For a Moment

I’m supposed to be writing on the sixth verse of I Corinthians 13, but sometimes events change the order of things. In my case, it’s my niece’s wedding.

Tomorrow Kristen and Ron will exchange vows in a vineyard and celebrate with friends and family. Then it’s a quick honeymoon trip and gradual figuring out how to be married to each other. Wonderful and awful, hilarious and breathtakingly sad, it’s the shared adventure of a lifetime.

After the ceremony and the introductions, the meal and the party, I’ll find a quiet spot. I’ll think about the day Kristen was born, walking her to Prescott Park when she was two, taking her to New York City in her elementary years, and seeing her move through high school and college. I’ll thank God for Kristen’s past and ask a blessing on her future and the family she creates with Ron. For a moment, I’ll live in that quiet space, sharing my memories and hopes for the niece I love so much with the God who made us both.

Fighting Fair

Love is not irritable or resentful

I Cor 13:5

     The fiercest fights are over the smallest things. Raised voices, sharp words, cold looks, sarcastic tone – over mayo vs. miracle whip, seat up or seat down, presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morn. Fighting wouldn’t be so bad if we did it the right way: hashing out the issue rather than pointing out the flaws of the person on the other side. Not fighting would be even better if we didn’t hold onto the irritation and resentment. There are few things that cause an internal cacophony like unspoken resentment: every good and kind word is drowned out. Few things can create relational static like irritation; loving gestures and happy smiles can’t be seen for the snow. Facing conflict isn’t easy, but it’s inevitable when two or more imperfect people come together. So how do we quiet this life noise, letting go of resentment and irritation, making room to love and be loved?

Find the courage to admit something’s not right.

Fight Fair: the point of a fight isn’t to win, but to create a reality where love flourishes.

This is what my parents taught me about fighting:

If it’s something small, not worth a fight, then let it go – no bringing it up at a later date.

If it’s something that cannot be let go of, face the conflict. Remember, once words are said, they cannot be unsaid – speak to correct the situation, not punish another.

I can’t say I always follow these rules of engagement, but I try. It’s amazing how much quieter it is in my heart, mind, and soul when I do.

Mileage

“I wasn’t planning on going that far.”

I’d asked a friend of mine to alter our plans, moving our morning coffee from the Starbuck’s in Newtown to my home in New Hope – a four mile, twelve minute difference. My husband needed our car and I was at home, so it was a change of venue or a cancellation. She changed her plans from coffee with me to Starbuck’s time alone.

When the expected fell through, she chose the option most like her original plan. Coffee at Starbuck’s: same time, place, menu, mileage. Coffee at my home: extra time, different place, limited menu, extra miles.

I had another way of looking at it. Coffee at my home: same friend, same conversation. Coffee at Starbucks: no friend, no conversation.

We went on to have many cups of coffee and many conversations in the following years – in Newtown, New Hope, Princeton, Atlanta, and Toronto. She cared enough for me to stay in touch, and I cared enough to do the same. I can’t speak for her, but for me it was well worth the time and distance.

Love does not insist on its own way.

I Cor. 13:5 NRSV

For more information on this series, see Quieting Life Noise under “About.”

Tending

Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude

I Cor. 13:4-5

I learned how to tend bar at twenty, mixing drinks at Dockside in Alton Bay when the owners weren’t around to do it. Most people ordered the typical: martini, sombrero, something-and-soda. It wasn’t until I worked at Cranberries in Dover that the drinks got complicated. Fortunately, the bartender who continued my training was a kind man and skilled teacher.

“If you don’t know how to make a drink, ask me. If I’m not here, ask the customer who ordered it. No one knows everything. Only a bad bartender is afraid to learn from others.”

I think the same is true about life in general, bad meaning insecure or unsure rather than a moral deficiency. Not knowing something isn’t shameful, it’s an opportunity to learn. Needing to acquire a particular skill isn’t a failure, just an inevitable part of being human. A willingness to ask questions, to learn from the wisdom and mistakes of others, and to be open to the complexity of the world are honorable qualities that enhance life. Learning and teaching, giving and receiving, are acts of love.

Envy and boasting, arrogance and rude behavior are the burden of the fearful. Feeling inadequate, they romanticize the lives of others (envy); feeling small, they make a shield from inflated accomplishments (boasting); feeling worthless, they project their inadequacy on others (arrogance); feeling insubstantial, they chip away at others by word and deed (rudeness). Giving and receiving love is what’s most needed and what’s constantly rejected. If perfect love casts out fear, fear throws love away with both hands.

Tending bar or living life, offer what you have and ask for help when you need it. God knows, no one is perfect and everyone is loved. Cheers.

Love is Kind

Love is patient, love is kind; one follows the other. Love that is patient chooses a world governed by compassion and care rather than convenience or expedience. Love that is kind honors the dignity of others, not because it’s the “right” response but because it’s the only response. Everything else is a refusal to respond, or a serious misunderstanding of the nature of self, life, and the universe. The kind look at others and see God. If they happen to be wise, they see God and others in the mirror as well…

Love is Kind

I Cor. 13:4

Love is Patient

Love is Patient

I Cor. 13:4, NRSV

 “Love is patient, but you’re not.” Carl Geores said these words to me and my husband, Dave. It’s the line I’ve never forgotten from the sermon he gave at our wedding. It crosses my mind quite often, almost twenty years after the white dress and tuxedo, champagne toast and cake event. Mostly because it’s true.

Patience isn’t so much a virtue or ability as it is a way of living in the world. It’s more to do with putting things in perspective than putting up with delay. Patience is knowing and appreciating the fact that the cosmos doesn’t run on my schedule; in other words, it’s knowing and accepting that I’m not the center of the universe – Thank God!

Patience is enjoying the interaction with others in this wonderful world. Patience is rejoicing over the personal plans that didn’t come to fruition – and knowing that something better did. It’s the still, small voice nudging me onto a better path, granting me a blessed life. It’s a lot quieter than noisy ambition or blaring insecurity, but it’s steady and strong enough to overcome both.

Today, patience comes in cat form, asking me to take a break from laundry and writing. Today, patience sits in my lap and purrs – happy I chose giving and receiving love over getting my blog piece written fifteen minutes earlier…

 

For more on this Quieting Life Noise series, see “About.”

Love: Beginning Thoughts

If I give away all my possessions,

and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,

but do not have love, 

I gain nothing.

(I Corinthians 13:3, NRSV)

What is this love that Paul is writing about? He’ll list its characteristics in the nine verses following this one – something to go through adjective by adjective. But here are a couple of thoughts for starters:

Love is meaning good things for another and sacrificing to bring those things into reality; it’s not an emotion (like and love are not the same) but a choice to act willingly for the good of another. It’s why loving neighbor and enemy is possible, even when liking them is not.

Love recognizes that people are not means to other ends – this includes ourselves. Jesus said that the scriptures boiled down to two commandments: 1) Love God, and 2) Love Neighbor as Self. Loving our neighbor is recognizing and honoring the sanctity of his or her life. Without this love, we may reduce our neighbor to a tool that helps us or a hindrance that frustrates us. Loving ourself is recognizing and taking responsibility for the sanctity of our own life. Without this love, sacrifice for others reduces us to mere tools for the benefit of others and we gain nothing.

 

Why would some choose not to love neighbor? Fear of sacrifice: not having enough left for self, losing equality with another.

Why would some choose not to love self? Fear of integrity: having more than enough for self and neighbor – claiming equality with another.

Deeper than consciousness is the longing to give love and a willingness to give it sacrificially. (James Loder, The Transforming Moment, Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989, p.177)

 

Erosion

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love,

I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries

and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, 

so as to remove mountains, but do not have love,

I am nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-2, NRSV)

(Paul wrote these words to those who gathered in Corinth in the name of Jesus Christ. There were debates about whose gifts were most valuable.)

There’s a drain pipe that carries rainwater from the Daffodil Hill to the Cocheco river over twenty feet below. It’s buried on the top and ends at river level a few hundred feet away. It’s supposed to be buried here, too, but the ground around the drainpipe has been eaten away by floodwaters. A wedge of land is gone, leaving a hole and the exposed pipe, making a hiding place for the frogs.

Seeing the hole from the yard above is tricky. The water eroded soil from the bottom up, leaving an overhanging layer of dirt only a few inches thick. There are plants growing on the edge, along with moss, making it hard to see where solid ground ends and the overhanging dirt shelf begins. At first glance, it all looks the same – the solid ground that supports the abundant life above and the dangerously thin dirt that cannot hold more than the lightest of plants. Without support, without terra firma, it will crumble, revealing the empty space beneath.

Is that what Paul was writing about? No matter what the gifts are, no matter what the talents or treasures, it all comes crashing down if there is no love beneath it. Without a grounding in love, everyday life will eat away at our talents and works, making a hole we may not even see until we’ve already fallen in. Nothing planted can thrive if the ground is hollowed out beneath it – and we are no different. Our outer lives can sustain nothing if we our inner lives are eroded, eaten away beneath the surface. One day, we wake up and think, “I am nothing.” All for lack of sustaining love.

How can we tell if our outer lives are planted in firm soil, or if they’re barely surviving in a few inches of dirt? We can pause, slow down, stand in one place. We can look and listen, feel the ground underneath our feet. Paying attention and being still give us a chance to take a closer look at all the things on life’s surface. Then we can answer two questions:

Is my life sustained by love, green and growing?

Is my life lived on a thin layer, lacking strong roots, barely hanging on?

Peace Like a River

My father walks along the Cocheco river. My sons and I go with him today. The river is in his back yard, literally. Open the gate, walk down the slope, and there it is: the leafy green edge of New Hampshire, with Maine on the opposite bank. It’s cool and shady here, with fish in the water and a frog on a rock. The busy street that edges the front yard is worlds away, as are the tasks and cares of the day.

My father works hard to keep the river’s edge a peaceful retreat. He mows and trims. He plants trees to replace those lost in floods and storms. He keeps the upstream neighbor’s riverbank clear, too – a gift of his time and effort to someone I’ve never met. Only the downstream neighbor’s tangled, overgrown, impassable yard indicates the care necessary to keep this an open, restful place.

Like river, like life. Maintaining peace in our own backyards requires work and time away from the front yard that the world sees. It doesn’t increase the size of the house, the worth of the car, or the status of the neighborhood, all this work – it just opens us up to the life flowing behind it all, invisible to many and underrated by most. This kind of work is done for love. Love of God, love of neighbor, love for children and grandchildren. Love for the natural world. And love of self, too, in the best of all possible worlds. A place of peace created in love, a gift my father shares with me and my sons.

Paul knew all about the noise and busy streets, the front yards and the tangled mess that makes it impossible to see the river flowing around and behind it all. It’s why he wrote about love (I Corinthians 13), and it’s why his words are worth sharing. They are a glimpse of the work it takes to create a peaceful place – and an invitation to enter that green, leafy space. Blessed are the peaceful place makers.