Moving in Faith

When I sit down to blog, I often have no idea what the subject will be. I’ve slowly learned that I don’t need to know, that something will come along that will surprise me, that as I write, some deeply held truth will work its way into consciousness for the first time.

I don’t generally approach my days with this same comfortable not-knowing. I tend to view the day as a to-do list rather than a revelation of divine love and an invitation to participate in that love. With a to-do list, I can pretend to be in control. Showing up to a divine love party requires that openness called faith.

In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson says, “faith is first of all an existential decision rising up from your personal depths to entrust yourself to the Whither of your life, the living God.” Faith is a decision to trust.

To entrust ourselves to anyone or anything, including God, “to put [ourselves] into someone’s care or protection,” as the dictionary defines it, seems like a dicey proposition. God doesn’t appear to be in the protection business. There are those times when we improbably and uncannily emerge safe from the midst of danger, and then there is sickness, war, school shootings, hurricanes.

God’s presence, God’s unwavering care in the midst of all that is incomprehensible and painful is what we must choose to trust. “God protects us from nothing and sustains us in all things,” Jim Finley says.

Without this trust, we cannot enter the fullness of our lives. Johnson calls God the Whither of our lives because God is our destination, “that ineffable plenitude toward which we are journeying.” The Divine Love draws us toward itself and places our feet on the road, “summons and bears our thirsty minds and desiring hearts.”

Trust allows us to follow that summons, to recognize the divine love party for what it is and know that every moment we are both already in the presence of and traveling closer to our Host.


Note: The Elizabeth Johnson quotes were taken from the essay “Atheism and Faith in a Secular World,” pp. 20-34.

Letting Love Define Us

They say we learn from our mistakes. This happens occasionally, but more often I observe myself procrastinating or making snap judgements about people again and again.

I think twelve-step programs call this powerlessness. The likelihood of willing ourselves to change is low. I recently read an interview with an efficiency expert who basically said that willpower is not really a thing.

As I understand them, the next few of the twelve steps prescribe looking clearly at what one is doing. This process has multiple levels. It means admitting to ourselves that we are the cause of the outcomes we’re experiencing, but it also means seeing past or through our mistakes, seeing them for what they are.

Our failures don’t define us. Only love has the power to name who we are, as Jim Finley says. If we aren’t seeing our limitations clearly—and clarity comes not with the harsh light of judgement but with the gentle illumination of mercy—we might mistake them for our true nature.

We are limited beings, but none of us is a whole unto ourselves, nor are we intended to be. The astonishing variety in this world reflects the infinite nature of God’s one Love in which we belong as an integral part. Concentrating on our faults leads us to create separation rather than living the wholeness that is.

It’s hard in this culture in the midst of failure to see oneself as part of a blessed whole. We can no more will ourselves to see this reality than to make any other change, but we can live as if it is true, we can have faith. We can embrace ourselves with the love and respect due a manifestation of God and one day, as Richard Rohr says, we’ll live ourselves into a new way of thinking.

Recognize the Whole

The Mississippi River begins in Montana in small streams that flow into the Milk River that merges with the Missouri. The Great River starts near Denver; it flows through Pittsburgh. It contains sediment from New Mexico and Texas.

I recently watched a Ken Burns documentary on the Mayo Clinic, a world-renowned medical center located in the small city of Rochester, Minnesota, about seventy miles from the Mississippi. The clinic exists because Mother Mary Alfred Moes of the Sisters of St. Francis received a vision from God to start a hospital.

982px-Mississippiriver-new-01
Map of the Mississippi River Basin by Shannon1 used under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Mississippi River was formed by the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and subsequent glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age.

As prescribed by the vision, Mother Mary chose William Worrall Mayo to run the sisters’ hospital. Mayo and his two sons, also doctors, practiced patient-centered care. The hospital provided a venue in which they could learn and develop the most successful surgical techniques.

As their skill and success grew, not only patients but also other doctors flowed into Rochester the way tributaries flow into the Mississippi, through a gravitational pull, in this case the pull of healing, knowledge, and expertise.

I find this map of Ol’ Man River so compelling and beautiful because it’s a map of relationship, a map of the continent’s arterial connections. Without the trickles of water high up in the Rocky Mountains or in the Texas panhandle, the mighty Mississippi would not exist. As far as water is concerned, there’s no separation between Wyoming and Louisiana. The entire river system is one whole.

The Mayos, assisted by the sisters, treated the whole person, body and soul. All expertise poured into the central artery of the patient’s health, with multiple medical specialists cooperating to treat one patient in one location. According to the film, this philosophy continues today and has made the Mayo Clinic the exceptional center of groundbreaking medicine that it is.

And so with our communities, our nations, our world. We are all flowing into one another, more liquid than solid, rivers of interconnected experiences. The patient is our shared life on this planet, and if we would bring healing, we must recognize the whole.

 

Welcoming Autumn

Autumn is always hard for me. From the end of strawberry season to getting up in the dark, nothing about this time of transition flows smoothly.

Toward the end of August I start to feel summer’s fullness slipping away. During the longest days of the year, I could sink into the world’s ripening with trust. Autumn, on the other hand, brings a death, and we never know what waits on the other side of dying, whether the small deaths scattered throughout life or the one that ends our existence.

A friend recently sent me a Rilke poem about this emptying time of year. At first glance, it’s not encouraging:

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

We may be tempted to run from the loneliness, but let’s not miss that this season invites us into the vastness of our hearts, a place we might not hang out very often. That vastness can scare us as it opens up the mystery of our selves, an uncharted territory whose exploration demands some solitude, some loneliness.

Perhaps all endings open up unforeseen space. They enlarge us in ways we could not have predicted; they tumble us into our surprisingly spacious hearts because suddenly nowhere else has anything relevant to say.

Rilke gives instructions for how to navigate autumn: “Be earth now, and evensong.” Though he warns that it won’t be pleasant—“The days go numb, the wind/ sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.”—I love the idea of being earth, that nurturing home that accepts everything back into itself regardless of what form a life took. Whether it was kind or harsh, generative or walled in, earth waits to receive it without judgment or exception.

Summer offers us a dwelling place, but in autumn, we must become the home for all that we have been the previous year, all that is passing away within us. We must stand on that vast plain and welcome our failures and endings and missed opportunities into the soil of our hearts. It is big enough to hold them and deep enough to transform them because there, as Rilke concludes, “he who began it all/ can feel you when he reaches for you.”

Visiting Reality

The present is a nice place. I would give it five stars on TripAdvisor. I visited there recently and hope to return soon.

The casual observer of the inside of my brain might conclude I own a time machine. A quick tour would reveal imagined futures that often affect my life as if they were real: fear about how current projects will turn out, conversations that will never happen, infinite lists of unfinished tasks. And of course a small corner reserved for the chocolate radar.

Driving to work one day, all of that fell away through no particular effort of my own, and for a mile or two, I inhabited the space and time called now. The reality of the same pine trees, the same ocean, the same freeway I see every day suddenly broke through the usual fog I hang over my mind and senses.

My version of the present is narrow, but the actual present is spacious. I tend to see now as a place I’m passing through on the way to somewhere better or somewhere I’m supposed to be, but it is all that is. It is the only thing that’s real.

The future of my own creating is a shadowland. Right now is a force, a power, a beauty that we miss going about our everyday lives trying to get to what comes next.

Of course we have to plan and work toward things. All animals do this. But we tend to focus on the destination to the exclusion of where we are, and the destination we imagine does not exist and never will.

May the present break through for all of us and may we dwell in the spaciousness of the real.

It’s Not Easy

With apologies to Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being human.

First of all, we’re incredibly complex biological organisms in which many things can go wrong and often do. Then there’s sexuality, glorious mixture of chemistry and culture that it is, which generally complicates things a lot.

We have thoughts and feelings, most of which we don’t know what to do with, and many of which do not promote our well-being. Not to mention that a large chunk of what motivates us is unavailable to our conscious minds.

And that’s just the internal world. Add other people into the mix and suddenly we’re dealing with differing pasts, conflicting cultural values, the vagaries of language. Our infinite personality variations mean no two people experience the same event in the same way, yet we long to be understood. It’s a wonder civilization formed at all much less continues.

So perhaps we could cut ourselves some slack and remember that we’re still evolving. According to the economist Max Roser, every day for the last 25 years, 137,000 fewer people lived in extreme poverty than the day before. A company is building a machine to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This doesn’t mean all is well—climate change comes to mind—but it is reason for hope.

The most profound hope comes from the reality that Divinity permeates this beautiful messiness—that we are, that creation is—in a way that we cannot comprehend with our rational minds. The Holy connects us all. No part of our lives or our being is separate from God or from the rest of existence.

To steal a line from William Stafford’s poem “A Message from the Wanderer,” “That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.” The divinity of everything is waiting for us to approach and recognize it with our divinity. That’s not easy, but it’s what we’re here for.

Texting Jesus

One day the autocorrect on my phone decided I needed to get in touch with Jesus instead of my friend Jessica. Simple as that, “To: Jesus,” right there on the screen. What if I could text the Son of God? What would I say?

In all honesty, my first thought was to ask for stuff, maybe lots of stuff. After all, this is a direct connection to the Almighty, and listing our desires is the first form of prayer most of us are taught. Plus, you know, a new dining table would be nice.

But maybe I could do better; maybe we could have a deeper, more meaningful exchange. “Thank you” seemed like an appropriate choice. A little vague perhaps, but there are infinite options for what to say next and nothing opens up a connection like gratitude.

Then I wondered what Jesus would want to receive in a text. What would make his face light up with joy when his phone binged at him? And while we’re at it, what’s his ringtone?

I decided Jesus wouldn’t care what the words said—he’d just be glad that I got in touch. The Divine wants nothing more than to be intimate with us. It’s just waiting for us to wake up to its presence already permeating our lives and shoot off a quick “OMG!”

Jesus would love for us to be as constantly attuned and attentive to the movement of God in our lives as we are to our phones. Just imagine if we checked in with our connection to Spirit as often as we check our messages. I am always conscious of where my phone is. What if I were equally conscious of where my attention is and whether it is focused on growing in unity God?

If we were that tuned in, we might just get a text message from Jesus.


Note: The blog and I will be on vacation next week.