falling in love

“…beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. …beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

…A heart enflamed – a soul enchanted… I wonder what it would take for us to see the Beautiful One in our daily life – the one whose name we so blithely invoke – to recognize the presence of the Author of Beauty and Fountain of Life in our waking, in our sleeping, in our anger and in our shame, in our joys and in our heartache…  To see the God who shaped us and shapes us, and to notice his fingerprints in every facet of our lives…  To recognize the immensity of God – more than we can comprehend, or control, or manipulate…  To feel the terrible transcendence like cumulonimbus towers enshrouding the mountain while lightning crashes all around, and to bask in the smooth immanence of a baby’s contented sigh, of the warmth of sunlight after a gentle spring rain, of a still small voice in our heart of hearts that asks us to trust, to risk, to LIVE, because this is our God, and our God is good…

When will we recognize that in our search for God, we are like the fisherman complaining bitterly of the absence of fish, while standing on the back of a whale? It is a frightening thing to be captivated by beauty.

It is a terrifying thing to lose control – to surrender the qualifiers that pretend to keep us safe and offer us the illusion of mastery. Yet ultimately, this is what will free us. We will be captivated by something, or someone…

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ~Fr. Pedro Arrupe

Love that will not let me go

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I’ve been working at a short-term residential facility for young children for the past year or so.  One of the things they don’t prepare you for is how much you will come to know and love these kids – spending 30-40 hours a week with them, teaching, preparing meals, playing games, resolving conflicts, teaching them to share, helping them learn to deal with disappointment and frustration, doing laundry, reading bedtime stories, playing cars, taking field trips to the museum, the park, the dentist, the lake, or the movies, soothing hurts and putting on band-aids, getting punched and bitten, getting hugs and hearing them scream your name with joy when you arrive at the movie theater, or walk into the home, and being smothered as they run across the room to leap into you…  I didn’t quite expect to lose my heart like this.  Not here.  Not doing this.

I don’t have any kids of my own, so I don’t fully understand the depths of this formless, irrational, crazy love that parents have for their children.  But I do know what it means to love another – to love them so much that you would do whatever is needed for their good.  And everyday, I am taught more and more about what it means to love in that way – not in the way that is easy for me, but in the way that calls me to sacrifice, to service, to death to self, to doing what is hard, and what I would rather not do so that another can grow and thrive and step into all that they can be – all that they were made to be – all that God has in store for them.

There are two brothers who have been living at our facility for the better part of half a year.  Due to the many complications in their case – in their family life – our site has been their home.  And it has been one of the joys of the past year to walk alongside them as they slowly heal from the deep wounds in their past.  It is a slow process.  Brutally slow.  Behavior that they have learned over the years to cope with continuous violence and abuse does not just go away once they are in a safe place.  The learning curve is tremendous.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been punched, bitten, kicked, cursed at, threatened, and yelled at by these two boys.  This is how they’ve learned to express their anger and their fear, and this is how they’ve learned to interact when limits are put in their path.

“Why did you punch him?”

“Because I wanted to ride the trike, and he wouldn’t let me.  I WANT to!!!”

One lashes out in anger and rage at being hurt time and time again by someone who should have cared for him.  The other runs and hides and cowers in fear.  This is what they’ve learned.  This is the hand they’ve been dealt.  This is the reality of their life, and the work to overcome that will be hard.  Their wounds have been deep, and while they may heal, the scars will remain.

But I also can’t remember all the times that they’ve run up to me, smiles, hugs, proudly showing me how they’ve learned to write their name, or the art project they’ve finished, or the fact that they went to the dentist and didn’t have a meltdown EVEN WHEN they had to get shots!

This is the fruit of love – of sacrifice – of presence – of not giving up and leaving and letting them wallow in their brokenness.  Love seeks out the other.  Love steps into that reality and does not let go, does not give up, does not wash its hands of us and just let us go our own way, further and further from life, from joy, from beauty, from goodness.  Love fights for us.  Love shows up.  Love gives.  Love doesn’t give up.  Love never fails.

It would be easier sometimes to walk away.  I get tired of being bitten, of being yelled at, of being told that they wish I was dead and would just leave them alone.  I hope – I LONG – for the day when they are healed.  But until they are, I won’t leave them there.

This past Monday afternoon I found myself with a few close friends, heads bowed in prayer, thinking of these two brothers – and my heart broke.  I wept.  Thinking of their future – hoping good things for them – knowing that as much as I love them now, soon they will be going on to a different place – and praying, praying, praying desperately for a home that is loving, that will show them the love and the limits and the grace and the consistency and the hope that they need.

And I know that as much as I love them, the God who created them, who formed them and shaped them and breathed life into their fragile yet resilient selves – this God loves them more.  If I will not step away when it is hard, how much more will God stay – work – move – draw them to the source of all good?

Because this love of mine is a shadow of the reality.  It is a picture, a dim reflection, a small appetizer of the great banquet that awaits us all one day.  I choose to believe in that.  I choose to place my hope in the goodness and love of a God who gives all and more for us, the children of his hands and the apple of his eye, who opens possibilities and Easters both our joyous days and our dark, lonely nights.

God has come.  God is love.  God gives.  God is with us.  God has risen.  God will not give up.

This is very good news.

Flat tires and looking good

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A number of years ago I spent about four months living and working in Nepal with WMF.  I arrived in Kathmandu a few months after my 20th birthday, idealistic, full of big dreams about the difference I would make, and certain that my time would be an adventure in every way, serving the poor, learning to be like Jesus, and basically having everyone admire me for how amazing I was.  It only took me a few weeks to find out that I was not all that.

I had arrived with visions of being the next Mother Theresa or Gandhi, with a touch of Oscar Romero thrown in, and my expectations were dashed when I discovered that the “working with street kids” (which I envisioned as cute little boys and girls who were hungry for affection and just needed someone to come play soccer with them for a few hours each week to point them on a path towards wholeness, health, and the restoration of all that was broken in their lives) that I had hoped to be involved in wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, we would be spending our time volunteering at one of the local Missionaries of Charity homes, doing distinctly unglamorous tasks such as pulling up water from the well, washing dishes, cleaning, doing laundry by hand, cleaning out septic tanks one bucket at a time, and generally doing the best we could to not get in the way too much, or get talked to sternly by a nun for being too slow, incompetent, or inefficient.  It was not fun.  It was not sexy.  It was not even “missionary cool,” like working at the home for the dying, or with photogenic kids, or with crowds of needy people that you could tell others about and bask in their glow about how holy you were.  Instead, we were at a home called Shanti Bhivan (House of Peace) for mentally and physically disabled Nepalis.  It was simple, quiet, unassuming, and hidden.  It was hard.

I toughed it out for a few weeks.  After all, I was with a team of people, and to simply stop going would look bad.  I didn’t want others to think poorly of me.  I didn’t want them to see how unspiritual and shallow I truly was.  I didn’t want them to see me as I really was, so I pretended.  I pretended to be a servant, all the while grumbling inwardly about how I didn’t really want to be here, and how I really wanted to be somewhere else – somewhere more exciting, more dramatic, more more…  But inside, I was stuck.

Our regular schedule included getting up at 5am for an hour of silent, contemplative prayer.  The first month or so involved lots of falling asleep in the midst of it – only to be woken by a jab in the ribs from Julie, or a throat clearing from Ben or Kipp.  I’d return the favor when I noticed their breathing turn too deep or regular for being awake.  But as we stuck it out, I began to recognize something beautiful and holy about those quiet, dark, cold mornings we spent on the floor, wrapped in our woolen blankets, learning to quiet our hearts and inhabit the silence that was a doorway to God’s heart.

After prayers, it was time to go to work.  There were two bikes that we could use, and for the first few months that was my favorite part of the day: the 30 minute bike ride to work.  It felt like a video game as I dodged tuk-tuks and cows, taxis and pedestrians, buses and trucks, dogs and street vendors, weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu’s morning rush hour.  I felt alive – the adrenaline flowed – and it was exciting in a way that the rest of my days were not.

One morning as I was riding to work, I was feeling tired, grumpy, and just plain fed up.  We had been there for a couple of months, and whatever appeal had been present at the beginning was gone.  I didn’t want to go.  I didn’t want to serve.  I didn’t want to go to the stupid Missionaries of Charity home, run by the stupid nuns who would just make me feel bad for not giving more, doing more, being more…  I felt like I wasn’t enough.  And I wanted to do something more fun.  I wanted to stop and go to a cafe and get breakfast and coffee and spend time reading my novel.  I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  Who cared if I was on something called a “Servant Team.”  I was tired of serving.  I wanted out.

But…

At the same time, I was intensely self-conscious and worried about what others would think of me.  If I just didn’t go to work that morning, the nuns would ask about me.  Kipp would know that I didn’t show up.  I couldn’t lie about it.  They would catch me.  They would know the depths of my self-centeredness, my shallowness, my laziness and general lack of spirituality.  They would know that I wasn’t really like Jesus.  Not in any ways that mattered, anyway.  After all, I couldn’t even spend a measly five hours volunteering and working with the poor – the poor that I claimed to love, and had come to Nepal to serve.  However, I had found that loving “the poor” in reality was often difficult, challenging, and hard (just like anyone that you truly enter into relationship with.)

I didn’t want people to know who I really was, and how I really felt.  But I also didn’t want to go.  At that moment, I had a brilliant idea…  What if I got a flat tire?  If my bike tire went out, I’d have a ready made excuse.  I COULDN’T go in to work if my bike tire was flat.  I’d have to stop and get it fixed, and who KNOWS how long that would take.  It might take all day, if I could find someone slow enough…  and my problem would be solved.  It just might work…

I could explain to anyone who asked how I intended, nay, deeply WANTED to go to volunteer today.  I was trying to, but my cursed bike let me down by getting a flat tire, and what was I supposed to do?  …  Yes.  I would have the rewards of people looking to me and still admiring me for what I WOULD have done if only the mechanical bike hadn’t gotten in the way.  AND, I would be able to do what I really wanted to do, which was read my book over a pot of coffee and a set breakfast (with little delicious pastries) from the German place down the road.  It was a win-win.

However, there was only one slight problem with this plan.  My bike didn’t have a flat tire.

I didn’t let this stop me.  I still had a few miles to go before I got to work.  There was still time.  There was still hope that I COULD get a flat tire.  And if it needed a little help from me, then that could be arranged…

So, I started hitting potholes.  Every pothole, crack, piece of glass, sharp object, bump, or nail in the road…  If it was there, I hit it.  I started pushing hard on the front tire, trying to put more weight on it and get it to pop (or at least go flat) before I arrived.  As I drew closer and closer to Shanti Bhivan, I grew more and more nervous, and more and more frantic.  The tire wouldn’t pop.  No matter what I hit, no matter what I ran over, it wouldn’t go flat.

As I pulled up to the front gate, I was disgusted.  “Fine,” I remember saying to God.  “I’m here.  I’m not happy about it.  I don’t want to be here.  But since I’m here, whatever…  I’ll serve.  But don’t expect me to be happy about it…”

I grudgingly walked through the gates…  and as I fell into the rhythm of work, or buckets pulled and clothing washed, of meals served and wounds tended, something happened…  My anger – my bitterness – my frustration – it melted away.  I couldn’t hold on to it.  I tried.  But somehow, someone reached through and softened my heart.  Through the practice of obedience, I was transformed and made obedient.  Through the discipline of service – by simply showing up – my heart was renewed.  I left that afternoon rested, thankful, and blessed.  Joyful.  At peace.  All because the tire I had been hoping and praying would go flat held up.  All because my attempts at sabotage had failed.  All because God would not give up on me.  All because of grace…

Ryan

My friend Ryan is dying.

If you want to get technical about it, we’re all dying, slowly, one day at a time – moving closer towards the day we eventually, inevitably, some day die.

But he is much closer to death than I.

He has cancer, and it’s been aggressive, and virulent, and over the past year it has been slowly killing him.

He’s done chemo. He’s received treatments. He’s tried it all.

We’ve prayed. We’ve fasted. We’ve wept.

And the cancer is still winning.

We got an email from his mother a few nights ago, telling us that he’s not doing well – in pain, on hospice care, and fading fast.

And my heart breaks. It breaks for Ryan, who is dying so young. It breaks for his family – for his mother and father who are watching their son fade away, for his siblings who are losing their brother, for his “family” here in Chicago that has come to love him and walk alongside him and meld their lives with his, and will miss him more than we know.

I’m tired of death.

I’m just so tired of it.

A few of us are driving up to visit him tomorrow – to move some of his things home – to show him again that he is loved – to spend time praying and pleading once more for his life, for healing, for restoration and resurrection, knowing full well that it is possible, and hoping against hope that the answer is “YES!”

But, in case the answer is “no,” we go up to say good-bye.

Good-bye…

And we mourn. We weep.

…but not without hope…

 

Hope

 

Hope for the day when all things are made new.

 

“The City becomes the Bride adorned for her husband and comes in fine linen to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

…The Signs and the Promises detonate each other, and the freight of imagery, accumulated over a thousand years, bursts out in one blinding flash: For the Temple has become Jerusalem, and Jerusalem has become the Bride, and the Bride has become the Mystical Body, and the Lamb and his Wife are one. And everything is Christ, and everything is the Bride, and everything is the City where there is no temple, sun or moon, but only the Lamb who is its light. And the River flows back from the dawn of creation, and the Tree of Life returns from Eden, and the Gates of Jerusalem are not shut at all by day, and there is no night there. The tears, the sorrow, the crying and the pain are gone. It is all gardens, gallant walks and silver sounds:

There they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

By the drawing of the Mystery, the world has passed from its lostness and found him whom her soul loves. The Beloved comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. The time of the singing perpetually begins.”

~ Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

And so we will mourn, but believing, hoping, trusting that Ryan will know peace, rest, delight, embrace, and perpetual song.

This is not the end…

 

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For those of you who pray, pray with us…

Thank you.

preparing for grattitude

 

 

In heaven it is always autumn;
His mercies are ever in their maturity.
We ask our daily bread,
And God never says
You should have come yesterday,
He never says
You must ask again tomorrow:
But today, if you will hear his voice,
Today he will hear you…

 

He brought light out of darkness,
Not out of a lesser light;
He can bring thy summer out of winter,
Though thou have no spring;
Though in the ways of fortune or understanding or conscience
Thou have been benighted till now,
Wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed
Damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now,

 

Now God comes to thee,
Not as in the dawning of the day,
Not as in the bud of the spring
But as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows,
As the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries,
All occasions invite his mercies,
And all times are his seasons.

 

~ John Donne, Christmas Day, 1624

Let this darkness be a bell tower…

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

 

via ~ On Being

Flashbacks


The neighborhood I work in is not the safest.  Neighbors warned us to be careful going to and from our cars – especially at night.  Crime happens in Chicago.  And yes, statistically speaking, it’s a rough neighborhood.  I just don’t think it really sunk home until today.

We often will take our kids to a nearby playground for a little exercise.  We were wandering over there on this crunchy sparkling fall morning, approaching the underpass before the playground when a firetruck pulled around the bend.  It slowed, the driver glanced at me, did a double-take, stopped the ladder truck in the middle of the street and hopped out.

“Whatcha doing here?”

“Just headed to the park for a little while.”

“Ya’ll live around here?”

“Just down the street…”

“Well, be careful out there.  It’s a rough neighborhood.”

“…thanks…”

And with that, he was back in the cab, and they were off.

I smiled, grateful for someone looking out for me, and realized the mix of emotions that hearkened back to my time in Rio.  It was practically the same reaction I’d get when I would tell someone I met where I lived.  “Manguinhos?  Jacare?  That’s up in the Gaza strip!”

Memories surface: walking down the street towards the Metro and noticing a police car driving down the road, shoulders tensing, forcing myself to walk casual, not speed up or look suspicious, knowing that just by being myself in this neighborhood I’ve already tripped their threshold for “not-rightness.”  Anticipating another conversation having to justify myself, explain that I’m not a drug dealer or a tourist looking for some adventures along with my chemically induced good times, respond kindly and compassionately and full of grace for the men who are supposed to protect this city, but may have been the ones who shot up my neighborhood the night before, and are now patting me down on the side of the road at gunpoint…  It didn’t happen every day – but it happened enough.

I thought I’d left that feeling behind when I moved – the mix of embarrassment at being picked out, understanding because on some level I don’t fit in where I’m at, compassion and frustration and rueful laughter and a hint of anger and recognition that thanks to my hair color and skin tone and gender I am distinctly privileged in the way that authority relates to me, and I didn’t ask for this…

But this is the way it is.  Which brings us to my question…  In light of this reality, how will I respond?  How will I live?  What will I do today, and tomorrow, and the day after that?  Because it’s little moments like today that remind me of the reality of the brokenness of this neighborhood, of this city, of this country, of this world…  And it’s moments like this that remind me how desperately we need hope – people who point towards hope, who live and breathe hope, who remind us that no matter the way things are, this is not the way things were meant to be.  Resurrection lies just over the hill.  So keep your head up

 


Pushing the limits

“Crepis, crepis, crepis, crepis…”

The balding Ukrainian pacing behind us kept muttering this word as we sat on the broken fortress wall overlooking the wasteland below while eating our pita, yogurt, and pickles. I don’t really remember who it was the finally engaged him in conversation – probably Dan – and discovered that far from being a crazy person who was planning on shoving us over the edge, he was a passionate student of history who was so excited to be at Masada that he couldn’t contain himself.

“Crepis is… how do you say… fortress…?”

And like that, we started to understand each other – the balding Ukrainian on his vacation in Israel, and the six American college students preparing to hike down the snake path to the Dead Sea for a night of camping in the desert.

—–

A couple of weeks later, we found ourselves at Masada again. This time we were dropped off by our tour bus with the rest of our classmates on the old rubble strewn siege way created by the Romans in the siege of 72 AD. And while the history was as intriguing as always and the stories compelling, the moment that crystallized in my memory was towards the end of the day as we were preparing to leave.

As most of our classmates lined up to wait for the cable car that would take them from the fortress top down to desert floor, a couple of us decided we didn’t feel like waiting and would race the cable car down to the bottom via the snake path. I assume it’s called the snake path because of the switch backs, the way it curves and winds and makes a path out of the nearly vertical crumbly rock and shale (with a little Cenomanian limestone for good measure), dropping down over 1,300 ft. to the shores of the Dead Sea.

I remember the feeling of freedom as we tore down the cliff side, running and sliding, skidding around corners, dropping a hand to stabilize and keep from shooting too far down the sandy slope, and back up to full speed. I remember jumping from rock to rock, teetering on the verge of falling, almost overbalancing time and time again but somehow managing to remain mostly vertical. There was whooping and hollering and joy as we tore down the mountainside, glancing up from time to time to note the progress of the cable car, forcing us to put on a burst of speed, and then the bottom. I don’t think we beat the cable car, but that moment is one of beauty and life that I treasure and am so thankful for.

—–

The other day I saw this clip, and while our jaunt down the snake path doesn’t compare to this: it was what immediately came to mind – running for the sheer joy through beauty, wildness, and danger, revelling in movement and physicality and the body that we have been given that is so much more capable than I give it credit for.

And I wonder what it would take to bring this level of joy and enthusiasm and adventure into my daily runs through the streets of Chicago. How can I find the same joy in dodging cars and bicyclists, skipping over potholes and broken glass, and dancing across boulevards and through parks? Maybe that first step is just in my head. After all, beauty is all around us.  We’re practically drowning in it.  We just need the eyes to see it.

The games we play

Sitting on the freeway this morning: barely moving, ominous clouds rolling in, lightning skipping between clouds in the distance and thunder rumbling in your core.  Late for class, and we’re not moving because of the rain.  Impatience.

And then this:

Games Part 3: On the Winning Side by Radiolab

(it’s all good, but the juicy goodness starts at 15:27)

—–

Yes…

(Dang it NPR.  Why do you always make me cry…)

A prayer for the coming year

 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

 

~ Thomas Merton – Thoughts in Solitude