Blest be the Synergy

We gathered under the trees and around salads and grilled kebabs and before prayer, our host said, “Be thinking about how to answer this question: why did God put you here in this place and time? What were you born to do? We’ll talk about this later in the evening, so this is your heads-up.”

Then we ate wonderful food and cuddled the baby and stirred the fire and talked on high for hours. We were seven people joined by common experiences and passions, and there are always stories to re-tell and howl about, and new parts of our lives to share, and there is never silence between us. When the darkness settled and the children were put to bed, and the coals glowed, I thought it was time to wrap up and leave, but our host brought up his question: “What were you born to do? We’ll go around the circle and hear from everyone, and I’ll start.”

The fire became an altar, and the circle a sacred place, and time stopped while we heard each other’s dreams and goals and affirmed what we heard.

“Yes, you ARE a shepherd. Hey, I want to tell the rest of you about the time he was a shepherd to me.”

“The way you love on troubled children is the way you show them Jesus. You WERE born for that!”

I was the only single among the three couples, and they prayed for a husband for me, and we prayed for each other’s visions and unanswered questions and quests. Sacred is the only word I can use to describe it, and even the next day I still felt hushed in wonder at the beauty and power I’d witnessed.

This was one of several small groups I’ve been part of. Various times and incentives shaped the groups. Similar interests. Common training. A work team. Sitting at the same table for supper in the cafeteria.

The synergy that rises out of asking questions and brainstorming and bringing one’s whole self to a group energizes me for several reasons.

  • It is an adventure, because there is no predicting what will happen.
  • It is empowering to be heard, to be given space and time where your voice matters.
  • It provides shared experience that becomes a reference point for further interaction.
  • Life and death are in the power of the tongue.

Sometimes a group has to wrestle with a dilemma that has no easy way forward. If one person were alone in a room wrestling with the sticky problem, they would get tired and despair and make a bad decision. But in a group, with more ears tuned to what’s being said, and more than one heart engaged with the issues at hand, good and beautiful things happen.

What happens in group is not limited to the time in the circle. Sometimes Often I perceive or say things in the moment that I would see differently if I had time to mull over it. But it gives a starting place for more thought and change. Group work also pushes me to ask God for the most pressing need of my whole life: wisdom.

Here are some life-giving words I’ve heard in group:

“When you said that, I got this picture of…”

“I really like that idea!”

“Can you tell us where those tears come from?”

“You’re being quiet over there. What are you thinking?”

“What would happen if…?”

“I see your point, but what about…?”

“That took some courage to say.”

One group was so sacred that I can’t talk about it here except to say it involved snowballs in the dark, and honesty and courage shimmered around us in a way that would hardly have happened had we stayed around the table in the dining room.

So setting is important. A bonfire helps. Or a chalk board. And snacks–at least chocolate.

There are no guarantees for resolution, and there is always risk.  Risk that my words will be misunderstood. Risk that I’ll fall apart. Risk that I’ll walk away with fewer answers than I want. Risk that my heart will break.

But risk is the price you have to pay to keep walking toward wholeness and a full life.

I am deeply grateful for the groups I’ve been honored to be part of. They shape me into a person I could never become if I would try to wing it alone.

We Are Too Easily Satisfied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This prayer by Wilbur Rees keeps coming back to me.

I wept when first heard it read about a month ago.

I don’t think it needs commentary.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man

or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

 

A Special Kind of Recycling

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There should be a word for déja vu reversed. Maybe ‘tables turned’ is the idiom I want. Or “what goes around comes around.”

It happened after work when I was hurriedly eating my solitary supper before rushing off for my voice lesson at the local college. I was keeping an eye on the clock when this warm wave of memory washed over me.

I remembered how my English students would rush in after their work day, fling a coat off, and sink into a chair. I made it a point to have a warm, cheerful classroom, and a bright, positive attitude. During our lessons, I cheered and cajoled and guided and believed in them when they couldn’t. My students, individually or as a group, would relax, smile, and even laugh. Actually, we laughed a lot. Often. Head down on the table laughing. Leaning out of the chair laughing.  Then they said things like “Coming here is like therapy” or “I had to stay for this late meeting at work, but I didn’t want to miss this lesson” or “The train was late, and I was so angry, because I didn’t want to cancel with you.”

Eating my supper in a rush, I suddenly understood them. Now it was me whose head was tired of thinking, whose creativity was wrung out by 5:00, and who couldn’t wait to walk into a doorway of light to a welcoming, confident person who knows what she’s doing.

My teacher teaches voice like I taught English, and I am like my students were. I was coming off of 6 weeks of no lessons due to a bad cold, and this was like starting from zero, like all the time she’d put into me was nothing. The first few scales were really, really horrible, even I could hear it, but she never flinched. She knew what I needed, knew the incremental baby steps to take, and got me do things I didn’t think I could do. And we talked about other stuff as fast as we could between warm ups and French pronunciation.

Just like it was with me and my students.

This kind of pay back is beyond-words-delicious.

Now I need an English teacher to help me with my metaphors.

Tasty Words

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We were a group of friends around a campfire with a silver moon and glorious crisp air around us. It was “literary night” and some of us read wild and wonderful bits and pieces–excerpts and short stories–to the others. I cheered and laughed and ate up all the deliciousness. Among others, there was Dickens and A. A. Milne and then O. Henry.

“Goody, goody, I love O. Henry,” I said under my breath.

“How do you know all those books?” my friend next to me asked.

I shrugged and said I grew up with them. But now that I think about it, except for Milne, that’s not really true. I always read voraciously, but in very protected parameters, without access to a public library. Sometimes I feel like a hoax when I talk about my favorite writers and books because somehow people think I read a lot, but in comparison to other friends, I don’t. I think I give the impression of being well-read because I’m vocal about whatever book and author I’m enthused about, while my friends read much more high-brow content much more quietly and know far more than I.

But I follow some writers I like, here and there on their blogs or talks on YouTube, and then I recognize their names when their books get on best-seller lists.  And I watch some literary reviews in some papers, which alerts me to the up-and-coming new books, and then years later I unearth them in a 2nd-hand shop. Or a friend loans me one like this recently: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I can’t repeat that title very fast, but it was absolutely delightful, and I was none the worse for having waited for it several years after all the book clubs in Ireland were reading it.

And now I’m in an academic setting where most of my assignments center around reading, reading, reading, and for the first time in my life, it’s something I MUST do many hours a day, and while I love it, it’s not easy. I thought it would be like eating chocolate cake. But the Chesterton book right now is such that I can. not. understand any two consecutive sentences. And it’s the book that has a section in which I’ll be responsible to guide a discussion, so I HAVE to get it. The experience is sort of like chewing steak. Tasty, but tough. Nourishing, but work.

This is not going to put me off books. It will probably make me more excited and vocal about words and ideas. And definitely more enthused than ever about wrapping up the day with Milne or O. Henry.

Waiting on a Platform

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Authors are supposed to “build their platform” and put out engaging blog posts at least every couple days so that they can confidently tell their publishers that their blog gets several thousand hits a day.

Well.

This writer once wrote a book with a message that she really cares about, and technically, she should be trying to engage more readers and sell more copies to potential readers and write engaging, pithy quotes on Facebook-able photos.

But these days, never mind a blog or Facebook. She’s doing good to answer texts on her phone as they come in, and catch up on emails about once a week. Her days and minutes are full of other kinds of words–words sprinkled between coffee and meals  and a couple private lessons and walks to the park and good-bye hugs.

There’s another good-bye nearly every day, and the occasions are filled with the dearest, most beautiful conversations and overflowing hearts, and little gifts handed both ways, and she repeatedly talks to herself where no one can hear, “This has been really lovely, but I have to go away and cry now.”

But mostly, she laughs and wonders at the rich blue of the sky and the fragrance of mock orange, and eats another chocolate.

Or loses herself in a riveting book. Or on Facebook. Didn’t someone say Facebook is the opiate of the masses?

There are moments when she wants to wail that she’s a homeless bird and a refugee and she’s going to hyperventilate and die when she lives in the US again after not having lived there for 19 years. Then when the histrionics pass, she knows that she’s not  refugee: she has a definite place to go to, no trauma to escape from (although maybe language barrier has been a kind of trauma?), she’s not leaving with only the clothes on her back, and she is actually very, very rich.

She’s leaving what was joy and security and delight, a foreign country that gave her wide experiences and deep relationships. To uproot all of that will be hard, hard, hard, but it’s not a bad hard. It’s not a tragedy. It’s the end of her current world as she knows it, but something else lies beyond the horizon, and the earth isn’t flat, and she won’t fall off the edge and splatter to pieces.

And if she does fall apart now and then, well, that’s a fairly normal occurrence for her in any place.

Hopefully, tucked away somewhere in the next chapter of her life, she’ll find words again to put on her blog, and be able to think about whether she should try to build her platform, whatever that means.

For now, she’s focusing on loving well and finishing well.

Whatever that means.

Wine of the World

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I wrote this free verse some years ago. Usuallycommunion tells me about the past, but during one communion when I was empty of wine and life, I caught a glimpse of the future–the wedding feast when Jesus said He would drink the wine again.

In the day of Jesus’ first public miracle, it was a disgrace for the host to run out of wine. On that last great day, He, the gracious Host, will have enough for everyone. I share/repost this for anyone who may be empty, in disgrace, and in need of hope for refilling.

“I have no more wine,”
I say to Him at the edge of the crowd.
Palms up, shoulders hunched.

Conversation dwindling, smiles fading,
The crowd thins.
No sparkle,
No celebration.
We have no more wine.

“Woman, what have I to do with you?”
But His eyes belie the cold words.

“What do You have to do with me?
My Lord! My Maker!
The True Vine from which True Wine comes!
Leave me not alone.
Forsake me not in this disgrace.
Do not deny me dancing feet and songs.
I cannot bear to leave this place of light.
Without You, I will go out into darkness and die.
But You are here, and You are my life,
And I will do whatever You say.”

He commands the water pots to be filled.
Clear, splashing rivers that cleanse and refresh.
Full and sloshing over earthen rims.

The harried, frazzled MC takes a sip in a deserted alcove.
His eyes beam over the edge of the chalice.
Then he shouts.
THIS IS THE BEST WINE IN THE WORLD!
COME, PEOPLE, TASTE AND SEE!
START THE MUSIC AGAIN!

I find Him at the crowd’s edge again.
He says nothing, but
Smiles at me.
The silence between us fills
With music.
Rolling, trilling, glorious music.
It sings of sweetness and life,
Of vibrance and light,
And the guests raise their cups high
To the health of the bride and groom.

The music swirls again, and
Everyone’s feet wear wings.
He is still in the alcove with me,
Watching.
Is He thinking of a grander wedding feast
In another place,
Without time?

Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the world in mercy shed,
*
I pledge my life to You.
You fill the hungry with good things.
I come to You in emptiness and desperation
And You always–always–
Fill, refresh, give reasons to dance.

And on that last great feast day,
I will see You smile again,
And it will be as we said back then:
You saved the best for last!

*These are opening lines from a hymn by Reginald Heber who also wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenny-pics/4850731034/”>jenny downing</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

On Eating Books

A couple days ago,  a friend emailed to ask my opinion about several Christian books and their critiques. She heard they had questionable messages, and didn’t want her  family or her concept of Jesus to be destroyed by the books’ messages.

The question touched a nerve for me, and I fired back a reply. This is the edited form of what I answered, without names or titles, because those aren’t the point of this post:

I think it’s fair to say that some book isn’t my style, or that it doesn’t speak into this season of  my life. But being a writer who has been treated respectfully but also criticized, I am reeeeeeally slow to say that someone shouldn’t read another Christian’s book. My premise is Jesus’ words: “He that is not with me is against me.” Anything can be taken out of context, misunderstood, applied in wrong ways. There ARE wolves in sheep’s clothing. The enemy IS out to seek, kill, and destroy. But  books that focus on Jesus and how to get to know Him better have to be a good thing.

I don’t think we have to be scared of these books. The Spirit is a communicator. He will tell us if the fruit of the books are wrong or bad. Has the fruit/result of the book benefited you and your family? Then thank God for sharing His truth and light. No one produces light/truth on their own–it all comes from God and the praise should go back to Him and be spread to our world.
         There’s going to be error in any book we read. That’s a given. Parents should protect their children; families definitely need to be a safe place to shelter children because there is evil out there. But somewhere, somehow (don’t ask me how parents should do this–it’s not my job!) children should grow to be adults who can DISCERN–key word here–what’s good and what’s not. Reading should be like eating fish–get the goodness out of it and spit out the bones.
        I believe in universal truth and beauty, which means that non-believers can say and do things that are true and beautiful, mirroring God’s image in them, and testifying to the fact that satan cannot bring anything original, or create anything. Everything that comes from him is deception in some way, a twisting/perverting/distorting of the original stamp of beauty and truth that God gives to every person.
         Christians have a higher call than only to mirror universal truth, because we are to be light in darkness and salt for insipidness. We are to teach and disciple and equip. Writing books is one way of doing that. It is ill-fitting for Christians to throw rocks or try to debunk other Christians who are sincerely trying to be voices that teach and equip and encourage. It is really dangerous to judge someone else’s motivation or level of sincerity.
       Where there is obvious sinful teaching that is not repented of, there is cause for caution and concern. (And ironically here, the internet is not the most reliable source of truth.) Where there is blatant falsehood or open defiance of God’s word or where good is called evil and evil is called good–these are reasons for not buying a book or not encouraging others to read it. There are spiritual powers and battles around us that we easily forget, and we should know that what we read and say has direct influence on the spirit world, for good or evil. BUT we should not be paranoid or flailing at bookshelves to make sure that no evil thing is in any book.
        Is our faith in our expertise/wisdom/discernment, or is our faith in the Lord and His spirit and His endless faithfulness? Will He or won’t He let us stray? Are we or aren’t we safe in His hand? Does a Christian author really have the power to take our faith away and turn us and our family off the narrow path of life?
       If we ask God to guide us, and if our hearts are clear before Him, He will not accuse us. Satan is the accuser. The Spirit is faithful to convict. The peace of God is our umpire and can call the shots and tell us if something is wrong or dangerous. If our hearts are soft and sensitive to His gentle, loving voice, we don’t have to be scared that He will let us slip and swallow poison. His heart toward us is to keep us faultless, not to catch us making a mistake and jump on us!
       I think _________’s book is a powerful message to this generation. I believe strongly that her wisdom is from God and echoes His heart. I think she is an anointed woman for this time in history, and I think she and her family have special temptations and attacks that no one else knows about because satan hates her kind of message, and her kind of family and marriage.
        It is really wrong for Christians to attack each other.  Even when there is obvious error, we should be the ones who can speak honestly about it while handing out equal amounts of grace and forbearance.   Christians fail each other, and some Christian writers fail terribly. They carry a great responsibility (to whom much is given, much is required) but it is not a fellow Christian’s place to judge and debunk. We should be known for our love and wisdom and grace, not our rigidity and harshness.
       People liked spending time with Jesus, and I’m sure it was because of how much He lived in grace and truth. He is my hero and I want to live and read like that too.

Related post: Comments on The Jesus I Never Knew