Thursday, 22 August 2013

Thomas Merton on When We are a Little Lost

A quote that takes the pressure off, a little...

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. 

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. 

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

Thomas Merton Thoughts in Solitude

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Pray Fat Boy Pray

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid

I'm a Runner

Okay, I'm gonna come clean. I've started running. Actually I started last year - twisted my ankle (turning it 50 shades of purple!), gave up for 5 months and started again in February this year. I'm not a natural runner, you understand. When I think of a runner, I can see in my mind a slim bouncy gazelle like creature who barely touches the ground. Me, more of a 'we'll get there in the end kind of plodder'. Thing is, I've been doing it now for almost six months, on average 3 times per week. I did a 10km race in May  (thrilled to do it under the hour) and loads of 5km races  (every Saturday morning in Marley Park-all shapes and sizes). I never thought I could be a runner. Tried to start about 5 times over the years but always gave up after a few weeks thinking 'I just can't do it. I'm not like those runner people. Different animal. I'm a non-runner in the running game.' You know what? I've felt like that about prayer for years too and I am seeing now that there are a lot of parallels. So here goes. Puts your runners on.

You Have to Warm Up

All my failed attempts at running were down to trying to run too fast at the beginning and then getting exhausted and then saying 'I'm useless at this.' It's so important to take the time to transition. My mind and my body need time to settle in. When I sit down to pray, my mind is like an airport with 17 planes circling waiting to land.
Image courtesy of potowizard

As soon as I sit down, they start coming in. Some of them are things I have to do, some are things I am worried about or afraid of, some are hurts- 'she said, he said' type things. Also, my body isn't necessarily in the mood to sit and relax. It can be tense, carrying some of my stresses. For this I do  a few spiritual stretches -mindfulness exercises. I find focusing on my breathing calms my mind and my body. I focus on breathing out my fears and worries and breathing in God's calm and peace. It takes a little patience but after about 5 minutes of imagining the air entering (bringing peace) and leaving (taking away unease) my body I'm not so antsy. I'm feeling more in my body, more present to
myself and to God.

The Hardest Part is Putting your Shorts On

Making the decision to go for a run is the hardest part of the exercise. Even though I imagine pain and boredom before a lot of runs, I have never, ever gone out and been sorry I did it when I finished (okay, once when I got drenched.) Once the shorts are on, the battle is over and I am GAME ON. Choosing to sit down to pray can be so difficult. So many other important things come into your head. 'The grass needs to be cut. I need to ring my mother. It was rubbish last time. I can't face God now after doing/saying that!' The answer? 'Just put the bloody shorts on. I'm doing it, I don't care how I feel.' These days I run pretty much every second day. I'm getting to the stage, having done it since February, if the gap slips to 3 days, I miss it. It's almost like the running is carrying me. My prayer has been similar. It has its own momentum. As CS Lewis says " I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me." So there are some days when my desire pulls me in, but there are still the days when I have to say I am running/praying today because this is what I do. Pray Fat Boy Pray!

Every Now and Then you Glide

United Nations Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Every run is different because I'm different every time. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes to feel comfortable, sometimes the whole run seems like hard work. But then every now and again, maybe 3 times out of every 10, I enter into a what I call a glide. It feels like I am sitting in the carriage of my hips and the rest of me is being carried. The running is light and free. I'm in a flow. It's such a wonderful feeling. I am being carried. Sometimes I experience this in prayer too. I can "lean in" to Jesus and feel him bearing my weight. I put 20 cent into the prayer slot and receive 20 euro out. I think the equivalent of the glide in prayer is the gaze, where, as Mother Teresa put it so well. "I look at him and He looks at me." Like the glide I can't make this happen. I just present as much of me as I can, do the warm up and begin, one foot in front of the other. I don't know why sometimes I experience a deep sense of presence and others not. I know that He is always completely present. How much of me is present is another matter, however. My challenge is turn up with as much of me as I can muster. 

There are other similarities, like having a good coach, not comparing yourself to others, learning from other runners/prayers what has helped them, running with others etc but lets leave the last word to Hebrews 12:1-3.

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid

Saturday, 10 August 2013

If you like Breaking Bad ...

Rachel Held Evans has a terrific blog. Her most  recent blog is on Breaking Bad. It's excellent, as is Breaking Bad if you get a chance. (It's on Netflix).

Thursday, 8 August 2013

I'm in Bits!..

A poem today. This one, by Rumi, has helped me a lot when I am tempted to 'should' on myself. When I am running from parts of me that embarrass me, frighten me, or shame me. When I am becoming dis-int-grat-ed. In bits. The poem encourages us to welcome these parts of ourselves, to embrace them. They hold within them a message...More on that in a future post.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Translated by Coleman Barks

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Me, Monty Don and Gardening Rage

Monty, my hero-a man who knows where his trowel is!
Photo Jo Marshall
There are three things that bring out the worst in me, bring out my inner incredible hulk; putting up coving (don't ask), finding a parking spot in the rain and... gardening. All three bring out my inner 3 year old. Let's talk about the gardening one.

This year has been a phenomenally fruitful one in the garden. The raspberry canes we got in LIDL two years ago have fulfilled all their promise. Ella and I dug our potatoes up yesterday. There is nothing better.

St Ella of the Spuds

Raspberries Galore!

We have carrots, parsnips and turnips on the go and will be ready in maybe a month. What's the problem? Well, you see, I find it so hard to remember forwards to these fruitful times when in March and April I am digging the soil and planting the seeds. It seems like nothing happens. Nothing at all. Forever winter and never Christmas. It's all input, all graft, cold Saturday digging, sore back and no payback. I am so, so impatient. I can be heard, teeth gritted, anger-whispering (you parents will know what I mean) to the seedlings " Grow will you, bloody grow!" It seems to take forever for anything to get out of the ground.

As I plant the seeds I feel  my frustration, my addiction to immediate gratification is growing within me. My impatience feels like a rage. I feel it surging through me. I needs results and now dammit!

This Spring I really got a sense of the Holy Spirit gently pointing this out to me. "It's hard living in the moment when there is no payoff, isn't it. You want the future, juicy bits now don't you, to compensate for the effort you are putting in right now".  
Our thriving caterpillar colony.

I don't want to live in the moment when it's dull and tedious. Moment...Schmoment! So I have been trying to accept these moments, to see them as reminders that I have more to learn about living mindfully, right now, in the 'whatever is happening now'.

It is such a useful reminder. The feelings of impatience and frustration tell me that I have vacated my own building and am trying to live somewhere else- some future happiness or glory. If I can't be at peace and content in this moment, why do I think I'll be able to do it in the imagined future?

 I remind myself to breathe, to wake up to what is around me, to walk slowly, to see God in this time. Slow... down, like a river, slow and deep.

The Father is so patient with me as he gently prises my tight white knuckled fingers, one by one, from the steering wheel of immediate gratification.What a wonderful Gardener He is. Taking his time with me. Seeing the long game, but present with me now, to what needs tending, nourishing, trimming. Always present, in the present, right now..