Boredom

As a child I occasionally got bored.  I would go whining to my mother, who would give me some ideas about what to do that seldom suited me.  Nevertheless, it got me thinking and opening to what it was that I wanted to do and what it would take to get to do it.  The period of boredom let creativity and new ideas arise.

Today many of us live lives so full of work, family needs, electronic stimuli, and distractions that we never have time to be bored.  We may miss the chance to get out of the rut or off the gerbil wheel and hear a word of new direction or grace.  I remember suggesting to a clergyperson with whom I met in spiritual direction that he might want to reserve some unplanned time in his sabbatical.  Getting bored would give him time to empty out and be refilled.

Some years ago I attended a one-day centering prayer retreat, with three periods of centering prayer.  In my typical experience, I have a busy mind and return often to the sacred word I have chosen as a symbol of my intent to be open to the presence and action of God in my life.  That afternoon, in the final period of centering prayer, I wasn’t aware of that busyness.  In fact, as I reflected afterwards on the experience, I felt completely empty.  And that experience felt boring and uncomfortable.

Although I have continued to practice centering prayer, I haven’t wanted to try an extended retreat for fear I might encounter that emptiness and boredom again.  Only recently have I been enabled to see that what I received in that experience of centering prayer was “a gift of time that did not have to be filled.”  As Father Carl Arico of Contemplative Outreach told me, I was “already in God’s presence.”  I had in me “the emptiness that leads to spaciousness.”  When I experience boredom again, I will look for God’s presence and gift.

Queries:

What is your experience of boredom?

How might you find in your life that kind of emptiness that leads to spaciousness?  (Remember that it can come in moments as well as in hours and days.)

Prayer:

Set aside ten minutes.  Write or record one thing after another that concerns you until you run out of steam or out of time.  Place those concerns, literally or figuratively, in a sacred place (eg., under a rock, on a table, in your Bible), and let them go to the One who can carry them.

For further reflection:

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5).

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Sinners

I was reading Mark 2:13-17, the pre-selected passage in my morning devotional.  Jesus is walking along, sees Levi who is a tax collector for the Roman government (therefore a traitor to his people, the Jews, who are oppressed by Rome and their taxation), and invites Levi to follow him.  Levi does, and Jesus joins him for dinner, along with “many tax collectors and sinners.”  The seriously religious people of his day (they really cared about following the Torah) are very critical of his behavior.  Jesus explains that he is there for those in need and not for those who have it all together.  Suddenly I found myself glad to call myself a “sinner.”

But I don’t like the word “sin” or “sinner”!  They have often been used by people who see themselves positively while naming some other group as terrible, to be avoided and excluded.  The words make me think about being bad through and through and experiencing low self-esteem and life-denying shame—nothing to be glad about.

Yet as I listened and found myself in the Mark story, seeing myself as sinner felt strangely liberating.  I didn’t have to be better than others, to hold myself above the “fallen.”  I felt free simply to be human, to be me with the strengths and weaknesses that come with the package.  Knowing myself as sinner allows me to let go of the childhood sibling-rivalry-induced need to be at least as good as anybody else—to follow all the rules just right.  In this story of Jesus, as a sinner I know I am loved for who I am, not for what I can accomplish, how virtuous I am, or how well I can be on the “right side.”

It is okay to need a physician.  In truth, all of us do, but we don’t always know that.  I am one with all others.  Humility, compassion, care arise.  As I get older and experience diminishments, I needn’t fear.  Those losses can be opportunities for grace—provided that I know with Jesus I am a sinner, a beloved child of God.

Queries:

In what way might you need to be healed?

Who are the people you would criticize Jesus for eating with?

Prayer:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

For further reflection:

“When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly . . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (See Romans 5: 1-8).

“‘If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her’” (See John 8: 3-11).

Hurting

My husband Ralph took our grandsons John and Andrew skiing in Colorado over their spring break.  Andrew had been before and is an accomplished skier.  Ralph had taken John skiing years ago at a small ski area in West Virginia, but never in Colorado, so Ralph started him out in a beginners’ class in the resort’s ski school.  The necessary precautions were taken, but when John, following the instructor’s directions, started to ski down the mountain, he didn’t make it.  Instead he picked up speed and lost control, got his ski stuck in the snow, fell hard, and broke his leg quite badly.  The skiing was finished, and a trip to the Denver Children’s Hospital began the new challenges.

In Davidson a 49-year-old mother of four children had a business of pet-sitting and dog-walking.  At an intersection on Main Street that had a new crosswalk and pedestrian-crossing light, she got a walk-light and headed across the street with two dogs in tow.  At the same time a big garbage truck, with a green light, turned the very sharp left onto Main.  Neither the woman nor the driver of the truck saw each other until it was too late.  The woman and one of the dogs were killed.  The driver was taken away in handcuffs.  Word came quickly that no speeding and no alcohol were involved, and that the driver was a respected employee.

Both situations hurt to the core of my being.  I would like to lash out, be angry, and blame someone—as if that could change the situation.   With John, while I was home alone worrying about them, I spent one night imagining John’s trip down the mountain and trying to make the accident not happen—as I do when I have a scary dream and wake enough to try to imagine something different happening in the dream that will overcome the scariness.  Of course that didn’t change anything, and with both situations I am simply left with grief and a big hurt in my heart and my belly.

Where is comfort—for me and for those even more intimately involved?  Speaking for others seems cheap and wrong.  For me, I can do something to reach out and express care in some way.  I can share the hurting with others.  Holding it together makes the hurt a little lighter or less unbearable.  And I can cry out to God, hold it in the Light, lift it to the heart of Jesus, be still in the Presence.

Queries:

How have you or others you know handled the grief and hurt of a terrible situation you can’t change?

What spiritual resources give you comfort?

Prayer:

Divine Mercy, we long for your presence and healing touch.

For further reflection:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases”. . . (See Lamentations 3: 16-26).

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).