Knock and It Shall Be Opened

“…and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:8)

Unlike asking and seeking, which are easily done in our minds or our hearts with little consequence or true commitment, knocking is a physical action with consequences.  When we knock on a door, we are anticipating, first and foremost, that the door will be opened (but we also take the risk that it may not). Secondly, we may wonder who or what we will find behind the door, (though we also run the risk that it may just be an empty room).  Finally, we anticipate that when/if the door is opened, we will be required to take ownership for our actions (why were we knocking?) and maybe even state our purpose for doing so.  We may wonder what we will say.

My brother and I grew up in an era where school fundraisers were still expected to be sold through door-to-door sales, that is, literally knocking on our neighbors’ doors and stating our purpose for being there.  Neither my brother nor I were good salespeople.  Even before the door was opened, we realized we hated asking our neighbors (or sometimes total strangers) for anything.  Why would they want our candy bars?  we’d think.  Why should they support our school?  Before we even asked, we were always anticipating a “no” (but still hated hearing it).  At the same time, we were surprised (and maybe a little disappointed in ourselves at our lack of belief) when the answer was “yes, please.”  As we grew older, we had a greater awareness of how awkward it could be for others to be put in a position of having to tell us “no,” because we believed that even when their budgets or nutritional  limitations didn’t allow for such purchases, many still hated to tell a child seeking charity “no.”  My brother, being older, came into awareness of this fact sooner than I, and so he tailored his sales pitch to one that made it easier for our potential customers to say no.  His stellar line?  “You don’t want to buy any candy bars, do you?”  That way, saying “no” was more of a confirmation of the obvious, than a rejection of our inquiry (and perhaps, by extension, a rejection of our very selves).

With that experience in mind, I am convinced that through his final directive to “knock,” Jesus wants to make sure our spiritual journeys are ones of action and risk, not just contemplation.  Lest we forget, the Israelites were all too content to ask… and ask… and ask God to deliver them from their life of slavery, so much so that they nearly missed the opportunity (could not “see”) to escape when it was presented to them.  Even Moses, at that point seemed to be convinced that all they needed was a deeper faith in God, “Do not be afraid, stand firm and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…the Lord will fight for you and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)  But God makes clear what is needed at this point in their journey is not greater faith, but action.  God responds to Moses, a man of the deepest faith, “Why do you cry out to me?  Tell the Israelites to go forward.”  (Exodus 14:15)  I think it is easy to convince ourselves that since Jesus has won the battle over evil, that greater faith is all that is required of us.  For His part, though, our Triune God makes it clear to us, time and time again, that very often the only way that we can know the depth of our faith is through our actions.

The God of the Old Testament says, “Go forward.”

Jesus says, “Knock and it will be opened.”

And the Holy Spirit itself is God in motion.

One thing is clear to me in all of this:  that we are called not just to have faith, but also to act on our faith, even when– or perhaps especially when– we cannot know the outcome of our actions, or what remains hidden behind each and every door.  The only thing we can know for sure is the level of commitment we have to our relationship—both God’s and ours—when we dare to take action, even while questions remain.

For, like the wounds of Jesus for Thomas, who says, in essence “unless I touch and see his wounds I will not believe” (John 20: 25), we will likely never understand what it is we are meant to “ask” and “see” in our own spiritual experience unless we also move forward and knock…and feel our knuckles against the wood.

Ask and It Will Be Given

It is easy for many of us to think that somehow Jesus is lying when he tells us that all we have to do is “ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). How can this be true? we think.  I’ve asked for so many things over the years and they were not given.  Dreams I’ve wanted to come true.  Wishes and hopes and even prayers that never came to be.

Over the years, of course, I’ve come to realize that my requests going ungranted was not so much because God wasn’t willing to grant what I was asking, as much as it was that I wasn’t willing to change to make it so.

Now, when I find myself asking for the same things again and again in prayer, wondering and doubting what power God has over the universe or what love he has for me, I find myself asking other questions.  What is stopping you, God?  Why do you not answer me?  And eventually, I come to realize that, in many instances, my asking has gone unanswered only because God is holding true to his promise.   He is bound by his one and only kryptonite: my will.

It is enough to help me realize that in that moment, I am standing at the threshold of a new opportunity:  the opportunity to change.  And it is only then that I hear Jesus answering my questions with questions of his own, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41 )  and “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

A Lesson in Solitude

“Today I went into my laundry room, shut the door, filled three buckets of water, and lined them up against the door to keep it shut,” my friend said as soon as she picked up the phone, knowing it was me.  “What in the world happened?” I asked with some alarm.  “Oh, nothing really,” my friend replied, “it’s just that sometimes Mommy really needs a Time Out and there are never enough locks on the door.”

No doubt, few people can know the desperation and longing for solitude like mothers of young children. We go from being our own people, on our own schedules, doing our own thing and dreaming about the joys and beauty of motherhood, only to find that day after day, hour after hour, year after year without any time to ourselves, the reality of raising children can leave us feeling ragged, weary, and sometimes forgotten.  What we fail to realize is that very often, the first one who neglected to take care of us, was ourselves!

There are valuable lessons for everyone, though, found in the spirituality of motherhood.  For us onlookers, it is obvious that in order to be effective in what she does, the mother must always be sure to take some time away—in whatever form she can find it.  Jesus demonstrates this so well throughout his ministry.  In order to heal others he must separate himself from the crowds and pray.  Matthew tells us that Jesus withdrew “in a boat to a deserted place by himself” after hearing of the murder of John the Baptist, but the crowds follow him and gather on the shore.  After taking his time away, he returns to shore and is able to perform a miracle—the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-23).  And Luke tells us after Jesus cleansed a leper “many crowds would gather” to hear him and be cured of their diseases, “but he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

What is going on here?  We may wonder.  Why doesn’t he just heal them all at once?  While that is a question best answered by God in your own quiet time of solitude, I can share that, for me, it has become obvious that silence and solitude are the food and fuel for my soul.  The more I let my soul rest in silence “away from the crowds” with God, the more I am filled with patience and compassion for others.  For years, I was mistaken in my thinking that as a young mother my life of sacrifice and service to my children and family was, while a wonderful blessing, also my “cross to bear.”  I neglected to see that making time (because it is up to us to create the schedule, after all) to be alone in silence with God was not, in fact, my “cross to bear” but rather, the God-given “daily bread” of my human journey.  Many of us mistakenly view our service to others in this same way, in whatever way we serve.  We think the service itself is the “cross,” but I think that’s because we neglect to fuel up for the journey!  In its proper order, we soon come to realize that our service to others is not the cross we bear, but rather, the fruit we share that ripens through our time spent “laboring” in silence and solitude. What kind of labor is that?  You may wonder.  Sitting around and doing nothing?  I’d love to do that if I had the time!  (I invite you again to take that very question to God.  I would love to hear what you discover!)

Perhaps, like me, you have avoided silence and solitude for such a long time because somewhere in your depths you already know what you will discover.  It is the same thing that Jacob discovered when he was left alone and “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Gen 32:24)  But, there is hope for all of us in Jacob’s story, too.  For at the end of the struggle we realize it was never God’s demand for Jacob to hold on, but rather Jacob’s refusing to let go of God, that resulted in his being blessed. (Gen 32: 26-28)

Eucharist: A Meditation

It is a shame how often I make God so small.  He is so much greater than any word can say.  Even the word “he” is such a minimalizing pronoun, because God is not just father, but also mother, love and spirit.  Yet, this God who is so great is happy to shrink Himself to something that I can understand.  Any ounce of my love and attention He can have, He celebrates and rewards.

I see it most often in the Eucharist.  He starts as the seed that must first die in order to grow into wheat.  There, He sits, innocent and vulnerable to, trusting that drought and insects will stay at bay, and trusting the hands of the farmer to pluck Him out as food for all.  In the act of harvest, He is pulled from the soil and beaten and broken into death again, trusting in the hands of the baker, now, to use Him as flour that will rise again in the bread that feeds all.  He is in every grain of it!

He is likewise in the wine.  He is the seed that grows into the vine that becomes fruitful and multiplies, only to be plucked from its source and mashed and beaten into juice and bits.  Bleeding and broken, He is left to rot and ferment to become a source of nourishment for all.

In these ways He gives us life!  He dies.  He rises.

And He offers Himself this way not again and again, but always and forever to be consumed—devoured—by those who love Him!

He is the Perfect Father, the Perfect Mother, the Perfect Lover, the Perfect Provider…and yet.

Yet.

So often, I miss all that.  I do nothing more than get in line, march to the altar and briefly bow my head, and say “Amen” when He is put before me and declared, “The body of Christ.”  Instead, I do it hoping that I have “earned” His love for another week.  Hoping that He is the winning lottery ticket of my life.  From Him I ask so much:  life and health and wealth and luxury and fame.

But for Him?

For Him, my bowing and agreement that this little wafer of bread and this cheap dime-store wine, blessed and broken, is in fact Him?

For Him, this is enough.

Because in that simple act—despite any doubt on my behalf—He has come to rest in me through the violent act of my chewing , swallowing, and digesting His flesh and blood.

And somewhere in that simple act, is the Paschal Mystery taught by the Perfect Teacher in two lessons:

  1.  You are what you eat.
  2. He dies.  He rises.  We die.  We rise.

Amen.

Sewing a Cushion for My Pity Pot (And Other Prayers of Gratitude)

Like most of yours, my summer has been flying!

I was pretty sure that when I posted way back in May that I’d write blog posts every Monday, I could hear God laughing hysterically with other plans. Turns out I’d heard right. It’s been a whole month now since I last blogged.  And today isn’t even Monday.  So, evidently my plan went all to pot.  (Shocker, I know.)

In an effort to get you all caught up on things that have been happening with me this past month (because I’m sure you’re dying to hear), allow me to bring you up to speed you with my abbreviated list of our summer happenings:

  • 2nd week of July :  We entertained these adorable family visitors ↓↓↓↓

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  • Aren’t they sweet?  Couldn’t you just eat them up?  (I should probably mention that they brought my in-laws with them…all the way from across these great United States).  Long story short, we had all kinds of fun with everyone the entire week.   Life was SO GOOD!
  • 3rd week of July:  We sent our family visitors on their way (along with my in-laws) and almost instantly became bored with life.  It was very confusing.  One day we had three dogs and two extra people and the next day there was …just us.  I was sure we’d get over it.   I planned some things to get us back on track,  (but I think we’ve determined already  how well things work out when I make plans!)  (Did I hear laughter, again?)
  • 4th week of July :  We trudged through the mundaneness of wide-open summer days with nothing to do.  On top of it, I had NO energy.  No oomph.  Meanwhile, I watched my friends traveling on fun, exotic, and exciting vacations (I know this because I stalked casually observed them on Facebook about every 3.5 minutes).  (They were always having fun.) I, on the other hand,  was bored.  B-O-R-E-D bored.  And also tired.  And maybe a little bit disenchanted with all things fun.  And also all things God.  (Yes, I said it.)

And, as is the case when all of life becomes boring, the days and weeks get longer.  For the rarely occurring 5th week of what had become a painfully long, boring month, I STILL had nothing to say on the blog.  So, to pass the time I guess,  I took a seat up on my Pity Pot (which, to me, looks a lot like those five-gallon buckets with a lid) and started  feeling  sorry for myself.  Everyone else is having fun.  Everyone else is rich and can take exotic vacations.  Everyone else lives a better life than me. (Can I hear a “Debbie Downer” mwomp-mwomp, please?)

Trying to find inspiration, I went back to my blog to read my last post.  To my astonishment, very little had changed.  In many respects, I was still the full-of-myself older brother of the prodigal son… and I was still missing the party!  Though I tried to pray my way through it, most days the best I could do was muster a big sigh and expel the word “God.”  (Except it sometimes came out as the more blasphemous sounding “G-a-a-w-w-d,”  I’m not gonna lie.  It was kind of ugly.)

Still, I kept looking for little bits of light on any given day, even if all I could see was a glimmer.

Eventually (and by eventually I mean yesterday, or maybe the day before), I realized that this whole Pity Pot thing was getting out of control.  I wasn’t even enjoying the complaining anymore!

So, I spent some time focusing on that image of the older brother, standing outside the house (or more accurately sitting outside the house…on his Pity Pot, of course!)   I imagined the feelings  of the older brother, watching the party going on inside the house.  And realized this was very similar to watching all my friends take exotic vacations, and fill their lives with joy and laughter.  And I found some words for a question I threw at God, Why do they get to have all the fun?  (No response.)  Why can’t I go inside?  (A response this time:  You can).  I ranted on, Oh, you’d just love that wouldn’t you?  It’s bad enough watching and listening to all the fun from here, but to go inside and watch them have  fun right in front of my face?!?!  No thanks!

It was about this time that I remembered that the older brother’s being outside had been his choice from the beginning.   In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father comes outside and pleads with him.

Now I realized not only had I refused the father like the older brother had, but I was starting to blame the father for my being outside as well.

(Oh, goody.  I’m sure that story ends well.) (*Eye roll*)

I put myself back in the image and tried again.

I watched the party some more.  I finally asked a question that was not about the others and the fun they were having, but about me….Why am I so bored?

And with that question, I felt something change inside me.  It is difficult to say what exactly…A softening?  A shift in focus?  A change in perspective, perhaps?   I decided to just accept the possibility– for just a minute or two– that sitting there on my Pity Pot, watching the party going on inside was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

And I waited.

And as I did, the evening sky grew dark around me and the party lights from within glowed in bright contrast.  The moon and stars looked beautiful in comparison and the birds sang their evening song and the crickets chirped in harmony.

It was a very peaceful image.

I realized I didn’t mind the party at all now.  Instead, I felt a little sorry for everyone missing this glorious night sky!   And I realized I wasn’t bored anymore.  There was nothing mundane about what I was seeing and feeling.   I felt calm.  I felt peaceful.  I felt relaxed.

It occurred to me then that perhaps God and I had different words for the same experience.  What I called boring and mundane, God saw as an opportunity for me to rest and relax.  I had a choice in the matter:  I could fight it and complain (like I’d been doing) or,  I could take and accept his gift of rest and relaxation which—ironically–I always complain about never getting.

Something had changed me.   I was no longer the hard-hearted fool I’d been before.  I was now aware that even there on my Pity Pot, I was loved.

With a new heart, I sent up prayers for those partiers inside, happy for them that it was their time to party.  Joyful for them and grateful to God for allowing me this time to sit outside …yes, on my Pity Pot… and rest.

I laughed to myself when I wondered, could I sew a cushion for my Pity Pot ?  Maybe post it on Pinterest?  I would title it, My Summer Project , and it would be God’s and my joke to share.

I’d forgotten what a difference it makes when I ask God to share His vision for my life’s plan.  In this example, with His vision, I understood instantly that my “boring” life was really an invitation for me to rest.  I also realized a second truth about my life and God’s plan.  This second truth was about my future and some long-forgotten prayers about His using me for a greater good.

And my heart skipped a beat.

And I gripped my Pity Pot with anticipation and excitement (and some fear and trembling, too).  Because suddenly more questions come What is it that I need to be rested for?  What will God call me to do?

I called my questions out to the night sky.

Not yet, the stars and moon sing down to me.   Not yet.  Sit a while longer.

And I know they are right.  Because… while I may anticipate changes coming,  I do not know how much those changes will take of my focus, my time, my energy (my sanity?)  So…

Not yet.

Trust me.

And I do.

I sit.  And rest.  And watch.  And celebrate.  And pray.

And I thank God for this lesson.

Because if God wants me to rest for something that I cannot see coming?  Believe me, I want to be rested.

Because God’s invitation to rest?

Is also an invitation to be ready.

When God is Silent

I’ve been uneasy lately.

This time of year is always difficult for me, and I can never put my finger on why that is exactly. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for all the days and years gone by as the kids grow so quickly, mixed with excitement for the wide-open calendar of summer and all the various activities we’ll likely fill those days with.

It’s also a time of year where, very often for me, God goes silent.

Or I get too busy to hear.

Or both.

Today, I felt there was only one solution.  I took a walk along  Baxter’s and my favorite trails this morning for the first time since my solo memorial walk after his death.  It was muggy, warm and overcast, as we are expected to get rain later today.  But God has been silent around here, and so I went off looking for him in the places that I used to hear him best–nature.  Immediately as my feet took to walking, I heard the call of the birds, I saw wildflowers blooming, and I thought of all the miles Bax and I covered along those trails as I huffed and puffed my way through the hills and valleys.

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Before Baxter, I was never really one for the great outdoors.  I was content to slide my thermostat from the warmth of 68 degrees for the winter to the refreshingly cool 72 degrees of summer.  It wasn’t until I had Bax that I suddenly had a reason to be outside every single day, even if only for a moment sometimes.   Because let’s face it, with a dog, getting outside is necessary.  This morning, it was time to admit to myself that I’d been avoiding walks ever since his death.  Without Baxter (or at least without having another dog) the walks seemed pointless somehow.  And I suppose there was at least a small part of me that felt like I’d be betraying him if I walked his favorite trails without him.  Still, God had fallen silent and it had reached a point that I knew I’d need to get back out into nature in order to hear him again.

It didn’t take long.

As I felt the warm breeze on my face, I was reminded of the fiery, windy, breath-filled Spirit of God of Pentecost (which we celebrated this past weekend).  As I stepped into the shade under the canopy of trees on the hills, I was reminded of St. Catherine’s meditation, and I thought about my life and how the Tree of Me must look.  As the sun beat down on me in the wide-open blacktop as I passed over the parking lot, I remembered that this is still  the same sun– so many thousands of years later– that shined for Noah after the flood, working with the sky to make a rainbow of God’s promise that the world would never be destroyed.  (This took my thoughts to animals going in two by two, of course, and I was reminded again of Bax.)  I suddenly realized, though, that while I missed my walking partner terribly, I was happy to have my feet moving again.  The whole process this morning seemed to be nature’s way of saying that things must change.  Life is moving on, and I can either go with it, or resist it, but it’s moving on all the same.

It’s an easy decision.

I’m going with it.

And as I heard the birds calling to each other in the treetops, and watched the squirrels hurried movements up and down the trees, I remembered that while I can get caught up in my head with all kinds of to-do lists and nostalgia and plans for the future, the truth is,  life is always only happening right now.

Yours and mine.

And I took a deep breath.

And I felt the silence.

And I breathed in nature’s perfume.

And I remembered I AM.

What Surrender Looks Like: Lessons From a Vole

As I sat in my basement office one day struggling to string words together for the church presentation I needed to make in only a few days’ time, I became distracted by a vole.

Do you know voles?  I tend to think of them as the ugly cousin of the field mouse.  Or, more positively, the better looking cousin of the mole.  I found a picture of one to post here for you, but to be honest, the ones we’d see in our back yard weren’t as cute as this one.

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Anyway,  the vole had fallen down into the window well of our basement office window.

The window next to the desk holding the computer where I sat trying to create my presentation, thank you very much.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it fall into the window well.  I got up to glance at it and see if it was OK (to be honest, this was not an unusual occurrence).  I saw that the vole was fine, and I made a mental note to go outside and rescue it once my presentation was more complete.   But, to my surprise, the vole began clawing his way up the window screen trying to get to safety.

Yeah.

It was creepy and distracting all at the same time.

 Well, I thought as I tried to ignore him, because, after all –PRESENTATION!– maybe I won’t even have to save him.  But no.  He got to the top of the screen and could not scale the expanse between himself and the grass where he needed to be.

So, fall again, he did.

(Total sidebar here, but I can’t help but think of Yoda with the way I just strung those words together…can you?)

Anyhoo, my point is, this climbing and falling went on not two or three more times, but probably half a dozen or more.  And the whole time I sat there, further distracted, each time hoping he would save himself, so that I could continue with my creative process.  Finally, defeated,  the vole stopped trying.

And I thought, Great!  Now I will finally be able to GET SOMETHING DONE in the peace and quiet.

But, I couldn’t. stop. thinking. about. that. stinkin’. vole.

So, in a huff and with a sense of complete disgust, I went upstairs, grabbed a bug net, and went out to the window well and rescued the vole.  I  released it out into a part of the yard where I thought he would be much more happy–near the wood pile.  (And since he didn’t reappear in the window well, minutes later, I can only assume he was happier there.)

By the time I got all done with that whole exercise, what little sliver of a creative process that I’d had up to that point,  was now completely lost.

I sat there staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen and had nothing to say.

As the cursor blinked away at me,  my thoughts became jumbled with the laundry list of things I needed to get done in addition to my presentation.  And I began sweating at the thought of it all.  Come on!  Come on! THINK!  I’d shout internally.  Give me the words, God!  I’d scream inside.

But my thoughts would always go back to the vole.

WHY CAN’T I STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT VOLE?!?!!? 

And then, though I’d barely realized that I’d asked a question, an answer formed in my heart with  these words, It wasn’t until he stopped trying to save himself, that you rescued him.

Hmmm.

Maybe the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that vole, was because that experience was a lesson meant for me about trying to force the creative process, especially when I’m trying to force it for God.

Lesson learned.

I realized then and there that I can think (part of the creative process) about what I want to say while I’m doing just about anything else.  And I can write down notes (also part of the creative process) as the thoughts come to me.  And I can sit down and write more when the time is less forced (creative process again!).

And you know what?

It all worked out.

My presentation got done with time to spare.  The house and kids didn’t suffer (too much, anyway) as a result of my neglecting ALL OTHER THINGS for the sake of the presentation.

I can’t tell you how often, still, I think of that vole.  But, I definitely think of it anytime I feel that creative process being forced in me (which is often).  And it’s that vole that make me think of ways I might be able to surrender myself a little more to the circumstances of my life and trust that all will still be well in the end.

Yep.  That vole sure knew a thing or two.

Because, three years later, it hasn’t failed me yet.

The Tree of Me

In St. Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogues, I’ve read that she pictures the spiritual life as a large tree.

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She says that the trunk of the tree is love.  The core of the tree (the middle part that gives the tree its life) is patience.  The roots of the tree are self-knowledge.  The branches are discernment.

And I’ve wondered, if I were to paint it, what does the “tree” of my spiritual life look like?  A tall and shadow-casting oak?  A shimmering, quaking Aspen?  A shade-filled, drooping willow?

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I imagine the branches of my discernment twisting and turning –sometimes with purpose, sometimes by accident, sometimes only through careful pruning– towards the Light.  I think about the bark of my tree…some of  it the torn and ragged bark of the river birch, in other areas  smooth and glossy like the white bark of the paper birch, and still other parts filled with the deep grooves of heartbreak that we can only know from daring to love in the first place.

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I think, too, about the roots.  No doubt, in quieter, darker times, my roots have grown deep and long, but after the pain of a transplant, inevitably it is with rapid adaptation that my roots skim the  shallow surface and grow wide, too broken and raw from being “uprooted” to dare to “go deep” again for a while.

And with that thought I’m reminded of another element.  One that is not in St. Catherine’s mediation, but that is an active part of my own.   It was a thought my in-laws shared with me once after a very inspiring sermon at their church.  The sermon was about the building of the artificial biosphere and how, in it, researchers were able to emulate and recreate nearly every single situation from the natural earth…with one exception.

There was a problem with the trees.

They kept falling over.

Do you know why?

As the sermon went, it was because they couldn’t properly generate enough wind  to strengthen the trees.

Close your eyes and think about that for a while.

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And as the trees all around us begin to bloom and grow,  keep in mind that much like our own spiritual journeys, the trees would never be as tall, never as strong, and (arguably) never as beautiful …if it weren’t for the wind.