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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Repetition

A friend of mine recently joined a group called the G.K. Chesterton Society.  From what I understand, it is essentially a book club to read and discuss Chesterton's writing.  I am not part of the society, but have encountered Chesterton quotes in numerous books I've been reading of late.

One quote in particular sticks out for me right now.  It begins by discussing how many of us, as adults, don't value repetition, and may see it as deadening. This is in contrast to children, who love repetition.  How many of us have read the same book over and over to a child and each time the child squeals with delight? How many of us can still remember the words of a favorite story read to us decades ago?  Chesterton writes:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have unbounding vitality, because they are spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say "Do it again." It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy, for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Reading this quote transported me to the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands and the literally millions of (mostly) tulips blooming there in the spring.  What delight God must have had creating each flower and then seeing them join together in breath-taking beauty.  Here are just a few examples:








The excess of beauty that God gives us astounds me at times.  A few weeks ago, as I walked down the sidewalk, I walked through a sea of flower petals that had fallen from the tree above.  The ground was covered in pink; the tree was still full of flowers.

That level of generous beauty surrounds us, if we take the time to notice, particularly this time of year, but I think in any time of year, it is present.  Perhaps it comes through the color of the sky, the sound of the birds, the taste of a strawberry, the smell of honeysuckle, the touch of the grass under our feet.  And that is only what God provides for us.  Many of us are surrounded by friends and family offering us gestures and tokens of beauty: a smile, a word of kindness, a home-made meal, a cup of tea, a hug.  Simple ways to create beauty, gestures that leave us with a sense of "Do it again! Encore!" if we take the time to notice. Symbols and acts that soothe our soul and keep us young in the way God remains young through the act of creation.

May we all experience beauty in the repetition we find in nature and in the repetition we find in our lives.   May we all provide repetitive acts of beauty for each other. May we come together through beauty to create something more breath-taking together than we could by ourselves. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Slow Down

The other day I hit the snooze button a few times too many. With each hit, I convinced myself that 1) the 5 minutes I'd get until the next time the alarm went off would be good sleep, even with my cats jumping on me and urging me to pet them and 2) I'd have plenty of time to both get ready for work and run a pre-work errand when I did get up. Only when I finally dragged myself out of bed did I realize the error of my sleepy logic.  The race began. 

I got out of the shower right around the time I'd planned to leave the house. Seeing the time, I felt my back begin to tense up. I rushed around the house and was out the door pretty quickly, but was already running late. I got my errand done and realized... my phone was at home. 

"Turn around, go back home, get the phone, and call work to let them know you'll be a few minutes late."  Now, I already knew many of the people I'm now working with and they are wonderful understanding people. Nevertheless, I didn't think it would be a good idea to arrive late on only my second day. 

Once I had my phone, I called the office phone. Voicemail.

I then tried a friend/coworker. Voicemail.

Another friend/coworker. Voicemail. 

Office phone. Again. I listened to the menu options and hoped I'd choose the right extension to reach an actual person to let them know my situation. These calls were all happening while I was trying to navigate through traffic. Thankfully, there were no harrowing moments.

With my second office call, I chose an extension, and waited. A non-recorded voice answered!

"I'm running late, but I'm on my way!" 

"Do you have your laptop with you? The IT guy is going to be in and if you're still en route, maybe you should go  get your computer, so he can configure it for remote access to our server."

I hung up, turned around and went back home for the second time. I knew I would miss morning prayer at work, a ritual I greatly appreciate, and don't like to miss.

Sigh... 

I ran into the house and picked up my computer. I got in my car to leave my house for the third time in 45 minutes.

 "I may as well stop rushing around and try to enjoy the drive to work. The sun's out, trees are green, flowers are blooming. Look around! Notice these things!" 

I pulled out my Simon and Garfunkel CD and cued it to... The 59th Street Bridge Song.

"Slow down, you move too fast,
You've got to make the morning last..."

The previous day's morning prayer had focused on being in the moment, in not wishing away days, in anticipation of whatever might be next. 

I had spent the first 45 minutes of " going to work" worried about what would happen when I got there. 

Maybe I should've figured it out the first time I turned around to go back home. Maybe the second turn around should have clued me in, but I felt even more frazzled when I headed home that time. It was only when I got in my car the third time I left the house that I got the message.

Slow down. There's no need to rush. Enjoy the day.

When I got to work, an hour after I left home the first time ( it's a  10 to 15 minute drive  from my house), I felt relaxed. During my last trip, I drove slower and focused on the beauty that surrounded me and the beauty that flowed in and out of me in the form of music.  For most of my drive, I sang right along with Paul and Art. 

I slowed down. I arrived at work feeling calm and ready to work, very different from my leaving-home self. 

I am thankful for the not-always-appreciated-in-the-moment reminders to hit the brakes. I sometimes forget that life is more enjoyable when I pay more attention to now than to what may lie ahead. Life is much nicer when I take the time to actually notice it.

Slow down, you move too fast...


Monday, May 13, 2013

Fragmentation, Re-integration, and (not) Romero's Prayer

Overwhelmed.

New job starting tomorrow.  Wrapping up the old job today.  "Five Broken Cameras" about Bil'in in the West Bank (well worth seeing, if you haven't).  "Fire under the Snow" about Tibet (also very powerful). Thank God that Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide in Guatemala.  Then there are the personal wounds - the accidental, the forgotten until just recently, the new ones.

The breaking apart of our world and ourselves. The coming back together, over and over, looking a little different each time.

Mosaic.

Always the image of the mosaic fills my mind.  Perhaps that is why I love them so.  They look like me.  Or I like them?  Maybe that is why Gaudi appeals to me so- the whimsy, the serious, but most of all
the pieces that sometimes used to be one unified picture broke apart and put back together, other pieces that were never together until brought together in beautiful new forms.  I am made of pieces of you.  You now carry pieces of me in your being.  We are mosaics, ever more beautiful for the way we break apart and come back together.  Were we ever just one form?  How soon did it take us to start this ongoing process of fragmentation and integration?

I started writing this with a prayer in mind.  One attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, though he never spoke the words.  This prayer reminds me that the de-fragmentation of the world and myself is not all up to me.  I don't have to be overwhelmed.

I was having coffee with a friend a few days ago and asked if she was going to an event later in the day.  "I should, but I have another meeting at that time."  She looked disappointed in herself that she could not be in all places to do everything that needed to be done. 

I took her hands. "You aren't meant to do it all."

In my mind I was thinking about how she does more in a day than many of us do in a week.

Then my own inner dialogue began.  Am I doing enough?  Am I doing what I need to be doing?  Am I walking my path faithfully?  Am I helping others to walk their path faithfully?  I am a teacher.  My job is to accompany others on their path, right?  And the next thought: we are all needed here.  shouldn't every job be  a way of walking the path faithfully and helping others to do the same?  If we help each other, the pieces may still break apart and come back together, but maybe our pieces come together and break apart without leaving holes.  It seems there are still many holes in the world.

These are the thoughts racing through my mind as I finish my last day in a classroom until... and consider the work I'll begin in an office tomorrow.

"Office" - the word sound dry, but I think the work in this particular office will be anything but dry.  I say this because I already know many of the people I'll be working with.  They are flowing with a spirit that draws me in.  A river, a stream, ever-in-motion.  I think working with them will help expand me.  I hope so.  I hope my little bit of work will support others in being faithful to their call.  Is is possible to do that in a few short months?  I'll only be there through the end of July and then... Palestine.

A friend of mine affirmed the way I am walking my path by offering to help me attend a celebration for another friend.  An undeserved gift, I think.  I say this because I think I am less generous than I appear to be. It is only with the examples my friends and family give me that I am able to step out of my self-centeredness.  And sometimes I fail.  And sometimes I fall. And sometimes I crack or break into pieces in the process.

I know now eventually the holes will get filled.  I know I can get up.  I am thankful.  I need the reminder, though, that even in my stumbles, through my cracks (maybe even because of them), with my holes, I can do something to aid in the de-fragmentation, the re-integration of the pieces of the world.  And so I end with this prayer that is not Romero's but is attributed to him. 



It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Good Neighbors

For a long time one of the houses next to mine was empty.  On one side, I've always had great neighbors - friendly, kind, orderly, all-around good people.

On the other side, I'd get neighbors for a few weeks at a time, maybe a month, and then the house would be empty again.  This has gone on for the entire time I've lived in the house- now nearly 9 years.  During the brief periods of residency, the inhabitants were not my ideal neighbors.  They were loud and/or messy and/or unkind, to put it nicely.  I heard many arguments. I had to clean up after them sometimes.  And the house, even when people lived in it, didn't look like people lived in it.

I'd introduce myself each time new neighbors moved in, but they seemed to disappear as quickly as they had appeared.  Slowly, I lost hope that I'd ever get good neighbors in that house.

A few months ago, another set of new neighbors moved in.  I watched them.  I said, "Hi," but I didn't bother introducing myself, since past experience taught me they wouldn't be around for long.

Then I got an invitation to a party they were having, which included a statement about letting them know if they were too loud.  "Hmm...maybe these folks are sticking around. Maybe these are the neighbors I've been hoping for."  Even with this thought, I didn't go to the party.

I waited a little longer to see if they were staying.

Then one afternoon I was in the back yard, grading some papers, when a head popped around the fence.

"Hey, I'm going to cut the grass in the yard, but I can wait if it's going to bother you."

I said the grass-cutting wouldn't bother me, introduced myself, and apologized for not having done so sooner, listing the excuses I've written above.  Excuses, for sure, not reasons.

A few weeks later, I overheard a conversation happening between the front porches on either side of mine.

"Hey, do you have a lawn mower?" came a shout from the left.

"No, sorry," from the right.

I was getting ready to go outside to offer my lawn mower, when a knock came on the door.

"Do you have a lawn mower I can borrow?"  It was my new neighbor.  She's used a weed whacker the last time she cut the grass.

I got my lawn mower out and she not only mowed her own lawn, but cut what little bit of grass I had.  She has done the same two other times since then.  Unexpected kindness.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, I got a call from my other neighbor, saying he saw someone walking between our houses. He said he never sees people walking there, so he wanted to make sure everything was OK.  He went outside and walked around the house, checking doors and windows.  It all looked fine, he reported, but he just wanted to let me know about it, in case something were not right.  Unnecessary kindness.

These small acts from my neighbors remind me that being a good neighbor, whether literal or figurative, is most often made up of small acts of caring, not grand gestures. Simple deeds. Little things that let us know that someone is looking out for us.

I think I'm going to make some brownies for my grass-cutting neighbors.  Welcome, friends.

Better late than never, right?


Friday, May 3, 2013

Scarred, Scared, and Sacred

Talking about wounds is a heavy way to end the school year.  We're wrapping up the subject and lightening it up for the last few days, but that's the territory I've been exploring with my students over the last few weeks.  

When we started these explorations, I thought my own wounds were familiar and comfortable territory for myself.  I thought I could poke at them and not feel any tenderness, that I was fully healed from past hurts.  After all, in November, in my Fragments and Gold post, I wrote about my wholeness.  I thought each wound, crack, area of brokenness had been sufficiently healed, sealed, and swathed with enough love from friends and family to keep me in one piece for a good, long while.  

Turns out I was wrong.  

Let me be quick to say this is by no fault of my loved ones.  They continue to slather me with healing salve, with love, the gold sealant that keeps me together.  Perhaps the origin of the November post was self-delusion or, more likely, the wholeness I felt was, briefly, real.   

However, at least in my life, that sense of wholeness doesn't last very long.  I try, to varying degrees, to engage in the world in some meaningful way.  Because of this the cracks continue to form; sometimes new cracks appear, other times it's the same old wounds opening back up.  Sometimes new pieces fall away that may be quick or not-so-quick in their recovery. 

Yesterday, I started the class discussion asking about scars- the physical ones.  I teach boys, so physical scars are a mark of pride for many of them.  Almost every student shared a story about one scar or another: one student branded himself with an "X" sophomore year ("What'd your parents think of that?" I asked.  "They weren't too pleased," he replied); another took a flip over a bike; several had encounters with baseball bats or golf clubs; there were stories of broken bones, surgeries, and long patches of scraped-off skin.  The students shared their stories with excitement and everyone in the room seemed comfortable with the conversation.  

Then I asked, "What about the internal scars?"  

The room got quiet. We don't share our stories about internal scars with the same ease that we do about the physical ones.  The internal scars do not carry the same mark of pride.  

Sharing those scars is downright scary.  

I wrote three words on the board:

Scarred

Scared

Sacred

I believe these words are closely related.  We are all scarred and our scarred nature may lead us to be scared.  We waft between the fear of being alone and the fear of the pain that comes from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.  These two fears are intimately related, two sides of the same coin.

If we choose the first fear, we may hurl ourselves at anyone, just so we don't have to face the being we find when we are all by ourselves.   "Anyone" may or may not be so good for us.  They may take advantage of our rawness. 

If we choose the second, we may hide our old wounds and deny their existence. "I'm fine" may become our mantra.  Meanwhile the wounds fester and erupt in new and grotesque ways later.  To avoid new pain (ha!), we build up fortresses to protect ourselves.   

But there is some middle ground, some place that is not fear. There we show our wounds, but not recklessly; we allow others to care for us, and acknowledge that healing is not a solo process.  We choose vulnerability.   

In any of the scenarios, it's likely that we'll be hurt again. It's just a matter of who we allow to hurt us.

Do we do it to ourselves or do we allow someone else to do it?  Do we choose to remain scared or do we allow for the possibility of the sacred?

When we try to build fortresses around ourselves, when we try to close ourselves off from any chance of pain, we also close ourselves from the possibility of the sacred entering our being. When we allow the walls to come down, we open ourselves up.  To pain, yes. But also to healing.  To sacredness.  To holiness. To wholeness.

I had a long overdue conversation with my best friend a few days ago.  She is "my person" and my reality,  particularly the deep down reality, doesn't feel real until I've talked to her about it.  For whatever reason, I had recently built up a few walls between us.  

They came down when we talked.  I didn't know the weight of the walls until I knocked them down. 

Sacred vulnerability. 

As I read and write this, I realize that my thoughts are not as well-formed as I thought they were before writing.  Please pardon me for my lack of knowledge, wisdom, or experience.  I welcome whatever you may have to add to mine.