Wednesday, July 6, 2016

letting go of being normal...

One of the reasons I have grown increasingly committed to the way of flaneurie – physically as well as aesthetically, ethically and emotionally – has to do with space and time. For most of my professional life I have been defined by timetables, usually someone else’s, but also my own that I have either chosen or imposed. Clearly there is a place for deadlines – but not in matters of the heart. And that is where I find myself wanting to roam these days: in relationships that nurture and encourage, in conversations that cut deep and call me to listen rather than judge, in learning another’s story instead of racing to the finale and then moving on. If it is true that we are all connected, then people, pets, plants and the rest of creation are not commodities to be used and discarded like used tissue. They are precious – and need time for savoring.

One of my favorite quotes in this vein comes from the wisdom of Gertrud Mueller-Nelson in her congregational celebration book, To Dance with God. In a chapter on preparing for Advent, she observes that it is human nature to become annoyed with waiting. “Information puts us on hold and fills our ears with thin irritating music. Our order hasn’t come in yet. The elevator must be stuck…. Will I ever change?” In times past, we had opportunities to practice patience even if we didn’t like it. This has changed in the last 100 years. Now we rarely anticipate delays. We uniformly become intolerant with things that slow down our immediate gratification. We readily blame others for hindrances and resist the reality of lingering rather than accepting them as part of the rhythm of life. We are out of balance.

Our masculine world wants to blast waiting away from our lives… we equate waiting with wasting…and the more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry. The tempo of our haste has less to do with being on time or the efficiency of a busy life – it has more to do with our being unable to wait. For waiting is unpractical time, good for nothing but mysteriously necessary to all that is becoming. As in pregnancy, nothing of value comes into being without a period of quiet incubation: not a healthy baby, not a loving relationship, not a reconciliation, a new understanding, a work of art, never a transformation. Rather, a shortened period of incubation brings forth what is not whole or strong or even alive. Brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting, ripening, germinating, gestation are the feminine processes of become and they are symbolic states of being which belong in a live of value, necessary to transformation.

I stumbled upon this wisdom in a small way twenty five years ago this summer in Cleveland when I chose to walk to all my afternoon pastoral appointments. What I discovered in doing so was that I could only visit with one person per day. I had lots of time to think and pray about that person both coming and going. And after arriving, I could take all the time I needed to go deep rather than hurry on to fill the next calendar slot. Some powerful relationships were built that summer including helping one person move into sobriety. I have tended to forget this on a regular basis and let the buzz of being “important” and “productive” take me hostage for a season or two. Our wandering vacations then become restorative – and that was certainly true in Ottawa. In the Black Squirrel Bookstore I found a 1971 book by Jean Vanier, Eruption to Hope, where he notes that the cumulative wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition has been distilled into the Beatitudes spoken by Jesus in Matthew 5: 2-12.

Woe to you who are rich and who possess all you need, and who close yourselves up in your wealth…Woe unto you who laugh now and who think only of your possessions and your stomach… Blessed are you poor… blessed are you who pardon your enemies…blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice…blessed are you who refuse social distinctions and who regard all people as kin… blessed are you who love… blessed are you who take the less fortunate into your homes and hearts and who see, beyond the wrong-dower, the person loved by God…. But sadly we have turned our hearts and spirits away from this wisdom.

When I am open to moving slowly, there is time and space to notice life as it was meant to be lived. Being slow seems to be an antidote to self-importance, too and I have a chance to pay attention.  One of Vanier’s poems, “Too Long,” has taken up residence within me.

Too long
Have we forgotten
That Peter and Join and Eileen
- Mentally deficient –
Are people.

People who love
And who want to be loved
Who have joys
Like you and me.
(You see we are normal people
… isn’t it nice being normal?)

Peter and John and Eileen
Have hearts that suffer
When we do not look at them
With respect and love.

Too long have they been treated
Like perpetual, dependent, incapable
Children for whom we must do everything…

“poor creatures.”
When will we learn,
When will we learn

That Peter and John and Eileen
Have their rights
For they are people
And more –
Children of God.

We have too long despised them.
We have treated them with pitying paternalism,
Ignoring their potentialities.
We have forgotten
That they want
Our respect
Our love, but no smothering, protective love,
But love made up of esteem
And a desire to give life,
Possibilities to create,
To give,
To feel useful to society

They have a right
To grow, to develop
In creativity and work
In joyful leisure,
In knowledge,
In small houses,
In spiritual life.

All these activities
Should be open to them,
But we the so-called
Normal people

(Isn’t it nice being normal… you and me?)

With atrophied hearts
And over-burdened minds,
Obsessed with efficacity,
We forget that they are people.

You have no voices to cry out.
You cannot go on strike.
Will you forgive society?
Will you forgive me?

For too long
I ignored you.

Christ on the cross
Cried out,
“My God, my God, forgive them
For the know not what they are doing.”

When you are resurrected
Will you say that
To our Eternal Fathero
For us?
“They did not know what they were doing
When they didn’t stop to listen to us,
To respect us,
To help work and live.”

(Isn’t it nice being normal… you and me!)

In another quote that came across my lap top yesterday, this time from Frederick Buechner, I was reminded to "Pay attention to the things that bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat because they are signs that the holy is drawing nigh." Vanier's poem brings out my tears. So does listening to Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds" - especially "I Know There's an Answer" and "Caroline, No." Today, after a week of wandering, I am listening to tunes, moving even slower than usual, and simply savoring the heat as I prepare to paint our living room. I hope you are able to chill for a bit and maybe listen to this tune in a moment of quiet reflection...

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