Saturday, April 23, 2005

be@peace

I have been reading through the Amplified Bible as my current translation of choice and yesterday I came across a particular phrase that struck me hard enough to leave a mark.

“…may there be peace – every kind of peace (blessing), especially peace with God, and freedom from fears, agitating passions and moral conflicts.” I Peter 5:14 amplified

Argh. These are the exact three areas which I find myself struggling with over and over again, and I need to remind myself that wrestling with these things is not merely a tiring, futile ordeal, but it is indeed meant to develop strength and skill and maturity in my spirit.

Freedom from fears: Yeah, I admit to a life-long struggle with fear. I am afraid of the dark, death, demons, people not liking me when they get to know me, hurting someone, never amounting to anything special, getting old and useless, trying really hard and failing, snakes, deep water, losing people I love, being ignored, making a wrong decision that messes things up real bad, not making any decisions because they might be wrong ones that mess things up real bad, being misunderstood, being alone, being with people, being responsible for someone, being crippled or maimed, not being loved, not loving enough, drowning, being poor, never changing anything. As I have let God come close and hang around my heart, these fears have loosened their grip a great deal, but they still like to hang around outside my door. Love, come and swallow these fears. Peace, keep them away.

Freedom from agitating passions: Man! This one is so annoying. I love passion, I love emotion, I love appetites and hungers and longings and dreams and visions and desires, but these craving creatures can bolt and get away from me if I don’t train them and remind them that I am the one holding the leash. Purity, self-control, patience, selflessness, humility, contentment, generosity. Let these rule my desires.

Freedom from moral conflicts: I had a dream this morning about walking on a tall, shaky scaffolding. At first I clutched tightly to the side rail and rigidly wrapped my arms around it, feeling very safe, but being jolted and tossed by every movement of the structure and unable to progress very far at all. Then I had the outrageous thought that perhaps I should let go of the railing and use the stability of my own two feet to keep me upright. I thrust myself into the middle of the platform, away from the heaving rail, and spread my feet apart. The floor beneath me swayed and bucked, but as I let my knees absorb the motion and my arms balance my weight shifts, I found myself able to move quickly across the surface with a sense of solidity that surprised me.

I have been clinging to the rail of methodology and legalism (with a bit of superstition and fatalism thrown in just to make it interesting) for much of my life. This has kept me feeling relatively safe, but tied to one spot, and the ride can be pretty bumpy at times because it is just so inflexible. At some point, I have to let go of the support structure and step out on my own two feet. What do I base my faith on? What do I really believe is true? How do I know something is true? What are the things that are unchangeable in my life and what things are flexible? Whom do I trust? What is the foundation I base all other things on? How do I know something is right or wrong? These questions can cause a lot of internal conflict, believe me, but they are worth asking. Being safe is not the ultimate goal. I want to walk forward having my feet firmly planted on love and truth, and both of these qualities, while being absolute, are extremely difficult to grasp because of their living, breathing, growing, larger-than-life, yet intimately personal natures. There will always be moral dilemmas and conflicts thrown across my path and I want the internal courage and wisdom to know how to respond with clarity, integrity, and joy. There are no rules I can follow to get that right. I just have to learn it by watching the Master and doing what he does.

May there be peace (and all that it entails) in your life today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Anyone can be RICH!

Really, it’s true. Being rich “implies having more than enough to satisfy normal needs or desires” (thank you, Webster). Well, I guess my first question is why anyone wants more than enough? Doesn’t enough imply that you have…well…enough? (Enough can be defined as “to a degree or quantity that satisfies” - Mr. Webster again.) But at this point we enter some fuzzy waters (hope you don’t mind the mixed metaphor). How does one measure satisfaction? While one person might think that owning a bicycle is enough, someone else might believe that a car and a truck and a motorcycle are absolutely necessary for their lives. Some are satisfied with a bowl of cereal for a meal, others insist on a full four courses. I cannot tell you what enough is, that is something you must work out in your own life, but I know there is something inside of mankind that is constantly craving satisfaction, and very few people experience it for extended periods of time. Hunger is a good thing, but not if it is a state of being. Everyone needs points of satiation and contentment – I believe it is one of the greatest gifts we have: to be able to desire and to feel fulfillment over and over again.

So what does this have to do with being rich? Well, come with me and think outside of the realm of goods, property, or money for just a moment. If you could have an abundance of something, anything, what would you choose? Contrary to popular belief, my first impulse was not cats! Nor was it watermelon! Here are some of the things I have asked God for richness in: I want loads of love in my life, acres of truth, miles of peace, truckloads of friends, piles and piles of sunset-like beauty and awe, unlimited laughter, large boxes of surprises, wisdom as far as the eye can see, mercy that doesn’t run out EVER, a deep well of forgiveness, a long road of adventures, a great big extra helping of gratefulness, a silo of healing, a big fat bouncing passionate spirit, a mountain of faith, and you can super-size me on the creativity.

I grew up on a farm and one spring my mother set aside several rows in her large garden and told me I could plant whatever I wanted and the harvest was mine to do with as I pleased. I lost no time in choosing my favourites: I planted pumpkins for pumpkin pie, corn because I loved fresh corn on the cob, a few carrots and kohlrabi and peas for nibbling on right out of the garden, and of course, a large patch of watermelons. After all the seeds were in the ground and I knew I had more than enough to satisfy my appetite and share with my family, I was dismayed to find that I still had an entire row left to sow. I couldn’t just leave it empty, so I picked out a packet of one of my favourite flowers and pressed the seeds into the furrow. I don’t remember much about how well my vegetables did that year but I will never forget (nor will my mother) that startling tall row of bright red poppies that set the entire field aflame with colour for most of the summer and was visible to all who drove past our farm.

Anyone can be rich. Start with a seed. Plant a lot of it. Watch it grow. Share.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Opposite

There are some things that just don’t seem to want to co-exist in this world. Like heat and ice (though despite the sun’s hot rays yesterday, there were still some ice floes on the edge of the river that had not yet realized that the temperature was way past their melting point); caterpillars and butterflies (you are either one or the other); darkness and sight (cats have the distinct advantage here); politics and mercy (sorry, Greg); lions and antelopes in close proximity; hot and cold (you usually end up with lukewarm, though a hot fudge sundae is the delicious exception); fear and creativity – you get the idea.

Let me name two more things: compassion (that is, a soft heart) and strength. These are two things that I highly value, but have seldom seen in perfect balance, especially in my life. Usually those who are empathetic and emotional and kindhearted are also easily overwhelmed by adverse circumstances or conflicts or criticism. Those who have been through harsh situations often develop a certain hardness of heart in order to prevent themselves from being further affected by similar things.

I can be a strong person: I have eaten cow’s tongue, survived a motorcycle accident, walked miles in –40 degree weather, given blood 39 times; and without shedding a tear, got dressed and went to work immediately after I heard that my father was killed in an accident because I had tasks that I had to complete.

I can also be a weak person: I have been known to cry while watching a makeover show, gasp in horror at the mention of an animal being wounded, burst into tears during a political debate, and shiver at the edge of a pool for an hour before daring to jump into the deep end.

Oh to be someone who has an unshakeable strength but can still be moved by the plight of others. I hate it when I am so affected by a situation that I am rendered of little use to anyone. But I loathe the cold detachment that keeps everything under control and people at a distance. So is there a perfect meeting of the two? I believe I have seen a few examples in my lifetime: Mother Theresa and my father. I am sure you can come up with a few more on your own. If you want to, click on Comment at the bottom and tell me about them.

In thinking about it, I am convinced that one of the primary ways in which one cultivates a soft heart is to encounter difficult circumstances or pain. And I am also convinced that one of the best ways to develop strength of character is to come up against immense challenges, or pain. It seems unavoidable, but in that strange paradoxical methodology that I now recognize as redemption, it needs to be embraced. The thing I must avoid is riding empathy all the way to self-pity and an emotional wallow. On the other hand, I must not allow unfeeling determination to rule with an iron fist for it will eventually strike a blow to some innocent bystander (or myself); pure stoicism seems to render one blind in certain areas.

So what can I do? Determine to make this journey with courage and unfailing vision. And then let the sights and sounds along the way delight me, let the brave ones I meet inspire me, and never let me neglect to offer a hand, a shoulder, a dollar, a moment, a cup of cold water, whatever is mine to give, to those who are faltering.


Weakness and strength are not as diametrically opposed as we make them out to be - let them co-exist in your world.