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Life, like poetry, is measured in feet; the syllables ebb and flow —iamb (unstressed, stressed), trochee (stressed, unstressed), spondee (stressed! STRESSED!). What you won’t find is unstressed, unstressed. It does not rate a scheme. Oh sure, anapests and pyrrhics dangle them before our eyes, tantalizing as a ripe peach, but veil a stress just to one side. It cannot be avoided: For every exhalation (unstressed), there must be inhalation (stressed). But think of it this way — without the variation, how could we hear the music? Without the stresses, could the unstressed syllables of our life be nearly as sweet?
I see some spondees ahead of me. Funny, I always liked spondees (as feet, not metaphors) the best: The equal weight of the syllables forms a caesura, a rest of sorts. Stress, of course, does the opposite. But I’m beginning to think that’s okay. Throw a few unstressed feet in there — prayer does the trick for me — and the music starts to make itself heard, sort of the way even a war-torn country looks placid when viewed from far overhead. The topography smoothes itself out into simple shapes, city, mountains, sea.
I like to think that God hears our lives as music, as poetry. From His exalted view, it sounds rather lovely. And if we could get out of our own heads, we’d hear it, too. Still, it’s a bit hard to get off the ground when your life sounds like a dirge to your own ears.
I have no poetic advice for this. There are patches that are bound to be discordant, phrases that will never jump and leap like a great pentameter. Such is life. All one can do is seek the small pleasures — gather ye rosebuds while ye may, if I might poach a line from a greater bard than I. Better yet, turn it over to the greatest poet of all. In God we will find our unstressed syllable.
This is a really good cup of coffee, I thought, slightly surprised.
I looked around. Drinking in the day with the java.
My son and his friends were still sleeping, and I decided not to insist on them waking up early as planned so we could go out for breakfast. The diner serves breakfast all day, I reminded myself.
It’s summer. Let them be kids.
This is a really good day, I thought.
I forgot what that was like. A really good day that is. Not that I haven’t had good days; lately my focus has been so much on the pile of stuff in front of me that I forgot there are always things going well. I just may not be attuned to that channel.
I’ve put my mind on the channel that only runs “Extreme Disasters” and “When Things go Horribly Wrong and Somebody’s Got a Camera Phone Handy” so I tend to forget that always running at the same time are shows like “Touched by an Angel” and “Highway to Heaven.”
Here’s a Bible verse that gave me comfort today.
This is the day that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is such a well-known verse, it almost seems trite, but it was really speaking to me.
It’s like this. Even on a day that there’s a hurricane churning through the Southern states – or the equivalent emotional storms in your life – it’s possible to sit in stillness and have a moment of repose.
Let yourself be in the “okay” times if things are okay. Don’t remind yourself that things haven’t been going well in general. Let this specific “not-so-bad” moment be not-so-bad. It might even veer into being… good. Really good.
Wow. That was a lot to drink in. And my coffee’s still hot.
Weren’t there muffins?
These seem like such small things, but somehow it was all adding up to feeling warm, blessed and hopeful.
That was some really deep wisdom, I thought.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Last weekend, I was on the computer when a friend posted on Facebook. A family member’s paid companion had taken off leaving that person without the help he needs and the house a disaster. My friend was busy cleaning and hoped for a cheery word to keep her going.
I sent up a prayer and responded, asking if she needed help.
“You don’t need to do that” came her answer.
It only took me a few minutes to get a water bottle and put on my shoes. Less than ten minutes later, I walked up her driveway. She’d done the worst of the cleaning but I helped put away dishes and we sorted art supplies. And she talked. We laughed and swapped horror stories and laughed some more.
When someone asks for prayers, how often do you do more than pray? I’m not belittling prayer. But how often is that all that we do? This is especially disturbing when you remember what Christ said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
He didn’t say, sit there and pray. No, he told us to do. And he didn’t give us an easy out. “You don’t have to do anything if they don’t ask for help.” Or even “Offer help and if they say no you can get on with whatever.”
Whatever you do.
And he said that because we bless people not only through our prayers but through our actions. Actions are, in many ways, prayers made concrete.
So the next time you offer to pray for someone, think about what else you can do. Make your prayers tangible even if in only a small way.
I’ve probably posted this one before but it truly is what we need to be asking God.
My cat Bella waits for me to get up in the morning so that my first action of the day, my job #1, is to pet her. When I get into the shower, she cries. She wails, in fact. “I’m right here!” I call to her. I know she hears me; her mournful warbling escalates. The top of the shower curtain is semi-opaque; she could see my face if she tried. She could sit on the side of the tub, or poke her head around the curtain to reassure herself of my presence. But she doesn’t. The mere sound of the water sends her fleeing.
When we are in the midst of chaos, we — and by that I mean I — often feel that God is absent, that He has abandoned us. Who among us has not been swept up by her own emotions during times of distress or violence or turmoil? Who hasn’t felt utterly, terribly alone in these situations? It’s only natural. In the midst of the fray, we can see nothing but the bedlam around us.
It occurred to me lately that God in chaos is a lot like my cat’s reaction to me in the shower. He’s there; He’s calling to us, but we can’t hear him over our own fears and confusion. He wants us to be near Him; He wants to comfort us. But we, for whatever reason, can’t — won’t — come to Him. We can’t get there. We’re too preoccupied with our own mounting terror, our exasperation, our limited capacity to deal with extraordinary circumstances.
I don’t blame my cat for crying. She doesn’t understand that there’s no need for it. To her, I’ve disappeared into the scary water-making machine, a place she cannot go. So it is with God in the more disruptive patches of our lives. He doesn’t blame us for not hearing Him, for not innately knowing that He is there, with us, perhaps more than ever. Our brains, just like a cat’s brain, can’t fully comprehend His ability to be present. But He is.
Even knowing what I know, I am fully cognizant that the next time my life turns upside down, I will react just the same as always — by crying to wide sky to the God I can’t see or feel is there. I’m just like my cat that way. Reason doesn’t overtake our more primal emotions. And just as I later reassure my cat with petting and kisses, God will do the same — when I’m willing to see Him.
It’s a tad unnerving to realize that I’m not so different from a frightened animal. But maybe it’s a good thing to think about every once in a while. We human beings are not as sophisticated as we think we are. We still need a good dose of God to get us through.
Last week was just one of those weeks. It wasn’t awful, but why couldn’t I have just two days without someone rearranging my schedule? I had deadlines and every time I’d come up with a new plan of action, the phone would ring or someone would toss their cookies.
I’m incredibly goal oriented, so this was making me more than a little nuts. Finally I toppled over the edge. Tantrums in adults are no lovelier than tantrums in children.
Saturday morning I managed to get out of the house to help a friend in the church library. We’d get something accomplished, chat, drink coffee and snack. Just what I needed!
I got there before she did. As I waited, I found myself pacing up and down the hallway, my monkey mind bouncing from one thing that had happened this week to another. I need a break! Why can’t I just get a break? What I should do is pray. Why is everyone so self-centered? Why don’t they ever think about what I need? Prayer isn’t going to help that. But I should pray.
I’m sure I had to hear it several times before that still small voice really got through the clamor in my mind and heart.
In the sanctuary, I didn’t turn on any lights but walked down the main aisle listening to the building pop and creak around me. Settling into a pew, I bent my head to pray. “I can’t deal with all of this. Do something!”
There was no verbal response, but as I prayed, I felt my heartbeat slow. My breathing calmed. The monkeys in my mind quieted down. It only took a few minutes but my mood was entirely different.
The next time you get trapped in a negative mental loop, take the time to pray. I’m not saying its going to be easy. After all, your monkey mind will be busy telling you how overwhelmed you are. It is so hard to hear anything else.
Take yourself to someplace quiet. Again, this may not be easy but its only going to take a few minutes. An empty stairwell can work just as well as a sanctuary. You just need to be someplace quiet. Then pray. Don’t worry about eloquence. Just tell God what is wrong – you feel overwhelmed or angry or seriously ticked off. You need it to end now. And the only thing that can solve it is Him.
Turn to Him. Draw on His Peace. It will fill you. All you have to do is ask.
I’m tired of it.
Take away my anger.
I’m tired of replaying everything that has happened.
Take away my anger.
I’m tired of feeling pulled in so many directions.
Take away my anger.
It is the only way I can let it go.
Take away my anger.
Fill me instead with Your Peace.
Fill me instead with Your Love.
Fill me instead with Your Grace.
They are all that I need.
1 Tell the LORD
how thankful you are,
because he is kind
and always merciful.
5 When I was really hurting,
I prayed to the LORD.
He answered my prayer,
and took my worries away.
Psalm 118:1,5 CEV
There’s no shame in saying,
“I need help.”
There’s no risk
in taking an outstretched hand.
There’s no point
in closing myself off when the door is wide open.
May I walk toward the grace extended to me.
And breathe it in like cool air,
and wear it like a warm shawl,
and share it when I’m full.