Tag Archives | growth

Fill up with the water of life

Friends came over to visit and have dinner the other night. Lives shared, good times together and one of our friends shared this story/idea from a Jesuit priest he had met on retreat:

Think of this: pick up an “empty” glass — what is in it? Nothing? No, not nothing — it’s full of air! Think of that air as sin ( or separation, or all of those things we do that are not good for us — annoying or bad habits, stupid stuff, whatever).

Fill that glass with water.

What happened to the air? Why it’s forced out, replaced by the water. If the water is the Water of Life, if the water is a walk with God, a growing spiritual awakening, in Christian terms it is the life of Christ in the glass… Aha! if you fill up on the water, there is no space for the sin.

So, don’t worry as much about the sin — fill up with God’s Love, with the Water of Life and there simply will be less room for other stuff.  It’s not easy. I know — sometimes I want to shake up the glass and make sure I can mix the air back in just to keep it around. But, I think this approach could really work out well.

 

Transformation / Transfiguration

If a teacher would bring up these two terms, I fear the question would be: Contrast and compare transfiguration and transformation. They are different, yes, but, it seems also very intertwined. And, they’ve been on my radar for a couple of days.

Saturday night, USA ran Schindler’s List comercial free, wrapped only in an into and epilogue by Steven Spielberg who spoke about tolerance and about the Shoah Foundation. I had never seen the movie before, and found parts of it twisting my stomach into knots with horror. I can in some ways understand those Holocaust deniers who cannot accept that this happened. This bit of history reflects some of the worst of humanity.

So, how does this play into transfiguration and transformation? Oskar Schindler, of course. Schindler doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Schindler’s transformation into a man who would go to the ends of his world to save his people. Schindler who was transformed in a way by how the Jews he had under his protection had been transfigured for him into human beings, worthy of protection and care. By the end of the movie, the end of WWII in Europe, this man had been changed, almost in spite of himself.

Another theme I found in the movie was just a hint of how the cruelty and inhumanity of the entire cancerous Nazi philosophy and practices twisted those involved. I’m in no way defending Goeth, but there was a glimpse of a deeply disturbed man, fighting against his own humanity. I got a glimpse of how his choices and his world ate away at him, leaving behind a damaged, dangerous individual who couldn’t face himself and struck out at anything that came close to his “good” side.

Enter Sunday’s Gospel: the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. I listened to this reading in the aftermath of the movie. I thought to myself that the Transfiguration sounded more like the transformation of the disciples so that they could truly see Jesus, more than any change in Jesus. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Who knows what can happen if we allow ourselves to see differently? To be transformed so as to see a transfigured world around us.

Think about it.

 

 

Why Write?

I’m taking a class this term with OLLI – “Writing Our Lives.” One of the questions posed in the reference book we use for the class (The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, Sharon M. Lippincott) is “Why are you writing?” Obviously there is no right answer to this question. But, it caused me to struggle a bit as I reflected on the “Why?”

My writing is not to tell my story for my children and grandchildren. If they find my writing interesting, that is wonderful. But, I write to tell my story to myself.  I write to sort my memories which are dominated by the emotions of the moment/event instead of objective observances. Often, I can recall how I felt, but not what caused me to laugh or cry. This is strange, since I overtly make decisions by thinking through things. This is not so strange when I recall that big decisions are made based on my gut.

Writing is a way to walk back through a memory and put flesh on it. Writing forces me to not just have an emotional response, but to sit with it and hear what that emotion is telling me. It might be telling me about myself or about another person. If I remember fear, writing about it helps me to sort through what made me afraid [or sad, happy, content] and learn not only what I fear, but why. Writing is helpful because it helps me to name my fears and joys and sorrows. And, if have found that in real life, just as in magic and fantasy and folklore, if you can name something, it loses a lot of it’s control over you.

I suspect that the unpronounceable name of God, YWHW (or whatever those letters were) was affirmation of the fact that we can never truly name or tame God. We can however name and take some control over other things and relationships in our lives. Writing is my way of doing that.

 

Teaching to the Test

In Alabama, the new school year is starting. In the US, those of us who work in education or are closely related to those who do, are surely aware of No Child Left Behind. Sounds like a good idea on the surface. But, the guidelines seem to reflect Garrison Keillor’s claim about lake Woebegon:  “… and all the children are above average.”  Something about the concept of average got lost. To have be average means that something is above (higher, better, a bigger number) you and something is below (lower, not as good, smaller number) you… or that everything is exactly the same, with nothing outstanding at all. Not gonna work, if I understand the requirements. If you get everyone up to what was the average when you started, and some move beyond, then average is higher.

Don’t get me wrong here — I want every child to be able to develop to her/his own potential. I do want some recognition that each child’s potential can be quite different.

So, what happens? Too often, teachers find that they must “Teach to the test.” Teach only those things that someone has decreed to be essential, because if any child can’t master this enough to fill in the proper circle on the page, then the entire year is a failure. Leaves little room for preparing those kids to think, to experiment, to learn even more (or less) than the prescribed lesson.

It seems rather like church. I didn’t grow up a Catholic, but even I can start to give a Baltimore Catechism answer to Who is God? Why did God Make Us? It’s true that catechism (Baltimore or New) answers can give a starting point for exploring my own walk in faith. So often, it seems, rote answers are the end of this journey, not the beginning. The proper answer is what is expected. It is the test. The Church teaches to the Test, instead of leading people beyond or pointing people to the Source.  I have a strong sense that Jesus wasn’t looking for everyone to be average.

Just thinking… that’s all.

 

 

 

 

Renewal

Ten years ago, I was moving back into this house after a five month sojourn around town. The house had burned in March and we spent the spring and summer inhabiting interesting digs: a condo designed for folks who wanted a nice place close to campus for football weekends, followed by the summer in an apartment complex where is was us “old guys” and a bunch of male college sophomores. That was interesting. I was growing herbs (basil, rosmary, sage, etc) in a window basket. It took the neighbors weeks to get up the nerve to ask about the vegetation in the planter. I think that they were both disappointed and relieved to discover than these were for cooking, not for smoking.

Back to the house.

One of the really sweet things about this rebuilding was the fact that I picked paint colors, and someone else did the painting. What a concept. The coordinated colors went together well. They were on the walls for 10 years. But, in many respects and in many parts of the house, like the living room and hall, they were safe, neutral ginger cream off-white. That made things light (good thing), but not very inspiring. The intense color in the kitchen has been my favorite. And, that was the inspiration for the new paint. So, far, we have sage in the formerly pale living room which sets off the leather couches and the furniture (and the shiny white trim) in a way that I find comforting and inspiring. And the hall has more color, albeit something called Sand Motif.

So — how does this get to renewal? My understanding of a sacrament is that it is an outward (physical) sign of an interior grace (change/process). This new color scheme is a sign to me that somehow I have healed and grown and find myself more free to express this in an outward manner. I fussed over the colors. I studied the combination of colors. I got the quote from a long time friend and excellent painter. I was really concerned about how this living room (and other rooms) would look. This is a new wardrobe for my living space.

Yesterday, when I headed out to the gym, the walls were ginger cream. When I got back, the first coat of sage greeted me — and filled me with joy. I love it. I love the way things look. It affirmed that inner feeling in a visible way. Sacrament.

True, a new coat of paint can be just a cosmetic enhancement or it can reveal something that just needed to get out. This color change seems to be a bit like spring with new colors and new growth. In time, it will move to summer and fall and become just another part of the backdrop of life. I will grow accustomed to it and probably not think about it. It will become a part of the house. But for now, I’m enjoying the beginning of something new.

Out of Egypt

I just finished Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt a couple of days ago. An interesting read. I’m not sure I would have derived the same story were I writing a fictional recollection of this period of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but she does a wonderful job of giving insight into what it is like to begin to discover oneself… especially as a child. And especially as a child where people are reticent to give you some of the information.

It’s quite hard to explain — the best thing is to read it yourself and ponder how each of us learns who we are from within and without.

Trees do bend…

On my way in to work each morning I pull up to an intersection that causes me to face a line of not so very old trees. These trees were carefully planted a number of years ago and are nicely spaced so as to have plenty of room to grow without interference from neighboring trees. The one that is almost straight ahead is a beautifully shaped specimen — even, symmetrical, tall. Not constrained by other trees.

How unlike the trees in my backyard. The ones I planted from little seedlings and saplings. The white oaks that are too close together because each was an acorn with a leaf attached when planted. And planted a bit close because I wasn’t sure which, if  any would survive and also because I didn’t have the vision to see the full grown tree. Same for the maples. And then, there is the McDonald’s pine tree brought home by a thrilled 3 year old and planted in a random spot.

My backyard trees are more like my life: They are lopsided because they crowd each other. They fight for the sunlight and the water and the nutrients. They form a solid cover over part of the yard. If one is removed, it is obvious that something has been taken away and it will take years to fill in the gap. Just like my life. All crammed in with people I love and ideas and responsibilities. When one of these is removed it’s pretty obvious. And it takes time to adapt and fill in the gap.

I’m not that perfect, symmetrical tree at the end of the street. I’m not an island. Some days, I wish I was. But, for today, I think it’s ok to be shaped by those around me — just as long as I can get enough sunlight and water and nutrients to hold up my spot.

Stretch

Last night I decided to try to recast a webpage that someone had created in Flash into html/css. Now, if those terms mean nothing to you, don’t worry. Just know that it was a decontruction/reconstruction exercise. A brain stretch to look beyond the final appearance and discover different ways to divide the pieces and put them back using a different set of rules… only the goal is to have the end result to appear the same. Smoke and mirrors. A phone that looks like a rotary dial, but is in reality a touch tone.

The point being that I stretched my brain to look beyond the images on the page and re-evaluate how I saw them. I had to take a function that is most easily represented by plain, squared-off rectangles and make it pretty. Or, was it that I took something really pretty and complex and broke it into little functional boxes? In the end, I see it quite differently than I did before. I hope that when someone else sees it, that they will not see it differently. The viewer just needs to know that it works well.

In the end, I’m not totally sure that the way I went about the project is going to be an effective solution. But, the process was worthwhile. To borrow from the original author of the thing I was working on:

Brain stretching is never wasted– sometimes you end up applying what you learned to something totally different from what you thought you were working on!

Now, back to the journey (which, it seems is more important than reaching the final destination.)

Focus

It seems that I can easily fool myself — I think I have taken the time to pay attention. But it doesn’t stick with me unless I make a real effort. And effort to be awake and mindful and not just let life slide by aimlessly.

So – yesterday I had my new camera at work when new librarians came around for a bit of a tour. I am sooooo very bad with names (names must not be very important to me). But, I’m giving it a try. I took a picture of each (good chance to reinforce any new tricks with the camera) and made a conscious effort to attach names and things about each one to the name and face. This morning I saw them again and I could remember names and where they came from before moving here.

Is that a bit like praying? Or what is necessary to actually be touched by prayer or study? Take the time. Focus on it. Be mindful of what is happening now. Absorb it. Review it. It is only those things/events/people that we take the time to focus on that stick for the long haul.

And, I really want Jesus to be in that category.

Talents

We are all given talents – gifts, that is.  Jesus even taught about this in the parable where the 3 individuals were given varying talents. He goes away for a while and returns later to see how these talents were used… It sounds like a talent is like a dollar, but it could be anything. Anyway, as we all know, the one who got 5000, went out and doubled the amount. The same with 3000. But the one who had little, only 1000, buried them, and returned exactly what he received. The first 2 were praised, the 3 scolded and sent away.

It seems to be about investment. I have many gifts, many talents. Not great talents, not great gifts, but an adequate supply. These won’t make me famous. And, in my mind’s eye, they are probably minor talents. But, the ones that I have invested are the ones that have paid off.

I love music. I don’t have a wonderful voice — I’ve long suffered from allergies, and I’ve done things that haven’t helped my voice quality. Over the course of nearly 45 years, I have spent a lot of time with a guitar in my hands. I’m good enough to know how good I’m not. But, the investment has paid off. I am a parish musician.  As such, I have been put in intimate contact with music that expresses the things that I don’t have spoken words to express. I have had the opportunity to learn from other musicians. Scripture put to music speaks to me at many levels, and I remember it better. It has led me to read church documents of liturgy that I would probably have never looked at otherwise. It causes me to consider the Sunday readings more deeply as I try to select music to celebrate the themes. For me, the investment in this bit of a talent I have been given has paid back even more than the doubling of the gift that the 2 good servants experienced. I pray that this is what the Lord is asking of me.

In other areas, I’m a bit more like the bad servant. I’ve buried gifts that I don’t care to pursue. My mother has observed repeatedly that I always wanted to pursue things that I wasn’t good at, and ignore things that came easy or that I could be good at. Maybe that is true. I’m certain I have never lived up to my academic potential.

It’s funny though – the practice of crafting these posts is an investment in a talent that maybe I have buried. I thank my friends who encourage me to practice writing. I am grateful for their support of my investment in any small gift I have for stringing a bunch of words together to convey an idea.

With that said, I’ll also continue to encourage the gifts and talents of others. The ability to do that seems to be such a gift that I see in others, and one worthy of investment.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes