Friday, June 27, 2003

Einstein's Friend

I love the way God shows up everywhere when we have the eyes to look. Keeping our mind's eye, as well as our heart and our ears open is important in welcoming the voice and face of God wherever, however, and whenever we can. Moments of recognition, or remembering God, sometimes come on me in the smallest things. Seeing a cardinal. Noticing a salmon-colored sunset. Hearing a certain musical chord or a child's laughter; looking into a baby's big, beautiful, wondering eyes. God is truly everywhere and we can feel his presence any time. The only trick is in being open to it, keeping ourselves from being bound to the earth by the worries of our fleeting-but-incessant daily concerns.

Right now I'm reading The World As I See It, by Albert Einstein. This closer look at Einstein was sparked by my recent wondrous journey through E=mc2, by David Bodanis. I love the way Einstein describes God as "The Old One" and the source of all life and reason in the universe. In the essay I read last night, eulogizing one of his dear friends, he writes about the gifts a true friendship offers. He talks of how we can help each other break free of those things that bind us to the small, absorbing circumstances of life:
    "We both felt that this friendship was not only a blessing because each understood the other, was enriched by him, and found in him that responsive echo so essential to anybody who is truly alive; it also helped to make both of us more independent of external experience, to objectivize it more easily."
Through our friendships and connections, we help each other break free of the ties that bind us to the earth, helping us remember what is important and lasting, pointing us to the eternal divine within us all. May we each have a moment today in which we remember that we are the living reminders of God's eternal love and faithfulness, placed side by side in this world to give each other strength and point to The Old One who holds us together in an embrace that will never end.
Blessings on your day! :) k

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Father Knows Best

There's a downside to being a person with a "helpful" personality. If you have been blessed with the gift of being able to see where things hurt, a desire to want to make things better for people, a hunger to improve conditions, a longing to leave the world better than you found it, you (like me) run the risk of thinking that you know how to fix things. When a friend loses a job, you know where to tell her to look and which role will be "right" for her (I'm notorious for this...just ask my daughter!). When someone close to you suffers a disappointment, you sift through the damage to find the root of blessing that's in there somewhere. Neither in itself is a bad thing. The problem comes when we forget that there may be countless other options, and we lose sight of the fact that God may be at work in the situation in a way we can't even imagine.

What I've found in my own life is that the "helpfulness" that comes out in the form of making suggestions, offering reassurance, giving encouragement, or suggesting interpretations, is an attempt to make the other person feel better and perhaps offer a solution they haven't thought of yet. The catch-22 is that in so many of the most difficult situations in our lives, the real point of change happens only when we dig in and begin working through things with God. While we struggle within ourselves, or listen to the counsel and suggestions of others, we may still unknowingly be trying to put a temporary bandaid on something God wants to heal and wipe completely away. When we reach out to help others, we mean well; we simply want their pain to go away. But God may have something deeper, something eternally healing in mind. Would I step in and reassure another if I knew all my "help" did was delay the moment she turns to God?

Our companionship with each other is vitally important as we walk through this life. Our joining is God's purpose; our love and compassion for each other is the greatest visible manifestation of God at work in our world. I do think God gives us insights and ideas we are meant to use to help those around us. But perhaps I need to be more discerning about the "help" I offer. If I listen very closely to God, I hope I'll learn when my "counsel" is an idea from Him and when it is my own intense desire to help. And as I continue to learn, I suspect I'll discover that in many cases, the best way for me to help others is not to try to change them or solve their problems, but to love and understand them and demonstrate what I'm learning in my own life--that I need to look to God for the real answers, the lasting gift, the eternal Love.

Friday, June 13, 2003

The Place of Rest

This morning I was rereading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (I love this book!), and this quote jumped out at me. Just last night I was writing something and trying to describe that feeling of "home" or "fit" I found at certain moments, in certain places, with certain people. This quote says it perfectly:
    "...I found myself changed all at once; and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest."
Yes! Exactly! I hope you have had moments when your soul is in her center and resting in peace and love. In fact, I hope we each experience it today. In times like these, when everything seems unsettled and chaotic, isn't it nice to know that we can still hear and know God in the center of our being? Blessings on your day! :)

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Beyond Obedience

People talk a lot about being "obedient" to God, doing what we feel He wants us to do, even when we don't feel like doing it. This is living up to a standard, keeping within a certain boundary, faithfully netting out small habits and flaws that would in some way go against the ten commandments. This morning I've been thinking about "obedience" in a new way. When our children are very small, they need to obey us in order to stay safe. They learn to stay away from busy streets, avoid touching hot things, and generally learn to stay out of danger. As they grow, we teach them obedience in the smaller things that help them get along better in--and give more to--the world. They learn manners, respect, faith, charity, and compassion. As they grow to adulthood, our expectations of their "obedience" fade away as we recognize that the lessons they needed (first to stay safe, and then to live a good life) are now internalized in them, part of their thinking, knowing, and living process.

Many people think of God as a judge, a great omnipotent being who see our every mistake, knows our every flaw, and plans--sometimes by bringing pain and hardship to us--to net out those unsavory characteristics so that we might be perfect one day like Him. I think of God as an all-loving Father, One who loves us with a perfect, endless, all-encompassing love that is beyond what we we can fathom. Our obedience to Him is not a prerequisite for His love; in fact, our obedience isn't for Him at all--it's for us. By listening to Him and faithfully applying what we hear, we learn what it feels like to walk with Him at the center of our hearts. This reduces our guilt (and the separation that comes as a result of it) and enables us to allow more of His love in. By obeying the sense and essence of His message, we gradually trust Him enough to allow His healing light to illumine all the hurting places inside us that so need it. By keeping within the parameters we are given (no other idols, love our neighbor, put God first), we stay safe and learn to live a good life in Him.

I believe there's another stage beyond obedience when much of the self-training is done and the lessons of Love are internalized in us. That's where we enter an adult partnership with God, sharing in His work, working side-by-side with Him, full of His spirit and sure of His love. We no longer need to focus on "obedience" because we understand. We know. We live immersed in His love. We can throw away that picture of God as a judge with a big shoe, waiting to squish us for saying or doing the wrong things. We are no longer children. We can stand up tall, look Him straight in the eye (whether we find that eye in a flower, a loved one, a piece of music, or even a storm), and tell Him that we love Him. Not because we're afraid of doing otherwise, but because we mean it.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Being Miserable

Yesterday was a tough day for my son Cameron. It was a night game and the lights beamed down on our team of 3rd and 4th graders (the "Mets"). Cameron stood on the pitcher's mound and took a few warm-up pitches to the coach. At 10, this is his first year in little league ball, and he was selected to be one of two pitchers early in the season. This is the first year they play team-pitch ball (meaning the kids pitch to each other instead of the coaches pitching) and Cameron has done a good job in the six or so games they've played in learning how to focus and get the ball to the catcher's mitt in such a way that he hears the great sound of the ump's call, "Strike!"

But some games you win, and some games you lose. And yesterday had the earmark of the unexpected. As the coach returned a ball, it went high and struck Cameron right in the mouth. The crowd went "Ooh!" and I fought my mom tendency to jump up from the bleachers and hurry out to the field to see whether he was all right. The coach hadn't seen the ball hit him, and Cameron stood out there on the mound, pushing his tongue against the inside of his mouth, resolving not to cry. He blinked hard a few times and kept his face as blank as granite. I zeroed in on his eyes, watching for signs that I needed to do something. He looked back and I mouthed the words, "Are you okay?" and he nodded.

But as strong and admirable as my son's stoic, "the-game-must-go-on" attitude was, after the first pitch, his focus began to deteriorate. Ball after ball he threw--inside, outside, high, low. Twice he struck the batters and they walked to first base. I watched Cameron go from a proud, in-control stance to my little, hurting boy--and how badly I wanted to go out there and comfort him! I called out some reassuring things from the bleachers--but not too much, because I've learned that moms' voices on the field can be a bit embarrassing for 10-year-olds. The inning was agony; I kept wishing the coach would just take him out and let the other pitcher finish the inning. But the coach left him in, and Cameron kept throwing; the other team moved ahead on the scoreboard; and eventually, we heard, "Strike three! You're out."

When the game was over, I watched anxiously for Cameron to emerge from the dugout. He came out, still with a bit of a swagger in his gait. But as soon as he saw me, his eyes filled with tears, and he pointed to the huge goose-egg bruise just below his bottom lip. His lip was swollen and the inside of his cheek was cut. "I didn't want to spit out the blood," he said. "That's gross." I hugged him and mussed his hair, kissing him quickly on top of the head. We headed home, mom and her weary warrior. On the way, he described all his aches and pains and spilled out the worst moments of the game. "Everything hurts," he said. "Anything that anybody could ever be to be miserable, I'm it."

At home, I fixed him ice cream while he took a shower. When I tucked him in, I said, "You know, you had a really tough game tonight and a few bad breaks. But you fought valiantly, and you stuck it out. You should be proud of yourself for that."

He lifted his head off his pillow and looked at me with a crooked, swollen-lip smile. "Hey, that gives me something good to dream about!" he said, and nestled happily under his covers, ready for well-earned sleep.

For Cameron, this is just one event in a lifetime of what will no doubt be many unexpected happenings. We get hit by balls and beset by bills; we find ourselves in situations we didn't ask for, and we face problems we didn't create. We don't always have a cheering section, and we sometimes have no clue what to do next. But we know we are loved by One who does know--One who walks with us, helps us to see the good in any situation, and gives us the strength to stick it out. And at the end of the day, those words, "Well done," will erase all memory of the bumps and bruises we get on our way back home to Him.