Friday, January 30, 2015

Settling in low places...

In Sr. Joan Chittister's commentary on the Rule of Benedict, Insights for the Ages, she writes that:
Humility treads tenderly upon the life around it. When we know our place in the universe, we can afford to value the place of others. We need them, in fact, to make up what is wanting in us. We stand in the face of others without having to take up all the space. We don't have to dominate conversations or consume all the time or call all the attention to ourselves. There is room, humility knows, for all of us in life. We are an ember of the the mind of God and we are each sent to illumine the other through the dark places of life to sanctuaries of truth and peace where God can be God for us because we have relieve ourselves of the ordeal of being god ourselves. We can simply unfold ourselves and become.

She then illuminates her point with this quote from The Tao:

The best people are like water

They benefit all things,
And do not compete with them.
They settle in low places,
One with nature, one with Tao.

"Settling in low places,' being gentle with others and soft in our comments and kind in our hearts and calm in our responses, never heckling, never smother the other with noise or derision is an aspect of Benedictine spirituality that the world might well afford to revisit."

More and more I am discovering that mostly I need to shut up.  I mean that - it is hard thing for a preacher to discern, especially after all these years - but most of the things I want to say don't need to be said. It is better if I keep my mouth shut and just ponder things in my heart like the Blessed Virgin Mary. Otherwise, my own stupidity and arrogance gets in the way and my words come out sounding hurtful when I want to be helpful. Yes, there is a Word to be spoken, but I find that it is only after I've shut up for a while that it becomes clear. What's more, the more I can walk around outside in the quiet, the more I can trust that God will meet me in the silence.

I just got back from a bracing walk in the snow and rewrote my notes for Sunday morning. They are now a simple outline on the back of some scrap paper; just a few bullet points with scripture references based upon what I need to hear from a preacher right now. And, truth be told, what I need to hear is probably what others need to hear, too: that God's love is greater than, but part of, my life; that God's grace is more creative than my fears and limitations; and that God's presence, while always mysterious, tends to break through just when we have eyes to see and need it the most. Something like that...

As I was coming into the house, our neighbor (whom I haven't met in 8 years), was plowing up the snow in a driveway we share with another neighbor. I waited for him to finish and introduced myself. Seems his name is James, too. "I just wanted to thank you for all your faithful help over the years. You make my life so much easier by clearing away the snow... is there any way I can repay you?" To which he smiled shyly and said, "Man, we're neighbors. I'm glad to do it." See what I mean? Just when I need it the most - or have eyes to see - the evidence breaks through. Richard Rohr put it more theologically in a recent posting.

From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. 
--Romans 8:22

Creation did not happen once by a flick of the Divine hand, and now it's slowly winding down--which is what we've assumed for most of history. Creation, in fact, is a process that is still happening and winding up, and even better, we're in on it! We are a part of this endless creativity of God. Talk about inclusion and how everything belongs! In other words, YOU matter and YOU make a difference!

The reason this is so hard for us to see in our little, tiny moments of history, is that this groaning and this giving birth proceeds by a process of losses and gains, and the losses are very real. There is no doubt that history, like the biblical text itself, goes three steps forward and two steps back. (Why do so many people prefer the two steps backward passages?) Thank God, there always seems to be a net gain to history and to the biblical text too. Even though we see violence, war, genocide, and stupidity, and we see religions and factions circling the wagons around their own tiny identities, yet always it happens that something like Vatican II, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, or Pope Francis comes out of seeming nowhere! Where does this high level, enlightened thinking come from?

Well, the snow is still falling - and the sun is out. Stunning. Silent. Sacred.

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
     truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, 
     my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor; 
     God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Put your trust in him always, O people, 
     pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

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