Sunday, July 31, 2011

By Time or By Tank

I got in the car today & headed for the rural nether regions, as is my custom. I learned the art of wandering long ago from my grandfather. We would go on weekend jaunts, often riding in a silence that nourished us both. As I recall, he never had a specific destination in mind (though we usually happened past my favorite ice cream stand). After an hour or two, he would simply turn around & make his way back home by a different route. I loved watching the fields & farmland race by. Each time the scent of cattle filled the air, my grandfather would proclaim "Ah! Perfume!". It would always make me scrunch up my face & laugh. Whenever I wander by a swatch of odoriferous farmland, I have fond memories of my grandfather. Because we experienced the stink together, my perspective was forever changed.

I can't help but compare these thoughts to the occasional stink of life. If we can somehow experience the stink with someone else (someone we love, someone who "gets" us), perhaps in those times when we're alone, we'll be able to experience the pungency of hardship in light of the connection we have to that person instead. I no longer think of the stink. I think of my grandfather navigating the countryside, by time or by tank...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tracing Cracks

I cross numerous sets of rail on my way to work. One such set is downtown. It winds it's way over the river, under a bridge & beneath an overpass. I got stuck the other day... There's no escaping if the crossing arms descend. Waist high barriers line the road for a block & a half & the only recourse one has is to turn off the engine & dig into a good book. On this particular day, we had already been sitting there for 10 minutes & the train stopped... not a good sign. People started exiting their cars to pace the road & complain to each other. I put my book down & stared up at the underbelly of the overpass. Swallows had built mud nests in various places. My eyes followed the pockmarks, the graffiti, the chalk lines with numbers. The what? Someone had traced the cracks in the concrete & labeled each one with a number. No doubt this was for the sake of maintenance, but it intrigued me.

I couldn't help but wonder in my own life, who inspects my proverbial underbelly? Who is qualified to leave their mark on me, to trace along the vulnerable cracks in my life, to give them a label & keep a record for future reference? Who determines whether I can bear the weight or whether I need to divert traffic & start repairs? Who is qualified to make that judgment? Have I simply let the structure of my life go unchecked? There are destructive forces at work everyday. Gravity, weight & the vibration of vehicles passing above & below contribute to the stress on an overpass. What is it for me or you? What contributes to our stress & weakness? What can we do to maintain a sound structure? Who gets to hold the chalk?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

O Sea, My Heart

O sea, my heart, ever raging.
Within you are dark & secret places, a world I cannot navigate alone.
You are bigger than me.
You swallow me in your breakers.
You open wide your mouth to roar & crash over all before you.
You give life & you take it away.
Your voice is terrible, comforting; deafening, awakening.
I walk barefoot in your shallows, but dare not venture further.
I cannot breathe beneath your depths.
I cannot stand against your weight.
I cannot fathom your beginning nor comprehend your end.
You, o sea, are my heart, ever raging.
You rise & slink away, bound to laws bigger than us both.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lastnight I Went A'Screaming...

For days, I had been carrying around a tangled mass of undefinable emotion that I couldn't express. Nothing seemed to help- not prayer, not talking to a friend, not sleep or coffee, not even the sun. I got in the car one night & started driving east. I had no idea where I was headed, no specific destination in mind, no clue why I was even on the road at that hour. I knew only that I wanted to be out in the rural void. As street lights & mailboxes began to disappear, I heard my still, small voice tell me to scream. "What?! I can't scream! I don't scream! I don't even know how!" But I drove a little while longer & decided to let loose. It surprised even me. I screamed past sleepy farmhouses, I screamed past dew drenched fields... I hung onto the steering wheel for dear life. Each time, I felt it in my body a little deeper. It was somehow purifying. Sometimes one needs to scream to remember who they are.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Short Thoughts on the Narrow Way

Jesus tells us somewhere in the gospels that broad is the way to destruction & narrow is the way to heaven. He tells us He is the way, the truth & the life.

Imagine the throngs of people who identify themselves as Christians. They're walking in a field, some 2 by 2, others in bigger groups & still others, single file. High, dense, golden grain stalks sway in the breeze. There's no discernible path to the other side. Now imagine this great mass of humanity moving across this majestic, fruitful field. What would the field look like in the aftermath?

If there's a narrow way, this certainly wouldn't be it. The narrow way is in the woods, out on the edge of the field... Only a few will find it because only a few will actually be looking for it. I'm under the impression that some think they're on the right road because it's the one everyone else is taking. Afterall, majority rules, right?

But maybe before we launch out into the field with everyone else, we should ask: who are our traveling companions? Where are they headed? Do we want to go with them & why? Is our intent to be safe, comfortable, etc., or is it to find the narrow way at any cost? What are we willing to risk for this journey?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meditation (On Distraction)

I'm a part time student these days. I just got out of class & had the option to spend my time at home or hit the campus library to study. I chose to nest in the library for a bit. Clearly, I'm not studying at the moment, but there is much less distraction here than at home. At home, I'm compelled to make a pot of coffee, to eat, to read books that aren't related to my classes, to engage in creative projects that are also unrelated to class, surf the web, clean, and x, y & z. At home, I can kick off my shoes & be myself. Here in the library, I'm still faced with distraction, but of a much different kind. I'm also much more aware of what I'm doing, which can be helpful when I need to focus on a task. It would be easy to default to home b/c of it's familiarity, its perks... But sometimes the familiar can be distracting & lull me into a stupor of sorts.

So I'm hanging out in the library with the 2 oz of cold coffee left over from class & a gurgling stomach. I could be home having nachos, but I'm confined to a tiny cubicle with little distraction (save the occasional passer by & the row of titles pertaining to cinematic studies to my left). My environment is hardly stimulating, but this is exactly what I need to focus.

The point I think I'm trying to make here is that sometimes the comfortable, the familiar can influence our progress (or the desire to progress) in a negative way. We may need to challenge ourselves to seek out & experience a different environment- perhaps a much less stimulating one- in order to find a renewed focus.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

At the Foot of the Cross

Within Christianity, we have this saying regarding our burdens & sin: "Leave it at the foot of the cross". It sounds all well & good, but is it practical? Why haul our stuff all the way to the cross? Jesus isn't there... Does He have couriers that check in daily, pick up whatever we "leave" behind & ferry it up to Him via next day air? What's He going to do with it? He's certainly not going to gather it together & start a chain of thrift stores. So what can we do with our "stuff"?!

Within the ancient temple, there were many gatekeepers, priests, assistants, etc. moving about 24 hours a day. Imagine for a moment, a temple comprised of your life. Within your life, there are people (maybe even objects, thoughts, etc.) of varying degrees of authority, skill, etc., constantly in motion, each performing a specific purpose. Who (or what) are your gatekeepers? Who are your fellow priests? Who (or what) assists you or fills you with music? Who points you to God, comforts you, holds you accountable?

We don't have to trudge out to Golgotha by ourselves just to leave something at the cross to rot. We can simply head to the "temple", leave our stuff at the door & go inside. If we were to "leave things at the cross", our burdens wouldn't magically disappear. We would merely be abandoning them there in hopes of forgetting. When we leave our cares at the door of the temple, they don't magically disappear either, but we are better equipped to find strength & help in the context of community. We are better equipped to actually deal with things.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Meditation (On A Journey)

When you go on a journey, do you typically choose your companions because you are friends? Is it because you have the same interests in common? The same time available? Do you ever choose your companions out of obligation or necessity?

If you were to go on a journey with Jesus, what would that look like? Would He be like a back seat driver of sorts & critique of your every move & interaction? Or would He perhaps be like a child that wants something every other mile? Would He sit up front & talk your ear off? Would He stink up the car with the sandwich He got at the last stop & drop mustard laden lettuce on the floor mat? Or would He perhaps be content to remain silently in the back with His I-Pod & watch the world from His window- disconnected?

Suppose you don't have the luxury of a vehicle. You must walk together for a day. Think about how that realization makes you feel. Do you have a sense of excitement? Hesitation? What kind of thoughts go through your head when you discover that you will be alone together for a full day? Do you wonder what you'll talk about? Do you have in mind to ask Him all the questions you've ever wanted to ask? Or do you fear that He will want to pry you with questions of His own?

The primary question is this: do you feel you know Him & share a common interest? Or is Jesus more of a parasite, a responsibility, a source of anxiety to you? Is He an acquaintance or more of an intimate part of who you are? If you don't feel that you know Him & share a common interest, do you want to? And if not, why? What are your thoughts & concerns about making a journey together?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Meditation (On Home)

Home is where you keep your valuables, your memories, perhaps even the seed for your future. Home is where you store all you own. If you're lucky, home is where you can be you, think what you like, even drink coffee at midnight. Your clothes don't have to match. You don't have to look a certain way for anyone. You can relax. You can simply be. Home is more than a structure or a mortgage payment, more than an address. Home is where you keep your self. You can invite anyone you wish into your home or you can lock your windows & doors.

What would happen if we truly invited Jesus into our heart, into our home? This question has been posed before. You might scurry about, attempting to hide anything "questionable". You'd be on your best behavior, biting your nails, hoping He didn't stay long or look in the linen closet.

Is this really the image we have of Jesus? Have we forgotten that He ate & drank with tax collectors, prostitutes & the despised & the poor of His day? Are we any better or worse? At our best, would He congratulate us for our exemplary holiness? Even the rich young ruler who thought he had kept the commandments all his life fell short. Would Jesus cast the first stone to condemn us? Despite our obvious shortcomings, I venture to say He would be more inclined to hang out & engage us in conversation over soup & salad.

What's our threshold for company in our home? Does Jesus get to stay or will we kick Him out when we're tired, when His presence becomes inconvenient or incompatible with our lifestyle? What if we truly learned how to live in relationship with Him? How would home be different? Would we change our lifestyle (perhaps begrudgingly) to accommodate Him? Would we consent to live with the burden of what we think His expectations of us are or would we still feel the freedom to "be"? How would our hearts be changed? How would life be different?

Meditation (On Fruit)

Any ideas what these are? They're apples. They don't look much like apples at the moment, do they? But in time, they will grow heavy on the branches. Some may fall to the ground before they mature. Some might become victims of disease or food for passing insects & animals. Others will mature & take on that rich red colour that invites our craving.

An apple tree in particular needs a few things to make the grade: pollination, full sunlight & lots of space to develop a root system. It needs to be pruned so it develops horizontal branches. Allowing the tree to grow straight up can actually hinder its ability to bear quality fruit. Its also helpful to plant a variety of apple trees next to one another to increase the chances of pollination.

Think about how this information might relate to your own life. Are there a variety of other apple trees around you that can increase your potential to bear more fruit? Do you have access to full sunlight? Do you have lots of space to stretch out & sink your roots deep? Do you have support to develop a stable trunk? Are your branches being trained to reach out as well as up? This interdependency is at the core of fruit bearing. Fruit (good or bad) does not simply appear. It takes time for buds to form. It takes time for blossoms to burst open. It takes time for fruit to emerge. Good fruit comes by interdependence, patience & care.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Meditation (On Time)

According to this clock, its 11 til 3. We can assume that would be 3pm because we read the clock in daylight. If we were to read the clock in darkness, we would assume it was 3am. We know time not only by the position of the hands on the mechanism, but also by the environment surrounding us.

Though there are multiple time zones, time is the same all over the world. We all tell time by mechanism, by the movement of celestial bodies & even perhaps, by instinct. We can tell time by the movement of physical bodies- rush hour traffic can denote the morning or evening hours. Caravans of travel trailers can denote a holiday weekend. Decorations and family gatherings can denote the time for seasons like Thanksgiving or Christmas. The earth keeps its own time, season by season. We see this evidenced in the new growth of spring, the paradise of summer, the slow death of autumn, the perceived stagnancy of winter, year in & year out.

What is it within us that causes us to feel the need to measure time, to control it? We might argue that we do it out of necessity. We do it so we can stay organized & balanced. We keep time to keep us on track. But what if we went without our time keeping mechanisms for a day? It would be nearly impossible to do as most of us are so tied to our schedules. But what if? How would you approach your day differently? Would you drive yourself crazy wondering what time it was? Would you feel more (or less) stressed concerning the daily expectations you have for yourself? Would you perhaps adopt a more leisurely pace?

We are slaves to the mechanisms we use to measure time. But time "was" even before we developed increments and hours. Can we learn to simply "be" as if there were no degrees, no boundaries, no obstacles to hold us back? Can we simply "exist" within time without being slaves to our perceptions of it?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Meditation (On Light)

Light a candle in the dark. Watch the flame rise. Notice how the flame is never stagnant. It flickers, it pulsates, it dances on the wick. The flame casts shadows on your surroundings. Some objects suddenly gain the illusion of depth, while others fade into the darkness. If you move about with the candle in hand, your surroundings change. Light & depth move with you as darkness melts behind you.

What's your light in the darkness of life? What gives your ordinary surroundings a sense of depth? What causes the darkness to melt behind you? Or are you content to let your candle cast it's light into a solitary corner? Your eyes grow familiar with the shadows. You get comfortable. You become stagnant.

Perhaps you light many candles in many different places. This may provide ample light, but revelation hides in the shadows, waiting to be seen. Darkness is a part of life, so find something that sparks you & carry it with you. Remember that movement makes a difference.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Meditation (On A Spider's Web)

Take a look at this spider's web. It bears the marks of imperfection. These "web wounds" were caused by passing debris or food that got caught in it's sticky trap. You can also see that the spider has rid the web of these things so you can't tell exactly what it was that caused the silken filament to break. You can only see the after effects. The spider doesn't seem to care. It isn't interested in tearing the web apart & starting over. There's no need. There's still plenty of pristine web to be used. The "wounded webbing" can be repaired.

Think about what would qualify as passing debris in your own life. These are the things that get caught in your web. Think about what feeds you (excites you, moves you). The consequence is the same. Your silken filament will tear to accommodate the weight of "things". You can choose to let the debris remain and clutter your web or you can remove it. You can choose to let the "food" sit or you can consume it & let it sustain you. This, after all, is the intended purpose of the web. Bear in mind, your wounded web can be fixed, but only if those things "caught" (be they debris or food), are removed.

Meditation (On A Tree Outside the Window)

How tall is it? How long has it stood in this place? How many people has it seen pass by? How many voices & sounds as it heard? How many hands have touched its bark or its leaves? Was it planted by man or by wayward seed?

How many birds have perched in its branches & made a home there? How many squirrels have enjoyed a meal beneath its lush canopy? How many bugs have eaten its leaves & gnawed pathways in its bark? How many creatures have taken refuge near its roots?

How may raindrops has this tree tasted? How many storms has it weathered? How many days of sun & heat or cold & rain has it endured? How many times has it tasted the bitter chill of ice & snow?

Think of how long it has been there & all that has been built up around it. Yet it remains. Someone thought it worthwhile to let it stand, to let it live. Let it remind you that like this tree, you are strong. Like this tree, you can endure. Like this tree, you may provide inspiration for someone else. And like this tree, Someone thought it worthwhile to let you stand, to let you live even though everything around you crumbles or changes. So stand up. Live.