It’s Been a Week…

 

I don’t know what kind of week you have been having, or what kind of words you’ve been encountering, but this is been a relatively rough one for my community.

The words I have encountered this week or words like:

“cancer” 

“overdose”

“suicide”

It goes without saying, but these are not the type of words that we’d prefer to see and hear in a week.

On the other hand, it seems all too common.

So how do I respond? What do I do when those words enter my reality?

I can certainly rail and rage against them. That’s an option that is easy to embrace. But for me, I eventually come up against something that I cannot control, be it other people, disease, (or even broken politics and a pathological culture)

But then again, I am driven back to the simple reality of accepting the things I have no control over, and embracing what I can control (which is mostly my reaction to all of this stuff).

Two thoughts that help me:

First, I am reminded that life goes on. I remember walking the streets of Chicago with my wife on September 11, 2001. everywhere was under silence, exacerbated by the fact that all air planes were grounded, but that reality was shattered when we heard people laughing at a joke. We felt so violated, like that time and space and silence was sacred. Even in the midst of devastating sadness, somewhere a baby will be born; there will be genuine laughter and care in a family somewhere; new, creative work will be done to make the world a better place. When I was younger, as I encountered pain in the world I would expect the whole world around me to stop and be devastated right alongside with me. I always treated it as a grave injustice for there to be laughter in the midst of pain. But now I think I realize that it is both our gift and our struggle that life goes on. What’s more, I know that the cross means that as long as there is suffering in the world, Christ suffers right along with us. Thomas Merton said “Christ remains in agony until the end of time, and in His agony Christ triumphs over all power.”

Second, I find soul-affirming comfort wherever I can. Jesus actually prayed that we would not be taken out of this world (John 17; really, Jesus?). But he also told us that he would not leave us alone (John 14). That means that his presence, and his peace and his love and his compassion is really always available to us. For me, I find it in friends, and in prayer, and also in art.

I stumbled across Bill Fay while I was driving in my car around 2013. Florida State radio station play the song that instantly grabbed me, and also instantly made me think, “boy Jeff Tweedy is ripping this guy off big time.”

(Tweedy appears on “This World, off of Fay’s 2012 record Life is People, and Fay covers Wilco’s “Jesus Don’t Cry” on the same record. Tweedy has also covered a couple other Fay tracks, like “Be Not So Fearful” and “Please Tell My Brothers” in his acoustic shows.)

Ever since then, whenever I need to hear something comforting and gentle, but also full of faith, I turn to Bill thing. I actually even had a friend who, when he did his fifth step in recovery, made sure that he had Fay queued up to play on his drive home from his sponsor’s house.

There are plenty of good tracks, but this is one of my “go-to’s”.

May you be comforted, and remember that “the healing day” is coming sometime for all of us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdZzBO_YPJM

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I Sit

I sit.

It is cold.

I sit.

It is cold and dark.

I sit;

it is cold and dark and quiet.

I pick up two “devotional” books, little nuggets of thoughts to “prime the pump.” Reading the daily thoughts would take about 45 seconds (a bit more, if I’m really tired, for re-reading). Living out the thoughts there would take a lifetime.

But that’s what I’m here for.

I put the two books aside, and take a sip of the still-too-hot coffee.

I check my phone timer, and set it to 20 minutes.

A deep breath, a whispered prayer:

“God, I am here, speak to me.”

Then a slow descent into the silence.

My first thoughts are slowly nudged away, using the imagery of a slow lazy river. I know that if I allow them to drift away, they will leave me. More will follow them, but they, too, will leave if I just release, surrender them to the flow of the river.

My mind is active—I have still-officially-undiagnosed ADD—but I slowly and gently introduce the word that I use to signify my intention and willingness to both myself and to God.

“Grace.”

This gentle back and forth will continue for the next 18 minutes or so: my mind will drift, and I will gently nudge it back by a combination of my will and a surrender to God’s work and presence.

I continue to sit.

Thoughts come: some of them “To Do” items that will wait.

I release them.

Thoughts come: amazing ministry ideas, an angle on a conversation I need to have.

I release them too. I trust that they will either be there waiting for me when the time is over, or that they were not important enough for me to retain in the first place.

Either way, there will be time for them later.

“Grace”.

Redirect my mind back.

I sit.

I wonder how much time have I been sitting?

Out of weakness and a deeply ingrained humanity, I steal a peak at my timer.

I sit some more.

The darkness is spacious, inviting, and eternal.

(Much like God.)

I sink deeper and deeper into this place that requires nothing of me but to be still, to simply, well, be. 

I sit some  more.

Occasionally, I touch something, something that is way beyond my human experience, a wonder and a peace and a grace that is simply overwhelming; it’s amazing how uncomfortable it can be to truly confront the wonder.

I’m thankful that God makes allowances for my human limitations.

But even those transcendent experiences need to be released; I am after something different here. I am after the deep mystery and darkness of God, and so I trade the known for the unknown, the trumpet for the silence, the sight for the blindness.

In other words, I’m seeking pure faith. 

I sit.

The timer goes off on my phone.

(Blessedly).

Who knew 20 minutes could feel so long?

Regardless of my experience in prayer, I thank God. This is an important discipline for me, because one of the central truths of my humanity is that I cannot wholly trust my human experience to evaluate and determine the spiritual “success” of an activity. I simply have no way of knowing what God has truly done in my life; I only trust that He is working.

“Trust in the slow work of God,” indeed.

I rise.

Born at the Right Time

Almost every morning, I wake up hearing music.

Not from an iPhone or an alarm clock, but in my head. I’m sure that this isn’t rare, so surely someone out there knows exactly what I’m talking about: as I begin to stir and feel the pull towards the time to wake up, the strains of a song, or sometimes just a part of a song, begins to cycle in my head, over and over again. In addition, I suspect because I spent so many years of my life as an active musician, these songs aren’t just background music to my yawns and stretches and the daily battle to get up and get going. Nope, not at all. These songs take center stage; they play in the center of my mind, edging everything else out as I greet the day.

It’s entertaining, occasionally, to try and figure out why a particular song comes to me: sometimes it’s more obvious, like when I’ve been listening to something in particular, or when I was anticipating listening (or playing) to an artist or song that day. Those are the easy ones.

Other times, however, the songs are obviously coming from a deeper place, messages from the deeper levels of my soul and consciousness. They may trigger an unresolved conflict, or be a vehicle to express joy and contentment (something with which I’m still struggling).

So this morning, I woke up to the sound of “Born at the Right Time,” which is the 7th track off of his Rhythm of the Saints record (released after Graceland). 

This morning, I also woke up to my 48th birthday.

As I “treated myself” to a four-mile run, I let the record play in the background (it’s really amazing, and I actually prefer it to Graceland, but that’s another story), and tried to figure out what the universe may have been trying to tell me this morning.

Now (a) I can’t pretend to know exactly what the lyric is about, and (b) I can’t pretend to completely understand the depths of my soul, but here’s what came to me…

“Ever been lonely, ever been lied to?
Ever had to scuffle in fear, nothing denied to?
Born at the instant the church bells chimed,
The whold world whispering, ‘Born at the right time…'”

For some of us, the older we get, the easier it is for us to see our brokenness and cracks and failures. Sometimes, it’s also easier for us to see how the world has contributed to that brokenness. Some of us were loved badly; some of us weren’t loved at all. Some of us should have been protected and sheltered at a young age from the darkness of the world. When we become aware of these injuries, great or small, it’s tempting to overly focus on what was done to us, or what was lacking in our past. This is a healthy part of growing and maturing, but this isn’t where the process ends… 

I have come to believe that the point of life is to come to terms with our past, however painful it may be, and then to learn from it. (Easier said sometimes than done, I know.) A huge part of my own life has been a journey to stop pointing the finger at my past to justify “why Eric is the way he is,” and start to focus on just what Eric can learn from it. In this way, I know that what I am called to is to accept my past and my existence and the whole of my journey and to bring it into the protective umbrella of grace and trust that God can teach me something from it, however rough or even malignant it can appear.

Anger, resentment, and even sadness and mourning can only carry me so far in my journey. Eventually, I know that the universe is calling me to declare that there were no “accidents”—though there may have been some bad or ill-equipped people—and accept that the past cannot be changed, only learned from. I cannot go back, I only have this moment, this day, this time to throw myself into the arms of grace and “present-risenness” to say, “I am here, and I am living in hope.”

My life is not a mistake, and everything can be redeemed. There is nothing that the Light cannot penetrate and heal and redeem. I was not born at an inopportune time; my life is happening now, which means there is always hope to grow and change and lean into the Universe that is here, right now.

Yep: forty-eight years ago I was born at the right time, and everything that happened since then, both good and bad, is my teacher, to help me be available to this time today.

Here’s the track:

And this time, live (with shoulder pads):

 

+e

 

40 Words: “Faith” (02.24.2016)

So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

Frankly, I confuse sight and faith an awful lot. I know that I’m called to a life of supernatural belief and trust, but what I typically end up craving is some kind of sign that I can trust:

  • a job offer
  • a solid relationship
  • a clear career path

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1)

This passage seems full of contradictions: reality/hope for, proof/don’t see. At first sight, these don’t seems to make sense, and can’t easily be reconciled.

(Kind of like life.)

One thing that’s easy to land on is the fact that faith still involves things that we can’t see or touch.

Let’s be honest: “sight” is so much easier than faith. Faith is fuzzy. It is decidedly not proof. To embrace faith is to embrace stepping into a chasm.

And for most of us, that is never fun.

Lent reminds me that life is a journey of faith. It’s an opportunity for us to separate true faith from the things that tend to prop us up and support us. The things that we can see and feel and touch.

Instead, we surrender those things and embrace the unknown space and silence, trusting instead that God will grow us and change us on His terms and in His time.

40 Words: “Family” (02.23.2016)

Despite what you might think, Lent isn’t only about giving things up. Overall, it’s more about making “space”—spiritually or otherwise—to reflect on our lives and God’s love.

In other words, if all you do is give up chocolate (why do I keep picking on chocolate?) without making that space through service or prayer or meditation or community, you’re only get half of the story.

My particular Lenten journey definitely involves surrendering something, but I also added in reading, and not only reading, but a commitment to read with my wife and family during the evening (whenever possible).

Lent isn’t just about “you and Jesus”; others are on your journey as well. Bring them in; share this with them.

My personal desire is that the space I carve out for God can be filled, not only with my personal spiritual activities, but also with conversation and interaction with people who not only love me but with whom I can have honest conversations.

40 Words: “Humility” (02.22.2016)

Humility is one of the most powerful concepts in English language.

It’s also sorely lacking in most of the world.

As my spiritual director reminds me, “Humility is being right-sized.”

It’s not about thinking of ourselves as a only dirt, or only broken. It’s more about having an accurate view of ourselves: we are created in God’s image, just a little lower than angels…

and we often do really crappy things.

Capable of so much, both good and bad.

My Lenten journey has been such an opportunity for, well, humility.

My fasts are not always perfectly kept.

I’m not always the most peaceful, willing pilgrim.

Right when I think I’m about to scale spiritual heights, I lose my temper (usually in traffic).

It’s a great reminder of what it means to be human.

40 Words: “Dirt” (02.20.2016)

800px-Farm_in_Hainan_01.jpg

Farm in Hainan Province, People’s Republic of China by Anna Fodesiak http://www.wikimedia.org

I’m no farmer.

Nope; I’m no farmer. Though I was born in the country, and spent at least a few spring and summer days with dirt under my nails from weeding a vegetable garden and pulling up carrots and digging for potatoes, ultimately I’m a city boy, more at home strolling down sidewalks than with driving a tractor.

But I do understand the basics.

I understand that in order for things to grow, the dirt needs to be tilled.

To be dug up, turned over, plowed.

It’s easy to wonder why we subject ourselves to Lenten disciplines.

It’s easy to claim that we are focusing “too much” on our brokenness, that we should stay focused on the resurrection life that is ours through Christ.

It’s easy to accuse us of being too morbid, too depressing, too melancholy.

Fair enough.

My only reply to that is nothing grows if the dirt isn’t turned up.

In a way, Lent is about reminding ourselves of what our sin cost God and His Son (and the Holy Spirit as well), but in another way, the disciplines of Lent are about something more grand and long-term.

It’s about digging in the dirt so that we can grow. It’s about tilling the soil of our lives not for the purpose of shame and guilt, but for the purpose of preparing for growth.

So we can heal.

So the light can shine into the broken places.

Lent is certainly somber, but the long-term prognosis is hope, hope, hope.

But it has to start with dirt.

Peter said it so well…