Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Way To Easter

My Lent journey took detours I didn't anticipate. I think, however, this isn't a bad lesson to learn about life. Often, our best-laid plans are derailed by a grander design. It's hard to know the purpose and direction in life, and really, isn't that the very essence of faith? 

As Easter approaches, I look forward to travelling to be with my sister and her family. We will attend church services and celebrate Easter, steeped in mystery, celebration, and revelation of Christ's resurrection. It's not a mystery I can even pretend to understand or solve, but it is deeply ingrained in who I am, doubts, questions, mythos and all. 

My visit with my mom went very well and was such a refreshing time for me. She spoils me, and we both enjoyed long, quiet afternoons together. I felt a deeper connection with her and for that, I'm very grateful. 

I also feel new doors and paths opening, some of which frighten me with their capacity for change. But again, I think this is the message of Easter too. Rebirth is never an easy process. But it is one that can bring great peace, love, joy, and purpose. And sometimes it means taking a step into the unknown. 

However you celebrate your Easter, Passover, or the ending of your Spring Renewal journey, I hope it has born in you new doorways of thoughts and a deeper spiritual connection. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
the lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord lift up his countenance on you
And give you peace. 
Numbers 6:25

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Don't Worry 'Bout It

And so we begin week five of Lent. Our minister in church this past Sunday related the old testament story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14, if you want to read this interesting story). He also read the passage from John 11, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. He invited us to read these fantastic stories as-is, if we desire. But he encouraged us to not get lost in the plausibility, but look for the deeper meaning-- the one in which God makes us new, breathing his very life into us.

I'm taking a little impromptu trip to visit my mom this week in Pittsburgh. I spoke with her several weeks ago; she was feeling blue. She hasn't been feeling well and a good friend of hers, a 91-year-old man, has been diagnosed with cancer. At 91, there's really no viable treatment for him. She turns 81 on Friday, and it seemed to me a little birthday cheer was in order, so I called her and said I was flying out for her birthday. Her happy response was all I needed to hear to make the last-minute plans and arrangements worth the effort. 

At 81 every pain and illness brings questions of mortality to her mind. I try to imagine her mindset, what it's like to know that life ahead of her is limited. Of course, the truth is, it's limited for all of us and none of us knows how much longer we have. Last week, a missing student from the college where my husband works was found, passed away, in his car. He was just in his early 20s. 

I don't mean to be a downer here. In fact, hang with me, I'm bringing this to a broader point. 

The Buddhists place a lot of emphasis on living in the awareness of the moment, to cease the stories we create about our experiences and just be in the moment; be aware. Too often our minds race ahead to what is going to (or might) happen next or create content about what is happening now. The stories, rather than the fact of the moment, becomes our truth. It deprives us of peace. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we're going to eat or drink or our clothing or what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough of its own worries. In other words, find peace and joy in this very moment. Let tomorrow take care of itself, and Lord willing, it will. 

This was the very message I needed to hear this week. In the midst of self-esteem issues beating me up, the plans of traveling to Pittsburgh, my mom's health, my daughter's upcoming graduation, my son moving on in his life, all I really need to do is let God breathe life in me. Today. This moment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Beauty Of Mystery

I think it is in our human mind to want to create order, meaning, and definition. We are uncomfortable with feelings like doubt. We struggle with ambiguity and mystery. All too often, we want to rush in and give God a box so we can settle back in and feel comfortable again. We want to say, ahh, there is the path, when it's not yet clear, because to know is so much easier than to not know.

When you are going through chaos in life, when the emotions are rocky or the situation is difficult, people are quick to want to give you a handle, some kind of meaning or definition. Maybe it's one that has worked for them, and for that, we are grateful. But I love when I read something that confirms to me that this unknown, this mystery, can be a beautiful place too. This morning, during my quiet time, I read a passage by Thomas Merton (from A Year With Thomas Merton):

Light rain all night. The need to keep working at meditation-- going to the root. Mere passivity won't do at this point. But activism won't do either. A time of wordless deepening, to grasp the inner reality of my nothingness in Him Who Is. Talking about it in these terms seems absurd. Seems to have nothing to do with concrete reality that is to be grasped. My prayer is peace and struggle in silence, to be aware and true, beyond myself, and to go outside the door of myself, not because I will it, but because I am called and must respond. 

So rather than feel I must fix this awkward place I am in, or align the emotions so I can feel safe in my spirituality, I am still content to breathe and listen this week, letting go of my will of what I think I should be.

Maybe more than any other focus I have examined for Lent, this one feels the most important.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sometimes You Just Need To Breathe

I had all kinds of ideas for a theme this week, but I’m going to be honest, none of them felt authentic. Grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever your sipping preference is, and let’s have an honest chat. 

Here’s where I’m at with this whole Lent 40-day observance project:

When I started out, I anticipated a deep, spiritual experience. I was ready to look at themes and think about how God was directing me through each of them. But as it often goes, once the marriage is in place, the passion wanes. 

The funny thing about passion is how rooted it is in feelings. As long as those butterfly feelings, or in the case of a spiritual journey, that deep sense of communion and connection, we feel on track, centered, where we “should” be. Unfortunately, at least for me, feelings are flighty and deceptive. And right now, I don’t feel very spiritual.

During this Lent experience I have felt more off-track and off-balance than I have in a long time. I’m skipping out on my quiet times. I am being hammered with temptations and side-tracked with rampant emotions. I feel angry and hurt by some stuff life has thrown at me (I know, waa, waa, waa—but if I’m being honest, it is where I’m at).  My creativity is in the pits of black sludge screaming for motivation. I feel like the more I strive to be elevated, the more I’m stuck with my soul’s feet firmly planted in plain ol’ terra firma muck.  

Last night we had really weird weather, even for the Rocky Mountains. The wind was howling and thrashing the house. But instead of the night sky getting darker, it glowed with an eerie red color. Folks from around here claimed the ferocious westerly wind blew the red soil from Utah our way (sure, blame Utah). Whatever the reason, local friends on Facebook swore it was the Apocalypse. The wind ripped through our little valley well into the night. It wasn't pleasant.

But this morning, all was calm and bright again. The sky was a dazzling blue with puffy clouds. The sun warmed the earth, melting the blown snow and ice. Maybe last night's moody storm still haunted me, but all I wanted to do was stay holed up inside. But the sun insisted on shining, taunting me out of my lazy stupor. I put on my jogging shoes, snapped the leash on my son’s dog, and headed out for a jog. Jogging is never easy, I rarely want to go—OK, really, I never want to go—but I know once I'm out and, more specifically, once I am done, I'll be glad I made the effort. Sure enough, as my feet found their pace something wonderful began to happen. The tightness in my shoulders relaxed, the sun warmed my face and body. I finally looked up from my own feet to gaze at the snow-covered peaks, listened to the creek gurgling in its thaw, and felt my heart rate find its rhythm.  

And isn’t that a bit like the spiritual journey?

I think this week I will dispense with the themes and striving. I need to quit trying to be creative or spiritual or loving or... whatever. A friend had this little saying on his Facebook page today:

You don’t need to have a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, let go, and trust the Lord and watch what happens.

Ah, yes. This week? I’m breathing and watching.