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Sinking Sand or Solid Ground?

I don’t know about you but as for me, closing my eyes to pray or meditate isn’t an option. I feel trapped in a dark place and start scrounging around for light of my own creation or imagining. And that is sure to distract me from my intentions.

I need a visual focus, something for my eyes to “see” while I let my mind settle. Settle on whatever is to come. So that I may welcome and receive it.

Recently, I’ve begun using the minute timer, extracted from a long ago game — possibly Pictionary — where turn-taking was measured in minutes. And before I begin my days’ adventures, I let the sand run. For one solid minute I’m motionless and focused on the grains of sand, seeping through the narrows, slowly, deliberately, orderly and completely.

“My blood shed for thee.” Do I actually hear the voice that speaks that?

“Poured out for your sins.” Where did that thought come from?

Sifted, sliding, shimmering in the ambient light. A sparkle, immediately quenched with its progress. Downward. Toward its finish. Emptying. Emptying. A hollow forms as its pace quickens, hurrying to its completion.

I am neither sad nor distressed as I watch these events unfold. The work of this sand is not remarkable, simply reasonable, inevitable. The consequence of gravity pulling it toward its destination, gathering it together into its lower realm. Poured out. Completely.

“I have emptied myself completely that you might be filled fully.”

“Whatever you do, do it in my name and for my name’s sake.”

Into my day I go, full of the grace and truth that this one minute holds. One day’s worth, bolstered by the assurance of these grains of sand, slipping one by one, of which I am one. Assured by these drops of blood, one by one, by which I’m saved.

Tomorrow I will turn it over and begin again.

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Surprised by grace

I returned the book* one day late. I knew it was late. I could have returned it the day before, but I had a few more pages to finish. So I kept it. Kept it from the next person on the list, who had put a hold on it, whose right it was to have it. To get to start reading it. I was delinquent and I knew it.

Sheepishly, I approached the white-haired woman at the checkout counter. Producing the book, I apologized for having kept it a day past its due date. I fingered the coins in my hand, ready to pay for my transgression. The woman smiled at me as she took the book. “You’re probably OK,” she told me, “We build in a day of grace.” After scanning in my return, she paused a moment and then declared, “You’re forgiven.”

Ho-ho! How delighted I was to hear those words! I admit I had a sudden urge to ask this woman to repeat herself so I could record her on video. Thought better of this, though, and left the library, smiling broadly, my quarters still in my pocket. I’m actually not sure how much the one day fine would have been had it been assessed, but not much. Certainly, my gratitude at being excused was out of proportion with the giddiness I felt. Not at getting away with something, but at confessing that thing and being surprised by my forgiveness.

That’s the singular thing about grace that has us kicking up our heels in delight. Because we don’t deserve it we don’t expect it so it catches us completely off guard. It’s a gift we didn’t see coming. Swoops in and sweeps us completely off our feet.

Funny, this instance has reminded me of the conversation Jesus had with Simon-Peter when he was belly-aching about the extravagant love shown Jesus by a woman “who had lived a sinful life.” Jesus asked Peter to reconsider her via a parable about a money-lender who forgave two debtors, neither of whom could pay; one owed 10X the amount owed by the other (Luke 7:41-48*). Then Jesus asked, Now which of them will love him (the money-lender) more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

Well, here I am, over the moon about my small debt forgiven while I celebrate this moment of grace. Until the sinner in me realizes that now that I know there will be a day of grace extended, I will very likely be tempted to take advantage of “my extra day” as if it were mine to take rather than His to give.

Apparently, the amazing thing about grace isn’t its quantity, quality or availability. It’s that it comes as a complete and utter surprise. After that, we’d do well to keep the gratitude gig going.

*Searching for Sunday, by the late Rachel Held Evans

What gets your attention?

We all notice, don’t we? The thing that wasn’t there before. The thing that isn’t but was. The thing that’s different from one image to the next. Heck, that’s a puzzle I loved to do as a kid! Find all 10!

Yes, if we’re paying even the slightest attention, we notice when something has changed, been moved, seems out of place or is acting strangely. That’s why airport security admonishes us, “If you see something, say something.”

The funny thing is, we were made for this. It’s a survival mechanism. Really. Our perceptors (my new word: receptors for perception) are designed to alert us when something might be dangerous. Did you know that your body responds more quickly and forcefully to a critter crawling UP your arm than to the one crawling DOWN? Yep. One is a threat to the jugular; the other may only nibble a finger or toe. No biggie.

So, given this design, it’s not surprising to find that something moving quickly in our peripheral vision draws our attention. Someone behaving oddly gets our gaze. Someone dressed distinctively gives us pause. Honestly, when something or someone is different, it is hard to look away — even when it’s impolite to stare.

I find it at least a little bit comforting to realize that it isn’t just my socio-cultural bias at play here: a good bit of this responsiveness is programmed in. I’m designed to notice different and be wary, AND I’m drawn to seek the similar because it brings me comfort. It’s our instinctive nature to distinguish among and between in order to seek safety, security and well-being. It’s the same for all the animals in the animal kingdom. Draw close; protect your own.

Today’s world, though, is demanding more of me and of us. It is calling us away from the basic animal in our nature toward what is unique to our human nature. Yes, we have biases — ingrained, learned and polished over years of practice. There’s no disputing: We do prefer this to that. We understand this and not that. We accept this and reject that. But our humanity has been dealt a brilliant extra card: a mind that can notice its bias and reject it.

It’s a small thing really, to catch myself in the act of assigning a story to someone I see but don’t know, whether it’s on the TV, in the news or in the parking lot at my local shopping center. I have discovered that I can nip that thought right in the bud, though. In fact, I’ve taken to giving myself a little swat on the thigh to say, “Stop that right there, you!” That’s what you’d hear if your earbuds were listening in to my brain. I trust you aren’t, but the Big Someone Else surely is.

So, I figure I ought to listen, as Lincoln put it, to the angels of my better nature. They’re telling me to: lead with forgiveness, err on the side of generosity, assume the best in the other — until further notice. Lotta grace flowing down that stream. Grace I don’t always even give myself. Got a lot to learn.

Ironic, the difference between what gets your attention and what you give your attention to. Every animal in the kingdom comes pre-programmed for survival. We humans have the capacity to discern, decide and re-direct. Thought by ever-loving thought.

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