Saturday, September 22, 2007

Postures of Prayer

For those of you who don't know me in prayer, I'm fairly restrained in my physical demeanor. In public prayer, it's probably hands at my side, or maybe on the pulpit. In private, prior to the last several months, prayer at home sometimes happened at the table as I read a table blessing, in bed at night with the lights out, or on the run. I would not have said that any particular posture was conducive to reminding me to pray.

At the end of my field education experience I got a gift of a set of small ceramic praying hands from a woman who was the sole attendee at my Thursday night experiment in Song and Prayer. We had some wonderful prayer time together. Now I'm not much of a brick-a-brack person, and hope not to inherit my mother's set of highly glossy glazed bigger than life size set of praying hands, and these white ceramic hands are nothing like Irene's beautiful chocolate colored hands, but I put the hands up on the corner of the mantle.

I've started a regular set of morning stretches, mostly to deal with the plantar fasciitis and leg cramps that are exacerbated from sleeping in the air conditioning. And it was coincidental that when I got to the one where I take my left foot in my right hand and stretch it up while using my left hand to balance, that I ended up using the end of the mantle with the praying hands and the mantle clock. For all of the other stretches I count the seconds that I'm stretching, but for that one since I'm standing and looking at the clock, I don't need to. Since I'm also looking at the praying hands, I was reminded one morning to pray for Irene. This was occasional for a number of days, and then I realized that this was a wonderful time for prayer.

So now when I say to someone you are daily in my prayers, it means that while I'm standing on one leg, I lift her or him up in prayers on my list for the 20 seconds of each leg. You can pray for a lot of people in 40 seconds, standing on one leg. I am stretching more than my legs; I'm part of stretching the opening of the world for God's presence to be with us. I commend this posture of prayer to you--at least in the privacy of your own home. It is apt to work for flexibility and balance and to stretch with compassion while praying--a good practice for the rest of the day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Confronting Doubt

I have always thought that doubt is a necessary element of faith, rather like darkness is a necessary complement to light--how do you know it's light unless there has been darkness? Similarly, how can you know you have faith unless you doubt and question?

The article on Mother Teresa's doubts in Time magazine, and the book of letters that prompted the article,
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light compiled by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, which I have not yet read, give us a deep look into doubt, deeper than most of us are willing to acknowledge or speak. Based on the excerpts in Time, it is no wonder she wanted the letters destroyed. I hope to find time to read the book if only to see if it gives a clue about how she kept on going, doing the work she had been called to do, while being in such a state of doubt. Many others of us, when we doubt or question, just throw in the towel and think that it's not worth it--why didn't she?

In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker J. Palmer
(p. 82-83) talks about the need to hold paradoxes as both-and, not either-or:
"Spring is the season of surprise when we realize once again that despite our perennial doubts, winter's darkness yields to light and winter's deaths give rise to new life. So one metaphor for spring is 'the flowering of paradox.' As spring's wonders arise from winter's hardships, we are invited to reflect on the many 'both-ands' we must hold to live life fully and well--and to become more confident that as creatures embedded in nature, we know in our bones how to hold them.

The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love. But in the spring we are reminded that human nature, like nature herself, can hold opposites together as paradoxes, resulting in a more capacious and generous life."

I would guess that Palmer would suggest that Mother Teresa began with a very deep faith and had a long and excruciatingly difficult period of doubt as the paradox that she had to hold. May our own paradoxes be as fulfilling, so that despite the possibility of doubt, despair and pain, we can move toward faith, hope and love.

Monday, September 3, 2007


The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories says, "Clutter [late Middle English] started out as a verb. It is a variant of dialect clotter 'to clot,' influenced by cluster and imitative Old English word clatter. See clot." Clot: "Old English clot(t) is Germanic in origin and related to German Klotz. With reference to a person, a clot was originally (mid 17th century) 'a clumsy person' but it came to be associated with stupidity."

I spent Labor Day weekend getting rid of the clutter in my study, currently defined by the dictionary in my version of Microsoft Word as "noun: 1) an untidy collection of objects; 2) a condition of disorderliness or overcrowding; 3) images on a radar screen that hinder observation; or as a verb: to make a place untidy and overfilled with objects." There is some clumsiness involved in getting rid of clutter—we were tripping over piles and on boxes that are in different places. I think I've cleared paths now through the bags and boxes waiting to be taken to Goodwill or to the curb. On this side of the weekend, I am thinking it's a harsh, but perhaps accurate, judgment to regard clutter as a form of stupidity. What else can you call having had a space so full of paper that there are now twelve grocery bags of recycling waiting to go out? That doesn't count the boxes of things that have been organized, consolidated and trashed.

Several years ago, I read an article in the Boston Globe about the FlyLady. She's all over getting rid of clutter and I have to say that her clean sink trick is very helpful to me in knowing where to start in the kitchen or how to keep the kitchen clean: spend a few minutes to make the sink clean and shiny. For the office, FlyLady recommends Chaos Control. Of course, I just discovered that after spending all weekend at this task. My office at work is not quite as bad as my study was, mostly because it's smaller and because other people need to access the paper, so it stays more organized. But while not berating myself, how does a single room get so bad? ...

For those people who keep Sabbath in the letter, not the spirit, I would guess that my weekend cleaning and clutter-removing binge is not Shabbatful. Sometimes, however, spaciousness comes from our work to clear space. My long weekend's work now brings Sabbath and readiness for the coming school year. There is empty floor space and desk space and shelf space and drawer space, and plenty of paper and pens and pencils and binders, once lost in clutter, now found and accessible.

The spirit of the Sabbath is to set aside time to prepare yourself to emulate God's work of creation—sometimes that's rest and reflection and relaxation, and sometimes it's clearing out the space to allow creativity to happen. Just now, I'm going to bask in the emptiness. I have to say that I feel more joy looking at my clean study than I might after a worship service, and joy is quite central to Sabbath. This is holy and blessed time indeed.