Category Archives: observation

Why?

 

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? [Isaiah 55]

How much of my money do I spend on things that do not nourish me, or anyone else for that matter? Bread in the literal sense, and in the necessities-of-life figurative sense, is anything that is required to support a healthy and holy life. Those things that sustain body, heart, mind, and soul are bread. A quick review of recent receipts and my finances overall confirms what I don’t like  to admit: I spend quite a bit of money on things that subtract from my life more than they add to it.

How much of my time, talent, and effort do I give over to attaining or experiencing things that do not and cannot satisfy me or anyone else? It’s not just money I’ve spent on things that lessen my life and the life of the world: the time I’ve devoted to meaningless things can’t be retrieved. The energy I’ve given to feeding anger or resentment isn’t recyclable. I’m kidding myself if I think having one more possession or obsession beyond the food/clothing/shelter basics is going to satisfy my longing for a good and holy life.

The bad news: I can’t earn or buy a good and holy life by spending my limited time and money on additional and unnecessary things.

The good news: I don’t need to buy with my money and life’s time a good and holy life. God grants that gift freely.  Once I accept this as the gospel truth, I can devote my inner and outer resources to the bread that feeds this beloved world.

[For more on this series, click Isaiah 55 above.]

 

Amen

Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it. When wishes come true, there are consequences rarely considered beforehand. In some ways, the same can be said for prayers: be careful what you pray for, because there is power in articulating the heart’s deepest desires and fears; no one who comes before God in prayer leaves unchanged by the experience.

Unlike wishes made on stars and birthday candles, prayers are offered up to God with the hope and faith that God is listening with love and concern. We offer our words to God, knowing they are limited because we are limited; we release control to God because we cannot fulfill prayers out of our own resources.

Amen is owning up to our prayers, with all their shortcomings and finitude.

Amen is asking for God’s transforming and infinite love to make out of our lives and the whole of creation something holy.

What an extraordinary grace to be able to say amen. What a miracle that our amens are heard.

 

…and protect me from all harm.

It’s rare that I have the house to myself for more than a few hours, and even rarer that I am home alone for the night. But one such occasion happened last Thursday; sometime around midnight, I checked the doors, turned out the lights, and went to bed. I read for a few minutes, said this prayer, and closed my eyes to sleep. It was later than my usual bedtime, and I slept a bit lighter – pretty typical for me on the first night I’m alone.

A week earlier, my eighty-something neighbor, Barbara, was found wandering the neighborhood in the middle of the night. When I visited her in the hospital the next day, she told me that she woke in the night and saw a man standing in her living room. She ran outside because he was a stranger and didn’t answer her when she spoke to him. She didn’t remember how she got to the hospital, and didn’t recognize me; she wondered why her husband, daughter, and aunt hadn’t visited. She didn’t remember that her husband and aunt had died years back, or that her daughter lived in South Carolina. All she knew was that she didn’t feel safe enough to stay in her home that night. It wasn’t the first time an imaginary stranger interrupted her sleep.

I’ve never prayed to be spared from frightening hallucinations, or to be saved from memory loss because I’ve never had to. I’ve rarely questioned my ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and the handful of nightmares I’ve had that frightened me ended the minute I woke up. But when I awoke this past Friday, I said my first prayer of thanks for being spared such harm. I prayed that Barbara might be spared as well: imaginary strangers and the absence of long dead loved ones may not be real to the rest of us, but they were enough to send a good neighbor into a deserted street – and rob her of the truth that help was behind any of her neighbors’ doors.

Peaceful sleep…

Angel Guardian, keep and preserve all of us from every evil, sickness, and grief.

Help us, O Lord, to be good, obedient, and kind.

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

Let me spend this night in peace, and protect me from all harm. Amen.

[A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16]

Let me spend this night in peace…

During one stay with my parents after my older son was born, my father sent me off to bed around ten o’clock with a promise that he’d put Colin in the crib when he was ready to sleep. He also told me not to worry if Colin woke early – he’d be up early anyway, and he’d be glad to keep Colin company while I got some extra sleep. Ten minutes later, I was asleep; nine hours later, I awoke to hear Colin and my father downstairs, laughing. A few years after that, he kept my younger son company, soothing Jared through an uncomfortable night of teething while I slept without interruption.

I spent those nights in peace because I knew my father and trusted in his love and care for me and my young sons. I didn’t wake up because I knew he was more than capable of meeting their needs. If an emergency arose, my father would do whatever was necessary, and would wake me if I needed to be up.

My children are twenty-one and eighteen now, and my father died almost four years ago. But each night, I still hand Colin and Jared over, just as I have since their first  nights in this world. I hand them over to God, trusting that God’s love for them will not fail. I do the same with everyone else’s lives, including my own. If I could not give everyone over to God, would I ever get a peaceful night’s sleep?

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.]

Help Us, O Lord

Help us, O Lord, to be good, obedient, and kind.

Good, obedient, and kind. Taken separately, they don’t have near the power as they do together.

Good    Help me spend my days wisely, offering my talents, knowledge, and energy only to those things that increase the love in this world. Everything I am can devastate or foster. Help me choose the latter.

Obedient      I am too limited to see very far down the path of love and peace. I am tempted to serve lesser powers: greed, vanity, and fear.  Help me choose to serve you, when your reasons seem clear and when they do not.

Kind      All the good intentions will lead me astray if I am willing to harm others in their name. Help me choose kindness over judgement, for you have been so kind to me.

On this day, help me to remember that without kindness I can mistake personal piety for goodness and unwillingness to accept the consequences of my actions for obedience. God help me.

[For the full prayer, click prayer at night above]

The End…and the Beginning

Sleep well, see you in the morning.

The day is nearly done. Things left undone will have to wait – there isn’t time to turn them into things done. This is the time to say good-bye to this day, with all that it has been and all that it has not. There can never be another one exactly like it because the world continues to turn and I continue to move from birth to death.

Sleep well

I let go of the day, giving thanks for the gift it was. I give everyone I love back to God, in the hope and faith that they will be returned to me in the morning. If they are not, then in the hope and faith that their return to God is joyous. Then I close my eyes and give myself back, too.

see you in the morning…

Whatever has happened in the past, a new day rises. Its pattern may seem ordinary and predictable, but this is something altogether new. It may not be easy or painless, but the morning brings its own miracles. I can see it in the sky’s light, and I can see it in you.

For this, O Lord, I give you thanks. Amen.

I Love You

Jeanne Pena is a master at saying these three precious words. So is John Capellaro. Fred Rogers said like, but everyone knew there was love behind it. The more candles I add to my birthday cake, the more I’m convinced that these are the real movers and shakers of the world.

If ever the Kingdom of Heaven is realized in the Here and Now, it will come because every living creature has learned how to say, believe, and live these words.

 

Say Your Prayers

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Lord bless me as I close my eyes…

Dear God, tonight I give everyone I love back to you…

The words are only the doorway, meant to be moved through. Say them knowing that God listens and waits for you. Not because you owe an account for every good, bad, and indifferent thing you though, said, or did – because you are a well loved child coming home after a long day’s adventure, and God wants you to share everything that happened.

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…