Friday, May 20, 2022

27 To My Body

Oh, my. This chapter is so powerful in and of itself that my words will only get in the way. So I'll keep my comments brief. 

If you are someone who has had, is having, or know someone who has health problems, this chapter is for you. 

It's a love letter to your body. 

It starts out saying, "Sometimes, I hate you. You ache. You get tired sooner than I'd like to admit. You wake me in the night for no good reason. Your cells duplicate at unpredictable rates. New gray hairs and fine lines and silver stretch marks show up out of nowhere. You let me down just when I need you the most" (p 156). 

Further down the page, it says, "Yet here we are. This flesh and bone. These cages. These places of freedom and constraint" (p 156). 

It's beautiful and terrible, don't you think?  

These words - "this flesh and bone. These cages. These places of freedom and constraint." 

These bodies of ours - imperfect, flawed, beloved. 

With the passing of each day, our bodies bear the marks of time and love and grief and life, marks worn into our skin. "This is the beautiful, terrible evidence that we have lived" (p 158) 

Blessed are these imperfect, fragile bodies. This flesh and bone. These cells that sometimes duplicate for no reason whatsoever. This skin that is stitched together with scars and stretch marks and fine lines. 

Blessed is the body because it is a home. Not just for us, but for those who love us (p 159). 

Pastor Allison 

I'm curious: 

At the end of "A Blessing for the Body" on page 159, she writes, "And sometimes you need to stand in front of the mirror and take off all your clothes, and remember that this body, your body, is God's home address." 

So that's my suggestion for today. Do that if you can. 

And if you can't, stand in front of the mirror and read Psalm 139 -- click here for Eugene Peterson's "The Message" version, which is dear to me. 

Here's a snippet: 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

26 Say Potato

"Say potato." 

That's clearly the most fun sentence I'll write all week! :-) 

Hopefully by now you've already read today's Good Enough chapter about the writer who joined Tinder, found herself caught in the monotony of small talk, and created her own version of the "Turing test" to expose the Tinder bots masquerading as real people. 

In the midst of the getting-to-know-you small talk, when she was suspicous of a bot, she would say, "If you're human, say 'potato.'" 

Here's the thing: "Bots don't have a programmed response for something so absurd" (p 153). 

Funny, right? But what does any of this have to do with anything, you ask? 

Well, remember the post from the other day about The Velveteen Rabbit and becoming real? That's what this is all about: the fact that AI (artificial intelligence) can only approximate human behavior to a point because humans are flawed and good enough, not perfect. 

"None of us is perfect, and somewhere in those imperfections we can be found" (p 153). I like that: we are found in our IMperfections. 

I find profound beauty in these words: "Maybe it's true that it hurts a little to become real and risk intimacy with a stranger who might become that friend we're looking for. Or we might be the one they need at that precise moment. Perhaps it is our real job to help one another become more real, one absurd question at a time" (p 153). 

Blessed are we, opening our hands in readiness to risk intimacy, to receive the gift of friendship and give it in return (p 154). 

Pastor Allison 

I'm curious: 

Remember this post and it's "A Good Enough Step" about letting your pen do the talking and naming what your soul wants to say to God? Well, if you haven't finished that yet (I'm pointing the finger at myself here), maybe circle back and work this into that. 

Or, follow the "A Good Enough Step" on p 158 and "Write a terrible poem about longing for a friend." One way or another, express the disappointment and longing growing inside of you in an attempt to name it and then let it go. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

25 Give Up Already

Jesus tells his disciples, "When you fast ..." 

Not "If you fast ..." 

Or "Consider trying a fast ..."  

Or "Maybe, someday, you might wonder about fasting on a strictly intellectual level ..." (p 146) 

It was assumed that fasting would be "a regular part of the Christian life" - a way of "setting aside comfort in order to pursue God" (p 146). 

"Fasting is simply giving up something for a time. ... It's not really meant to have any concrete benefit except the experience itself" (p 146). 

And somehow this act of giving up something for a time will lead to freedom. Or so Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- famous theologian, pacifist, and Hitler-assassination-attempter -- says. It doesn't seem like it should compute, but, as they say in the book, "... there is a strange liberation in letting things go" (p 146). 

My most recent experience of fasting is I suppose what you could call a "forced fast." 

It's now been over a year since I officially (or at least legally!) drove a car since, in the state of Ohio you can't drive for 6 months following a seizure, and I can't seem to go 6 months without having another one. 

And while I initially deeply lamented the loss of independence that goes along with not being able to drive when you live in a small town with no mass transit system, I am SO GLAD not to have to worry about a car anymore. I mean, it's still there with flat tires and a dead battery (yes, I do know that I shouldn't have let that happen, but that's not the point here)but, for now, I don't have to worry about strange noises or overdue oil changes or the number of lights lit up on the dashboard because who knows when I'm going to be able to drive again. 

I mentioned this newfound joy to a friend who was, of course, driving me somewhere: that maintaining a car is one of the things I dislike most in the world and that I'm glad not to have to worry about that right now. 

And you know what his reaction was? Jealousy! He too dislikes car maintenance and actually was envious of me because I don't have to do it during this forced fast. 

I am loving this "strange liberation" in letting this thing go. I do miss my freedom to run to the store when I need something, and my ability to drive for many hours at a time on a road trip with my sister who hates to drive. 

But even as I lost that freedom, I have gained many hours spent in the company of people I love as they cart me around from place to place. (And as we sit in my driveway chatting at the end of the journey - my favorite part!) 

More than anything else, it has loosened my "attachment" to doing things MY way at MY pace on MY schedule. Which is another "strange liberation." And that's a habit I hope will stick if/when I start driving again. 

I wholeheartedly agree with our authors when they write, on page 147, "... something quite lovely happens when we let go, when we live with less, when we give up something dear. Somehow, we make a little room for God to take up more space. And wherever God is, that's where we want to be." 

Pastor Allison 

I'm curious: 

What is your experience of fasting? Love it? Hate it? Never tried it? Did it lead to a strange liberation or just endless frustration? 

God, give me courage, give me strength, give me hunger for You. Let this set time of less be a chance for more of You. Let this fast be an entrance into the discernment I desire, the divine presence I'm longing for, and the hope to will what You will, oh God, to be who You've called me to be (p 148).  

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

24 Kindness Boomerang

Remember when committing "random acts of kindness" was a movement sweeping the country? All the drive-thru or Starbucks orders that were unexpectedly paid for by the person in front of you? 

Before I moved to Portsmouth, two friends helped me pack up a whole bunch of stuff, so I took them out for dinner ... only to finish the meal and find that someone else in the restaurant had already paid the bill for all three of us! I didn't even see anyone I knew there!  

I'm a fan of acts of kindness, but I prefer them with some purpose or intentionality. For example, the person behind you in the coffee line probably can afford the coffee they're buying ... but I bet the barista behind the counter could use a few extra bucks. If you want to show someone kindness, perhaps that's the person who really needs it. 

The act of kindness I received wasn't random. I don't think it was, at least. It was intentional - probably someone's anonymous way of saying thank you. 

Kate's story of her parents' anniversary tradition of picking out a grumpy couple and paying for their meal -- that's an intentional act of kindness. It is specific, a reflection of the specific way Jesus loves us. 

I love how she describes it: "It is a strange kind of magic. It feels good to be kind. Even when it's done in secret" (p 140). 

Perhaps it's the secret part that matters the most -- a "mysterious act of kindness" (p 144), an act of love done for someone else with no way of returning the love. The only thing one can do is receive that act of love and be blessed. 

"Kindness is a restorative act done for the good of another, handing over something valuable without the expectation of return. And yet, it does offer us something. There is this unexpected boomerang effect. The day gets better -- not always easier, definitely not perfect, but a bit sweeter" (p 142). 

So now we are beginning to understand blessing itself. The overabundance of delight that flows from the heart of God into our own. The excess of bliss that descended pure as a mountain stream to create all that is, and sustain it by love alone. Blessed are we, carried along in that flow. To love and give and give again. And when we are spent, to be gathered up and restored so we can love again. Bless again. And be blessed. Because that's why we were made in the first place" (p 143). 

Pastor Allison 

I'm curious: 

What else could I be curious about other than what mysterious act of kindness you did after reading today's chapter?!  

Let us know in the comments how you made someone's day a little sweeter! 

Monday, May 16, 2022

23 Being Honest About Disappointment

What do you do with the loneliness of disappointment? 

None of us can escape disappointment. It's part of the human condition. We all know the hollow loneliness that accompanies it. 

But what do we do with it? Do we ignore it, stuffing it down deep inside us somewhere, hoping it will never resurface again? 

Or do we boldly look it in the face, name it for what it is, and talk to God about it? 

In this entry, Kate and Jessica step into the often murky waters of THEODICY, which at its most basic form is a "philosophical and/or theological theory which attempts to explain how a good God could create a world containing so much evil." 

Of course, Kate and Jessica are going to advocate for praying in situations like this. (As do I!) 

But what kind of prayer is best? 

According to Father James Martin - whom Kate posed this exact question to - "Prayer begins with acts of unbridled honesty. God, this isn't enough. God, I can barely make it through the hour" (p 136). 

We think it would be lovely if, as the book says, the world was run by formulas: I am good therefore I will thrive. I am loving therefore no one will leave me. 

But a quick look at the world around us -- wildfires out West, a mass shooting in a Buffalo grocery story, a shooting at a church in California, my gentle friend's scary and confusing messages about the neurological problems he's having as part of post-surgery complications -- and we can see there is no formula at work. 

Aside from donating money to these tragedies and checking in on my friend, prayer is the only other thing I can do for them. And probably the best thing I can do for them. 

But before I get to "all the good things that can come from prayer -  trust, acceptance, connection, occasional miracles," first comes radical honesty

As Kate says, "The more genuine our prayers, the more freedom there is to acknowledge the reality of all a life with God can be." 

Since my own major health crisis, my prayers have gotten more honest. MUCH more honest, to tell the truth. The book of Psalms is full of laments, and I have gotten to know them well: 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  (Psalm 13:1)

Since I led my first retreat on prayer, many moons ago, I have always advocated for people to be honest with God in their prayers. God can take it. God has heard it all. You're not going to upset God or shock God or scare God away. 

And I love how Kate and Jessica end this entry: 

" ... tell God. All of it. Fiercely. Even the unanswered prayers. Don't leave out a single one. Even if you sit among the broken things and your confidence seems to shrink with each day, know that you may feel lonely but you are not alone" (p 136). 

Blessed are you, dear one, when you don't know if you can pray. Because even that very thought is the beginning of prayer, whether you know it or not (p 137). 

Pastor Allison 

I'm curious: 

I notice that I am increasingly interested in people who have a high level of self-awareness and understanding. Sometimes that's due to natural emotional intelligence. Sometimes it's the result of intense spiritual self-examination, sometimes under the influence of a spiritual director. Often, it's the result of a good therapist. 

Whatever the source, I can't help but think radical honesty is at the heart of it all. 

In some sermon a couple of months ago, I shared this quote (by Ruth Haley Barton, I think):  "You'd be surprised what your soul wants to say to God right now." 

What does your soul want to say to God - right here and right now? 

Check out "A Good Enough Step" on page 139 - "When was the last time you let yourself be honest with God? Really, radically, honest. Not just in your disappointments, but in your hopes too. What do you hope for that you are afraid to say aloud out of the fear of being disappointed? ... Tell God everything. ... Settle in. Take a deep breath. Trust that God hears, that God hasn't left your side. God can handle it all."