Friday, June 28, 2019

Equilibrium take Three


There is often much talk about finding a balanced life today.  Like we should be able to navigate through the roughest weather with the grace of a fearless and experienced captain…like no wave should ever knock us off our feet…like we can have it all ~ if only we try enough.

It can be easy to make equilibrium seem like an ideal we all have to strive for and achieve.
But perhaps every day isn’t just your best life ever…or where all your dreams come true…or like sailing on a chocolate river in the Willie Wonka factory.

In fact, I wonder, if in trying to always look like we are calm, cool, collected, and in control might be the source of some of our disequilibrium?  If sometimes the waves that crash down on us are caused because we are trying to project to the world that nothing knocks us down?

Maybe the swirling, sloshing seas have something to teach and tell us that smooth sailing won’t be able to ever convey?

Or as the African proverb suggests, "Calm seas do not make skillful sailors."

Reflect back on that moment from the last post when the Psalmist’s words were your words, when the waves were way over your head.  What did you take from that moment?

It doesn’t have to be some amazing insight or idea.  Maybe it was just that you got through it.

I know for me, when the captain declared smooth sailing and my body declareth, “Not really,” part of what I learned was to ride the waves.  I rested.  I was gentle with myself.  I also discovered that the center of the ship was a little less rocky – albeit not exactly the happiest place on earth for me.  I made it through.  I am not sure I am stronger…or that I will venture out on a boat again any time soon.  But I got through it.

Maybe when the waves crash down…rather than trying to be super spiritual man with my chest puffed out, I need to admit my own vulnerability – I am not invincible.  I cannot conquer everything.
Sometimes simply surviving is a spiritual practice.

And the equilibrium comes on the other side…after days of being back on solid land.

And the equilibrium comes as a gift, not as something I did or made happen.

And the equilibrium comes as the chance to breathe and be as the world ceases to swirl around.

And in that moment, I might see traces of grace and God’s presence around me even when the water is churning and I want the roller-coaster of life to stop.

May that truth surround and swirl and sustain you in these days.
Amen.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Equilibrium take Two


It can be tempting to think that equilibrium is all about finding the smoothing sailing and seas possible.  Or that faith should help us weather any storm without ever grumbling or feeling seasick.  That some how we are at fault if the waves come crashing down, overwhelming us.  Yet, I am not so sure faith can be as easy as that equation might suggest.

Sometimes we need to live through the storm to see what is on the other side.  Perhaps it is only in going through the disorientation of the storm that we might find new places our souls crave.  One of the most important books in the Bible, the Psalms, are full of people trying faithfully to weather the waves of life, navigate the seas of each day.  In fact, Martin Luther once said that the Psalter "might be called a little Bible.  In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible"

The Psalms are raw and real with emotions like anger and frustration and questioning.  When the psalm cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” we can hear the anguish of someone whose life is being tossed to and fro.  When the Psalmist writes, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” Or how about, “ I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.”

None of those words are about a life of smooth sailing on glassy sea.  None of those words are about your chin up, keeping calm, carrying on because the sun will come out tomorrow.  Those are heartfelt and honest words about the restlessness of trying to navigate through a storm and surging seas that don’t seem to stop.  Those are words that won’t be read in monotone voice we so often read scripture in church.  They are to be shouted out to the universe or whispered because you don’t have the strength to go on.  They might be said with stomping our feet while our fingers form fists of frustration or as we are curled up in a puddle of exhaustion.

But make no mistake about it, the psalms are passionate prayer for navigating the world…not glossing over the storms but facing them.  Maybe the point isn’t only to find equilibrium every single minute of every single day…but also finding ways to move through the waves crashing down.

What storms are surging on the seas of life right now?

Where are those words of the psalmist your words?

Do you hear any trace of God’s grace in the midst of this?

For me, the reality that God not only accepts such words, but hears them as a prayer offers me a reminder that I am not the first person to be sailing through the rough waters of life and invites me to offer my whole heart to One who is in the boat with me.

May your prayers this day speak out with courage and conviction to the One whose presence surrounds and sustains us.

Blessings ~~

Monday, June 24, 2019

Equilibrium take One


“It’s smooth sailing today,” the captain’s velvet voice soothingly said over the loudspeaker.

But for me, every wave felt like a roller coaster.  The constant bobbing up and down caused my stomach to do somersaults and my mind to say, “Um, if it is alright, I would like to get off this ride…like now, please.”

For me, that moment on the boat became a metaphor of trying to find our equilibrium in the midst of life.  As we try to navigate the waters of each day, what one person experiences and calls, “Calm,” another person might feel like is choppy and chaotic. 

What one person thinks is easy, another laments how rough it is.  The waves of life might knock some off their feet, while for another she is able to go with the flow rising and falling in rhythm with the water. 

What some consider to be tumultuous, others might think is a perfect day. 

Trying to decipher and decide how we will navigate this day before us, which way we will go, depends a lot on how we are reading the weather and the waves around us.

But the metaphor moves and dives deeper, trying to find our equilibrium not only with the elements around us, but also within us.  Our minds can feel like waves are churning or a physical pain can demand all our attention and energy or a spiritual wrestling might feel like we are being tossed to and fro in our boat, even if outside the water is clear and calm. 

There is an interplay between the external and internal waves we ride in life.  There is something within us that can long for equilibrium, getting into a groove, and finding how to sail through what is stirring within and outside of us.

How is your equilibrium today?

Does your mind turn restlessly over something that was said to you recently?

Does your soul sing out that all is well?

Does the world feel like it is out of sync?

Does a recent phone call from a friend sent you into a tailspin, unsure which way is up or down?

Over the next few days, notice the waves and what you are feeling.  Over the next few days, ask yourself whether the boat of your life is finding the sailing smooth or rough…and is that because of what is going on inside or outside or both. 

In the midst of the waves of life, how do you find equilibrium, a state of breathing and being and resting in God’s presence? 

May there be more than a trace of God’s grace as we navigate this sea of life together.

Blessings ~~

Monday, June 10, 2019

Vacation



Our family is setting out on a vacation this week...so Grace Traces will take a break too from my regularly scheduled programming of posts. 

Some suggestions of what to do with the time you would otherwise spend reading my random thoughts:

1. Watch videos on YouTube...there are 300 hours of videos uploaded every minute.  In the time that it took you to read this far in the post.  300 hours.  Suddenly I feel so behind!
2. Talk to a family member or friend.
3. Learn to balance rocks and re-create the photo above in your front lawn.
4. Go for a walk...unless you are in Florida and it is the afternoon in which case I highly suggest you wait until evening as it is probably hot out there or raining or both.
5.  Talk to your favorite fictional character ~ this was the number 1 response when I googled, "Things to do when you are alone."

Feel free to add to the list with your own insightful and beautiful ideas.

May traces of God's grace be woven into every moment of your life...and I look forward to re-joining this blog with regularly scheduled posts in a few weeks.

Until then...

Grace and peace be with you ~~

Friday, June 7, 2019

What Do You See



Clouds sailing across the sky like a boat across the bright blue sea.
Clouds that are shapes and can awaken our imagination.
Clouds that invite us back to child-like wonder.

In these three clouds I see:
A frog or maybe a kind of lizard (top)
A dog/raccoon/cow on its back (middle)
A skinny shark swimming in the sea (bottom)

But the great part of this is...it doesn't matter what I see.
Or whether you see what I see.
Or whether we would agree that clearly the dog/raccoon/cow combination in the middle is chasing a feather.

Yet, so often when we see something we are adamant and insistent you must see the same way.  That is the cultural waters in which we all swim today.  But I wonder how often we really persuade people to "our side".  So often we end up "agreeing to disagree"...which while it is a catchy cliche, it just means that you stay safe in your camp and I stay in mine...and we refuse to talk about that topic any more.

We have lost the art of discussion. 
We have lost the art of see the beauty of diversity, in school of thought.
And you might be thinking, "Well, I am still open minded, it is those people who are not!" 
I fully realize that people's actions and words wound us ~ physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 
I fully realize that you might say, "But it is a leap between talking about clouds and issues of race or gender or orientation!"  You would be right. But maybe part of what we have lost is the ability to talk about creative matters where there is space to roam/express insights or ideas and focus only on the weightier parts of life.
I fully realize that it feels safer to be with people who agree with us.  Only if we start honestly to go beneath the surface, we might discover just how much difference there is. 

Suddenly, we start saying that anyone who sees a frog or lizard in the clouds above doesn't know what he or she is talking about.  So we try to find people who agree with us that clearly it is mouse or house or side profile of your mother-in-law.

When I start to hear why you see what you see, you put a frame ~ give me a glimpse ~ into your life.  When I listen to your explanation, you are sharing the you that you might often hide.

While this may not heal the world immediately, it may just help us start to form a foundation upon which we might build a relationship...where the traces of God's grace can move in our midst.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What We See



What do you see inside this frame?

You could go logical and say, "I see a walk way."
You could hypothesize that perhaps this walk way is a bridge, which would be rational and reasonable given that there are railings that would prevent falling.
You could go metaphorical and say, "I see an insight into life as being a journey where we only get to see so far down the road.  We cannot know everything, just a bit down the road.
You could focus instead on the greenery growing around, reaching up above.
Or the leaves reaching down from above.
It is almost as if the trees and plants are trying to form another kind of bridge next to the human constructed one.

We could focus on the planks that make up the bridge as a metaphor of each day of this week...how one-by-one they start to form/fashion a path.

We could focus on the railings and ask, what helps keep us safe?  OR what hems us in making us feeling confined?  OR what boundaries do we push up against along life's path?

We could look down the path to the small parts of shade as oasis, moments to rest from the journey ~ the invitation of Sabbath time.

The power of putting frames around life is that it helps us explore what we might otherwise gloss or glance over.

The above photo was taken on the same walk as the trees from two days ago.  It was taken at the turn around of a nature path.  I knelt down to try a different angle so you would be looking right down the path.  Behind me is an observation place, but all you could observe were trees...a few bugs.  But when I turned around I was taken by this visual prayer.

What we see.  But too often in the blurry speed of life we would miss this.  We would arrive at the end of the walk way turn around as if, "Nothing to see here."  To slow down long enough that we might get a glimpse or a trace of grace. 

May your vision be cleared and opened to God's movement in your midst this week.

Blessings ~~

Monday, June 3, 2019

Putting a Frame Around Life


The other day I road my bicycle to a nearby park.  As I wandered around surveying the various shades of green that where on display, I ducked under this group of trees for a bit of shade from the sun.  When I glanced up, the above photo is what I saw.  

The Psalmist proclaims ~ "I lift mine eyes to the hills".

Now in the place I call home there are not that many hills around me to lift mine eyes toward...but there are these trees.  

Towering above my head.

There are so many fascinating truths about trees.  Consider that what you see above your head is only part of the vast root system growing unseen beneath your feet in the soil.  Consider that the roots usually extend at least as wide as the branches.  Consider that trees communicate to each other...not only those close by but some distance away.

I lift mine eyes and it is not only what is seen...but what is unseen that invites me into the holy mystery of this day God has made.

This is the power of putting a frame around a moment.  It can help focus us in the vastness of life.  We can begin to explore the depth and dive deep, rather than skim the surface.  And when we begin to expand the frame to include more and more, we can continue such a prayer practice.   

But sometimes when you try to put a frame around something...this happens:


Not every frame is perfect.  I tried to capture this flower...only to have the wind whip right at the time I snapped the photo.  Sending the branch from the center to the fringe.

Yet...the flowers on the tree are still there.  

Not centered.
Not perfect.

But present...just off to the side...not exactly as I had planned.

This seems a lot like faith.
This seems a lot like life.
Where I believe the traces of God's grace are all around us...if we pause long enough to sense the ways the world is saturated with the sacred.

Blessings ~~