Sunday, November 24

Dragon Breath

The Handsome Dog is always wistful, always hopeful for something, and as I step onto the porch to honor his most recent fervent request, I notice that it is nineteen degrees.

With only the dog to see the glimmer in my eye, I release my coffee breath into great billows. I still get the same delight from it as I did when I was six. I am a DRAGON!

I am a forty year old dragon in jammies standing on the back porch. Although forty might be past ripe for a lady, it is infancy for the dragon that I am.

In seeing my breath, I see the thing that my very life is comprised of. The vapor shows me that by just being alive, I make an elemental impact on the world around me. I am alive, and that is no small thing. It also shows that this life is fleeting.

Kahlil Gibran famously said,"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself." He was right, so right. And who am I to argue with a prophet?

But I have no children. No children. It will always be that way.

I wish I had known when I was younger how much of my small pleasures would stay the same, the exact same, my whole life. I am just as amazed and just as exultant over my puffs as I ever was. My heart leaps in my chest just a little.

And that is how I know that Gibran saw in part, but not fully. Because as much as I am able to enter into my childlike self, it is also life's longing for itself. I am still the child I was.

Though we are middle aged (as far as people go), let's be dragons. Let's sound our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world, fly kites, blow bubbles, skip, sing into our hairbrushes, and dance in the kitchen.

Because to keep a childlike heart is life's longing for itself.

The Handsome Dog is always wistful, always hopeful for something.

Wednesday, November 20

I Don't Believe in "Callings" Anymore

A year ago, I heard an abbess of a monastery joke that when you are called to a life of monasticism, you receive an actual call. On the telephone.

Lately, a young, popular Anglican blogger asked people to stop blogging unless they were called by the Holy Spirit to write.

The other night, a sweet Catholic friend told me that her daughter feels called to marriage.

Today, the same blogger asked women in the Church what they need from men who believe in their calling to the ministry.

My problem is that I don't know if I believe in "callings" anymore. Or maybe I question whether we can know our calling until we find ourselves in the middle of that life.

Here's what I DON'T mean by that:

I don't mean God has not prepared good works in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." But this verse is not couched in a discussion of occupation or vocation. It is said in the idea that we belong to Christ. We just belong to Him. We were dead and broken. He made us alive, and we are simply His. In FACT, the verse preceding it states that this saving comes "not of works." So we are not talking resume here.

I don't mean that God does not care about us: where we are, what we are doing, how our hearts and souls are faring during the ins and outs of our days. Acts 17 says God appointed our (some translations say) "exact times and places." In the wider context beyond 17:26, we see that these times have not been appointed for us do DO things, but simply to be His. 

25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

 Beautiful reassurances are in Matthew 6 and 10, we are more than flowers and birds. The Father cares for them, will he not care for us? In Revelation, we are told that one spectacular, incomprehensible day, every tear will be wiped from our eyes. In the Psalms, David just yammers on and on to God about every single ache of heart and crick of neck, as if God cares. Because He does. 

I expect miracles. I believe in them. I know that sometimes God shows up to people and says, "Go here. Do this." So I don't mean that our steps are not sometimes (or often) ordered by God. 

I'm just not sure we can know where in advance of those steps. Even Abraham set out without knowing where he was going.

Here's what I DO mean: 

In many ways, we Americans have got the cart before the horse. I think we vest entirely too much importance on career before we get into that career (How do I serve God in a secular job? In a ministerial position? As a stay-at-home-parent?), and "state" of life (married, single, divorced, monastic, parent, childless). 

In other ways, we often do not put enough importance on career when we are in it (How do I serve God in my career, regardless of what that place might be?) or "state" of sexuality: (Chaste, please. Table for one. Or two. But just one or two.) 

Recently, I sat in a darkened car with one of the handsomest, best men I know. I told him that I think God could not care less whether or not I stay single, get married, or become a nun. I've made a career of sitting in darkened cars with handsomes and declaring myself Miss Independence. But I think that I could walk alongside God in any of those "states." 

Recently, I have taken a good look at my profession, wondering if I want to leave it. God has given me a personality, some aptitudes, some gifts. I should live out of who He has given me to be, and I should live for His glory. But beyond this, as with my "state" of life, I think God does not care a whit what job I have.

Recently, I began to write more often. I love it. But I don't know that I can say that it is a calling. I don't know that anyone can. We of earth are a mixed bag, and God can call even jackasses like Baalam's to speak. One of the morning prayers of the ancient church asks God to "open our mouths and fill them with Thy praise." And that is all any of us can do. We can fill ourselves up with as much truth and beauty as we can; hoping to reflect that to the world and to Our Creator.

Our rugged individualism is a danger to our souls. I don't think God looks at us on paper. We are not our resumes. 

I think God doesn't care about resumes. He looks "sideways" at life. He does not look at what I do, but how I do it. Did I love? Did He remain in me and I in Him? Have I managed to relish the fact that without Him, I can do nothing? If I have, I know the deep stillness and peace in the fact that I can take His yoke upon me, that it is easy and light. 

But here, I know I am wrong. It is God who looks at life right side up, and I who am looking sideways. So how can I say in advance that I know what I am called to? 

Unless it is this: I am called to be His. To remain, to dwell. To bear fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Here's the upshot: 

I believe John15:1-12 holds the key. we are called to abide, and we are called to love. No more, and no less. 

According to this Scripture, abiding in His love is the path to prayer, bearing fruit, and joy.

If "calling" is anything, it is daily. It is momently. It is to become self-forgetful, humble enough to exult in doing the next good thing God puts in our paths to do. To take up our crosses and follow Him. That can look like so many things. 

But the best part is that doing this is not a self-improvement project. We don't have to do this alone... we CAN'T do this alone. It is only by and through Him that we walk. Even if we are like Abraham, and don't know where we are going. 

And that is the blessing. And that is the joy. 

And that is the call.


Saturday, November 16

Sitting with Indecision

It's good to let the questions take their time.

They have a life of their own, you know. The questions, the decisions.

Oftentimes for me, that looks like letting the exuberant "yes-es" be subsumed until the nos can arise.

(I'm such a optimistic people-pleaser. For me, the yes-es always rush in first.)

Once the yes-es and the nos have had their say, the ball can skitter around the wheel until it finds the slot where its heart belongs.

Often the answer looks like neither yes or no, but wisdom.

This only happens when I sit with my answers, let them be indecision instead of reaction.

This year, the decisons that I have been most happy about were the ones where I decided to say no, even though for me, saying no takes a deeper nuance, a quieter listening.

In these days, saying no has been like a sheath of protection around my heart, like putting on lotion.

As I have said no, new opportunities for yes or no have arrived, each waiting in their turn.

And I am beginning to suspect that the wisdom lies in not yes or no, but in letting the decisions become.

Yesterday, I wrote a post in praise of following my own instincts. Does it seem counterintuitive to then say I must sit with the questions? Is being instinctual and letting decisions gradually arise from space and time a mutually exclusive practice?

Not so. Thank God, I think I can finally say not so.

If this year and this age have given me anything, it is time. The gift of not knowing, which takes me beyond yes OR no.

Because usually in the quieter listening, I can hear my own heart. I can let the pressures of circumstance fall away to find my true instinct. I can befriend myself while not letting love or concern for others go. To maintain both identity and kindness, love.

I thank God for the gift of not knowing. The wisdom that lies within the peace of open-handedness.

It is a mercy, a gift.


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