Tag Archives: Giving thanks

We Have Only Begun

But we have only begun
to love the earth.
We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
–so much is in bud.
(Denise Levertov, “Beginners”)

This morning I meditated in my doctor’s office, my shoes left under a nearby chair and my socked feet tucked under me as I sat curled on that crinkly doctor’s office paper.

It’s been that kind of week for me so far, beginning with the moment when I rear-ended a confused elderly couple on my way to work Monday morning. It almost seemed like they’d never done this whole thing before.

“You take your car to the shop and then you call me,” I told the husband, pointing to my phone number, which I’d scrawled on a pad of paper I found in my car. The paper was decorated with the word faith in flowy letters across the bottom.

“You call me,” I repeated, and he looked unsure. A new ritual.

I really hate going to the doctor, but I’ve been to this doctor’s office a few times over the last months for routine follow-ups to various issues, so it’s starting to feel almost familiar. Every time I’m there, a different nurse weighs me before I go in.

“I don’t think I’ve changed much,” I say to this morning’s version, and she smiles and tells me to take off my shoes.

So I do, and I’m right: I haven’t changed much.

Then we walk down the hall and go to the room and she asks me the same questions and I give the same answers and when she leaves, I consider reading the only magazine in the room — Michael J. Fox is on the cover promising to tell us all how to live bravely — but I don’t even pick it up. I squeeze the blood pressure bulbs and watch the magical mercury rise and fall, rise and fall, and then I pull my feet up and just sit there.

I just sit there, and live bravely already.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Why do those exam rooms always feel so terrifyingly small and lifeless? It’s the places where we’re most vulnerable that we most need human contact, I suppose.

Before they got back into their car, the wife put her hands together and looked at me. “Do you think it’ll be okay?” she asked. I found the question a little surprising, not in small part because I had tried to take a picture of the damage to their bumper with my phone, but the dent was so slight it wouldn’t even show up in the photo. “Honestly?” I say, “I’m not even going to fix mine.”

But her face doesn’t look like that’s enough, so I tell her: “Yes, I’m sure it’ll be okay.” That Julian of Norwich comes through in a pinch, every time.

It’s normal to drive a little extra cautiously the first few days after a car accident, even a nearly invisible one. When I slowed down on the commute home to let a semi merge into my lane ahead of me, he flashed his tail lights at me in thanks. I felt surprisingly touched by such a gracious gesture.

Human contact, I suppose.

Later that night, I’m leading a worship service, and it’s quiet and dark in the stone chapel. We are almost too many to fit around the Eucharist table, and we have to squeeze close to each other, even standing before and behind each other, like we’re readying for a family portrait, even though we’re really mostly strangers.

It takes a long time to pass the bread and cup to all of us, so we sing while we wait: Use the light you have, and pray for more light.

By the time the sacrament gets all the way around the circle, like a game of telephone, we’ve forgotten which words we’re supposed to be using to serve, and each person is saying something different, like “the bread of heaven” or “the body of Christ,” and we break the pieces small so there will be enough for everyone.

Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo, “to give thanks.” As in, “He gave thanks, broke bread, and gave it to them to eat.” And hidden inside it, the word charis, which means “grace.”

I think of my experience teaching middle schoolers about the meaning of Eucharist. They gave all the predictable lines about how it was gross and weird and cannibalistic. Then I shared with them that I always prefer to receive by common cup, when I’m able, and that one really threw them.

I can understand their feelings — unfamiliar rituals and all. And really, it’s hard to explain what it is that I like about that particular method. Human contact, I suppose.

I drink from the common cup tonight, and hold the chalice just so before passing it to the woman next to me. I’ve never met her before, so I can’t use her name.  I just say, “the cup of salvation,” and she drinks, too.

Before we close the service, I get up and walk to the center lectern to read. “We have only begun,” I say — not my words, but also mine.

“We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.”

The words echo like thunder, and I drive home in the dark, somehow changed and not changed.

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5 Ways to Jump Start Your Spiritual Life

Getting out the Door

When I complain that I don’t have enough motivation to get out the door and go running, my sister-in-law often reminds me: “That’s what separates the runners from the non-runners.”

She’s quoting a line I often give to her. Anyone can run, the difference is just that some people actually do. I’ve been a runner for years, and I still have a hard time just getting myself out the door. I don’t think that challenge ever goes away.

Developing your spiritual life works the same way as developing a fitness routine. Anyone can do it: what matters is that you go do it. The advice below isn’t anything new or fancy or complicated because I believe that what you do doesn’t matter as much as that you do it.

What separates a plateaued spiritual life from a thriving one is just getting out the proverbial door.

5 ways to jump start your spiritual life

  • Get a different perspective

I’m not speaking metaphorically here. I mean literally changing your usual point of view. Lay on your kitchen floor, pray from inside your closet, go barefoot for a few hours, roll down a hill, get into your house by climbing through a window, walk home on a different street.

I’m often amazed at what I miss because I’ve become dissociated from what I’m doing, which is too bad because earth’s crammed with heaven.

  • State what you want

If you know you want something different in your spiritual life, you need to tell someone. Preferably multiple someones. Tell God — meaning pray about what you want. Tell your support system — meaning call on the people who care about you for encouragement and accountability.

And if someone in particular is involved in the change you want, tell them. If you want a deeper relationship with her, ask her over for dinner. If you want some empathy and compassion, ask him for it. If you want more worship time, ask friends to join you. You might not get a ‘yes,’ but the act of stating what you want is clarifying and freeing in itself.

  • Pray without ceasing

In order to do this, you’re probably going to have to re-frame your idea of prayer. If you’re not a big fan of being seen talking to yourself in public, put in an earpiece and talk to God on the phone. Sometimes, when I feel words aren’t enough, I make up songs. Write daily gratitude lists, practice the spiritual examen at night, designate certain doors as “pray-ways” and commit to praying every time you walk through that particular door, do yoga, walk a labyrinth, find a new worship service, recruit a prayer partner, write prayers on your walls, set up an altar in your bedroom.

Whatever prayer practices you develop, they should work for you. It isn’t about quotas or answers or self-pressure or expectations. It’s about opening your heart a little bit wider every chance you get.

  • Talk to someone very young or very old

Children and elders have incredible wisdom, and, generally, they love to share it! If you find yourself asking tough questions in your own faith journey, ask those same tough questions to someone profoundly brilliant, like a 5-year-old. Or make friends with one of the seniors in your community and ask them to share a time when they learned a valuable life lesson. I’m telling you, stories are everywhere.

  • Learn your Enneagram type

I first learned about the Ennegram personality types from my spiritual director. I find the Enneagram more helpful than other personality typographies because it is geared towards self-understanding and personal development. Knowing my own tendencies and weaknesses has helped me deepen my self-acceptance and learn to move through those places where I get “stuck” more easily. Becoming familiar with other Enneagram types has helped me to understand other people (especially those who annoy or scare me) and tap into the strengths they bring to the table. This has been one of the most powerful tools I’ve found for personal and relational growth.

All kinds of great books have been written about the Enneagram. Fr. Richard Rohr has written about the Enneagram from a Christian perspective. Don Riso wrote a series of Releases and Affirmations for each type that I find both healing and convicting. Talk about spiritual growth! [In case you’re curious, friends, I’m a 6.]

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What do you do when your spiritual life needs a jump start? What practices have you found most helpful for growing spiritually?

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Waking Up: Reflections on the meaning of Yom Kippur

The morning traffic is slow on my drive to work, and I remember. It is Yom Kippur. The public schools in my neighborhood are out for the Jewish holiday.

One of my school teacher co-workers tells me she didn’t know what to say to her students to acknowledge their holy day. “What do you say on Yom Kippur?” she asks me. I’m not sure.

At our staff meeting, our Jewish co-worker reads us this reflection by Rabbi David Wolpe on Yom Kippur, and I learn:

Yom Kippur is about death.

As Rabbi Wolpe writes:

Yom Kippur is a powerful existentialist statement. In its best known prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, we are reminded that we are fleeting, that our lives are like the wind that blows, like the flower that fades, as a passing shadow.

I think about the article I read last week about another shooting in East Oakland, another child in the schools I served hit by stray bullets of someone else’s fight. I think about a woman in our congregation who was shaken last week after witnessing a stranger’s suicide when they leapt from a tall building. I think about a different woman in our congregation whose doctor found, accidentally, the tumor she just had removed – she breathes a cancer-free breath today.

The Psalmist cries:

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

But, of course, because it is about death, Yom Kippur is also about life.

It is about being present to the goodness of another day, being open to the receiving of the grace of living, the mercy of God. It is about humility and open hands.

“It’s kind of like Ash Wednesday,” our Jewish co-worker explains. “You repent, you restart. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed, and you can again appeal to God for forgiveness.”

– – –

Later, in the afternoon, I drive South, away from the city.

The trees lining the highway, blushing their first touches red and gold, lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

The gray clouds slouch across the strip of sky, and they too lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

Suddenly it is as if the whole world is a quiet chorus bringing me to life, calling me to gratitude for the fleeting brush of this one moment, this one breath, and I feel so tiny and so huge all at once.

And I remember that each breath I take is precious because of the first breath I won’t take.

Wake up.

You are already alive in this moment.

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Joining the harmony of voices at SheLoves for the AWAKE Synchoblog. Go visit and read some other stories of awakening.

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