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).

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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).

Trusting in the One Who Gives Life

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3: 5). I memorized this verse as a child. If it could live in my heart as well as in my memory, my life could flow more peacefully.

I had felt spiritually dry and adrift. I wanted to do something or read something that could change my condition, but was at a loss about what that could be. I felt anxious, but I knew I had to trust and wait, as uncomfortable as that was. A few days later I was on my way to Charleston for a family occasion over the weekend during which I would have some time to read. I went to my bookshelves. There was a book whose title drew me. I didn’t know the book and was curious what it might say. Sure enough, when I was waiting in my motel room and picked up the book, the words poured from the book and into my heart. It was just the right book at just the right time. I’ve had that experience enough times that you would think I would trust in its happening and be able to avoid the anxiety.

Someone made discouraging comments to me about my writing, saying that my topics were too big to cover in such a short space. The one I was writing that day left me certain that she was right, and I felt blue. I prayed that God would send me encouragement if I was to keep writing. My low spirits have been lifted often by something unanticipated that seemed like a special gift from God, so I prayed remembering that kind of experience, trying to avoid getting stuck in my feelings. That afternoon, when I went for a haircut, the woman who cuts my hair had recently come back from a family funeral. Before we knew it, she was telling me about her spiritual experiences and some times of being hurt. When I told her about what I was writing, she was very excited, because my words directly spoke to her condition and encouraged her. I left with a nice haircut and a cheerful spirit. Wow! What a quick and joyful answer to my prayer.

A blessing of being older is being able to remember past experiences that remind me that God is trustworthy. When I can relax into that confidence, I can let go my need to control, and I can go forward with curiosity instead of anxiety and despair.

Queries:

How well are you able to trust in yourself? In God?

What experience of surprises that seem like gifts do you remember? What might help you notice them?

Prayer:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

For further reflection:

Read the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria, John 4: 1-30.

“I am about to do a new thing . . .” (See Isaiah 43: 18-19).