Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pursuing Faith and Gentleness

I was feeling untethered this morning.

Sundays have become like that. Worship is hard amidst the chaos of change and church politics. There is just a vibe that keeps me distracted.  Maybe it is an excuse.  

And so this morning, I felt a nagging need to do something else with God.  And in the midst of it all, I felt like I was wavering. Like I wasn't quite sure why some things matter. I was having a mini crisi of faith.  

I set out, about 25 times, to sit with scripture.  To be in the Word even as the community around me was entering worship. But I was anxious and distracted. Looking at he lectionary, I was stressed that I couldn't quite remember what cycle it was. (Year C. I know. It was a brain blip.). But it felt like I was lacking I was a half-beat off.

I turned my anxious thoughts elsewhere. I made a triple batch of laundry detergent (seriously -- pennies a load). I made a quiche. I tended to needs around the house --  laundry and sheet changing and shuttling girls where they needed to be and being present with crisis an emotion when it showed up. I ate froyo and colored in my mehndi coloring book.  I took a nap, addressed a card, went for a 4-mile run, ate dinner with my family and breathed.

And just now, getting back to this week's lectionary texts, I read hoping to find a glimmer of faith...a reminder of the power of being connected to God.

And in 1 Timothy, there was this:

6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;

6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

Yes. Yes, please. Stop looking so desperately for the "right" way or the "best" way. Live. Fully and with a commitment to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

Amen. That was my day...particularly the pursuit of faith and gentleness.

And this is my prayer for the week to come.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life Lessons in Surprising Places

One of my father's pet peeves was the sound of shuffling feet. 

While I was growing up, vacations were about traveling with a pop up camper, enjoying the US by way of state and national parks. When we weren't driving, we were often hiking.

And it was when we were hiking that my dad was the most grumpy about my shuffling feet. 

"Stop dragging your feet!" he would bark at intervals on the trail. He never said much about why I should stop, other than to point out when I tripped in what I now understand as very normal per-adolescent clumsiness, that it was far safer to pick up my feet when I walk.

I carry this criticism with me in my cell memory. Sometimes living with my dad was difficult.

This weekend, on silent retreat, I was hyper-aware of the sound of people's feet as we shuffled through quiet woods to meditate, to mindfully take in beauty, to pray and be centered.  I was also aware of my ability to move through the woods nearly silently.

I wish I could say it was a skill instilled by my father. 

Not true.

Doug Jordan, infamous band director at Lake Central High School for many, many years, knew how to move a corps of 175 students out onto a field smoothly, silently.  We diligently learned to pace eight strides for every five yards on the field. To this day, I can march or walk off five yards with measured accuracy. Muscle memory is powerful.

Because you see, I didn't stick with marching band past that first semester of high school. I was bored. Or intimidated by other's talent. Or afraid of my own shadow. Or afraid of Doug Jordan, who like my dad showed loved and affection sometimes with criticism and volume.

But also like my dad, Doug Jordan had spent years admiring the pristine beauty of Canadian wilderness. When he taught us as squirrelly freshman the fine art of corps stepping out onto the field, he explained the purpose of rolling our feet, controlling our heel strike and rolling forward from the back of the foot, through the arch, through the ball, off the toes. Silently. I think he must have actually spoken of using this skill in the woods, of Native Americans silently padding through the woods long ago -- because that is lodged in my cell memory in a non-specific way.

At some point in my adult life this life skill came rushing back. I began to really pride myself on swift silence on the trail...even in big clunky boots.

And every time I take one of those silent walks, I remember the source of unexpected wisdom, and I am grateful.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Entering Silence

I don't do silence very well. Neither do I do strangers. So what am I doing at a silent yoga retreat this weekend? It sounded like a good idea at the time. I was on a yoga jag and I desperately needed retreat when the email showed up in my inbox like an answered prayer. Perhaps it was.

But time passed. I am on a running jag this month. I have spent the past five days in varying states of anxiety about strangers, close spaces, intimate poses, and crushing silence.

I arrived here about 2 pm. The earliest we were encouraged to arrive. I have taken this day off for self care, to find my way to this glorious mountain top and to ease my way into something settled. The instructions encouraged us to bring something to leave on the prayer table. Something that represented our intention.

Ok, so I have obsessed about that a fair amount too. My yoga practice is deep enough that I do set intentions, for my practice, for my day, for the way yoga will infuse my life beyond the mat. And so, here goes. My intention for this weekend is to open up. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. 

I slouch, my shoulders drawn toward my ears, my chest closing in on itself. At the end of a run, I feel myself slouching as I slog along. When I take shivasana, it is hard for my shoulders to rest flat against the ground. A friend noted that in tree pose, I need more distance between my ears and my shoulders.

It isn't just a physical carriage. I struggle to be open emotionally with others. I struggle to name my stuff, claim my needs, say how you make me feel. Sometimes I forget to breathe. 


And I feel like God is really calling me out of this exoskeletal rolly bug attitude...out of fetal position.

Called to love others, to walk with Jesus, requires turning myself inside out, sharing myself and letting others in. We talk at the seminary about turning the church inside out. I feel like a call to ministry requires a parallel action for individuals.

I wonder if Jesus felt the same emotional and bodily resistance to others. Before you scoff, think of how often scripture describes Jesus taking himself out of the fray to be with his Father, to pray, to rest and to be silent.  And he generally emerged from these retreats to do something significant. 

For some time, the lotus blossom has been iconic for me. Lotus blossoms open briefly in the sun, full of radiance and beauty. There is my open like a lotus blossom, to know that opening does not last forever, to recognize the cycle of bloom and to seek awareness of that moment of full openness. To recognize how deeply and profoundly oxygen pervades the cracks and crevices of my whole being, energizing the extremities for fruitfulness and shared beauty. And to know that the closed up moments are also part of the process...but rather than seeking the closed moments, to reach more eagerly for the open ones.

And in that open moment to be fully present to the world, a source of love and light and nourishment and beauty.

So here goes. First gentle yoga session in 45 minutes. Three part breathing. Chest and hip openers. My body unfolding and bringing my heart and mind and soul along the way, muscle memory forming and returning.



I guess I have never loved my body much. Taking that from a societal place, I have never felt like I had the body the market driven economy celebrates (yes, we could go on about the validity of that celebration....but this really is not so much about that).  One of the joys I take from running is sort of a body joy, a hey-lookie-what-this-body-can-do kind of pride.  And I recognize that ability as God-given. I am grateful.

Similarly, I spent a lot of years sort of non-plussed by my body as something to share in intimacy. My own insecurities about my physical self, paired with a lot of lifetime messages rooted in Puritanism, seasoned with some relationship woes make for something of a lackluster sex life. Frankly that didn't enhance my understanding that this body is beautiful, unique, wonderful, created for purpose.

This weekend has reminded me of the joy and opportunity of being embodied. Today, we set yoga to a piece of praise music (please take that descriptor as it is meant - a piece of music focused on praising God. Period. The end. No genre cliche implied). I found myself crying. I have never felt the freedom or the call, come to think of it, to embody praise. And doesn't that possibility turn worship on its ear in the average mainline Protestant church! 

Now I "know" this on some level. I "know" that worship well-planned engages people's hearts, minds AND bodies. 

And I know that the ability for an entire congregation to embrace any single physical form of worship is limited, possibly impossible.  

But I was transformed. I suddenly "got" liturgical dance. I understood in a whole new way how my body was an expression...of love, of joy, of power. And sometimes of grief, anger, or fear. And I think I have spent far to much time inside a body trying to hide or better at expressing fear and pain than one expressing joy and thanksgiving.

So bring it on. This body is made in love, for love, for the good of the Kingdom.

Thanks be to God.

The people who shape our lives

I feel like I have been in the presence of Charlie and Nan this weekend.

For those of you that know Charlie and Nan, that will come as no surprise.  I am pretty sure Nan, in particular, can make her presence felt whenever she desires.  For those not in the know, Charlie and Nan are deceased...not breathing on this earth. 

But Nan was pretty confident that this would not keep her from being present with people. 

I am at Rolling Ridge, a retreat center co-op thingy in which a number of churches and organizations are involved. Like Kittamaqundi Community Church and Sojourners.  Nan and Charlie loved retreats, and I am embarrassed to admit that I am not even sure Nan ever mentioned being here to me (I think she did...). But Charlie talked about it. 

Anyway. Nan was with me on the deck this morning. And Charlie was with me by the waterfall. Seriously.

All that being with them has me thinking about the people who make us what we are. In every life, there are a few game changers...people who alter our path for the rest of time. They are with us at forks in life's road. Elbert was the person who was with me as I moved from Southern Indiana to DC. Charlie and Nan scooped me up like a wounded animal and nursed me back to health and wellness. I wouldn't be here at Rolling Ridge, I probably wouldn't have finished seminary...I am not sure I would be married without their appearance in my life.

Charlie and Nan were the hands and feet of Christ to me. So was Elbert.  These kinds of life-changers meet us in a ditch on the side of the road, or miraculously restore our sight, or tell us baffling parables to decipher.  And I have made it this far with their abiding, unconditional love. They are the cloud of witnesses...saints in the flesh.

I hope I can be that life-giving presence for stand beside them at the fork in the help them determine the way or just to be with them in their journey.

It's who we are called to be.

Charlie and Nan would want it that way.