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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

That Eye-On-The-Object Look

by W. H. Auden


You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.


I was fishing a local trout stream last summer, my attention fixed on a fish that was rising nearby, casting without thinking, forgetting myself in a function.

I looked up and there on the bank I spied an acquaintance...Dave Tucker, a nationally known fly-fishing guide and outfitter. Immediately I became aware of my own performance, bungled the next cast and put the fish down. So it is when we turn our attention away from the function at hand and think about ourselves.

"Forgetting myself in a function." Auden's phrase comes to mind when I'm in the presence of a friend. How often have I allowed my attention to wander away: wondering how I look, how I'm perceived, what this person thinks of me.

No, my "function" then is to attend, to concentrate, to listen carefully, to be fully present in rapt attention, concentrating on the one in front of me to the exclusion of everything and everyone else--forgetting myself in a function.

"How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look."

DHR

[1] Excerpted from a longer poem

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Carolyn's recent "Morning by Morning"...

A Splendored Thing

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—that would be Texas, 1955—I was a freshman in college. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing won the Academy Award that year for best song. I can still get swept up in the melody and words of that romantic ballad. And I can joyfully attest that “true love is a many splendored thing,” especially between a husband and a wife. Sweet and strong, with new discoveries always on the horizon.

Scripture tells me God is love. It is His essence. The love of God is the original many splendored thing, an entity with splendors greater and more numerous than any other kind of love. Like a dazzling diamond this love of God has many sparkling facets, too many in fact to name. His is a covenant love, faithful, wise, strong, unconditional, just, tough yet full of tender compassion, full of beauty and truth.

One radiant facet of God’s love, one quality that defines Him, is mercy. Indeed, His mercies never fail. They are new every morning. Mercy is the disposition to show kindness, forgiveness and help, especially when shown to an offender or somebody a person has power over. This is who God is! But, whether because of temperament, or wounds we have received from the unmerciful or the deception of the Enemy who is called “the Accuser of the brethren,” it is often hard for us to live at peace and joy under the Mercy. This is especially true when we have failed or when we think who we are or what we are doing is not good enough. Yet this is exactly the situation when the quality of mercy shines brightest and is eagerly offered by a God who loves His children well. When we fail His mercy does not fail. It is a good thing to understand, appropriate and live joyfully in the mercy of God. As we let this splendorous facet of God’s love permeate our lives, we can begin to look at others—especially those in our lives who are failing or not getting it right— with merciful hearts and then we can make room for them to walk beside us under the Mercy.

Perhaps today you need His mercy. (Don’t we all?) Perhaps today there is someone in your life who needs from you the same mercy as you have received—someone in your family, in your classroom, at your work or in the store. Today can be a new beginning. One morning recently I was touched as I read the following. It is a beautiful picture I don’t ever want to forget.

Under the Mercy,

Carolyn

***

Recently I was in a doctor’s office…when a young mother with long brown hair and a gentle face entered, pushing in a wheelchair a child three or four years old. The child obviously was disabled: her hands unable to grasp anything, her arms and legs flailing helplessly, her eyes unable to hold focus. Her voice could not make syllables but only squeals or little wails. The mother positioned the child’s chair so that they were face-to-face. She began softly singing and doing the hand motions to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” directly in front of the child’s face, to attract her attention. She repeated it over and over, sometimes catching the child’s hand and kissing it, stroking her hair; she looked into the child’s eyes and whispered, with enormous tenderness, “I love you.” For a moment, I felt like an unwitting intruder into a sacred space.

Is this how we are, I wondered, before our God who wants to love us just this tenderly? Our limbs flailing aimlessly, unable to unify our energies to respond to the gift of life we have been given; our eyes unable to focus on the love God tries over and over in so many ways to reveal to us; our voices unable to respond coherently to this God whom our minds cannot comprehend? And is that why we so often turn to the word mercy when we want to speak of our God?

When God’s love touches us in our neediness, the sorrow and suffering inherent in the human condition, we name it mercy. Mercy is perhaps the loveliest of all God’s qualifies. This is the love that reaches into the dark space of our flailing and our failing, our losing and our dying. Mercy enters that space, picks us up and holds us tenderly until we are healed. Little by little, this love draws our groping hands and wasted energies to purposeful service; it looks directly into our uncomprehending eyes, hears our futile wail, and says, “No matter, I love you anyway. Come on…” And so mercy brings us to ever–new life.

—From “Living in the Mercy” by Elaine M. Prevallet in Weavings, September/October 2000

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Trees

By Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

In the quietness of my final years I intend to watch a tree grow. It's a birch tree I planted as a tiny sapling over thirty years ago. It stands now in mature splendor, just outside our living room picture window, beautiful in every season of the year.

Occasionally I hear from folks I ministered to years ago. I discover to my great delight that, though I've lost sight of them, they've continued to grow in grace and godlikeness. It's a gentle reminder that I may plant and water for a while, but only God can make tree.

Herman theologian Helmut Thielike wrote, "The man who doesn't know how to let go, who is a stranger to quiet confident joy in him who carries out his purposes without us (or also through us or in spite of us), in him who makes trees grow... that man will become but a miserable creature in his old age... Can the reason why many aging people are melancholy and fearful of having the door shut upon them be that for decades they have never been able to 'let go and let God' and now can no longer see a tree growing and therefore are nothing but run-down merry-go-rounds?"[1]

And so, in my final years, though I may yet plant a sapling or two, mostly, I intend to watch my trees grow.

DHR

[1] The Waiting Father, James Clarke & Co. Ltd Cambridge, 1978, p. 86,87.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hast That Wastes

There's this fellow I know who's always in a hurry. I've forgotten his name but I'll never forget his pace.

He's involved in everything that goes on down at the church: He's a chairman of committees, a leader of small groups, a teacher of small children, a whirlwind of pious fervor and activity. His life is full of bother and commotion. You can pick him out of any group: He's the one who wrings his hands every fifteen minutes or so; the one with a foot of tongue hanging out. Just being around him makes me tired.

But his hectic pace doesn't seem right to me. In the first place, I don't see Jesus running about like that. He was never in a hurry! He had an infinite job to do and only three and one-half years to do it, yet there's no trace of urgency in his work. He never seemed hassled or harried. Even when people made impossible demands on him, his manner was measured and slow.

Furthermore, Jesus didn't make it his practice to tell others to hurry. In fact, the only person he ever prodded into activity was Judas: "What you are about to do, do quickly," he said (Jn. 13:27).

I keep wondering, therefore, why my friend imposes this tyrannical routine upon himself. No one is driving him; the pressure seems to come from within. Perhaps his drivenness is in some way an atonement for a guilt-ridden ego, his sacrificial offering for the plagues of his past. Or perhaps he has something to prove-to his father, or God or to himself.

I don't know why my friend works so hard but I know why I'm inclined to do so: For some reason, much of my self-esteem is determined by what I do. That's why I get restless and unhappy when I'm inactive, and that's why I have to do more-far more than God or anyone else ever intended for me to do, far more than God designed my body to do. In fact, in my eccentric way, the busier I am the better I feel about myself. I feel best when I'm on the verge of exhaustion.

Jesus, on the other hand, didn't have to stay busy because he knew that God's children don't have to prove anything. They're been fully accepted in God's Beloved One. Even when they're doing nothing that seems to be significant, they are significant because they're dear to the Father. Jesus knew, and he teaches us to know, that our self-identity doesn't arise from what we do but from what we are-fully accepted and beloved children of God.

Once when Jesus' disciples returned from a mission and excitedly reported their success, he countered with the mild rebuke: "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The disciples felt good about themselves because they had done well. And they had. But far better, Jesus observed, to get one's joy from the knowledge that we're special to God, that he knows our names and sees them written in his book!

The Bible everywhere teaches that God is under-whelmed by our best efforts and unimpressed with our most spectacular achievements. It's not what we do for him that matters nor should it matter much to us. What matters most is what we are to him.

The Father's words at Jesus' baptism are significant: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). What had Jesus done? What had he accomplished that merited such unqualified acceptance and admiration? He hadn't yet delivered a sermon, delivered a sinner or done any of his so-called "mighty deeds." He had, in fact, done nothing we normally associate with greatness and the Father's "Well done!"

He was pleasing to the Father merely because he was God's beloved son. That's all.

And what's true of him is true of us as well. Our Father delights in us (Psalm 18:19). He loves us whether we're worthy or unworthy; whether we're faithful or unfaithful. He loves us without boundary or limit. No matter what we do or leave undone he cannot stop liking us.

And so, we don't have to do anything to feel good about ourselves; we don't always have to be in a hurry. We can run in the slow lane. We can make time for the peace of God to rule our hearts and minds. We can take an hour each day or a portion of a day each week to be alone with Him. We can take time to "howdy" with our friends and neighbors. We can take a day-off each week. We can take a vacation. We can miss a meeting or two. We can leave some tasks undone at the end of each day and go home. We can take time to talk and take long walks with our spouses and kids. We can hunt, fish and golf with our friends.[1]

Like Satchel Paige, when we work we can work hard, but when we sit, we can sit loose. We don't have to be dogged and driven by our work. We don't have to prove anything because we don't have anything left to prove. We're already approved. The good news is that of God's uplifting and everlasting acceptance.[2]

DHR

[1] All of which reminds me a conversation between Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther. Philipp: "Martin, this day we will discuss the governance of universe." Martin: "This day you and I will go fishing and leave governance of the universe to God."
[2] From my book on ministry principles, A Burden Shared.