Life is Messy and Complicated – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Eighteenth Post

Good morning!

Ronald Rolheiser speaks to this truth in his essay entitled “Life is a Messy Business” from the book, Forgotten Among the Lilies.

Nobody goes through life antiseptically without dirt, pain, mess and death…..Life may be messy, but it is real, not plastic. We are not Swiss clocks, infallibly ordered, made to tick meticulously, precise and antiseptic. Rather our lives are anything but ordered and clocklike. We cannot live without messiness, complications and much emotional and physical pain.

It begins when we are born. Birth is a messy process which causes pain, dictates involvement and complicates peoples’ lives irrevocably. Living does too!

Work, interrelations, love, sex, friendship, aging, all of these are complex, earthy, messy businesses which are always at least partially full of pain, pettiness, limit, compromise and death. They are full of joy and meaning too, but these are seldom given purely. Moreover no one goes through life without having his or her dignity, freedom and dreams frustrated and stepped on. There is no antiseptic route through life…..

Often this leaves us discouraged and questioning. More seriously, this often leads to a subtle despair. Stated simply the algebra of this despair, and ultimately of all despair, reads like this: If all is muddled, then all is permitted.

That attitude is viral and deadly. It is perhaps the worst temptation faced by an adult. Because of it we sell ourselves out, give up, throw dignity and dreams to the wind and settle for second best. This single factor is perhaps at the root of most of the infidelity, sexual irresponsibility, and unbelief with our culture…..

The messiness of life also leaves us tempted in another way, namely to try to live antiseptically.

Since we cannot live and love deeply without hurting, without pettiness, enslaving and humiliating entanglements, without smear, we opt not to live and love deeply at all. so we hang loose, refusing depth. We stay away from all that might hurt – or heal – us deeply.

In doing this we make life plastic – antiseptic, clean, without dirt and smell but totally lifeless and without meaning, like a plastic rose. We need to accept the contours of our own existence…..Our souls are born enfleshed in soil, pain, blood and smell.

Ah, these words of truth are good for the soul. Life is messy and complicated and we need to embrace that. We do not want to be people without resiliency who toss their lives away in quiet despair. We also do not want to scrub and clean away all the texture and flavor.

As always, I write for you, I write for myself. I write for the fifty year old woman struggling to stand up on a beach road after having fallen off a bicycle due to a dumb decision to ride with the seat too high. I write for that woman covered in dust and dirt, that old lady with aching wrist and rib bones and muscles that will need time to heal. I write for the long list of messy and complicated situations – far more difficult than a fall off a bicycle – that I’m facing today because I know you have a list as well. Embrace your list. Live it and be grateful for it. Fight the despair that creeps into your soul, ride the bicycles, do daring things, get dirty, fall down. An antiseptic life is not a life.

The morning after my fall, Oswald was writing on a different topic, but asked a very relevant question.

Now where does God come in this?

Onward my friends!

Circling Around the Faith – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Sixteenth Post

Good morning.

One of my more interesting patterns is my morning stack of books – I like working my way through a variety of spiritual writing bit by bit. I enjoy touching base with my friends in their words and thoughts. I don’t dive into just one book, instead I read a section from three or five or eight – yes, the stack sometimes grows quite high. All that to say, one of the fascinating parts of this process is when the different authors line up and start to speak in unison. I’ve decided over the years that on those days, I need to lean in and listen a little more closely, there is something I need to hear.

So Oswald Chambers – one of my dearest friends – offered up this thought – Ultimately the relationship is to be a completely simple one. That resonated with me, and I think it’s critically important. We work through complexity to end up with a simple life. Earlier Oswald wrote this – The right thing to do with habits is to lose them in the life of the Lord, until every habit is so practiced that there is no conscious habit at all. There is a rhythm here, the cycle has shape.

The spiritual life is not a formula, not a list of things to do and accomplish, and at the very same time, there are disciplines that grow and mature our faith – we stretch ourselves to add the necessary texture, but eventually, the practices should meld into a simple life. Jesus was not complicated, His messages are strikingly clear, his lifestyle quite basic. If we twist and contort ourselves into a rigid, complex life, I think we’ve missed it – but there is also something to working through the complication and coming out with simplicity on the other side.

Then I’m also reading Ruth Haley Barton’s new book – Life Together in Christ – another solid volume in her series of writings. In her last chapter, she makes note of the key movements in the spiritual life – from the more private and personal encounter with Jesus into the larger community of others who have also encountered Jesus in life-changing ways and then out into the world beyond the community. And she quotes our friend Henri and his insistence that chronology is important. The journey inward must precede the journey outward, or else we have no basis for our togetherness with others and nothing to share.

This resonated because we so often miss the chronology – we run around looking for community and vocation, but those flow from a deep relationship with God, receiving our life hidden in His. This circle has shape as well – the private, interior life is what you offer to your community, your vocation flows from your spiritual disciplines. The saints all work from that deep center, and at its base, it is quite simple – I am God’s beloved, His favor rests on me – I am taken, blessed, broken and given away.

And finally, I’m also working my way through Ronald Rolheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies – a series of essays that have been fresh wind to me. In ” The Value of Fasting and Feasting”, he shares these thoughts.

Celebration is an organic process. It is created by the dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and inconsummation, ordinary and special, work and play. Life, love and sexuality must be celebrated within that fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play must follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are contingent upon seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy can only grow out of seasons of solitude.

Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work.

We talk about this quite a bit, but it’s important – we’re seeking a fluid, vibrant life in Christ, that ultimately should be deep and clear and simple. It’s a circling life – habits that eventually become hidden, interior life to community and back again, plus learning the art of feasting and fasting.

My apologies if this ended up being a muddled mess of thoughts – muse with me dear friends.

And a special gracias to Michael Hyatt for finally putting into words what I couldn’t explain about my love of paper and books – you can check out his thoughts here. Read the list of why paper books are still worthy of our consideration – such solid thoughts around a very important topic.

Are you reading?

Are you reading to your children?

Yes, it does make a significant difference in the shaping of a life.

Wobbly Wings – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Fifteenth Post

One of the biggest challenges out there is to not get stuck, and it happens so easily. Patterns and routines both support us and confine us and we need to learn the nuances of both. I spend quite a bit of time challenging friends to build a trellis, to create a structure on which life can grow. I heartily believe in daily rhythms and seasonal practices, but I also love a clean slate, a chance to design and build something new.

This week marks a new season for me – something has ended and something new is beginning. I’ve been “cocooning” for a number of weeks, but the cocoon doesn’t fit anymore – I’ve dropped from the branch in a mass of wet, wobbly wings and it’s time to open them up, let them dry as they unfurl, and set to flying and exploring this next season.

Here’s a delightful quote on this.

When the soul awakens at midlife and presents its gifts, life is permanently marked by the inclusion of them. Taken in, they become the hallmark of your life, the core of your uniqueness. Refused, they can haunt your days and may undermine all your toiling. I cannot specify what the gift of soul to you will be at midlife. I can only suggest that when it is presented it be received. Murray Stein, as quoted in When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd

Most of you are yet to encounter midlife, but you are facing seasons and change – you might be pulling into a cocoon or stretching wobbly wings. Whatever is happening, each new season comes bringing gifts and we need to seek and receive them.

I need some update emails! We’re standing on the edge of summer, tell me where you’ve been and where you’re headed.

Con amor!

I Want to Be Known – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Fourteenth Post

Good morning.

I found this thought in our comments, and it has stayed with me because it is oh so very true. I want to be known, and you do too.

Perhaps that is the draw of social media – we want to be known so we post thoughts and photos and experiences. Is not this very space a way for me to be known by you?

The danger of course is when we share beyond the line, when we cross boundaries – when we simply know too much about someone’s private life.

Ultimately, the place to be known is with the One who created all things, to be enveloped in His knowing and to find a deep peace that is beyond compare.

Psalm 139 is a searching, probing reminder that you are known already – the decision is yours to turn and walk toward that – it is your only sure comfort in this world. It is your holding environment.

Start with God. Know God, know yourself. Know yourself, know God.

Start with God and then let the flow and love of community fill in the gaps. Our friends and family, our mates and children bring joy and depth – we become known through them and they through us.

So here is the paradox: as humans we are caught between competing drives, the drive to belong, to fit in and be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and the drive to let our deepest selves rise up, to walk alone, to refuse the accepted and the comfortable, and this can mean, at least for a time, the acceptance of anguish. It is in the group that we discover what we have in common. It is in individuals that we discover a personal relationship with God. We must find a way to balance our two opposing impulses. Jean Vanier in Becoming Human

I’m still musing on this, but my sense is that we focus too much on being known in our circles of community, and not enough time receiving ourselves in the solitude and silence of time with Him.

I’m finding with age that my “go to” counsel is to climb the mountain. He is not hiding from us – we want to be known and He knows us – we climb and we find a peace and security that cannot be found anywhere else.

Gracias for your hearts and your commitment to our journeys.

Onward!

The Hidden Life – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Thirteenth Post

This practice of writing is nagging at something in me. I struggle with the creative tension of the hidden life and public exposure. We all know it well – technology has moved our smallest movements into the global sphere. Someone posts a photo of you or captures you on video and if you’re not careful, you’ll go VIRAL. It sounds nasty – like the word VIRUS – while some might crave public attention in any way shape or form – most of us live with this tension of the public and private life. The younger generations are avoiding Facebook, and do you blame them? Growing up is a private, lonely affair. I can’t imagine adding to it the dread of such exposure. Now and again I scroll through my husband’s Facebook and while it is fascinating indeed, it’s also frightening – I think we need to take great care in over exposure and the way that watching so many lives keeps us from living our own. I’ve tentatively entered the world of Instagram, and again, while I enjoy it, it also makes me wonder.

So let me share today a passage that I return to often when I lose my way, and need some remembering.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your REAL life – even though invisible to spectators – is with Christ in God. HE is your life. When Christ ( your real life, remember ) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up too – the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ…..

You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete…..

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and complete as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Colossians 3, The Message

So I’m thinking about this notion of being content with obscurity. I’m thinking also about donning my cloak and getting out there on the streets and just loving people – I simply don’t do enough of pouring out the Kingdom wherever I go.

So let’s take care and wrestle this one, I do not have the answers, but I know we must navigate the call to a hidden life.

Be content with obscurity.

Let’s ponder that one together.

The Domestic Monastery – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Twelfth Post

Good morning.

As you know, I’ve been reading a book entitled Prayer, Our Deepest Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. Last week I shared a bit from the book, but wanted to also share his thoughts on the “Domestic Monastery” because his words touched close to my heart and many of you are walking these roads right now or will be in the future.

The Domestic Monastery

There is a tradition, strong among spiritual writers, that we will not advance within the spiritual life unless we pray at least an hour a day privately. I was stressing this one day in a talk when a lady asked how this might apply to her, given she was home with young children who demanded her total attention. “Where would I ever find an uninterrupted hour each day?” she moaned, “I would, I am afraid, be praying with children screaming and tugging at my pant legs.”

A few years ago I might have been tempted to point out to her that if her life was that hectic, then she, of all people, needed time daily away from her children, for private prayer, among other things. As it is, I gave her different advice: “If you are home alone with small children whose needs give you little uninterrupted time, then you don’t need an hour of private prayer daily. Raising small children, if it is done with love and generosity, will do for you exactly what private prayer does.”

Left unqualified, this is a dangerous statement. In fact, it suggests that raising children is a functional substitute for prayer. However, in making the assertion that a certain service – in this case, raising children – in fact can be prayer, I am bolstered by the testimony of contemplative themselves.

Carlo Carretto, one of our century’s best spiritual writers, spent many years in the Sahara Desert by himself, praying. Yet he once confessed that he felt that his mother, who spent nearly thirty years raising children, was much more contemplative than he was, and less selfish. If that is true, the conclusion we should draw is not that there was anything wrong with Carretto’s ┬álong hours of solitude in the desert, but that there was something very right about the years his mother lived an interrupted life amid the noise and demands of small children.

Certain vocations, such as raising children, offer a perfect setting for living a contemplative life. They provide a desert for reflection, a real monastery. The mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is certainly monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centers of social life and from the centers of important power. She feels removed. Moreover, her constant contact with young children gives her a privileged opportunity to learn empathy and unselfishness.

Perhaps more so than even the monk or the minister of the Gospel, she is forced, almost against her will, to mature. For years, while she is raising small children, her time is not her own, her own needs have to be put into second place, and every time she turns around some hand is reaching out demanding something. Years of this will mature most anyone.

Ah yes, years of caring for children will mature you or make you bitter and resentful – it is a great and holy crucible of life – this arena we call family. Growing a great family is difficult work, but his words resonated with my experience – caring for children is holy gift – and when the saplings find their own dirt and begin to deepen the roots and stretch the branches? Oh wow, it’s amazing to see and to remember when they were but wee little men listening to a story while eating their lunch on a small porch in an island house.

Let me conclude today with a few gentle reminders on mothering and parenting and family.

1. Be present. Put away the screens and live the days, you don’t want your children to remember you scrolling on a screen. Take a walk. Start a collection. Read to them each and every dayand don’t read junk – read books with big ideas and words they don’t understand.

2. Screaming children shouldn’t be the norm. Screaming might happen because children get hurt or angry or upset, but tantrums shouldn’t fill the days and nights. Lean in, pay attention – watch for the trigger points and the hours of the day when tensions rise and then be proactive. I see so many children who are just plain tired and bored. Children need fresh air and fun experiences, and they need frames – tell them what’s happening and why, talk to them all day long, anticipate what they might feel in a certain situation about to happen and speak to it clearly.

3. Please, oh please, don’t spend all day entertaining them. Children need to play on their own, their play is their work and their work is their play. You can offer suggestions, but don’t do their play for them – encourage them to own their education.

4. Live life together – laundry, cleaning, dishes – all delightful opportunities to learn the communal life. Quiet is part of that rhythm as well, quiet must be nurtured and protected in the home.

5. Enter into this unique monastic life and enjoy it – seek the solitude and presence of God within your home – and let parenting mature your soul.

Have a GREAT week!

Learning to Pray – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Eleventh Post

I’m reading a book entitled Prayer, Our Deepest Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. I’m slowly working my way through all of his books – this particular trail has been challenging and encouraging and well worth the trip. I’m finding that I enjoy diving deep into the thoughts and writings of specific authors, ones who have been around long enough to have lived many seasons of life.

In his chapter on “Practicing Affective Prayer”, he summarizes the thoughts of a man named Bob Michel and his teachings on prayer. Listen to this and let it sink deep into your soul.

You must try to pray so that, in your prayer, you open yourself in such a way that sometime – perhaps not today, but sometime – you are able to hear God say to you, “I love you!” These words, addressed to you by God, are the most important words you will ever hear because, before you hear them, nothing is ever completely right with you, after you hear them, something will be right in your life at a very deep level.

Rolheiser goes on to write about Mary Magdalene and her encounter with Jesus after his resurrection. The very important question, “What are you looking for?” And her inability to understand until Jesus lovingly uses her name.

In the end, that’s what we are all looking for and most need. We need to hear God, affectionately, one to one, saying our name.

Oh my. This is so important on so many levels.

This amazing chapter has another section called “Dogged Fidelity” which so ministered to me this morning, and then he ends with “Domestic Monastery” – a beautiful shout out on prayer and being a mother in a home filled with small children – I hope to share more of that here in the weeks to come.

Ah yes, the weeks to come.

I’m planning to continue to write here once a week at least through the spring months – it’s a solid practice for me, especially since I’m entering an intense season of work and writing.

Your comments keep me going – gracias for sharing your thoughts.

Know that I pray for you, and am so encouraged by your soul journeys.

Hear it today, look for it and receive His words – you are my beloved, on you my favor rests.

Onward dear ones!