What Are You Thinking?

When you hear an unusual message, you might take a second to consider whether you should listen to it. Is it worth my time?

But when, almost immediately, it comes to you again from a different source, now it carries more weight and becomes worth considering. Could this be the Holy Spirit whispering to me?

The unusual message that came to me was: Don’t believe everything you think.

I read this in Louise Penny’s 2020 novel, All the Devils Are Here. “Don’t believe everything you think” is the advice given by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to incoming cadets at the Sûreté academy.

Within a day or two of reading that, and pausing only briefly to read it again, I came across the following in a video message from Dr. Benjamin Hardy: “A sign of wisdom is not believing everything you think. A sign of emotional intelligence is not internalizing everything you feel. Thoughts and emotions are possibilities to entertain, not certainties to take for granted. Question them before you accept them.” This is a quotation from Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton.

So, receiving the same unusual guidance twice, I feel compelled to ask: What am I thinking that should not be believed? What thoughts am I entertaining that are actually leading me someplace I don’t want to go, to become someone I don’t want to be?

It doesn’t take me long to come up with a list of things that have trotted into my mind—that must be allowed to trot on through into oblivion without being accepted as truth. The thoughts come in from everywhere—news reports, books I read, social media, email messages, commentators, friends and acquaintances. None of it is necessarily truth to be believed.

What are you thinking that you should not believe?

       

Is It Morning, or Is It Mourning?

Every day I send at least one text to a friend of mine in another state. Today when I typed in “Good Morning,” my autocorrect feature immediately double-checked and offered me the alternative of “Mourning.”

I took note for several reasons, one of which is that that’s never happened before in our years of daily “good morning” messages. But a bigger reason is that I am a widow and know firsthand a thing or two about mourning. A little over four years have passed since my spouse died, and I am prompted to wonder if I have made it a good mourning.

It might be considered “good” that I haven’t taken my grief to my friends over much (I don’t think); I have kept the burden on myself and on my faith. There are still those occasional days when I am suddenly gutted by this memory or that, and when that happens I am grateful for the separation these virus times require so that I am not caught trying to explain myself to witnesses.

My heart tells me that the best “good mourning” is the one that most honors the memory of the lost loved one.

But speaking of these virus times, that was the third association that arose with the autocorrect prompt. Indications are everywhere around us that many are in mourning with our situation. Of course, well over 200,000 in the United States have direct reason for mourning for the lives lost, but just now I am thinking more of the rest of us who are in mourning for other kinds of losses: unemployment, loneliness, isolation, overwhelm with kids at home, homeschooling, loss of physical contact with loved ones who live elsewhere, and loss of freedom to simply and easily go about our business in public.

I do not believe God was caught off guard by the coming of this pandemic, and I certainly don’t believe that He sent it. But I wonder if He is intrigued by our (in)ability to cope, our (un)willingness to take the measures needed to get it under control.

. . . because I can’t help noticing that the only thing separating “morning” from “mourning” is . . . U.

God bless you this day. Stay close to the Holy Spirit. Stay well.

       

Words and God

Words and God have always had my heart.

An early moment when these two loves fitted harmoniously together was when I was about eleven years old, before the trials of life had sent me down the various rabbit trails that have composed my life.

The farm I grew up on was about a mile from my church, and family members who attended often walked the gravel roads to get there. My father, not a church-attendee himself, sometimes drove us, but often not. The gravel road we walked was seldom graded, so we chose steps carefully amid the ruts and washboard.

One Sunday morning I entered the church with more than just the dust of the walk. I had carefully made what I thought was the perfect sign for my congregation. I proudly, if shyly, affixed it to the wall at the back of the sanctuary. Here is what said:

What in the world are you doing, for heaven’s sake?

I hoped that anyone who read it, would read it twice.

The two parts are turns of phrase so common that the point might easily be missed. The question on the front end was one every member would have heard thousands of times. It paired well with the mundane phrase on the back end—the Midwestern response to anything the least bit surprising or curious. The result, to my young mind, was a profound theological reflection.

In fact, in all the Bible studies since, including the master’s degree in spirituality, I don’t know that I’ve ever come up with a better theological question.

My memory of the sign ends with the posting of it. I don’t recall that there was any reaction whatsoever in the church. Probably some members read it, but likely only once.

If I could, I would go back in time and dare them all: read it, and read it more than once.

       

Settled into a Rut

Everyday Spirituality is about experiencing the divine in the mundane and seeing lessons where problems are apparent.

Even with things like my desk chair.

It sits on a plastic carpet protector that is meant not only to protect the plush carpet but to allow me to move the chair easily.

But as time goes on and I sit in my chair day after day, something happens. My weight presses the chair wheels downward until the plastic (normally flat and unyielding) sinks into concave shapes, as though a golf club had cut four divots.

When that happens, I can no longer shift my chair—at all. I can’t move closer to the computer, nor to the left to open a desk drawer, nor to the rear to more easily leave the workstation. I am as fixed as if the chair were nailed to the floor, never mind the wheels and plastic surface meant to keep me mobile.

The only solution is to wrestle my way out, grasp the chair and force it—like pulling false teeth out of taffy—out of the divots. The heavy chair clearly longs to fall back into the ruts, but I wrangle with it to shove the wheels away from the grooves and onto hard, flat surfaces where the chair and protector can both perform as intended.

It forces me to wonder how many areas of life are just like that: where we have settled into ruts that will fight to keep us stuck.

 

       

Peace in the Time of COVID-19

The sun is out shining brightly; flowering cherry trees are in bloom; buds are already abundant with new life. This time of self-isolation, instituted in an effort to slow or stop the spread of the coronavirus, is also a time of stopping to notice what is around us.

A spiritual director friend of mine said: “It feels like an extended retreat.”

Along with doing what we can to safely help others, maybe the best use of this time is to pull ourselves back by the spiritual tether that links us to God, so we come back under His wing. A good verse to think about is Hebrews 13:5 from the Amplified Bible:
“For God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not. I will not. I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down. Assuredly not!”

May God keep you safely in His care.

       

Leap the Abyss

James Broughton wrote a wonderful, short poem, which I first noticed seven years ago and some small part of my mind has been thinking about since. It appears at the end of this post.

Not that I can actually take every position it recommends, but it reminds me of a favorite thought from Mark Twain, who said that twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you did not do than by the ones you did.

Regret is the one emotion I have tried my best to avoid. And this poem clearly attempts to offer ways to help a person not get too acquainted with regret—at least the regret of not trying what you wanted to try.

Take some time to remember whatever was once important to you but became buried by time and life experience. And once you uncover it, look at the advice in the poem to see how much of it you can undertake.

Choose not to upholster the rut you’re in; choose to leap the abyss to what’s more beautiful, what gives you life, what’s next.

 

Take the whole kit
with the caboodle
Experience life
don’t deplore it
Shake hands with time
don’t kill it
Open a lookout
Dance on a brink
Run with your wildfire
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut
~ James Broughton ~


       

Seed … Time … Harvest

I know this picture doesn’t look like much to you. But actually something remarkable has happened, and this photo is the proof.

You may ask, “What’s so remarkable about scrawny new grass growing in?”

I’ll tell you.

The grass seeds were sown over a year ago, possibly more like eighteen months ago. I can’t say that I actually planted them by the usual procedure. They were truly sown: scattered on the bare dirt in the backyard.

I wasn’t expecting much to come of it, and as far as I could tell, nothing did. I did minor tending of my hoped-for crop, but I knew from past experience that it would be difficult for grass to grow in where running dogs, persistent drought, and ever-increasing shade discouraged new growth. My professional landscaper had already tried twice without success and had asked me not to expect him to try again.

But well over a year ago, I bought a small sack of seed and sowed it. The seeds lay dormant. After five or six months, I gave up on them, and then I forgot about them entirely.  Now, after weeks of recent autumn rains, the seeds have sprouted and taken root. They are growing! New grass is coming up everywhere I haphazardly scattered those seeds.

Then I heard that archaeologists had discovered, in a sealed coffin, seeds estimated to be over 4,000 years old. Being researchers, they had to see what would happen if they planted some of them. What happened was that the seeds took root and grew. They were still alive and viable.

I have to wonder: what seeds have you sown and completely forgotten about—seeds that are just waiting for the right time, the right conditions to sprout? They may be seeds of kindness, of giving, of encouragement, of hope. I have to conclude that the seeds we plant into other people’s lives are just as hardy as those scattered seeds in my backyard and also never die.

       

A Writer Sees Red

From time to time, this blog looks at something about writing, which can sometimes be as much of a spiritual practice as meditation or prayer or labyrinth-walking.

Writing, though, is usually more intentional than many other spiritual practices. Part of the intentionality is how deliberate the writer must be about word choice and image choice.

Just in case you don’t believe that, here is a short and somewhat playful demonstration:

“Her face reddened” means one thing. (Has she been caught in a lie?)

“Her eyes reddened” means something altogether different. (Is she sad, or about to cry?)

“Her hair reddened” is a whole other thing. (Only her hair dresser knows for sure.) And “her ears reddened” is another shift in meaning. (Likely embarrassed about something — or possibly just caught out in the cold without earmuffs.) Yet, all of these are about redness occurring on the head.

We also talk about “red-handed,” which means something different from “her hands were red.” And a business might be “in the red” but might be saved by a “red-letter day.”

The English language offers so much meaning, often layers of it. It is a gift to find a writer who knows the depth of what’s possible with our language and how to employ it artfully.

       

Rushing God’s Timing

Today is an unexpected day off in the middle of a week-long fence-repair project. My contractor has pruned all the plants in the flower beds on the sides of the fence and covered them with painters plastic. She has replaced a rotten board or two and used a strong cleaning product along with a brush to remove algae. Through the process, the boards got a good soaking. She asked me to check the bottoms of the boards this morning to make sure they were dry enough for paint.

They weren’t. So painting is postponed. If we were to ignore the dampness and move ahead with painting, as planned, the paint would not adhere correctly, and the job would be botched. Soaked boards take time to dry thoroughly here in my shady yard; it would be a mistake to rush the process.

It’s the same way with God’s timing. All of us plan things for our lives, and we always have in mind exactly how it should all go. We usually have a schedule we’re working out, even if we haven’t consciously thought of it that way. We still have our ideas of what should happen next and when and how it should happen.

But often times God has other ideas. Maybe He knows the wood isn’t dry yet, even though we don’t detect the dampness, and if we’ll listen, we can avoid a wrong decision. Maybe there is really nothing wrong with the plan we’re trying to put into effect—other than that God has a much better one around the corner, if we can hold our horses. We’re always much better off to take the time to pray, to seek divine guidance, to try to discern God’s way for our lives, and never to rush God’s timing.

       

Another Look at Faith

You could almost say that faith is a gift that keeps on giving. That is, no matter how many times I visit the issue of faith, there comes another time when the subject deserves another look. It’s a very big subject.

Last September, in one of the rare occasions when I gave the message for the Sunday morning service at my church, I chose as a title, “What We Do; What God Does.” The message was about faith and grace—specifically, how our faith activates grace. Somewhere along the way, I had come to understand the concept that our faith is the mechanism that joins God’s promises with the fulfillment of those promises.

In other words, the promises of God are available to every one of us; they are the grace of God. But if I don’t come to them in faith that they are for me, I will never see them materialize in my life.

Both sides are required for the miracles to occur.

What prompts my latest reconsideration of this vast subject of faith is the book my Sunday study group has been reading: Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered, by Martin B. Copenhaver. A few weeks ago, the group took up Chapter 4: “Questions about Faith and Doubt.” In those pages was a quote by William Sloane Coffin: “Faith isn’t believing without proof—it’s trusting without reservation.” [Coffin was a former Yale University chaplain who was instrumental in creating the Peace Corps.]

I’ve spent some time chewing on the distinction Coffin draws. It doesn’t run parallel with the common Hebrews 11:1 guidance, which tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For one thing, the Hebrews verse is about faith as a noun; the Coffin quote is about faith as a verb. It’s hard to adequately compare nouns with verbs. Worse than apples and oranges.

You may think otherwise, if you take the time to live with the Coffin quote for a while, but it seems to me that if all we had was the first half (believing without proof), faith would have to be considered static, inactive, and even fairly lifeless. But that second half, now, (trusting without reservation), that’s faith that opens up unlimited worlds of life-giving grace.

       


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(Author photo by Mark Bennington.)