Tag Archives: letting go

That little pause

I’ve probably let you know in spurts that sometimes it feels like summer, the presumed magical pause for many of us, has been on overdrive over here.  With summer teaching for me, makeup medical appointments for Lucia, and moving for the three of us, it’s easy to see where the time has gone.

I’ve been blogging about this book draft that I’m eager to get out to publishers, and I’ve been a bit critical of myself along the way.  You see, I wish I’d had it out to publishers like in June.  That was really unrealistic, but you know how when you just want to get something off your plate and out into the world so you can move forward with other tasks and ideas?

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Photo credit: Terry League.

But yesterday, with the last class of the semester complete, no meetings on my schedule, and lovely light ahead of me, I had a free morning.  And instead of cramming it with burdened and anxious writing, I let my mind wander.  A colleague of mine had suggested another scholar who could be an interlocutor for me on the ideas of vulnerability, kinship, and need that are shaping my book.  And so I sat there for several hours without an agenda–I read and I wrote, dialoging back and forth with this other scholar about my ideas, without an end in sight.

And it was good.

It was good to be creative, to let go of the aims and simply pursue the thoughts and the ideas and trust that they would matter.  I think I eventually ended up with some insights that will help revise the little parts of my introduction that need revision.

But maybe not.

And the strange math of the week is that I still feel that I’ve accumulated something really valuable.  It’s the type of wild exploration that I’ve been begging my students to risk doing, despite the confines of their cramped summer semester.  “Dare to dream big,” I’ve said.  “Go for that big idea, take risks,” I’ve goaded them in their writing.

But I’ve got to live by my own wisdom.  I’ve got to carve space out for these creative pauses that excite, entice, and beckon without ulterior motives.  It’s the stuff of believing in the creative process, I think, but also believing in yourself.  Trusting yourself to manage this precious time that you’ve been given and valuing that good ideas need room to breathe, that a lot of the best stuff seeps out of us when we’re willing to work for it, wait for it, wrestle with it, and knead it a bit.

Another thing that I’ve been telling my students that I think goes hand in hand with these pauses is urging them not to turn in upon themselves and cower when the world rejects them.  I’ve told them that their worth can’t come from these things they think or produce or accomplish but rather who they know, trust, and love themselves to be.

And suddenly it makes sense to me.

If I truly believe that, too, then I’ll value and allow myself that morning in a coffee shop to simply think and wander because I’m not the sum of my accomplishments or my successes, but rather an artist whose thoughts and wisdom and goodness need to be lived out daily.  While I tell my students stuff like this all the time, I think it’s been a long time coming for me to admit that I’m a bit of an artist when it comes to words and ideas–that I’m a thinker and a dreamer, someone who likes to spin and sew and create with thoughts.

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Light pouring into my empty office in our new house.  My photo.

So thank you, dear students.  It seems I’ve learned something really valuable from you this semester.  It seems I’ve been reignited with the fire and excitement that comes from thinking.  It seems I’ve been given the freedom to explore again rather than put everything I do to a purpose, a publication, a deeper success.

And that feels good.

Thanks for giving to me this small, sweet truth.  And I’ll do my very best to honor it with a pause every once in awhile and believe in myself just a bit more.

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God’s sturdiness

When my spiritual director asks me what God feels like during trials or joys, it’s a hard question for me.

I’m a thinker.  

Ferreting out the feelings buried beneath all those lofty thoughts (ha!) does not come all that easily to me.

Hydrangeas in bloom.
Hydrangeas in bloom.

But I practice a lot.  

Just like any other discipline, I practice faith to grow in faith.  I practice the rhythms of letting go and listening, that also do not come all that naturally to me.  And gradually God makes it clear that God’s been there all alone, and yet, I come to experience God in new ways.

“Sturdy,” was my reply the other day, when my spiritual director asked about who God is to me lately.  It’s not in the Bible, although a host of other like adjectives– steadfast, firm, unshaking–do come to mind.

A church door in downtown Princeton.
A church door in downtown Princeton.

Sturdy feels humble, though, like it might have fit neatly into Jesus’ Aramaic vocabulary.  In the dictionary, one who is sturdy is strongly and solidly built, capable of withstanding rough work or treatment, and showing confidence or determination.

And when you think about it, despite some of the depictions of his fragile frame, withered on the cross, Jesus walked everywhere during his ministry, and he shouldered that heavy cross without complaint.

Jesus was rugged, dependable, and sturdy.

And I think the miracle of faith is that we, who are weak, whiny, and worrisome, we are invited to share in that sturdiness.  We carry it within us when we dare to give and receive love, when we refuse to abide by the ways of this world, but abide in God instead.  We become sturdy when we see and believe that God is making us new, by living in us and through us.

Walking with family in the desert.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Walking with family in the desert. Photo by Evan Schneider.

We become confident, not in ourselves, but in the sturdiness that inhabits hearts, hands, and feet.  Our fragile frames can endure great trials because of who God is, what God has done, and who we are becoming.

So this weekend, look for signs of sturdiness in those around you, in your life, in you.  You’re stronger than you think, because you carry not only the cross, but the resurrection within you.  

You, too, are a sturdy child of God.

Boating

A concept that came up in the passage I posted the other day, Philippians 2, is that of being emptied, as Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”  This is a concept that many who practice contemplative prayer identify with, and many cite the way Jesus himself needed to be emptied in the wilderness before he was ready to serve.

I’ve always struggled a bit with this idea of being empty, given that we are also made in the image of God, and therefore, what do we really need to be emptied of in order to know God more fully?

Richard Rohr, in his book Simplicity says that we need to empty our thoughts, feelings, and self-image to discover who we are to be in Christ, in order that we might be “tethered to the center,” and live fully.  Rohr encourages us to “imagine a river or a stream.  You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past.  While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of these vessels.  For example, one of the boats could be called ‘my anxiety about tomorrow.’  Or along comes the ship ‘objections to my husband,’ or the boat, ‘Oh, I don’t do that well.’  Every judgment that you pass is one of those boats.  Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.”

Rohr continues,

For some people this is a very difficult exercise, because we’re used to jumping aboard the boats immediately.  As soon as we own a boat, and identify with it, it picks up energy.  But what we have to practice is un-posessing, letting go…Some of the boats that are accustomed to our jumping aboard them immediately think we just didn’t see them the first time.  That’s why they head back upstream and return…

Some of you will feel the need to torpedo your boats.  But don’t attack them: this is also an exercise in nonviolence.  You aren’t allowed to hate your soul.  The point is to recognize things and to say, ‘That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.’  But do it very amiably.  If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into the world outside.

I tried sitting beside the stream last night and watching the boats go by.  It was amazing how the boats blipped onto my radar registering my inadequacies, self-doubt, and fears, and it was also freeing to watch them sail by, to release them, and in so doing, release myself from their pull.

Rohr says this is the practice of cultivating both a deep commitment to the world and to self-compassion and peace that passes all understanding.  As Rohr puts it, “You don’t need to win anymore; you just need to do what you need to do, as simplistic and naive as that might sound.  That’s why Augustine could make such an outrageous statement as ‘love God and do what you want!'”

I think about how many times I question who I am in Christ rather than boldly living in the reality of God’s awesome grace, simply, purely, and intentionally.  I think this is the power of contemplation, of going boating, in that it draws us toward that emptiness so we can experience the fullness, go out and love God and serve however we feel called.