Tethered in Place

Sometimes we don’t have a word or label for what we do, for what keeps us in place.

When we were moving a couple of years ago, when our loved home sold in one day and we moved to the rental, I sorted our belongings according to what we would need for a few months.  I didn’t actually know how long that would be since we didn’t know where we were going, yet. 

Then, when we knew we were coming here, across the country and into the next, we unpacked boxes and sorted our lives into what we would let go of and what we deemed worth keeping with us.  Once precious books, family furniture filled with memories, and artful diversions seemed too cumbersome to keep.  We tacitly lightened our load.

 My feet were on unsteady ground, shifting from one place and purpose to another.

I still feel tentative.  After being here for two years, pictures in protective wrap are leaning against the wall in the living room and the dining room table is cloistered in moving blankets against the basement wall.  I just rearranged the furniture, again.

I remember, I happened upon the verse from Deuteronomy in Frederick Buechner’s recollections in The Remarkable Ordinary.  All my moving pieces might be reimagined in the assurance of being held, as Buechner says, by “whatever there is that is holy to hold us.” 

There is none like God…

who rides through the heavens to your help,

…The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Deuteronomy 33: 26-27 RSV

My true dwelling place wasn’t in that almost perfect house, or the providence of places that followed that year.  My dwelling place was able to hold me for a moment that was beyond time.  I repeated, was emboldened by, and rested in the words; the eternal God is my dwelling place, and underneath ARE the everlasting arms became my assurance that I belonged to God, not to a house, or town, or even a country.

In Isaiah, there is a verse that God will keep her in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on God.  A note in the bible I read says that Isaiah 26:3 is a Hebrew metaphor that calls up an image of a tent rope “stayed” or tied to a peg in the ground that secured the tent in the windy desert.

I am far from the desert, however, I know how that image, of being blown about and securely held, was engendered by my practice of repeating that scripture phrase from Deuteronomy.  Over and over, that image of God’s everlasting arms under my home anchored my mind and tethered my heart in peace.

That’s what we do in Lectio-Divina, extracting a word or phrase from sacred reading and living with that phrase for a time.  This time, for me, the verse has stayed for this long season of feeling uprooted yet somehow grounded. The truth “in my heart” keeps me tied to the One who is the place that settles me.

Rewired

The blanket I’d thrown on the chair, my chair, smelled like the dog. It’s the blanket I took off the bed to wash days ago and the dog’s been laying on it, of course. These days I don’t seem to rush into optional activity—like washing that blanket —and the definition of what is necessary has changed just a bit.   Since I’ve been sitting in the chair, wrapped in that blanket, I smell like a dog, too, and a shower might not be optional.

I’ve been somewhat casually taking a class online. The class is free if you don’t expect to turn in assignments or get a grade. I do take the computer-graded quizzes with instant results and without consequences. I guess my motives aren’t entirely altruistic since I do like to know I am in control of the right answers.

I do keep track of the assigned “rewirements,” though, an interesting name for personal actions that are suggested with each week’s lesson. Some are practices I already had intended to do, just not daily. I’m 5-6 weeks into the process of a gradual layering of these rewirements. I guess I should mention that the class is The Science of Well Being and, according to the course description, is designed to increase my happiness and build more productive habits for well being.

My reasons for signing up for the course weren’t exactly those intended. My friend, Stacy, whom I’ve spent a good amount of “class time” with, enrolled and I followed. We’d learned from popular media that students have flocked to the on-campus version of the course for several years. The course we are taking is a commercialized version of the university one. Nonetheless, for me, it is another lens with which to view some practices Stacy and I both hold close.

Some of the course’s suggested rewirements, like “social connections,” I only sustained for the week assigned due to my penchant to avoid being social. I have reworked the idea to mean having eye contact and maybe even a kind word with others that the dog and I might pass on our daily walk. The course calls this a random kindness rather than a connection, but I’m okay with that delusion. I have faithfully recorded each evening my gratitude for that day (at least 5) and recalled something I savored. I am encouraged to step outside an experience I love, to review and appreciate the positive emotions for even longer than that actual moment—the art of savoring.

On this evening when I decided to take a shower when the smelly dog smell from that dirty blanket lingered on me, too, the shower felt especially good. I am thankful for the instant hot water heater we have at this house. No waiting. I also like washing my face with Noxema and the nostalgic smell of eucalyptus that lingers. And even though it was only about 8:30 p.m., I decided to just go ahead and sit under the fresher smelling sheets on my bed and record my day’s gratitude and other “rewirement” requirements in my notebook. When I came to the savoring part I hesitated, scanning the day, wondering what did I do that I loved and could relive at that moment? It was a short pause.

THIS moment is what I am savoring: a hot shower, a clean feeling, a quiet warm place to sit and ponder. It was that moment before me I loved, to write what I wanted, and then to read without guilt or thinking of other things I might be doing.  I read the “change your mind” book my son had recommended. and read more about a 92-year-old author whose name I’d written in my notebook, and switched to the novel I’m reading—savoring the writing that’s difficult to define—almost a stream of consciousness from inside each character, the randomness of thoughts that also come in the midst of something else that is telling without overtly doing anything. This is an invitation to linger—accepting is necessary.

Earth is Messaging

“Is God trying to send us a message through this Coronavirus pandemic?” That’s what a member of our Lenten study group asked.

“No, but the earth is.

I thought that was a wise and wonder provoking answer from our guest leader, Paul Galbreath. Clearly, the unprecedented changes and challenges of the last few days have gotten our attention.

At the very moment I am writing this, my husband is at our church, meeting with a group of elders who are wondering how to be the Church without Sunday worship.

The discussion of the elders will include how to care for each other during this time. Ours is an aging congregation like many so-called mainline denominations. However, we are all vulnerable.

Martin and his wife live on his dishwasher’s salary. They are gifted musicians from another continent. On Friday, he was sent home from the restaurant, indefinitely, because there are no dishes to wash.

Paul is a young man waiting for a kidney transplant. I noticed he often comes from the balcony to the downstairs washroom about halfway through Sunday’s service. He has green hair and a joyous smile.

Andy is a thirty-something climate scientist who had never been to a church until he showed up on a recent Sunday morning. He wears a suit and slips into the back row. A lady in the choir thought he was Justin Trudeau visiting and wondered about his security detail.

Jee Yoon and her two sons are far from their home country. She wanted to expand her young sons’ opportunities and education. They cannot go home safely now. She is drenched with so many questions and so many gifts.

There is a lot to wonder about these times. But in our Lenten study, our conversation took a different turn than I expected; unveiling the messages we might hear.

We might pay attention to the earth in scripture, our leader suggested. How does the text associate with our landscapes?  Victoria, our city, is the Garden City, with resplendent ocean and mountain views. Yet, our J-pod of orcas and the salmon that spawn in Gold Stream Park and the Garry Oaks that line the Camosun College grounds are in peril.

Victoria is Canada’s busiest cruise ship port-of-call. With the season officially delayed until July, 120 ships will not visit our city. The promise delivers a crushing economic impact and more jobs like Martin’s will be compromised. And yet, slowing the surge of cruise ships, airplanes, and all kinds of travel might save our planet.

When I walk past the homeless man and hear him cough, I am reminded that his health is as important as mine. The strong public health system of Canada and the more limited public offerings in the United States will shape our collective response.

Toilet paper has come to represent our most basic need for luxury. Is there more to hear than the call of consumerism that says our needs must be met at all costs?

Earth shares a message with the Lenten season—to die and live is earth’s refrain.

What will rebirth look like?

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Moss Lady at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC     Photo by Mitch Coggin

Radical Trust

As I read slowly, and more than once, sacred reading, scripture, a poem or short essay, I find that certain words transform my attention from reading to prayer. I used to write these words in my journal and then re-read the passage over a period of days as a form of praying or meditation. Now I am trying to bring that word or phrase to my mind as often as possible over the course of the day. This week I read this excerpt on Psalm 106 from Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness.

May we become bearers of joy,

we who are invited to share in

the Cosmic Dance!

We pray for the gift of wisdom,

that the motivations of our heart

might be made pure,

That we may recognize the perfect

timing of all things

and know the seasons of

the heart.

May we walk with faith all the days

of our life—

confident in your Living Presence

even in times of trouble,

and with assurance for what is

and all that is to be;

May we have faith in the unfolding of our lives, and

radical trust in the universe.

Radical trust. That same day I had to meet with some people I didn’t know and whom I perceived were smarter and more accomplished that I certainly thought I was that day. This meeting was really not very important but emblematic of many of my struggles. Radical trust that the virtual planning session would go okay? Not quite. The radical trust rests “with assurance for what is and all that is to be” in the unfolding of my life. Unfolding is a key word here that means I am not able to see it or know it yet…perspective makes a difference.

Joy requires radical trust.