In My Ever-Living Soul

[Christ Church Parish, Plymouth, Massachusetts]

It blends in with the rest of the windows in the chapel – blue in tint, full of small symbols, rarely noticed by anyone but the people who sit below it during Sunday worship.

It’s breathtaking to me, this small bird. Surrounded by the virtues, the gospel writers’ symbols, and so many flowers, it’s a visually quiet pane. Peaceful.

Whoever crafted it, I owe you a debt. To see a bird perched on a branch is such a common thing – a glance out a window is likely to offer just this sight. I think that’s why you included this bird. To remind me that God is ever-present, a common element in my life.

But it’s when I remember that God is just as surely perched in my soul that I can trust that ever-living is an adjective that applies to it.

Contemporary Announcement (1983)

Contemporary Announcement 

Ring the big bells,

cook the cow, 

put on your silver locket.

The landlord is knocking on the door

and I’ve got the rent in my pocket.

Douse the lights,

Hold your breath,

take my heart in your hand.

I lost my job two weeks ago

and rent day’s here again.

[Maya Angelou, Contemporary Announcement; Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?; New York: Random House, 1983]

That wonderful feeling when there’s enough money to cover the basics: food, clothing, shelter. The dread and shame when there’s not enough money to cover the basics: food clothing, shelter. In just two paragraphs and a word short of a full deck’s count, Maya Angelou puts us in that rented apartment.

These words are being lived out by millions today, thirty plus years after Angelou published them. Will we ever learn that poverty is not a moral shortcoming or a character flaw?

Jesus, Saint Francis, and Gandhi all figured that out. I have hope the rest of us can, too.

 

The Pasture – An Invitation

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

I shan’t be gone long. – You come  too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf

That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,

It totters when she licks it with her tongue.

I shan’t be gone long. – You come too.

[Robert Frost, The Pasture, Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems; New York: Washington Square Press, 1971, p. 15. It’s the first poem in many Frost collections – his invitation to his readers to join him in seeing the wonder that waits just outside the door. Or inside it, for that matter. ]

This isn’t an invitation to a party or a once-in-a-great-while gathering. This is an invitation to come along on the mundane traipsings of daily life, and to help out with the day’s work – lending a hand, or at least providing good company.

Only a select few are asked to come along for these little trips that will add up to a lifetime.

Treasure such invitations, and for God’s sake as well as your own, grab your jacket and go.

Morning Prayer

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

[A Morning Resolve, Forward Day By Day, inside cover, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio; www.ForwardMovement.org]

As I write, my local Shaw’s is out of toilet paper, chicken, diaper wipes, and sanitizing cleaners. Fear has caused a number of my neighbors to buy enough staples to last half a year or longer, leaving the neighbors who cannot afford to stockpile such things in immediate need. The problem isn’t the one or two people who take so much more than they need, it’s the ones who see them doing it and follow suit. Fear is catching.

But how should we live our faith in our shopping? None of us wants to be left without, having to depend on others for daily needs, and none of us really wants to live at the expense of those around us. Since we don’t know what the immediate future brings, it’s difficult to make faithful decisions: what if we make the wrong choice?

It’s been my habit for several years to recite a prayer when I awake, before I get out of bed and begin the day’s work: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me.

It goes on, but the rest is really a riff on these first three sentences. It transforms my day from a series of tasks and encounters to the grace of God’s daily gift of life. Peace as the basis, not anxiety, panic, or ambition. Reliance on God’s abundant love for all, not on my own self-centered plans; awareness that I can’t comprehend God’s perspective, and that I must continually pray for guidance throughout the day.

I make mistakes, and I come up short. I act without kindness, and I forget my neighbor. But in times like these, it’s only by beginning the day in God’s peace that I have any chance of holding the needs of my neighbor in my heart along with my own. God, give me the strength and wisdom to begin and end in prayer – especially now, when it’s difficult. Amen.

[Mr.Mister, Kyrie, Welcome to the Real World, RCA records, Recorded October, 1984-April 1985, released November 27, 1985. Purchased from iTunes]

This past day

At the end of the day, am I grateful for the hours I was given? Am I aware, on the superficial as well as on the deepest level, of the miracle I’ve been immersed in? The miracle I easily mistake for an infinite if commonplace resource: daily life.

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of its outline or a hint of its face. The way the trees move in the wind, the way my cats interrupt their backyard explorations to rest under my hand, the aeronautic wonder of a sparrow flying from maple to forsythia, the appearance of my still sleepy son packing his duffel before heading to work.

Food on the table, breathable air, loving and being loved. Today may not be perfect, and I may forget some of its gifts. Still…

I thank thee, O Lord, for all good things thou hast sent to me during the past day. 

[nighttime prayer, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16. This is part of an ongoing series. For the full prayer, click Prayer At Night above.]

Jump in Bed

It was a great way to end the day – taking a flying leap onto my bed. I don’t think I’ve jumped into bed in the literal sense in well over thirty years, save a few exceptions. It certainly isn’t part of my normal routine any more. Even my children are too big for such a nightly action. It seems to be for the young and light weight.

Have I left behind the joy of heading to bed, along with my childhood body and years? I wonder. Have I forgotten what a blessing it is to have a safe, comfortable place to end my day? To let go of the world I think I can control in favor of the dreamscape that springs from well far deeper than my conscious mind’s pool is an adventure offered to me every night. I haven’t given this a thought in a very long time.

Many times, I’ve heard the Spirit more clearly in my dreams than in my waking hours. Isn’t it worth a good jump into bed for that alone?

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Bath Time!

It’s one of the great comforts in life – sinking down into a steamy bath on a cold night (or a cool one during a heat wave). We are formed in water in our mother’s womb, so perhaps taking a bath is a reminder of our beginnings. For whatever reason, it’s a wonderful to end our day the way we began our lives.

It takes about twenty minutes for our bodies to become soft enough to slough off the skin cells covered with the grime of the day. A little soap on a face cloth does the rest, and we emerge restored in body; if we use the time in the tub to let go of the day, we can emerge with soul and heart refreshed as well.

We baptize with water as an outward act of a inward transformation. I wonder why I’ve never thought to take bath time as a way to remember this sacrament until now…

 

End well, begin well

Time to do the dishes…

My grandmother had us help with supper dishes once everyone was done eating – cleaning and putting away everything used for cooking or serving. Tabletops and cupboards were wiped clean, and the wet dish towels hung to dry overnight. But dish duty didn’t end there: by the time everyone headed to bed, the kitchen sink was full of tea cups and plates from bedtime snacks. Before she slept, she washed and dried all of them, returning them to the shelves and cupboards where they belonged. It’s no good starting a new day with yesterday’s dishes in the way, she’d say. I want to start tomorrow with a clean kitchen. 

Turns out, my grandmother had the right idea. Beginning the day with a clean kitchen is beginning with a clean slate. The morning tasks are done more easily when the work space is clean and all the necessary utensils are ready to use, in the physical sense and psychologically. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t always just dirty dishes: they are a symbol of a burdensome life routine. The simple investment of ten minutes and a dollop of dish soap gets a necessary chore done and offers a tomorrow without the burden of today’s leftover messiness.

Have you noticed that spiritual practices are much the same? They are simple steps and actions designed to be done at the beginning and end of the day; they are repetitive, requiring an investment of time and energy; they can’t be done once and for all, and they enhance the lives of those who do them. Left undone, life becomes an inconvenient mess.

The Jesus prayer, meditation, lectio divina, daily readings – just a few of the practices that can help you put your soul’s house to rights every night and wake up to God’s new day ready for whatever will come.  I’ll remember this when I see dishes in the sink.

 

 

Enough

Did you get enough?

It was the question that was asked almost every time we gathered around the table to eat together. Was there enough to take away your hunger? Did you get to try a bit of everything? At meal’s end, are you satisfied? The question may be about food on my plate, but it was also about so much more.

If I could travel back in time and talk with my four year old self, visit my teenage self, spend time with my new mother self, and ask “who will you be, what will you be doing, where will you live, and who will share your life?, I doubt the answers would look much like my current life. At four, I wanted to be a waitress; as a teen, I planned on a career in science; as a new mother, I was living in New York City with my husband, finishing up a dissertation in Theology and looking toward teaching in seminary.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with my plans or assumptions, but they were limited to my particular age and stage. The same is true of my current ideas and assumptions. There are so many could-have-beens in life, paths not taken for one reason or another. Had I not met this particular mentor, had I moved to another town, had I developed other gifts than the ones I chose to foster. Such might have beens are an interesting topic of conversation, perhaps, but only if they aren’t mistaken for should have beens.

If I really could go back in time and talk with my younger self [even better, talk with my grandfather’s twenty year old self or my grandmother’s thirty year old self], I wouldn’t ask any of the questions I listed two paragraphs ago. Instead, I’d ask the question I’ve heard or said so many times around the table: did you get enough?

From my four year old self dreaming of waiting tables to my fifty-five year old self writing this blog from my back yard, the answer is the same:

Yes. More than enough.

My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Ps. 23: 5b-6, KJV

New and Exciting…

Anything new and exciting happen today?

When I was a chaplain intern at Mercer Medical Center, my supervisor asked me to do something I’d never have done on my own. Take the least interesting visit you had with a patient or staff member today, write it up, and bring it in for discussion tomorrow. So I did. It was a quick exchange with a newly discharged patient while she waited for the elevator. I said good-bye, wished her continued health, and waved as the elevator doors closed. Her stay in the hospital had been short, her reason for being there temporary and non-life threatening. I doubt I’d spent more than ten minutes with her and we had no serious or life-changing discussions.

As I wrote up our elevator conversation word-for-word, I remembered how wonderful it was to see someone leave the hospital to take up the blessing of everyday life. No cancer, no debilitating injuries: she was given back to the holiness and grace of her ongoing life. Of all the people walking through the hospital halls, I was the one got to say good-bye and wish her well. I got to see the happy ending, the good outcome everyone who enters the hospital prays for. If that isn’t an amazing encounter, what is?

My new and exciting thing that day: there’s no such thing as a boring encounter or day. Perhaps it’s just my lack of expecting the amazing that blinds me to the wonder of it all.