I'm impatient to be "getting things done." I'm not sure what that means, but it has something to do with making a list and working my way through it without getting distracted. Because sometimes I feel like I'm letting all my energy seep out of me with no discernable results. So this morning, I woke up with lists on my mind. First item: no blogging today. But that's not what wanted to happen, it's meant to be a day where lists are made and then set aside, and I'm back to living in the Spirit.

So I followed my heart and did the thing in front of me, letting go of what I wanted in favor of what the Spirit wanted. I remembered that cracked pot in the parable of the two pots which by its leaking waters the flowers on the side of the path, and gave up the desire to be competent and in control and productive so God's energy could flow where it would.

Then I picked up a book of poetry I recently bought, and opened the pages to this poem, which encourages me that I'm on the right path, after all.

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

What's nicer than a surprise? Two nights ago Dan and I realized that leftover grilled tilapia can be used to make wonderful fish tacos (a taste we acquired while in the Florida Keys over the winter). If you've also had cole slaw for dinner the night before, then all you need is a few slices of tomato, some cilantro and lime juice to add to the fish and slaw and you're set for a tasty lunch. Yum!

And what about those relatives of the late Dr. David Sinclair who were surprised (and honored) to discover that Dr. Sinclair had been the obstetrician who delivered President Obama! Sure enough, his signature was clearly discernable at the bottom of the infamous birth certificate which the White House produced yesterday.

There are all sorts of pleasant surprises. Some of my favorites are those found in nature, those "just around the bend" experiences. "Daffodils," penned by William Wordsworth, captures one such experience. I love how the joy of the initial surprise can provide a future spring of delight when gazed upon by the "inward eye." This poem was shared by the same friend who sent the Langston Hughes poem my way.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

For the past year or so, my husband Dan and I have been reading through the Psalms, one each morning at breakfast. It's a small nod to the monastic "liturgy of the hours", where songs and scripture are a mainstay of the devotional life. I hope as we read the psaltry through on a continual basis, the poetry will sink into our hearts and minds, the phrases becoming a part of our soul vocabulary.

When our children were younger, I would pick out a psalm to read upon occasion in the morning. As I thumbed through the pages of our Bible, I would be surprised at how many psalms were not what I wanted to read. Full of suffering, questioning, anger, prayers for vengeance, they were not the upbeat, inspirational sort of thing I thought was appropriate for sending children off to school. No, I'd skip right on by 'til I found a psalm with "heavens declaring the glory of God" or encouragement to "praise Him with the 10-stringed lyre."

But today, upon waking to read of yet another tornado devastating parts of the south,  I am realizing the importance of putting words to our grief and pain. I cannot imagine waking up to half of a town being gone, the anguish of loved ones lost or missing, whole livelihoods shredded into rubble. And this is just one of the calamities of the spring. Japan continues to be on my mind, its people trying to make new lives in the traumatizing aftermath of the tsunami and subsequent aftershocks, not to mention the nuclear contamination. And in between Japan and the US, there are numberous countries in political upheaval, their citizens living in fear and uncertainty. 

Our breakfast psalm, attributed to King David, seems fitting for today. Although short, its prayerful petition touches upon a variety of emotions: a sense of urgency, an awareness of judging eyes, the belief and hope that relief may come from a great God, and the reality of personal helplessness. I admire the fact that it does not end on a triumphal note. Though there is faith in the goodness of God, the psalmist leaves us with the subjective experience of despair. I offer it as a prayer for all those in distress.

Psalm 70
Hasten, O God, to save me;
   come quickly, LORD, to help me.  
May those who want to take my life
   be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
   be turned back in disgrace. 
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
   turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
   rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
   “The LORD is great!” 

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
   come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   LORD, do not delay.

I'm ready for a change of pace after the series of blogs on Julian of Norwich. And it corresponds with a change in taste. Do you remember when you discovered you like something now (perhaps asparagus or brussel sprouts, maybe paisleys or polka dots) that you couldn't appreciate when you were younger?

My latest re-acquired taste is poetry. Maybe it's because I've realized, as I've written some of my own poetry lately, why people write poetry in the first place. Or at least, some of the reasons why they might. Sometimes there's a concept that doesn't suit itself to analysis, as much as to song. Sometimes you wish to capture a certain feeling that an event or experience imprints on your soul. Sometimes you just want to have fun with words. Whatever the reason, I find myself savoring the poetic more than ever.

So, don't be surprised as you tune in over the next month or two, to find yourself discovering more poems. And if there are some favorites of yours, forward them on. This arrived this morning in a friend's email and immediately transported me back to my childhood - listening to the rain on the roof while I was trying to stay awake, caught by the magical fluidity of pooling water after the rain. Although it can wreak havoc, as our heavy downpours did last week, I still love the rain.

April Rain Song

by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.

“[Christ] brought to mind the attribute of a glad giver; a glad giver always takes but little heed of the thing that he gives, but all his desire and all his intent is to please and solace him to whom he gives it; and if the receiver takes the gift highly and thankfully, then the courteous giver sets at nought all his cost and all his travail for joy and delight that he has because he has pleased and solaced him that he loves.”  (Chapter 23)

It's Easter Monday, maybe not a true holiday (although the college around the corner is closed) but a good day to reflect on where this Lenten journey has taken me. Blogging through the "Revelation" of Julian of Norwich has brought new insight and although I haven't made it through all of her writings, what I have pondered has settled deep into my heart.

In posting this final passage, I find myself wondering how well I am receiving the gift of Easter. Whether I allow it the power to change my life or, once the holiday is passed, if I'll sink back into old patterns of thinking and acting. In one of Julian of Norwich's visions, (posted here) Jesus asks her whether she is well-pleased with his sacrifice. His pleasure comes not only because it shows the depth of his love, but also because it is the way for us to experience fullness of life, to "one" with him.

How does this happen? What actually transpired on the cross on Good Friday is the subject of much theology, but at the very least I think there is an exchange. For our broken and estranged lives, we are granted the life of God. The salvation Jesus brings is about healing and reconnection; it includes forgiveness and restoration. The Spirit (which is poured out on Pentecost) grants us full access to divine love and power, including a companion and guide to life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Great gifts, all. And yet I wonder how many Christians find themselves continuing to struggle with guilt, a sense of distance from God and/or lack of clear vocation. The fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control - are nice ideas, but not abundant realities.

Perhaps it seems too good to be true. Maybe we're so used to being concerned and worried, or powerless and distracted, that the idea of living robust and confident lives just doesn't feel right. Or perhaps we've bought the idea that "being Christian" or "spiritual" is about a live that feels "sacrificial," one where we sigh and say, "well, that's just what I need to do. It's not about being fulfilled, it's about being obedient."
(more after the break)

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

A beautiful Easter poem by George Herbert is posted over at Better Living Through Beowulf, the blog I mentioned on Friday. I appreciate Robin's comment that Christ has always gone before us. First into human life, then into death, now into the new life that stretches before us. I also love the invitation for the Spirit to join us as we respond.

What words do you grasp onto for your Easter Saturdays? Those days that we're caught between, waiting on a promise, the fruit of a seed planted deep in dark soil. Marks tells us that the night Jesus was betrayed, he gives his disciples these words: "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Simple words to hold onto. I will rise from the dead. I will meet you and talk again. These words, like trails of crumbs, are meant to help his followers find their pathway home, but by Saturday, the events of Friday afternoon have banished them from their minds; the panic and fear has stolen those phrases like so many crows and so they wander deep into the woods.

I want to look at the disciples and ask them why they weren't listening, why they missed these critical signposts which could have given grounded them in God's perspective. Until I remember the Easter Saturdays I have faced. Days when I have wandered lost, when fog has rolled in and familiar landscape taken on a twilight tinge. 

Blogging through Lent, I've discovered new words, words that soothe my mind, as a rosary might calm an anxious touch. Fresh words that still sound vaguely familiar: "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well," Jesus says, to comfort and encourage Julian of Norwich. Which echoes words of Paul who says, "All things work together for the good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose." and later in the same chapter "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

All. Well. Good. Nothing. Love. Christ. Words for the Saturdays.

Good Friday Gamble

“If nothing is greater than love,”
My friend replies,
“Then it’s worth risking all for it.”

Of course he’s right -
For what is life bereft of love
But an eternity of emptiness?
And love, that priceless pearl,
Demands you sell it all.

Still what long odds!
As when rough hands take up the dice,
Await the spit, then shake and splay them out
on rocky ground.
For who can know what numbers
Will turn up
Or if the robe will pass on by?

Observe his shaken followers:
Those burly men, now cowed and stricken,
Slink into the night.
And women, pale and spent,
(whose tears and hair, with blood and dust
Their own anointing make) have
Stumbled from the hill.

What happens now as darkness falls,
As tremors cease,
And silence jars their broken hearts?

Unanswered in the night
The question hangs

Sue Schmidt, 2011

My friend, Robin Bates, blogs at "Better Living Through Beowulf".
Our conversation on one of the posts led to the comment above.
Sunday evening we had some friends over for a "Lenten salon." After a tasty pork dinner flavored with invigorating conversation, we headed into the living room for a more "reflective" time focused on the season of Lent. It was soon apparent that for some, the traditional way of observing Lent (giving up something that you like) was not a particularly helpful practice. As one of my friends said, "For me, it seems like I've been in a desert place for so long, giving up something doesn't make any sense. I need more in my life, not less."

The comments reminded me of the years I decided to give up Advent so that I could celebrate Advent. The cookie baking, holiday entertaining, Christmas shopping and greeting cards stressed me out so much that the joy and peace of the holiday (gifts that were to be opened and used every day!) were crowded out in favor of...what, exactly?

I think that was part of the sentiment expressed in our living room. The death and resurrection of Christ is about life and that more abundantly. In making that our focus every day, we are entering the spirit of Lent - allowing the seed of God's love to ripen and flower in our lives. To think of Lent as only a time to give up something one likes for a period of time, to embrace suffering (albeit so small) or discipline for its own sake misses the mark. It's not that saying "no" is all that bad. It's only that we should be more interested in increasing the frequency of our saying "yes." 

I'm reminded of a song written by Darrel Evans:

I'm trading my sorrow
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

And we say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Amen

The same friend who spoke at the salon about her desert experiences had set up a meditation area in the corner of our living room. On it, she placed a piece of student art entitled "Sorrowing Madonna," (I cannot decipher the artist's name), a bowl of kosher salt, a plank with several hollowed out indentations, a basket and a pen and some paper. At one point in the evening she commented on the tears streaming down the Madonna's face and spoke about her own tears, and the reasons behind them. She encouraged us to take some time at the end of our evening and consider  what we might want to relinquish into God's care during this Lenten season. We wrote those down and placed the papers in the bowl. Finally, as a way of making this memory tactile, we took a little salt, and after tasing some, placed the rest in one of the indentations.

Giving things up is not always a bad idea, especially if it hinders our health, whether spiritual, physical or emotional. But we should receive something better in the process. Sacrifice in and of itself doesn't impart holiness, or even a better life. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.

One thing that I've learned through reading and blogging on Julian of Norwich, is that God is a God of more - more love, more grace, more comfort, more compassion, more freedom, more "blissful beholding." Say "no" if it's helpful. But let Lent encourage us to be about the "yes" - the "yes" to practices and beliefs that allow more of the God of love to fill us with Himself. Which is, after all, the truth we celebrate this coming weekend.
"He wishes that we know that he pays heed not only to noble, great things, but also to little and small things, low and simple, to one and to the other; and this is what he means when he says: "All manner of things shall be well;" for he wishes us to know that the least thing shall not be forgotten. Another understanding is this: that there are evil deeds done in our sight and such great harm taken that it seems to us that it would be impossible that it should ever come to a good end; and we look upon this, sorrowing and mourning because of it, so that we cannot rest ourselves in the blissful beholding of God." (Chapter 32)

There are certain questions that have risen throughout the ages as people have pondered the knotty paradox of a loving God and the presence of horrific evil in this world. Philosophers have spent lifetimes developing "theodicies," which the American Heritage dictionary defines as "A vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil." Some have posited that God could not have made a world in which we were honestly free, unless we were given the choice to not follow God, and from that choice springs all the evil in the world. There are other theories as well: God gives us the opportunity to develop qualities of character in struggling against sin; He gives us the chance to build connections with people that will last through eternity; Sin allows God to show the extent of His love in a sacrificial way that would have been unnecessary in a world without sin.

That these questions have not only occupied our present age is demonstrated in the fact that they are much on the mind of Julian of Norwich as well.  She struggles, as we might, with the insistence that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, aware of the "great hurt that has come by sin." I find it interesting that she is not given an answer to the question "Why?" Rather, she is given assurance of the outcome.

All things - whether small or large, through accident, immaturity, or blatant choice shall be made well. This is to be a present comfort. But as for the means or the reasons, God does not obligate Himself to tell us His ways or "his secrets." These are "hidden and concelaed from us: that is to say...all that is our lord's secret counsel, and it belongs to the royal lordship of God to have his secret counsel in peace, and it belongs to his servants, for obedience and reverence, not to desire to know his counsels. Our lord has pity and compassion on us because some creatures busy themselves with this; and I am sure that if we knew how greatly we should please him and ease ourselve to leave it, we would." (Chapter 30)

This encouragement to have simple trust in the goodness and greatness of the Lord is perhaps the biggest challenge to our faith, especially when we see the pain and suffering of the world around us. We are to allow God His secret counsels, and not to seek to understand all things. This seems odd, until perhaps we remember the story of Job, where God never answers a question that Job poses either. He merely shows Himself, and Job is silent. 

Julian resolves the paradox in the following way: "There is a deed which the blissful Trinity shall do on the last day, as I see it, and when the deed shall be done, and how it shall be done, is unknown to all creatures that are beneath Christ, and shall be until it is done...by this deed he shall make all things well. And the reason he wishes us to know is that he wises us to be more eased in our souls and made peaceful in love, leaving the beholding of all the tempests that might hinder us from truth, rejoicing in him."

How we address the problem of evil might depend on what we see first. If we start with the pain and suffering around us, we may find it impossible to focus our eyes on a loving God, distracted by the "tempests" from beholding him. If, however, our sight is dazzled at first by the greatness and majesty and love of the God who speaks to Julian, and if we believe that this love floods the earth, it is perhaps easier to have faith that the evil we see around us fades in comparison. Not that we excuse it, or sit idly by while people murder and rape and accuse, but that we are not overwhelmed. Rather, we choose to embrace God's perspective, to trust in His love and allow some questions unanswered.