Sunday, March 27, 2011

Too much for words

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dear friends,

This weekend, modern means of transportation and a generous friend made it possible for me to re-visit places in which I lived as a child.

Tonight I am flooded with senses of many differing kinds of change. In this context, I am remembering a story (probably apocryphal) of a Native American tribe who would travel only so far then stop for a non-travel day in which they rested. They explained their practice by saying that the day of rest was necessary to in order for their spirits to catch up with their bodies.

I remain highly doubtful about the theology and the historical accuracy of this story. However, tonight I have no doubt about its psychological reality.

Home tonight, I have discovered that I have traveled too far in time and space for me to find language for thought. In order to write I must wait until my capacity to think and say catches up with my experience and the change it has brought.

Thinking about the need to process some kinds of change before we say the truth we've lived into.

See you next week.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unbuntu, my friends

March 19, 2011

Dear Friends,

In parts of Africa when meeting an individual the conventional greeting is “I see you,” and the proper response is, in turn, “I am here.” There is an implicit recognition in this social exchange of a fundamental truth of our human existence: we experience who we are in the context of recognition by others.

In the celebration of a milestone birthday, I have experienced myself as “seen” this week by many friends and family, and I am deeply grateful. I know that I am here in this place at this time of life because of those who have seen me—and (seeing) forgiven me; who have seen me—and (seeing) extended the generous grace of believing in me; who have seen me—and (seeing my need) shared their wisdom, fellowship, and resources along the journey. I am here because I have been seen. There is no way to say my gratitude for these acts of knowing and the becoming it has made possible.

A young friend has taught me an African word, Unbuntu. As I understand it, the word means in my paraphrase, “I am because we are.”

I think that the idea of a “self-made” individual is a psychological delusion and a theological absurdity. Love and grace and acknowledgement of my individual being have been extended to me life-long through friends and family, and through strangers and enemies as well. What I have done with these gifts (some bitter-sweet) is indeed my responsibility, for better and/or for worse.

But unbuntu, my friends. Within my human limitations I have sought to become strong and deeply rooted in faith and practice through the love, grace and friendship you have invested in my life. From my perspective on this birthday, God has, in turn, multiplied your gift into life-sustaining abundance for me.

See you next week, a year older. Maybe wiser?

Seeking in these remaining years to pay forward in rich measure the treasures with which I have been gifted over the passing years.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Miss Annie and the Psalms

March 13, 2011

Dear friends,

Gratitude changes our perspective in constructive ways; perhaps that is one reason grateful people tend to be happy people. I was reading Psalm 148 and noticing that the response of praise is required of many things, all of God’s creation, in fact, not simply God’s people. Let praise issue from stars, moon and sun; hail, snow and frost; mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, creeping things, sea monsters and flying birds, beasts and all cattle, the Psalmist writes. “Hmm,” I thought. “I wish I could read Hebrew. That is such beautiful poetry.”

While Psalm 148 is poetry, the message of the Psalm lies deeper than poetry. Miss Annie gave me an interesting insight regarding that point later in the day.

The sky was an incredible blue, and the buds on the lilac bushes have just begun to swell. Spring comes later than we wish for here in the mountains, but it was a day that clearly promised winter is almost over, and spring is on the way. In late afternoon when my work with clients was finished, I went out to sit on the porch soaking up the warmth of the sun and the smell of spring in the air.

Miss Annie followed me outdoors, and after a brief inspection of the porch, sat down on the corner of the top step. I paid no attention to her initially, but when I did, I was fascinated. She was sitting with her nose up, motionless, carefully breathing in the slight breeze, testing, experiencing every scent and essence that it carried. Her eyes were shut and there was a look of what appeared to be utter bliss on her little face.

After watching her silently for a moment, I was struck by a sudden realization. Miss Annie was experiencing the gift of that soft wind in a way that lay forever beyond my capacity, and that what she felt in response appeared to be pure wordless joy. While she made no sound, I had no doubt that, obedient to Psalm 148, Miss Annie was offering up praise beyond my language and understanding for that wind whose scent intoxicated her and for its Creator.

After re-reading the above paragraph, I am struck by its absurdity—Miss Annie is certainly one of the earth’s creatures cited by the Psalmist as called to praise the Creator, but really—a cat, even one as elegant as Miss Annie, engaged in praise? After posting this, I am expecting that many of you will contact my family to inquire if I am receiving appropriate treatment.

Still, whatever one may make of Miss Annie’s spring ecstasy, in the context of Psalm 148, the thought is worth pondering: suppose that God’s creation around us is obediently praising the Creator. Would the disasters and the destruction which mark our world have less power to confuse and disorient us if our ears and heart could hear Creation’s chorus of ongoing praise?

Can praise enable us to keep our balance even in circumstances in which praise appears to be utter absurdity?

Seeking with you to keep my balance AND a firm grip on reality despite life events.

See you next week.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Counting loss as gain


March 6, 2011

Dear friends,

In my study this week I ran across an old Franciscan prayer that has lingered at the back of my consciousness and challenged my thinking and living. Verses one and four [out of five] read:

"May God bless you with a restless discomfort
About easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.


May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
You really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
With God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done."

Discomfort and foolishness can (and do) indeed lead to change—neither psychological research nor the wisdom of the street would find this a novel idea. But—discomfort as a nudge toward seeking truth and loving deeply? Foolishness as a foothold for faith and risk and kingdom building? In God's economy the raw-materials for success sometimes have a strange initial appearance.

How do you anticipate God using your discomfort and your foolishness (if you have such things in your repertoire of behaviors) to build the kingdom this week?

Seeking with you that all things in my life become useful materials in the Spirit’s work.

See you next week.