Over the weekend, I got my first mean comment on Ragtag Reveries. On the one hand, I can’t believe it took this long. On the other, it totally caught me off guard and ate my confidence. After reading that comment, I could feel myself shrivel up inside.
I talked to a few in my circle. We all need at least a precious handful of people in our lives who can help us see ourselves as more than the worst of what others say about us. In particular, I need help sometimes to know what’s bogus in comments others say about me, and what’s something I might actually need to absorb. More often the former than the latter, since the negative seeps in so much deeper and easier than the praises. I tend to forget the praises when I’ve been criticized.
I can’t help but wonder why is it that the shame voices are so much easier to soak in than the voices where people mention good things about me? This drives me nuts. I know this about me, and yet my brain refuses to intake feedback differently.
A few years ago, in one of my seminary assignments, I railed against the idea of prayer working like a vending machine — as though we toss up the right words and phrases and out comes our spiritual Snickers in response. God’s not a vending machine. And I still stand by that statement. God isn’t a machine we manipulate and control.
Yet, as I’ve been thinking about prayer again for a class I’m teaching at my church, maybe the vending machine metaphor isn’t entirely bad for thinking about prayer.
Each Monday I plan to write a reflection on my interaction with the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday; this week’s passages are Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17, Psalm 127, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44.
For those unfamiliar with the lectionary, it’s a prescribed set of Bible readings that various churches around the globe read and interact with each week. Usually churches follow a three year cycle with one year utilizing Matthew, one year using Mark, and one year reading Luke. John gets interspersed throughout each of those three years. I use the listing at Vanderbilt Divinity Library, if you want to look up passages and read along as well.
As I began reading, the interaction proved more difficult than I anticipated. When I read the lectionary texts, I read the Old Testament passage first, then the Psalms, then the letter, and finish with the Gospel. That’s not a statement about the “right” procedure for reading, but just an acknowledge of my habit.
I read through Ruth and Psalms 127, all the while getting my dander up and dreading writing today’s post. I moved to skimming through Hebrews 9 and Mark 12, hoping for easier passages to write about for this blog.
I had a light bulb moment as I thought about my desire to avoid Ruth and Psalm 127. As much as I talk about all Scripture being inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), I act as though some parts are a lot more God-breathed than others. Some parts feel like they got more breath than others. And the parts that I don’t like, that seem difficult, that leave me feeling like I’m standing on a thin wire over a deep canyon, those I want to ignore and push aside in favor of more comfortable passages. I noticed the tendency in others before, but ignored it in myself.
Last night after eating late, I laid in our hotel bed with the lights out and the fire going. I’d left the windows open so I could hear the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rocks outside our room. I tried to just be still and listen to the waves.
I learned that I am not much better than a puppy in terms of attention span. I’d take a calming breath and relax. I’d be so focused on the waves I could feel them washing over me, not just hear them. Then I’d start wondering what J was doing in the other room.
“No, listen to the waves,” I’d tell myself. Then, wiggle my arms. “Relax. Be still.” Breathe in, and release the air on a deep sigh. Then, scrunch my toes. Move my arm to the the side. And start over again. Think about the wedding we just came from in Bismarck. Start again. Wonder about what book I’m going to read next. Back to the beginning. Wiggle my toes under the blanket. Try to relax again.
Through all the stops and starts and losing focus, I found I could only hear the waves if they had my complete attention. Otherwise, they became just white noise in the background. The minute I moved or thought of something other than the waves, the sound of them disappeared. Hearing for me is the hardest sense to control; I’m too often busy thinking or absorbed in something to process sounds. They may as well not exist. I can’t decide if this absorption is a gift or curse.
I have no clue how to focus on just one thing. When I am absorbed, I usually have some sort of background noise, a book that I’m reading, and the creative force in me processing that book and turning it into something about me that I can use or learn, the sights outside of the books, and whatever else I may be worrying over. And I can never turn my thoughts completely off. I’m mystified by the idea of not thinking anything; I wish I knew how that could come about, short of dying. I tell myself that I thrive on this over-stimulation. But lately, I’m wondering if that’s a lie.
And I also found it is physically impossible for me to be still. J even laughs because my toes are always wriggling; particuarly when I’m reading or contemplating something. To try and keep from moving my toes is completely uncomfortable for me, bordering on painful even. Even now as I write my toes are wriggling and my ankles twirling. I can’t write apart from this movement.
Lately the phrase ,”Be still and know that I am God,” has popped up again and again like a mole in one of those whack-a-mole arcade games. And I’m hopeless to actually smack the mole, and just be still. Neither my attention span, nor my physicality permits me this opportunity. And that I find simultaneously humbling and sad….and exceedingly frustrating. As I think this verse might actually be key to having a healthy soul.