Thursday, January 15, 2015

Little Feathers: Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quit...

Little Feathers: Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quit...: Our society, particularly in America, preaches the fulfillment of self will as the driving force in our lives. Try hard enough, you can do a...

Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quite Figured Out

Our society, particularly in America, preaches the fulfillment of self will as the driving force in our lives. Try hard enough, you can do anything. Make it to the top in your career, achieve your goals in all areas, even prolong your life by living within the current nutrition-and-exercise wisdom.

Now, if you are of a particular bent, add in the component of spiritual life. Seeking wisdom. Seeking what some would call the will of God. This is where the waters get murky. This is where the rubber of  rationalization meets the road of behavior. Many current spiritual leaders call for prayer, but prayer that seeks to bend the will of God to our own desires. This raises all kinds of questions. Chief among them is why some prayers are answered and some are not. I have asked this question a million times.

I recently re-read an article from 1960 by Catherine Marshall called The Prayer of Relinquishment. This prayer is the very thing that the 12 step program calls for. Giving up self will. In fact, the only good use of the will for an addict is to be willing to give up what the self wants, and seek to put in its place the thing that God wants. Catherine Marshall points out that God will never come between us and free will. So the only way God can actually work in us is if we empty out that space in the center of the universe where we normally put our own desires. 

That is simply against everything we are taught from the time we are tiny. Being our own advocate, trusting in our own intellect, our own hard work placed firmly on the altar of achievement...this is what makes sense. Concrete. Scientific. If you train harder, you run faster. Bootstraps, for heaven's sake.

How unnatural is it to actually trust God?  Why should we trust a being who lets bad things happen to good people? Catherine Marshall wrote that it is not some arbitrary original sin that separates us from God, but it is fear. Fear that we can't trust, should not trust, anyone but ourselves. Theologically, calling fear the wall between us and God is an old, old notion. It is fear that causes us to turn inward on ourselves, to stop looking up, to stop looking out. The whole inspecting-the-lint-in-our-spiritual-naval thing. Maybe it is semantics to replace "sin" with "fear". But to me, it makes sense. If I can't trust God with my life, with my loved ones, with my desires, then I have to pray that my own will be done. God, give me good health so I can live long and love my family more. What is wrong with that prayer? God, give me. God, give me. Me. Me. I know what is best for my life. Who is in the center of that picture? Well, I am American after all. It is me.

While I would love to think I've discovered some key to serenity that will never leave me, I know that my own human nature will fight back against this line of reasoning. Sometimes I am willful, sometimes I am just the lazy, acquiescing to habit. I'm in the habit of being self centered. It will take a lot of work to let go of that. my surrender dependent on hard work? Am I the captain of that ship? Well, yes. This is where Americans are right. It is hard work that will let me surrender. It is very hard to give up thinking I know best for myself. The application of my will to give up my will. Someone will think I'm ready for the loony bin. 

I don't have it all figured out. I just know it goes against the grain of human achievement. And, I know it is something I long for. So, I'll keep working on it. Working on not working. You know what I mean. Right?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Little Feathers: Thank You, Stuart Scott

Little Feathers: Thank You, Stuart Scott: I keep thinking about Stuart Scott, the ESPN sportscaster who died of cancer at 49. He said, "When you die, it does not mean that you l...

Thank You, Stuart Scott

I keep thinking about Stuart Scott, the ESPN sportscaster who died of cancer at 49. He said, "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."

This morning I woke up to see the star over the tall evergreen that shines down at me on clear mornings before the sun comes up. It is the most encouraging star. When I am laying there in the bed working on getting my rise-and-shine juices flowing, that star seems like a connection to God. Like that old game of telephone that involves two tin cans a long string. I can imagine the creator of the cosmos way up there, light years away, giving me words of peace and love all the down the string into my heart.

This is the day we are given, and we have been given everything we need to wake up today. Sometimes that knowledge makes me worry that I am going to squander this day. That I need to do something important to show that I am grateful for my time on earth. The old notions of worthiness, of striving to be good enough to deserve the love of God play on in the mind. I guess they are just part of the human consciousness, even though they are false. They get it backward. I don't have to try hard enough to earn grace, because it is a free gift. Once I let that mantle of forgiveness and mercy settle about me, then I can respond. Then, I am free. If I am obsessed with myself and being productive, being smart enough or any of the other "enoughs", the self absorption that results is a stumbling block. I can't see the small miracles all around me.  Like walking through the woods with a mirror before my face, I can't see the beauty laid at my feet.

The wisest people I have known have found a way around the what-about-me part of the human condition. Not that they are perfect, either. But they have found the power in surrender of the will. Stuart Scott found the peace that comes with knowing we are not charge of life, even of our own life. Peace that allowed him to give hope to millions of people by his example of courage.

Work is one of the gifts that we are given. Being productive is as necessary to our search for meaning as education. Finding the work that fulfills us as people can be a life-long journey, and it can also change tremendously as we age. Raising kids was my heart-growing work, but that job ends earlier than some. Only when the kids were up and out did I find that writing is important to me. It is a gift to me. When I remember that I have that gift to unwrap every day, I understand that I am not earning my time on earth. I am given that time. Free and clear. One day at time. My most important work is still loving the people I have been given to love. That job is never-ending, and since I will never get it just right, I turn to that mantle of grace to deal with my failures. Finding the courage to work hard at writing, being willing to share my insides with total strangers, that is an ongoing project as well.

Stuart Scott, I am grateful for the grace you modeling in living, and in dying. You make me want to make the most of this day, and I understand that I begin that effort with gratitude. And gratitude is the middle. And gratitude is the end.