Gully Washers and Effervescence

Thanksgiving is now technically behind us, and that means we start looking at Christmas, right?


I could write something snarky about how we’ve all lost our way with the commercialization of Christmas, but who am I kidding? I love it all. I love the secular, the sacred, the lights, the handbells, the cheesy Christmas movies, the old standby Christmas songs, and even all the preparations surrounding the Christmas season. In our community, we have a few rituals around how we celebrate Christmas and I love them as much as I love the ones my family practices. I love Christmas. Mostly, I love the expecting, waiting and hoping that Christmas seems to awaken in me. As an adult, I am more focused on creating the experience of Christmas than hoping someone will make my Christmas merry and bright. I believe in Christmas. After reading Brene’ Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness,” I have no guilt or shame about my love for the season. I no longer understand my passion as the generational expression awakened in me by my Christmas-loving, Santa-celebrating, and over-the-top light-loving mom. In fact, I am turning into a Christmas holiday celebrating zealot.

In chapter six, “Hold hands. With strangers,” Brene’ Brown describes in detail a key point that emerged from her research to help us cultivate and grow our belief in the inextricable human connection. This matters because this capacity for connection is so vital to our well-being, and the wellbeing of our communities. It is what Christmas does for us as a collective, in my opinion. Brown was shocked by the results, which were this: Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection. (p.120)

She entertained, illustrated and connected with her reader by providing examples of how she had experienced this showing up, which pretty much explains why I was unwilling to stand in the hallways at Scott Stadium during a recent downpour and legitimate gully washer at a recent UVA football game. At gametime, the seats were mostly empty but the entire stadium was filled with water! In raincoats, boots, ponchos and head gear, we were soaked within seconds of taking our seats. Pete suggested we go stand in the covered concession area. Maybe buy UVA apparel to change into that would at least give us dryer clothes? For like 15 seconds? I was having none of it. I cheered with the others in the stands, sang the good old song, and said to our neighbor a few seats down, “This is crazy, right?” What we were experiencing was collective effervescence. Brene’ says (p.130) that a French sociologist coined this term to describe a type of magic he witnessed during religious ceremonies. He says it is an experience of connection, communal emotion, and a “sensation of sacredness” that is what happens when we are willing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And this feeds our soul.

Pete and I have been going to UVA games together for 44 years. UVA fans understand that the “effervescence” has been a lot of PAIN with an occasional side of joy. Our football team has lost a lot of games in 44 years. But our night in the rain was magical. To sit and stand and cheer and have water gather in nooks and crannies of our body was awesome. Our team lost that night, but we won another memory to cherish that was bigger than either of us individually or even the two of us as a couple. We need more of this in our lives folks, we just do. Christmas can be that if we are willing to be more intentional, aware and thoughtful in our Christmas expectations, waiting and hoping.

Letting go gives us balance

Over the past few weeks we’ve visited and revisited step 11 of the 12 steps of AA: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out.

It seems to me that the eleventh step takes a lot of pressure off of prayer and meditation. It’s clear and simple: we are simply improving our conscious contact with God, we acknowledge that our capacity to connect is limited by our gaps in understanding who he is, we ask only for the knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out.

It is assumed that to have the capacity to know and do the will of God is enough. It is more than enough. What else is there? This makes such perfect sense to me. Without big long lists of demands for God’s immediate action in the life and times of me, I am now given the time to meditate. To sit quietly. To be still and know that God is God and I am not. To, as Jesus did, draw away from the hustle and bustle of the world into solitude.

This is yet another blessing of letting go and letting God. It is a counter-weight to my natural tendency to codependently point out to God all that I think HE is missing!! Today, I wait more, expect more, and hope more.

Or, to be more specific, I expect differently. I have stopped demanding results and started trusting God with whoever and whatever my mind is concerned about. I’m aware that God is not obligated to DO anything about my concerns, but I love the practice of sharing them because I know he cares, not because I think he needs me to keep him informed.

December is a big month for waiting, expecting and hoping. I’m going to spend the rest of this month looking at the season of Advent - the four Sundays prior to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve, a time of preparing for the coming of the Christ. I wonder if our recovery perspective might enrich our faith perspective on Christmas.

Striving, hoping, and waiting

You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings. James 4:2-3 CEB

When I was young, I tried to solve my prayer problems with hard work.

I continued to redouble my efforts because I was convinced that my evil intentions in prayer were the cause of my desert-like prayer experience. But I also began to question my own prayer posture. The more I read and studied, the less convinced I was that God’s greatest desire for me was to feed him a list of requests, let’s be honest - demands, for how he was to show up and work in the world.

I continued this elaborate ritual of prayer but all joy drained from the experience; even my school supplies could not comfort me.

In 1986 my brother got sober; to support him, I began to embrace the 12 steps. Step 11 blew me away. Step 11: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.

What do you notice about this prayer? What is the objective of this step? What is promised? What is not promised? I thought prayer was about solving problems and feeling better. It was a relief to discover that prayer was possible and even sacred without solving a particular problem and even if I did not feel better as a result of my prayer efforts.

Hoping and Waiting

The eleventh step radically changed my perspective on prayer and meditation. I sorely needed a readjustment. Historically, I have proven time and again that I am capable of misinterpreting the scriptures.

“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Matthew 7:7-8 CEB

Early on in my faith journey, I developed a system of praying that looked more like a strategic plan then sacred time spent with God. I organized my prayer requests in an elaborate system of checks and balances so that I would not forget to ask, seek, and knock so that I might receive and find.

It was tiring.

As much as I enjoyed the school supplies I used as my prayer tools and the structure of rigorous and daily asking and seeking, I felt something was missing.

Do you ever feel that something is missing when it comes to prayer?

Reflections

Before I opened my computer this morning I chugged a cup of hot decaf (I know, big sigh, oh for the days of caffeine rushes with no consequences), and layered up for a long walk before the sun woke and began to warm the day.  I walked for two hours with my head full of the cares and troubles of my people. I knew that today I would go to an ICU and pray over a young man whose brain they say is dead. I figured that I might have time to check on a friend who is depressed.  I hoped I might get a chance to hug one of my grandchildren but the schedule did not look promising. I was kind of down in the dumps to tell you the truth.

 

 

The sun began to peek out at me about 20 minutes in to my walk.  I began peeling off layers of clothing. First the gloves, then the hat, and soon the first of three sweatshirts.  My body began to warm and my sleepy brain began to wake to the sacred privilege of being capable and free to walk for two hours in the morning just because I wanted to.  Were there issues that would need addressing? Yes. But they would come after this sacred, quiet time of silence and solitude and even stillness, for today there was no wind to nip my nose, only the promise of Spring in the air.

 

As I hit my stride on the last hill before heading home I glanced up and saw a herd of deer munching on tender green leaves, signs of spring that I had previously been too distracted to notice.  I stopped. I grabbed my camera. I walked slowly toward them. One small step and then a pause. I forgot that there was laundry waiting to be transferred into the dryer before my mad dash to the hospital.  I failed to notice any of the chattering dialogue that had occupied my brain at the beginning of my walk. I knew I had all the time in the world to look at these curious, big-eared babies with their “deer” Mama.  I managed to get some good close-ups and I will treasure the photos for sure. But nothing will compare to that peaceful, wide-awake awareness that God is near and he has us all in his hand. Discontentment may be symptomatic of a need to reassess and reawaken to the possibility of living life large AND on life’s terms.  Or, it might be a sign that we are pursuing false strategies, delusions and are confused. Maybe a fourth way of seeing discontentment exists or even a fifth. This I know: we can be thoroughly discontent one minute and wide awake to the presence of Holy God the next. This is how crazy in love God is with us - pursuing us in love even as we forget to rest in him.  When I can remember God’s love in and around me, I show up in a better space for an ICU visit or a walk with my grandbabies. I can show up for love.

 

I am not a particularly wise person, but I do understand that taking a long walk every day means more than just the numbers rolling by on a pedometer.  What do you do to get still, find silence, and embrace solitude? Do. What. It. Takes. Today.

Bringing Charges

Through Jeremiah God explains to his people how their relationship got into such a mess that even his patience has run its course:

       —God’s Decree—  “charging you and your children and your grandchildren. Look around. Have you ever seen anything quite like this? Sail to the western islands and look. Travel to the Kedar wilderness and look. Look closely. Has this ever happened before, that a nation has traded in its gods for gods that aren’t even close to gods? But my people have traded my Glory for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.  
`“Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see! Throw up your hands in disbelief—this can’t be!” God’s Decree. “My people have committed a compound sin:  they’ve walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.”
~Jeremiah 2: 11-13 The Message

My son who studies such things explained to me recently that, historically, people who worshipped many gods didn’t throw one away and replace them with a better god, they added to their deity collection.  In this passage God is saying to his people, in essence, you have respected me less than the tribes around you who worship idols. You traded me in. To make matters worse God says that his people have adopted false strategies by putting their hope in other countries, leaders and material possessions to keep them safe.  I believe that our conscious contact with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines provides us with wisdom, insight and healing that cannot be found anywhere else. But we, like the Israelites of old, keep looking in all the wrong places to find our sense of well-being and our wholeness.

What about you?  What have you pursued in the hope that it would make you whole and well?  There are many tools and treatments and such that help us recover our lives, but to reject hope in a power greater than ourselves and try to handle life on our own, independent of spiritual pursuits, may fall under the category of false strategy.

 

Love in Context

The bible provides us stories of God calling his people to do extraordinary things.  Who doesn’t want to be extraordinary? I do! I want to be courageous and a full on follower of God.  Because these stories (which we emphasize and challenge ourselves to live up to) feed our own egos and desires for significance, I think it has caused us to miss the obvious.

 

 

It is true that some people are called to do extraordinary things as an expression of their faith.  But those are actually the exceptions. Mostly, I believe, we are provided a vision for living an ordinary day-to-day life with extraordinary vision for its sacredness. The longest book in the bible is the book of Jeremiah.  In it we find an unflinching portrayal of a people who have forgotten who they are because they have lost touch with what they once knew of God and his relationship to them. This is our eternal dilemma it appears. Maintaining conscious contact with God and his inspired way of seeing is for whatever reason, I do not know it, a constant challenge.  

 

Jeremiah is tasked with trying to wake up his sleepy tribe and help them remember in a vain attempt to avoid the 70 year banishment.  He’s a gloomy guy and not very popular (the truth rarely is well-received). But he combines his doom and gloom prophesy with the promise of restoration - if his people would just wake up and return to God.  There are three things that plagued the Israelites and I suspect continue to plague us - all of which distort our capacity to give and receive love:

 

  1. False strategies for abundant living

  2. Self-deception

  3. Straight up confusion

 

I hope to break these down and explain them further in the next blog post but just to be clear - these three problems impact our capacity to give and receive love.  And love, in the kingdom of God is a big freaking deal.

 

Today, take some time to assess your own love potential and practices.  Do you ever get confused about how to express love in a challenging relationship?