The Discipline of Wandering

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Summer affords me the easy rhythms of wondering and wandering. Here in Colorado we’ve had loads of rain- so these days I’m wandering hip deep in clover. Pulling it up out of my garden and wandering it over to grateful goats and one stubborn horse. Most mornings I wander out the kitchen door, to sit on the deck and watch the cat wander herself into my lap. After a while I wander over to a spot gone wild from neglect and rummage around for a few asparagus shoots.

Sometimes I wander alone, other times I wander with my kids. They lead; I follow.

We wander in search of spring’s new flower. We wander abandoning our sight and leaning heavily on sound in search of baby blue birds, the percussion of grass gone to seed and the syncopated cicada.

Wandering, by most accounts is aimless. The idea that anything in the Christian life is aimless might trigger some push back. I mean for crying out loud, this is a purpose driven life.

For just a minute, hold the trigger and ask yourself...

Just what would happen if I release my aim?

What would happen if I release my goal?

What would happen if I release the rat in the rat race?

In my wandering this summer, I am doing just that. Know what’s happening?

Grace. Rest. Wandering in the space of be-ing.

Hard as hell[1] for a driven person to refuse to drive. Requires the discipline of wandering.

 

What would it look like for you to submit to the Great Wanderer? He's a pretty good guide.

Try wandering outside, leave your watch in the house, bring a child.

 

 

[1] I do not use this phrase glibly. Hell is hard. Like driving a stake in cement, like pounding our heads on brick walls. Heaven, however, is a bit like wandering into a pasture gone wild looking for asparagus shoots.

Making Space for Grief

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Last week I wrote of the death on our little farm. Folks have asked how I helped the children people grieve. Here is my response.

 “That is it isn't it? The rub, the hard bit is communicating this paradox of life and death with those we love. My eldest daughter, 14 years old, was with me when all this was going on. We talked about it. This isn't our first death on our little farm, but it was significant in that we didn't remove the loss. Her way of grief was so bodily. She wanted to dig the hole and she wanted to bury him, in the rain- no less. Later, she told me she gave him back to God and the creation he came from. “

 I am no therapist and most days I’m barely as wise as our basset hound who regularly eats horse poop, but here are few things I’m learning.

  • Talk about what’s happening. I don’t mean lecture. I mean enter into a conversation about what is happening. An easy opener could be “What do you think is happening here?” Stay away from any philosophical or theological answers. Be simple, be honest, be present.
  • Ask questions. What do you think is going on? How do you feel about what is going on? What does your heart say?
  • If you are sad, be sad. Pray aloud. If you are anxious, be anxious. Pray aloud. We parents try to hide these emotions, but we’re fooling no one. The children know and probably feel the same. Together go to the Spirit whose great gift is comfort.
  • Make a space for grief. Children are so very bodily. (Adults are too; we’ve just grown old and forgotten.) They will need to grieve with their bodies. They may need to kiss the departed. When our cat died our youngest daughter held his dead little body wrapped in a towel and rocked him for over an hour. They may need to lie on the floor and cry. They may need to create a picture of the one gone, or paint a memorial stone. They may want to do this alone or they may want you with them. Ask, they will tell you.

Let's learn together, how have you helped children to grieve?

Lewis, de Cassade and a Goat

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This morning as I was making breakfast and preparing my daughter’s lunch for horse camp, I was informed that our elderly goat was kidding. (Not cracking wise, but having babies.) We had hoped that she might have one more batch of kids, but her due date was two weeks past. The next hour flew by with preparations of one child off to horse camp, trying to calm the horse who was left behind, Lady, preparing for goat birth all the while reminding small humans to eat their breakfast and brush their teeth.

Finally when the camp people and horse were feed and departed, I sat next to our goat, Sally, and held her head in my lap as she labored. I thought of Jean-Pierre de Cassade.

“Every current, every technique, thrusts us onward in our voyage to the Infinite. Everything work to this end and, without exception, helps us towards holiness” (Cutsinger, 35).

How could I be a calming presence to Sally and Lady? “Where is the holy in this?” I wondered. I thought of C.S. Lewis “The objects around me, and my idea of “me”, will deceive if taken at their face value. But they are momentous if taken as the end-products of Divine activities. Thus and not otherwise the creation of matter and the creation of mind meet one another and the circuit is closed.” (164).

Sally was struggling. She had been in labor too long and we both knew it. “How, Lord, does this thrust me onward in my voyage to the Infinite?” I rubbed her belly and under her chin. When the first kid came, we breathed a sigh of relief. Breathing. Bonding. Check.

But the second kid didn’t come for a while, and when he did, I knew. As best as I could, I helped, but he was gone before he got here. I wanted, as I have done in the past when these lifeless ones are born, to hide him away from his mother. This time though I thought of de Cassade, “Our only satisfaction must be to live in the present moment as if there were nothing to expect beyond it.” (35).

I laid his little body before her. She licked him, working to bring him back. She called to him, working to call him to life. But he was gone. This present moment called for both celebration and grief. Two sides of the same coin, it seems one cannot exist without the other. A paradox of presence perhaps, (too much alliteration?) where what “thrusts us onward in our voyage” is the encounter of the Infinite, (what is more infinite than the cycle of life and death?), who is not only in the present, but is Presence.

References are from Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism compiled and edited by James S. Cutsinger

Seeking the Speed of Soul

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While Dallas Willard is correct in saying that “reality is what you run into when you’re wrong,”[1] sometimes it feels more like a sneak attack than a running into. In our current season of life, life looks like busyness. I have studied the dangers of busyness, written about the dangers of busyness and professed never to fall into the camp of busyness, but here we are. I confess, we are busy.

“However,” I argue with myself, “these things we are doing are good.” Soccer-good. Orchestra- good. Seminary-good. School-good. Track- good. Piano- good. Violin- good. Worship team- good. Community-good. Spiritual direction- good. Goats- good.

All- good.

The sneak attack came one Tuesday evening as I sat to center down and engage in Ignatian Examen of my soul.

“For what was I most grateful today?” Like looking for lost keys, I began rummaging around my memory for the events of the day. I had a hard time coming up with concrete details for a solid something. Sure I was grateful for my kids, but what specifically for today? What did we do today?

Perhaps a different question, “For what was I least grateful today?” I could always go for the finitude of the human person, but maybe there was something deeper going on?

Next question, “When did I most connect with God and others, or myself?”

And there it was. Busyness, good or bad aside, lacks the power to connect. I couldn’t answer any of the questions; because although I was there physically my other bits were absent- in fact we might say I wasn’t even aware that my body was having a Tuesday.

The parts of us are interconnected, influencing each other and guided by our spirit connected to the Spirit. In the state of busyness, these parts disconnect and go on autopilot. While we can be thankful that breathing is on autopilot, we can easily slip from present to absent. My body can show up, but the rest is out to lunch or more accurately on to the next task or managing my To Do list.

In the past I’ve had a great desire to find hard and fast rules of simplicity. I’ve had trouble nailing down those that don’t lead me into legalism when it comes to time, until the sneak attack.

Perhaps presence is a good thermostat for busyness.

Today, the number of items on my list is determined by my capacity to show up to them. Really show up with all my parts.

I am present at my daughter’s soccer game in body, feeling the grass under my feet the sun on my face and using my voice to cheer her on. I am present in mind and heart as I listen when a parent tells of their struggle with the school system. I am present to the Spirit as she whispers in the wind her great love for every child on the field.

Perhaps this is the speed of the soul.

May the peace and pace of Christ guide us.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=66

In Their Own Words... Or Pictures

“Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears” –Arthur Koestler. I have found this to be true on numerous occasions, yet I only began to truly understand what it meant a few days ago when I began to ride my horse, Lady, again. Last spring, when I was really beginning to enjoy riding, I was riding my horse Lady up to the barn when she threw me off. Now this was not a big deal, I was a little sore but could easily get back on the next day. A week passed before I could get back on her again, and for a while everything seemed fine. Then Lady bucked. I went flying over her head and landed on the ground. Now normally this wouldn’t have been a problem either, you get up and get back on. But after being thrown twice in a row, I was scared. For a month I wouldn’t get even close to Lady. And for nearly eight months I didn’t ride. My fear made me oblivious to the possibility that, perhaps, it wasn’t Lady’s fault.

Then, last fall, my grandfather and sister where riding in the round pen and I asked if I could get on Lady, just for a little while. I only stayed up there for less than a minute, yet that minute helped me push away some of my fear so that I could see just a little better. Now it is spring again and we took the horses out to ride, but just before they left I asked to get on one more time. And as I put my foot in the stirrup it felt like a whole other world was opened. I was still scared, yes, but I could conquer that fear. And even though I was terrified at being up again I felt that, maybe, I could do it again. Just one more time.

-Aidan, Age 13

Good Dirt Eastertide

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Excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide. Easter is the day our lives are changed forever. Nothing, absolutely nothing will ever be the same. But for many of us Easter is as mundane as Tuesday’s Twinkies. We put on clothes we hate, hunt eggs we will never eat, and yawn through the Easter service. It wasn't always this way.

Easter is Christianity’s oldest celebration. It began with the day Jesus rose from death, and the celebration hasn't stopped! Long before the church celebrated Christmas, we celebrated Easter. Easter should never play second fiddle to Christmas. We have Christmas because of Easter; Easter is the reason we celebrate Christmas. The Bread of Life conquered death—that’s the best news there is! As we've been journeying with Jesus this year, we have heard over and over again his teaching about the Kingdom of God. We've seen him claim to know God in a unique, one-of-a-kind way in the Gospel of John; we've watched as he heals and forgives and loves.

At Easter, we get the best news of all—this Kingdom life is the real deal! By overcoming death itself, Jesus proves that the with-God life simply cannot be held down! So as we set out to imitate his life, we can have confidence and joy that Jesus’ abundant life truly is the best life on offer. From the drab, cold winter days of Lent to the dark sadness of Holy Saturday, the question is raised—how can any joy come out of such loss and sadness?

Easter answers: God’s power and life is so strong that it can go through death and come out victorious the other side!

Till: Hallelujah! You are risen, Jesus, you are risen, indeed! Nothing can stop you from giving us new life, because you triumphed over death. Hallelujah!

Plant: John 1:1-18

Water: Light it: Be sure to light the Christ candle.

There are so many special things going on today that there probably won’t be time to sit and have a usual activity time today. Instead, enter fully into the joy of Easter. Go party! He is risen, indeed!

Weed: What did it feel like to rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection today? What made you happy today?

Resurrecting Hope

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At this writing it is Holy Week, arguably the saddest week of the year. This week, my Lord dies, hope dies and we are left with nothing but the empty space of Holy Saturday. There is a commonality among the children at Haven House. Each time I sit with a child in spiritual direction, I first ask them to choose a picture of Jesus with children from a stash of many. This is our rhythm when they come. They choose the picture of Jesus they most need to see and then together we turn on a battery-powered candle to remind us that God is with us. Then they are invited to share their thoughts about the picture. Children who have heard Bible stories usually tell me something about Jesus’ death, even children who know little about Jesus know about his death. Some even know the gruesome details. The children at Haven House know death; they know emptiness, loneliness, and hopelessness. Often I will say, “Did you know, God brought him back to life?” Without fail, I am met with blank stares and even disagreement. Death they know, resurrection they can’t imagine.

So in the last two weeks during spiritual direction (We call it Holy Listening.) we have used a wooden play set of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to play out the whole story—resurrection and all.

I tell the story first and then invite the children to play with the pieces and retell. They are invited to add their own twists and turns, as this is how they make His story, their story. Interestingly, this is also how they mourn their own sorrows. In the death and sadness of Christ they are able to express their own pain. We keep the candle near, to remind us that even in great pain, and great sadness, God is near.

We are careful to include Jesus’ resurrection each time. In the resurrection of Christ there is hope and joy-- and as one child taught me, forgiveness. In the story he told of the resurrection—Jesus went chasing after the soldiers who were guarding the tomb. “Hey, no wait,” he said, “I forgive you, come back.”

Hope lives in Jesus’ resurrection.

The hope that says God is with you in your greatest pain.

The hope that says God is with you even if you are buried under shame, doubt and fear.

The hope that says “Hey, no wait. I forgive you, come back.”

The hope that says there is something better, unbelievably better, coming.

 

Good Dirt Palm Sunday

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Excerpt taken from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide.  Holy Week is split into two parts. The first part is Palm Sunday through Holy Wednesday, which does not take us into the suffering of Jesus; instead we look ahead to what is worth dying for. The first part is full of preparation and confirmation. As Joan Chittister says in her book The Liturgical Year,

“These first days of Holy Week confirm: there are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.”

Welcome Home Party: Create a welcome banner for Jesus. Read the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus (today’s reading) as a family. Enjoy special snacks; even invite the neighbors to join you in welcoming Jesus home.

Create a Blessing Banner: Part of looking ahead from death to life is found in looking ahead from winter to spring. Use poster board and construction paper to make a flower garden. On each of the flower petals write a blessing or something worth living for. Use the poster as a Holy Week reminder that life triumphs over death.

 

Till: We thank you, Jesus, for showing us how to live a humble and good life. Help us today to prepare for your coming. Show us how to celebrate your arrival!

Plant:Matt. 21:1-16

Water: Watch it: Watch for the love and life of Jesus today.

Visit the Altar: In the sand, draw a picture of your favorite thing about Jesus.

Weed: How did you celebrate today? How can you carry this celebration through to Good Friday?

What's up with Holy Week?

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Excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends just as we launch into the celebration of Eastertide. Holy Week places the divine/cosmic paradox we observe during Lent—death to life—under the microscope. We take a good look, with our hearts and minds, at how Jesus himself lived this paradox.

As parents we may wonder how to explain the Christian mystery of death becoming life to our children. The blessing of ritual shows us the way. The small rituals already set in place during Lent and in each additional activity for Holy Week have a miraculous ability to impart understanding to children.

Year after year these rituals teach the paradox of death to life. Their theology will not be complex, but children will know that out of death comes life. When children are young they relate best to the life part of the paradox. Spring is the breaking from the death of winter. Consistently pointing out all the signs of spring is a powerful reminder. Older children can enter in and participate in the death to life paradox. Always bring discussions back to the fact: “Life wins.” Older children can benefit and will mature from time spent practicing dying to their own wills, and in sincere, thoughtful meditation on the last week of Christ in which he moved from life to death, and back to life everlasting.

In what ways are you living the paradox right now?

God Lives on a Disney Cruise Ship in the Caribbean

Being present to God is portable! Thank you for reminding us Weyel Family. "I know the God who helps me with my children and joins me while doing laundry. I know the God who exists in San Luis Obispo and that He loves the people here. But it is so easy to forget that “my god” is the very same God who loves rich people on Disney cruises. And He is the same God who loves people barely scraping by with servant jobs on Caribbean islands. "

Good Dirt Sunday

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The following excerpt is from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide  Till: Jesus, your ways aren't our ways. We have such a hard time with self-sacrifice, serving, and letting go of things we want even when they aren't good for us. Help us to trust you more. Help us to release control and follow you, even in hard situations.

Plant: Mark 8:31–9:1

Water:

Imagine it: When Jesus told his disciples that his path was leading to suffering and death, they couldn't believe it! Peter even told Jesus to stop being so gloomy! Why do you think they reacted that way? How do you think you would have reacted?

Enter it: Jesus’ way leads through suffering and loss. We have to follow him through it too so that we let go of the things that keep us from God. Tell about a time when you had to do something hard that you didn't like, but it turned out to be good for you.

Apply it: Is there an area in your life where you need to give control to Jesus? What is one small step you could take today?

Weed: What was hard today? How did you feel about it? What was easy today?

Good Dirt Sunday

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide Till: Lord, help us! We are so quick to try to do life on our own, to think we know everything, and to miss what you are doing because we are focused on what we are doing. Please clear out our pride and help us rely on you!

Plant: Mark 8:11-21

Water: Create it: Today Jesus warns the disciples against the “contaminating yeast” of the Pharisees. To help kids understand this point, fill a clear glass with water, then put in just a drop or two of food coloring. Allow it to stand for a day, and observe what happens—all the water changes color!

Apply it: The disciples don’t seem to understand that they can rely on Jesus for every need! They are in the boat, squabbling about bread, when he’s just miraculously divided bread for thousands of people! Are there times when you tend to forget to rely on God, and focus only on what you can do without him?

Live it: Today, take “pause” moments to invite God to provide for you throughout the day. A “pause” might be every time you take a drink. Say a short “Thank you” to God.

Weed:When did you rely on God today? How did that feel? When did you try to do it on your own? How did that feel?