I’ve just gotten into using Pandora. I don’t know what the difference is between the things that I’ll jump on the bandwagon for and the things that I won’t. Some of them that I’ve just started – itunes (I’ve always liked actual CD’s – call me crazy), instagram (no idea yet), or even Words with Friends (the students have me playing it, but I’m absolutely terrible.) Maybe I wait and see if it will catch on (still waiting on Google+) or more than likely, I wait until I have some free time to try it out and it’s easy to access. I still haven’t figured out the “cool” Pandora play lists yet, but I have a couple that I love and regularly jam to. The thing that I’ve noticed more than anything is how long it takes me to realize that the music has stopped. You see, if you listen long enough, or if you like me listens while you work, eventually the music is going to stop and you’ll click on the box and you’ll see a message that inquires whether you’re still listening or not. There are some days when I immediately notice, whoa, whoa, whoa, the music has stopped. There are other days when I’m running a bit more on the ragged side or if I’m deep in thought or a project and I finally realize it but can’t remember where along the way it stopped.
Yesterday, for the first time in many, many years, Mike and I worshiped together at a local church. Neither of us responsible for any part of the service. No preaching, speaking, singing, playing the piano, announcements…nothing. Several things struck me all at once. One, I was tired. And it’s a lot easier to zone out and yawn really loudly and for a long time when you’re not the one leading worship. I noted that there’s something energizing or I would say more accurately – Holy Spirit infusing – about leading worship. Sometimes it’s hard to go from closing your eyes during the prayer to focus in on what’s being said. Then I began to wonder to myself about how the folks in the congregation feel? After a few moments I arrived at the conclusion, that a lot of it had to do with me. If you are an active participant in worship – singing, listening to the words of the prayers, paying attention to the children’s sermon – than you’ll get a heck of a lot more out of it.
When I calmed down in my own skin for a minute and actually tuned in to the word God was speaking, I was able to realize that somewhere along the way, the music had stopped and I indeed needed to click the “I’m Still Listening” button. As pastors or those that work in the church, how often are we tuned into the word God would have us share with our congregations, but we’re not quite as open, when we’re not the ones in charge, doing the feeding, and being open to the ways that word will be revealed to us?
I don’t know about you but I feel like there are times when we have been coasting and cruising and we’re doing the appropriate motions and the right spots, but our movements aren’t connecting with our brains. Things are going pretty okay, but if we tuned ourselves in just a bit more to the music flowing all around us, things would be going pretty fantastic…or at least more in tune. Once I got my head and my heart communicating and opening up, I heard a great, convicting, challenging, and well-thought out sermon that was a confirmation that I needed to wake up and do some listening. Isn’t it funny that God brings those things that we need to hear? We just need to clean out our ears sometimes and sort through distractions to get to the place where we can feel and know the presence of God clearly and actively.
What are ways that we stay in tune to God’s music?
What are the things that get in the way and distract us?
What are ways that we can practice listening or centering?
I haven’t blogged in ages. It’s not that I haven’t thought about blogs or haven’t wanted to, I just haven’t. I think it’s the same thing that I feel about resolutions and reading the Upper Room email devotional in the morning – things that I want to do and crave to do and would feel better after doing, but for some reason I let the other more pressing things get in the way.
There are all sorts of things that demand our attention and it often feels like the things that would re-charge us or center us whether that be writing or reading or taking a walk or exercising or what have you – these are the things that we feel like need to take a back burner when we’re busy burning the candle at both ends and trying to keep our head above water.
I’m not good at treading water. To be even more honest, I’m a terrible swimmer. By the time we started taking swimming lessons, I was already in late elementary school and a pretty tall kid. If you can stand up in the 5 ft. deep end, swimming just doesn’t take on the same urgency it might would. The rest of my family can swim and in thinking about this (because I am that weird), I think I could survive for a little while lost at sea. I’m pretty good at floating on my back or doing like a frog stroke of some sort. If I’m treading water – I’ve got maybe 3 minutes, and I think even then, I’m being pretty generous.
Am I terrible at swimming, because I’ve seen no use for it yet? I just never got into it? I don’t feel a sense of urgency to do it?
Am I terrible at self care because I see no urgency in it? Because it’s not something to mark off the to do list?
Maybe if I added things like: Take a walk, write a poem (for fun not for serious), read a book in silence without interruption (yeah right), turn the music up and blast it, learn the dance to Thriller (finally), write down three things that you’re thankful for each day…maybe if I added some of these things to the to do list, they would actually happen and not just sound good in my head or me wistfully saying them out loud as a cop out.
What should you add to your to do list? What do you need to make time for? As a parent, as a teacher, as a preacher, as a student, as a leader, as a learner, as a philosopher, as a pragmatist, as a advocate, as a dreamer – what does your soul need today?
I’m listening to a little Coldplay “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.” I don’t want “Monday morning to feel another life,” but like the authentic, passionate, continuation of following where God leads – the challenging, the joys, the wake up calls, the turning points, the ah ha moments, all apart of the waterfall that is our lives. We keep going with the strength of God. We keep grooving in the Spirit of God. We continue sharing love and grace in the joy of Jesus. And we re-charge, re-energize, re-new, re-store, re-fresh in the midst – taking the time to let the movement of Spirit work inside and out.
Since Monday I’ve been having some back pain. When you have fibromyalgia and you have two toddlers that you may or may not pick up all the time, it’s not all that surprising to have some aches and pain. Generally I would just think no big deal but, I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up having a fitful night of sleep on my back. I never, ever sleep on my back. Yep, I feel like I’m whining now, and on Ash Wednesday no less.
I’m preaching the Ash Wednesday sermon tonight at a local church and the students are tagging along with me. One of our students is hearing impaired and she and her amazing interpreter, one of our other students are both coming tonight. Erica (the interpreter) was excited about going until I told her I was preaching. Just kidding…a bit. She knows that I talk fast and my hands are always moving and trying to interpret with my randomness is an exercise in and of itself. She asked if I could give her some notes about what I’m preaching on. That’s fair, right?
But all I can think about is this dull and sometimes sharp ache in my back. It is driving me crazy today. To dust we will become, heck – we’re already beginning to fall apart and feel like that dust sometimes. As much as this distracts me from work, having a coherent conversation with someone, actually being pastoral or even listening at all at this point, I think about all those that deal every day with a dull or sharp pain. This pain is not always physical, but often emotional, spiritual, psychological, really real. We each carry around past hurts or wounds. We each have moments of uncertainty, fear, and doubt in the midst of painful situations or the reminders of those painful situations.
I get that. I think that’s a great focus this season to let go of some of those voices, some of that negativity. I love that intentionality and purpose of reminding oneself repeatedly that there is someone greater that you belong to, respond to, and answer to – not just some voice inside your head.
If this Ash Wednesday brings a day that marks the beginning of a season of repentance and spiritual renewal, then we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. I love some of the ones that Rachel Held Evans lifts up in her blog, http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011. What do we need to repent from? What consistently stands in our way to feel the freedom of Christ? What voices or people or hurts or situations have held us back from that abundant life? What are those fears and doubts that we can let go and repentant of during this season? How can we move closer and closer to that freedom, even if it means making hard choices and decisions?
And then drawing towards that spiritual renewal, how can we be more intentional in our drawing closer to God? Does that mean giving up facebook, or does that mean we’re intentional and Christ-centered when we post, comment or spend time on facebook? Just like this blog (http://penelopepiscopal.blogspot.com/2011/03/are-you-christian-giving-up-social.html) writes, I’d hate for Christians to stop shining their lights during a season when the world needs to hear and know the power of repentance and also resurrection.
In a recent column in Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris writes a piece called “Taking Multitasking to Task.” I loved it. It really spoke to me in profound ways about how we’re living this world in which doing everything is expected and when you don’t it’s frowned upon. For some of us, instead of diving into the hard stuff, the more difficult, the more challenging, we’ll keep consuming a lot of the easier or more fluff things, just so that we can do a gazillion things at once and say that we’re connected and on top of things. For some of us, trying to be all places for all people is easier when we skim the surface and don’t take time to listen, reflect, discern and really meet with people or God. Maybe y’all don’t relate to that. He closes his piece with, “I have friends who’ve recently taken their own steps toward reclaiming control–one is trying internet-free Sundays; another has sworn off texting while in the presence of actual human beings. So, in that spirit, this year I plan to hold to the principle that half of my focus is always the wrong amount–that someitmes the TV can go off, or the laptop can be put away, or Google can wait. I’m going to try to undivide my attention, and see if my entertainment choices (and my thoughts about them) get any sharper as a result. It couldn’t hurt. Well, that’s a lie. The scary thing is, it hurts already.” He’s talking about entertainment, but there’s a part of Lent in there for me.
What do we give our full attention? A more pertinent question to me probably – do I ever give anything my full attention? Are we running through our to do lists for the day when we do our morning devotion or are our minds in ten different places as we’re working on our sermons or our small groups or our Sunday school classes? What gets our full attention?
When I look at how these 40 days are supposed to be a time of Spiritual Renewal, I have to ask myself honestly where my attention and focus will be and how I’m going to invite the Spirit to lead me and guide me in the disciplines or the actions that will be undertaken. If I’m doing it, just to have an answer when someone asks me what I’m giving up or adding for Lent, then that’s rubbish.
There’s something that he said at the end of the article. He says, “The scary thing is, it hurts already.” I’m not saying we beat ourselves up for Lent and what we give up or add shouldn’t be a contest for who is the most devout Christian (although I do wonder how many viewers that tv show would get week to week.) We need to discern where we are. We need to focus our attention on the Word of God and see what will help draw us towards repentance and renewal and go with it – with the grace, mercy, leading and strength of One who knows us far better than we even know ourselves.
Two things I’ll leave you with. There some of my favorite things to use during Lent. The first is from Jan Richardson’s In Wisdom’s Path. She says, “The season begins with ashes and invites us into a time of stripping away all that distracts us from recognizing the God who dwells at our core. Reminding us that we are ashes and dust, God beckons us during Lent to consider what is elemental and essential in our lives. As a season of preparation for the mysteries of death and resurrection, it is a stark season.” Hopefully it’s not just a stark season – something different than normal – but a rich season.
Roberta Porter is one of my most favorite writers for Alive Now, she writes in her prayer,
Culture’s message is immediate
But when I hungrily seek control
in my power, with my plans,
I am full, brimming over
with empty calories,
and strangely unfulfilled.
I pray to be broken open – unafraid
of change – and pour out pride.
My Spirit fast teaches me
as I am willing to yield,
more space for grace appears,
and more of Christ,
Bread of Life,
When the ashes are put upon our heads either this morning, midday, tonight, may we remember that we are dust and to dust we will become again and may we take the days and months and years ahead to focus and retreat to the One who goes before us, beside us, and sometimes even pushing us to grasp hold of this thing called abundant life.
One last one, because I love this one too. Also from Alive Now the March/April 2001 edition…
Quiet Day Retreat
To be quiet, both without and within —
to welcome silence and space
and unbroken meditation.
I have not given up food
— the typical fast —
but I’ve emptied my mind
for an hour, or a day.
I’ve overturned it like a bowl,
forbidding entry of my plans, my chores.
Then come thoughts and reflections,
then come inspiration
and then I can return refreshed
to the frantic daily world.
What sort of fast is this?
A fast from calendars, schedules, from self-important busyness.