Thursday, March 26, 2009

BEN : Someone once told me . . .

Someone once told me about a monk who always said “yes.”
      It didn’t matter what he was asked to do, he always said yes. One day a monk-to-be asked him why he always said yes when he knew more often than not that he would either end up not liking what he was doing or discovering that he was not very good at it. The monk thought long and hard about how to respond. After some awkward silence, he simply explained that he didn’t know that he wasn’t any good at a particular task or that he didn’t really like it until he said yes.
      I would imagine your Dad would have identified with this story. A man who seeks to walk through life with open hands is a man who is ready to welcome all that may come along and wait to pass judgement on what has come until he has played with each opportunity as a child plays with Play Dough. The difficulty is opening our hands and living like a child again in a very adult world, ready to say yes.
      The image of walking through life with open hands reminds me how much I look forward leaving the place on the pew I occupy each week to come to the altar and kneel to receive the body and blood of Christ. There is something that happens within me each time I come, kneel, and open my hands waiting for the priest to come along and offer me what I have come to receive. This could arguably be one of the most significant postures of the entire eucharistic experience. It is a posture in which I rarely find myself outside of the eucharist — kneeling, with my hands open, waiting to receive.
      I am reminded too that there is no “special” place at the altar. I kneel next to others who are also in the same posture, anxiously anticipating the eating and drinking of the bread and wine no matter their race, sex, or socioeconomic status. We are all invited under the same premise and with the same stipulation: when we come, we must kneel and open our hands and wait to receive the Holy.
      There is no other season in which the distance between what I practice as I participate in Holy Communion and the posture of my life outside of holy places is highlighted more vividly than during Lent. Too often my intent is to say yes, but I end up opting out to protect what I have and what I am from being devalued or destroyed. Unfortunately, this leaves me clenching my fists around those things I treasure and squeezing the blessing out of them instead of embracing the paradox that what we really get to keep is what we give away.
      I need to say yes more. And I need to practice the posture of the Eucharist outside the walls of the cathedral I call home.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

ROBERT : My father used to talk . . .

My father used to talk about trying to learn to go through life with his hands open — not holding too tightly to the people and the things that he loved, being willing to let them go of them if need be for their own sake or for the sake of the Kingdom, being ready at any moment to catch a blessing or a friend if either one came his way.
      I thought of him and his idea of living openhandedly when you were talking about being open to following Lent wherever it is going to lead you. I could see you, and see myself, trying to unclench the fists that are a sign of our desire to be in control and of our insistence on marching directly to Zion — do not pass Go, do not collect much of anything along the way — rather than wandering along with the Spirit, along with the Israelites and the disciples for that matter, with our hands open just in case God sends some new thing our way.
      “The one thing a clenched fist cannot do,” writes Frederick Buechner in The Sacred Journey, “is accept, even from le bon Dieu himself, a helping hand.”
      And a clenched fist cannot catch any blessings either.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

BEN : A miser is never . . . .

“A miser is never a brave man,” wrote George Herbert. At least that’s the way one editor recently rendered this phrase in an updated and revised version of Herbert’s landmark poem, “The Temple.”
      Part of my Lenten discipline is to read poetry every day. There is a friend who has a theory that separates all reading into two categories: informational and formational. I tend to live on the informational side of things because it’s efficient, easily accessible, and can quickly be scanned for nuggets of practical application. Formational reading requires a much slower read and involves digesting the themes and phrases presented by the writer. It forces me to slow down, to pay attention and chew on the words and phrases and sentences long enough to decide whether to spit them out or swallow.
      Poetry captures emotion, not information. My first reaction to Herbert was that his thought was very clever. But for some reason, this sentence wouldn’t let me go. Perhaps there was more to be learned, more to be digested, more to be uncovered.
      I tend to think about a miser simply in terms of money. But what if I expanded my understanding to include that which I hold back about myself for fear of not having enough. Instead of lingering in the poetry of life I often settle for the prose of information to ensure that I make the most [sic] of every moment.
      Lent requires a release of control and an openness to where it will lead. I am miserly because I fail to let go and welcome life as it comes and goes. Instead, I try to contain and control life by taking it by the throat in hopes that I can get the most “bang for the buck.”
      The fact that others are having similar conversations like the one we are having; your personal reflection upon each stopping point along your journey from one part of the pew to the another; and our willingness to allow both ends of the pew to coexist to create a balance and equilibrium powerful enough to support things of life and faith — all these things are saying to me that trying to control the situation, holding back and attempting to preserve all that is for fear of not having enough denies the mystery of the sanctifying and multiplying effect of the bread and wine we consume each time we come to the table.
      The paradox is this: to experience “enough” I must be willing to give it all away. This is what God prepared to do during the Advent. I must prepare to do the same during this season of Lent, to be willing to live broken and risk being empty.
      I don’t own the pew, the conversation, the God I serve, nor the life I live. It was never mine to posses or measure or manipulate to my own advantage. I must give it all away; I must give myself away again and again and again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ROBERT : Perhaps it is because . . . .

Perhaps it is because of this conversation we are having, but I too was very aware of our not being alone on the Ash Wednesday just past. Reminders of this bit of the rites of faith that we hold in common and that holds us in common just sort of kept drifting in all day.
      The photograph of Joe Biden at a press conference, freshly besmudged forehead and all. A note on a friend’s blog, a note reminding his friends where he was headed to observe the ritual and inviting them to come along, inviting all of us to come along in a way. 
      Standing in line with the others at noon, far more others than I thought might be there frankly, awaiting my turn to be marked and reminded that to dust I shall return. A newspaper photograph of a Catholic priest marking the forehead of a student from a nearby Southern Baptist university. 
      An Ash Wednesday reflection written by a young college professor, a man who has moved in the opposite direction from me along the pew but with whom I am marching on toward Zion nonetheless.
      All of which made think of all of the spots I have called home along this great pew that is the Church, all of the places I have sat for a time on the way to the spot I occupy now. I remembered too the spot on the pew where I first began to mark the Lenten journey at all.
      It also reminded me that this conversation you and I are having here is not the only conversation that is taking place these days between folks who have come from and are headed toward different spots along the pew. And that we are marching along with them as well.

Some of us have begun the fast again, some of us have begun the fast for the first time, all of us have begun the fast together. Grant that in our Lenten fast we may be devoted to You with all our hearts, go the words of an old collect, and united with one another in prayer and holy love.
      And all the people said, So be it.