Posts Tagged ‘quiet

21
Oct
20

Finding the Quiet Center

Let’s see…

  • A new place to call home,
  • A global pandemic,
  • A chaotic, topsy, turvy, absolutely wack-a-doodle political scene,
  • Streets filled with people protesting against racial injustice, 
  • A record-breaking wildfire burning eight-and-a-half miles from the city limits of my new community,
  • A cable TV company tearing up nearby streets and yards to install new service…

Hmmmm, I wonder… what else can I add to my world to make it just a little more CHAOTIC?

Hey! I know! What about a complete remodel of our kitchen and dining room?

THAT’S the ticket!

As I cower here in my upstairs study/office/sanctuary, I can hear the sounds of a wall being broken down, followed by a wet/dry vacuum cleaner sucking up the drywall detritus, followed next by the sound of tiles being chipped away with a hammer. 

Yes, the door is closed, but the sounds and vibrations carry through quite clearly.

And besides the clutter, dust, and noise, we are now cooking in a microwave and eating on paper plates since the stove and dishwasher have been pulled out.

This project was supposed to start mid-summer and be finished by Labor Day. Thanks to the aforementioned global pandemic, absolutely EVERYTHING about this project was delayed.

I know, I know… “first world problems.” For sure.

As I sit here in the middle of this chaos, dust, and confusion I found a certain song coming to mind. You might know it, too. It is called, Find the Quiet Center.

And it goes a little like this…

Come and find the quiet center

     in the crowded life we lead,

          find the room for hope to enter,

               find the frame where we are freed:

clear the chaos and the clutter,

     clear our eyes, that we can see

          all the things that really matter,

               be at peace, and simply be.

This certainly is a time when we could all use a “quiet center,” isn’t it? Whether your kitchen is being remodeled, or your kids are driving you crazy, or your job is teetering on the brink, or your mental and/or physical health is in jeopardy, every one of us yearns for respite… even if only for a fleeting moment.

Of course, there are many options when it comes to coping with the chaos of life, aren’t there?

We can flee (or attempt to).

We can deny.

We can anesthetize with drugs, alcohol, sex, or mindless entertainment.

We can grit our teeth and stoically suffer.

Or we can seek out and enter the “quiet center” God offers us.

Once God spoke to the embattled Israelites through Isaiah’s mouth and told them, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13, NRSV).

Eight hundred years later, Jesus looked out sorrowfully on the chaos of the city of Jerusalem and lamented, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, NRSV). 

The Good News for today is: regardless of the particular circumstances any of us face right now, the quiet center we so desperately need is indeed available. 

AND it is actually even closer than you think!

Abundant blessings;

03
Jul
19

Vegan Evangelism

Vegan pizzaMy niece taught me something about evangelism the other day.

And I don’t think she even realized she was holding class.

This is not the new college graduate niece I wrote about earlier (in a blog post you can find here). This is her sister, Natalie.

You see, Natalie is a vegan.

She is also very serious about following her vegan diet… to the point that she has her own dedicated section of the refrigerator and a shelf or two in the pantry of her parents’ kitchen on which to store her food.

I have known other vegans in my life. Most of the time I have experienced them as passionate to the point of being a tad overbearing in their advocacy of veganism.

I have also – VERY briefly – toyed with the question of whether I might benefit from switching to an entirely plant-based diet… a thought that quickly fades away the second someone in my zip code begins grilling steak outdoors.

After spending several days in Natalie’s vicinity, especially at mealtimes, I began thinking seriously about making much more of an effort to go meatless, at least a couple of days every week…

… all because of the effectiveness of Natalie’s vegan evangelism.

In contrast to many other styles of evangelism you might be familiar with, Natalie’s was very quiet.

She didn’t preach. She didn’t berate. She didn’t drone on and on about the amazing health benefits of the plant-based diet. She didn’t throw a massive guilt trip on Joan and me about our willful “murder” of innocent cows, chickens, and fish.

She just went about her business… mashing up chickpeas, blending tofu and various spices, toasting bread, and quietly enjoying herself.

During our visit, Natalie just quietly radiated a sort of health and joy that was magnetic. It made me want to turn toward her and ask questions about her diet, which she answered thoroughly and politely.

It was her conviction, combined with her non-pushy, non-anxious demeanor that very effectively drew me more closely to thinking I might want to give this way of eating a serious look.

And then I wondered; “What if Christians took this same approach to OUR evangelism?” I wonder if we might have the same effect on the people around us that Natalie had on me?

  • What if we just LIVED our faith and let our lives speak for themselves?
  • What if we declined to browbeat, guilt-trip, or shame our friends and family members into believing?
  • What if we tried something like ATTRACTING rather than COERCING people to investigate the life-changing claims of our Lord and Savior?
  • What if we gave up the notion that it is WE who do the changing of people’s hearts and remember it is something much more ephemeral and outside our direct control? (Can you say “Holy Spirit”?)

 

Hmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds way too simple, doesn’t it?

16
May
17

LISTEN!

SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”

 

– Abundant blessings;

28
Feb
17

Grapes and the Dude

grapes-and-vineI remember a sketch from Saturday Night Live a few years ago that caused me to laugh out loud… and wince a little bit, too.

This sketch was called, “Short Attention Span Theater.” It featured fictional plays and dramas that were all somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five sentences in total length.

In other words, the perfect duration for those of us gifted (or burdened) with short attention spans.

I laughed at the sketch because it was pretty funny.

But I also winced because it hit uncomfortably close to home.

It is awkward to admit, but I regularly find myself being the poster boy for “short attention span syndrome,” or SASS (in case the full name is a little too long for you).

Sometimes I wonder if SASS might be affecting more folks than just me.

It seems we often live in a world driven by highlights; don’t make me watch the whole football or basketball game… just show me a collection of the most exciting plays from it. Please don’t make me watch you chop up that entire onion… just show me the finished product in a little glass bowl.

We often seem driven to live life in bursts of frenetic motion. We cannot STAND sitting still for too long. We jump feverishly from activity to activity, fearful that something important and exciting might happen over THERE while I am preoccupied over HERE.

The social media app Twitter is the perfect tool for our “life in bursts” culture. With a limit of 140 characters per tweet, it caters to our short attention span perfectly.

And have you tried watching a television commercial lately? Just for fun, try counting the number of different scenes or images that are crammed into a 30 second commercial for anything. It is enough to make your head spin!

And while I acknowledge that my response might be due to my increasing age, I can’t help but wonder if something isn’t lost when we find ourselves living the short attention span life.

Things happen in the world around us and we decide that it is more important to respond QUICKLY rather than THOUGHTFULLY. We fear something might be lost if we take the time to allow an event or an observation to sit and percolate with us for a while.

We seem to believe that if we take the time to allow life to penetrate too deeply into our hearts and souls, we will miss some other opportunity or moment.

As a result, everything we offer from that impatient mindspace tends to be quick… clipped… visceral… abrupt… something we feel we have to offer now and – if necessary – apologize for later.

All of which causes me to wonder: are we losing the ability to practice ABIDING? Do we even see how abiding might be important in our lives? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines abide as to: “… continue, remain, survive, last, persist, stay, live on.” It is a patient waiting and watching… a non-rushing approach to life.

I was rthe-big-lebowski-white-russianeminded of the importance of abiding on a recently completed mission trip. A friend offered a devotion one morning based on one of my favorite movies of all time: The Big Lebowski. (Insert STRONG parental advisory here). The main character in the movie (played by Jeff Bridges) is The Dude. And the dude’s watchword is, “The dude abides.”
Jesus also talked a lot about abiding. In John 15:4 he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” And then in verse 5 he elaborates a bit and says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

The kind of abiding Jesus is talking about is a steady watchfulness that does not demand instant results or instant responses. It values constancy… purpose… thoughtfulness… patience.

Lent – which begins tomorrow – is the season of abiding. We often think of it as a time to sacrifice or “do without” something.

But I think the real purpose of the Lenten fast is to help force us to downshift a gear or two… to be less frantic and urgent… and to become more serene and thoughtful about who we are and what in the world we are doing, anyway.

And so my prayer for you today is to allow this to be a day of abiding… and bearing fruit.

ABIDE

23
Aug
16

Those chores!

Mopping-floor

“Rusty! Have you done your chores yet?!”

I can still hear my mother’s voice asking that bothersome question today… 46 years after she left us.

Because usually the answer was “No, mom.” Followed by the intentionally vague, yet somewhat promising-sounding, “In a minute.”

My chores back then were simple. Those on the “daily” list were: Take out the trash. Make my bed. Clean my room. Feed the dog. The weekly tasks were a little bigger and more demanding; mowing the grass and shining the shoes, for example.

I used to hate chores. They cramped my style. They cut into my free, unfettered time of idleness. They cost me valuable energy and were not fun. The sound of the word itself is grating; “chore” sounds exactly like “bore” and inspires me to do nothing but “ignore.”

Isn’t it interesting how a few decades of time and life experience can change things?

Because today I must confess: I have a whole list of them and I LOVE my chores!

Besides the normal waking up and getting rolling duties (which become more like chores with each new birthday), I am responsible for making coffee, walking the dog, giving the dog her pills, feeding her, watering the porch plants and the tree out front, and watering the transplanted bush, hanging plant, and also the basil plants in back. On Thursdays, add to that list collecting and taking out the trash, on Fridays, watering the houseplants, and now and then emptying the dishwasher.

And that doesn’t even count weekly mowing, trimming, and weed pulling in the yard!

My chores fill me with a real sense of purpose and accomplishment. They make me feel like a valuable, contributing member of the household team. Dried up, dead plants and a tubby puppy would be the result of me slacking on my chores… neither of which would be good.

But for all of the vital, necessary, “meaning-giving” purposes they serve, it dawned on me recently that my chores can also work against me. It occurred to me that my beloved chores can serve as a benevolent barrier to doing the quiet “soul work” that I need to do.

To shamelessly steal Stephen Covey’s categories, chores are urgent. They call for one’s attention and energy RIGHT NOW. They must be done! Soul work – on the other hand – is not urgent. It does not come screaming for my attention.

Of course when you hold the two up to the light and compare them, anyone can see that an hour spent in the yard, pulling up weeds, edging around the side of the house, or mowing is a LOT more productive than quietly meditating in the chair in my office, reading the Bible, or writing a blog post.

My chores produce a visible residue of effort… something that can be pointed to with pride as clear evidence of one’s value. Especially when you bag the clippings!

Time spent tending the interior landscape produces no such pile of evidence. It happens quietly and sweatlessly. Its work is hidden from view… locked away in the intricate crevices of the infinite interior. Its results emerge slowly and gradually… almost imperceptibly.

Soul work is certainly not urgent. It is, however, important.

And it seems the more anxious I am… the more eagerly I feel the need to have my worth validated by YOU, the more readily I am drawn away from soul work and toward my chores. Away from the important and toward the urgent.

Dear Lord, today help me discern more clearly between the urgent demands on my life and those that are important… those that feed the eternal dimensions of my soul and those that deal only with matters of the surface.

Because the world will certainly survive a slightly shabby lawn. But it may not survive a whole collection of shabby souls.




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