reorientation

I am taking my cue from the Joshua Tree. I have heard that when transplanting a Joshua Tree you must face it in the same direction it was originally facing in order for it to survive. I don’t know if this is an urban myth (I’ll just keep believing it to be true), but I like the concept. We each need a point of reference in life. A familiar direction.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. It comes on the heels of his baptism where he heard from above: You are my beloved on whom my favor rests. Evenso, I wonder if there was even a flickering moment when Christ thought, ‘Well I am pretty hungry’ when tempted to turn the stones into bread. The Devil is no idiot, that’s for sure. He goes straight to our most basal instincts. ‘Oh, you’ve been fasting for 40 days? How does this In-N-Out burger smell to you about now??’ I would definitely be tempted, wouldn’t you? And if a juicy cheeseburger doesn’t do the trick, how about fame and fortune?! Surely that would nail us all. It’s as if the Devil tempted Jesus by giving him 1M Instagram followers he could buy for the low low price of Selling His Soul to the Devil. And yet again – even though Christ was physically and mentally deprived from his fasting – he still resisted. “It is written”, Christ rebuked the Devil, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Once again, Christ overcame the temptations being leveled at him.

I can only assume that Christ heard – above all the noise of the Devil – his Father saying to him: “You are my beloved.”

When I accidentally eat more ice cream than I should, I am his beloved. When I am short-tempered with my husband for putting the pickles back on the wrong shelf in the fridge, I am his beloved. When I succeed and when I stumble, when I cry out and when I sail through a good day. My circumstances are not dependent on the simple fact that I am his beloved.

There are seasons of growth and there are seasons of feeling tossed mercilessly. Life is very life-y sometimes. Loneliness, confusion, uncertainty, fear…they are just as unbalancing to us as excitement, achievement and self-reliance.

I believe I am a great deal like the Joshua Tree. My physical presence (where I live) as well as my mental and emotional presence (how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking) function best when I am faced in the direction I was planted. The centering balance in my life can be found in the simple phrase that God said to Jesus when he was baptised and to each of us at our moment of belief: “You are my child. You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.”

In the midst of life and all of its craziness, we can hold tightly to that promise, stopping occasionally to reorient ourselves to it. We can withstand the temptations of physical need, prideful pursuits of self-importance and materialism. By consistently claiming that divine identity, it turns us ever-so-slightly back to our primary rooting as a beloved child.

I need to be planted toward the face of God. It is comforting and reminds me of what is important and what is merely a cheesy hamburger disguised as egocentric temptation.

Does life seem out of balance for you right now? Are you rushing and attempting and conquering as fast as you can? Taking time out of your day – even for a short time of deep, cleansing breaths – to remind yourself that you have been chosen. God is showing favor for you today. You are his child. His treasure. His beloved. Now go live under that unending umbrella of love and grace.

Prayer as a Tool for Social Justice

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the fringe of society. The Us and Them. The Others. The disenfranchised.

The following items were a part of three separate readings that (…isn’t it always the way…) seemed to speak directly to my current line of thinking this week. Don’t you always love those ‘accidental coincidences’??!

I read an interview with Melinda Gates regarding her new book, The Moment of Lift. She was explaining some of the ways in which she determines which issues she can get behind and advocate for funds and resources. Birth control in third world nations. Child vaccination in Africa. These are some of the areas in which she has advocated for and given tremendous resources to. Without provocation about religious beliefs she offered:

Faith in action to me means going to the margins of society, seeking out those who are isolated, and bringing them back in.

I have to admit – my initial, gut reaction was to think, ‘If only I had a tremendous amount of wealth and could enjoy giving it away to issues and people who are in the greatest need.’ I envied her money. Not because of the amount of things I could do with it but the ways in which I could freely give it away. It’s good to give $5 to a charity, but how great would it be to actually SEE the difference your resources are making in the lives of those in great need?! I coveted her Giving joy; the endorphins that flood our hearts when we can contribute significantly to someone in need.

And then she continued:

The starting point for human improvement is empathy. Everything flows from that.

It brought me to a recent conversation with my dearest friend, Monica. We were sitting together on the back porch over a bowl of fruit and commiserating over the stumbling blocks the Church in general is facing today. We reflected on our own ideals and how they’ve developed over time. “The difference is when you have an actual face to put to the issue. When you’ve befriended someone who struggles with acceptance in a certain area and now, the issue is no longer an issue. The issue has a name and a face and a good heart and soul.”

The starting point for human improvement is empathy…Melinda stated. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is drawing upon an understanding of what they must be feeling and struggling with because you have wrestled with a similar internal war.

Our life experiences have helped to shape us into a better human being (if not immediately than eventually, if we’re lucky.) But those same life experiences are there as resources for us. Ravines of empathy, waiting to be dipped into. To remember the shame or the disappointment or the ostracization that happened – and what that must feel like for this person standing in front of you. Or that group of peoples mentioned on the news. Being willing to step back into that personal struggle is being brave and kind and compassionate and…empathetic…to those around us.

My physical world is very, very small. I don’t interact with that many people on a day to day basis. It is a season of life that has very few day-to-day characters. So I asked myself: how do I show empathy and how do I go to the margins of society?! How do I, in my small physical world, bring into the fold the marginalized? The struggling?

A few days later I read a small paragraph from a Henri Nouwen book that enlarged my understanding of prayer. We must pay careful attention to the compassionate presence of the Holy Spirit. The intimacy created by the Holy Spirit who, as the bearer of the new mind and the new time, does not exclude but rather includes our fellow human beings. In the intimacy of prayer, God is revealed to us as the One who loves all members of the human family just as personally and uniquely as God loves us. Therefore, a growing intimacy with God deepens our sense of responsibility for others. 

When I go to God in prayer I am stepping into a circle with all of humanity. All of humanity. The homeless that are so prevalent on our California streets. The mother of three. The neighbor. The stranger. The person of decidedly different political opinions as me. As soon as I open my heart to God with my small needs, my deep hurts, my worries and concerns and thanksgivings – I stand with all my fellow humans, there. Together. We are drawn to each other because the Holy Spirit makes it so. We are on even footing. Each unworthy of the grace that has been poured over us in vast supply.

It’s not just me in my bed at night. It’s not just me as I drive in the car alone. It’s not just me. I stand together in those few moments with you and with your neighbor and with your questions and challenges. For a few pristine moments we are one. One humanity surrounded by a holy presence that makes us each equals.

It is from there that my decisions must be made. Be they political, or simple, or religious or complex. Prayer brings us to the feet of Empathy and that is where our choices flow out.

To top it off, a friend recently posted a well-known quote from Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1968)

Our job is to love others, without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

I still struggle – wishing I could make a BIG difference in the lives of others. Wishing I had the resources to pour into others, like the Gates. But instead it is meant for me to stand reverently in the presence of you. To link arms with all of humanity for a few moments of complete unity before God. And to allow that encounter to inform my empathy throughout the day.

Current philanthropists, passed Catholic monks. I have learned from them all this week. Even – a comedy duo with a big Netflix hit. -ha!

How about a little Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin to round out this post?

You and me??…we are homies.