Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Crossroads

Recently, I dreamed I was standing at a crossroads in a huge windstorm; I was literally standing there in the middle with the way behind me and 3 seemingly identical options in front of me. It was mid-morning but the wind and the blowing dust obscuring the sun made time seem inconsequential. There were no road signs, no traffic, and all three roads looked pretty much the same.  I feel anxious, now, writing about it, but in my dream, I was calm, centered, just standing in the crux of the looming decision.


I don't remember anything else. I suspect the dream was brought on by Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken" which I had recently discussed with my children. My crossroads, however, was far less inviting than Frost's, yet neither was it desolate nor foreboding. It simply was. It was me and a choice and a fate neither apparently sublime nor ignoble. It was clearly an every day choice and yet that moment of hesitation -- or perhaps surrender -- at the crossroads tells the same story as Frost's; it was a way forward that while neither good nor bad, was somehow permanent.

In retrospect, I have been at a crossroads, and it is one I believe is central to our faith; not just my faith as a Catholic or my faith as a Christian; it's at the core of our humanity. For the last 6 weeks, I have been reading articles and books and watching videos about scarcity and abundance, about waste and stewardship. This has been a convicting journey, indeed.

On the eve of Easter, on the cusp, this is the result of my Lenten journey. I stand at the crux of the decision and when the eggs are filled and the baskets laid on the table, I will go to bed to awake tomorrow committed anew to a new/old path; one of simplicity and perhaps at times austerity; most certainly it will be one of authenticity and that is what matters to me.

Happy Easter.

PS -- a few videos, in particular, have impacted me in this rending of heart; all are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime video. Here they are in no particular order;

Living on One Dollar 
Just Eat It
Poor Kids by Frontline
A Place at the Table
Fed Up

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Epiphanies and Resolutions

I love the Feast of Epiphany . . . and not just because I can take my tree down, which I still haven't. I love Epiphany because it reminds me that each of us has something to offer by way of sacrifice or, in a timely way, by resolution. As Father Michael talked Sunday about renewing our relationship with God, I kept thinking about the verses of "In the Bleak Midwinter:"

What can I bring him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
If I were a wise man, I would do my part; 
Yet what I can, I give him . . .
Give my heart. 

You know me. I'm prone to sentimentality and over-sincerity. It's part weakness and part dramatic behavior. I'm so attracted to the drama in it. I love the image of first the humble shepherd then the stately wise man and then myself, pulsing heart in hand. It's quite the picture.

It truly is my best self who comes forward at the first of the year with promises and resolutions. I mean them. I mean to keep them and, as I mentioned recently, I make them with eyes wide open  -- in at least as much as I am able to be open minded about myself.

Someone -- and I truly don't remember whom -- told me that Christians don't need to make resolutions. They are always on their knees in front of the crucifix doing their best and making amends for their failings.

This is not true of me. I grew up at the altar of the church; I am well schooled in the Christian way of life. Throughout my life I was often told, "you need to have more faith," "you need to forgive," you need to "Let go and let God." And I never disagreed. These things, I knew, were true and would be helpful. Yet, my constant inner response was, "YBH. Yes, but how?"

Herein lies the beauty of aging. We learn things. Through various means and methods and a lot of "hard knock" schooling in the always truthful, School of Life, I have found the YBH. I have learned to have faith, to forgive, to surrender.

Resolutions are one of the vehicles that deliver the YBH to me. They are the wheels on the vehicle of faith that, in the next twelve months, will help me end the year a happier, healthier, and, well, better person. In a few weeks when Lent comes around, I'll get to recommit, tweak and renew those resolutions in the form of Lenten sacrifices. There is much learning and living to be had in the quest to reach those goals.

So if you are a resolutionist, or never have been, it's not too late! Consider taking a little time this month to look at your year just past and the one laying ahead, shining with hope and promise, and consider what will help you get to the end of it with a heart full of love and gratitude.

Let me know how it works for you!

PS - If you're interested, I just made my New Year's Resolutions and you can find them here.

I write about resolutions most years and often more than once!. Here are several of those posts:

New Resolutions:

2015: More is More, Less is More and More is Better!
2014: Six Word Resolutions to Write on the Clean Slate
2013: Resolutionary Manifesto
2012: A Single Resolution
2011: New Year's Revolution
2010: Resolution Revolution
2009: God on Speed Dial

Taking Stock Along the Way:

Dec 2015: The Un-listened to "Provided That"
Dec 2014: A Change of Face
Feb 2014: Resolution Reality Check
Jan 2013: Hope for my Resolutions



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Take Me to the King

Sometimes, a song says it best. This beautiful gospel piece by Tamela Mann is speaking to me these days:

Take me to the King
I don't have much to bring
My heart is torn in pieces -
It's my offering.
Lay me at the throne
Leave me there alone
To gaze upon Your glory
and sing to You this song;
Please take me to the king.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thoughts for the Day

In keeping with the readings for today -- sometimes it must be said in song  . . . 



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Judgments: Sin or Catalyst for Growth?

Recently, I ran into a coworker at a community event, we'll call him Nick. He isn't someone I know well; he is at most an acquaintance.

When I saw him at the school carnival, I was surprised. He had a date with him, an attractive woman perhaps 8 or 10 years younger than he. Nick's date was a petite lady, very well-kept but friendly looking. I promise she was a cheerleader in high school, but the nice kind, the one who comes from a sweet family and is beloved by all. I imagine she's divorced, probably fairly recently, and has two kids, 6 and 8, both boys. They adore her he's a great Mom. She probably is going back to school to get her teaching certificate. This was likely a second or third date for them; I could tell by his hand on her elbow that they had not spent a lot of time together. And . . . I know I'd like her. She's a likeable person

I always pictured Nick with a different kind of gal, taller and more bohemian, like he. She was younger than I'd expected too. I remember being very surprised at the sight of them.

All of these thoughts flashed by in a part of a second. They may have passed unnoticed if I hadn't immediately been standing idle in a long line with plenty of processing time.What astounds me is that I had all of these judgements about Nick's date and I've never even met the lady! What's more, I had all of these previously unnoticed conclusions about Nick who is virtually a stranger to me!

Our Human Nature

Snap judgments are a part of human nature. Brain scientist Nicholas Rule has researched this:  We cannot train ourselves not to judge; it's what the human brain is made to do. In fact, the ability to make these instant decisions is what helps keep us safe in crisis. Which person do you ask for directions? Which kids should you avoid in the schoolyard? That person made you uncomfortable; you know to be wary and exercise caution. Sometimes the snap judgment is really about the other person and needs to be listened to. This is not a part of our brain we want to turn off.

Taking Advantage

At other times, the snap judgment is really about us. "It's not you, it's me!" For people of faith then, that leaves us with a dilemma; "Stop judging, that you may not be judged" is a core tenant of Christianity and, I suspect, many other faiths. The challenge then becomes not to turn-off or ignore the snap judgement, but the opposite, to notice it. Once noticed, the judgment can be the catalyst for personal growth; it can serve to sharpen our growth edges.

When we pick up on a judgment that isn't about keeping us safe and helping us choose between fight or flight, we get to look for the opportunity in it. In the case I cited, I realized I was feeling insecure about my age; I had a birthday right around the corner. Was I still "young?" Am I still pretty? Am I attractive "enough?" This chance encounter with an acquaintance and a complete stranger gifted me with the opportunity to notice some unconscious angst in myself and to get it handled before my birthday. I was able to celebrate my birthday without all that unconscious brain-chatter running in the background. It was one of my most relaxed birthdays in decades.

The next time I notice myself judging someone, instead of shushing it as I would a toddler in church, I am going to take a couple of breaths and look beneath it. You may want to try the same.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Building "Soul Muscles"

It's very good that I can't "fail" Lent. I heard someone say about Lent recently, "It's better to make a small promise you can keep then to struggle throughout and never succeed." I disagree entirely.

Consciousness is raised through struggle. "Do hard things," right? Our will, our stamina, our conscientiousness, our faith: these are the muscles of our soul. They are built through exercise and specifically through stress.

We know how muscles grow, right? When a muscle is required to produce force, it causes tension. The tension creates tiny tears in the tight bundle of fibers that makes up the muscle. When your muscles know they have been under tension, the send in the troops to rebuild those tears. As the tears heal, the muscle then grows in those spots. Over time, and with consistent commands to produce greater amounts of force, the muscle grows in measurable fashion.

Yet if you never require anything extra of your muscles, they won't grow. In fact, if you keep on slacking and not requiring more of them over time as you age, they will naturally atrophy! Yes, in choosing to do nothing of note, in not requiring of our bodies the extraordinary, we actually become weaker.

Which brings us back to Lent and how I am struggling. I am having my everyday problem: there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do along with everything I should do. I keep breaking my promises! Argggh. Then I recommit and put in renewed effort and then, magically, my "soul muscles" grow a bit.  

It's day by day around here. No, hour by hour. The key, I think, is to never give up. The key is to do the hard thing. Lift the weight, push the sled, sit up, "git" up, do anything rather than nothing. Keep the faith, literally. 

At every turn, we must choose again the best course. At the end of our Lenten journey, we will have built those big soul muscle and we will have the strength to face whatever is next. 

 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Scourging the Heart

On the first Friday of this new Lenten season, I am considering my fasts and sacrifices for the season. I am a person tempted to extremes; I tend to make hard plans. I then have to remind myself, frequently, that it is not possible to "fail" Lent. There were some words of wisdom in today's readings:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed



(Isaiah 58:6-8a)

On Ash Wednesday the notion that appeared over and over in my prayers was "a scourging of my heart." In all honesty, I wanted to push off this image at first; it sounds melodramatic, dire, extreme. Yet, it's entirely appropriate. It's one of those "be careful what you pray for" prayers. I was left then to consider what sacrifices will lead me there.

This year, I am fasting from criticism, "helpful" or not. I am so often convicted by my critical tongue. I will take care not to offer many (if any) opinions. I will practice, instead, letting the words pass unsaid. Yesterday, at work, I literally had to hold my lips together at one point! We live in a culture of opinions. I want to see what can come of me keeping mine to myself. I am going to consciously lessen my idle chatter as well. It's not enriching the world.

As a family, we are taking on a "fast food fast" and Food Stamps budget; these are hard on the children but less challenging for me. More challenging will be to journal my food intake for the day. These food related sacrifices are an opportunity to learn from the pain of self-discipline and to lean more heavily on the Holy Spirit.

This is born of the desire to create in me a clean heart. I do not know if it's the shortest path but it's the one I'm headed out on right now. I am seeking not only a scourging of the heart, but total restoration.

A clean heart create for me God;
Renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from your face
or take me from your Holy Spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
Uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51: 12-14

What are you seeking?