Saturday, May 28, 2011

Contemplation VI

I marvel at how contemplation, practiced faithfully, can become routine. It used to be that each morning I would try to remain is a state of quiet prayer for 20-30 minutes before going to work. The hardest part was leaving that perfect moment to go busily about preparing to depart for work.

Not that God wasn't with me in the preparation. Of course, God was, and I felt God’s presence. It was just somehow different and somewhat less satisfying than spending lazy minutes together with God. Being lazy with God is my favorite activity, yet one that I found myself doing less often than I would like.
So, every morning for a while I would try to allow enough time between waking and leaving to begin my day being lazy with God, and every evening before returning I would do the same. Day after day, even when traveling, although I have to admit that, especially when in travel status, there were days I would miss. ("Miss" I mean in all senses of that word.)

Then something extraordinary happened. I don't know when the change came. I just noticed that it had. I no longer had to plan this time or to remind myself to take the time. It just happened. It had become habit. At least, that's what my detail-oblivious mind first thought. Then I paid closer attention to what was happening.
The contemplative periods had moved away from my control. They were more than habitualized, autonomous responses to the ticking of a clock or the perception of a biorhythm. They were—and are—out of my control and under the control of God. I began waking up a half-hour or more before the alarm in a contemplative state, in the presence of God, and I had no real idea how long we had been being lazy together as morning took over what might have been an all-night joint adventure for I do not remember my dreams.

I know the common wisdom is to practice contemplation sitting in a chair so as not to fall asleep, but since I can fall asleep in any position, even standing, if tired, that advice helps me little. So, I go to bed while not tired so that I can spend time in contemplation and then fall asleep in the arms of God. I like to think those arms hold me all night and gently rock me awake in the morning to the joy of being in the presence of God. What remarkable patience, what incredible love!
Whatever the explanation—I don't need to know why things happen anymore—such a marvelous beginning to the day brings light and happiness to the rest of my day. That continues until some highly stressful, distressing event over which I have no control sends me to the nearest prayer place, i.e. any place I can be alone again with God.

This condition I find myself in, this walking with God, relaxing with God, and desperately looking for God when I stray, became clear to me during a recent retreat. We were given specific instructions and time for contemplation, early morning and late evening not being among them, but God maintained the routine, greeting me in the morning and tucking me into bed at night. How much more blessed can anyone be, I wonder with gratitude so deep I don't know how to express it. The thing that makes the gratitude even sweeter and deeper is that I don't have to know how to express it. I don't have to be able to find all the right words and actions. God knows fully that which I can express only in part. Ah, yes, that is how much more one can be blessed. God's blessings are depthless, boundless, and, oh, so fortunately, endless. And they do not even have to be deserved.

Excerpted from my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tasked IV

It has been while since I have posted anything about Goliath. In fact, gulp!, it has been a considerable amount of time since I have posted anything at all. First, I had to wait three months for my computer to be restored to me (well, a new one provided) and then, for Lent, I reduced my Internet time, which was further restricted by quite a bit of travel to places I do not even remember without concentration (Hawaii, Qatar, Korea, North Carolina, maybe others that have slipped my mind). In any event, I am glad to be Internet-operational again, and I am happy to follow up on my posts about Goliath.

After making Goliath aware of God's message: "Let Goliath know he cannot treat My people this way," I stopped attending formation meetings by agreement with the SFO Council. So did E, who had also felt the spiritual negativity that I and others had. Then, as his term ran out, Goliath decided not to run again for formation director although I learned from those who had stayed in formation that Goliath had indeed taken God's words to heart and had changed his ways.

"So, now what?" I asked God, expecting to be told something about whether I should return to formation with a new formation director. But nothing of the sort is what I heard. (I suppose I am on my own to make the decision about returning to formation -- and I do plan to return because it makes sense to do so, now that the director is experienced and a good example of conversion and spirituality.)

Instead of getting direction about formation, what I got was a new task: "Love Goliath!"

Huh? Love someone I just spent several months "fighting" in order to bring God's message to him? Love someone who had spiritually abused those in his charge? Love someone who had stopped speaking to me and had, unsuccessfully, led a charge against me with the help of regional officials, whose help he enlisted through manipulation of information and outright lies?

Well, if told to love Goliath, then love Goliath is what I need to do. At the last several meetings, I have made a conscious effort to speak to Goliath about anything positive I could find to mention, to address him warmly, and give him hello and good-bye hugs. Funny thing about trying to love someone -- it works! (Of course, it helps that he has indeed changed his attitude after being given God's message; I suppose being told "God says that you are not to treat His people this way" would cause anyone to think twice.)

Now I have begun to have very warm feelings toward Goliath. Just in time, too. Goliath has thought about leaving the organization. From what the Council can tell, he feels embarrassed about what happened and how everything turned out and wants to avoid those he believes think poorly about him. A couple of the officers actually made the comment, "good riddance, if he leaves; he has brought this organization little more than trouble and anxiety."

I found myself in the rather odd position of arguing that he is as much a valued member as anyone else, that he needs our support now, that we must let him know that he is loved and accepted (ironically, the two things he could not do for the fiscally poorer members of his formation group). I convinced the Council to work on getting him to stay and providing positive feedback to him.

Oh, how strange are the ways of God! How unpredictable! As the scripture says, how far above our thinking is God's thinking! And how breathtaking it is to be touched even by a small part of it all!