December 2008

In this path the eye must cease to see,
And the ear to hear.
Save unto Him, and about Him.
Be as dust on His path.
Even the kings of this earth
Make the dust of His feet
The balm of their eyes. 

- Ansari

Get to know me and you learn that I have much to say. It’s not so much that I talk a lot as it is that I talk densely. Whatever I say just happens to be expansive. (Ok, so maybe I talk a lot too.) But lately I find myself growing quieter and quieter by the day, and it’s not because I have less to say. In fact, my thoughts become more and more complicated by the day, but the desire and need to vocalize them is dissipating. Instead of wanting to project outward for the world to hear me, I’d rather project upward toward the heavens. Simply put, my spirit has grown quieter. St. Peter speaks of quietness of spirit in his first epistle:

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

It is in reading over those two verses that I can pinpoint what I often viewed as a strength but now appears to be more of a flaw–my ever moving mouth, spouting big words and theories of this and that was and is a mere outward adornment. “Here! Look at me! Look at what I know and what I’ve learned! Look at my big brain!” is really what my rambling mouth says to the world. My version of spending hours upon hours on my hair and makeup.

Where is the humility in that?

I worried when I found myself growing quieter thinking that perhaps I was losing my sharpness, but now I see it for what it is–pure grace from heaven.

I have heard the quote “You must be the change you want to see in the world” several times before without ever giving it much thought. It was just always one of those positive platitudes that were supposed to be inspiring, but nothing more. But the other day I was thinking about perspective and points of view when I found it unexpectedly crossing my mind.

Of course a world changing for the better would be ideal, but I am taken with something smaller at the moment. Simply the vision we have of others, or more aptly put, the vision we project onto others. If we take the premise of the quote–the vision of change will enact change–and apply it to the way we see others, then the way we see others is the way they will be. The next logical conclusion would be to interact with goodness and love from others we must see goodness and love in them. It is easy to see the faults and the flaws, even easier to exxagerate them to gross proportions, and easier still to concoct flaws that aren’t there at all in the name of wisdom and knowledge–false wisdom and false knowledge.

It is clearness of sight to see past all that and to see the goodness and beauty inside our fellow man. Perhaps then we can continue to mold and transform ourselves into the image of Christ when He said “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Seeing past the sin, the flaw, to the inner man, Christ came to gather us unto Him. If He afforded us with the benefit of the doubt that is the very least we can do to others.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to
  be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is is pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

- St. Francis of Assisi

I was called out on the one time I’ve used a swear word in years yesterday. It happened almost a year ago and a dear friend of mine pointed it out to me last night. I’d completely forgotten about it and when he refreshed my mind of the context “it didn’t seem so bad” for a second, and then I snapped myself out of it. Of course it’s bad! There is no justification for it.

I must admit, if I was one to blush, I would have been beet-red during the conversation. It’s embarrassing, to say the least, to have your mistakes pointed out to you so bluntly but also necessary. As I have learned, in the early days of the church confession was conducted in public. You were to stand up in front of the entire congregation and recite your sins. Of course it is no longer done like that but I had to stop and think about the benefits of public confession for a moment. You’d most certainly be far less inclined to commit the same sin again because you didn’t want to face the embarrassment of standing up and reciting it in front of your peers and loved ones. You’d also do your best to avoid doing anything that would be particularly embarrassing to admit to the world.

And so there I was, terribly ashamed while sitting there facing my shortcomings being read back to me by a peer, and my mind went reeling. If I can’t face my friend, how could I face my God? How could I possibly face the One who died on the cross for me and explain myself? Did it matter that I hadn’t uttered a swear word since or for a very long time beforehand? No it didn’t, because to be lulled so far deep into false security as to forget your falls and shortcomings is to make yourself a prime target for another attack and another fall.

Although I walked away embarrassed from that conversation, I also walked away ever grateful. The only way to overcome one’s demons is to look them in the face and acknowledge them for what they are.

I came across this band (well, more accurately put, one of its members came across this blog) and I thought I’d share one of their songs with you. They’re definitely worth the listen. Enjoy 🙂

Recently, I began reading C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters. The book is written in the format of a series of letters from a senior demon to a junior demon in training who is still learning about the various ways to make man fall and stumble into sin till so he ultimately loses his soul. So far, I’m enjoying it. As with the few other works by Lewis that I’ve read, I find myself appreciating the manner in which he gives his readers a new take on the things that seem so familiar.

I’ll stop writing here about the quality of his work and get to the substance. One short excerpt from the The Screwtape Letters has been bouncing around in my head since I read it and it’s worth sharing. Screwtape, the senior demon writing these instructional letters, speaks of God’s desires for man in the following terms: “He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

When I read that sentence, I had to pause for a second and think about the magnitude of what it was saying. Yes, the words seem quite plain on their face but they actually resonate with the weight of the Bible behind them. The weight of the word of God  is contained in that short sentence. What is the Bible other than the the living Word that explains to us how to live our lives, how we can be holy just as our God in heaven is holy, how we can be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect.

And how is this holiness and perfection attained but by following His commands. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Give to him who asks of you.” “Judge not, so you shall not be judged.” “Pray for those who hate you.” “Ask and you shall receive.” They go on and on and give much comfort to the aching soul because they reveal the beauty of the God who uttered these commandments of love and compassion.

Yet, this short excerpt mirrors and goes to the heart of one particular verse in the Bible: “You shall know them by their fruits.” It is our actions that reveal who we are. What we do at a given moment, what we say, the looks we give, what we leave behind. It is never the things that happen to us that are remembered by others, but how we react to those things that is not forgotten. Lewis is right. We spend much time anticipating the future, all the could be’s, should be’s, and maybes and not enough time acting in the present.

The future will come; you can trust me on that one. But what will matter is not what it brings, but how we act in the face of what it brings.

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

–  Thomas Jefferson

Ever find yourself in a situation where all you can think is if you could somehow tell how things were going to turn out, then somehow everything would be ok? (Even though you know that finding out would only cause more worry and stress.) We all wish to secretly peek around the corner; the endless curiosity about what’s coming around the corner can’t be helped.

Then at one point or another we come across the verse, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things; sufficient for the day is its own trouble” and we realize this worrying and speculating and wondering thing won’t do. So life goes on. There are liturgies and Bible studies and prayers and there’s lots of asking God to lead us and show us His will.

But there’s also little patience. If the answer doesn’t come soon then we start taping on the metaphorical prayer microphone and bellowing into it, “Hello!? Is this thing working? Can you hear me, God?”

Revelation # 2 comes: Of course God’s listening and He’s answering.. I’m just missing the signs… I have to pay attention.

And so the search for the signs and symbols begins and more “revelations” and “conclusions” follow. This search can best be illustrated in none other than a Simpsons episode. In this one particular episode, Mr. Burns, under pressure from government officials for running a power plant with no female workers, hires a woman named Mindy. Mindy and Homer hit it off, get sent on a business trip together, and win a dinner at a Chinese restaurant. This whole time Homer thinks that he’s doomed to cheat on his beloved wife Marge with Mindy, and his fear is confirmed at dinner when his fortune cookie tells him that he will find happiness with a new love. Homer takes this to be the biggest sign that he’s meant to be with Mindy. Then we pan to the kitchen of the restaurant where two workers are standing over barrels of fortune cookies. One tells the other that they’re out of the “You’ll find happiness with a new love” cookies to which the other replies, “Eh, open up the ‘Stick with your wife” barrel.” Homer’s biggest sign was also his most arbitrary (in the end he doesn’t cheat on Marge and all is well.)

Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all a lot like Homer in this case. Our search for answers often leads us down convuluted path. We’re quick to fill in the blanks, make presumptions, draw conclusions and attribute it all to “signs from God” when we’re too busy making noise to actually hear His voice.

It has often been said that He speaks to us in a whisper and we hear Him best in silence.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings

This is one of my favorite poems written by one of my favorite poets. No one does the topic of gratitude justice quite like he does. I have nothing more to add.

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