Listening to God

Read the post first, then click the image and listen to the song.   It will make more sense…

Listening to God is a strange idea. Seven billion people on the planet, all of them living and dying with needs, cries, joys, dances, and wars full of cruelties worthy of front page banner headlines.   We say God is there, too, intimately, with each one of the billions, listening, paying attention, leaning toward them all with love alone in His heart, justice and mercy His nature, nothing but the good of each on His mind, according, of course, to His infinitely wise will.

Strange idea, this.

Its strangeness comes from the specificity each tribe of believers brings to the metaphor.   (An indwelling, being slain in the Spirit, hearing the still small voice, feeling a fire or a numbness, having a hunch or an intuition, being inspired, a miraculous pressing in, etc…)  For it is a metaphor, a describer of something I believe to be real, real in the formal sense of being there irrespective of perception.   (For those of you who equate metaphor with untruth or unreality, you may now begin to take me to task.)   God is a three-letter word, signifying a personhood, a willful something, a Being beyond comprehension so much so that saying God is a being is, in and of itself, misleading. The three letters of the English name we call this Power, this Being, this non-sensory Reality, cannot begin to adequately name Him, the One that is no He, but that is rather, beyond gender, beyond humanity, beyond what our collective imagination can grasp.

Yet, we say easily, we hear Him.  I’ve heard people explain that God has told them who to marry, when to divorce, when to launch a mission, and when to abandon that same mission.   I’ve explained my own life in those terms as well.

What does this mean?

“God called me to be a….”

“God called me to do….”

“God led me to….”

“God told me that….”

My point is not to question those who hear from God in this way, but to simply ask, what do these kinds of words mean? What is the human experience that leads us to use these words?  What is the quality of the experience they describe?  What happens in our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and bodies that would lead us to make such a claim?   And what does the similarity of those experiences in various religious traditions imply about the truth of any particular understanding?

There are invisible realities hovering in the air around us. I’m thinking of radio waves, spectral colors beyond our eyes’ ability to perceive, sounds out of our hearing range, and phenomena in the quantum world.   All of which are measurable and known by other means than immediate, sensory perception, true, but somehow, it does not seem unreasonable to me to consider that another invisible thing exists, a something that is the leading edge of what we call the Spirit of God.

All these religious terms seem so familiar to us that grew up with them. “God.” “Spirit of God.” “Holy Spirit.” “Jesus Christ.” (As if Christ were his last name.) So familiar as to become blinders to the infinite mysteries behind them.

I’ve been in a season of reconsidering it all. Not rejecting it, exactly, but letting my relationship with each of these ideas, these metaphors, these personhoods (let the denouncing of me as heretic begin here) lie quiet.   Not dormant—I still pray—but quiet.   I think I ran out of energy for words, ran out of creative means of conversation with them, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t think I was listening anyway.

So we’ve been sitting, and living alongside each other, these ideas (heretical, I know) and me, quietly, simply, with little fanfare.

§

I spoke with a friend today. She spoke of her own lean toward apathy, and then told me a story of a student of hers wracked by the attempted suicide of a boyfriend, and how her student had no one to go to. As she told me of how she listened and counseled the student, it was plain she was anything but apathetic. Her eyes glistened and sparkled and fired as she spoke of this girl, and I remarked, “You don’t seem apathetic now.”

My friend, moments before, had wondered what life is about.   I could almost see God nudging her along, lighting her eyes, calling her—and “nudging,” “lighting,” and “calling” are all metaphors for a process we cannot grasp—to a kind of life that, while difficult and full of hardness, would never be described as apathetic.   Is the acorn that is the fledgling life of my friend designed to express its “oak-ness” in the world of teaching? Of counseling?   Perhaps, according to clues I see, but that is her own story to tell.

For it is just that…a story she must tell, in faith, as she opens herself to the leaning in of God.

§

There’s nothing really reasonable about thinking of God hovering over seven billion souls at the same time, intimately knowing, communicating, responding, nudging, and welcoming all at the same time. Explain it how you will, explain it away how you will…it is beyond us, and can only be contemplated in faith and trembling.

But for some reason, in as skeptical a mood as I have been in lately, as I sat with my friend whose eyes were dancing with her love of a student, it seemed so clear that the love of God (whatever we might mean when we use the phrase) is seeking us, reaching for us, nudging us toward becoming the tree the acorn in us was born to become.

Now, I’m going to listen to a song by—aptly enough—The Rescues.   A friend once posted a link to this song on Facebook. I clicked on it, and immediately claimed the song as being for me. It was just a story I told myself, but the song resonated powerfully for me that day, and it does still.

My love, you’re not listening…

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Sleep

Self-Portrait-II@0

Someone asked me yesterday just how big this “puzzle” I keep referring to is.   First step, coffee, then working out.    Frankly, it’s a big puzzle, a thousand pieces maybe, and maybe I don’t know what the picture is I’m trying to put together. But it has something to do with wholeness, with well being, with flourishing, and with love.

Habits nail us, don’t they?   Or they set us free, depending on what habits we’re talking about.   Usually, for most of us, habits are a bit of mixed bag, we moving back and forth between the good and the bad and the gradient, like kids on a summer swing.

But sometimes, we get a sense, an intuition, a word from God, or a sudden impulse, that it’s time for something to change.   Maybe we know why, maybe we don’t, but it’s unmistakable—that announcement in our spirit that here’s a thing we need to let go. Or here’s a thing we need to pick up.   And so we decide to think about deciding to follow this notion inside us.  We think about it.  

Finally, after hours, days, or decades, we finally make the decision.

And then, of course, the war begins.

The next piece of the puzzle for me? The next intuitive move announcing itself?

Sleep.

I’ve made no commitment to this yet, just so you know. I sleep between 5 and 6 hours a night. Sometimes 4, rarely 7.   It doesn’t take a ton of research to know that in both the long and short term, sleep deprivation isn’t good.   I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for years, been prideful about it, frankly, assuring anybody that asked that I was fine.   Not so true, as it turns out.   Oh, I function fairly well, but in the battle with depression (“I suck, I suck, I suck”) and lack of energy, brain fog and cognitive performance, my lack of sleep has been beating the hell out of me.

I suspect it has been doing that for years.

So your job now, O Reader, is to convince me to go to bed, and sleep.   Like I said, I’ve made no commitment to this yet.   Help me out here.

This puzzle is going to wind toward a picture of what my real issues are, the things that are going on in the deeper places, the intuition behind all the smaller impulses. You might say, if you’re the kind of person that says this, that God is talking to me about something.   Maybe so…maybe so.

Whoever has ears to hear…

 

 

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Conversations

Jenny

I love roaming conversations about real things, deep life, and the questions that linger in the hidden places.   When friends, new and old, offer up their treasured thoughts in a conversation, listening becomes an artful experience, punctuated by moments of shared understanding, common sighs, and inspiration.

It’s been a week of multiple conversations like this for me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.   My friends and I have talked about racism, relationships and sex, the role of criticism in theatre, immigration policy, parenting when it gets iffy with your kids, the mysteries of physics in relation to the notion of God, the creative process, the intimacy of photography in portrait work, the role of sin in the ongoing work of making complete and whole human beings…I even got to share a couple of songs.

It’s strange that in the midst of these conversations, loneliness can still manage to rear its head.   But it does—resistance never stops its assault—yet loneliness recedes to a peripheral place when I sit listening to my friends’ stories.   And I think, “Life is not big enough to hold all that we desire from it.”   Yes, there is evil here…I know, but God knows there is such goodness among us.   We hate for the silliest of reasons, don’t we?  (Not always, but often.)  Our commonness is so rich—survival, the need for love, the need for beauty, the need for respect and dignity, the need to be heard, known, and loved.

Christ teaches us that sacrifice of self, the movement of the ego off-center in order to serve and to love, is somehow mysteriously at the center of what it means to human and whole.   I confess I don’t grasp it, though I know all the theological words to express the idea.   God help me, I don’t really need to grasp it.   I need to live it.

How?   Insert a chuckle here, ‘cause I have no idea, really.   But somehow, the conversations with my friends, new and old, male and female, black and white and brown, rich and poor, faithful and not-even-close, Christian and Whatever-other-than-that, straight and gay, beautiful and not-quite, young and old…all these conversations are beginning places to live out something that Christ perhaps had in mind.   Something intuitive, something creative, something to perhaps change a moment, a day, a feeling, and a future.

In our conversations today, may we pour life into the other.  Share food, share drink, share what we have, share good, good words.  Let us resist the tearing of life from our friends through mock, fury, and barbed wire critique. As so many have said, let us replace our fear with curiosity.

I don’t know the answers anymore.   But goodness…how good it is to listen and collaborate on what comes next in our chasing down the questions.

Let’s talk…

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When The Body Speaks, Listening Might Be A Good Idea

Physically speaking, the past year has been strange.

In April of 2014, I came back from my week of teaching in Hawaii and promptly got sick, something in my stomach that wrecked my system for a good month. (I won’t blame it on a visit to The Poke Shack in Kona right before we left, but I’m tempted to…) Since then, it’s been up and down, with various aches and ailments sporting pain levels ranging from not much to oww-that’s-crazy-pain!  (I won’t bore you detailing my shoulder and hip troubles…)  Anjie and I laugh about it now, these near-daily maladies and bothers. (The most recent was a tooth.) I’ve said several times I feel like a hypochondriac, but more than likely, my body’s just talking to me, telling me to pay attention, chuck some bad habits, and get to work, cause the wear and tear of time is starting to show itself.

The second piece of the new season puzzle, then, after the coffee thing, is working out.   (And yes, I know there’s more nutritional stuff to pay attention to, but I’ll get to that later.)

Everything I read tells me this is crucial to ongoing mental, emotional, and physical health. Lots of opinions out there about just what to do, but before the how comes the yes, as Peter Block would say.   Yes, that’s another book reference—The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters.   Block’s book is about commitment, and the fact that asking how to do a thing often masks an avoidance of commitment.   Here’s the thing…commitment is hard.   Say a firm, commitment-laden yes to something, and you’ve just said no to a thousand things that are no longer possible.   Therein is the sacrifice required. Blah, blah, blah. Nothing new here.

Except that commitment is always new, always challenging, and sure enough, as Stephen Pressfield asserts in The War of Art, resistance is ready to rise up and fight to keep us in the muck of meaningless promises, broken commitments, and doing nothing.

When I was 49, I decided I wanted to head into being 50 in the best shape of my life. And frankly, I did pretty well with it.   Nothing spectacular, but I felt much better than I’d felt in years.   I fell out of the habit a couple of years ago, and ever since, it’s been really difficult to get myself out the door with my sweats and running shoes on.

Well, enough of that, you know?

So, at 56, here we go again.   It’s not Rocket Science. Get out of the chair, spent 45 minutes in the gym, or on a walk, or doing yoga, or something.   And I’m giving permission right now for anybody who’s reading this to keep me honest.

“Hey Jeff,” you’ll say.  “How’s it going with the workouts?”   I’ll smile and say…well, we’ll see.

I can always just be lazy and not bother.   Which is the better choice?   Brain and body firing on all cylinders, or mucking through the day with brain fog and maybe a tinge of depression?

Duh.

Started the day with a cup of bad decaf tea.   Awful.   Had a better cup later.   My head hurts a bit, but not bad.   Letting go of coffee?  Check.

Worked out today too.

Off and running…

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New Seasons, Letting Go, and Coffee

Latte

New beginnings are full of promise, but I’ve had enough of them to know that a promising feeling is a guarantor of nothing.

It’s a new season in my life, one whose boundaries have something to do with a self-imposed sabbatical from church life, a brief stint of anti-depressants, a sickness in the middle of a show that required powerful steroids to jump start my voice enough to get through it, and a number of other convergences and goodbyes that tell me life moves on, that it must, and that new actions are required.

Let’s start with the letting go of one thing…just one.

Coffee.

Coffee is going. I’d like to say it’s gone, but it’s not quite. It’s a small thing, but then, addictions aren’t really small things.   A good friend once told me he always tried to pull away from anything that felt like it was beginning to grip him in an addictive pattern.   (Mark, I heard you.)  Well, that’s not been me.   Perhaps everything anyone likes and holds onto could be classified as an addiction, as suggested by Gerald May in his breathtaking book Addiction and Grace.  (Stop whatever you’re doing and get this book and read it.  You have no addictions?  Sure you do…probably.   It’s now #2 or #3 on my five-books-I’d-take-to-a-desert-island list.)

But my identity has been wrapped up in coffee for most of my life. I drank it chock full of milk and sugar for the first time when I was in elementary school.  Now I drink it black, or with half-n-half, or with nonfat milk, or with milk and sugar, or in its various espresso forms.  I drank my coffee in china cups (carrying them around on matching saucers) for years, and I always have a particular cup that better not be missing.  I pride myself in being a “coffee drinker”…I even put it on my business card years ago, as if it was a distinction worthy of mention, as in “I know you drink coffee, but not like me.”   Silly.

So, for now, and with no great intentions to never have a cup again, I’m simply letting it go.   I’ll sip my green tea instead in the morning, and try hard not be “a tea drinker.”

Maybe I’ll blog a bit more about the changes to come. The letting go’s and the picking up’s.   The new actions, new goals, new gatherings, and new visions.   To blog consistently would certainly be a change.

We’ll see. But for now, help keep me honest about my coffee life.   Ask me how it’s going. It’ll help me if I know you’re coming…

I used to say I love change…

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For Harold: A Tetrameter Tribute

Here’s a recording of FOR HAROLD, a tetrameter piece of poetry I did for my dear friend Harold Lipford when I found about his passing. The text is below.  Words can’t do it, but this will be my contribution.  For those of you who don’t know, Harold presided over my marriage to Anjie almost 34 years ago, and has been a lifelong mentor, pastor, father, spiritual guide, and friend.  Today, many will gather to celebrate his life at his memorial service, and I so wish I could be there.  But I’ve got two shows here in Seattle.   Perhaps appropriately, my body is not well as I begin the day, and while there is joy here for Harold, knowing of his anticipation of heading to his long anticipated home in Heaven, still, death is no friend to those left behind.  At least not to me.  But somehow, words have power to comfort, to heal, and to testify.   If you’re here grieving over his passing, as I am, I hope these words express something of what we all feel.   Like so many others,  I’ll miss you, Harold.

I love you.

And of course, Jeannette, this is for you…

NOTE: The music is that of John Elliot, a song entitled “The World’s Last Night” from his fantastic album A BURDEN LIFTED. When I think of music to heal in times of distress and heartbreak, I think of this man’s music.

FOR HAROLD

These tears.
So different than on the stage.
They’re hot, like writers say in long books,
These grief tears for my good father.
No, not my father in body,
But my father in spirit.
Silver hair, nimbus-like, graced him,
His gentle movement through the world
Gracing those who found his orbit.
He listened so well, at least to me,
And wondered often of this and that,
His face holding curiosity,
As if all things were bewildering,
All instances of mystery,
Needing God’s nudge to make sense of it.
I lived in his house for a brief season,
A foolish boy of pride and damage,
And Harold eased his way into me,
Making fondness and adoration
Seem par for the course, so normal.
He loved, and wept, and told stories,
So many tales of his daughters,
Their journeys and his wonder at them.
He danced through what he didn’t know,
Living well with what was beyond him.
Acceptance is a thing I learned there,
Though it would be years before I knew.
I feel his arm around my neck.
He prayed that way, that arm draped ’round me,
Our heads close, Jeannette there, too,
So many times on departures,
That small circle of us, cherished,
Still standing in that living room,
The one on Harwell, and Anjie’s there,
And once, my son and daughter too.
How we laughed and wept and hung on.
“If I’d had a son,” he’d say,
“I would have wanted him to be like you.”
I’m sure he said that to all of us.
O, secret heart here hidden,
This heaving turmoil, unknown light,
Take up his mantel, and live more, and better,
Lifting up in mind that Noble,
The one who presided at my vows,
The vows that have shaped this good life.
Who is worthy of God’s kingdom?
Maybe Harold. Most surely, Harold.
May he find the path well-worn there,
And walk it, well-trained in loving.
Would that I’d find his hand there,
When comes my turn for the long home.
Meet me, then, Harold, and show me,
Show me that wonder that sparkles in you.
Till then, let mists never leave me,
Not the ones in which Harold hears me.
Give me breath and strength to listen on,
And perhaps yet, throw a pot or two.
Muddy hands, and good, good stories.
Yes, yes. Tears can slake thirst, after all.
Stand with me now, in this small circle,
Wide with sorrowed-spirits gathered,
Arms draped round necks that loved him.
Let’s pray Harold home, sing Amen,
And vow to meet at best sunrise,
Some century to come, and laugh,
As we jostle at Harold’s tellings,
Hearing stories of his kingdom walks,
Our forevers now so in common,
Holy, simple, in good company.
Go in grace and peace, Harold,
And look for us, your spirit children all.
Save a spot on some star for us,
For we long to follow, and find you.
In the name of our Jesus
Who you so reminded us of
Amen.

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Erik

I continue to explore with my camera.   My friend Erik needed some shots, so we went and took some.    Totally fun.   I could have used more fill light at times, but still… Anybody else need some photos?

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