Taking a sabbath from blogging today. But I think you'll enjoy this post on the story of Ruth, over at Toucanic.net.
"At the same time our lord showed to me a ghostly sight of his homely loving. I saw that he is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us. He is our clothing, that for love wraps round us, enfolding us and embracing us all around for tender love, so that he may never leave us, being to us everything that is good, as I understand it." (Fifth Chapter)
Last night found me in the thick of a conversation about philosophy and theology with new friends. They were interested in some thoughts I'd been having about "energy management," the idea that we could live our lives better if we were aware not only of how our own energies were stoked and depleted, but also developed a sensitivity to the movement of energy around us. Like a good game of tennis (which they had come to the Palm Springs area to watch) the ball flew back and forth from person to person, as I tried to come up with good ways to describe what I was thinking, and they added personal insights and clarifying questions. As our conversation drew to a close, someone said, "I wonder if we're talking about becoming more in touch with God's Spirit."
This morning, as I mused on the above passage from the Revelation of Love, I was caught by the phrase "that for love wraps round us." Remembering the conversation of the previous night, I thought, "I don't want my relationship with God just to be about theory, interesting as it is. I want to experience God's love, not just talk about it." So I closed my eyes, and tried to focus on God and His love.
I sat in silence. I sat and waited. And was met with silence. And reminded myself that although God may speak to an inner sense, for many of us, including myself, this is not how the love of God is communicated. I rose from my chair, standing in the middle of my friend's living room, looking out at the desert. Behind this home, a gift of grace in a time of need, stands the love of God. The sun shines, bringing its warmth and energy. Here is the love of God. The eggs are frying in the pan, I open an email from a friend. The love of God to body and heart. The love of God bringing strength and connection. The energies of God coursing through the universe.
"I saw that he is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us." says Julian. She repeats herself for emphasis. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights," echoes James in his epistle. God's love flows through and in all good things to ever enfold and strengthen us. It streams from his heart to fill us with all we need. Like a radio signal that broadcasts on all frequencies, God's love blankets the earth. It may reach me through a different channel than it reaches you, but it's available for us all.
As I pick up "The Revelation of Love" and begin to read the words of Julian of Norwich, I am struck by this simple fact: Julian was not afraid to ask. In the second chapter of her manuscript, Julian tells us that she "had previously desired three gifts from God." These gifts, as I mentioned in the last post, were to know more clearly the passion of Christ, to experience an illness that brought her to the door of death, and to receive three "wounds": the wounds of "very contrition, of kind compassion and of wilful longing to God."
Not only does Julian share with us her desires, but she also tells us the reason behind these desires. She wants to see and experience the passion (or the death) of Christ, so that she may have a "truer" mind. She yearns for an illness so that she may be purged by the mercy of God, and live more to God's honor. Yet, as noble as these hopes might be, she qualifies these two requests by a phrase that echoes that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Lord, you know what I will-if it be your will that I have it; and if it is not your will, good lord, do not be displeased, for I will nothing except as you will."
The hummingbirds are darting through the backyard garden of my friend's casita. I'm sitting in the shade of a palm with my computer, the towering San Jacinto mountain ranges providing a breathtaking backdrop beyond the desert brush. Flying down from Seattle yesterday, my window seat allowed me to get a bird's eye view of much of California's contours as we made our way to the Coachella Valley. My dependable sense of direction was challenged, however, once my friend and I left Palm Springs and headed into the night, navigating around detours, and some low-lying hills to our final destination of 29 Palms. Why was the mountain still there? I wondered. Shouldn't it be over in that direction? I couldn't wait to get on googlemaps in the morning to place myself in the larger context of my new environment.
Today's post is a bit of an orientation to Julian of Norwich. My personal introduction to this well-revered Christian mysitc and writer began several years ago with the discovery of the oft-quoted phrase: "all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Like a brochure to a restful oasis, it has invited me to experience more of what Julian saw and wrote. And as things are often more understood when placed in a context, here are some facts as we begin to explore the terrain that Julian inhabited.
Born in 1343 and dying at some point after 1416, Julian lived in England during a time that saw the Black Death decimate much of the countryside. We know little about her early live, but it's possible that her name was taken from the church that she spent her later life attached to: St Julian's of Conisford, Norwich (pictured above.) Having spent time in fervent prayer that she would receive an intense vision of the passion, an illness approaching death, and the three gifts of contrition, compassion and an earnest desire for God, at the age of 30 Julian did indeed experience a disease that was so severe, a priest was called to administer last rites. As he placed an image of the crucifix in front of her, she received the first of several visions of Christ and instead of death, she was miraculously healed.
The record of these "shewings" and her further reflections upon them resulted in a manuscript that is the first known theological text written in English (as opposed to Latin) and the first written by an English woman. After her visions, she lived as a "solitary" in a cell attached to St. Julian's where she wrote, prayed and acted as spiritual guide to those who would come to visit her.
Tomorrow afternoon I head to DC to visit a friend, spend the night and then catch an early morning flight to California. My suitcase will contain an eclectic mix of media to blog on during Lent. On top of the pile are two books on Julian of Norwich (my Lenten lady). Her classic "Revelation of Love" is based on a series of visions Julian received in 1373. In addition I have a companion book by Robert Llewelyn entitled: "All Shall be Well, The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich for Today" This well-revered mystic has intrigued me for several years. Her reflections on the nature of love, as well as the fact that she coined the word "enjoy" give me reasons to believe that treasures abound.
To complement this main course, I've added two perhaps surprising side dishes. The novel "Emma" by Jane Austen, which I've blogged on earlier (here) and Craig Gillespie's movie, "Lars and the Real Girl" are both stories of transformation. While Lent can be a time of personal reflection and growth as was true in the case of Julian of Norwich, most of us need the support and encouragement of community to affect lasting change. What tasty combinations will spring from from these ponderings whilst I enjoy the sun and desert landscape of Palm Springs? Who knows? But it's bound to be food for thought!
I hope you enjoy your Fastnacht doughnuts, or Shrove Tuesday pancakes. On Wednesday we'll remember once again that we are creatures of the earth, and set our hearts on pilgrimage (Psalm 84). I'll see you on Thursday.
We've just returned this evening from a senior theater showcase written and performed by a good friend of ours. The topic was a dark one: how one escapes from the prison of negative emotions. A dimly lit set was dominated by a shuttered door. A single light bulb, fading in and out, hung on a cord from the ceiling. Water dripped into a shallow pan. This was an eery interior landscape.
The show moved through a series of vignettes: a childhood roller coaster of emotion as a longed for skateboard is trashed by the older neighborhood demi-god; a recurring vision of setting out on a path, confident and eager, only to end up sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of emotion, being bogged down by feelings beyond one's control; the young adult musings of when the freedom to risk, to be vulnerable had been squelched, leaving fear to dictate thoughts and dreams.
I'm always caught by the appearance of laughter when I watch theater that is so painful. It seems out of character with the subject and raw emotions at hand. Are we whistling in the dark, scoffing at the experience presented to us? Distancing ourselves, or trying to break the tension? Tonight I had a different theory. I wondered if we are sharing the moment with the actor, remembering that we have too been where the scene is taking us.
The last vignette retold the story of an evening drive born of the desire to head out into the dark cool night with nothing to achieve but freedom itself. In the winter landscape, the car swerves out of control, turning and rolling until it comes to a jarring stop. Into the disorienting loneliness of the night comes the voice of a stranger. "You will be OK. Help is on the way." Inexplicably, it seems, the young man is able to rest, comforted by the presence of another.
Can it be that laughter in the midst of darkness is a way of acknowledging solidarity, of being community? Perhaps the very act itself, the sound of human voices moved to a common response, reminds us, no matter where we find ourselves, that we are not alone.
For most of this week, I've been looking for things that bring me laughter. Trying to notice and respond to what is funny, or odd, even ridiculous. Today I had the opportunity to be the cause of someone's laughter, and it felt great. Although I have in the past kept a crowd entertained with some outlandish story or misadventure, this isn't the sort of merriment that I mean.
I was heading out of the snack room at the college down the road, when I bumped into a former colleague. We had canceled a lunch date a week or two before, so it was great to see each other. In the course of our conversation she told me about a magazine writing class she was currently enrolled in. She was doing well (not surprisingl) but ruing the fact that she didn't have access to a small recorder, since most of her articles involved interviewing students. It would be so much easier to capture the quotes if she didn't have to do them longhand!
I started fumbling through my purse. On last year's birthday my youngest daughter gave me a small Sony recorder. For the past few months it had been underused, although, like other gifts I have been given from family members, I have no doubt it will be just what I need at some point in the future. (This is a lesson I learned when my husband gave me a microwave one Christmas, followed the next year by a cordless phone. Neither piece of technology was on my radar, but I am positive I couldn't imagine life without them now.)
The recorder was finally brought to light, and I handed it over to my friend, startling her in midsentence. She started to crack up. "I can't believe you had this in your purse!" she exclaimed. "Will you really let me borrow it? Now I have no excuse not to do well."
Strategy Five: Take the opportunity to be the cause of someone's good fortune. And share the laughter that results.
In the spirit of seeking some laughs, Dan suggested yesterday afternoon that I pick up a copy of Megamind at our nearest Redbox for some after dinner entertainment. (Strategy Four: Make use of media.) Not only did I appreciate the support, but the den is the one warm room in the house these days, as we've pulled out the kerosene heater to help with heating costs. So after dinner, with heater blazing, and snuggled under a fleece, we settled down for some fun.
Megamind is definitely an enjoyable film, although it didn't produce the guffaws I was expecting after having seen Despicable Me. If you've seen the movie, you might have felt similarly. From the begining I was cheering for the underdog, surprisingly on the side of the villain, and hoping that somehow the mistreated and misunderstood child at the core of Megamind would finally get what he'd always wanted: respect and friendship.
The movie did get me thinking, however, about "evil" laughter. In one scene, Megamind fills his lair with a maniacal cackle in hopes of striking fear into the heart of his lovely kidnappee, Roxanne Ritchie. Alas, he meets with little success, as the perky Miss Ritchie ho hums his attempts to intimidate.
Far more powerful and insidious is the laughter unleashed by the juvenile Metroman, the teacher's pet who makes life miserable for the young Megamind. Standing on the moral and "genetic" high ground, Metroman is beyond scrutiny, and the teacher, like many in similar situations, oblivious to the damage inflicted to the odd child out.
We rarely are in situations where bullies or villains stare at us with half-crazed eyes and try to terrorize us with shrieks of perverted delight. But how many wounds do we carry from those in positions of "authority" who with a little smirk, or "funny story" have managed to shame us? And how many times have we, in thoughtless "humorous" ways, caused real pain?
I was thinking this morning about different types of laughter. Things that are silly because they're unexpected - a platypus might be an example, or the pairing of words in a surprising way. Then there is the laughter because we are not getting something very obvious - my laughing at myself because I'm being way too serious these days. It's not necessary, perhaps not even good for me, but I'm being sincere. This laughter isn't mean-spirited, it causes me to view myself as a child and lighten up.
There's another type of laughter that comes when true delight creates too much energy to contain inside our bodies. This laughter might be a kissing cousin to song, a physical release of joy, extraverted from our soul to the realm of sound waves. So after breakfast I sat down at the piano. Choosing songs that reminded me of the greatness of God's love, I let the truth of that goodness sink in and then rebound outward. Perhaps not technically laughter, but a life-giving practice in its own right.