A friend’s mother died suddenly early this morning. I got the call at 3:30am. After comforting the family, I found myself plunged back into my own experiences of grief–my own mother’s, years ago, and a few more recent ones. I also found myself tumbling back into experiences of loss I thought would undo me, but didn’t.
Loss is inevitable. And it hurts. Frightens us too. Loss is a reminder of how vulnerable we are, how much we’re not in control after all. Loss of any kind can send us spinning, craving firm footing again.
When we do so, it’s not hard to bury ourselves in work or anything else that might distract us, numb us, and help us avoid the pain.
But loss is an invitation. There’s grace in it, hidden beneath the pain. Through loss we can come to greater clarity about what really matters in life.
Through some losses I thought would destroy me, I’ve learned that a lot of what I thought I needed, I don’t really need, and so much I thought I could not live without, I can, in fact, live without.
Grief has taught me how involved I am in humanity, how much I’m made for love. And loss has taught me that the one thing I need most can never be taken from me.
Perhaps that’s what it means to live Holy Saturday, halfway between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Intention: Today, I’ll let my losses shift my priorities again. I’ll look back upon them gratefully–even through my pain–and realize they can be my teachers. Every loss can open me to embrace life more fully.
Today I read about a new Lindsay Lohan film, “The Canyons.” It’s a microbudget film that’s an attempt to aid in the recovery of just about everybody who’s making it–director, writers, and, of course, Lohan . . . who has pretty much made herself a walking disaster, and frightened away just about anyone who thinks of working with her.
The article paints a portrait of Lohan that compares her to notoriously difficult George C. Scott, the alcoholic actor who’s made many a director shake in his boots. Only Lohan looks even more challenging than Scott.
“We don’t have to save her,” says director Shrader. “We just have to get her through three weeks in July.”
There’s a little of Lohan in each of us, more or less.
If you’re struggling against dysfunction, some part of you that makes life difficult for you and those around you, you may be tempted to think things will never change. Never’s a long time. But can you work with that part of you, give it some kind of container, a second (or third chance), a ton of patience . . . for just “three weeks in July”?
Three weeks of sane and sober living may not be enough to save Lohan. But then again, it could. It might be the footing she needs for a whole new beginning.
Intention: Today, I’ll face that challenging actor within; the one that whines and roars, and drives me nearly insane. I won’t walk away, nor will I let that part of me rule the set for the next 24 hours. I’ll try it again tomorrow, and the day after that too. Maybe get a little help from someone who knows how to tame the craziness within. I’ll give it a shot for a few weeks and see what kind of saving God’s up to within.
I slipped on black ice yesterday (this was written in early January). It’s a wonder I didn’t break my back or wrench my neck. I’m hardly sore except for the bruise on my back where the stuff in my backpack drove deep into the area around my left kidney. Today, it’s settling in on me how grateful I ought to be to be alive.
I was hiking up Angel Falls near Bass Lake. It’s January. There’s little snow, but what snow is there is melting, and, of course, icing up in places. I was walking along a great granite slab that’s been cut by the river over the last zillion years. The river screams along this ancient stone chute just a few yards down and to my right. I’d looked up momentarily, when in an instant, I found myself flat on my back and sliding toward the river. I had no time to wonder if I’d broken a bone because I was sliding fast toward the river. Just as suddenly as I fell, I stopped. And that was that.
Once on my feet again, I gingerly checked my bones and muscles, while my son pointed out that had I hit my head on the jagged piece of granite just inches from where I fell, things would have ended a whole lot differently.
Sadly, we too infrequently pause to consider the gift life is and how quickly we can lose what we take for granted.
Intention: Today, I’ll breathe, feel the air fill my lungs, let my eyes notice the play of light in the room around me and I’ll give thanks for the gift of life itself. This is the beginning of wisdom.
In Stage Five, you are now moved by the Spirit outward again in love, a love that compels you into an experience of abundance you’ve not know up to this point. In the past, it was mostly your head that directed you–”shoulds” and “oughts” kept you moving forward, caring for others, keeping your practices. But now, in Stage Five, your heart directs you, and your head serves your heart of love. There is, as Jesus promised, a “stream of living water welling up inside you” (John 7.38).
In this stage, spiritual guidance is necessary to help you discern what this Power within your is impelling you to be and do. You sense God’s greater purpose for you, but what exactly that means may not be clear to you.
You will still suffer in this stage as much (or even more) that you did before. But now you draw strength from the unfathomable resources of the Spirit, and from your real experience of ongoing union with Christ. You may even sense an “unceasing prayer” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) beginning to form in your heart–an expression of communion with the Trinity that flows within you without your effort.
Lastly, you may find yourself struggling with a nagging frustration despite the presence of God’s love in your heart. Your love for God and others, combined with your commitment to God’s righteousness and justice, may lead you to do things that are perceived as odd, dangerous, and sometimes counter to the mainstream of the society around you. In addition, you may be disinterested in things that interest most other people, and your passions and interests will probably not be shared by most of those around you. This can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation even in the midst of a strong community.
In this stage, you will need to seek out others who are emerging from Stage Four and the Wall, people who share your experiences and who can serve as companions as you journey deeper into the fullness of Christ.
The fifth of the six stages that characterize our spiritual growth as Christians is marked by a new turn outward toward others and the creation. In this stage, your life expresses an integration of your growth so far, a deep rootedness in your intimacy with God through the Spirit.
In the previous stage, Stage Four, you turned inward after years of active and outward service and leadership (Stage Three). You were seeking more of God than you’d known before–a real experience of encounter with God that neither doctrine nor evangelical service could give you. Doctrine and service were vitally important for your journey, but there came a point when crisis or spiritual hunger made you deeply aware of an emptiness within that nothing but God could satisfy.
Your turn inward–toward more of Christ–was no easy path. Once determined to seek Christ above all things, you collided with “the Wall” of your sin and self will; you came face to face with a deep, inner resistance to God. But if you participated in this experience as a gift of God’s severe mercy; if you deepened your spiritual practices of intimacy with God through prayer and meditation (or contemplation); and if you partnered with a spiritual director or guide who helped you face your sin, confront your demons, and who held you in Christ; then you emerged into a new dawning in your Christian experience. Stage Five is this dawning–it is your emergence into a morning bright with the light of Christ.
There’s an awful lot of taming of this mystery we call the Incarnation. Here Parker Palmer explores the risk of the Incarnation. An apt way of putting things in a time when we’re becoming more aware of the tremendous risk it is to be human.
Here’s a needed counter-testimony to the often thin preachments of male preachers who can never put the Incarnation in these terms. This is exceptionally good material for re-encountering Christmas, especially if you’re a woman all to familiar with the ways we men have spun this Mystery.
. . . And yet my body had taken over and all we could do, all I could do, was surrender to that moment fully. Every muscle in my body was focused, my entire world had narrowed to that very moment. And then there he was, born while I was leaning against our old truck, standing up, into my own hands, nearly 9 pounds of shrieking boy-child humanity, welcomed by my uncontrollable laughter and his father’s uncontrollable relief-tears. A few people applauded.
There wasn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.
And yet it was the moment when I felt the line between the sacred and the secular of my life shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of life are somehow the most raw, the most human moments, aren’t they?
But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much. It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy. With far too little control. And sometimes it does not go the way we thought it was supposed to go and then we are also left with questions, with deep sadness, with longing . . .
You’ll need at least three things to more forward through stage four.
First, an awareness that there is a stage beyond Service and Leadership, because without it you’ll think something’s gone terribly wrong.
Second, patience and compassion with yourself because this stage can be extremely disorienting, even frightening.
And third, a spiritual friendship with someone who is unthreatened by your questions and your expressions of frustration, someone who won’t try to fix you, but who understands God’s mysterious ways enough to hold you in faith, helping you believe that God is meeting you in the midst of your experience.
A sure sign that you’re moving through this stage is the presence of an expanding sense of love, for love is the only thing that can lead you along these later stages of spiritual growth.
There’s a lot of talk these days about the evil of the world and much concern about the suffering many of us experience.
Questions about God, suffering, and evil will abound as the ten year anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes.
Here’s something that challenges us to see things differently–
John Goldingay, a distinguished Old Testament professor, has written a remarkable memoir of his 43 year marriage, much of it challenged by his wife’s experience with multiple sclerosis. In the final years before her death in 2009, she was unable to walk or even speak.
To students who often struggle intellectually with the nature of God and the reality of suffering and evil, Goldingay often says:
“It’s odd that people who are not suffering often seem to fret more about this problem than people who are? . . . [The people who worry about such things] are people who each day have food to eat and sunshine to enjoy and friends to share life with and a roof over their head and God to talk to. What on earth are we to make of the fact that there is so much good in the world? Isn’t that at least as striking as the fact that there is so much evil?”
Yes, that fact is at least as striking.
Taking hold of that fact more consistent with a life of prayer that’s nourished by the teaching of another Old Testament scholar who writes: “And God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1.31).
The heart is like the furnace in Babylon where the three brave souls were met and sustained by the Divine presence. It is also like the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. Again, your heart is like the rock in the desert that gushed forth water, saving the children of Israel.