Another Gray Day

My mood is definitely affected by the weather.  One gray day after another can be hard.  Of course there are some good things about gray days.  They may be warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer; and they provide one of the conditions for things to grow.  A gray day also invites rest and reflection.

But when I am really looking forward to a break in the heat or the cold and enjoying more time outdoors, the gray is especially challenging.  How do we deal with the gloom, low spirits, and lack of energy that can accompany a succession of gray days or a period of spiritual dryness?  Of course every situation is different and every personality distinct.  But here are some possibilities.

Remember that this period will not last forever.  The weather will change and so will you.  Don’t fight the gloom.  Accept it for what it is and find its gifts for you.  Spend time resting, reading, praying in silence.  Perhaps it is a time to dig deep within yourself to find what is going on inside.  Maybe there is a lament that deserves to be heard.  Or questions, frustrations, doubts, or dreams that need the light of day.  If nothing else, it is a time to cultivate patience, faithful waiting, and persistence.

Stability of heart is the Benedictine vow that Joan Chittister highlights for times like these.  It is holding fast to one’s commitment made in clearer times—to the life of the soul, faithfulness to the community of which one is a part, and trust and perseverance in seeking God.  “Stability of heart tells us that the prayer, and the work, and the service, and the study, and the reading and the believing are worth it, even when all of it has never felt more useless, more pointless, more empty of the God we had hoped to find there.” (Joan Chittister, The Monastery of the Heart, chapter 20.)

Queries:

What gifts have you found in gray days or periods of spiritual dryness?

What are the core values to which you want to remain committed?

Prayer:

Maintain your usual prayer practices, even if you wonder about their value.

For further reflection:

“[T]he way we deal with whatever happens to us on the outside will depend entirely on what we have become on the inside.  Wherever we have fixed our hearts, whatever it is to which we have given them, will determine the way we experience all that is happening to us now.”  (Joan Chittister, The Monastery of the Heart, chapter 20.)

“Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord God is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt . . .” (George Fox, 1663.)

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Chimney Swifts

At a retreat center at dusk on a September evening I saw chimney swifts flying in a circle the shape of an elongated doughnut, maybe the size of the stands surrounding half of a basketball court.  Their wings flapped very rapidly and they made lots of chippering noise, kind of squeaky.  Round and round they went above the center’s bell tower.  And then as they circled, the birds began to drop into the tower, one at a time.  It was a magical sight.

Long ago Chimney Swifts used to settle in hollow trees, holding onto the inside of the tree trunk because they are not able to perch like songbirds.  When the land was cleared and chimneys appeared, the Swifts adapted.  As I watched the birds, I couldn’t tell how they knew whose turn it was nor how their flapping flight stopped as they turned straight down to drop into the tower—one after another.  All I could conclude was that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Our creator is an awesome God.

It appeared that they depend on being in community.  The circling together seemed to create the conditions for them to be able to enter the bell tower opening one at a time.  They never pushed or shoved or rejected anyone.  There was room for all.  I think we humans also are created to be in community, in relationship.  Some Christians see the Trinity as demonstrating that point.  We are not independent, self-sufficient individuals.  We succeed best when we care for and cooperate with each other, when there is a place for all.  The individual survives best when the whole group thrives.

When the birds had all entered the tower and night had fallen, the loud chippering sounds we had heard became deep quiet.  I suppose they were resting or asleep.  Their behavior brought to mind the experience of entering into contemplative silence or into unprogrammed Quaker worship.  At the beginning our minds can be loud and chatty.  Gradually we center down.  And eventually we rest in the quiet, abiding in a God who loves all.

Queries:

What has led you to sing a song of praise of our Creator?

A time of busyness and activity and a time of quiet and rest are both important in our lives and faith.  How are those times balanced in your life?

Prayer:

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95: 1).  Spend time in nature, or in whatever lets you see God’s wonder and calls forth your praise.

For further reflection:

“ ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where you want to be, . . .  [Simple Gifts]

“Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.”  [Dear Lord and Father of Mankind]

Compassion

Out of curiosity I went one night to a Racists Anonymous meeting.  We were a small group of many colors who had arrived there from different routes.  One had been sensitized to racism by connections with LGBT people and issues; another by discovering his unconscious prejudice against the South and southern people only after he happened to move there.  Being aware of what prejudice feels like and does to one group that is discriminated against can tender one’s heart to how other groups are treated and to one’s own participation in that system of discrimination.

I think attending such a group could help me live a more compassionate life, a call to which is a clear part of Jesus’ message.  He spent time with, touched, and told stories of persons who were outsiders in his day—lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, women.  Our tendency is to see a particular person and make judgments about that person based on assumptions and fixed ideas about a whole group of people.  Sometimes such notions protect us from foolish mistakes, but other times they close us off from presence and compassion: just what Jesus wants us to know.

True compassion isn’t comfortable.  Jesus teaches that we should first take the wooden beam out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye.  To have compassion is to uncover things in ourselves that we would rather not see, to look within rather than to criticize or blame others.  A lot of unraveling of defenses has to take place in order to be present to others and to care about them.

At the Racists Anonymous meeting I felt the vulnerability, self-giving, deep caring, and humility that go with compassion.  We weren’t taking care of anybody or fixing anyone.  We were trying to listen, learn, and respect.   And we were calling on the only One who can gift us with true compassion.

Queries:

What is my responsibility to my neighbor?  And who is my neighbor?

Where are there hard edges in me?  If I look at them in God’s light, what will I see and hear?

Prayer:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).

For further reflection:

“Now I know that you [Elijah] are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (See I Kings 17: 8-24, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath).

“Was none of them [the ten lepers] found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  (See Luke 17: 11-19).

Living in Unknowing

I read an article in the newspaper saying that the time to dig up iris and divide them is July-August.  At the very end of August (and into September), I decided that for the first time in twenty years (instead of every three or four years) I would dig up my iris.  The little garden plot had become a jungle of long leaves, and the iris had not bloomed well this spring.  Having put off the digging up and dividing for years because I didn’t know how to do it, I turned to YouTube and watched two videos about how to do it and how easy it was.

I am amazed at how many iris came out of the garden and how few went back in where they had been.  The process was far from easy, and without an experienced person to answer my questions live on the spot, I have no certainty that what I did in the digging up phase or in the planting phase will result in healthy and blooming iris next spring.  Now what I can do is water and wait.

So much of life is like that.  At the end of a certain project what will come next?  Will there be another project and more work?  We really can’t know.  Or, we may have inner clarity that a move is in order, but what we will face in preparing to move and being in the new place is largely unknown.  We may be able to read some guides, get some information, but ultimately we don’t really know what will come.

I think I get captured by fear of failure, fear of being shamed, and that fear can keep me from going forward.  But there is another perspective—knowing God loves us.

All the little things in our lives are part of a much bigger picture.  God is very much in the midst of failures as well as successes, good beyond measure can come even from defeat,  life is full of surprises.  And staying stuck in fear can let your iris turn into a tangled jungle that is much harder to deal with, and with more to lose, than if you had taken the risk of doing the work earlier.

Queries:

Where does fear of the unknown show up in your life?

What helps you live in times and situations of unknowing?

Prayer:

O God, you call us from our settled ways, out of old habits and rutted traditions.  You call us into the land of promise, to new life and new possibilities.  . . Deliver us from false security and comfort, desire for ease and uninvolved days.  Let your Word and Spirit dwell in us that your will may be fulfilled in us for the well-being and shalom of all.  (Vienna Cobb Anderson, Prayers of our Hearts in Word and Action)

For further reflection:

“Then Mary said . . . , ‘Let it be with me according to your word’ (See Luke 1: 26-38).

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (See Genesis 12: 1-9).