Thursday, May 31, 2007

Listening: a.m. symphony of place

I've been reading The Listening Book by W. A. Mathieu in the morning.

He has several wonderful exercises about being aware of sound (p. 10-11): "Get a pencil and paper. Become aware of all the sounds you are hearing now, this moment, as you read. Make a list of them. Close your eyes from time to time. Swivel your head slightly to change the mix. Make a sweep from nearby sounds to distant sounds. Fall into the distance. Become transparent. Now fall into the nearness. Make a sweep from the highest sounds to the lowest ones. Disappear into the stratosphere, reappear underground. If your space is quiet enough you will hear your own internal sounds: breathing, maybe your blood in your ears. Or the subtle sounds of cloth against cloth, skin against skin. Count everything; write everything down. Use words economically. Later, if you like, you can set the scene and go into detail."

Here is mine this morning:
computer humming
car swishing by
clatter of keyboard as I type
deep breath
cracking joints as I roll my shoulders
scuffing shoe on the floor
plane flying overhead
creaking chair as I sit back
twittering of bird outside
fabric rustling against my hands
distant humming of cars on the parkway
scratching of skin
ticking of clock in the other room
the neighbor's wind chimes
the dripping of the water fountain
the call of the morning dove

Time to go for now, but I feel much more in the present, aware of my surroundings, and conscious too of how bombarded by sounds we often are. No wonder it is so hard for us to sit in silence to find God. We cannot find silence, and the associations that we have with each of these noises takes us away to some place or time, not here, unless we come back, paying attention just to the now. Perhaps this is where God is. "Be still and know that 'I am'--God."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Home Again?

Dear Fox, old friend, thus we have come to the end of the road that we were to go together. My tale is finished--and so farewell. But before I go, I have just one more thing to tell you: Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: "To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth----Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, towards which the conscience of the world is tending--a wind is rising, and the rivers flow."
You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

In this increasingly mobile society, we do a lot of leaving home. And in leaving home, we attempt both to define and find home. In my own life, I left home at 17 to go to college and went home most summers. But by 22 I never spent much more than a week at a time there, because, like Thomas Wolfe, I also found: you can’t go home again. Sometimes it is because you grow, sometimes because it shrinks, sometimes both you and home change. Sometimes you may discover that if “home is not where you live but where they understand you” (~Christian Morgenstern), then you realize that they don’t or possibly never did understand you. That is most likely why I live where I do, and my blood relatives live where they do. I love them, and while love in many cases may not require being understood, being home does.

I acknowledge in myself a strong nesting instinct: I stay in jobs a long time, and in houses and apartments for 7-10 years at a stretch. Home is where you make it your own place, perhaps? Still I’ve left jobs and moved out of houses and they are no longer home either. Home for me has also been a function of community, not just of blood. “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (~Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man) When I started seminary, one of the things that I could not quite envision about the call to ministry was leaving my church home. This past year in my field education internship, I missed those familiar people and ways of doing things, and I brought a lot of those familiar things to my internship church as gifts and ways of being connected home. Somehow though on the last Sunday I knew that this community where I’d been a student pastor also held a piece of my heart in its care. Is that also home?

This past Sunday after finishing my internship I came back to my “home” church. It was a joyful, hug-full and sobering experience. I spent the afternoon looking up the quotes about “you can’t go home again” and creating a play list of music (see below) that reflected my very mixed feelings. Almost home, you can’t go home again in jazz, country, R&B, rock, gonna feel like heaven when we’re home, sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again …

from The Odeon by Neil Harding MacAlister
Somewhere between the smiles and tears
A childhood gets misplaced;
The landmarks of our younger years,
Torn down without a trace.
Nostalgic hearts seek what is gone,
Reality explains,
She gently chides, the curtain's drawn;
The show is over. Run along.
You can't go home again.

Growing in faith and following our call is a journey that takes us away from home and to home again. The tricky part is that those instances of home may not be the same. Thomas Wolfe’s eloquent description of that growth: leaving the life, friends, home you love for greater knowing, learning, and a new place “more kind than home, more large than earth” is poignant and true. I am not the same person after this year of learning and claiming my call, and while I was gone the folks and church at home changed too.

What it teaches us, this going from and coming back to home, is that home is really something we carry within us. “Peace - that was the other name for home.” (~Kathleen Norris) When we pray, for example, we welcome God into the world, and God in turn welcomes us home, into and as ourselves, both fully inward and in the world. Home then is not the destination or the building, or even the people, but the journey, the learning, the knowing, the centeredness, the peace we come to. Hopefully, the place we rest our head, the people with whom we live, work and/or worship do support that for each of us, and sometimes we call what we know there “home,” but it is really what we move toward, both inside and outside ourselves.

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration. ~Charles Dickens

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right. ~Maya Angelou

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Driving Habits

A woman was being tailgated by a stressed out man on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of her. She did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though she could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.
The tailgating man hit the roof and the horn, screaming and swearing out the window, yelling threats and insults at the woman in front of him because he missed his chance to get through the intersection. He was still ranting when he heard a tap on his window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer.
The officer ordered him out of the car with his hands up. He took the man to the police station where he was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. The man was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with his personal effects.
"I'm very sorry for this mistake," said the officer. "You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and swearing at the woman in front of you. I had noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder on your car, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. So, naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."
From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet e-zine for Christians with a sense of humor.

I don't know whether the moral of the story is not to have bumper stickers, or perhaps ... to watch our driving habits.
I find that in a crowded grocery store where I can still smile at someone who is trying to push a cart through me, it seems to help lighten the mood and remind people of common courtesy. (I went to the grocery store at prime time this week.) But in a car, it's as if we're in our own little bubble, and we think we can do anything. I do still look for the little thank you waves from car to car and try to give them as people let me through, but the kind of behavior described in this joke is not so unusual. Why is that?

A good friend of mine was in a car accident recently and fortunately is okay, although the other driver's car was totaled and hers needs major repairs. Could a smile and a little less rushing have made the difference? Something for all of us to think about as we drive, maybe especially as we drive home from church or to work ... :-)

I am remembering the son of a colleague at work was called by one of his friends two years ago this weekend to the scene of an accident where 5 of his friends had been drinking and then were driving at 85 mph down at 40 mph road and rammed into a tree--two killed, one in a coma, other two thrown clear. He could have been there if he hadn't been at work. And he got to identify the bodies.

Something for us all to pray about as we drive, particularly as we go out this coming long weekend.

Take it easy out there. Drive carefully and prayerfully too.