I pray less now

I’d like to admit something. I got tired of praying. My prayers? They annoyed me.
If you didn’t grow up in the church or are part of a contemporary one now, you may not get what I mean (or totally get what I mean!).

I found myself saying the cliche “I’ll pray for you” and cringing. It became a habit, like a catch phrase for when we have nothing else to say. You know that kind of silence when you’ve heard from your friend about how her dad has cancer or that she just found out she’s lost her job. And it’s a pause. And she’s sniffling. And it’s like a reflexive reaction in your throat to fill any space.. .Nothing..to…say…what … do… aaahh-“I’ll pray for you!”

Or it’s one of those moments when you just want to close the conversation. You’ve heard your friend go on about the issues at home and it’s really just a punctuation compunction flung out… “Hey friend, I-gotta-go, but-I’ll-be-praying-for ya’.”

Yeah…

I honestly believe that words have power. (If you don’t believe me, ask me about the story of how I prayed my brother-in-law into existence…). And I want to mean it when I tell some one that I’ll pray for them and not use it flippantly. And I want to be aware of what I’m praying for like who says “traveling mercies” in real life these days? And why are we asking God to “bless our conversations”?  Like we’re hoping no one will be offended by the mean things we are about to say.

So for awhile, I quit. I quit volunteering to pray before meetings. I quit praying before meals (Was I actually thankful for my meal as I shoved it in my mouth watching Jeopardy?).

And I have to go back to what my grandpa said a long time ago that prayer is about getting to know Christ. It’s a conversation. Not a list, not an aside or a wish or a quick dashed off text “what’s up?”. Not just bubbles that roll off my tongue and float away, empty and unsubstantial.

I know it’s simple. You’d think I’d get it by now. But it’s something I have to remind myself constantly. I have to actually be intentional about. Kind of like how I would want my friends to be with me. How I’d like to be with my friends.

So. I’m trying to pray more honestly now. And I admit, I pray less because of it. Sometimes I don’t pray at all because sometimes I have no clue what to say.

But I don’t want it to speak Christianese. I want to ask myself, ‘do I really mean this?’ “Do I really know what this means?”  “Am I honest in this prayer?”

Telling friends “I’m praying for you.” Well, I don’t mind saying those words, but today I check myself and ask myself, “am I really going to pray for them?”

Sometimes I just say nothing at all but sit with them in silence.

At My Worst

Wrote this last fall – it’s a little raw, but I’ll share as is:

I will wear my casual like an armour
I refuse to be a casualty of you knowing me
I will cut my feelings under skin
You will never see me bleed
And if I cry – IF that is –
I’ll lie. To you. To me.
I will keep you free of any
burden to comfort me
You will never know my fears
(And in turn my passions probably)
I deny that I’m afraid
There is no secret to this shield
No pin to this grenade – it’s done.
Blunt. Mute. Numb.
I will protect you From causing me
Disappointment
Hope
Restlessness
Pain
Leaving
From needing
to protect me.
Don’t.
No worries.
I don’t need it.
I can’t
Fall.
This is me
At my best

35 and grateful

I just celebrated my 35th birthday.

Recently I had a friend say to me “I hope you are truly happy”. At first I felt defensive, like “Of COURSE I’m happy – what? Do I not seem happy?” You know … how we do. Step back.

She probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it did make me stop and ask myself.

Am I truly happy? And what does that even mean? And is that something that I should be striving for?

On the one side, I work for a relief and development organization. What if I say ‘no, I’m not happy’? Where on my spectrum of “happiness” would that then place the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram or those in Nepal who have lost their homes and family members in the earthquake?

I feel embarrassed to claim unhappiness in the light of them.

But – am I lower on the spectrum than my friend who asked me? Which made me wonder – does my life seem like an ‘unhappy’ one to her?

Their expectations
She seems very happy and often, I think, our happiness becomes relative to others’ expectations for us.

What does her life look like? She is married with a son and another child on the way. She lives by her family, in her home state in the town she grew up in. I think she would say she is happy. She is honestly living her dream. And I’m glad she is!

But she is not living my dream.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this and has a mantra she says: “Not my dream”. I do not want to live in a small town next to my parents and be a stay at home mom with two kids. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, but I think that personally I would be unhappy.

So – at this new age of 35 – what does make me happy? Am I living my dream? Is this current dream bringing happiness?

My expectations…
Really, I think when I’m unhappiest is when I tell myself my life didn’t turn out like I expected.

To be honest,  I expected to be in a different place, different stage, different weight!, different experiences (there are some I wouldn’t wish on others).

I can guarantee that’s where my unhappiness most often comes in.

I don’t like the word ‘happy’ though. It’s too transient. It’s emotional. It’s too simple for our lives at this age, honestly. So when I stop and look around me, I wouldn’t trade where I am or what I’ve experienced for what I expected my life to look like.

I’d like to use the word ‘grateful’ – which really stems from contentment. I used to never be content. The grass was always greener where I was before. Or I’d be looking for another place to go – never really present.

But somehow – in Baltimore, the most unlikely place I expected – for the first time in a very long time, I’m content. This is strange to me. I’m not used to that feeling. In fact, it’s unsettling. I wonder if I am actually complacent or apathetic. Don’t I need to be looking to the next thing?

That can become a terrible habit, so this time around, I’m choosing to stay present. I’m enjoying my current job, my current apartment, my current friends, this current city, this current day.  All in all – it feels odd to be good with where I’m at. Is this an age thing or finally learning the ability to live in the present?

Am I happy all the time? No. I have hard days, frustrating days, discouraging interactions, hopeless feelings, sickness, grief, pain, annoyances. But what I value, I do have. And I don’t know why I get to have them.

I have good friends, a strong support system, a family who loves me (and I love them back), a roof over my head, a job where I like my boss and the people we work with. I even have a gym at my work that I can visit at lunch (okay, that makes me happy).

But it’s not my goal. It’s not even in the Bible (if you want to get spiritual). I’ve never read anything that says “Blessed are the happy”. It’s blessed are the merciful, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or ‘justice’). (Those who have it hard? That’s another post )

So – my takeaway to this musing …

First, I should let other people live their dream. I should let them not be bogged down by my expectations of what a ‘good life’ is.

Second, am I ‘truly happy’? Nah. Life is a little too complicated by now. But I’m content.

And I don’t regret any experiences I’ve had or the unexpectedness of my life. It’s made me who I am.

Third, all that helps me be okay on those hard, frustrating days. It helps me not give up. It helps me help others.

It helps me be grateful. I have so much to be grateful for.

I think Anne Morrow Lindberg sums it up when she says:

“Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all.”

I will need them all.

Last Date

Ours was a
vinegar-scented love.
His raw sashimi heart – fatty and expensive
demanded
a chewing slowly with
appreciation
(“or desperation” I told him in the end)

Mine: an envious wasabi
pungent in the nose
taken with
improper proportion.
(“A cheap happy hour” he threw at me)

And piece by piece,
we held each other by two
slim sticks
Until conversation lagged
and we were grateful for our full mouths
and numbing saké .

He is.

My annual Easter poem, with gratitude… 

He is concerned with

a knowing for
the woman at the well
the surprise of a girl who hides for too long
from the whip every time she draws
the water she needs the whispers that sting her skin, piercing the heart
she’s claimed not to have … in the past

But he knows her.
He knows her.
And that’s all that he said.

He is concerned with
reassuring
the one who’s faith trusted his robes
deep in the crowd that pressed,
resting in a waking of power
that heals
the priest in the night
baffled and blundering
the blind men
begging to see
“Where have they taken him, please?”

He is concerned with peace
with giving back
the ear that went missing
with changing
the Sabbath
the temple
the curtain revealing
the code that he’s breaking
that shook all of us–white-washed tombs–
empty

He is concerned with
forgiveness
understanding
for we who have no clue what we are
doing or demanding
(asking “what is truth?”)
in life
in death
in love
in
intolerance for the man called a king
loved a man called a thief
and met him in heaven that hour.

He is concerned with looking
Through our wine and vinegar offerings
deep in the heart in the tears
to the water, the blood
Asking us from his position of death

to ‘take care of each other’

Then crying out that He – forsaken –
finished all the taking

that we all deserved
to take.

Thoughts on Advent 2014

As most of you know – I try to reflect on one very small part of the Christmas story each year – to keep it fresh and personal.
Honestly, this didn’t feel like a super productive year: no big changes or crazy trips. And maybe that’s okay 🙂 – It has felt like a year of Being – of digging in, rooting down – in friends, in faith, in self-awareness, in an ever-growing dissatisfaction with easy answers and a striving to be comfortable with complexities.
As is usually the case, I don’t seem to choose the direction Advent takes me. This Christmas (again), the name “Immanuel” kept coming up – this idea of the longing of of a Holy God to be present with us – a poor struggling human race. And this year, the name took on a deeper meaning for me.Part of my self-learning has not been pretty. I’ve realised that I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable. I would rather be the one comforting some one else. I don’t like needing help. I don’t like pity and I feel uncomfortable with sympathy.
But I’ve slowly come to value true empathy. What a gift understanding is. What a comfort a simple act of presence is. What an odd relief to hear “I’ve hurt too”. And what beauty can happen when you yourself open up to others.
I can’t help but think that the Christmas ‘story’ really is the ultimate act of empathy. The incarnation is even deeper than “Immanuel – God with us”, but it is “God was us.”
“He knows our need” “To our weakness, is no stranger”. He truly knows our struggles. Not just because he is God. But because He became man.Perna Chodron, a Buddhist nun, wrote “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”This is so beautiful – and yet I didn’t truly appreciate it until I read it from the perspective of the receiver. Compassion means so much more when it comes not from some one reaching down – deigning to give but when it comes from some one reaching across out of his or her own pain and struggles.
 I’m still trying to comprehend it. God. as a baby. Every year, it becomes more and more miraculous to me – and every year it becomes more and more precious.
The Creator wraps Himself in mud and sin and pain and weakness – to reach out to us so we could be part of His light and love and grace.
For many people I know, this year hasn’t been the easiest. And I can’t even begin to comprehend what happened in Pakistan last week or what has been going on in Syria for years.
But the story of Christmas came also at a time of oppression, conflict, murder, loneliness, silence, poverty…
It’s why Jesus came to earth. To know us. To save us – in the deepest most empathetic way possible – He “made Himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
I’m not Catholic, but I have to quote Pope Francis on this:
“God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us.”Understanding and empathy gives us just a little hope that it’s possible to go on out of our own darkness, our own struggles – some one has been there before. Sometimes that’s all we need in order to see just a little bit.  We can make it one more day. Some one understands. Someone is here. There is a light in our darkness. There is hope.
That’s what we celebrate in December.And the thing is – is that when it comes to experiencing this, I find that this love, this hope is revealed in us and to us through others – through each other. I’ve seen this Immanuel “God with us” sense through people – those who for that moment put aside their own lives in order to better enter mine.
Just as Jesus entered our world, we enter in to the midst of each other’s pain (AND joy!). What I can do now for those around me is to be with, a presence, some one who becomes part of their present. With this gift of understanding, of grace, the “I’ve been there” – well, it becomes bearable. That’s what so many have done for me.
So this year – my reflection is less a lesson or platitude, but it’s really a song of gratitude. I can’t help but be grateful for so many who have sat with me. Given me hope. For those who I have gotten to sit with – allowed me to enter in to their vulnerability and weakness. That in itself is a gift.  I’m grateful for my friends and family and even strangers who have been “with me” and I with them. For a God – who somehow became a baby just like me, because of a love for a broken world.
Whether I just met you this year or I haven’t seen you in forever (and really whether we have the same beliefs or not), you have in so many wonderful ways revealed that Christ child and His presence and hope to me.
A heartfelt thank you.
Merry Christmas to all of you!

Whimsy

Just kind of had some fun with this commentary. Still needs work and I got lazy and didn’t do a fourth verse, but here it is from March/Nov 2014

What if mermaids poured down
from the sky into Baltimore Street?
Fins flapping
Flopping as they land.
And they crawl away in search of water
anything wet…mist, puddles, the ocean…
How long would they survive?
From the middle of the city to wherever
they could drag themselves
breathing heavily, short breaths
the gills in their neck, panicking the scales
leaving shimmering slime behind
as they crawl down Charles St
towards the harbor
ignoring the shouts all around,
“Don’t go there! The water will kill you!”
It’s a risk to try.
Or not to.
What would you do, if you were a mermaid
landing desperate in Baltimore?

A pulp of orange
pumpkins turned jagged-teeth men
or witches, cats, aliens,
an unusual likeness of Elvis
sit wondering on St Paul, waiting for what they’ve heard
will be the night of nights
what they’ve been grown for
will glow for.
What would you do as you sat with a candle in your head
knowing – because you’ve heard –
that tomorrow you’ll still sit here. Your hat burned.
Your hate brimming? because you’ve heard
that soon your mouth withers, wrinkles, wraps around
your teeth and eyes, sinking in to cement steps.
And you’ll still sit here.
And sit here.
And sit here. Still on St Paul.
But on that night, would you refuse to glow as high candied legs
yell “Trick or Treat!”?
Would you straighten up proud of the carves and scars
that will rot tomorrow anyway?
Would you think why not shine?
Do you feel a choice inside?
Until a good child gone costumed stomps down. Hard.

Standing strong against the sun
snowmen, bravely hold out their skinny stick arms,
giving the world a high-five. Or the finger.
Some just want to be left alone –
to freeze (for what they may imagine) forever
What would you do if you knew?
Maybe you would want freedom – to melt
in your own way. Maybe head first
or you’d let the left belly-roll slide off.
It all flows back in to the ground. Or the gutter.
How would you withstand the heat,
knowing – against hope – that spring was inevitable?
Would you slip into oblivion? Silent?
Or protest on the corner of North Avenue, as you stood there
until your mouth melted.

Then there’s Spring.

water-drops

Residue

I heard the beginning line* below at a conference, and it caught my attention – it’s from Archibald MacLeish’s modern rendition of Job called J.B. And it started this line of thought…

“Blow on the coals of my heart”*
O God.
Let not my love grow thin
when weariness wastes the withered will.
Give me the foolish courage to answer (and even ask?) the question:

“Am I still breathing?”
Fogging a mirror that reflects
Mildewed eyes. Let not ‘faith’ become a tired word
A common degradation (that offends
or obscures or absorbs).
Let me grow angrypassionatejoyfuldevastatedoverwhelmed
Hammer the fear that lulls me to sleep
Wake me with a whisper
And let me gulp the wind.

The Middle

I can’t imagine what it’s like to flee my home as a refugee. Just a few sketched words:

Sand sifts,
brushes against the canvas tent
A small quavering
refuge
that barely replaces the once
solid house
now crushed in bones under rubble
Joy. It breaks and cracks,
Five hundred miles in the past.
The wandering is one thing
But the wondering is hell.
There’s a Nowhere in the heart.
And the soul is a worn stone, ground
as sand shifts
brushing the quavering
canvas of
refugees that barely can place
their home
now crushed
buried under waiting.
Peace. It looks away.
And hope grows in withered form here…