Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who would have expected that?

December 18, 2011

Shalom, good friends,

Life-long I have loved candles, lit and unlit. However, there was a potentially dangerous moment last year when long after guests had departed and I was asleep a forgotten candle guttered out and fell into the greens on the mantle. This year as I began to prepare the house for Advent, the memory of my morning wake-up call when I discovered what had happened returned with unpleasant clarity.

After some thought, I reluctantly acknowledged my growing forgetfulness. I eventually acknowledged as well that potentially at least I could give my guardian angel a more restful Christmas if I decorated in a way that did not require Divine around-the-clock oversight to prevent the house from burning down. With half-hearted enthusiasm I embraced what I considered to be virtual candlelight, and ordered some pillar “candles” for the mantle, “candles” that were fueled not by a burning wick but by batteries. I admit I was grumpily expecting a poor second-best.

I confess. I was wrong. Virtual is beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine. And these candles have their own reality as well as their own beauty and light. A guest when preparing to leave one evening attempted to blow one out.


Miss Annie and I sat last night for a quiet while and watched the candles "burn." Their soft flickering glow filtered through the tall ivory pillars nestled safely among the greens. Half-asleep, I thought how like God to use on-line shopping and “virtual” battery-powered candles to help me consider again the mystery of the incarnation.

Who could have thought that God’s plan to come and be with us had any potential for beauty in it at all? After all, coming into the human existence through a peasant girl’s socially-suspicious pregnancy does not meet our ideas of nice or appropriate. And think of the risk: a first birth with a young inexperienced mother attended only by animals and what was surely a somewhat shaken new husband—nothing very nice, or, from the human view-point, nothing very safe either. Better, we think, for God to have chosen the “real” thing—the birth of the King in a palace with all the comfort and care that royalty could command.

Still there was an unexpected beauty in that scene—there was music, and the brilliance of angel-voices to bring heaven’s welcome to that child and to tell earth God's good news. There were the astonished shepherds, unshaven, unbathed ordinary humans who came in faithful witness to that special birth and found with excited joy the child the angels had told them was cradled there.

The event that divided time for all eternity occurred in a humanly unimaginable, un-nice, inappropriate place. There was danger and labor. But when morning came to that most unlikely place, and rest came at last to that exhausted father and mother, there was a new-born baby—Immanuel, God with us in our human form.

Grateful with you for God’s willingness and ability to bring light and life to us in ways beyond our ability to anticipate or foresee.

Have a blessed Christmas season in which you become aware in new ways of God’s presence and love.

Gay

I will not see you next week (Christmas Day); I will, however, see you January 1. Blessings. G

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What if Bethlehem wasn't nice?

December 11, 2011

Dear Friends,

Thank you, Anne Amili, for your insightful comment. I think that our painful reluctance to sacrifice niceness for goodness says something about our human conflict between appearance and reality. In our lifelong struggle to develop true goodness, we often toy with the idea that maybe if we can make ourselves look “good” we have made ourselves “good.” Wish it were that easy—and, frankly, I think God wishes that too.

The conflict between appearance and reality in the cultural observation of “winter holidays” troubles me deeply. I find it difficult to explain clearly the core of my discomfort, however.

It is an obvious fact that the culture at large does not embrace an orthodox understanding of Advent. While I wish that were not so, nevertheless I think that those who for whom the holidays are not faith-based must in our diverse society be free to celebrate in the fashion that seems desirable to them. It seems wise for us to remember that it is for Christians that Jesus is the reason for the season—not for everybody.

But it is not my friends who celebrate for non-orthodox reasons that raise my Scrooge-like responses. It is the saccharine niceness that creeps into quasi-orthodox expressions of the Advent story that tempts me to an unladylike UNnice response.

Last week on a brief outing I overheard two women talking. They were examining a crèche on display carefully out of hand’s reach in a closed glass case. The expensive porcelain replica of the Holy Family was exquisite—the blond hair and fair skin of the young mother, the quiet dignity in the father’s brooding face, and the baby, wrapped in a blue blanket, sleeping quietly, a small chubby fist tucked under his chin. The little cherub angel watching by the baby’s cradle had red hair. His wings were somewhat tousled (likely the wind he faced while flying in from heaven to attend the birth had disturbed his feathers). In his hands he held a miniature harp whose tiny strings were gold.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” the one woman said.

“It’s so sweet,” the second woman responded. “It’s just so sweet—I just love it.”

At that moment I had a nearly ungovernable impulse to say, “The lectionary reading includes that unnice John the Baptist person who had terrible manners and wore terrible clothes and ate unbelievably terrible food. Wonder why God included that distinctly un-nice character in the story, and why we often leave him out?”

Fortunately, before I opened my mouth, the Holy Spirit reminded me (rather forcefully) that I had no way of knowing whether the women knew the story, or, if they knew it, if they regarded it as binding truth for their lives. It was no time for me to say anything.

It was, however, time for me to think. What is it that makes us want to make the Advent story “nice”? What if God’s goodness in gifting us with The Messiah required Him to risk being "unnice"?

Remembering with you that understanding the goodness of God made real in the Advent story requires seeing past the cultural coat of niceness with which it is covered.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nice or good?

December 4, 2011

Dear friends,

The old hotel has a fabled history. It shared the early days of the city’s tumultuous beginning as a mining town. Now it sits sedately on its oddly angled corner, neighboring companionably with its old friend the Methodist Church. The two of them remain elegant brownstone anomalies among the steel and glass towers that have grown up around them.

Among the traditions observed at the hotel is Holiday High Tea.

Arrival for High Tea itself retains a bit of old ceremony. The doorman [in splendid uniform, of course] solemnly commits the care of one’s automobile to a valet. Then with an official welcome, he carefully shepherds his charges through the heavy revolving door into the formal old foyer. Even when suffering from what must have seemed to that old building to be frivolous holiday finery, the beautiful space of that old entry managed somehow to retain its discreet gravitas: we had arrived at an important place for an important event.

Directly off the foyer (walking with sedate dignity, of course), we entered an equally dignified dining room now glowing with small lights and ribboned wreaths, pots of poinsettias a thread of red and gold at the edge of the greenery on the stairs. There an elegant hostess carefully seated elegantly dressed people at elegantly set tables where they were served with elegantly prepared tea—cucumber sandwiches, scones, tiny tea cakes with elegant frosting, and carefully brewed tea in thin china cups.

One does not hurry at High Tea.

Grandmothers carefully monitored small girls in velvet dresses. Mothers and adult daughters observed High Tea while they talked about shopping and holiday events. At the same time, without words, they celebrated family through the High Tea liturgy that played out the traditions and values of a vanished time. A small number of men were present too, of course--grandfathers, fathers escorting daughters to a special holiday treat, employers with assistants and secretaries being gifted with time and tea in an old and courtly environment. And business colleagues came—men and women treating themselves to brief holiday refuge from the coffee and corporate efficiency of their business world.

High Tea was a holiday adventure for me, the generous gift of a friend.

I shall enjoy the gift often in years to come, revisiting the beauty of that old building and the elegant memory of High Tea.

The gift left me with more than a memory, however. It left me with a question.

How does the environment in which we interact shape our relationships?

In the beauty and elegance of that time at High Tea, was I watching good people, or nice people with good manners? Can one distinguish between the two?

Do two nice people with elegant manners automatically produce a good relationship?

When Paul wrote the Galatian Christians that the presence of the Spirit of God within them would produce goodness, somehow I don’t think Paul meant that the fruit of the Spirit was simply an increase in nice manners.

While I firmly believe that good manners are one of the by-products of faith-based living, I do not think that good manners are necessarily evidence of goodness as a trait of character.

I understand and accept that good manners are a prerequisite for attendance at High Tea. I also fervently wish for an increased abundance of good manners at many other functions in life that I am required to attend. Nevertheless, I make a distinction between obedience to directions from Emily Post and conformity with goals of the Spirit in terms of the person God means for me to become.

Thinking with you about goodness as something essentially different from those hallmark social behaviors that make us acceptable participants at High Tea.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Having" thanksgiving

November 27, 2011

Dear Friends,

The public approach to Thanksgiving evokes the old curmudgeon in me. In my opinion, Hallmark, the media, and all too many pulpits present a concept of thankfulness that is misleading. There is enough value confusion already present in the world without using this holiday to promote more. My old curmudgeon self cannot be thankful for a prescription for thankfulness that affirms the consumer paradigm of our society.

As it is popularly represented, the act of being thankful is a process in which like King Midas we are encouraged to sit down in our counting houses and tally up all that we have, and then celebrate the size of the bottom line. This practice in which “Having” stands as the primary motivation for gratitude leads in my opinion to a serious misunderstanding.

I will grant you that we are encouraged (at least in the Norman Rockwell tradition of thanks-giving) to be thankful for some important things that are intangible—freedom from fear, from want, freedom to worship as we choose, and freedom to say clearly without penalty, the truth we think we know. But this doesn’t solve the problem.

What does thanks-giving mean when there is fear, when there is want and deprivation, and both worship and speaking freely are severely constrained?

Our appreciation of life and our understanding of the privilege and responsibilities that come with relationships are severely eroded if we view gratitude simply as a proper response to possessions, tangible or intangible.

At the family dinner table my friend’s great-granddaughter Gina said, “Grams, I glad (a new word for her).”

“That’s good,” her great-grandmother responded. “What are you glad for?”

The small girl looked puzzled for a moment, and then responded with firm certainty, “I glad. I glad.”

I am committed this year to practicing Gina’s approach to things.

In the event that someone asks me what I am thankful for, I hope to be able to respond like Gina, “I thankful. I thankful.”

In the days to come, I will seek to live (not simply say) “thankful.” I want my lived thanksgiving to resonate from a steady awareness that life itself, each day, is the great gift, and that I must be careful not to confuse its significance with the things that I possess, no matter how valuable they may be.

Seeking with you to measure my days wisely and to live thankful in whatever circumstance of life I may find myself.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pear trees, possibilities and cinnamon jars

November 20, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

I visited my old prairie home this last week. Today’s story (with minor editorial revision) comes from that vanishing world. However, as you will see, it is closely related to the idea of human possibility and the pear tree in the last blog I wrote.

It was a small crockery jar, its edge chipped and its lid lost. A spray of blue flowers and the word cinnamon traced a gentle wandering design over the cracked gray glaze.

The jar’s earliest history can only be guessed. No one now living knows its origin or saw the jar as it must have once sat on a kitchen shelf breathing the fragrance of cinnamon into the scent of her baking bread.

She died young.

After her death, only men came to prepare food in her prairie kitchen. Life and the world around them were harsh and demanding; necessity focused their attention fiercely on survival. Objects that did not contribute directly to survival were laid aside, disregarded and eventually discarded or lost.

Time and people moved on. Then no one at all came to the house. The kitchen was occupied only by a broken chair that had been left behind.

Wind and weather in that world are not kind. Soon holes in the roof let in the rain and snow; windows became empty, shattered glass scattered over warped floor boards. Those few doors that remained hung by broken hinges, swinging helpless in the wind.

New land owners came. Recognizing the inevitable process of decay, they dismantled the old house. The kitchen became anonymous scraps of broken boards, laths and plaster. In time, together with other remnants of the old house they weathered into a gentle mound covered with weeds and grass.

One day her granddaughter, now a mother herself, was walking through the grassland where the family’s old homestead had once stood, and spied a glimpse of blue. Pulling grass and pushing earth aside, she discovered the old cinnamon jar buried at the eroding edge of the mound. She retrieved the jar, carried it home, washed it, and set it on her kitchen shelf.

Then on a hard later day, now a grandmother herself, she in turn faced the necessity of dismantling her kitchen.

When I saw her, she was standing by her kitchen cabinet, silent, holding the jar in her hand.

Carrying a box, her grandson came into the room, and asked with a cheerful grin, “Is that old jar worth saving, Grams? What do you want to do with that?”

It was one of those questions that require a story to answer, or no answer at all.

She turned to me and said, “You’ll keep this, won’t you? Let’s send this home with you to be in your kitchen for a while. Then later you’ll send it on.”

The edge is chipped and the top is gone, but I can still read the word cinnamon surrounded by a wreath of blue flowers on the old gray glaze.

What is an accurate value to assign that cinnamon jar on my house insurance policy?

Most importantly—how do I send on that jar and its story so that the human possibility it images will not be lost?


See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Possibility responsibility?

Nov. 4, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

The quasi-commercial paradigm of want and need is severely limited in defining the dimensions of good relationships. In the face of its cultural popularity we are sometimes slow to acknowledge this fact. Nevertheless, relationships that are boundaried solely by the insistence of demand and the brevity of lasting satisfaction cast thin shadows. They leave behind shards of impossible dreams and broken fragments of short-lasting grace.

I’ve been thinking this week of another more deeply rooted dimension of relationship that the culture regards with a derisive contempt. Benjamin Myers captures something of this dimension in “The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem.”

The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem

If, as you stood
outlined in the evening
glow of the Bradford pear,
I believed again
for just a moment in human
possibility, it was only
what I saw in
you.

In response to the "me, me, me" of the cultural chorus, we sometimes say "It's not about me." It is true that relationship, by definition, is not just about me. However, in another paradoxical sense, relationship is profoundly about me. I am wondering these days about the glimpse of human possibility that others in relationship with me see outlined in my life. How does the relationship with me shape their possibility for love? For integrity?

What life-affirming possibility do those in relationship with you glimpse as you share your human journey?

I will be out of town next week, so will see you November 18.

Gay

You can find “The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem” in Benjamin Myers Elegy for Trains (Cheyenne, Oklahoma: Village Books Press, 2010), p. 67.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Making a context for spilled milk

Oct. 30, 2011

Dear friends,

Last week’s milk story was something like the quilt story from the week before. In both instances the story was more interesting than my postscript.

This week events in my life provided an additional postscript for the milk story that I think merits its own space, however.

Two women (sisters) with whom I have a long-time relationship came to visit me this week. We shared laughter, good food, hours of talking, and joyous music. We shared epiphanies, those places in our individual life journeys where seeing God’s shadow in events startled us, times when we knew His wordless comfort, and those times when we were suddenly delighted with a presence we sensed but did not see. And we talked about our relationship with each other stretching over nearly thirty years. Saying goodbye was difficult. We do not know when (or if) we will be together in this way again.

When they had gone, I thought about the richness of the experience, the strength and nurturing goodness of the relationship we share. I decided that the weekend itself was a much better postscript to the milk story than the one I wrote last week.

In the hours we three were together, we did indeed pay attention to wants and needs, theirs and mine. We had Italian pastries. They shopped while I rested. They found tiny Christmas lights with which to decorate my cane. We had dinner at a quiet old neighborhood restaurant we all enjoy, and lingered very long over dessert. We sang together. We talked about the changing shape of community in a digital world.

But over and around and beneath the hours we spent together flowed a love that spoke presence with each other, that shared the markers in our life journeys, and steadied each others’ steps. Be brave, we said to one another. Keep clear, we admonished each other. Spilled milk has little eternal importance. Do what you can with what you have. Be brave.

Perhaps a good relationship is one that gives spilled milk no more attention than it rightly merits, and that fosters courage to do what we can with what we have, particularly in those circumstances when doing so produces messy consequences.

Thinking with you this week that on the long road home what we most want and need are relationships that provide a eternal-sense context from which to view spilled milk together with love wise enough to insist on the courage to move on.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How You Stand is Important

Oct. 23, 2011

Dear friends,

She cast a patrician shadow even from her wheel chair. No one who encountered her keen glance doubted the active intelligence that shaped her sharp appraisal of the world around her.

Her hands could no longer obey that mind’s commands, however. They trembled. They dropped her napkin. Her uncertain spoon spilled pudding on her bib. And when she attempted to lift her glass of milk, her shaking hand overturned the glass on her tray.

Those sharp old eyes did not miss the irritation that just for an instant crossed the aide’s face as she glanced down at the puddle of milk spreading from tray to blanket to floor.

Without hesitation, the woman spoke directly into the anger with which she was confronted.

“Young woman,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to spill a glass of milk.”

In “Being a Person,” William Stafford wrote,

How you stand here is important. How you
Listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.

Thinking with you how to stand, how to listen and breathe so that I respect courage whatever its face.

See you next week.

Gay


See William Stafford, "Being a Person," Even in Quiet Places (Confluence Press, Lewiston,Idaho, l996). P.89.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What shapes the bottom line?

October 15, 2011

Dear friends,

I agree. The quilt story was more interesting reading than the postscript.

So—here is a “do-over” or, rather, a “say-over.” Improvement (not perfection) hoped for.

I am unconvinced that the source of all objections to last week’s postscript result from writer-awkwardness, however. The fact is none of us are fond of the idea that the postscript contained, and would be displeased with the idea if John Updike himself wrote it. [Updike did, in fact, write an idea something like this in Rabbit and the people in his book didn’t like it either.] Whether found in Updike’s prose or in a rather pedestrian blog, criticism of the culturally endorsed idea of entitlement is not welcome. We want to be told that we are entitled to have our wants/and needs satisfied—and on our terms.

I set out last week to count the number of times I could find the idea “you deserve it” in some form in advertising slogans. It was so easy to find that I was bored by Tuesday, and gave up the project entirely on Wednesday. By Thursday, however, I had revised the question, and found the new question interesting. Thursday’s question ran: “Is the idea, ‘you deserve it’ ever used to suggest that some individuals at least deserve greater responsibility because of greater gifts? Greater obligation to share because of greater resources?

This question has continued to be an interesting one. Up to this point I have not discovered the idea of “you deserve it” used in any way other than encouragement to consume materials that were likely to require credit to purchase and whose value was likely to melt at the rate of ice at a summer picnic.

I wanted my postscript to the quilt story to raise two hard questions.

One: In people or in things, how do I respect and value characteristics and qualities that do not directly feed my personal sense of satisfaction?

Two: Does the idea “you deserve it” apply only to the getting process?

Thinking with you about the radical notion that what I give in relationships (including tolerance and mercy) may paradoxically serve me better in the end than the effort I invest in getting what I want/need.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The story of the quilt

October 9, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

This is a story about a quilt. In the end, I think it is a story about relationships too.

My friend is the speaker in this quilt story. My role is simply that of storyteller preserving my friend’s story. I do not want its voice to be lost in the ocean of human forgetfulness.

My Friend Tells the Story of the Quilt


This is my story about a quilt. I am not at all comfortable with having Gay speak for me. She uses words in ways that I do not. But the story is the thing. I trust that as Gay re-speaks this story that what I think is important will become plain. I think there will be something of what Gay sees as important as well.

My part of the story began at an estate sale. It was the kind of estate sale where after family have chosen items that they wish to keep, an open house is held and the remaining items in the house are ticketed for sale to the public. I was browsing through the house, thinking about the family that had once lived in the house, those people whose possessions were now simply objects for sale to any stranger who became interested.

A woman ahead of me purchased a large mirror that she had found leaning against a wall. Like me, seeing the sale sign, she had simply walked in from the street to browse, and now found herself unprepared to carry home the mirror she had purchased.

The woman managing the sale picked up a quilt lying over the back of a nearby chair.

“I’ll sell you this quilt for $5.00,” she said, “and you can wrap the mirror in it.”

The woman inspected the quilt doubtfully for a moment, and then said, “No. I don’t have any use for this. No. I don’t want the quilt.” She paid for the mirror and then left.

After the door closed behind her, I said to the woman managing the sale, “I can’t believe she didn’t want that quilt for $5.00. Just look at the work that went into that. Why are you selling it for $5.00?” I have limited skills with a needle, but even to my untrained eye the tiny stitches and the carefully arranged blocks were beautiful, the work of an artist.

“My mother-in-law made that quilt,” the woman said coldly, “and I don’t want it. I don’t want it in my house.”

Something about the woman’s voice and the look in her eyes prompted me to act.

“I’ll take it,” I said, and paid her the $5.00 she had asked and left.

Driving away I thought, “Now why did I do that? My house is not a quilt kind of house, and those blocks are every kind of red. I don’t have red in my house. Now what on earth am I going to do with this quilt I just bought?”

Not long after, however, a solution presented itself. I had planned to drive back to see my father who still lives in the farm community where I grew up. I decided to take the quilt to Aunt Sally so that she could place it for auction in the annual church bazaar. I thought that people there would recognize and value those kinds of stitches. They would know about the pattern of those red blocks. And so I took the quilt with me to Aunt Sally’s as my contribution to the auction.

Aunt Sally was very pleased. We talked about the tiny stitches. “That’s better by a far piece that anything I can do,” she said. “Someone will be glad to buy this.”


She was right. At the auction, someone bid the quilt in for $250.00.

I was glad and not just because the church needed the money. The whole thing gave me a feeling of satisfaction that somehow I had been a part of the journey of that beautiful old quilt from a place where it was not respected and not valued to a place where it was recognized and prized for what it was.

I think it’s important that we watch out and value things for what they are, not just because we like them. I didn’t want that quilt--I suppose that in some ways I didn't even like it very much. But that quilt had value. I thought it should be cared for. That’s what I think is important in this story of the quilt.

Gay’s postscript:

Here is what I think is an important relational truth in the quilt story.

When we place an overmastering emphasis in relationships on attaining what we want as an individual, we risk the danger of failing to identify value (and beauty) in both people and things that are unrelated to satisfaction of our personal desires. We miss the opportunity of participating in the kingdom work of preserving the good and the valuable and the beautiful unless it has personal significance to us.

Thinking with you this week about another quasi-paradox: perhaps my capacity to live and relate fully is correlated not with my concern about myself alone, but rather with my willingness to live my life as an individual but as an individual committed to the common good.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Living with both--and

October 1, 2011

Dear friends,

This whole "wants/needs" business remains muddled, no matter from which direction one approaches the puzzle.

Disregard of the importance of human wants and needs becomes at best a pretentious asceticism, a self-imposed deprivation that leads ultimately to a Scrooge-like emotional winter in the inner world of the self. At worst, indulgence of human wants and needs leads to a distorted understanding of the essentials required for being and significance, and, ultimately, to a quagmire of confusion in which comfort is entangled with safety, and never-enough becomes the idée fixe around which life goals are shaped.

In relationships we are faced with two aspects of the problem. We can, and sometimes do, behave as though in the relationship our needs and wants are of little or no concern, and, in a self-deceived mode of self-sacrifice, set ourselves up for growing anger and destructive discontent. In contrast we can (and sometimes do) permit our needs and wants to function as the emotional dictator of the relationship. When we do this, we come to value the “other” not for the individual persons they are but for what they can provide for our comfort and satisfaction. Then when, as inevitably happens, we find ourselves alone we tell ourselves that we have been unreasonably abandoned and betrayed.

Further, there is the frustrating difficulty in determining how-much-is-enough. How much of what I want and need is necessary for my well-being? Then, further complication, who is to judge this prickly question? I, or the “valuable other”? What does it mean to guard my heart in terms of satisfaction of my wants and needs? And how is disagreement to be arbitrated if the “valuable other” and I disagree about the impact of my wants and needs on my well-being or on the relationship? And, in contrast, how is the disagreement to be mediated when I think that the wants and needs of the “valuable other” are being self-denied (or, conversely, self-indulged), in ways that drive the relationship toward destructive goals?

My attention was caught again this week by advice the Apostle Paul gave the churches in Galatia.

Paul borrowed a metaphor for relationships from the experience of back-packing and hiking. Share one another’s burdens, Paul wrote encouragingly (Gal. 6:2, The Message); if you think you are too good for that, he added, you are badly deceived.

But then, in the very next paragraph, Paul writes:

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:3-5, The Message)

In the KJV, the text reads bluntly and somewhat paradoxically:

“Bear ye one another’s burdens. . . .” [Gal 6:2]

“. . . for every man shall bear his own load.” [Gal. 6:5]


Thinking with you about the challenge of living relationally in a way that both shares the burden of self-knowledge with the valuable other, while, at the same time, takes responsibility for doing the creative best I can with my own life.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How serious is serious?

September 25, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

Have you ever wondered how the adjective “serious” ever became attached to the noun “relationship” as in “serious relationship”? Can a “serious relationship” be distinguished reliably from an “un-serious relationship,” or whatever the proper form of the antonym might be? What makes us say “serious relationship” when we think we sight this phenomena in the everydayness of ordinary life?

And then, further complication, are all “good” relationships by definition “serious” relationships?

I use “good” to define a relationship in which the well-being of all participants is respected and nourished. When I say “serious relationship,” I mean a good relationship to which an element of covenant has been consciously deliberately added by consensus of the participants. What do you mean when you use these common phrases when talking about relationships, your own and those of others you observe?

It seems to me that this “seriousness” business leads inevitably to an odd but logical question that we rarely face straight on: do I really want to be taken seriously enough by another individual that my well-being becomes the object of that person’s on-going respect and investment?

It is, of course, human nature to be quite pleased when our wants and needs become the object of another’s attention and we consequently become the recipient of their resources. But it becomes quite another matter when it is I, the other self, that becomes the entity of value, and my well-being as the "valuable other" becomes the primary focus in the relationship.

It can be quite disconcerting to discover that without conscious awareness I have arrived at a place in a relationship in which at times nourishing my well-being assumes greater important to my partner than indulging my wants.

Thinking with you about the absurdity of our humanness in which we say: please, please give me what I want—but, in doing so, don’t, for pity’s sake, take me seriously enough to consider if what I want leads to my well-being.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Music Makes Reality?

September 18, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

In recent weeks I have been thinking with you about the way our culture teaches us to evaluate relationships. I object to a popular idea that the culture promotes, the idea that a relationship is “good” to the degree to which the relationship satisfies our wants/needs (or—perhaps more accurately—we believe that the relationship satisfies our wants/needs). You know by now that I think this idea causes no end of difficulty and contributes in a powerful way to human unhappiness.

Some of you noted, however, that in illustrating the attitude of the culture I cited lyrics from popular music 1960-2000 to support my thesis. This is 2011, you pointed out. Has this idea changed?

Clearly, I am blessed by intelligent readers. It was a good question and prompted some obviously limited research.

I began by going on-line to find the popular song most frequently used at contemporary weddings. I thought that lyrics to such a song would provide a fair sample of the culture’s current conclusions about serious relationships.

The winner? “At Last”, by Etta James (and by a substantial margin).

Here are a few selected lines from the lyrics:

“At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over. .. .
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own. . . .
A thrill that I have never known. . . .
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last.”

From my viewpoint, the ideas in these lyrics are oldies simply recast in modern music fashion.

The singer presents himself/herself as inadequate alone—lonely, needing a dream, needing a thrill, and transported to heaven by possession of this person.

The bottom line (re-phrased)appears to be that you—whoever this dream-person is—make it possible for me never to be lonely again—to be in some perfect state forever (heaven?) where all wants/needs are satisfied.

We’re sure about that? And relationship gives ownership?

And if you think I chose a biased sample, compare the lyrics of “Someone Like You,” [Adele], “You and I” [Lady GaGa], “Stereo Hearts” [Gym Class Heroes], and “Without You” [David Guetta], all from the top ten of 2011.

Reconsider with me for a moment my definition of a good relationship: “. . . [a relationship] in which the well-being of both participants is respected and nourished.”

Then think about the lyrics from “At Last”:
“. . .And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last.”

There is considerable evidence that what we think is what we become.

Thinking with you about the expectations for relationships we develop when we sing lyrics like those.

See you next week,

Gay

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What shall we mark this day?

September 11, 2011


Dear friends,

This is a day of remembrance. We remember together what happened—images from that day are burned into the very marrow of our collective bones.

Some of us think too about the catastrophic distortion of human relationships that led to the destructive acts and loss of lives we grieve this day.

It is widely observed that the events of this day changed our lives forever. If our national “innocence” was lost, so was a portion of our natural optimism. A neighbor said with quiet sadness, “It is difficult to live hopefully in a world where things like this can happen.”

This morning I sat quietly on my porch drinking coffee as the early dawn light filtered through the leaves of the old cottonwood in my neighbor’s yard.

I think my neighbor is correct—hope does not come easily these days. But we must not forget that hope can survive on slim rations. We can nurture hope by remembering too the good things that in undramatic, unmarked, common rhythm carry us in a life-affirming flow. Dawn comes with an ever new palette of colors. This morning I can see a handful of yellow leaves in that old cottonwood—autumn and the silent turn of seasons goes on with implacable gentle persistence.

And love continues too. My friend’s new grandchild will be baptized today in the church in which her greatgrandfather worshipped. Life—and hope—is carried forward too in the quiet heroism of those who do not choose violence in response to fear.

William Stafford notes sadly that we are more likely to attach symbols of significance to evidences of destruction than to mark with meaning the products of peace.

At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Thinking with you of the slender hope we must nurture and of the quiet heroism of peacemakers.

See you next week,

Gay

P.S. “At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border” can be found in the following collection:
William Stafford, “At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border,” p. 117 in The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. Edited and with an introduction by Robert Bly. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Life Management Skills

September 4, 2011

Dear friends,

Some of you eagle-eyed readers have noticed changes in my website and have asked about the new services I am offering. So. . . a word of explanation.

This year marked a milestone birthday for me. It is time for new personal goals and restructuring my practice. My work as a therapist has been personally and professionally gratifying. However, it is time now to lay down the responsibilities that this work entails.

I have decided, however, to continue to work. I will provide direct services to clients by appointment through Life Management Services, Inc. In this new context, services will be focused on life management skills and spiritual development rather than therapy. I will continue limited teaching and speaking engagements.

I am exploring some writing opportunities. I will continue my blog, and trust that I will become more incisive and skillful in communicating with all of you.

The office telephone number will remain the same: 720-898-1948. You can continue to reach me by email at talktogay@gayhubbard.com.

My current interest in helping people to live effectively has emerged over the decades in which I have worked as a therapist. I am convinced that many individuals experience a significant deficit in the skills required for effective living and spiritual maturity. Lack of these skills inevitably leads to serious problems. I do not believe, however, that it is either accurate or helpful to label all these problems as mental health disorders.

“Is there a ‘spiritual’ way to change the oil in my car?” a client asked me one day, tongue-in-cheek. Despite the smile in its context, it was an edgy, on-target question: do patterns of spiritual maturity and new skills in living occur through management of the everyday affairs of common life?

I believe that they do.

The mentoring, teaching, tutoring and encouragement I plan to continue to offer through Life Management Services reflects a broadly Christian context and assistance tailored to individual needs. My goal is to assist individuals to acquire new skills for living, and to develop spiritual maturity through conscious, deliberate use of their “…sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.”

It is not possible to have a trouble free life. It is possible to have a good life, and to learn to live the life we have well.

Every day is a gift worth living well. Seeking help to live each day well is wisdom, not weakness, and a lifelong bargain in the end.

See you next week.


Gay








Sunday, August 28, 2011

Still on the line?




August 28, 2011

Dear friends,

Glen Campbell’s family recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In facing the loss of skills and memory with which he is confronted, Campbell with his family’s support has determined to undertake a last public tour. In gentle salute to his courage, a local radio station played some of Campbell’s classic performances from the 60’s and 70’s. Listening while returning from an errand, I caught one of the lines from Wichita Lineman: “. . . and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time. . . .”

Here it is again, I thought to myself—this idea that relationships are defined by wants and needs—mine?—yours?—and measured by some wordless yardstick of personal fulfillment.

If for a moment we revisit the simple paradigm of needs I outlined earlier [security/survival; love/esteem; power/control], the difficulty in this model of relationship immediately raises some complex issues. How can someone else meet—and continue to meet—my need for security? And what if (echoes of Wichita Lineman) I need more security than I want, and what I think I want is you (for all time, no less), even though I recognize that my need is greater than my want in the relationship? Hmm--.

What do we mean anyway when we speak of a “good” relationship?

If we consider a good relationship as one in which the well-being of both participants is respected and nourished, we assume by definition that the needs and wants of participating individuals are carefully regarded. Such a definition gets us a step further in exploring the challenge of individual needs/wants in the context of relationship. However, the assumption that the needs/wants must be governed by the mutual well-being of participants leads, alas, to yet another knotty question. Who decides about how much is enough to meet the well-being criteria?

Is it my responsibility to determine how much love/esteem or power/control you need? Do I decide how much is good for you? Do you decide what is good for you? What if you don’t know? What if you’re mistaken? And—uncomfortable bottom line—am I obligated to respond to your assessment of your needs even when I disagree? And what if I do not want/need to meet your need/want?

What happens to me in the relationship if I recognize that in meeting your needs my needs have become greater than my want to be in the relationship?

In the consumer-oriented model of relationship, no matter how conflicted, want and need remain trump. And in this context the last line of the song is oddly haunting—“And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.”

Still on the line?

Thinking with you of the tension that the want/need dilemma brings to the issue of commitment and covenant.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Do you have to like my shoes?



August 21, 2011

Dear friends,

The concept of relationship as obligation is so widely assumed in our culture that questioning the idea seems at best semantic quibbling, and a worst a piece of pedantic foolishness. Nevertheless, the issue is one of serious importance. Does relationship obligate?

The answer is, of course, yes, no, and it depends.

One of the factors that determines the answer is our understanding of obligation itself. If by obligation we mean that relationship entails mutual responsibilities for all parties in the relationship, then relationship does indeed obligate. But if by obligation we mean that relationship compels a given response as a duty-driven debt, then the answer is for the most part no, with limited exceptions that must be clearly agreed to by all parties involved. In such instances, the duty-driven requirements rest not upon the relationship itself, but upon the boundaries and requirements participants have stipulated in the contract of the relationship.

It is at this point that high levels of conflict and confusion occur, particularly when communication skills are limited.

A conversation I overheard on a bus illustrates my point.

Young man (somewhat anxiously): “How come you’re mad at me?”
Young woman (clearly outraged by the question): “You know—don’t
play games.”
Young man (beginning to sound irritated): “I don’t know and I can’t read your mind. What did I do?”
Young woman (close to tears): “You said my shoes looked ridiculous. If you loved me, you’d never say something like that.”
Young man (clearly exasperated): “I DO love you and the shoes ARE ridiculous. Why shouldn’t I say so? That’s my opinion.”

Why indeed was the young man in hot water relationally because he expressed his opinion of his companion’s shoes? Was it a matter of tactlessness? As an uninvited anonymous eavesdropper, I thought it was much more than that. The pain I thought I heard in the young woman’s response caused me to wonder if without conscious awareness she believed that the relationship between her and the young man obligated him always under all circumstances to respond in ways that bolstered what appeared to be a fragile, easily threatened sense of self-esteem. It appeared that the young woman had assigned the young man the duty to serve her need for reassurance, framing this obligation as a duty compelled by “love.” If at some level this was the case, then the issue was not a difference of opinion about fashion in shoes, but a betrayal by a significant other whom she believed obligated by the relationship to meet her need.

Guarding our hearts from self-sabotage in relationships requires us to inspect consciously and consistently the expectations we place on others.

I think the course of that relationship might have been changed had the young woman laughed and said, “Well, they may be ridiculous to you, but I like them and I’m going to have a lot of fun wearing them.”

Thinking with you about the crucial difference an assigned obligation can make in a relationship, and seeking, as Paul reminded the Christians at Galatia, to carry my own load. [Gal. 6:5.]

See you next week.

Gay





Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is your need my obligation?




August 14, 2011

Dear Friends,

While sorting old material on my desk (rare event), I came across the note I had written myself several weeks ago about the Bob Merrill’s lyrics in the song “People.” As you know, it required more than Streisand’s great voice to convince me that the need for ‘people’ (i.e., relationships) makes us “lucky." I think this need makes us human and, consequently, makes the discipline of forming mutually productive relationships with others a life-long task.

Part of this task is, of course, identifying what it is that we need, and learning to know how much is enough.

Neither task is easy. Unaware, we are often confused by ideas the culture teaches that at best are extraordinarily silly, and at their worst propose a sure formula for relational disaster.

In “People” Streisand sings a hatful of such ideas with power and passion and artistry. In 2011, archival dust from the culture of the 60’s has begun to settle over Streisand’s work. What is astonishing, however, is the way in which some of these bad ideas are alive and circulating still.

For example, Styne and Merrill’s lyrics deftly define the role we may expect the “other” to play in relationships. Lovers, they insist, are the luckiest people in the world because they have found that very special person who evokes a “feeling deep in your soul [that] says you were half, now you’re whole. . . .”

Really? We’re sure about that?

Now a decade into the 21st century we may assume that we have outgrown that “better half” or “other half” idea, but I’m not so sure.

It is true that the idea is rarely phrased in this form anymore. Nevertheless, there is evidence that we continue to believe that our needs form an obligation for others with whom we enter into relationship to “fill the hole.” We believe further that their failure to do so signals the failure of the relationship, and certainly the right, perhaps even the necessity, for us to leave the relationship.

Last week in my office a young thirty-something reported an impending divorce initiated because the partner “no longer meets my needs.” Last week at a luncheon, a fifty-something individual described a family choice to alter church affiliation because the church they were attending “no longer meets our needs.”

And in a sobering parallel, in a session focused on spiritual growth and maturity, a client said angrily, “How can God expect me to want a relationship with Him when He doesn’t meet my needs?”

Is the measure of a life-nurturing relationship the degree to which it decreases my sense of need? Is becoming “not needing” the purpose for which we form relationships?

Thinking with you of still another paradox: is my willingness and capacity to live with unmet needs one of the skills required for the intimacy in which my deepest needs are met?

See you next week.

Gay













Sunday, August 7, 2011

Do I ever need to go without?

August 7, 2011

Dear friends,

Most of us outgrow the idea that might makes right. As adults, even when our self-control is tattered and ragged, we sense that having the power to take a given action does not mean that doing so is wise, or, for that matter, that the action if taken will serve our own best interest.

We are slower to question our primitive belief that our needs are self-justifying. Sometimes well into adulthood, we presume that our needs presuppose the license to satisfy those needs by whatever means is available (particularly if it requires minimal effort). While we may not say so directly, we organize important aspects of our lives around the unspoken principle that the primary purpose of life can be reduced to getting what we need.

In effect, we behave as though our basic needs are the substance of the imago dei [the image of God in us], and that therefore, all activities dedicated to meeting our needs are therefore legitimized (i.e., we are simply doing what God designed us to do).

Unfortunately for our uncontrolled creatureliness, it doesn’t work out that simply. We learn, sometimes through bitter experience, that denial of needs leads to a desert of disconnection with both ourselves and others and to slow death by starvation. But we learn as well, often through equally bitter experience, that uncontrolled, unprincipled self-satisfaction leads to a bloated spiritual obesity that clogs the very heart and arteries of the soul.

What does it mean to protect myself against myself?

Perhaps a plan that leads both to safety and to wholeness begins with two difficult questions.

How do I identify what I need?

How do I measure how much is enough?

Thinking with you about the paradox of fullness and deprivation in the context of becoming whole.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Miss Annie and the plastic mat

July 31, 2011

Hello, friends,

Have you ever asked yourself what gets you up in the morning?

When we ask ourselves a question like this we are not usually thinking about the alarm clock or sunlight through a bedroom window. We are thinking about the basic motivations of our lives. As we grow older, this question leads further to a second question: what keeps me up all day? We discover that the life issue is not just about getting up—it’s about staying up, and, in a larger sense, staying the course in life no matter how difficult the circumstances.

In such times an inner voice sometimes scolds us for our failure to guard our hearts from ourselves, others, and circumstances. We sometimes say to ourselves, “And what were you thinking about? How did you get in this place of loss and pain anyway?”

Said simply, what we were thinking about (although in a language without words) was a plan to meet our instinctual needs for security and survival, for affection and esteem, and for power and control. We were seeking in some form to meet our basic human needs.

This fact is not comforting.

We feel unfairly blind-sided when we grasp the fact that what seems like a disaster to our conscious minds occurred while we were attempting to meet some instinctual need (or a derivation of it). This seems particularly unfair when we consider that, as we noted last week, the energy sources that drive our search to meet these needs lie, for the most part, in the deep centers of our being not readily accessible through language and logic. How can it be, we ask ourselves irritably, and somewhat anxiously—how can it be that basic human needs intrinsic to life itself can put me in harm’s way? How can it be that my deepest needs can put me at risk to myself and to others? What kind of a basic design flaw am I dealing with?

Actually—and this is comforting—the problem does not lie with the basic needs themselves. The problem lies in the goals and the methods through which we may choose to seek to meet these needs.

Miss Annie provides an interesting example. I placed Miss Annie’s new watering bowl and food dishes on a new plastic mat. I wished to aid Miss Annie to meet her need to survive (food and water). I also wished to meet my derivative need for the hardwood floor in the kitchen to survive without damage.

Miss Annie refused to step on the plastic mat. It seemed dangerous to her, and she choose not to risk. Her need to stay safe was, of course, quite correct. Her method—do not step on the mat even if it is clear that food and water can be found there—was highly counterproductive. Nothing wrong with Miss Annie’s basic need neither for survival, nor, in this case her goal for immediate safety. However, Miss Annie’s method [refuse under all conditions to step on a strange plastic mat] was in clear need of revision if she were to meet her need to survive.

We have both ability (and responsibility) to shape and direct the goals we set and the methods by which we seek to reach these goals. This is no simple process, as we will see in the weeks to come, but it is doable. Many of us think, however, that we can do this process well only in the context of community and a commitment to a power greater than ourselves.

Do you sometimes confuse your needs and your goals and your methods? Unlike Miss Annie, can you see, for example, that you can still be safe and at the same time step into a new and frightening situation?

Thinking with you about acceptance of basic needs and discipline of goal setting.

See you next week.

Gay


















The idea that I need to protect myself from myself is disconcerting, to say the least.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What if I live in a zoo of bears?

July 24, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

As several of you commented this week, there are indeed times when people prefer to be frightened by the bear under the bed rather than face the reality of their inner worlds. Sometimes, however, we are unreasonably anxious about that inner world simply because we know so little about it. We are afraid of the stranger within.

One helpful way of thinking about that inner world comes through the work of writers who have lived a significant part of their lives in the contemplative community. These writers (Thomas Keating, for example) view our inner self as motivated by three “energy” centers that drive our efforts to insure security and survival, affection and esteem, and power and control. These energies lie for the most part in the deep centers of our being not readily accessible through language and logic. They drive our ‘cosmic dance,’ however, and underlie the ways in which we manage the struggle and unfolding drama of our lives.

Viewed from this context, we experience a need to protect ourselves from relationships ‘out there’ in which others may seek to use us to insure their security and survival, to satisfy their need for affection and esteem, and to serve as the object over which they exert power and control. In this context, there may well be, so to speak, a whole zoo of bears out there—individuals who seek to meet their needs without regard for our well-being and welfare.

But equally unsettling—or perhaps even more so—is the parallel truth that we may need to protect others from ourselves—from our driven needs to be secure and to survive, to be loved and admired, to be powerful and in control. Most of us learn, at times through bitter experience, that we have the capacity to act in ways that seek to satisfy our own needs at the expense of others, and that in doing this we contribute to our own self-injury. It is possible to get what we want only to discover that we’ve arrived in a place we do not wish to be. When uncontrolled, there is valid reason to fear the stranger within.

When are you most dangerous to yourself? To others?

One of the radical ideas of Jesus was that God meant by the Spirit to empower us to know ourselves and to love and be loved in the context of Spirit-enabled self-control. Paul had this idea, too.

What do you think?

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bears under the bed?

July 14, 2011

Hello, friends,

Half a century ago (well, almost), Barbra Streisand sang “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Many of us admired her voice, but even then a great many of us had a serious dispute with the lyrics—people who need people are the luckiest people in the world? Thinking about the life stories I know prompts me to say, “Well, Barbra, not so much in my part of the world. People do need relationships, but that need is part of the human design we can’t change rather than a matter of luck. And all too often people find themselves needing a relationship that injures them. That’s luck?”

By what cosmic absurdity can we need something as dangerous as we know human relationships to be? This matter of guarding one’s heart is not straightforward, is it?

As we considered in an earlier blog, we can initiate a program of shutting down or shutting out, but neither works well. Either tactic may reduce the frequency of injury from relationships for a short time, but ultimately both produce failure-to-thrive in the authentic self at a level that can become fatal. Most people with whom I talk have an intuitive sense that this is so. Trying to work it out, however, confronts us with the “rock and a hard place” dilemma. No easy options, no free lunch.

Developing constructive methods of self-protection is possible, however. Doing so requires us to consider carefully what dangers face us relationally, and to identify the source from which they come.

Shutting down and shutting out presupposes that what injures, the unnamed danger to us, is out there, in others. But what if this is not so?

As we grow up we learn eventually that the thing that makes us afraid in the night is not really a bear that lives under our bed—it is something in us, not something out there.

What if in order to guard our hearts constructively, we have to learn a parallel truth in adulthood? What if a part of the danger in relationships lies in me—not just out there in others? What if when we meet the real source of relational danger we discover, as the cartoon character Pogo said, that we have met the enemy and it is us?

What happens if, at least in part, guarding our hearts requires us to face and master something of potential danger in ourselves?

Thinking with you that the possibility of bears under the bed is much more pleasant to deal with.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Controlling the cost of lunch

July 3, 2011

Dear friends,

What do you think it means to guard your heart?

People set up walls and barriers—social, emotional, spatial, geographic—to protect their inner world from relationships. Approached this way, guarding one’s heart becomes focused around finding ways to shut out potentially hurtful experiences. This approach brings mixed results—some helpful, some destructive, most a frustrating combination of both. Unchecked, this approach leads to refusal to risk, reluctance to love, and, ultimately, rejection of relationships since life offers few experiences that come with guaranteed immunity from pain.

When we learn that there is no free lunch, most of us are neither blessed nor pleased. When this principle becomes unavoidably clear, as it inevitably does, we do considerable grumbling about the cost of the items we want to place in our lunch box. However, some individuals, when they discover that there is indeed no free lunch, simply decide not to eat. This decision may appear economically advantageous, but the relational consequence of such logic is disastrous. If we structure life’s choices into an arbitrary dualism—free lunch or nothing—we discover that slow relentless diminishment begins to erode away the essential self. Relationships, like lunch, are not free, but they are essential. This cost, while unavoidable, can be influenced. While it remains true that there is no free lunch, we all can choose how much, and in what coinage we choose to pay.

Neither shut down or shut out appear to work well as general principles of relationship.

What does work? What does it mean to guard one’s heart?


Thinking with you about choosing the cost of change through relationship.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Discard?

June 26, 2011

Hello, friends,

This week the world as text occurred in a distinction made in a card game.

The cousins were staying at their grandmother’s house over the weekend, their annual meeting of the Cousins Club. On this particular afternoon they were engaged in a highly contested game of cards. Grandmother and I were sharing iced tea and a good conversation in the kitchen when the reasonably peaceful game in the family room suddenly erupted in argument.

“Aw, come on, Neil,” growled Robert, the oldest of the cousins. “You know you have to discard,” he insisted in his best now-shape-up voice. “You have to lay down one of your cards. It’s the rule.”

“No,” said Neil, firmly, in his best won’t-be-bossed-around voice. “All of these cards have value. It’s not logical to throw any away.”

Neil, a precocious nine-year old, has recently discovered “logic,” and is busily exploring how this cognitive tool works. In the world as text for Neil, the card game provided a confrontation between the “good” logic of following the rules and the “good” logic of breaking the rules for self-advantage.

And, unspoken, Neil was also grappling with a verbal distinction he sensed but could not yet say. Did the rules specify discard or relinquish ? (Neil’s parents, grandparents and siblings all anticipate he’ll become a noted jurist if he decides to enter law as a vocation.)

In our consumer society, discarding things (and people, too) is a common activity. The general idea seems to be that there is always something new and exciting, something more effective, more interesting, more comfortable “out there,” a bargain as close as on-line shopping (free shipping for the canny shopper), or a relational adventure with a new person from a dating service who may text or call.

In this sense, the act of discarding carries a value connotation. To discard is to dispose of something (or someone) to make place for something (or someone) of superior value. To discard is to get rid of, to cast off, to dispense with something (or a relationship) in which the value does not merit the cost and trouble of its maintenance.

In previous hands in the card game, Neil had discarded without protest. What was it about this hand that raised a point of contention with Robert, the rule-keeper?

In this hand, Neil was confronted with a dilemma: he held no cards that he deemed of little value. How could he discard?

In this circumstance relinquish becomes a helpful word with which to make an important distinction.

Giving up something is not always the by-product of greed or the impatient pursuit of novelty and excitement. Neither does the act of letting go necessarily denote little or no value in the object (or person) given up. There are places in life and relationships when leaving things behind becomes necessary for survival even though the process may be painful and confusing. There are circumstances too in which relinquishing valued things becomes an essential part of clearing the path before the next step forward can be undertaken. Change requires us at times to let go of some things, including some that may be highly valued, before we can pick up that which is essential for further growth and maturity.

As in many board games, the game of life sometimes requires us to discard before we can continue to play. This process, for the most part, is a rather painless piece of business-as-usual, the change process in which the old and less valued is disposed of with (perhaps) a twinge of nostalgia but with little or no regret.

However, sooner or later, like Neil, we find ourselves facing the issue of relinquishment rather than discarding. We must lay down that which we hold tenaciously, knowing its value today, in order to move toward an uncertain goal whose value we know only in part, a shape in the clouded mirror of tomorrow.

Thinking with you of the courage it requires to change when relinquishment rather than simple discard becomes the necessity posed by choice.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Second steps?

June 19, 2011

Dear friends,

Beginnings are tricky experiences, in part because of the attention that the “first step” phenomenon has received.

Much that has been said about first steps is both true and obvious. We are not likely to arrive if we do not start. Cliché or not, in the journey of a thousand miles that first step does hold a decisive importance. I wish, however, we were as clear and as vocal about the significance of the second (or seventy-second) step as we are about the first.

It was my joy to spend the weekend with a small group of women who for some time now have met together monthly. The group was formed to encourage personal growth (spiritual and psychological) in each individual woman. These women are highly diverse; they have differing goals and differing lifestyles. Consequently, to no one’s surprise, they are experiencing widely differing difficulties in reaching their individual goals.

But they have experienced in common what I think of as second-step shock (or seventy-second-step shock as the case may be). It is a common experience in the human change process. We start toward a goal, and then, sometimes when we are barely into the process, we begin to realize how far away that intended goal may be. The adrenalin spiked by the opening gun fades, self-applause fades, and we become uneasily aware of an unpleasant pinch in our shoe that could well be the beginning of a blister on our heel. Second steps, so to speak, require us to face the fact that no, we aren’t there yet—we are, in truth, only just begun. The process of getting to goal requires resolve, energy and commitment quite different than the excitement of first steps.

There was wisdom and gentleness in the way in which these women encouraged one another.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” one young woman said. “It’s so hard. I don’t know what to do.” Her voice held a hint of tears despite the strong stubborn steadiness of her chin.

After she spoke, there was a warm comforting silence among the women (the group is not very tolerant of quick and glib responses). After a while, one woman spoke in a calm matter-of-fact way. She said, “I have discovered that if I take the next step, just take the next step, and then the next step that then I sometimes begin to know.”

That is the mystery and the power and the challenge of second steps. They are the necessary prerequisites not only in getting to goal, but in understanding the journey itself. But these second (and seventy-second) steps require moving without the energy of an adrenalin rush, without the cheers of a crowd, and often with a painful pinch of uncertainty in mind and soul.

In the long journey to achieve deep and lasting maturity in our lives, inevitably we reach a flat and characterless middle place that both bores and frightens us. We understand that we are far beyond the excitement and energy of the beginning place, but we can see as yet nothing of the end. In that middle space, all we know of the ending of the journey is our profound awareness that we are not there yet, and our uncertainty that we will ever reach the goal we've set.

A clear understanding of the significance of second steps is crucial here. If we resolve simply to take the next step, and then the next step, and then the next one, often to our surprise, we not only move, we begin to know. We know that are not there yet, but we also begin to know that we can be, and will be. First steps start us, but it is these crucial second steps that get us there in the end.

Left foot, right foot, breathe. Left foot, right foot, breathe.

Thinking with you of the ways in which we must sometimes do our truth before we can fully know it. Let's hear it for second steps.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thinking about Annie's success

June 12, 2011

Dear friends,

Miss Annie’s dilemma has prompted some systematic thinking about fear. However, today I want to focus on a brief summary of the end of the adventure Miss Annie and I shared and one question that it has raised. (If you are a new reader, blogs for the preceding two weeks explain the circumstances leading to Miss Annie’s panic).

My first conclusion regarding Miss Annie was that her fear was her business indeed, but it was my business as well since it affected our community life together. Miss Annie’s world was smaller—no more interesting moonlight surveillance of the mysterious night life outside her window; no moore lazy naps in the warm sun; no easy respite from the world of humans and their noise; no deliciously difficult hiding places in which she could safely escape human interference in her life. But by a parallel measure, her fear made my life with her smaller as well—no quiet hours with a book knowing that Annie was happily watching her world in the dark; no easy refuge for Annie when the dreaded vacuum cleaner came out of hiding; no interesting private place to which Annie could retire when the world of people became more than she could graciously tolerate. It seemed to me that Annie’s fear compromised the quality of her life and of our life together, and that together we should attempt to do something about it.

After some thought and consultation of an old behavior modification text, I devised a plan for desensitization of Miss Annie’s fear of the garage, using her favorite treats as reward for each step she took in re-approaching her old perch. The process took patience and time on both our parts, and consumed a large jar of treats. However, I am glad to report success; Annie’s surveillance of the night life in our side yard has resumed; and this afternoon, bored with my schedule of time on the computer, Miss Annie has taken herself off to her garage perch for an undisturbed nap, no treats expected or required.

“Success” has itself, however, raised some interesting questions. What difference did it make that the provider of the treat/reward was a human that Annie loved, and who, in turn loved Annie (however inperfectly)? The treats themselves were a significant factor in the successful conclusion of the project, of course. I have no doubt that the whole affair would have ended in a resounding failure had I offered Miss Annie a limp piece of lettuce as a reward for each frightening step she risked. But the crunchy goodness of the treat was not the only factor that influenced Miss Annie.

I am thinking, of course, about the relationship of love and fear. In the adventure that Miss Annie and I shared, did love somehow shape the environment so that the treats became effective? Is focusing on aloneness—no matter how hidden or denied it may be—the first step in dealing with fear? Is dealing with fear one of those life tasks we cannot successfully complete alone?

One aspect of spiritual growth and psychological well-being intersect at this point. Human love, and/or a trustworthy therapist can (and do) make a significant difference in the ways in which we can face our fears. But no human love or human therapist can provide perfect love. So I wonder: do we sometimes excuse ourselves from the life task of dealing with our fears because we are not “perfectly” loved?

Was John (I John 4:18a RSV) suggesting that since human love is imperfect, that there are fears so intractable and paralyzing that human relationships per se are not enough—that relationship with God too is necessary in order to undertake the risk necessary to cast out these fears?

Wondering with you if risking love (human AND divine) is the first step in dealing with fear?

See you next week,

Gay

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The relationship between love and fear

June 5, 2011

Dear Friends,

As I explained last week, during the last day of my vacation Miss Annie had an unfortunate experience. While climbing up to her favorite perch in the garage, she fell, and a rug fell on her.

The experience taught her new empathy for Humpty Dumpty (appropriate training for a therapy cat). Unfortunately, Miss Annie also learned to be afraid of the garage, afraid of the approach to her perch, and afraid of the perch itself. When I attempted to carry her to her perch, she growled (a serious, no-nonsense growl with teeth showing), and sank her claws into my shirt in a “Won’t be moved” position that left some marks through the shirt into my shoulder. Miss Annie had experienced major trauma, and my soothing sounds made absolutely no impact on her fears, nor did my presence.

Miss Annie had decided apparently to handle her fear by never entering the garage again. I suspect that she said to herself (in Kat, of course), “I should have known better than to go into that garage. That garage door always made a terrible sound, and I saw with my own eyes that garage door go up and down without any human present. It is likely that whole affair was the fault of that mysterious garage door—the door hit me and threw that rug on my head. A terrible experience that no therapy cat should ever be required to endure. I am not going back there again.”

What to do?

“What to do?—Why, do nothing,” my friends said. (I suspect they were secretly amused by my concern for Miss Annie.) “She’ll get over it or she won’t. It’s no big deal.” Their reasoning appeared to run something like this: after all, charming and special as she is, Miss Annie is just a cat. Let Miss Annie be afraid or figure it out. “Why in the world,” my friends appeared to wonder, “are you giving this a second thought? Surely as Miss Annie’s human, your responsibility for her care does not extend this far.”

But as you know, I think that the world is indeed text.

What could I learn from Miss Annie’s experience and her response? What, if anything, could I do to change Miss Annie’s response? And what, if anything, should I do? What made Miss Annie’s fear any of my business anyway?

Examined carefully, that question turned out to be more complex than I expected. Fear had come to shelter under my roof, to take up residence in a space that, so far as I am able, I have committed to peace and love. Was this fear meaningless because it was bundled in the senses and synapses of a small four-footed creature whose feline language and logic made her inner world significantly removed from my own?

What did I think about fear? Do only my own fears merit concern? If not, why not?

You know from last week’s introduction to Miss Annie’s theology course that I eventually devised a plan to help Miss Annie to regain access to her much loved perch. The “how to help” was preceded, however, by my effort to work out a logic of caring. What does love compel me to do when I am confronted with fear, even when that love is as simple as affection for a pet and the fear as primitive as Miss Annie’s panic in the garage?

The apostle John, considering the relationship of love and fear, wrote: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18a RVS).”

What happens if I assume that both the biblical record of John’s thinking and the world I experience with Miss Annie are both texts for living, although texts of vastly different kinds and validity? Can these diverse texts taken together lead to logic of caring that incorporates Miss Annie and her fears? Since the fear is Miss Annie’s is the responsibility for dealing with it solely hers? Is the solution just for Miss Annie to love me more? Or for me to love her more?

Thinking with you about and love and fear and the ways in which in daily life we are changed by both.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Miss Annie Initiates a Course in Theology

Blog

May 29, 2011

Hello, friends,

Considering the change process whether in therapy or spiritual formation inevitably leads to serious thinking about the experience of fear. In the last few months I have thought frequently about the impact of fear in the human change process. Then, as frequently happens in the way I experience “the world as text” an experience with Miss Annie provided an insight that I would like to explore with you.

Miss Annie (aka Fraulein Freud, Therapist Cat Extraordinaire) prefers to rest from her clinic work in a high perch near a window. One of her favorite “high” perches is in the garage. A friend of mine organized this particular perch for her shortly after Miss Annie came to live with me. Annie likes it principally because of its height and the size of the window. She also likes it because the perch itself is “upholstered” with a soft worn bathroom rug.

Miss Annie reaches this special perch in three steps: first, a jump from the garage floor to the potting table, then a second jump from the top of the potting table to the top of the low bookcase, then a third jump from the low bookcase to the top of the high book case in front of the garage window. Annie was quite confident regarding the first two jumps, but was initially somewhat hesitant concerning the third. In order to encourage her, our friend constructed a ramp from Styrofoam planks. Annie quickly learned to walk her “runway” (stylishly, of course) from the lower bookcase to the high one. She also developed a pattern in which she stopped, coming and going, to sharpen her claws on the Styrofoam planks and to provide ample time for any available audience to admire her elegant self.

When I returned from vacation, Annie was quite happy to see me and greeted me warmly. I soon noticed, however that her collar and tags were missing. Since Annie had not had an outdoor adventure in my absence, this loss seemed strange. Even more mysterious, however, was Miss A’s new reaction to the garage. When I attempted to place her on her perch in the garage, she growled at me and inserted her claws in my shirt (and in my shoulder). When I placed her on the floor and attempted to comfort her, she ran to hide under the bed. Annie, the Confident Elegant Miss Annie—Annie, the Therapist Cat Extraordinaire—had become afraid. She had in fact come quite close to a feline panic attack when confronted with a once favorite place. What in the world had happened?

Some garage detective work soon revealed the remains of an accident. Annie’s “runway” (all of the Styrofoam planks) was on the garage floor. One was broken, and all were tangled with the rug which was on the floor as well. Underneath the runway planks and rug lay Miss Annie’s breakaway collar and her tags. There were no witnesses, of course, but circumstantial evidence indicated that while walking her “runway” one of the planks had given way under Annie (she’s a big girl). When she started to fall Annie had likely grasped the rug with her claws. The rug in turn had slipped from the perch and fallen down with the planks, possibly on Annie’s head. For one of the few times in her life, Miss Annie may have experienced great difficulty in landing on her feet. In the struggle to regain her balance and to escape the smothering folds of the rug, it appeared that Miss Annie had broken her collar, then, badly frightened by the fall and the accompanying rain of debris, had escaped and fled the scene, planning never to return to the garage, no matter my thoughts about the matter.

The friend who had helped construct Annie’s favorite perch came to lunch. I explained my admittedly theoretical reconstruction of the scene and described Miss Annie’s panicked reaction. “You couldn’t help that,” our friend said. “but she may be afraid for a long time; she may never like the garage perch again. I don’t know what you can do about that.” Options for repair of the ramp were straightforward. Dealing with Miss Annie’s fear was less so. If the world is text, I thought, then what does this mean?

Our friend was correct in one basic sense. All of us, including Miss Annie, have life experiences that result in fear. While we can learn to make ourselves less vulnerable to harm, we cannot change life in ways that safe-proof our journey. What then do we do with our fear? Simply live with it? If this is the only option, then why in so many places in the biblical text does God instruct his people NOT to be afraid?

Could I help Miss Annie NOT be afraid? What if Miss Annie did not want a fear-reduction program but wanted only the freedom to avoid forever entering the garage again? But after a time in which I considered some of the parallels between Miss Annie, myself, and some of my clients, I devised a plan.

More next week on the plan and our progress (Miss Annie’s and mine).

Meanwhile, thinking with you about the comment Jesus made to his disciples: he told them plainly that in their lifetimes they would have trouble (John 16:33). He also told them plainly not to be troubled or afraid (John 14:27). But he also pointed out that the peace he would give them was something different than “the peace the world gives (Jn. 14:27).”

What can we understand about the human experience of fear? And does seeking to live as a follower of Jesus change the human experience of fear, or does it change our capacity to manage fear, or both?

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, May 22, 2011

coming home

Blog,
May 22, 2011

Hello, friends,

Travel brings change. In coming and going, and in the adventure of being neither here nor there but somewhere in the in-betweens, change occurs. However, the change that lasts comes both on the journey and when we arrive home again.

I was surprised at how eager I was to reach home (and privately amused at myself). During the time traveling I had enjoyed companionship and friendship at a rich, consistent level. The enormous forests and the immensity of the ocean made a visual gallery of memories that will last a long lifetime. Nevertheless, in a paradoxical way that is difficult to express, it was in coming home that I began to understand where I had been.

The car was emptied at last. I left the luggage in an untidy heap in the hall, and sat down in the quiet of my small house. Miss Annie curled up on my lap, purring her welcome home. And there, sitting in my favorite chair, unbidden I suddenly re-visited in my mind a breath-stopping curve in the road we had driven earlier in the week. I could see and hear the wild waves pounding against the sheer cliffs below us, their spray white against the black rocks. I could sense the power of the water, the unmoving resistance of the massive black walls of rock that bounded the shore line, and the incredible frailty of my human self in the context of that world of rock and wind and water and grim sky. I had some sense of that even at the time we initially rounded that curve. I thought then, “This changes my sense of both the frailty and value of human life.”

But I knew it again in a different lasting sense when I knew it in my chair at home with Miss Annie on my lap. The enormity of the dimensions of that world and its impersonal unintentional power were at some level unknowable until I re-knew them in the context of home.

Whether in therapy or in spiritual formation, change comes on the journey, but it is in those times of quiet harbor that we integrate and store the journey’s change within the person we are becoming. In our action addicted world it is easy to miss the importance of stillness and retracing the road where we have been.

An old Zen-like cliché reads something like this: Don’t just do something. Stand there.

Coming off two weeks of wonderful travel, tonight I would say: Don’t just travel. Come home and rest. Then you can know where you have been.

I am thinking with you about the challenge of understanding and keeping change I have experienced.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, May 8, 2011

vacation

Hello friends,

I will be traveling the next two weeks. Look for a new blog Sunday, May 22
See you then.

Gay

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The text from a landscaping project

May 1, 2011

Dear friends,

Some good folk in the church where I worship are in the process of a major landscaping project. As things have developed, the project has also required structural renovation of portions of their house, only a part of which were anticipated in the initial plan. These changes have resulted in a sharp upward trajectory in the bottom line of the budget. This has not provided moments of joy for my friends. They are experienced householders, however, and so, while not joyful at the increased cost, they are neither totally surprised nor anxious. They have years of relationship with God; it takes more than a landscape project to unsettle their dependence upon God’s faithfulness.

Happily, the project is nearing completion. The results are astonishing and truly beautiful. Visually, I could never have guessed that the house I now see as we come around the curve is a renovated version of the house I entered when first welcomed by my friends into their family life. This house, skirted with natural stone, sits now above the flowing shapes of walls and gardens that move with casual elegance down the hill where anchoring pines mark the curving edge of the lower street. Graceful stone-faced pillars support the deck that extends from the windowed living room. At night those who shelter in this beautiful space can look down into the pines and out over the roofs and trees of the neighborhood below. House and walls and trees have been melded into the essential shape of the hill on which they rest, and at night the city lights below scatter diamonds at its feet.

The project has led to a number of thoughtful moments for me as interested observer.

As a prairie born individual, I experience the need to remove living trees with serious concern. The landscaper experienced no such reluctance. While the task attracted considerable neighborhood “supervision,” and provided a good bit of drama, he arranged for a large shade tree to be cut down and its huge root system removed. On the initial “drive-by” after the tree was gone, I felt sad—it was a great flourishing tree, a source of shade and beauty; I had enjoyed tea and wonderful conversation with friends under its summer shade. It seemed an unwelcome change, and a high price to pay for an as yet unrealized beauty.

My sense of meaning changed, however, when on the next “drive-by inspection” I could see the damage—serious, structural damage—that the roots of that flourishing tree had done to the house.

“The world is text,” to borrow Benjamin Meyers’s wonderful line. I am now reading the text of my friends’ landscaping project with new eyes.

I can see that it is possible to shelter comfortably under some great flourishing tree of which I am quite fond while outside the range of my awareness serious damage to the foundation stones of my life is taking place. It is true, I think, that whether in therapy or in spiritual formation, comfort or even affection is not a necessarily reliable indication of needed change.

Thinking with you this week about the necessity for seeking a God-shaped view of change and loss. This view can alter our sense of the budget bottom line.

See you next week.

Gay

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How do you know?

April 24, 2011

Dear friends,

There was certainly enough for the two travelers to talk about on that long walk home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Everybody had been talking, and, in fact, everyone was still talking. The apparent ignorance of the stranger who joined them mid-way on the journey seemed odd to say the least. How could he not know?

But obligingly, Cleopas and his companion reviewed the events—the man, Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and deed, had been delivered by the priests and Pharisees into Roman hands; he had been condemned, crucified, and buried; their hopes of a coming triumphant Messiah had died with him.

It was now three days since this had happened, they said sadly.

Then they added: But today there’s another twist to the story. Some of the women followers of Jesus went early to the tomb this morning. They came back reporting that the guarded tomb was open and empty and that an angel who was sitting there told them Jesus was risen. Some of the men went to see what had happened, and found things just like the women had said, but they didn’t see Jesus himself.

Then, carefully, the stranger began to teach them from Moses and the prophets about the Messiah whose suffering as well as his triumph had been foretold. The stranger was teaching about himself, of course, for it was Jesus, who, unrecognized, had joined them on the road home to Emmaus.

It was evening when they arrived at the village. When he acted as though he were going to travel further, Cleopas and his companion encouraged the stranger to eat and stay with them. He accepted their invitation. And it was when, at the table, that the stranger broke the bread and blessed it that their eyes were opened. They recognized Him—This is Jesus!!—and then He vanished from their sight.

The failure of Cleopas and his companion to recognize Jesus earlier on the road was not simply human ignorance or lack of faith. Luke says specifically that they were initially kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16). I think there is a vital reason for this.

Think of what the Risen Christ did—He walked incognito, an anonymous stranger traveling down that dusty road, teaching every step of the way from the Word, making clear the design and purpose of God, revealing Himself from the scriptures. It was through the scriptures and then through the blessed and broken bread that they were permitted to see Him as He was—the Risen Messiah who had done what He had promised to do, and more.

Humanly, I am comforted. Like those followers on the road to Emmaus, I too may know Him. I know that on my life journey He may join me in a form I may not initially recognize. However, when I search for Him through scripture and join Him at His table in the breaking and the blessing of the bread, my eyes too can be opened. There I can see our Risen Lord.

I am grateful with those who met Him on the Emmaus Road that Jesus meets me where I am, and permits me through scripture and the mystery of the broken bread to recognize Him.

He is risen! He is risen,indeed!

See you next week.

Gay

Gay

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday lemonade?

April 17, 2011

Hello, Friends,

Frankly, it will always be too soon for me to hear (again) the old bromide about making lemonade out of lemons. In the interests of full disclosure, I caution all readers regarding the dangers of thinking—let alone saying—that old cliché where I may hear you. Mind carefully all metaphors, similes, and clichés regarding lemons; you are hereby warned.

It is not that I reject the kernel of truth wrapped in this plastic phrase. I understand all too well that the challenge of growing in and through the crises of life requires us to deal constructively with a great many sour and bitter things, and at times with numbing despair. What I reject vehemently is the Mary Poppins sounding simplicity of the implied process—just squeeze and add some sugar-water and all will be well. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down?—well, not so much for most of us when our worlds crash down.

On that day we call Palm Sunday the crowd was delirious with joy—their King had come, one of their own, and now, they believed, this King would make all things well. But by the end of that following terrible Friday, their joy had vanished in hard confrontation with bitter reality—that tortured figure dying with agonizing slowness on a Roman cross, his kingship marked only by the irony of the sign jerry-rigged over his thorn-crowned head.

Lemons into lemonade, indeed—the phrase is near-blasphemy in the face of such brutal savagery and injustice. Indeed, the terrible silence of that black Saturday has continued over the centuries to remind us that pain—human and divine—can lie beyond the reach of language.

Still, there is something that can be said to the defeated, frightened ones, those who tremble in the silent dark. This word is not a magic phrase that transforms the loss and destruction around us. It is not even a welcome word of encouragement or consolation; it is a word of terrible pragmatism. We are asked to do the only thing we can do: wait. Wait.

It is this terrible waiting that makes the ending of Psalm 88 echo ultimate despair. Humanly, we cannot change the destruction or the loss. We cannot make “good” come. Nevertheless, there is a paradoxical place for hope in this waiting. It is a hope that is rooted in the place we are in rather than any action we can take.

Douglas Schuurman has a wonderful phrase: “providentially situated.” While Schuurman does not use this phrase in reference to Good Friday events, nevertheless it expresses something of the wordless root of human hope that vibrates through Good Friday despair. Good Friday events did not place those disillusioned followers of Jesus in a position where they could roll the stone away from the tomb; these events did not place those followers politically in a place to replace this failed Messiah with a new more viable candidate. Friday did NOT “providentially situate” the defeated followers of Jesus to do anything to change the deadly consequences played out on Golgotha’s hill. But the progression from public triumph through Friday’s defeat did “providentially situate” them in exactly the right place to see and experience God’s Sunday morning answer to their despair.

Mary was among those pragmatic despairing women who in their grief sought on the first day of the week to prepare his dead body properly for burial. It was despairing realism that led Mary with these women on that Sunday morning to His tomb. They had no plans to construct a lemonade stand.

But there, in Sunday’s dawn light, Mary saw Him walking in the garden. Then Saturday’s terrible silence was broken--Mary heard His voice and, turning, knew Him when He called her name.

Trusting in the tsunamis of life that God will “providentially situate” me to see our Risen Lord, and hear Him call my name.

See you next week.

Gay