On Disturbing the Universe

960D000A-3175-4D6F-9A36-3881E1569289You have no doubt heard about the mid life crisis. Perhaps you have even had one. I did at mid life. However, what’s more critical to me at this stage of my life is more appropriately called a late life crisis. And, lo and behold, I’m having one of those right now!

Am I in the right place? Do I need to retire nearer to my son and grandchildren? How do I live a fulfilled life while facing so many health challenges? Why did I move away from my best friend? How do I give back as I have always done now that my ministry career is over? Is it over? Is there more I could be doing? Should I write more, cook more, paint more, garden more? What in the world do I do with myself?

I recently read a book by Sue Monk Kidd,  When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions. I was stopped in my tracks by her words:

For some months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit. Back in the autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me . . . I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born. I was standing on the shifting ground of midlife, having come upon that time in life when one is summoned to an inner transformation, to a crossing over from one identity to another. When change-winds swirl through our lives . . . they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey.

I am there. Not in midlife, but in late life, and it is for me an existential crisis of spirit, definitely the time of “a new self struggling to be born.” To be sure, there are unlived parts of me, and I want to understand what exactly they are and how I can coax them to life. The ground beneath me is shifting, calling out to me to cross over from one identity to another. An inner transformation is most definitely in order for me, but how do I begin? Where do I begin? These are the questions of late life. And the symptoms? Dragging out old photos, very old photos. Looking up old friends. Examining your grandmother’s vintage jewelry. Scanning school yearbooks. All in a useless attempt at making the present as meaningful as you remember the past to be.

I sometimes agonize over my current life, wishing to dream just one more dream and to make it a reality. I worry about the future and wonder what the years ahead will bring. I want to still be relevant. I want to keep trying to change the world just as I used to. I want to stir things up and make waves in the quest for justice, just as I did in the past. I feel as if I have only two choices: to languish in the present or to find a way to be the me I used to be. And yet, something tells me that there is a third choice that involves some sort of transformation and the renewal of life, not as it used to be, but as it can be now, in the present season.

It is a quiet agony that I am experiencing. It happened to me when I came upon an unsuspecting darkness buried in late life and met the same overwhelming question that Sue Monk Kidd met: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

My family could be scandalized if I found new life. They might wonder if I had taken too much of a medication. They might worry that I will do something inappropriate. They might know that I simply do not have the kind of energy required for dreaming big, new, important dreams. And they would be mostly right.

And yet I refuse to measure out my life with coffee spoons. It’s way too safe for me. It’s not who I am, and I am completely convinced that there are unlived parts of me looking for a way to come to life. I have no idea what that would look like. I have no idea how I will manage to pull it off. But I need to disturb the universe. And the universe needs some disturbing!

May God guide me on the way, pour blessings on my dreams, and show me just how I might disturb the universe.

How Do You Live When You Know What’s Coming?

ABD2C8E4-5AA9-49EC-B771-A85BCDFBBD90How do you live when you know what’s coming? Jesus might have asked himself that question when the crowds were shouting “Hosanna!” and making a big deal of the fact that he was riding into town on a donkey. The Gospel of Mark tells the story well.

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

— Mark 11:8-11 New International Version

So how do you live when you know what’s coming? Jesus went to the temple as was his custom and then set off to Bethany with his disciples. He knew what was coming, yet he did nothing very earth shattering. He sent his disciples into the city to prepare for for the Passover meal they would share. They ate the meal together, Jesus told then they would all desert him, and each one declared that they would never do such a thing.

They did. But life went on as life does. The Gospel then continues the sorrow-filled story as Jesus goes on with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane.

. . . And Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.
And said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him.

He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”

So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

— Mark 14:33-46 New Internation Versioned

So now life is earth shattering for Jesus. How do you live when you know what’s coming?

Right now in deep Lent, this is a question we probably should ask. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I know what’s coming, at least some of what’s coming. There’s aging and illness, separation from children and grandchildren, the inevitable loss of loved ones, waning energy and more loss of independence. It happens to persons of a certain age. What’s coming for me includes things that are not so positive.So how do I live when I know what’s coming?

The preacher in me wants to offer a religious platitude that minimizes the troubling reality and lifts up abiding hope. The preacher in me wants to proclaim with a great deal of passion that all will be well. The preacher in me wants to declare that whatever happens to me, God will be glorified.

How do I live when I know what’s coming?

Right smack dab through the middle of it! Living strong in the face of fear. Holding tightly to hope. Summoning my inner courage. Standing steady through the winds of change, depending on the inner resilience that has always sustained me. That’s how I live in the days I have left in this world.

But, by the way, there really is a religious word that upholds and sustains me. The preacher in me is still alive and well, so I can proclaim with great certainty the comforting truth I find in my favorite passage of scripture

You have searched me, O God,
and you know me. You know whenI sit down and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways . .

You hem me in behind and before, you protect me, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful, too lofty for me to comprehend.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall your hand guide me and your right hand will hold me fast.

— Psalm 139:1-10 New International Version (paraphrased)

With that sacred promise and with the strength that has grown in me over many years, I really do know how to live when I know what’s coming. Thanks be to God.

Baffled

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Art by David Hoffrichter Illustrations

At times, I am baffled by retirement and aging. It’s one of those “wonder-what-to-do-with-myself” times that is a part of life. Like so many people, I allowed my work to define me. On the other side of a life of ministry, there is a great deal of grief and loss, and mostly bewilderment. I constantly ask myself the question I should have answered decades ago: “Who am I?”

It is definitely true of me that I no longer know what to do. Oh, I keep myself busy enough with trivial pursuits. I cook. I write. I paint. I garden. I do crafty things. But none of those pursuits are engaging enough to help me redefine myself as a person who has passed her years of full time work and ministry.

Certainly, many people say that once you are a minister you never lose your ordination, your gifts, your calling and your mission. But I wonder what that really means. There is no preaching or worship planning going on in my world these days, no hospital ministry, no funerals and no weddings to officiate. If my mission and calling is for life, what does that mean in terms of day to day living?

I have to admit that, though I am busy doing “stuff,” I no longer know what to do with myself. Fortunately, I recently found a smidgen of comfort in these words written by Wendell Berry.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— ‘The Real Work’ by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987.

So when all is said and done, perhaps it’s okay to be baffled. Maybe I can become that “impeded stream” and make a bit of music, filling these baffling days with singing. Just maybe, the writer of Ephesians had some very good advice for a person in my state of baffle-ment.

. . . be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

— Ephesians 5:18-20 New International Version (NIV)