Who is setting your intentions?

3929606859_6a19b3a121_oIt is 9:21am and I have yet to check my email.  This is new.  Please don’t worry, though.  I’ll get to my email.  I ALWAYS get to my email.  But I needed to make a change.

Last week I scheduled a call with my writing coach, Christine Hemp (who I realize also serves as my spiritual director) because I was feeling creatively dry.  My mind was frantic, overwhelmed by work responsibilities that just kept coming, one email at a time.  I couldn’t keep up.  When I did get a chance to sit down at my desk for an hour or so of uninterupted writing time the words wouldn’t come because my mind was preoccupied by the stress of my to-do list.

During our phone conversation, Christine asked me to recall my intentions for the year.   This is a list she has me create of personal, professional or spiritual goals that I intend to prioritize.  I was surprised to realize that I couldn’t remember any of my intentions. Wow. I needed to make a change.

Sometimes all it takes is the smallest change, a minor life tweak, to improve your quality of life.  As I considered how my intentions had gotten away from me, I realized that my habit of sleeping with my Smartphone beside my bed (I used it as my alarm clock) was not serving me well.  The first thing I did when my alarm went off in the morning was reach over to grab my phone and check my email.  Then, I’d check my email every few minutes throughout the course of my day up to the moment before I set my alarm at night and went to bed.  No wonder my mind was feeling so frantic with all that digital stimuli.  No wonder I had forgotten my intentions because my emails were dictating my intentions for me.  Every email required a response.  Every email I opened was an invitation for someone else’s needs to direct the course of my day, my actions, and my intentions.

So I quit sleeping with my Smartphone.  I started using my alarm clock instead.  (I even bought a new alarm clock that wakes me up to the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore.  Nice, huh? )  I promised myself that I wouldn’t check my email until after I had gotten my kids off to school, created my list of to-do’s for the day (which included a set time to check and respond to emails) and sat for my morning meditation practice.   So far, this has made a world of difference.  I feel like my day is my own again.  I feel more present to my children in the morning.  I feel nurtured by my meditation practice to respond better to the needs of others.  I have regained the spaciousness my spirit requires for my creativity to bloom.  I am being productive again.

What are your intentions?  What changes, or minor life tweaks, do you need to make? How can you nurture yourself today so you can better respond to the needs of others?

[Feature Image:  Guilherme Tavares]

Holy Listening with Stephen Colbert

stephen-colbert-1-800I am a fan of Stephen Colbert.  I am even more of a fan after watching his interview with DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement and the new Campaign Zero, this past Monday on The Late Show.  Colbert introduced himself to McKesson as possibly “the whitest person you’ve ever met.”  Then, after a brief discussion of white privilege, Colbert offered to switch seats with McKesson, putting his guest in the role of host.

Throughout this interview and with this simple gesture of switching seats, Stephen Colbert was practicing what I would call “holy listening.”  Holy listening is honoring another by giving him or her our full attention.  It is a practice of recognizing the sacred in others, as well as the dynamics of power and privilege at play between human beings.  I remember reading about how difficult it is for those who are not in a position of power to find a way to be heard.  Hearing these minority voices really depends on the listener coming to the conversation free of his or her own agenda.  It also depends upon the listener being open to the validity of the other person’s experience.  In other words, holy listening is difficult–especially since we are not trained to listen well.  We have been trained to be distracted.  We have been trained to be loud, assertive, and confident.  We have been trained to get our point across.  Rarely are we trained in the art of listening.  But we sure could use more people practicing this fine art.  Stephen Colbert modeled a great way to begin.  Switch seats.  Stop talking.  Honor the person sitting across from you enough to be fully present with him–especially if that person’s human experience is different than your own.

 

 

Refusing to let God Vanish

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A poet friend posted this quote to Facebook last week. It was the anniversary of a difficult miscarriage and she posted this as a prayer that her grief enlarges instead of diminishes her.  This struck me as a beautiful sentiment and so typical of a poet. I keep turning to the poets for the way they enlarge life, for the way they take a magnifying glass to all that seems mundane. A good poet can create a whole scene (or deliver a whole sermon) out of a detail as small as the petal of a pansy. In this enlarging of life it seems that Hirsch’s point is well taken; that the poet’s job is to leave a verbal record as a way of refusing to let any thing—any detail or experience or person, for that matter—vanish.

As I contemplated Psalm 36 for an upcoming sermon, I began to recognize the psalmist’s job as leaving a verbal record of God. These ancient poets enlarged every detail of God. Psalm 36, in particular, enlarges the details of God’s steadfast love that extends to the heavens, God’s righteousness that stands like the mighty mountains, God’s judgment that runs like the great deep and God’s refuge that the psalmist emphasizes is for all people. Implicit in this poetry is a refusal to vanish and a refusal to allow God to vanish. It almost seems like an act of rebellion–an act of rebellion against all that counters love and justice, refuge and righteousness; an act of rebellion against all the pain, heartache, and grief that this world dishes out–to refuse to let God vanish.

This past holiday season all of the end-of-the-year reviews seemed to be ripe with heartache, tragedy and grief.

After the shooting in San Bernadino, California articles were written about how there had been more mass shootings this year than days—as of December 2nd, 355 mass shootings had occurred in 336 days. So much heartache has been caused by these shootings, and yet we Americans are so solidly entrenched in our culture of guns and our worship of guns that we can’t seem to do anything about this abhorrent violence. It breaks my heart to know that my 6-year-old not only knows the drills at her elementary school for tornado and fire, but also what to do when an active shooter is in the building.

hqdefaultAdding to my heartache this holiday season, I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness in preparation for a college trip I am leading where we will study the mass incarceration of our American men of color. What I learned in reading this book—about how our nation’s War on Drugs has strategically and systematically rounded up and locked up our impoverished, black males—blew me away and it made me understand the urgency of the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the more. Our societal imbalance and ‘disadvantaging’ of a whole population of people is a tragedy.

And then there’s the continued evil of groups such as ISIS, Al Queda, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. There’s the insanity of Donald Trump’s popularity, our nation’s gobbed up political process, militia men taking control of a wild life refuge in Oregon, another black teen gunned down by police and a “Bible believing” man who walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic to shoot it up.

My God, it seems in the midst of all this heartache and grief, evil and tragedy that there is simply nowhere to turn. Everything is just so messed up.

So I am grateful for the Psalmist who leaves us a verbal record of:

Steadfast Love

Faithfulness

Righteousness like the Mountains

Judgment like the Great Deep

A refuge in which ALL PEOPLE may find shelter

By recording and enlarging these sacred details, the psalmist refuses to let God vanish in a world so full of heartache. The psalmist defiantly lifts up that which counters the insanity, grief, tragedy and evil of the world in which we live.

People of faith do the same every time we gather for worship. Have you ever thought of worship as an act of rebellion? I mean really, how dare we gather to read the psalmist’s words out loud, to pray bold prayers for peace, to sing hymns of hope when all that is taking place out there? It’s kind of crazy, really. But God will not vanish as long as God’s people gather to speak God into this world.

2301691623_7d9f87ac31_oWith the state of the church today—which is a state of rapid decline—I oftentimes think to myself where Christianity would be without the church? Or even, where Jesus would be without the church? If no one is gathering anymore to read the scripture, to sing the hymns, to pray the prayers and build the Body of Christ, then where does that leave Christ? I know this is kind of radical, but consider with me this question: If the church vanishes, then would Christianity, maybe even Christ himself, vanish too?  I don’t know my answer to this question yet.  But I want to ask it.  Because I’m afraid God would vanish if God’s people do not speak and act and live God into existence.

So I guess I want to encourage an uprising—a revolt against all that is terrible and terrorizing.  I want us to rebel against the heartache. I want us to be enlarged, not diminished by the grief. I want us to counter the evil, hate and bigotry with steadfast love, and righteousness, and justice for ALL who are welcome into the fold of God’s refuge. I want us to be God’s poets, refusing to let God vanish by leaving a verbal record.

Who knows, maybe this could be the start of something big? We won’t know unless we try.  And I think God is hoping, maybe even depending upon us to try.

 

 

 

 

 

2015 in review

 

At the beginning of this new year, I want to thank those of you who read my blog. We are all inundated with reading material. Facebook, Twitter, literary magazines, Christian Century articles and blog posts regularly enter my feed and catch my attention. But reading time is precious and limited. So I am grateful for those of you who spend some of your time here at Something to Say.

This blog began as a way for me to find my writing voice–as a constant reminder to myself that I have something to say.  But it has become more than a reminder.  A self-imposed deadline of posting every week has become essential to my writing practice.  The connections I have made through blogging has expanded my world as I meet new and old friends and enjoy whole networks of blogging communities.  Finally, this blog is my play space.  I have so much fun writing here because I can write about anything.  Each new blank draft I pull up on my trusty Macbook Pro stokes my creative fire.  This blog has come to mean a lot to me.  So, thank you, for pausing here to read.

Every year the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepare a 2015 annual report for their blogs. What follows is my report as well as links to my top five most viewed posts from 2015.

Here’s an excerpt from the annual report:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Most Viewed Posts from 2015:

#1: Mindfulness Meditation: There’s an App for That

#2 When Worship Works

#3 How can this be?  A Christmas Sermon

#4 Three Lessons from a Productive Summer

#5 I find you spiritually attractive

 

Writing to Discover

6281142155_e8a8afcddb_oIn an essay I am writing about my son I am discovering just how much I love my children. This feels odd to write because of course I already know that I love my children. But as I challenge myself to go deeper in this essay, to be more truthful, to choose words that resonate with emotions that I rarely bring to the surface, I am discovering the power of this art I have chosen (or perhaps has chosen me.)

Yesterday, I hit a raw vein of truth—namely, the fear I bury that something bad will happen to my children. I imagine all parents hold this fear and bury it deep. It’s not an emotion we can live with on the surface or else we’d never let our children out the door in the morning, let alone get on that big yellow school bus which is sure to be full of bullies. I climbed into my fear yesterday, though, as I sat at my desk with my notepad and pen and picked that fear raw to see what was living there. Why would I do this? Why subject myself to such torture? Well, I guess because I’m learning that emotions are not to be avoided. The feelings our hearts yield are signs pointing us towards truth waiting to be discovered—truth about who we are, how we are, and how we relate to the world. I learn so much when I honor my emotions enough to sit with them.

Out of the raw place of fear that I mined yesterday, the love I hold for my children overcame me like a wave grabbing and ripping me away from the safety of shore. It was a love that moved so far beyond the healthy lunches I pack every night and the grass-stained clothes I endlessly launder and the good night cuddles I linger over. It was a love that hurt—a love that physically gripped me—a love that clearly needed to be safely managed and stored back away so it wouldn’t devour and consume me. Good God, now I know what it means to call love a risk. Because to lose the source of this love—like many parents I know have—would be near impossible to survive.

Writing brought all this to the surface for me. I walked around for the rest of the day with my unsurfaced love jangling about like a bundle of unplugged chords. Then, my children came home from school and I was extra attentive. I stroked their little blond heads. I bathed them tenderly, relishing the chance to wash the day’s dirt and sweat and crumbs and routine chocolate smears off their growing-up-too-fast bodies. I kissed them and hugged them and clung to them before tucking them into their beds and thanking God that, for the moment, they were safe.

I don’t want to live in fear. Because that’s not really living. But I do want to live awakened, alive to the emotions that drive me and the truth that can be uncovered, or recovered, when I am willing to honor all that is inside. Writing is the path that takes me there. What path do you choose?

 

[Feature Image: Ramiro Ramirez]

 

Worth Sharing

2738957753_02e2b6c1ff_oThree blog posts I read this past week that were worth sharing:

The Displaced Person: Reading Flannery O’Connor in the Age of Islamophobia by Dave Griffith.

I love Flannery O’Connor so I was immediately drawn into Griffith’s article. Then I recognized Griffith’s brilliance in highlighting O’Connor’s short story, The Displaced Person when our states and nations are currently running scared from welcoming Syrian refugees and Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims is getting more extreme and obscene. The Displaced Person, according to Griffith, is a story that brims with overt criticism of Christian racists–which is why it is worth revisiting now and why Griffith’s article is worth reading.

Sounding a similar note, John Buchanan’s post, Fear Not, offers an important reminder that Christians are not to be ruled by fear.  Buchanan quotes novelist Marilynne Robinson who recently wrote:

We make irrational responses to irrational fear.” One thinks, for instance, of the ludicrous suggestion to bar all Syrian refugees from entering the United States. And “fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threats on the one hand and on the other hand terrors that beset those who see threats everywhere.” e.g. the proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the country. Finally, “Granted the fears of the world, it is potentially a very costly indulgence to fear indiscriminately and to try to stimulate fear in others.” That is it exactly – Trump is a “very costly indulgence.”

On a lighter note, I’m proud of my student interns, who this past semester have kept up with their blogging.  I thought Angela’s most recent post, Staying Thankful was beautifully written.  I especially liked how she related taking final exams to getting your teeth scraped at the dentist.

*Posted in response to The Daily Press’ Writing Prompt.

[Feature Image: Mike Licht]