Tag Archive - God

The Peace of Wild Things…

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds…

…I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water…

…And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~Wendell Berry

Every now and again I run away from home. Not because I am angry. Not because I am tired of my family. But because I know my soul is in need of washing. Of silence. Of wild, lonely places that can make me new.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal, and give strength to body and soul.
~John Muir

Most recently, I ran away to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is my great good fortune to have grown up in their shadow, and to still live near enough to visit this oasis of loveliness from time to time. The very grandeur of these majestic mountains does a great deal to restore perspective. But it is also rubbing up against the heart piercing beauty of a tangle of wildflowers, or the surprise of water striders skating on sky, or whimsical growths clinging to the sides of trees, that help me become more human. “Solider” as C.S. Lewis might say.

I pray. The sweet prayer that does not require words. As though God and I are simply walking along together. Seeing the world. Enjoying the silent presence, each of the other. Like how my grandparents used to sit companionably on the porch. In a knowing so deep that words become superfluous. I would walk like this always, but the noise of every day makes it more challenging. So it is good to be here. To practice. So that when I return to the chaos, I remember. And little by little I learn to bring the silent knowing with me to my noisy world.

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.
~Henry David Thoreau

Supernatural grandeur expands our soul and helps us throughout the day to live not in glass-breaking tension but in tiptoe perspective. It’s the place where, in our “upward leap of the heart,” we see beyond the fray to the Father who does all things well.  ~Patsy Clairmont

In truth, this sabbatical was not without its challenges. My Jeep spent nearly the whole of it in hospital. This wreaked havoc on my itinerary.  But even this was not without blessing, once I was willing to see it. I suppose a great deal of life is lived just here. In what we choose to see. Or not see. This intersection with the wild does wonders for my vision; my perception.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I wish you peace, my friends. I wish you bucket-loads of wonder. I wish you long afternoons of dilly dallying in the woods. And may you ever have eyes to see the magic that is happening around you. This very minute…

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
~Annie Dillard

empty: an update

Be careful what you ask for.

In January I chose one word to give shape to my year. Innocently. Naively. Not suspecting the can of worms I was opening. If I had only known…

empty

This I said I wanted.

This I asked for.

And it has been delivered.

In spades.

It doesn’t look like I thought it would.

Here is what I said I wanted….

To stand silent and empty before God. Without demand, without pretense, without excuse, without words. To be still. To be with. It is harder than it should be. For me. But I am learning. A little.

To empty myself of arrogance and self-sufficiency. To walk humbly with others. Most especially with my family. And close friends.

To empty my life of clutter. Frivolous pursuits (ie: the black hole of the internet, mostly), Items I no longer use (which could benefit another, and occupy space in my home), Things I might like to buy (or that might be a really good deal) but I don’t need, etc…

To stand silent and empty before God.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron speaks of the serendipity that aggregates around us once we step into a given path. Each of the two groups of women I gather with on a weekly basis have gravitated at some point this year, without my intervention (mostly), toward a book that cultivates stillness.

At the inaugural Luminous conference this spring, I exulted in the teaching of Ian Cron, and the experiences of silence that he led us through. It is a rare gift to be able to lead others into silence. To create a safe place for surrender. To go there together, yet alone. It was a gift of deep refreshment.

Finally, guess what the theme of our upcoming women’s retreat is? Living Prayer!! On becoming prayer. Being silent and still before God. Wow!

To empty my life of clutter.

Yes, I realize I am going out of order. There is method in this.

When I dream of silence, stillness, emptiness, this is mostly what I see. And though I am willing to surrender some of the clutter I initiate in my life, I also want others to refrain from cluttering my life. I MOSTLY want others to refrain from cluttering my life. It’s not noble or attractive, but true.

I am discovering that I am extraordinarily selfish.

Imagine my delight. :/

Which brings me to number two…

To empty myself of arrogance and self-sufficiency.

(To walk humbly with others. Most especially my family.)

Herein lies the rub.

I had imagined my life looking different at this point in my life. Children mostly grown. Lots of time to pursue interests I tabled while raising my wee ones. These interests, these activities, would give me identity. Would tell me who I am.

Instead, I am starting all over again.. I care for my granddaughter at least four days each week. Sometimes more. All this while getting one son ready to move away to college and hauling my other teenage son to voice lessons, theater rehearsals, tutorial classes. Oh, and did I mention, he is homeschooling again this year? Somewhere in the midst of that I scrub toilets, pull weeds, cook meals, and wash laundry (which will be dirty again this time next week). Sometimes it seems so futile. So temporary.

And I wonder…

Who Am I??????!!!!!!

All these jobs. With no salary. No dignity. Do these define me?

God has allowed me to know an emptiness I never asked for.

Well……maybe I did.

In my naivete I asked for something I need, but do not want. And I am struggling with the “gift” of emptiness visited upon me.

What if I never do anything remarkable? What if I never write a book? What if, when I die, only my closest friends know my name? Is this a life worth living? These are the questions I find myself asking just now.

They are worthy questions, I believe. And answers are coming from the most unexpected quarters.

I had coffee recently with one of my favorite people. A  young woman who is a nanny. A woman who is changing the world one encouraging word at a time. Her words are truly life. To me, and to scores of others. She is struggling with the knowledge that God called her to ministry when she was very young. And what she is doing is clearly not “ministry”. She is a nanny. But I look at her words. At the life they carry. And I tell her that she could not be more wrong. She is not famous. She is not employed by a church. But every day she is speaking life. What better ministry is there than that?

I asked her, “What if, at the end of your life, you had never worked for a church…you had never written a worship song that was on everyone’s lips…but every person who encountered you walked away different for having spent time with you? Would that be enough?”

On the drive home, I heard a question in my own mind.

“Is it enough?”

If you do not shatter and empty your ego, how will you make room for God? ~Mother Gavrilia

The emptying continues…..

 

Reckless

It was such a desperate thing to do.

Reckless.

Extravagant.

She had probably bought the perfume for her own burial. How many times had she sold her body to earn the money?

I wonder how it felt to walk into the room. I suppose she had grown accustomed to the whispers. “Righteous” people leaning away so that she would not soil them by a brush of her garments. Little children throwing stones.

Where did she find the courage? How did she know He would understand?

It was such a desperate thing to do.

Reckless.

Indignant.

Fed up with forgiveness, peace, grace. Disillusioned.

He condemned the woman for her waste.

Then he sold his friend.

For the price of a slave.

I wonder how it felt to walk into the garden. I suppose he had grown accustomed to feeling important. Necessary. People making way for him. Following his cues.

Did the silver in his pockets suddenly make him feel heavy? And sick? And small?

When the sinful woman was offering her spice, the disciple was making a bargain with the transgressors of the law. The one rejoiced in pouring out the spice so great in price, while the other hastened to sell the Priceless One. The one knew the Master, the other was separated from the Lord. She was freed and Judas became a slave to the enemy. Indifference is evil, but great is repentance. The latter grant to us, O Savior, and redeem us…

Ah for the wretchedness of Judas! For, seeing the adultress kiss the traces of His feet, he was thinking with deceit of the kiss of betrayal. She loosed her braids, and he was bound with wrath, offering instead of spice, rotted evil; for envy knoweth not how to honor anything which is good. Woe to the wretchedness of Judas, and save from it our souls, O God.

I know Judas all too well. I know what it is to be critical and self-righteous, frustrated and confused. To defiantly seek my own way. To be so blinded by my own expectations and demands that I cannot see the gifts before me.

And I know the fallen woman. I know what it is to be broken, desperate, despised, wrecked. I know what it is to fall on my face and wail, “If you reject me, I am without hope! I am lost!” To recognize that the most beautiful parts of me are rubbish unless He makes them clean. Unless He makes me clean.

It is gift to be wrecked.

To be undone.

O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins, having perceived Thy divinity, received the rank of ointment-bearer, offering Thee spices before Thy burial. Wailing and crying: Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night. Accept the fountains of my tears, O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds. Incline Thou to the sighing of my heart. O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Savior and the Deliverer of my soul, turn not away from Thy handmaiden. O Thou of boundless mercy.

*All quotes in the post are from the Bridegroom Matins service of the Orthodox Church as sung on Tuesday evening of Holy Week. The passage immediately above is the Hymn of Kassiani. Kassiani was a poet, composer and hymn writer in 9th century Constantinople. She is the saint I received upon entering the Orthodox church. I liked her upon first encountering her, but it is this hymn that indelibly knit my heart to hers.

 

23

Wedding

Twenty-three years ago two children promised to love “until death…”  It was folly, really.  They were babies.  He was 22.  She was 20.  They had known one another 9 months.  What were they thinking? They had no idea what they were getting themselves into…

Twenty-three years.  Three babies.  Better or worse. Eight homes.  Thousands of miles traveled.  Richer or poorer. Hundreds of acquaintances.  A precious handful of really close friends.  Sickness and Health. Six dogs.  One cat.  An infinity of memories and moments…

I was the wide-eyed, innocent girl.  And that naively optimistic boy has loved me better than I deserve.  I owe him a thousand ‘thank you’s.  But today, I will offer him twenty-three.  Twenty-three thank yous for twenty three years.

1.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what.  I know it hasn’t been easy.  And I don’t pretend to understand it.  But I am grateful, all the same.

2.  Thank you for being a fellow gypsy.  I have so many beautiful memories of our family, and of the two of us, in remarkable locales all over the world.  Thank you for watching all those Rick Steves videos with me and listening to me wag on incessantly about mind-numbing minutia.  You are a very good sport.

3.  Thank you for being the sane one.  I have never been qualified for the role.  It has been nice to know that while I flit about erratically, experiencing my ecstatic highs and my abysmal lows, that somewhere there is a tether of sanity that will never let me be completely lost.

4.  Thank you for providing for our family.  I don’t say it enough.  How do I tell you what it has meant to be home with our little ones as they grew up?  To witness the little miracles and discoveries.  To teach them.  To open the world for them.  To read and play.  I could never have done that without you.  It means more than I can say.

5.  Thank you for surrendering your suspicious nature with regard to food.  Does this sound familiar? “I don’t like that.”  “Really, how have you had it prepared?”  Oh, I’ve never eaten it, but I don’t like it.”  Or this?  “I just can’t eat squash.  I don’t like the name.”  🙂  Thank you for triumphing over your fear to become a fellow culinary explorer.  And thank you for understanding how much it means to me to eat artfully prepared food in a beautiful place.

6.  Thank you for being god of all things technological at our house.  Thank you for providing me the opportunity to remain blissfully ignorant and still have computers, phones, iPods, etc… that work.  🙂

7.  Thank you for our beautiful piano.  Thank you for buying it when we were so poor.  When we had nothing, you knew I needed a piano in my home.  So many hours of pleasure and therapy it has given me.  And, of course, as each of our children has grown up playing, the joy continues to multiply…exponentially.

8.  Thank you for being a godly man.  You haven’t done it for me.  But it does matter to me.  I respect and admire your integrity and your piety.

9.  Thank you for every art museum you have traipsed through with me.  I know sometimes you did it entirely as a gift to me.  But it seems to me that over the years you have developed your own affinity for them.  Sort of.  😉

10.  Thank you for all the made up words you sing to songs.  I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at first.  Being a neurotic first born who needs things to be right, and who happens to remember every lyric she has ever heard, I cringed at your inaccuracies.  But over the years, I have come to prefer your…ahem…creative take on things.  You make me laugh.

11.  Thanks for Pikes Peak.  I know you thought I was crazy at first.  But you were unwilling to let me be crazy all by myself.  Thanks for all those trail runs at the Warner Parks as we prepared.  For slanting rays of sunlight, wild flowers, chipmunks, deer, squirrels.  Those still comprise some of my very favorite running memories.

12.  Thank you for indulging my passion for books.  I am a pretty thrifty shopper with my Goodwill/clearance rack wardrobe, but I do go a little crazy with books.  Thank you for understanding how important they are to me and for not cutting up my credit card or exiling me from Amazon.

13.  Thank you for spending New Years Eve in Times Square with Kelsey.  What a glorious memory that will always be for her.  I know your bladder will probably never be the same, but thank you for giving her that gift.

14.  Thank you for snow boarding with Jake, and for dozens of cub scout camping trips with both of the boys.  Thank you for teaching them how to be men.

15.  Thank you for taking care of all things financial on behalf of our family.  Thank you that I never have to worry my pretty little head about that.  I trust you. I have complete confidence in your ability and your judgment.  That is a wonderful feeling.

16.  Thank you for opening your heart to Orthodoxy.  I know that each of us has walked our own road to the Orthodox faith, and that it means something distinctly different to each of us.  But I am delighted that we were able to go there together.  I look forward to uncovering the riches of our faith over years and years to come.

17.  Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you that, even when we had nothing, we gave to others.  I remember the first budget you drew up for us.  I remember that the first line item was our tithe.  It was never open for negotiation.  I also remember that it was your goal for us to increase, not just the amount of our giving to others, but the percentage of our giving each year.  This we have done.  I believe God has honored that, and I highly esteem you for it.

18.  Thank you for loving my family.  Thank you that I have never had to choose between them and you.

19.  Thank you for Bill Cosby, Himself.  I love the DVD.  But I have always loved watching you watch it even more.  When you start laughing so hard you can hardly breathe, it doesn’t really matter any more what he is saying.  It’s funny.

20  Thanks for being my partner in the delightful, magical, terrifying, difficult, bewildering, wonderful adventure of parenting.  It has been (and continues to be) the most challenging and most rewarding experience of my life.  You have been a worthy partner in crime.

21.  Thank you for forgiveness.  Seventy times seventy times seventy times seven times.  I wish I didn’t require it so often.  I hope there is still more where that came from.

22.  Thank you for memories.  Thanks for jokes only our family knows.  Thanks for the stories and experiences that have become so much a part of the warp and weft of who we are we don’t know where they begin and end.

23.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what. I know I already said that.  But it is the most important thing.  You have astounded me with your relentless love for me.  I have fought it sometimes.  Sometimes I didn’t even want it.  And I know I don’t deserve it.  “And this is love, not that we loved God, but that He first loved us…” Thanks for showing me what that looks like.

I love you…always.

Family2

*Photo at the bottom of the post copyright Angela Davis.

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice

It is, I believe, a stroke of genius to give the task of defining a crafter of words to a crafter of words. His profound respect for language…his awe and delight…translate as well as anything he will actually say. So, I am glad that William Tyndale found David Teems. It is a match made in heaven; a literary pas de deux that says as much in the spaces between the words as in the words themselves.

He writes with tenderness, with paternal authority and warmth. His voice is immediate, scintillate, penetrating, translucent. His text has a like-there-is-no-tomorrow desperate kind of charm that is both intense and weightless at the same time…

Biographical details of Tyndale’s life are sketchy and suspect at times. So Teems elects to piece together a life–as Tyndale would probably have it–from his own words. The letters, the treatises, and, above all, the translations.

I have decided to write this review in much the same way. Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice is a vast, complex, wonderful work and I can hardly do the whole of it justice. I will give you a few of my favorite bits as a taste. An enticement. And commend to you the rest.

Of Exile:

England had refused him. He would never see her again…Playing Pilate, she washed her hands of him…And once he set sail, he no longer belonged to England. He belonged to all English. And there is a difference.

[The] state of exile is the deepest memory in man. Beneath the surface of the Scripture, in its quiet heart, is the call to come home…For the Jew and the Christian, diaspora is an inevitable part of the inheritance.

Sing or go silent. Transcending exile will ask one or the other.

Of an art forged through fire:

Between imagination and faith there exists a kind of twilight…in the divide between them, eyes are irrelevant. Sight comes by another method, by a deeper more reliable sense.

And David was known as the sweet singer of Israel, her true king. To understand this is to understand the nature of the lyric itself, that mystical expressive afterglow–the inward life suddenly emancipated by an ecstasy that flows upward, forward, as from a deep gulf. David’s joy was ever as large and imprudent and unrestrained and electric and shameless and weeping as his sorrows.

Art demands intensity from its makers, complete possession. It is a kind of bright madness, one that often begins as an unrest in the artist’s center, the chaos from which order must be imagined.

The artistic, the prophetic, the headstrong, the expatriated, the exiled, all these come together in a confusion of living elements that render a single inimitable creature. It was such a creature that gave us our English Bible.

Of the lyric:

Maybe the young Tyndale was enchanted by the strangeness of the Welsh tongue, by the music it made, a kind of jazz…the carnival it made in the mouth…there exists in the Welsh language a whole system of mutations where two words “rub against each other and soften each other”…the transaction between words has a kind of romance in itself, submissive and aesthetically pleasing as great romances by nature must be.

By a passion that was “never purely academic,” we might say Tyndale’s wordcraft was a form of prayer. The result is a transcendent text.

His text possesses a kind of practical beauty, an accessible magnificence. It speaks well. It also sings well.

Par exemple:

Where the Spirit is, it is always summer.

Who taught eagles to spy out their prey? Even so the children of God spy out their Father.

And they heard the voice of the Lord as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day.

Entreat me not to leave thee

Let not your hearts be troubled

Take, eat, this is my body

In Him we live, move and have our being

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

The Lord bless thee and keep thee
The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be merciful unto thee.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

All quotes, save the last section, David Teems. Those at the last are William Tyndale. May his memory be eternal.

Waiting…

“You don’t grow anything,” he said. This after he had asked which of us were gardeners and what we grew in our gardens, to which some had replied roses and others tomatoes or herbs… It was, apparently, a trick question. “You choose the sight. You cultivate the earth. You plant, fertilize and water. Then you wait. The growing is up to God. Your job is to create conditions in which the waiting is likely to be fruitful.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It commemorates the day when Mary and Joseph take the 40 day old Jesus to the temple for the purification rights. There they are met by two people who have been expecting him…

Simeon

Simeon is described by Luke as righteous and devout. God had promised him he would not die til he had seen “the Lord’s Messiah”. He is moved by the Spirit to come to the temple on this very day, and he recognizes the child at once. He takes him in his arms and speaks prophetic words over him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” He acknowledges his wait is gloriously at an end with the beautiful words that form the benediction of our vesper services:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Today is a day of encouragement for all those who wait. A reminder that, though you may not see it yet, God is at work. That your job–my job–is to create conditions in which the waiting is likely to be fruitful. Perhaps we should take our cue from Anna. Worshiping, fasting, praying….

Hold on, dear ones! Spring is coming. Be on the look out for tiny shoots of promise.

*The garden illustration is borrowed and paraphrased from Father Stephen’s homily last night. The story of the presentation can be found in the second chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, beginning with verse 22.

Loving Humility: a Terrible Force

Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

The whole page is filled with underlines and little stars and notes to myself in the margins. I have read it over and over. It seems such a radical idea. “Loving humility is a terrible force…” Really?

…whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger.

It should not be so surprising to me. I have, after all, experienced it…

If you are a regular reader, you know that Mike and I have had our share of challenges. During the worst of it, one of the things I most despised about him was his humility. I told him he was weak. That he did not have enough self-worth to assert himself. I was horrible to him, yet he persisted in loving me. I could not understand this. It did not fit my picture of strength.

By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive.

Mike’s love….which at times I did not even want…created a safe place for me to deal with my own demons. To learn to allow God to fill the empty places inside me, instead of demanding that of others. Though he could not fix me, his love WAS creative. His relentless faith in who I could be nourished me, even when I was unaware of it. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

[Christ’s] suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him.

When I see my children, my family, my friends making destructive choices, I want to fix them. But this usually lies beyond my control, even if I knew what was best for them, which I often do not. So I will love them. Without arrogance. Without manipulation. Humbly and generously. As I have been loved. And I will trust in the creative power of love.

Love is strong as death…Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Songs 8:6-7

*Unattributed quotes in the post are from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Way, page 82 (the page with the underlines and stars and notes and such…).

 

Surrender

I am told that life guards are trained to keep clear of a swimmer in distress, so long as that swimmer is attempting to save himself. A panicked swimmer can sink himself and his rescuer. The life guard is told to stay near, but out of reach, and observe. Once the swimmer is exhausted, then he can be saved.

I spent much of my life striving to apprehend God. Chasing Him. Trying to please Him. Serving. Doing. Giving. Begging. Cajoling. Bargaining. Flailing and grasping. And always, a distance remained.

A line I could not cross.

An intimacy I could not find.

Until….

I quit.

I despaired of EVER being good enough. Of ever doing enough. I was exhausted. Spent. And more than a little angry.

And I told God so.

I told Him I was done chasing Him.

I gave up.

Sometimes, I like to imagine Him in that moment….

Long, deep sigh.

Fatherly smile.

“Now, my child, we may begin….”

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

As a Man Thinketh…

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. ~Proverbs 23:7

We all know that person…

She walks into the room just as everyone is celebrating someone’s good news: A job promotion, a college acceptance letter, a new baby. Her response is predictable. Something along the line of:

“That’s SO not fair! Nothing like that EVER happens to me. Must be nice…”

How is it that some of us simply cannot rejoice with those who rejoice? Why must their good be a source of jealousy and bitterness?

We all know that person…

His cancer is incurable. The pain is intense. He is a good man. A loving husband and father. He has given so much. It is not “fair“. And yet… Those who come to encourage him are encouraged by him. He radiates a renegade joy that defies explanation. His last days on earth are a continual giving of himself to those who will soon walk without him.

How does he do that?

As a man thinketh…

Maya Angelou tells of a difficult time in her life. She is a single mother, barely making ends meet. Desperate. Hopeless. She meets a man who challenges her to make a list of things she is grateful for. It seems ludicrous at first. But she is just desperate enough to try it. She pulls out a yellow legal pad, and excruciatingly digs for some small grace. She scratches the first thought across the paper. Then the next. All of a sudden, she can’t write fast enough. She is still adding to that list today. That single act was a turning point in her life. Nothing was ever the same.

In her beautiful book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voscamp writes of a similar challenge. Grieved and embittered by life experiences that seem too much to bear, she just wants out. But she too is challenged…first by a friend…then by this: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it.” (I Cor. 11). The challenge: to give thanks. In the middle of the hard. For ordinary, extraordinary things. Specific things. Things like…

1.  Morning shadows across old floors.
54. Moonlight on pillows.
243. Clean sheets smelling like wind.

It. Changes. Everything…

We tend to find what we are looking for. When we believe life is sacramental and that God has given us every good thing, we expect to find our days filled with gifts. And they are. When we are cynical and suspicious, and constantly on the lookout for those who will cheat us and take what is ours, we find that too.

It is easy for me to see this in others. It is more difficult to recognize when I myself am doing it.

You wanna know something crazy?

I have been doing it about this very thing.

I am grieved because someone I love often sees life through suspicious, cynical eyes. Unable to rejoice in the good gifts that have been given to her. Unable to rejoice in the good gifts given to others. My grief becomes frustration. Then anger. And suddenly I can only see her through my own bitterness and suspicion. I am blind to the best in her. Arrrggggh!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~Philippians 4:8

Incidentally, I do not advocate some Pollyanna naivety about what is true. But all of us pass “truth” through filters. If those filters are clean, we will find the true and the beautiful even in the most agonizing situations. But if our filters are polluted by self-interest, suspicion and greed, we will be unable to see good even when it is handed to us on a silver platter. With chocolate on top.

Father, please wash my heart and my mind. Help me to see as You see. Help me to filter the atmosphere around me with the atmosphere of heaven…

The Kingdom of God creates within us an atmosphere of heaven, as opposed to the atmosphere of hell that is radiated by a person when hades abides in his heart. The role of Christians in the world is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God. ~Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

May it be so.

empty

No one has to teach us to inhale. It’s instinct. So strong, in fact, that the very first act we perform on this earth is a great, frantic grasp for air.

However, exhaling is something most of us do badly. Or, at least, incompletely. Yoga instructors spend a great deal of time teaching students to slowly and completely empty their lungs. Creating space for air requires great purpose. Filling it does not.

Life looks very like that sometimes…

I am a threshold kind of girl. I love reflecting, evaluating, dreaming, setting goals. I always do this at the threshold of the New Year. But this year it has been difficult. As I have pondered new challenges and activities, they have felt like so much clutter.

Inspired by the OneWord365 project, I thought perhaps I would instead select a word to give shape to the coming months. But this too eluded me. I read posts from others who had selected their words–words like Choose, Begin, Discover. I loved them! I tried to steal borrow their words. But none of them fit.

On Monday night our priest came to bless our home. As we were talking afterward, he shared with us a concern that has been on his heart of late. He talked of how we constantly seek to fill ourselves, when what is required of us as followers of Christ is that we be emptied. In fact, it is impossible to pour into a container that is already full. But emptying is much more difficult, more unnatural, than filling.

Just like breathing.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this. And the longer I pondered, the more I knew that I had found my word. The word that tied together the random longings that have been swirling round in my heart. That bristled every time I tried to decide what I was going to add to my life this year.

empty

I am only beginning to imagine what this will look like for me over the next twelve months. But here are a few places where I hope the word will have its way with me…

To stand silent and empty before God. Without demand, without pretense, without excuse, without words. To be still. To be with. It is harder than it should be. For me. But I am learning. A little.

To empty myself of arrogance and self-sufficiency. To walk humbly with others. Most especially with my family. And close friends.

To empty my life of clutter. Frivolous pursuits (ie: the black hole of the internet, mostly), Items I no longer use (which could benefit another, and occupy space in my home), Things I might like to buy (or that might be a really good deal) but I don’t need, etc…

It scares me a little. This idea of seeking to be emptied. Quite frankly, I have always seen emptiness as something to be fixed. But I believe it is the next right step.

Here goes….

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