Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Right Here, Right Now

i haven't written much about riding my bike lately, probably because i don't get to ride every day as i did last summer.  with my early morning practice schedule, it's been too hot most mornings to ride after i get home from practicing.  when i have gotten to ride, as i did this morning, i've tried to simply enjoy the ride--no stories in my head, no planning or wrestling with decisions, just riding, breathing, looking, feeling.  now, from time to time, i've caught myself drifting away from the ride and thinking about the day's activities that are ahead or some other out-of-the-moment distraction, but when that's happened, i've called myself back to the joy of the ride.

how often as i go through the day i find myself missing the experience of the never-to-return moment as i anticipate some future moment that may never come!  when i realize that's happening, i'm trying to stop and say a silent "thank you" to God for the present moment and the activity in which i'm engaged, while pushing aside the mental distraction that keeps me from enjoying the present.  today was an especially hectic day, and i raced through it, thinking constantly that i must finish the present activity so i have time to get on to the next one.  now at the end of the day as i sit and write, i realize that my constant pushing to get to the future kept me from enjoying the day as i might have, and i'm grateful to have stopped to think about the acitivity of writing these words.  finally, i've stopped long enough to relish the moment and the activity that fills it, a sensation i haven't experienced since my early morning bike ride that seems so long ago.  (since my post won't publish until early tomorrow morning, the day i'm describing is "yesterday," obviously.)

as i looked back through last week's post, i realized that much of what i wrote last week was repeated in today's hectic schedule.  like last week, i came to the end of  the day, and everything was ok.  i'm still working on learning the lesson of letting go of the need to control the day and master it.  i'm getting better little by little at taking time to stop and reflect on how to go with the day so that future is not pressing down on me, keeping me from enjoying the present.  instead of waiting until the end of the day to reflect, i'll try to pause throughout the next hectic day to remind myself that the day was given for my enjoyment, not for me to control.

my prayer for myself and for you is that we'll let go of stories about the future and relish the present, giving thanks for the opportunity to experience the here and now without anticipating a future that may never take place.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To Everything There Is a Season

this week has been a hectic week with many extra meetings and beginning to teach a summer school class, on top of my usual work at church and home. when such busy times occur, i find i have little time to call my own, and i become anxious and depressed. my typical reaction to these feelings is to tell myself that i shouldn't be feeling this way, but i've been trying instead to admit that i have such feelings and, rather than feeling guilty for having feelings that i "shouldn't" have, i've been trying to sort through them and figure why i have such a difficult time dealing with the stress of too much to do and too little time to do it.

as i've begun each day's meditation time, i've admitted these feelings in my prayers and asked God to help me in dealing with them in an honest way that doesn't become guilt-ridden. what i've taken away from these prayer times is a sense that i can let some things go, that for a brief period while i'm teaching my summer school class, it's ok to skip a german or italian study time if need be or to say to my wife, "we'll just have to postpone this chore for a day or two, because i need some time just to sit and be." it's been a relief not to feel the need to be super-husband, super-disciplined, super-always-at-other's-disposal.

my wife has been incredibly patient with me, since i was honest in saying, "there's too much on my plate. help me remove some of it." yesterday was incredibly hectic for both of us, and we returned home at the end of the day exhausted but happy because we had supported each other and laughed at the frantic pace we had shared as we raced through the day. how nice it was that, instead of being snippy with each other and feeling sorry for ourselves as we usually are after such a day, we could end the day in good spirits because we honestly admitted to one another that the day's schedule was demanding, but this pace only lasted for one day and we handled it together.

all through the day, my wife kept asking, "are you ok? is everything going to be alright?" her concern for me lifted my spirits and i could truthfully answer, "yes. we're going to come out at the other end of the day relieved that it's over and proud that we handled the demands on us well."

God has let me know that the time i'm given is sufficient to accomplish the things that need to be accomplished. i don't have to feel guilty that some non-essential tasks may be postponed for a less busy time. perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, "sufficient to the day is the evil thereof" (matthew 6:34). my prayer for each of us this day is that we examine our feelings honestly and without guilt and learn how to prioritize, completing those tasks that are truly important and setting aside the lower priority tasks without a sense of failure. may we understand that taking time to take care of our own needs is often one of those high priority tasks. shalom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All Thy Works with Joy . . .

it is my custom while i'm temporarily filling in as organist/choirmaster at my church to go to the church around 6:00 in the morning to practice.  the first thing i do is to sit in one of the pews and spend 30 minutes in prayer and meditation.  the other morning, i happened to run my hand along the top of the pew in front of me.  it was remarkably smooth, and i began to think about all the life in the piece of beautiful oak that was seemingly inanimate.  i know, though, that this wood vibrates with the energy of creation.

as i contemplated the fact that every object is filled with god's creative energy, i thought of the history of this piece of wood.  decades, perhaps centuries ago, a small acorn fell to the ground and was nourished by organic matter from decaying plants and animals.  in this rich environment a tiny tree sprouted, and with continued nourishment from the soil and the rain, it flourished, finally becoming a huge tree.

at the right time, a forester came along and harvested the tree.  perhaps by that time the tree was two or three hundred years old, perhaps it was still healthy, or perhaps it was diseased or damaged by the ravages of a severe storm or by another tree falling against it.  whatever its condition, the tree was harvested and taken to a mill where it was sawed into lumber.

that lumber reached a craftsman, maybe in a church furniture factory or maybe in a small workshop, where is was shaped into parts of a pew.  other skilled workmen or machine operators finished the raw wood of the pew so that it glowed with a shiny finish that sealed it and enhanced the lovely grain.  someone loaded it onto a truck that transported to its present location.

countless worshippers have sat in that pew, looking to the chancel with its communion table and other furniture and to the cross on the wall in the central archway of the chancel.  what a miracle this pew is.  how many hands have gone into making it ready for its present function.  it all began with that tiny acorn and the right soil and moisture conditions that are the gifts of the end of life for countless organisms and the forces set in motion by a benevolent Creator.

i gave a prayer of thanksgiving for all those who had a part in creating something that i had never taken the time to think about until that day.  we are surrounded by such miracles, each pulsing with God's creative energy.  my prayer today is that we stop to think of, and give thanks for, the miracles of continuing creation in which we are blessed to participate.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We Are One

over the past several days, i have been thinking of the concept of "oneness." i am becoming more intrigued by the idea of reincarnation. the possibility that another was our mother, father, brother, sister, or child in a past life changes how we view others and our relationships to them. does the possibility that the person who treats me unkindly was, in some other life, a close relative cause me to react in a very different way to that unkindness? might i repay unkindness with patience and understanding rather than repaying unkindness with more unkindness?

if we are all one, if "there is neither jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, [neither] . . . male and female," as st. paul says in galatians 3:28, treating another in the wrong way harms oneself. st. paul goes on to say that we "are all one in christ jesus." in matthew 25:40 jesus says, " inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." these teachings suggest to me that as a follower of jesus, one must see the unity of all people and in so doing treat others with kindness and respect, just as one should treat oneself with kindness and respect.

the idea that one soul can inhabit many bodies over extended periods of time increases the obligation to extend loving kindness to every person as much as we possibly can. the belief in the power of God to transform something old into something new is a profound one that we see expressed in nature over and over. the caterpillar become the butterfly, the tadpole becomes the frog, the embryo become the new creature, organic matter decays and becomes part of new life. isn't in possible then that God intends for us to see the interconnectedness of all life and wishes us to treat each life with love and respect, since the life of that "other" is intimately connected with our own.

this line of thinking is very foreign to what most christians have been taught to believe. we are focused on the uniqueness of each individual soul and the idea that, once this life is over, the soul is transformed and is either eternally in God's presence or eternally excluded from God's presence. as i age, i increasingly question that line of thinking and am drawn to the possibility that God's mercy will allow us to correct the mistakes we've made in this life and have other chances to "get it right."

my prayers for each of us today is that we'll entertain the possibility that we are indeed one and that we'll treat each other as if that were a fact rather than a mere possibility. shalom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace

in my last post, i mentioned mark 9:42-50.  this is a passage that should give pause to those who insist that every word in the bible must be taken literally.  certainly, no one would suggest that jesus is advocating chopping off one's hands or feet, plucking out one's eyes, or deliberately drowning oneself.  the passage begins with a verse about "causing one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble."  it would seem that this verse properly belongs in mark 10:13-16, where jesus tells the disciples not to turn away children who have been brought to him for blessing.  the passage (mark 9:38-41) that proceeds the closing section of mark 9 is one in which jesus tells the disciples not to prevent others outside their group who may be healing in jesus' name from claiming the name of jesus.  the connection between the two is tenuous at best.

the closing verses of mark 9 seem to be telling us that things that are not evil in and of themselves may be used for evil if we are not careful.  we fall into habits that are counterproductive or that consume too much of our time; we allow attachments to things that are impermanent to distract us from what is really important; we mistakenly believe that life is ours to control.  perhaps jesus is suggesting that we examine ourselves and get rid of those encumbrances that prevent us from rightfully claiming to be followers of jesus.

jesus concludes by admonishing the disciples to "have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other."  this may be the connection between mark 9:38-41 and mark 9:42-49: jesus may be telling the disciples that their desire to claim jesus as theirs exclusively, to become a closed circle, is offensive; the disciples should have a view that is more inclusive and outward looking, salting society with the flavor of kindness and connectedness that brings peace to all, not just to an inner circle of the most devoted followers.  therefore, they must cast away their selfish claim to jesus by ridding themselves of the figurative hands, feet, and eyes that prevent them from functioning in accord with jesus' teachings.

my prayer for myself and you today is that we constantly examine our lives to remove those things that keep us from living the life of love and acceptance that jesus taught, so that we become the salt that flavors the whole of life, thereby living in "peace with each other."  shalom.