Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's my nature

January 30, 2011

Dear friends,

Cat and I are making reasonable progress. She has found my clients to be quite interesting, and frequently comes to lie on the floor or at the bottom of the stairs listening intently while we talk. She has not yet given me a formal evaluation as a counselor. However,it is encouraging that at the end of this first week she appears to entertain a generally positive opinion of my work.

I decided Friday that if she were going to supervise me on a regular basis she needed a more professional name. Next week I plan to introduce her as Fraulein Freud when she comes into my office to meet a client and watch over our work with her wise inscrutable eyes. You may be relieved to know that I have no present plans to put her on Charis's letterhead. It doesn't do to rush into these professional relationships prematurely.

I have been thinking about the lion and lamb and the peaceable kingdom that appeared in last week's blog.

Think about it: here is the lion--powerful, fiercely frightening, prowling about looking for prey; and here is the lamb--wooly, and none too bright if the truth were known, and acting like a planned carry-out breakfast for the lion. It is not difficult to think of several changes the lion would need to make in order for the predicted lying-down-together-with-the-lamb event to happen. But what about the lamb?

Do you think the peaceable kingdom requires change only in the lion, in the power and goals that shape the lion's behavior? What about the lamb?

I find it interesting that the text that pictures the peaceful lion-lamb nap does not appear to suggest that either the lion or the lamb ceases to be a lion or to be a lamb--their identities do not change, but their natures somehow do.

Is there a place in your life where you resist change by arguing "It's just my nature"?

Thinking with you about chosen changes in the context of power and of helplessness.

See you next week.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Change for a peaceable kingdom?

January 23, 2011

Dear friends,

Due to unforeseen circumstances, my sister’s cat has come to live with me. This week I am still simply counting changes in this household—haven’t begun to have an idea what it all means.

She is beautiful, with long white hair. She has an aristocratic air about her, but a friendly disposition. She is welcoming to all who come here and seeks to be petted at once. She rewards those who do so with ample samples of her long white hair deposited on their clothes.

She has been relatively calm and peaceful, but does not want to be left alone. She is sleeping quietly on a chair beside me as I write.

At night as I prepare for sleep, I am aware that now there is another living creature also preparing to sleep under this sheltering roof.

In the night when I waken she awakens and comes to check on me. I do not know if she is trying to understand my habits or if she is simply observing an odd behavior of this human whom she now assumes she owns.

She has opinions. She thought my afternoon nap had gone on long enough, so gently climbed up on me and patted my face with her paw until I stirred. It appears likely that she will train me eventually, but the process may prove difficult for her, the poor dear. I’m an ancient case to undertake to teach new tricks.

I can see already that this small wordless creature now sheltering with me calls me to think in new ways about my relationship with all parts of God’s kingdom. Jesus often reminded his followers that the kingdom of God is now. What do you suppose this means when I am annoyed by the need to vacuum rugs and furniture one more time, and feel distinctly disinterested in cleaning the litter box?

The Scripture text gives us one picture of kingdom life in which the lion lies down peaceably with the lamb. What kind of changes will this require?

Thinking with you about changes that lead to peaceable living in God’s peaceable kingdom,


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brown sugar?

January 16, 2011

Dear friends,

This week the kitchen provided the stage for an interesting event that encouraged me to think about change.

I was making apple strudel and needed brown sugar to add to the apples. When I opened the brown sugar container I found that there was indeed three or four cups of brown sugar left in the canister as I had remembered.

However, change had occurred.

The sugar I had easily spooned into a cup when I made Thanksgiving pumpkin bread was now a rock-hard block. If I wanted a cup of brown sugar for the apple strudel, retrieving that sugar now required a chisel rather than a spoon and a cup. The rock hard brown block was still sugar, and still uncontaminated, still technically “fit” for human consumption. It had, however, changed into a form that made it relatively inaccessible for ordinary use. In order for that sugar to be combined with the other ingredients in the strudel, I was faced with engineering a serious change in the hard block-shaped mass that now lay inertly in bottom of the canister.

I wondered: can we unwittingly permit our faith life to harden into a form that is relatively inaccessible to those around us (and perhaps no longer available to nurture our own lives as well)?

Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish scholar, thought that we could. In God in Search of Man, Heschel wrote:

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious
philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It
would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.
Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it
became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is
completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by
habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the
splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather
than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name
of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its
message becomes meaningless. [p.3]
--Abraham J. Heschel

I am sobered by Heschel’s description of the process in which faith hardens into religion with all the tragic consequences of that change. And I am uneasy when I think that all it took was natural processes acting on that unused sugar for it to become an unusable rock-hard lump.

How are you planning this year to use God’s gift of faith so that it does not harden into religion?

Thinking with you about the unwelcome change through which the unused can become the unusable.

See you next week.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Change of plans?

Blog Jan 9, 2011

Dear Friends,

This Epiphany I have been reading and re-reading the texts about the Magi. These wise men had come a great distance to see the Child, and when at last, star-led, they found Him, they found themselves offering their gifts, chosen to honor a new King, to a peasant couple’s Toddler. It was a moment, Matthew tells us (2:11), of great joy and deep worship. But humanly speaking, it must have also been a moment of astonishment. The journey (including the person of the young King Himself) had held a full measure of the unexpected.

Then, consistent with the unexpected, their trip home also contained a surprise. Having been warned in a dream, Matthew tells us (2:12), the wise men abandoned their planned itinerary and went home by another way.

Anticipating the year that lies ahead, I have been thinking that I need to hold my plans and expectations lightly with an open hand. I do not wish to imprison God in my expectations: I want to see God where He chooses to reveal Himself and worship Him there. And, on this late stage in my life journey, I trust His faithful care. However sensible my human plans may appear, I want to be quick to alter them as I sense God’s redirection. I know that this may entail unexpected, perhaps unwelcome change. But I know, too, that as He directs me, going home by another way is, whatever the change, the safe way home.

How do you plan to manage the surprises in the year ahead?

Grateful with you for the changes that lead us safely home even when they require a road we never expected to travel.

See you next week.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Epiphany and my friendship with Kat

January 2, 2011

Good evening, friends,

Epiphany arrives January 6. I have been thinking about this change of season in the church year, and the biblical story of the Wise Men who came to visit the Child, bearing kingly gifts to honor Him. The story I want to share with you, however, is not about those mysterious visitors who came riding camels and looking for the new King.

This story does include a long journey (I visited my friends in northern Wyoming over Christmas). And while the story does pivot around gifts and the great gift of the Child Himself, the main character is a cat whose given family name is Boots.

At one level, Boots is an appropriate name: this cat has four white paws that stand out in beautiful distinction from his thick dark fur. However, the name “Boots” does not begin to suggest the splendid length of his distinguished whiskers, nor the emperor-like air with which from his chosen throne on the back of an upholstered chair Boots oversees the lives of those mortals whom he permits to share his living space.

For reasons his highness did not reveal, Boots invited me into a relationship with him over the week I was a guest in his house. As the relationship progressed, I came to call him Kat rather than the family name Boots, being careful to write Kat with an upper-case K rather than use the ordinary spelling, cat. He seemed pleased with this linguistic recognition of his royal self.

The relationship between Kat and I deepened in mutual respect and inter-specie communication as the week passed. After a day or two, whenever I laid down on the sofa with a book, Kat would come, knead a comfortable nest on my chest, then, with his front paws politely curled, he would lie and purr softly, gazing steadily into my face from a distance of eight to ten inches. Kat had little tolerance for study, however. After permitting me to read for a short interval, he would nudge my book with his head until he had bunted it out of my line of sight.

One day I was reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, The Luminous Web, when Kat pushed it away.

“Now, listen, Kat,” I said, “You’ve got to be fair. If you don’t want me to read, then you’ve got to talk with me about what I’m reading. What do you think of Taylor’s idea about the theological implications of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle?”

There was a pause, then a friendly half-purr, half-growl rumbled deep in Kat’s chest as I continued to rub his head. I interpreted this as Kat’s agreement with my proposal, so I continued to share my response to Taylor’s ideas, then pause to wait for Kat to express his point of view (encouraged to “speak” Kat revealed an astonishingly varied repertoire of sounds). Taking turns politely, I suppose Kat and I “talked” for ten minutes or more, then having reached a satisfactory conclusion despite lack of translator, we mutually agreed to take a nap.

My hostess who had been an amused observer of this interaction commented at dinner that I had reason to be quite happy that it was winter. “If it were summer,” she explained, “Kat would no doubt bring you a field mouse as a gift. He is quite pleased with you and enjoys these conversations.”

I thought about this as I began the lectionary readings for Epiphany.

I gave Kat the best gift I knew to give—hands that loved in gentle touch against his head, and in his ears a language-shaped glimpse of the Creator-God who came as a Baby in order to restore all creation, Kat’s world and mine. Brilliant as Kat is, however, I doubted deeply that he understood my gift.

In turn, had Kat brought me a field mouse and laid it on my chest, I am quite sure I would not have behaved in a fashion that, from Kat’s point of view, demonstrated proper appreciation of the substance and the meaning of his gift.

Those mysterious visitors from that far-away place brought that Divine Toddler gold, frankincense and myrrh, the story tells us. From our human post-Easter viewpoint we read great meaning into these gifts. But I wonder—did that Toddler Who was God incarnate reach with chubby hands for objects that, at the time, seemed merely interesting to that curious young-human mind, Spirit indwelt though it was?

Theological ideas for the Kat? Field mouse for the Professor? Gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Toddler of Jewish peasant parents?

This Epiphany I am thinking that some day the first fruits of that redemption made possible through Easter’s resurrection will change all living creatures into the glorious reality of fully knowing--knowing ourselves, knowing each other, and knowing God in whose light we shall eternally dwell.

Meanwhile we live in the already-not yet of the world in which we are called to give gifts, the best that we can give, to God and to each other. It is not the cost or the social appropriateness of our gifts—it is the homage of our hearts with which we invest them that matters in the end.

How do you plan to pay Epiphany homage this year? What is the intended gift of your heart?

Grateful for Kat, and for the Creation that teaches me about the Creator.

See you next week.