Tuesday — “Remember on this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.” (Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel)
So… this week, we’ll tell stories, remembering that most stories are not homework for mental tutelage (as if there is a checklist waiting, or perhaps the right answer to a question we somehow missed).
No, there is power in stories because they can ground us. They help us remember who we are. From that grounded place, grows hope and gratitude, and courage and resilience, and compassion and kindheartedness. Stories that can be too easily battered by the undercurrent of the non-essential.
And one essential we can forget? We are connected. And we need stories to remind us we are on this journey together. You know, stories that make our heart glad, and keep it soft.
Maya Angelou’s reminder comes to mind. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Or as Leia tells her daddy after he arrives home very late from a business trip with a gift (in Monday’s Sabbath Moment). “That’s okay Daddy. Tonight T-Bear and I don’t need anything. We just want you to sit here with us, and tell us a story. All we want, is one good story.”
Okay… I’ve got two stories…
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
And my favorite story to tell…
A young boy had nightmares. The kind that makes you go to mom. (You know, because Dad may say, “Go to mom.”)
“Momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“Okay,” the mom tells the boy. “Go back to your room. Kneel down by your bed. Pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room. Kneels down by his bed. Prays. And… more nightmares. Back and forth to mom. The sixth time. “Momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“Okay honey, here’s what…”
“I know the drill mom. I’m going to my room, and kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus. But before I do that, can I just lay in your bed and have you hold me?”
“Sure honey, why?”
“Because sometimes I just need Jesus with skin on it.”
Often, it is my answer to the question, “What do you do?”
Well, today I want to try to be Jesus with skin on it…
Wednesday — Scottish minister George MacLeod tells the story about his young daughter’s first day of school. “I was busy. I was writing letters. I was self-important. My little daughter was going to school that morning for the first time. She came into my room, in her first school uniform. I said, ‘Your tie is not quite straight.’ Then I looked at her eyes. She wasn’t crying. She was unutterably disappointed. She hadn’t come for tie inspection. She had come to show she was going to school for the first time. A terrific day, and I had let her down…
I ran downstairs. I said all the right things. I crossed the road with her. I went to school with her. I had missed the moment, missed the point. I will always see these eyes. Sometimes when I am very busy. Sometimes when I am writing letters. I am forgiven, but I won’t forget.”
The little boy who asked his momma to be Jesus in Skin knew the secret.
Life is to be found in the embrace.
Life is to be found in the presence (or embrace) of the other.
In other words, in the present (the sacrament of the present). Even if it is not exactly what we had in mind… just sayin’.
This is the freedom and the power of the incarnation: the immediacy of the present. And the presence of God (God with us—with skin on) in all things. If that is true, we know that there are no unsacred moments.
This changes the way we live and relate. So. Before we fix anything (or resolve it, or renovate it, or move on), let us live it—feel it, see it, know it, taste it in all its messy, quirky, complicated, problematical and confusing richness and fullness. Why?
Because God is here.
In this moment.
In this conversation.
In this embrace.
In this confusion.
And yes, even in untidiness.
This week we said goodbye to Nichelle Nichols, who spilled light in our world. (I was a Star Trek fan.)
Nichelle’s portrayal of starship communications officer Lt. Uhura in Star Trek and subsequent movies broke color barriers and helped redefine roles for Black actors.
Why she mattered: The 1960s sci-fi series shattered stereotypes common on U.S. TV at the time by casting minority actors in high-profile roles, Reuters reports.
Nichols had planned to quit “Star Trek” after one season. But the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay because it was so revolutionary to have a Black woman playing a senior crew member, at a time when Black people were fighting for equality in American society.
She helped break color barriers at NASA, whose leaders were “Star Trek” fans. After she criticized the space agency for failing to pick qualified women and minorities as astronauts, Nichols was hired in the 1970s to help recruit.
NASA tweeted that Nichols “symbolized to so many what was possible… and inspired generations to reach for the stars.”
I was raised in a religious / church culture that put an emphasis (prerequisite) on creed. In other words, it was imperative to “believe” (mental assent) the “correct” theology. (I smile now thinking about who got to decide what that list would be.)
I do know this: for me personally it meant that I leaned to live mostly in my head, to never admit to any doubt, and to live afraid of my heart. And here’s the sad part… I could never let myself see (or admit to seeing) the sacred, or God, or serendipitous grace, outside of the box that was created with our “beliefs”.
This week, stories about shifting that paradigm.
The permission to be “surprised by joy” (CS Lewis).
The permission to embrace the ordinary as the hiding place for the holy.
And the permission to see our connectedness on this journey.
Another of my favorite stories…
The first-grade class assignment: to name the seven wonders of the world. Each student compiles a list, and shares their list, aloud, with the class. There is ardent interaction as the students call out entries from their lists: The Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Amazon River, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal and the list goes on. The teacher serves the role of cheerleader, “Class, these are great answers. Well done!”
One girl sits silent. She is asked about her list. She says, “I don’t think I understand the assignment.”
“I don’t have any of the right answers,” she tells the teacher.
“Well, why don’t you tell us what you wrote on your paper, and we’ll help you.” the teacher encourages her.
“Okay,” says the little girl, “I think the seven wonders of the world are… to see, to hear, to touch, to smell, to feel, to love, to belong.”
You go girl…
Because here’s the deal: our need for control prevents us from seeing the gifts in front of us or around us or in the encounters in our day. It’s no wonder we too easily detach ourselves from the moment. From “now”.
And when we do, we do not see. Or more accurately (to quote St. Benedict), “I do not Listen with the ear of my heart.”
In her poignant memoir, Eat This Bread, Sara Miles writes, “There was an immediacy of communion at St. Gregory’s, unmediated by altar rails, the raw physicality of that mystical meal. There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and love without reason.”
One of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius is Finding God in All Things… yes…
In both prayers and in the nightmares (the little boy that came to his momma’s room).
In the serendipitous and in the blunders.
In the loved one and in the outcast.
It led St. Benedict to write (in The Rule), “Let everyone that comes be received as Christ.”
Count me in…
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
(Thank you Dawna Markova.)
When we are tempted to put life (faith, God, growth) in a box, there is a good deal of comfort in identifying life as a series of problems to be solved (or impediments to be fixed, or messes to be tidied up).
If there’s a pill, we can take it.
If there’s a clever book, we can buy it. (You can’t beat, How to fix literally everything for dummies.)
If there’s a can’t-miss-prayer, we can pray it.
After all, I was told when I was young, “don’t worry, Jesus will fix it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against problem solving.
More often than not, I’m for it.
But here’s the thing… life is not just about the fixing.
Sara Miles’ affirmation, “Faith isn’t an argument, a catechism, a philosophical proof. It is instead a lens, a way of experiencing life, and a willingness to see. As the Bible says: Taste and see.”
Yes and amen… life is also about the embracing.
This week, stories with an invitation to embrace the sacrament of the present.
When I do that, I can let go of my “agenda”.
And I rest. I experience Sabbath. And I feel nourished (replenished) by gratitude.
And here’s the very best part; I didn’t even try to figure out how it happened.
I don’t have any great tools to give you. Except this one: Meister Eckert’s advice, “If you can only learn one prayer, make it this one: Thank you.”
Not a bad place to start.
Gratitude for stories that make my heart glad and keep it soft.
Gratitude allowing me to live this life, and not the one I always figure that I’ll trade this one in for.
Gratitude allowing me to be present and to partake in the joys of the everyday, to see the sacred in the very, very ordinary.
“Wherever you turn your eyes, the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.” Thank you Marilynne Robinson
Speaking of nourishing… read this one out loud and take it with you into your day…
I Thank You
I thank You God for most this amazing
Day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
And a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
Which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this the birth
day of life and of love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth:
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Here’s our Prayer Blessing…
The Blessing Of The Morning Light
The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may what is hidden in you become your gift to give:
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join every previous disappearance
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.
(In Memoriam John O’Donohue Easter Morning 2015)