Excerpts from Nouwen

For several months now, I have felt the need to be more grounded.  I have felt scattered, frayed at the tips of my being.  So, the other day I picked up a book at the library by the late Dutch Christian psychologist Henri Nouwen.  Even before I opened the cover  of this quiet book, I knew what needed to be done.  I always know.  And before you read the following words, you know. Why is it often so difficult to do those simple things – prioritize a morning quiet time, carve out a time for intentional exercise, retreat for a reflective moment in the afternoon.  I do none of them consistently.  It seems nearly impossible.  Is it any wonder I am not focused?

Fatigue, busyness, and preoccupation often serve as arguments for not praying.  Yet without this one hour a day for God, my life loses its coherence, and I start experiencing my days as a series of random incidents and accidents rather than divine appointments and encounters.

from Discernment by Henri Nouwen, pp. 113-114

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Yes!  Divine appointments and encounters.  How much more pressing do the trivialities of my day seem when recognizing they are really moments designed by God?  How much better prepared do I wish to be when I am able to slow down and see that the monotony (or stress) of the day is actually opportunity after opportunity to show Christ’s love?

Who knows but that placing my phone back in my purse is all my son needed to open up and talk?  If I have not been grounded in my day, focused on Him in my spirit, I may not have sensed the need to speak to the woman in the grocery store line.  I may not have been able to discern the gentle stirring within me-   the conversation with my boys in the car as we wait in heavy traffic,  a “coincidental” meeting of someone in need, an opportunity to pray with someone or for someone… These are not “random incidents and accidents.”  How do I know?

God cannot be caught once and for all or contained for all time in a system of titles, names, nature, and events. But God lets himself be suspected!  Therefore, when we pray to God or search for God in silence, we learn to recognize him in the many little ideas, meetings, happenings, signs, and wonders along the way.

p. 93

Only through daily practice, confirms Nouwen, can we begin to hear and discern the voice of God within us.  Christ says this too.  Not only in his parables on prayer, but also through the parable of his life.  He leads our days.

 

Resources: “What is that in your hand?”

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What is the mightiest tool I possess?  A keyboard?  A recipe for spaghetti puttanesca?  A seemingly pointless master’s degree in Slav(on)ic  studies?  These meager resources seem insufficient to tackle the task at hand- namely, raising three boys from childhood to boyhood, and eventually to manhood with grace, strength, consistency and wisdom, turning their hearts solidly toward God.  It is more than I could do on my own.  It is more than any of us can do.  As I sigh over bread crumbs kicked into distant kitchen corners, or over another petty squabble between my boys, or even a missed opportunity to encourage someone, my impoverished resources appear pathetic.  As I focus on my weaknesses, I largely see problems and never solutions.  I get bogged down in the now and forget to rejoice over the future’s victories.

I see my puttanesca recipe only as a means of getting dinner on the table until I remember a couple of loaves of bread .

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?

John 6:9

My arms seem weak and tired until I recall a shepherd’s staff.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

Exodus 4:2

A random and ancient oxgoad.  A slingshot and a smooth, well-chosen stone near running water.

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.  He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Could they be synonymous with a pen’s scribblings?  A healing conversation?  With words of truth spoken in earnest?

What they have in common is their negligibility.  They are nominally useful things in human hands.  Yet in the hands of a foreign judge, backed by the LORD Almighty, an entire nation gains freedom by way of a farm tool.  Guided by the Jewish Messiah, surrounded by crowds, a boy relinquishes his lunch and feeds thousands, highlighting deity in human form for all in the vicinity.  Leaning on a staff a shepherd strikes fear in the world’s leading ancient empire.  Alone in a remote town, among an insignificant tribe, a married couple turns construction and home design into a powerful sanctuary for a holy prophet.

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.  Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4:10

Whatever we find in our hand He infuses with power and substance and relevance.

And there are times that as we search about us we may discover that we have inadvertently dropped whatever had been in our hands.  There is no longer a shepherd’s staff or even a small stone.  Or maybe we had never even grasped anything at all.  A flash of light, a midnight escape in a basket, (Acts 9:23-25) a couple of Roman floggings, and we no longer possess our prestigious diploma in the Torah.

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And that is when we fall, only to take up the most powerful tool of all – prayer.

Breaking Bread

When we sit down at a table with someone to share a meal, we can pretend we are from a culture which no longer understands the ancient practices of acceptance and hospitality, but deep down we know this to be false.  We do understand. Even the most modern and hurried corner of our souls appreciates the act of breaking bread with someone, particularly if it is food made at home by hands we know.  Food is personal.  Food honors the one to whom it is given.  It not only meets a physical, daily requirement, it is spiritual.  In sharing a meal, we admit to seeing God’s presence in another person.

Although the term breaking bread in the book of Acts is used interchangeably both for sharing a common meal as well as the symbolic act of the Lord’s Supper, they were likely not as separate as we view them today.  Eating dinner with someone echoed the spiritual nourishment and confession that was part of the early church’s Eucharist practice.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread…So they prepared the Passover.  When the hour came Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table…After taking the cup, he gave thanks and broke it…”

Luke 22:7,13-14, 17,19

Bread and oil
Bread and oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.

Acts 2:42, 46

…the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food….Brothers, choose seven men from among you…we will turn this responsibility over to them.

Acts 6:13

raspberries, plums and peaches
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Acts 9:18-19

..[God] has shown you kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.

Acts 14:17

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[Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance…Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.

‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied, ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.

The voice spoke to him  a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

Acts 10:10, 13-15

Pears and frisee with prosicutto

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23

When [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.  ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘Come and stay at my house.’  And she persuaded us.

Acts 16:15

The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.

Acts 16:34

Chicken adobo with saffron riceOn the first day of the week we came together to break bread.

Acts 20:7
Just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat.  ‘For the last fourteen days…you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food.  You need it to survive…’  After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Acts 27:33-36

Luke’s emphasis in these quotes is on bread and fellowship. Through this  series of quotations, the first-century Christian physician and historian begins with Jesus to illustrate how a mundane, daily act signified something greater. Breaking bread is, in actuality, a healing, continuing thread, a holy rite. It is simultaneously recognizing our dependence on God and our love for one another.

 

 

 

 

Touring the Trees

After the winter of continuously plummeting temperatures and persistent ice, came the message of the harbingers of doom for the summer: it would be unbearably hot and sticky.  And yet, the last few weeks have found the Midwest enjoying gorgeously mild temperatures and azure skies with only intermittent days of storms and rain.  Beautiful.  Gently breezy.  Lush with leaves.  Let me just walk into my flip flops and I am out the door.

Both with and without my children I have been on walking trails, about the city, in parks, through mature neighborhoods, and sightseeing about the town I now call home.  A tour of the trees.  Here are a few I share with you all.

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

-Willa Cather in O, Pioneers

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119. Trees

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 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.

– Joyce Kilmer

Enjoy the various locales about the greater Indianapolis area through the trees.

Traders Point Creamery

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If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith!

– Luke 12:28

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The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.

-Proverbs 11:30

Holliday Park

Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up- up-up into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then, I’d just feel a prayer.

-L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables

 

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Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the LORD…

-Psalm 96:12-13

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Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?

– Walt Whitman

 

Grounds about the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and 100 Acres

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I couldn’t live where there were no trees- something vital in me would starve.

-L.M. Montgomery in Anne’s House of Dreams

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The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

-John Muir

Around my suburban trails

American Sycamore

That each day I may walk unceasingly on the banks of my water, that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees which I planted, that I may refresh myself under the shadow of my sycamore.

-Egyptian tomb inscription, circa 1400BCE

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 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

-Psalm 100:1

DSC_0086_2510Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

-Psalm 90:1

And for those ultra-local….

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Can you name this location on a windy road?

 

Jealous of Thoreau

I am jealous of Henry David Thoreau.  Yes, I do know he is deceased, but I cannot help it.  I am still jealous.

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After reading several chapters of My Side of the Mountain, a story of a New York boy who decides to live out on his own in the Catskills, A is doing some preliminary reading on Thoreau.  As he  is starting to do some research for his eventual essay, I began to re-read bits of Walden, various quotes from other sources and came upon this –

I think I cannot preserve my health  and spirits unless I spend four hours a day…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

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Exactly!  If I could just spend half my waking hours away from all people, I would be replenished and peaceful.  I could handle the rest of the day.  This is fairly close to how I spent some of my time in my 20s.  It was glorious.  I was a Thoreau in a city park.  Now, I am a mom of three boys with scarcely a moment to myself.  Mr. Thoreau, my spirits are failing, but a hibernation to Walden Pond  seems impossible.  Four hours a day?  Four consecutive minutes seems a stretch.

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Given the opportunity I would not change my life, but am I the only one who complains about what I do have?  The children are needy.  Life, at times, seems tedious, and I can be easily preoccupied.  My schedule is crowded.  The house constantly needs attention.  Mr. Thoreau, how do I carry with me the quietude of the forest?

 Beautiful, beautiful day!

Mr. Thoreau, I think I may be talking to the wrong person.

 study in sunlight and leaves

Jesus was constantly surrounded by people.  They were always following him and grabbing for him.  They were needy and insensitive.  He had a great deal he wanted to accomplish in any given day.  Did he get distracted?  He was often side-tracked by the crowds.  He was never able to spend four hours a day sauntering anywhere.  And yet his “health and spirits” always seemed strong.  Even in fatigue he never lost his temper; his compassion and vision for people never faded.  He had the eyes and heart of God.  He had an insatiable desire to spend time with his father.  He pulled away.  Even for a moment.  Often times a moment was all he was afforded.  Yet it was enough.

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:15-16

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers!"  -L.M. Montgomery

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Mark 1:35

Jesus, teach me to pray.  And let it be enough.