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Friday, October 18, 2013

Talking The Attitude Of Wonder With A Gentle Man Of The Garden.

Last Saturday night as I was tending to the gallery a man I'm acquainted with came through the door. He looked at me and I him. We both smiled recognizing one another. I'll call him Michael; that's not his name, but I want to keep his identity his. As we greeted, he mentioned he wasn't aware I was tied to the gallery. Saturday was the first time he'd been here. We'd not talked that much before for him to know I was affiliated with the imagine ART Gallery.

We recognize each other from the Organic Community Garden in Florence where he's been somewhat of a fixture, and we're finishing our first growing season as the imagine/Northampton plot. I met him early on because he was easy to talk with, and seems to enjoy conversation. I showed him around the gallery's current exhibit. He appeared to enjoy it thoroughly. As we went from one piece to the next, we shared our views about art and how important it is as a creative human expression. Michael mentioned he'd done some art as a young man, but hadn't kept up with it. Even so, he'd always appreciated artists and what they could create.

Near the end of our conversation, he alluded to a traumatic brain injury he'd sustained a few years back. His recovery has been slow, but steady in that the injuries he sustained affected his ability to walk and talk. By the way, he spoke the ordeal was no small thing. If he'd never said anything I would have been completely unaware he suffered a devastating accident from the times I'd seen and talked to him. He said it took a long while to regain his ability to speak and get around. Even now he has good days and days not so good.

I noted with such serious and life altering injuries, people can feel depressed and even bitter about what had come upon them. I remarked he never has shown evidence of that when I've been around him. He responded by talking about keeping an attitude of wonder. When he did, his face lit up with a smile. He admitted he would allow himself to be angry about what had befallen him, but at some point realized he could choose to focus on all the good still in his life. He added, for instance, how he could watch the bees go about their work in the garden and get absorbed for a couple of hours. Such absorption is key to seeing the wonder all around us, by the way. It should be cultivated carefully and persistently in my opinion, but I digress. He also talked about the joys and skills of roasting his own coffee (using an old pressure cooker and modifying with a Rube Goldberg-esque type of contraption he rigged) from raw beans bought in Florence every couple of weeks so as to enjoy the coffee like he can get nowhere else.Wonder indeed!

To me it, was very clear Michael had made a choice -- and kept to it -- to observe the world from the focused perspective of joy, delight, and wonder, in spite of how his life had been altered irrevocably by suffering. He said he saw no point in being bitter when there was still so much to see and enjoy all around. him. The world wasn't his oyster, but he wouldn't let it be a veil of tears either.

Michael is a "spiritual man" as are many folks in Northampton; you know: I'm not religious; I'm spiritual.They talk a certain way and have a kind of interior quiet one can see, especially the folks who've been at it for years. In our conversation, he told me of a book he'd just read by Ram Dass who according to Wikipedia is "an American contemporary spiritual teacher and the author of the seminal 1971 book Be Here Now. (Dass) is known for his personal and professional associations with Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s, for his travels to India and his relationship with the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba. I was aware of him from my college days; in those days, he was Baba Ram Dass. The book Michael had just finished was Still Here. He recommended it highly so I could glean a perspective he found valuable. I let it go at that.

I like him and hope to get to know him better. He's is a gentle and kind man, passionate about raising food well (organically), and sharing it with others. He loves the idea of giving it away or planting stuff so others can freely take it, such as the raspberry patch he turned me on to at the Florence garden.There seems no guile in him. I always find it refreshing to be around folks who ably recognize wonder in simple things; what others walk past with nary a glance. I'm not around people like him enough; I suspect most of us aren't because of the unexamined, plugged-in busyness we all tend to live. When I am around people with eyes, ears and hearts for wonder, that lightness of being I've referred to in other blogs settles on me for a bit and I'm opened to a quiet, easy joy.

Our plans are to plant again next year and we'll have two plots to instead of one. So, there'll be more chances to chat with him. I look forward to it. I'd especially like him to come to know the God behind the bees and all their wondrous work. He just needs to look a little closer. Maybe I, or we can help him.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Seeking Jesus When You've Already Been Found.

I've been a Christian for 41 years. Through those four plus decades, I like many folks who've "walked" with him for a while have alternated more than I'd like to admit between substantial periods of vital spiritual intimacy with Jesus, and long stretches of spiritually-tepid sleep-walking, or a distracted auto-pilot spirituality. In other words, I've moved close to seek him earnestly, and I've drifted away absorbed with other things while maintaining my "religious habits." There was no heart in the latter. I know, I lived it.

My recent return to the spiritual disciplines I spent years immersed in has got me thinking about how Christ-followers persevere in a "seeking" posture with God throughout the whole of their lives. By seeking, I mean pressing in to God; doing the work of intimacy; looking for and discerning the present activity of God in one's daily experience; being able to see all of reality saturated with his presence.

As Paul Simon once sang of a man who's: "got a short-little attention span." I'd say most, if not all of us, might have a "short-little spiritual attention span" more often than we'd care to admit. It seems our spiritual lives get compartmentalized into buckets of time where we read the Bible, have our devotions with prayer, go to church on Sunday for worship, go to a Bible study or a small group for fellowship, volunteer, etc. We maintain our spiritual habits, in part, because those activities are what Christians do. It's our culture and way of life. And much good can come from all of those activities. But factor in the "faster I go, the behinder I get" pace many of us tend to labor under these days, we're doing well to even crack open a Bible, or get to church, much less pray and listen with depth.

Fortunately, over the years I've known Christians who just seemed to have an abiding connection to Jesus. They talked of him as if he were accessible; for them, there was a daily presentness to him different from what I observed in other Christians. Each person sought him regularly even though they had been long in the fold. In fact, seeking him was a core spiritual value, and they found great life in so doing. He was there when they sought him. They put in effort for sure, but it was worth the effort evidenced by the fact they persisted in seeking because they sojourned with God.

I realize it's all about passion and desire. The motivation to continue seeking him is fueled by passion to know all about him, to draw near, and to experience his presence even in the ordinary. Relational intimacy and personal transformation are the goals. Love inspires the sought after relationship; love between God and the person. God loves him or her and the person loves God. Love draws both toward the Beloved. If not it becomes some other kind of relationship, if a relationship at all.

So as I've thought about it, I'm reminded of certain residing spiritual practices of "found seekers" I've been around:

1. Some of them are people who love to worship. By worship I refer to the evocative and expressive practices of Christians to gather (or worship alone), sing, praise and exalt God. Worship is a language of love well-suited to these folks. As they seek him in worshiping, they don't need a church service or prayer gathering, although you will find them there and eagerly so. They love immersing deeply into praise, sung or spoken or danced. Exalting God alone and with others seems to be a natural expression of affinity for them. They will worship in the privacy of prayer, or gather with many to lift up and lovingly extol the Name of the Most High. They can worship at work, at home or in a formal setting. They look forward to singing about God and for God. Getting absorbed in his Presence as they focus heart and mind on him feels like home. Worship is not a second language or an "acquired taste" for them. It is the song of another country for which they long.

2. Some of them are people who love to listen in prayer. I've been one of them. Such folks grow to repeatedly and regularly spend time in solitude and silence where they can talk to God plus listen for his response. They've learned that prayer is dialogic rather than primarily monologic. They've learned to hear the subtle sonorities of the "still, small voice." Through practice they can discern the Spirit's "voice of a gentle whisper." In so doing, intimacy with Christ has become a way of life. When God talks to you there is a closeness which undergirds the way you live your Christian life. While everyone experiences times of feeling distant from God, these seekers and followers of Jesus persist in pursuing him because they have known rich times of being near and knowing his desire for them. I believe a persisting seeking of Jesus when you've been found by him is best realized in learning to listen and recognize to him in the quiet; not exclusively so, but practically so.

3. Some of them are people who love to pray. Such folks seek God fervently through intercession, petition, confession, and supplication. They feel nearest to God when they are in their prayer closets praying for all they have on their hearts. For them, prayer is deep connecting; it's engaging the living God with important matters they must ask him for and tell him about. They have a strong and abiding sense of responsibility to pray and to pray often; unceasing prayer is a call on their lives. In fact, praying is the normal Christian life for them. They notice all that is needed in and around and they carry the burden to lift it before the throne of grace to a God who cares and listens. Sometimes for these folk, seeking is wrestling and wrestling some more with God about stuff that can't wait. I've noticed intercessors never seem to tire when it comes to prayer, even if answers in some things don't come easily, or perhaps never at all . They faithfully "man" their posts and seek Jesus day-in and day-out. It's the high point of seeking him in the day. People of persisting prayer are most alive in the praying.

4. Some of them are people who love to study. I've had the fortune to be around a number of these Christ-followers. For them, the frequent and deep study of the Scriptures is a primary mode of seeking Jesus. These are the men and women who examine the Word closely. They might have dictionaries, commentaries and word studies to get to the heart of what God is saying and who he is. They may perhaps learn Greek and Hebrew -- even if they are not seminary-trained -- to seek the heart and mind of the Lord with skill and care proper for giving due respect to his revealed word. As they seek him deeper and deeper into the text, their devotion to its Author strengthens and matures. For them, such study is a life-blood; it's a delight. They see the beauty and majesty of Christ by what is written in the Book of all books. Their passion is equal to the other folks above. Theirs is an errand of love and deep devotion leading to what is right, good, and true in service of the One they seek and follow.

5. Some of them are people who love to serve. Any of us who've been in the church for a while know people who seem to unself-consciously exude a servant heart. They're the ones who regularly volunteer for workday, or seem to have a knack for finding what's needed in a given situation and then meeting it. These men and women both have a "how can I help/what can I do?" perspective. They seek God by serving him and his people wherever someone should take initiative to get things done. As they do, they feel in touch with him. Being of service is a joy and a practical devotion. They don't serve for kudos, they serve for relationship and intimacy with the Most High. These people relate to Jesus the Servant and want to emulate him; to be a Christ-follower is to be a servant at heart. I think they like the tangibility of helping meet real needs in a real world full of need, both big and small. Serving is an act of gratitude for what Jesus has given them and an act of love for people. They extend grace in service because grace has met their deepest need and they are set free.

I know there are other ways believers seek Jesus wholeheartedly, but I've been marked and shaped by observing and living near the kinds of folks I  mention above. My seeking the Lord and my Friend has come from what I've seen in such other found seekers, and what they taught me as a result. I've come to realize the Christian way of life is seeking so as to give and serve because we have been "found" by the gracious Servant of all. Seeking more of Jesus, then, becomes more of being freed to give one's self away; to "leave it all on the field" as the saying goes, before our eyes close and our breath ceases on this brief leg of eternity. Our being found means we've have a standing invitation to give it all away. In some way such seeking is emptying.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Simple Gift of Saying "Good Morning."

On our early morning prayerwalks, it's become our custom to offer folks we pass by or who pass by us, a gentle, friendly "Good Morning." We're careful not to push our way into someone's sleepy plodding toward the gym or practice; or interrupt those ear-plugged and wanting no interaction by their fixed gaze forward. Boundaries are boundaries.

But I've always felt a warm "Good Morning" is a simple gesture of wishing blessing on people, including strangers. Most of us get plenty of non-blessing from people around us during the week. So to offer God's unmerited favor, kindness and goodness toward people is an act of love, however simply expressed. It's a small gift worthy of saying because of it's deeper meaning.

I did a little digging into the origin and meaning of the good morning phrase: The following is from folks who contributed to a variety of wiki's and forums on the etymology of words.

Good morning:

"... started as 'morn', meaning the time just before sunrise, in Old English. By the 13 century, it had become 'morning'. 'Good' started as Old English. 'god' (with a long "o") "having the right or desirable quality"

'Good Morning' as we use it started as a greeting, 'have a good morning' The use of the shortened version 'Good morning ' dates from around 1400, as 'gode morwene'.

There is agreement among etymologists that Goodbye, Good morning, Good afternoon, etc.  all derive from the word 'God'; (Goodbye specifically from 'God be with you'.) and times of the day inserted accordingly;
All these greeting and parting expressions are found in earliest literature; recorded as early as 1200 in Layamon's 'Chronicle of Britain)

Through similar routes The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that "Good morning" and "Good night" derive from "[May] God give you [a] good night." and "[May] God give you [a] good day."

I love the notion of "Good Morning" as as "May God give you a good day." I imagine all of us, whether we believe in God or not, wouldn't refuse having a good day in favor of having a bad or awful day. We bless people with a gift of grace and goodness when we say "Good Morning."

Something I've noticed more than once over the last few months when I or Tricia wish a person we don't know such a blessing, is they look at us as if surprised, smile and offer "Good Morning" back. For most, they didn't expect it which suggests they don't get many, and I bet most of us don't say it very much to strangers. I know sharing this greeting means looking at someone, being a bit vulnerable, and offering the gift with no expectation of return. Not easy at first. We're all fairly well indoctrinated in not getting into "someone's space."

And occasionally we do misread someone, make the offer, and they resolutely refuse to look at us as they pass by. I don't know why -- they just ignore it. In one of my very early blogposts 3 or 4 years ago, I wrote of saying, "Good Morning" to a woman sitting on a porch and she immediately shot back in anger: "YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SAY THAT TO ME!!!" You can bet I was very gun-shy of offering the greeting to people I didn't know for a long time. She's the exception; most give the gift back with eye contact and a quick smile.

But, I see it as another way of offering God's love and grace to people. We are here to connect folks with his heart through Jesus, and his Kingdom ways. The simple gift of saying, "Good Morning" is a small step in the right Kingdom direction as the day begins, but a really benevolent one.

So here's a challenge: if you're not in the habit of doing so, try it for a month with people you walk by in the morning while out walking the dog, going for a run, biking, or just stopping for coffee. See if what I 've experienced will be true for you too. It feels good ,and many folks receive it as it was intended.

Let me know how it turns out.