Control

If you ever thought you were in control of what happens around you, a bathroom remodel project will put an end to that illusion.  The people working on the project at my house are excellent craftsmen and very fine people.  But life doesn’t follow orders from a contractor.  Competent sub-contractors are in demand; I seldom know who is showing up or when they’ll be here—even if they tell me a time.  Planning the rest of my life takes on the same maybe or maybe-not quality.

Trying to be in control simply brings upset and anxiety.  Life works much better by going with the flow and being curious about what will happen.  It can be that the time when people do arrive is actually more advantageous than when they said they would come.

Yesterday at the Contemplative Practices group our song leader introduced us to a new chant, sung in Spanish, based on words from St. Teresa of AvilaNada te turbe, nada te espante.  Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta.  Solo Dios basta.  It presents the opposite of trying to be in control.  Essentially the song says that whoever rests and trusts in God will not be made anxious or upset, and will lack for nothing because God is all that is needed.

I know there are too many people who go to bed hungry, who don’t have money to pay the month’s rent or the electricity bill, who can’t afford medical care, who are running for their lives and have no home.  To be true, Teresa’s words have to be about something more fundamental than basic needs or even survival.  I think she means that God, as the source of Life—its creator and sustainer and redeemer– reaches toward us in Love, in a way that changes everything.  If we can know and receive that Life and Love, we can endure with a kind of peace whatever comes our way.  God alone, and only God, is enough.  We have to have nothing more.

The chant puts my situation in perspective.

Queries:

How does trying to be in control create barriers to God in your life?

How true are Teresa’s words in your experience?

Prayer:

YHWH, the name of God, is unpronounceable.  It is more like the sound of a breath. By breathing in and sounding YH (or Yah), then breathing out and sounding WH (or Weh), you can invite God’s presence and indicate your intent to be open to God.  Repeat the breathing, slow and easy, moving the lips very slightly for as long as you wish to meditate.  You can also do this breathing prayer in moments of tension or upset to turn the situation over to God and allow yourself to be calmed.

For further reflection:

“I am the vine you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

“O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit” (See Psalm 30).

Blessed Are the Meek

Following the lectionary on a recent Sunday, I read what are called “The Beatitudes,” the first words of Jesus’ teaching ministry recorded in the gospel of Matthew—a listing of conditions that result in blessedness or in being happy.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” caught my attention.  “Safe are the strong for they will have power over everyone else on earth” seems more like what we think today.  Milquetoast, pushover, weak, passive, unassertive, timid are words usually associated with meek.  These are not words we value or desire to be.  What was Jesus talking about?

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus identifies himself as meek and promises that being associated (yoked) with him brings rest and a light burden.  Not weak or timid is this meekness that he claims; Jesus is not a pushover.  Neither is he concerned about worldly status or having power over others.  His meekness is about living in compassion, humility, mutuality, and being grounded in relationship with God.

This meekness offers a different kind of strength.  Some people today call that kind of strength “soft power.”  It is power to persevere.  It is being fully who one is without the burden of trying to please or impress others or of being in charge of everything.  It reminds me of the Civil Rights song, “We shall not be moved.”  It makes me think of the three African-American female mathematicians (Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson) whose work was so crucial to NASA in its early years, whose story is told in the movie Hidden Figures. Their position in society did not allow them to challenge openly the racist and sexist conditions under which they worked.  They took what was imposed on them, persevered, and never let their oppression define them.  I would say they were yoked with Jesus and the “meekness” they displayed was the kind that inherits the earth and changes the world.

Blessed is not a matter of having material treasures and prosperity, or having status, or having the required virtues, but a description of what it is to live in God, which often includes suffering.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. . .”  And being blessed is not something that happens after death in an unearthly exalted place called heaven.  “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”  The beatitudes are descriptive of what it is like to live in the reign of God—something we can know in part and experience now.

Queries:

Could or would you choose to be meek as Jesus intends it?  With Jesus what would it mean to be meek in the care of the earth?

If blessings are not worldly treasures, how do you experience being blessed, if you do?

Prayer:

Gift us with humility, compassion, and courage for just action in unity with You.

For further reference:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  (See Matthew 11: 28-30.)

“. . . the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace (See Psalm 37: 1-17).

Wisdom

James Baldwin wrote, “My progress report concerning my journey to the palace of wisdom is discouraging.  I lack certain indispensable aptitudes.  Furthermore, it appears that I packed the wrong things.”

I am in the middle of a project to repair and remodel two bathrooms in my house.  Because the pipes within and from my house to the sewer system have very little fall, I need a new toilet that uses 1.6 gallons per flush rather than the new standard of 1.28 gpf in order to have adequate flow for the gravity system to work.  Much to my delight I was able to order online one that met my needs.

The toilet came by freight truck.  But because there was no way the truck could actually get to my house on the narrow streets and around tight corners, I suddenly had to scramble to find a way to meet the truck and collect the heavy and bulky freight.

Weeks later the plumber came to install one of the toilets—a great source of excitement because it meant that the project was finally underway.  However, I discovered then that I had failed to get the comfort-height that we needed and that the elongated toilet bowl that I had bought extended further into the room than I had expected.  Disappointment took over.

Then after using the toilet I discovered it flushes quickly and quietly—a big improvement.  And the elongated bowl being thin allows the cabinet doors to open better than they had before.

My lack of knowledge and failure to be attentive to all the details has taken me on a roller coaster ride.  And the journey has just begun.

My mistakes have been costly, but I have learned a lot.  Having been a perfectionist most of my life, this experience would earlier have flattened me.  Instead, I have learned that a bathroom is a small matter in the whole scheme of things.  I have had a choice to laugh or cry and I have chosen to laugh; the saga (and there is more I didn’t tell) really is funny.  And I’ve had more practice seeing and swallowing that I make mistakes just like everyone else.  It never hurts to know the absurdity of chasing perfection.

Says St. Catherine of Siena: “Wisdom is so kind and wise that wherever you may look you can learn something about God.  Why would not the omnipresent teach that way?”

Queries:

How are you doing on your “journey to the palace of wisdom”?

How well do you use your experience of life to “learn something about God”?

Prayer:

Gracious, merciful, and loving God, help us keep perspective on what really matters and hold fast to You.

For further reflection:

“. . . neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers . . . , nor height, nor depth . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (See Romans 8: 31-39).

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (See Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8).