Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Forced Stillness

Rain. I watch it beat against the kitchen window this morning. The sky is dark, gray and low. Blowing wind bends the trees backwards and forwards. The dogs are completely quiet—curled in different places in the house, breathing deeply because two of them are afraid of the storms.

Forced stillness. I am grateful. My whole morning has been simpler, quieter and slower. Not my usual harried and scurried rush of wanting to get ten things finished, done or accomplished before 9 a.m.

I spoke to my daughter this past week. She has been in an RV for eighteen days traveling in the west—seeing things and places I have only read about and seen in photographs. I asked her what she was learning on this trip and she replied, “…to be still.” I laughed, but she continued.” “To be still and it is hard. I feel like I have restless leg syndrome inside.”

She and her sister have been in a place of forced stillness. They have had few other options. And so this morning I think of them and God’s exhortation through the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Interior restless leg syndrome. I have experienced it. I can get my body still, but my mind is another territory. My mind continues long after my body gives up.

Lately, I have been restless. Not an anxious or bored restlessness, but an undercurrent—a hum just below the surface.

And I have learned in this walk of faith that when that hum begins, then, more than ever, I need to be still.

And so this morning, I sit in front of the kitchen window and watch the storm outside. My inward humming current is slowing, but it remains. I don’t yet want to assess or analyze it. I just want to be still in this place of forced stillness so that I might hear what God has to say to me.

He wants me to know him. Isn’t that astounding? He wants to draw near to me in the stillness so that I am only conversing with him. He wants me in a place where my body is still, but more importantly my mind and heart have been quieted so that He can give me my next set of instructions. He wants to assure me. Amazing isn’t it?

My prayers are just disconnected phrases and strings of thoughts. They seem inarticulate and incomplete. But they rise, and I know that before they reach the Father’s ear, the Spirit has translated them from the groanings and moanings that they are to petitions and prayers.

In the stillness the Spirit translates for me. When I am rushed and hurried and in the middle of frenetic behavior I cannot hear the translation. I cannot experience what He is doing for me.

And this morning, my God wants me to hear him. What a privilege. He wants to calm even the humming. My attention is splintered in many directions. I attempt to finish one task only to realize I left another undone. Only He can absorb the hum, the distractions and the noise that reside in my fractured mind.

The rain has stopped. The wind has stilled.

I am in a place now where I can almost hear his voice above the hum.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Seeds and Ants

Yesterday I played in the dirt.

Monday was the last morning of our vacation. We didn’t go away. All my daughters have been some place grand this year: Pawley’s Island, Yellowstone, Florida and Vegas (I am aware I sound a bit jealous, but I just want to see the ocean!) Steve and I have remained here. We have, however, been on vacation.

We got up early. This is not unusual for us. Our internal clocks seem to know when the hands mark 7 a.m. no matter what day it is. If our internal clocks do not chime then Molly (the smallest of the trio of dogs) wakes us up with her incessant whining. We got up and ate our breakfast on the front porch. We wanted to start working in the yard before the force of the Kentucky heat and humidity began.

This week Steve planted grass seed in our front yard. One day it was just a patch of soil—bare and naked. A few days later there was a mist of pale green skimming across the top of the dirt. And then there was visible grass. Sparse and thin, but growing.

We also planted marigold seedlings my daughter had grown from seeds. I sat on the porch and filled seedling trays with dirt. My hands loved the cool, loose moist dirt. It was black and rich. I pushed the tiny seeds into depressions made by my pinky finger and then covered them with more black, dark dirt. Then I sprayed them with water. I have a black thumb, but yesterday my fingers felt green.

I thought of Jesus. He told us that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. BUT if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).

I buried the seeds in order for them to die. I covered the seeds; I buried them in order for them to germinate and grow and become plants—and produce more seeds.

Beautiful cycle.

Steve also dug up a rotted tree stump from the front yard. The tree died long ago and was cut down and taken away, but the stump was left behind. It was a nuisance to mow around and an eyesore in the yard and a potential hazard to someone as clumsy as me. So, he dug it up. When the main part of the stump came up out of the ground it disturbed an enormous ant hill. I have never seen one so large.

The ants began to scurry and I plopped down in the grass. I was enthralled. The stump thrummed and rippled with movement. The ants were aware they had just experienced destruction. The flipping up of the stump had exposed their nursery. All their little eggs were suddenly open to the sun, and the ants immediately went to action. In just a few minutes they transported eggs, as large as themselves, out of sight. The ants kept trying to move down into the grass, but were having to navigate the length of the wood to get there, so I built them a little bridge. I propped a leaf against the stump and they found the shortcut quickly. Their energy and efficiency was amazing.

Steve laughed at me. I am sure I looked like a child (at least in attention and posture). I was utterly absorbed. I laughed too—simply from delight.

And I thought of the proverb:

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! Proverbs 6:6

I am not a gardener. I am not an entomologist. I don’t plant flowers in the spring and I don’t pay attention to ants unless they are in my house. I have never considered their ways. I have read the mentioned verses before, but they had always simply been deep words and an interesting proverb. I understood them in theory—but now I had experienced them.

And isn’t that the difference?

As I sat on the porch with the dirt and seeds and on the ground with the rotted stump and ants Jesus’ words shimmered before me as if alive.

They were no longer theoretical metaphors and similes.

The Kingdom of Heaven, that Jesus came to explain and declare, was and is not a theory. Not just another dogmatic doctrine. Not just another sect’s or denomination’s perspective on the Divine.

While walking down the road, Jesus would turn to his followers and say, “You want to know what the kingdom of heaven is like? Then consider this…” And he would point to a field of flowers and they would be the day’s illustration. Why? Because they were walking through the field—it was available.

Jesus wanted them and us to consider something completely familiar and common in order to see the kingdom. He constantly taught them using what they encountered every day, perhaps even several times. Why?

Jesus wanted his followers to understand that his Father was not a far off mystical being. He is not a disembodied deity who sits unconcerned with the daily toil of his people.

No, the God of Jesus was and is near; Jesus made him approachable.

So near, in fact, that he wants us to see him in what we consider the common, mundane and profane. We have been trained to see him in the sacred; but Jesus wants us to encounter his Father in the common foot trails and daily chores and raw realities of life.

Real, true and authentic spirituality plays in the dirt—it sees the Father in a kernel of wheat sown into the earth; it sees the Father’s economy and efficiency in an ant hill.

And for a brief moment, yesterday I experienced it.