Wherein I finally have some insight into living in the moment

In yoga this morning, as I started a seated forward bend, I got a bit impatient with myself because I couldn’t reach my feet. A few minutes later, as I let go of my impatience and relaxed into the pose (with the teacher’s gentle instruction), I felt my body sinking a bit lower and my index fingers encircle my big toes. Slowly I sat back up.

Later, in Warrior 1, I saw that the young person across from me had her thigh bent almost parallel to the floor. I remembered being able to do that and looked down ruefully at my own thigh, which was still closer to vertical than horizontal. I wanted to be able to do what I could once do. Instead, I focused over the head of the person across from me and let my body relax a little more into the pose. Not a lot, just micro-movements, but I focused on my own body.

Later still, during the final seated mindfulness time, I thought about those moments and I thought that my focus and goal cannot be to be as good as, or better than, I once was; and it cannot be to be as good as, or better than, anyone else. My only focus should be my body right then and there, as it is in that moment. To listen to it, to respect it, and to help it to move freely in that moment.

And then I thought, “I make that same kind of mistake with God.” I too often compare – how strong is my belief compared to what it once was, compared to someone else’s belief? How can I recapture a past certainty, a past peace, a past immersion in liturgy? How can I be as sure as others?

Instead I am going to try to sink into my relationship with God right at the moment I am praying. Just let it be, even if that is doubting God’s existence. Just letting the moment be enough, with whatever I can have of God right then. I’m not quite sure how exactly I will do that. Writing about it is part of helping myself to do that and trying to tell others is part of helping myself to do that.

Even though these words are a very poor reflection of the immediacy and impact of the insight in the moment I had it.

Advertisements

Forgiveness

I continue to be led to think about forgiveness. My thoughts this morning are that forgiveness is grace: unmerited favor. Often, when I feel that someone has wronged me, I focus on trying to understand the why of it – I go over and over it in my mind, twisting and turning it, trying to see it (as I was taught to do) from their point of view. Too often, those efforts just intensify the hurt for me, lead me into lengthy internal “dialogues” with the person who hurt me – dialogues that I always “win.” None of that leads easily to forgiveness.

This morning I have been thinking about Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery. He was not interested in her reasons, justifications, mitigating circumstances. He forgave her and asked her to do better in the future.

I am a long way from that but this morning I am thinking that forgiveness is not about understanding or excusing, but about willingness to continue to love the offender and to believe that the future can be better. Faith, hope, love and grace are needed to forgive – a tall order.

P.S. I also posted this on a closed Facebook group that I belong to. One of the women in the group took the time to write a long comment that ended with this:

Forgiveness is more a gift to yourself (via God’s grace), a firm decision not to let the harm caused by the other stop you from being free.”

I want to print this large and frame it, keep it before me always.

Against Ecclesiastes

Continuing my war on dichotomies, this morning I take issue with Ecclesiastes 3 (even though I’m never sure how to spell it). “There is…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Anyone who has experienced much of life knows that all times are one. Just as there can be joy and laughter at a funeral, there can be sorrow and regret in the midst of happy times. We never – or almost never – think, “How do I handle, how do I get over, how do I at least conceal this joy?” Others never – or almost never – feel called to remind us that feelings of happiness will pass, that soon we will get on with our lives without feeling happy. We have labeled joy and happiness as good, sorrow and regret as bad. Yet all are simply emotionally honest responses to life. And life is complex – deep and rich and multi-layered. God is complex – the perfectly good, all knowing Supreme Being who created a very imperfect world. I think accepting the coexistence of complex, conflicting emotions may be a small step towards accepting the complex, holy, not-completely-knowable reality of God. If we cannot be comfortable with our own emotional complexity, how can we ever hope to be comfortable with God’s complexity?

And one of the ways we have been taught to reduce God’s complexity is to think of God, to worship God, solely as male, the Supreme Him. So much Christian misogyny flows from this. It is a challenge to accept both that God is a personal Being, in relationship with us, and to avoid assigning God a sex and gender. Might this be something our LGBTQ compatriots could help us become more comfortable with?

God’s soap and other thoughts

Morning meditation thoughts: More and more I feel that to follow Jesus the person requires that we stop thinking in dichotomies. We can’t think of loving or being loved, success or failure, or even – as St. Paul said – man or woman, believer or non-believer, slave or free (or immigrant or native).

And here are my third grade theologians’ insights from last Sunday:
When we were talking about The Lord’s Prayer and the meaning of “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven” one of my quiet girls offered softly, “I think it means we should always act as if we were right in front of God.”

Later another girl asked what the words “sanctifying grace” (that she had heard in Mass) meant. So we talked about it for awhile and then one of the boys said, “Oh, so sanctifying grace is God”s soap for our souls.”

Love Observed

On the night flight over to Paris, I watched a young mother pace the aisle with her almost sleepy baby. She jiggled and patted and swayed as she walked, that young mother. Even when she paused she did not stop moving, always swaying, patting, gently jiggling. She looked tired. And I thought, this is love. No matter what she is thinking, what she is feeling. No matter if she resents her baby right now, if she is doing it only for the sake of the other passengers, if all she wants is to sit down and sleep. Her body loves her baby. With every jiggle, every pat, every step, her body gives her baby love.

This is how I want to love God. Not with feelings that come and go and depend on how rested I am, what I’ve had to eat or what has annoyed me, whether I have time and quiet to pray. I want to love with my doing.

I’ve given up on love as a feeling (except in songs). I choose to believe in God, I choose to believe God loves me, I choose to base my actions on love for God, myself and others. Like that mother, I choose to walk in love.

The Gift of No

A friend, who is a divorced Catholic, told me of having to leave a social gathering because she got so agitated when she realized one of the men was “working up the courage” to ask her out. “I didn’t know what to say to him,” she said. “I’m just not interested in dating.” I joked with her, “Let me teach you a two letter word to handle situations like that — NO. You can add ‘thank you’ but that is optional.”

I have been thinking about that on and off all week — about my own difficulties saying “No” (with or without the thank you) when I am asked to do something. A difficulty shared by many women and, maybe, especially by many older women in denominations like the Catholic Church.

And here was my personal insight this morning: The ability to say No is a gift that we give to others. It frees others to ask us without worrying that they will be imposing. I think of my friend and how careful I am about what I ask her to do because she will not say No unless it is literally physically impossible for her and even then she will apologize repeatedly and feel badly. So that shifts the burden of judging the appropriateness of a request to me.

Exercising the right and ability to say No is not just a matter of personal liberty (although it is most assuredly that), it is also a great and good gift that we give to others.

Third Grade Theologians

With my third graders last Sunday, I told the gospel story: Jesus’ parable of the two sons whose father asked them to work in the vineyard; one said “no” but then went and worked; the other said “yes” but never got around to going to the vineyard. Jesus asked, “Which one did what his father wanted?”

We talked about what Jesus meant to teach us. I asked how many had fathers who owned a vineyard. No one. How many went to work with their father every day? No one. So does this parable have anything to do with us?

“Well, God is our Father too,” offered one child, “so maybe Jesus is telling us not to just say prayers but to do God’s work.”

“That’s good. A good answer'” I said, “So the next question is, What is God’s work?”

This took some discussion to figure out. “Going to church?” “Helping poor people?” “Doing what our parents and teachers tell us to do?”

It took a while, but we got there. Together we decided, as one girl suggested, that God’s work is love.

“Yes,” I said, “God wants us to love God and love each other.”

“OK,” said Elise, “as long as that doesn’t include me loving my 5 year old brother. He’s impossible to love.”

“Why is he impossible to love?” I asked.

“Because he’s mean. He is always mean to me. He does mean things to me every day.”

“And when he is mean to you, are you mean back to him?”

“Not always. Not usually. Sometimes, but I try not to be.”

“Well, Elise, every time he is mean to you and you are NOT mean back to him, you are loving him.”

“Uh? But I never FEEL like I love him.”

“That’s OK. The love that God wants from us is not a feeling but an action. There’s a saying ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ God doesn’t care if you ever say or think ‘I love my little brother.’ God cares how you ACT.”

Of course, at that point, someone else wanted to talk about mean words, bullying words, and how sometimes people can act nice in front of others but sneaky say mean things to you. So that got us into a whole other discussion about words and actions, bullying and protecting, only seeming nice and really being nice.

Continuing to reaffirm my belief that third graders are the best theologians.