Awake

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If  I didn’t have a dog that would surely develop an untenable morning habit, I might try it—just getting up at 3:00 a.m. for the day.  I could quit trying to wrestle my body and my mind back to sleep, being careful not to stir too much. Let one sleeping dog lie. I heard an interview with Dolly Parton, who said she does get up at 3 am and gets more work done from three until seven in the morning than most people do all day.

I used to wake up fairly regularly at 3:00 a.m.

I would read a good novel for 15 or 20 minutes and eventually fall back asleep until a respectable time to wake. Over the last couple of months though, the times I wake up in the deep of the night are multiple: 12:30, 1:45, and 2:30. And, reading for a while doesn’t seem to work; my mind is too full and it is an endless chore to sort through the worries.

I came upon this poem written by Julie Elliot, a Spiritual Director at Pacific Jubilee Associates. I don’t know Julie, but she knows me. I was struck by the truths for my experience that this poetry can evoke.

When You Can’t Sleep at Night – by Julie Elliot

You wake in the night,

parched,

anxious,

thirsty for something you cannot name.

You’ve been worrying again.

Mistaking worry for love,

again.

Trying to control others’ lives.

Forgetting your own.

It dries you out like the pine needles

that scatter themselves outside your bedroom window.

Brown and lifeless they fall to the ground,

in every season, every weather.

An inevitable carpet growing under the old Ponderosa.

 

You wake to the choice.

Will the falling needles be an endless chore?

You’ll rake them constantly even as they drift down

to settle in your hair and on your shoulders.

Or will you let them fall the way they do,

noticing the beauty of their changing patterns,

a lacy mat under your feet

becoming part of the holy ground

on which you stand?

 

You wake up to your life

as it is.

Call it Presence.

Call it God.

Call it Love.

Immovable reality.

It’s yours. It’s in front of you.

Suffering grows when you worry

against it.

One truth is the power of poetic language to give images and words that illuminate my experience. After a particular wakeful night, Mitch would ask me, “What were you so anxious about?”

Sometimes, I honestly didn’t know. But, there was that feeling that Julie figuratively describes as “parched, anxious, and thirsty for something you cannot name.”

Last night I was caught worrying again, like Julie’s truth to tell, mistaking the thoughts for love or prayer and they are neither. My concern is one of an urgent need to change, rescue, or convince a life that is not my own.

The second truth is even more demanding—waking to a choice.

Lately, I have been able to name my worry. Maybe that is because I have been more intentionally naming my fears in a challenging situation, out loud, in the regular daylight.  However, in the morning light, what I worried about in the dark doesn’t always make good sense. I gain a new perspective when I confront the error of my nighttime assumptions that seemed so real hidden in the covers of my bed.

What would it be like to let my worries fall the way they do and just let them be?

What would it take to notice the beauty of the changing patterns they make and to recognize those patterns as part of the holy ground on which I stand?

Suffering only grows when you worry against it.

Outrageous Possibility

So what can I be grateful for in the past 24 hours?

Mitch, who steadily calls me back from worry, from ignoring my own life, and from dictating what is possible.

In his sermon, recalling the Advent story of Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mitch said that it didn’t take Zachariah long to play the card of impossibility, to offer God a reality check when confronted with the news that he would soon have a son (Luke 1).  Zachariah was afraid and silenced. Some of us think we know all too well what is possible, or not, and even what can or needs to happen.

I do that. Many times, I act like it is my job to sort out what might and can happen in the situation before me, thus deciding what is possible or not in my own life. Mitch’s Advent question is still with me:

How do we prepare ourselves to again birth the impossible into our lives and into our world?

One lesson from Zachariah’s story might be to dedicate more time for silent waiting. Maybe not being able to speak out loud was a gift for Zachariah. For me, that silence also includes quelling the voices in my head where I offer my own version of what is possible in my real world.

Walter Bruggeman proposes another tactic in his advent study. He calls my attention to the poetry of Isaiah 65:17-19 and the possibility of newness found in these verses. In response to this audacious possibility, he says,

The new world of God is beyond our capacity and even beyond our imagination. It does not seem possible. In our fatigue, our self-sufficiency, and our cynicism, we deeply believe that such promises could not happen here. Such newness is only poetic fantasy.

For me, I know that things don’t always turn out all right and at the same time, there are turns of events that I notice only after I’ve lost my way.

Cynthia Bourgeault says that synchronicity—a kind of miracle I most often experience—is the by-product of surrender, not the main event.

To more deeply hear and surrender to God what is possible, I might do what Walter Bruggeman suggests, to read and re-read this poem in Isaiah to let it seep into my bones and heart and vision.   As I read and re-read, I began to re-write the poem to hear God’s words in my own heart.

For I am about to create

new reality for you.

The former things you fear will

not be in the forefront or

readily come to mind.

Be glad and rejoice forever

in what I am creating;

for I am about to create this new way of seeing as a joy,

and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in the newness

and delight in my family.

No more will fear be my dwelling place.

Me, adapted from Isaiah 65: 17 -19

The poem in Isaiah is outrageous, Bruggeman says, and mine is too. I am not the one who decides or orchestrates what is possible, in my life or anyone else’s. Bruggeman reminds me where this power rests.

In Advent, however, we receive the power of God that is beyond us. This power is the antidote to our fatigue and cynicism. It is the gospel resolution to our spent self-sufficiency, when we are at the edge of our coping. It is good news that will overmatch our cynicism that imagines there is no new thing that can enter our world.

 My cynicism is rooted in fear, where I decide what is possible. For this day, may I live in the outrageous possibility of the power of God to prepare me to again birth the impossible into my life and into our world.

To Be Carried Away from Fear

Advent is preparation for the demands of newness that will break the tired patterns of fear in our lives.                         Walter Bruggeman

I’ve been riding a rollercoaster of fear for a while– maybe a lifetime.  About 2:30 AM this morning, mostly in the dark, I was writing in my journal. There I was again, unable to stop my mind from going to all the places I cannot change. Based on a few assumptions and fueled by nighttime anxieties, I re-enacted just one of the tired patterns of fear in my life. The dark makes it easy to imagine scenes laced with a few well-placed “facts” that prove why I must rescue, protect and manage a life—not my own.

I’m having trouble letting go of that dark, the fear of what might be, that Buechner says I wrap myself in like a straightjacket. Even after wise counsel from my partner, a sermon this morning (by the same partner) that said we don’t orchestrate what is possible, and pleading prayer, the dark still lurks. But, there is a glimmer of light. My husband said I need to live my own life.

Listening anew to the Advent stories in Luke’s chapter 3, Luke says that Jesus will come to baptize me with the Holy Spirit and fire. I’ve lived a long life seeking God’s presence. I’m not sure that this has ever happened to me and I am sure I really don’t know what that means.

My friend Walter Bruggeman told me in my reading this morning. He says that means

…we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, energy, that “the force” may come over us, carry us to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined…

 And then there is that part about Advent being preparation that will break the tired patterns of fear that I so desperately need to do.

 What Walter describes would be a far better example for both of my children, and my husband, rather than the maligned ‘help’ I think I must give. I’ve asked God for guidance to let go of the fear that undergirds the subtle things I do and say in my desperation to protect and rescue and manage that teardown people and relationships rather than build them.

So I begin this Advent asking God to come near to me so that I might get carried away from my fear to do obedient things that I haven’t done before—kingdom things that I didn’t think I had in me.

IMG_1806As I write this, the sun is coming up, again. It doesn’t look the same as yesterday; today is grayer, however, the light still comes.

I’ve been considering the time that has passed. The 25 days I spent with my family recently wasn’t necessarily or primarily chronological time. Particularly the time with my children, spent in incredible challenge and joy, was beyond time – a depth of time that distorts the mere passing of days.

I don’t really know how to explain it; I have lived this wonder before. The weeks I spent with both my Mom and my Dad when they were dying was an extravagant gift. The days went by with little recognition of the actual date or day of the week or time of day. Events of each day were both quotidian and sacred: waking up, making meals, physically caring for the most basic needs of another. Nothing that happened would qualify as noteworthy to a casual observer, yet, each moment held an abundance of extravagantly giving of ourselves that is evidence of how precious our lives are together. That same sense of Presence, a holy presence of each other and of an Eternal Presence, permeated the time I most recently spent with family in pain, uncertainty, and uncompromising joy in love.

The Eternal Presence expands the idea of time as past, present, and future conflated in each moment. God invites us to open our hearts to what spiritual writer Thomas Kelly calls “eternal now”—God’s eternal plan in each moment. Kelly writes,

But I am persuaded… there is a serious retention of both time and timeless, with the final value and significance located in the Eternal, who is the creative root of time itself.  …The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, [is] a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life… Once discover this glorious secret, this new dimension of life, and we no longer live merely in time but we live also in the Eternal. The world of time is no longer the sole reality of which we are aware. A second Reality hovers, quickens, quivers, stirs, energizes us, breaks in upon us and in love embraces us, together with all things… We live our lives at two levels simultaneously, the level of time and the level of the Timeless. They form one sequence, with a fluctuating border between them. Sometimes the glorious Eternal is in the ascendance, but still, we are aware of our daily temporal routine. Sometimes the clouds settle low and we are chiefly in the world of time, yet we are haunted by a smaller sense of Presence, in the margin of consciousness.

So this reimagined time is how we live, not thinking so much of this one moment yet being fully present in only this moment.

After he came home from a three-day evaluation at Betty Ford Center, my son said he wished things could go back to normal—but there is never the same normal again, as we build relationships and experience in this eternal now.   And I have also longed for some kind of settledness or sense of normal and realize that being present- in whatever is – is my life.

Do you remember the movie, Groundhog Day? The main character, Phil, lived the same day over and over. He came to know in his body and spirit what would happen. The result was that he was able to change how he responded to people in each moment he’d lived before. He remembered an old classmate’s name, he actually listened to an elderly lady at breakfast, and he stopped to play with neighborhood children in the snow. In doing so, Phil changed how he was in relationship with the people whom he reluctantly encountered for what he thought was one inconsequential day.

We can’t know like Phil did who would step off the curb into icy water or who would need his affirmation or how his work colleague’s hopes and dreams could be sensed, but I can be more present, recognize possibility,  affirm and confront appropriately – not reactively but lovingly. I can be in time with others, with the beauty of the sunrise and even be in the pain in ways that are beyond time.

I spent probably 6-7 hours making meals and freezing them for my pregnant daughter and her husband. I was totally immersed and invested in the creativity, the care, and the craft of making those meals that would provide good quality food and ease in the coming days. It was an act of love and while I was exhausted, especially after cleaning up all the mess, it was a good use of time, that extended time, and was and gave a gift of time.

I also spent too much time yesterday invested in trying to rescue, protect, and manage the lives of the people I love.

Today the sun came up and it is bright, bringing light and warmth to this new day. I have a new opportunity to choose how to be in it—to live my life at two levels simultaneously, the level of time and the level of the Timeless.

Learning to Walk With Grace

I am learning to walk with grace in the dark
I am learning to trust and to lead with my heart
When the old moon is gone into silence and sighs
It’s the one and only time a new moon can rise

Sometimes there is no reason, the moon waxes and wanes
It was the 100 year flood and you were in the way
Some things we find in daylight and we’re grateful to know
Some things we only learned where we did not want to go

I can’t tell you it will all turn out fine
But I know is there’s help in hard times

Carrie Newcomer, Help in Hard Times

 6:11 AM

That’s what my phone flashed when I awoke.

I did have the house ready. I cleaned. I went to the grocery store so there would be food here for Mitch’s return.

I met with our friend who was going to take care of our dog, Hunter, in between my early morning departure on this day and Mitch’s late night return.

I packed; laid out the clothes I would wear in the morning, and even took a shower to save time that next morning. The only thing I had to do was put the toiletries I used in the suitcase and get Hunter situated for the long day. My plane would leave at 7:30 AM so I set my alarm for 4:45, plenty of time.

So, seeing 6:11 on the clock sent me into a frenzied panic. I flew up the stairs, let Hunter out, and filled his bowl. He became anxious too, watching me as I flitted around.

I put on the clothes I’d carefully laid out. I opened the door to the dog run and left it open. I did not have time to let the dog out, again. I crammed my final things into the suitcase, not even bothering to brush my teeth or comb my hair, and put them in the car.

I went back in the house, pulled Hunter’s bed upstairs and plopped it in the living room. His treat—I went to the kitchen and in my haste kicked over the water bowl—another brief delay to fill it again.

Finally, I was on my way. And then it happened—the realization that it might be possible to make it in time. I needed to be calmer to make that happen. Paying attention to traffic, driving fast but not too fast, I arrived at the airport at 6:45.

There was still time? I ran to the terminal and entered. There was no one at the Air Alaska desk. Each self-serve kiosk had a paper sign that stated: temporarily out of order.

I asked unexpectedly at the neighboring airline’s counter whether checking in was still possible. The lady calmly reminded me that there was an hour cut off for checking in prior to departure time. “Just call the number listed at the desk for help.”  It was an 800 number so I wasn’t sure how that would help me now.

I resolved that I would miss this flight and it would be okay, somehow. The flight that Mitch and I had so carefully planned so that we could be at the airport in California at the same time. We carefully orchestrated flight times so that we could both spend some precious time with our son, together, before Mitch went back home and I stayed.

Now, my new arrival time would be 4:37. Mitch’s flight would leave at 4:45.

When I texted Mitch to let him know I missed my flight, he was in the emergency room. Our son had a broken jaw in two places from being hit by a metal bar when readying a helicopter for taking off in the early morning darkness. Mitch wouldn’t be getting on our carefully planned flight, either.

I’ve long been plagued (maybe that is not a good word) with what we do, what God does, and what just happens. I guess it is the “just what happens” part—part cosmic orchestration, or the goodness of people, or synchronicity, or the grace of God in our lives that I cannot explain. All of these are evidence to me that a force greater than us that undergirds this life is present.

I had time before my new departure time to go back home, take care of the dog and retrieve my glasses I’d forgotten in my earlier haste. The lady at the long-term parking window waved me on, my parking was free today she said. On my way back home and then back to the airport an hour later, I listened to Carrie’s song, over and over.

Our family had a gift of three full days to walk together: in the dark, to be present for each other in both pain and to witness glimmers of grace.

Some things we find in daylight and we’re grateful to know
Some things we only learned where we did not want to go

I can’t tell you it will all turn out fine
But I know is there’s help in hard times.
 

I am still learning to lead with my heart, not my head, with radical trust.

Silent Conversation

Sometimes I think we do all the talking because we are afraid God won’t.

Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent

 In many conversations with my husband or my adult children, I say too much.

I want them to be informed or maybe even help them make a right decision and make sure I cover many nuanced perspectives. Even with my best intention, usually, my talk is not welcomed. My daughter recently asked for my advice and then gave me a choice by texting: #1 or #2? I guess at least she is still asking.

Right now, our family is in a heartbreaking situation and I am not there. So, my conversation is with God and I’m trying desperately to listen, not talk. Yet, I continually have to quell the scenarios that play in my verbal head.

The lives I am brokenhearted about belong to God, whether they use the word God or not.

This morning I listened to the podcast, On Being, with Krista Tippett that provided concrete insights for my challenge.  The episode was about conversation, specifically the difficult ones that the United States has been having lately.

At critical times like my family is facing, it is a struggle to put words around our deepest longings. Krista spends some time defining ‘conversation’ that evokes a vision of shared lives, not simply words.

She reminds that relational conversation is bigger than talk. Before any words are spoken, the space, tone, and frame for what might be possible are established. We also bring our shared lives into the conversation by listening. We bring a genuine curiosity (the opposite of posturing) and ask searching questions that make the conversation genuine. Significant conversations that are turning points in our lives have some other common elements: a lot of silence and trust that has most often been earned.

Sounds like these are tenants that apply to my ‘conversation’ with God. One that also transcends words. In fact, words are often hard to come by lately. Words that describe my deepest desire anyway.  Silence and trust are required.

My tactic has been to visualize the person or even use a picture to keep my mind stayed on her image in God’s light and love. I have been trying Catherine of Genoa’s admonishment that it is because of this tender love that I need not ask anything of God for you. All I need to do is lift you up before his face.

No words needed.

Holy Unknowing

I said, “I don’t have to know.” I want to mean that.

Just to be in what is—is a struggle.

The disorientation of not knowing – I’m not sure how to approach this feeling, other than being a little sad.

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr states “spirituality is more about unlearning than learning,” and that our illusions must be undone to take us back to God. Both he and Parker Palmer write often about our return to our “true self.” How do I become my true self, giving up pretense and illusion?

Today (and yesterday), my intention is and was to go to yoga class. Even before I came to Victoria, I checked out yoga studios, so I know where to go. I just haven’t had the courage to get there. I have lots of good reasons.

I hadn’t moved to my “real” location here until September. I had to get settled. I had company for two weeks. We only have one car. I haven’t been to a yoga class since June so I need to ease back into practice. And yesterday, the reason was… it was raining lightly and dark and I had to do the dishes and I could go tomorrow.

So, giving up pretense and illusion might begin with this yoga class. Yin yoga, a still and challenging style, is at 7:00-8:15 this evening. I can go, try, and be willing to not be able, perfect, or even wrong. I can take whatever comes from the experience.

Rohr goes on to encourage that people who have learned to live in deep time, in the big picture, found true self. From my understanding, deep time is akin to eternal time that conflates our past, present, and future selves and experiences. This change of frame is what Jesus called living in the Kingdom. We have to let go of our own smaller kingdom to be there. We practice by choosing union freely—plenty of room for communion and no need for exclusion.

My ‘smaller kingdom’ is all the inside retrospection that isn’t bad in itself, however, it keeps me locked into myself. This pervasive inwardness keeps me from risking going to yoga class with people that I could risk getting to know (and letting them know me) to expand my world.

Not knowing makes life more spacious, I was told. The bounds of what I will do each day now are open to new experiences and relationships if I let them be. Holy sadness, Rohr explains, “once called compunction, is the price your soul pays for opening to the new and the unknown in yourself and in the world.”

What comes to mind are the words: I will with the help of God.