Lessons from the Monastery (When you are Bitter)

Do you ever have those days when “the shoulds “clamor but truth prevails?

I should have done the dishes piled up from last night’s dinner which are railing against me and what I believe—that one should always clean up after a meal. 

I should have gone through piles of papers collected, hauntingly reminding me of bills due and deadlines I’ve likely forgotten.

I should have made an appointment to fix my daughter’s knee, which has hurt on and off for months.  She will ask when she gets home:  did you make the appointment Mama?  Did you? When will you? Why didn’t you?

Rather, all I can think about is my bitter heart.

I am bursting with the awareness, the stinging tang of understanding.

Of how I have lived with it for so long – like Naomi in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament – bitter.

The awareness tastes sharp and severe on my tongue.

I sat in Taizé prayer today at the monastery — soaking in the echoing songs, the verse, the smells and comportment of the faithful gray-haired women sitting around me.  For the first time I was hearing the story of the founding of the Taizé  Community in France; learning of this tradition of repetition, listening and meditating, as we waited for the Lord.

But then, we were given time to pray. It was remarkable. I don’t know about you but I don’t pray – not much.  At least not well.  I am certainly no “warrior” of prayer.   Martin Luther King Jr. said “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  Okay, it’s not so much that I don’t pray I suppose, but that I have so many doubts.  My conscience won’t allow me to simply tell God what I want or need.

My limited theological understanding and lack of faith simply don’t impress it upon me to pray – not much.

(I realized recently I don’t think I even know what I think about corporate prayer. But that is for another day…)

We were given space, within the service today to pray.   So I did.

And so, I let go of my control on my mind and heart.  And go it did, racing – Airborne, soaring like so many spirits.

I began collecting my worries like a slightly frantic, manic creature.

I began to set my worries down — like weighty, heavy stones.

I place them there, one after another.

… For a friend, who lives with chronic illness.  I want to see her more. I have many regrets.

… For my children and specific things I worry about for each of them, faith, academics, relationships, health, and futures.

… For my 74-year-old mother’s future and all that is involved in her long-term care.

… For my future, for my past, for my days – it’s been two weeks since I really let myself stop, slow, truly listen.

… For my days, yes I worry so about my days.  I worry about being wasteful.  I worry about being useless. I worry about not helping others enough.  I worry that my life is a waste.

And there it was.  The awareness. 

I have puzzled out what the book of Ruth means.  Which character in the tiny book that I relate to, Naomi – bitter, Boaz – faithful, Ruth – Bold.  Oh, there it is so crystal clear.

I am bitterness. Sure, I’ve come a long way.  I have had some healing.

God has loved me through my addiction and through my fear of failure and through my bitterness.

I have believed {I am so bitter that} God has forgotten me and there is no longer any purpose for my life.  I have tried to do the things in front of me – certainly the obvious one  motherhood, the creative work of writing and photography, but deep, deep down I have felt abandoned by God.

There it is.

Aching, reaching, grasping for some deeper purpose to my life and surely knowing all the while, that this time of dearth, of learning was and is important.  Just like Naomi, who said “call me Mara (which means bitter),” I have been bitter.

I sit with the weighty knowledge, almost crushed, but not.  Still wondering what God intends to do.  Jeremiah 29:11 says; “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

I do believe that. I do even as I taste bitter.  As I sit and wonder and pray.

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This is part of a Lent Series, Lessons from the Monastery.

Lesson One.

I learned today this type of listening is called kenotic listening.  It is characterized by reverencing what is sacred in someone else. So often, when interacting with each other, we dwell on all their faults.   Their failings, their annoying bits and pieces, even how they disappoint us or let us down.  A kenotic listener affirms the good in others.

Lesson Two.

I don’t find it hard to confess that dissatisfaction comes easily to me, along with the admission that my life has disappointed me. Disillusionment too, as my life is not what I thought it would be. I can admit this is true. Well, that’s not exactly right – I had no plan.  No grand scheme.  I didn’t have any idea what I would do with my life as a youngster.  One thing I knew. From that moment when I was swiftly rescued, “healed” in an only God could have done it miraculous sort of way.

This was lesson three.

Questions, cause I’ve been thinking

I have a lot of questions right now because I’ve been  thinking.  And when I start thinking I find I end up with more questions.

diversity @ church.

One of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey, recently scoured his hometown churches to see what he might find.   His comment about diversity in a church stood out to me.

As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Huh, diversity is Biblical.  ‘Nuf said.

MLK day was it ignored or forgotten? does it matter which.

Can I just say I love my church.  I have never grown in my spiritual life the way I have at this church.  It is amazing.

That said, yesterday I realized a stunning thing.   I attend one of those “mainly white mega-churches that don’t mention commemorating Martin Luther King Day.”   That made me sad.  They likely bumped it because of praying for Haiti and there are many challenges managing program time.  Still, I think it is important for a church to communicate from the platform that remembering and celebrating with our friends of color is significant to us all and valuable.   It’s a national holiday?  How are people going to spend it? Just made me wonder.

I’ve been writing on multi-ethnicity.

A friend asked me to reflect on Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, after reading these thoughts I wrote about my experience of going to a white church and my question of whether I should consider attending a multi-ethnic or even Black church.

Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. ‘The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless.  So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living.  But most fortunate of all are those who are not yet born. For they have not seen all the evil that is done under the sun.  (New Living Translation)

From my post:

To live our lives based on that simple truth means our lives are built on self-sacrifice.  Every time we respond in love to someone else, we are laying down our lives for them.  “This is my commandment,that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” Strange how Jesus did not say to us, “these are my commandments.”  He said is as if it were one commandment.

To believe and love is one idea.

Believing in Christ means that we love one another.  Looking at it that way, there is a lot that I can do as a person with my affluence & power &  a voice for the cause of reconciliation in my city.  Things that have nothing to do with where I worship on Sunday.

What my friend Jimmy was gently saying (I think) is that people are living with oppression in our nation my city, in my kid’s schools.  And no one white people don’t seem to genuinely offer care and comfort.

I will do further study on the word: COMFORT.  And that will sooth my intellect.  But can I DO something.  What can I do?

That takes me back to my Advent Lament and prayer. Oh God, Tell me what you want me to do.

And from someone I am coming to read often, a cautionary quote to white people.

I can only speak anecdotally on this, but there seems to be a growing movement of white people—including Christians—who feel so victimized by political correctness (and how it’s robbing them of their rights) that they’ve hardened their hearts to any suggestion that racial injustice is a factor in our society today. And they’ve become cold to how their privileged words and actions might affect others. That defensive mindset and callousness could be the biggest obstacles to true reconciliation in our churches and nation. Ed Gilbreath, emphasis mine.

I believe God speaks and it is not random.

I believe that God challenges and moves people from within by breaking our hearts over injustice around us.  He is not random about this.  He leads us toward things.  And away from things.  Problematically I have been told  and I can affirm that I have the gift of mercy.   I pop open my laptop and the needs and issues all over the world, and in my community, flood toward me and it all hurts.   If I open myself up to it it’s crushing.  It makes me sad, and mad, and sometimes depressed.  Hopeless and sometimes despondent.  And I slam my laptop shut, but that’s just an excuse for doing nothing.

I challenge  myself to pray every day asking God to tell me how to respond to the OPPRESSED in my life and community.  Who are they?  How can I comfort?  Help me to know what it means to comfort the oppressed?

This means that I cannot be free until all men are free. And if in some distant future I am no longer oppressed because of blackness, then I must take upon myself whatever form of human oppression exists in the society, affirming my identity with the victims. The identity must be made with the victims not because of sympathy, but because my own humanity is involved in my brother’s degradation.  The Christian Century (15 September 1971)

what should I do with myself?

I continue to pray that I would know what God wants me to do with my time, work, contribution, opinions (*smirk*), and talents.

I’m still mulling on a conversation I had with one of my girlfriends (Someone I would trust with my life.)  We discussed what I am doing now.  I found myself saying this,

“I need a job.  I’m feeling like a kept woman.”

Why she asked? Laughing at me, if can you believe it.

“I need to make a contribution. I feel guilty that I don’t have a ‘job.’ The feminist in me is screaming that I should be carrying my weight… I was never going to be a stay-at-home mom..  And look at me, my kids are in elementary school.”

After leaving full-time work in 2001, I had no idea as it was happening that was beginning a long journey of “recovery” from being totally addicted to work — the rush, the sense of purpose, the affirmation (Oh, how I miss the affirmation!)  I came out of that detox a better person.  A stronger person.  Much better understanding that I am not what I do.  And I’m glad (mostly) that I have been able to be at home with my children for the last eight or is it nine years.  I feel okay about it, some days even good.  I can see every day why I am home when it comes to my kids.  Jacob’s need for an advocate for his learning disabilities is just one example.  On one level, I think I started Imagine Photography to dispel that feeling of being ‘a kept woman.’  Bring in a little income myself, but still have the at-home life.  But I haven’t taken off with that even though with my marketing background I know how to promote myself.  Something has held me back.

But I digress.

What Carol did was confront those ideas head on (yes, the voices in my head) that say I should be ‘making money.’  It freed me to consider any job or volunteer situation because  I was thinking about it only in terms of money not in terms of values and interests and calling and heart’s desires.

I just feel freed.  It was inconceivable to me at first that someone who manages to work and be a mom (my friend who I really respect and need) would not look down on me for not working.  She actually said, you do work.  Every day.  Well, we don’t need to have a debate about what I do all day and whether it’s work.  Her blessing (not that she represents all women) and her opinion is one of the more important to me.

But now,  I can pray and wait.  Listen.  Try things.  Explore.  I can give of myself without thinking about “earnings.”

Haiti

When it comes to Haiti I have more questions than answers.  This poem is a part of that conundrum.  Also, a post.

This week’s message @ church

I wanted to respond to the message this Sunday at my church.  But I don’t have the time or energy today.  But something new I am going to add to this blog, is a personal reflection on the talk.  I think it will force me to take it to the next level of integration into my life.

Be well.

I am ready to disavow being any part of organized religion.

There are some days I am ready to disavow being any part of organized religion.  While I wasn’t paying attention some right-wing Christians are being scary [again.] It’s a benign sounding message, “Pray For Obama: Psalm 109:8″ which is being sold on T-shirts and other merchandise on websites like CafePress and Zazzle.

During the presidential election, I recall listening to an All Things Considered interview where people from the African-American community were expressing their fear of Barack Obama being killed. I was sitting in the parking lot of my local grocery store remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. JFK and Bobby Kennedy and others who had been murdered for their more liberal stance and I felt and understood the fear being described.

The UK telegraph reports that since Obama took office the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent  for Obama compared to George W.  Bush . . . Most of the threats, however, are kept under wraps because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts.

But it is not evangelical Christians like the media is saying, but the Religious Right that is branding Barack Obama as foreign, brown, Muslim, or “not a real American.”

The message on the material is Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8, innocuous right?  Wrong.  I do not think we can dismiss this as distasteful humor.  It is in no way funny.   Especially since the next verse reads, “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.”  The passage goes on in terrible ways.   This Prayer for Obama does more than want him to leave office at the end of one term, it entreats God to destroy our president.

CafePress, says they will listen to public discourse.  If it is being construed as threatening to the President, they will revisit the decision.  If you think these stickers are threatening, and not funny, you can let CafePress know that here.  Since the issue has raised such publicity Zazzle has since removed the merchandise.

Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League says for the message to be considered hate speech, it “would advocate actual violence or cite scripture that was more clear in its message.”

Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter was interviewed by Brian Williams on NBC.  Here’s what he said (emphasis mine):

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American. I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups, at that time particularly African-Americans. That racism, inclination, still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”

And Rachel Maddow interviewed Frank Schaffer this week, to explain whether or not the citation of this Biblical text “means something less threatening to people hearing this in a Biblical context.”

No. Actually, it means something more threatening. I think that the situation that I find genuinely frightening right now is that you have a ramping up of Biblical language, language from the anti-abortion movement for instance, death panels and this sort of thing, and what it’s coalescing into is branding Obama as Hitler, as they have already called him.

His final and emphatic plea was this:

Obama supporters had better start speaking up in support of him and not sniping at him all of the time because he’s not moving towards change as fast as we’d like in every area. This is serious stuff. The chips are down, he has real enemies–some of them are violent–and as far as I’m concerned it’s time to support our president, stand with him and not only wish him the best, but pray for his safety in the face of these religious maniacs….There are not many steps left on this insane pattern.

It’s un-American. It’s unpatriotic. And it goes to show that the religious right, the Republican far right have coalesced into a group who truly want American revolution. If it turns out to be blood in the streets and death, so be it. It’s not funny stuff anymore. They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe. It only takes one.

I urge you to take this seriously.  I urge decent, loving Christians to speak up about the need for supporting our president and for civility in our churches.  This is no laughing matter.

All day, my mind kept returning to St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I believe this is how a Christian is to behave : the exact opposite of what we are seeing my these conservative Right Winger.

St. Francis’ prayer is a brave request for strength to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others.  This is a situation that requires peace, consolation, and hope.