselves as desired disciples can follow the One – Jesus.  He showed us what love really is in his WITH-ness with us.  This Lent, we can practice and claim more as our own the disciple’s discipline of WITH-ness too.  God’s WITH-ness, born of love, is witness to us!  🙂 

When you and I practice WITH, we have come in church documents to call it solidarity  – a presence with another or others that is acting according to our connection one with each other.  It is a living in response to the fact that we are all one community, one body, one communion.  There is a special quality of God’s presence to us, as seen in the life of Jesus, that we might practice most deliberately in our own circumstances this Lent. 

Let me describe it with an image.  If my arm hurts, as it has the last few days, the rest of me is compensating.  I make adjustments, reach and twist and sleep and even walk differently.  Something has been pulled and needs perhaps rest, perhaps good stretching.  I am mindful of it. 

In the Gospels we see that Jesus walked among hills, near the sea, in villages and through crowds.  And his attention was often drawn to the “hurting limb”:  the paralytic lifted through the ceiling, the blind man on the side of the road, the woman with a long debilitating hemmorhage, the lepers who knew no home, the bent over woman living on the edges of the temple, the widow who had lost her son, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, the sinner, the poor.  As naturally as my attention goes to my arm due to its soreness, Jesus was drawn to be especially WITH individuals most in need.   

We learn from Jesus’ living that God delights in being WITH all of us, but particularly chooses to be WITH those of us, and those parts of us, most hurting – whether that hurt is seen by others or not.  Since such vulnerability merits God’s special presence and nurturing, healing attention; it merits ours.  Is this the preferential option for whoever is poor?  Perhaps.  And why wouldn’t we want to be WITH in love in the same way the One who saves us shows us?  The way the One who loves us has and is WITH us. 

Therese of Lisieux said at the end of her life that she would spend heaven doing good upon the earth.  She had great desire for other souls’ good during her life, and she wished to keep up this work after her death.  In this, she was very interested in the same things that interest her Love, the One who desired and saved her and was WITH her.  But this was a way she grew into.  She, more than many, told us through her autobiography of her struggles to look beyond herself to be servant and companion to those she found difficult.  Her ‘little sacrifices’ were nothing other than disciplines that helped her get out from her own thinking about her and into the ability to be WITH the other.  She did not assume she knew the heart of another, nor did she need to.  She simply served and chose the discipline to see the other and act in gentleness and compassion, with much prayer, and in small ways, as she could.  These small disciplines, her “little way”, changed her, shaping her desires.  We call her saint.  More importantly, they were expressions of love in the same pattern as Jesus’ love, and so they were life-giving to the other.     

The being present to the part of the body that hurts, to the person who annoys, to the challenge that discomforts us – these are not easy things.  In each of our lives these movements may be expressed differently (and different days offer different opportunities – even different hours or moments!).  But what if you and I attempted to do this to be united with a loving, desiring God who wants all to know joy?  What if we practiced choosing in moments a union with a God who chooses to discover tears in entering humanity — and will choose so much more of our limits and struggles too? 

This is not an invitation to beat ourselves up over our own struggles to love.  Practicing makes perfect.  It’s about bringing a willingness and a hope to be WITH, and trusting grace to help us see and act bit by bit.  It is an invitation to plant small seeds, to follow little ways (like Therese), to see with Gospel fresh eyes, and to count on God’s mercy to help us as we depend on others to support our growing too.

What of acting for the hurting this Lent in some way?  Political action on behalf of the vulnerable?  Looking out for children without sufficient adult support in your circle?  Serving the homeless, or the out of work neighbor, with kindness and respect as well as physical support?  Volunteering at a hotline?  Training with your pet to visit the elderly?  Planting flowers for an elderly relative or neighbor?  Being mindful of those in your circle with decreased mobility who may need driving to appointments or shopping?  Looking into the eyes with an intention of good of those we don’t know how to serve who ask for money?  Carrying granola or fruit bars in our car to give out instead of money at city street corners?  Contributing our unique skills for someone else’s good?  The HOW of this is limited only by our imaginations, let’s broaden them and brainstorm possibilities – perhaps with each other here, or with friends or family, or in small faith communities!

What we choose may not be large or take much time.  But it is a choosing to act in accord with the FACT that we are WITH others with needs in the communion of love that God establishes because we are family in him.  It may be a hospitality too to some hurting part of ourselves, and seeking the care and mercy and support and forgiveness and gentleness we need on our own journeys. 

Whatever you and I do, it is good to remember that it is not to earn or achieve some illusion of ‘now we’re being good people’.  It is as simple as my attention to my overworked arm.  It is appropriate care to a need in our family/in our communion, and we are inspired to it by the life of Jesus which expresses the love and desire of God for us. 

Let us again learn to set our hearts.  And perhaps we can pray and consider our call to be faithful as God is faithful.  In this is a living in our true identity, not a spiritual fix-it project to be a better person this Lent. 

Let our eyes see your willing entering of our tears, O Lord.   Comfort us.  And train us as we choose to practice loving as you love, in being WITH.  Care for those most in need, O God, and make us partners in this presence that is healing and saving and life.    

 * Iaian Matthew on John of the Cross, Ballad seven in The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross

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Lent… Ready? Set? Plant and Pluck!

“All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.”  This wisdom comes from Abraham Lincoln this Presidents’ Day.  Just two days before Ash Wednesday, Lent’s official starting gate, Lincoln’s words have sent me to ponder the practices of plucking and planting during this season.  Thanks, Abe!  (One of my favorite American figures.)  Oh, and of course, the Spirit and [his/her] holy manner of working!

Here in Maryland, spring has come early with an unseasonable warmth that we’ve enjoyed on and off and on again over the last month.  (At one point I feared – oh no! – that I would have to start mowing the lawn in February!)  Every little patch of garden seems to have signs of life and signs of junk.  Weeds appear around all the crocus and daffodil growth, and cry out for knees in the soil, gloves on the hands, hands in the dirt, work-work-work! 

Initial planting won’t be needed in our front garden, as I planted TONS of tulip bulbs last fall to add to our already large supply.  But later weeks will see me planting pansies, perhaps marigolds, definitely begonias, and assorted other items that look pretty in their pots at Lowes or Home Depot.  But always there will be stubborn growth and roots of weed to pull, hoping to be ignored long enough to overcome the desired plantings, their prettier cousins.   

I weed haphazardly.  Rarely do I take a block of time just to pluck.  I take 5-10-15 minutes here and there.  I bend over and reach for unwanted roots on my way back from putting out the garbage, on my way to the outside stairs.  Weeding happens as I go.  But planting?  Ah, that’s quite deliberate!  I space out colors and types and take great joy in watching color arrive and thrive.  The colors must be bright, and varied.  There must be space to see them.  They make my heart smile.

And so, in this upcoming Lenten season when I hope – with you – to set my heart on what is most true (see Feb 11th post), I find at the entrance this invitation to plant and pluck.  It seems right to place a greater focus on planting here.  In matters of HEART-SETTING, it seems there is an almost opposite dynamic at play regarding the growth of flowers and weeds than in my garden.  It’s not the weeds that threaten so much to overcome.  The “thistle” should not have my prime attention.  Instead, when the focus is on the positive, and practices of life and light, the plantings edge out the weeds.  True, some weeds in my life garden continually need plucking.  But depriving them of attention – of nourishment and time and energy – seems to shrivel them so they are easier to remove, forgotten like a child’s old toys or last year’s school notebooks. 

So, let’s focus on the planting of color and life. 

What positives will I plant this Lent through actions that might grow into habits or practices?  What about you?   Below are some ideas.  More importantly, we must each consider our own – born of our sense of our life’s call and where we are on the journey today – rooted in our truest desires and God’s for us and those who do and will know us.  Can we each plant some things of beauty in our lives intentionally, like chosen colorful flowers?  Can we be thoughtful and strategic about those we plant, the practices we will spend time and thought cultivating, so as to choose what will best take root now and which is most needed in our present landscape?  

We may be surprised what God will do with us in the process.  What dreams for our lives might begin to come true!  What dreams God has for us and others might come to fuller flowering!  What new freedoms might we find, and then give from these new places!   The plantings we attempt, in our on-again-off-again efforts, may become habits with focus and time, in turn perhaps becoming the type of practices that become part of who we are, as inseparable as our skin. 

Review the options below, but go on your own journey through the gardening shop for the colors that seem most apt for your life-Lenten garden.   

  • Will we plant practices of hope if we are in the midst of doubting times?  How about seed planting then?  Or perhaps weekly bread baking where yeast wins?  Can we put a note on our mirror, in our sock drawer, to remind us that “Hope will not leave us disappointed” (Romans)?  What of looking for signs of hope in nature, in the newspaper, in the eyes of our children, parents, loved ones? 
  • Will we plant practices of silence and space in lives too frantic and frazzled?  Plants need space to grow, to stretch, to find the sun, to root-reach for water and nourishment.  How about 10 minutes more than whatever we usually give to silence each day?  And SILENCE, not reading or journaling or praying with an aid.  SILENCE.  Listening.  Seeing.  Being.  Try the tried and recommended prayer practice with Psalm 46… Be still and know that I am God, Be still and know that I am, Be still and know, Be still, Be…  And silence.
  • Will we plant practices of companionship with Jesus if we have been absent from considering him, or we need reminding who God really is?  What about reading of and really meeting Jesus in the Gospels and speaking to the Jesus you read of daily in a log, through poetry, in art?  Or put a symbol of his presence – a rock, a heart, a cross – in your pocket to touch and be reminded to communicate with him about your life during the day.  He is one who lived the limits you and I exist within – sleep and wake, birth and death, joy and sorrow, loss and gift, confusion and clarity, faith and a sense of God’s absence, isolation and community.  He is WITH, so we are never alone.  Practices here unite us to him, by removing the fog that says we are ever separated.
  • Will we plant practices of compassion for others if we have been in a season of great focus on our own journey?  What of service or volunteer opportunities?  Or finding 5 people to be compassionate to each day in our everyday actions – the cashier, the dry cleaner, the person on the phone, the less than pleasant neighbor, the co-worker?
  • Will we plant practices of healing and reconciliation if we have known anger and hurtful relating?  Where can we offer this?  Where can we receive this?  Can we pray for it each day?  What about writing to or visiting someone each week we know or guess is in need of this kind of presence?  Or noticing people who annoy us and hoping and praying for whatever needs healing in them?  Or laying out our own hurting and pausing gently before it asking God to be WITH us with it, as Jesus joined Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb?  Or being the son or the Father in the prodigal account in Luke 15… receiving or offering lavish embrace and forgiveness?
  • Will we plant practices of care for creation – and for the earth, our home?  Are there physical plantings we can do in public spaces or educating of ourselves or others for better action?  What of household behavior changes that conserve? 
  • Will we plant practices of hospitality if we find we have been closed off from people or experiences very different from us?  How can we choose each day or week to step across a boundary or invite another over toward us?
  • Will we plant practices of reverencing wisdom and wonder?  What of visiting with someone over 70 or 80 or 90?  Or of writing to a mentor or former teacher or older relative?   Or spending time with a child 5 or under listening to their worldview and noticing if there are learnings there for you?
  • Will we plant practices of gratitude that brighten areas of life where we may have let strongholds of disappointment or regret hide?  Or in places where we overindulge for fear we do not have enough?  What small cultivations of being thankful for breath, sight, taste, love, life, touch, hearing, friendship, warmth might be fostered?  Can we be thankful in small things so that larger sadnesses or clinging may dissipate some simply by focusing on the bright and the open and free? 

So, Lent comes.  Prepare to plant.  And plan to check in each morning or evening on the process – not to micromanage the garden, but to re-set our hearts again and again to the focus on the One who holds our hearts and leads us.  The first reading last Sunday from Isaiah included, “Behold, I am doing something new!”  God is up to something in the world, in our time, in each of our lives.  In this beginning of Lent, may we be up to something too: doing something new, planting something beautiful, acting and practicing whatever positives we choose.  I’d suggest that maybe the plucking of our gardens’ thistles might come later, when weeds lag from reduced attention in their direction halfway through Lent. 

Whatever your practice or mine, let us remember that at this new Lent’s starting gate we are not in a race.  We take a walk with Jesus, who is in the habit of loving his friends into greater and greater beauty and virtue.  Let us look to him, and enjoy the fresh spring/Lent/garden air, sights and sounds.  Peace to you. 

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Setting Our Hearts – For Life, For Lent

Do you remember this – 844-1212?  When I was a kid, it was the phone number we called to get TIME.  If your watch had stopped, your clocks gone off because of an outage, or it was daylights savings time… you called in and got a recording.  “At the tone the time will be 8:14 and 20 seconds BEEEEEEP!”  When our clocks or watch were out of whack – and potentially ourselves too because of it – we called TIME to get reset.  It was an ongoing practice, this checking and resetting, ensuring that the ‘local authorities’ on time that dwelt on the walls of our homes or that we carried around on our wrists were synced with the ‘ultimate truth’ – Greenwich time, to the second!

Long ago I came across an etymology of the word faith or belief – literally to engage in the action of faith is “to set one’s heart”.  Our hearts – what is most core to us – have the frequent possibility of going a bit (or a lot) off course; becoming out of whack, out of tune, in need of correction or realignment.  We are like fragile, complex and fickle clocks whose time-keeping gets jarred easily.  We need some re-booting now and then, and perhaps even a little tinkering with our inner workings if we are in need of more repair.  That to which we set our hearts is not Greenwich time .  For the Christian, it is to the ‘content of faith’ embodied in the Gospel – the God revealed to us in Jesus – and the relationship and mission we are invited into living fully in cooperation with and embraced by the Trinity.  This is the truth to which we set our hearts.  And we set our hearts by the practices in which we engage.

Heady stuff, huh?

What I’m most interested in, as Lent approaches, is this dynamic of HEART-SETTING.  I believe it is an essential practice for people of faith.

The power of practices has been written about from a number of different starting points.  Here’s what I know.  What we practice is important.  Engaged in over time, doing certain things and training ourselves to think and behave in certain ways and patterns forms more than habits.  Practices form and shape our desires. 

Vincent Miller in his important work, Consuming Religion, used this basic example.  Reading the Sunday ads every week for an hour may be a weekly practice.  In some ways, this behavior trains us.  It affects what we hope for, wish for, dream about, desire.  It may impact how we judge our success or achievement, our relationships.  This does not mean don’t read the ads – but it does speak to being aware of the power of habits that become practices.

Practices are more than habits – they are activities we may even look forward to, once they are part of us, with a degree of hunger.  The day – the work project – the conversation –  is not complete unless I engage in this practice.  Saying something positive in every conversation, saying “I love you” to a family member at the end of any phone call, writing a thank you note every day to someone, counting our blessings each night – these are simple, but formative examples of practices that can shape our perspectives.  They are expressive of some truth and shape us.  Habits which become practices are like clothing we put on that becomes skin.  They become part of us, and they influence how we perceive the rest of life and with what sensitivities.

As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.  Our practices deepen in us a certain way or perspective about life or values, and can impact our choices because they give shape to our desires.  So, it should be obvious that we need to pay attention to the practices we have developed over time, and be deliberate about the ones we want to shape us.

So, for Lent, I invite you – with me – to engage in actions that may become habits that may become practices that set our hearts.  We have rich examples of many of these in our Christian tradition, and you and I probably have some we have developed on our own journeys that are particularly helpful.  But I think Lent is a time especially to give attention to the actions we take to set our hearts on the WHO who loves us first. 

We DON’T engage in heart setting practices in order to earn God’s love.  Heresy!  We are already lovingly created and held in being, uniquely and particularly as ourselves.  In many ways, heart setting is for us, not for God.  We are happiest and whole when we work in accord with the way our loving Creator designed us.  Engaging in heart-setting practices helps us remember and get back and realign so that we can breathe and live more fully as who we most truly are.  And, when we do, we are also able to best engage in the mission of God in the world – to do our particular part in being light and life in the world for and with others, and serving them as God would wish.  If we “keep time well” by being well tuned, we can help others get back on beat too. 

So let’s consider what practices you and I might initiate or be more faithful to that function as ways to set and sync our hearts to what is true – to WHO is true.  In future posts, I’ll explore categories for these practices, as Ash Wednesday approaches.  Key questions for these next two weeks that may help in preparation for a Lenten attention to Heart-Setting:    

  • What do you notice about what you desire?
  • What actions, habits, practices reinforce these desires?
  • What is a desire that gets drowned out – not given enough play – that you would like to feed and grow in your life?
  • What actions, habits, practices might feed this desire?
  • What is God inviting you to? 

We may find there are practices we engage in that are SO life-giving and SO heart-setting that we just want to celebrate them.  We may need to pay more attention to the good that already exists, and be grateful and reinforce what is happening.  Or perhaps these wonderful practices need more room or space in our lives, and our Lenten journey calls for redistributing our resources in time or focus so that there is more space for this good.  And we may find that there are practices we have that are already part of our skin that do not serve us well, are not expressive of what we want to be or become, or that are at odds with what we say we believe.  We may need to shed that practice that has become like skin to us, which is difficult.  Like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we may have become something we hardly recognize – in Eustace’s case, a dragon, due to his greed!  And we may need Aslan’s (Christ’s) help in separating that dragon skin from us.  What a powerful image of the invitation to conversion and new freedom – and Christ’s joy and ours!  (See the book for more richness here than the movie!) 

So, dial in.  Don’t call 844-1212.  Try prayer and reflection and silence as the ‘call-in method’.  See if considering HEART-SETTING is part of what might be a Lenten invitation to you.  There will be reflections here that feed this.  Looking to Jesus and the practices that were his “skin” will be important.  Looking to the saints and Saints who are our special friends and witnesses will also inform.  But most, sink down deeply within and let the Spirit speak to your heart.  There you will find courage – couer-age – HEART – for the journey.

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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