So I guess I’ll just have to write jibberish for five minutes. Here goes:
Middle, middle, monkey in the middle.
That’s what I think of being in the middle.
Tomorrow I’m driving a long trip solo on unfamiliar highways with no GPS or smart phone on board. Only me as my own navigator and printouts from Google to check now and then. I’ve been tense, but I want to go. I’ve found a silent Christian retreat that’s reachable, and I’ve longed for one of those for years.
I don’t mind being in the middle of a bunch of people who have the same purpose as I, of drawing closer to God in silence. With such an objective, we’ll likely give each other space, even as we function together. And I certainly don’t mind being in the middle of the 100 acres of woods that the retreat grounds occupy. But in the middle of heavy traffic in strange territory where I have to find my way…? No. Not that middle!
My mommy once told me, “Keep out of the pack. When you’re driving, keep out of the “packs” of cars, jamming up together.” Speed up or slow down to avoid being jammed in amongst them, especially in an aggressive driver zone. And I follow that as much as I can. (Because my mommy was smart.) But sometimes the traffic’s too heavy. Hope I can tomorrow. It makes for much more serence driving. Serene? Well, closer to it anyhow.
As I drove on my last trip, I was thinking about this, and how keeping out of the middle of the pack is a good idea in life as well as on the road. Companionship is wonderful, but a large agitated crowd…? Not usually so nice. I’ve see mob mentality more than once, and it wasn’t pretty. My mommy gave me advice on this kind of pack, too. She said if I ever saw a mob/crowd forming, to head the opposite way. And like I said, my mommy was smart.
I scroll down the sidebar for some unknown reason and see an ad for some Amazon books. The one that catches my eye bears the title, “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisd…” (emphasis mine). The rest of the title is hidden till clicked, and I don’t want to click and get connected to another new link in another new chain, which might lead me to another, then another, then another.
But isn’t that what I have already done? Didn’t I interrupt a lovely time of quiet and beautiful connection with God to connect elsewhere, “just to see…”?
There are so many places we can connect, and now I’m not referring to the internet. But I wonder how many of them are like a Celtic knot of extension cords, all plugged into one another in an endless mess of tangled connections, with perhaps only one of the bunch (if any at all) plugged into the source of power.
The Source of power—that’s where I need to connect, and stay connected. And in order to do that I’ve got to unplug from other things I’ve hooked up with. This doesn’t mean I’ll deny connection to anyone seeking that same Source. Perhaps I’ll serve temporarily as an extension cord myself. But sooner or later, if I care about the person, I’m going to be pointing them to where they need to get power directly for their own lives and souls, rather than drawing on mine through all my flawed and inadequate connectivity and conductivity.
The funny thing, I know, is that a whole lot of lamps lighting up a room, each connected to the true and ultimate power source have a different kind of connection: they all glow in each other’s light, they show up the best of each other’s features, they add their own unique colors to the light that fills the whole room, and that’s a connection of harmony. It reminds me of A. W. Tozer’s analogy of an orchestra getting well attuned to one another. All those different instruments won’t get that way through trying to match each other’s pitch. But if each gets tuned to the tone of a master tuning fork, then they’ll all play beautifully tuned to each other, free from all off-key dissonance.
Primary connection where it counts, that’s the thing…
I think about the future, toe the border of fret. I ponder, and figure, and think how I should plan.
I consider and study and analyze the past, to base my judgments of the present and the days and years to come on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and how it’s all shaped my life. Lately I review it much, because I have a new lens of awareness, understanding, through which to see more in it than I have ever done before.
As savvy and good as all this is, has it left me bereft of the best time of my mortal life—now?
I am thinking of that conversation between Piglet and Pooh:
“What day is it?” Pooh asks Piglet.
“It’s today,” answers piglet.
“My favorite day,” declares Pooh.
What truly great wisdom!
So I have thought. And yet with all life’s interruptions and conundrums, I am prone to forget. The past is past, the future I envision may never come at all. I could not fashion it with all the wisdom of the One Who is its Craftsman, even were I given the power, for, say, a year! Meanwhile here I am in Now, with all its beauty, surprises, and potential joys, just for the seizing and savoring…. if…
…If I will but remember in my reviewing and my guessing and planning: Now is the only time I have, really have. It’s where I live. And it’s a treasure trove worth exploring with all the focus of my soul. So may I do.
It’s the Sunday after the Christmas holidays, and I am sitting at a table in the basement “fellowship room” at church, my lesson plan before me, Bible spread open beside it, hand-outs in a nice neat stack. And I watch as they come in, the women in my class: one by one, or in twos or threes, but mostly one by one this morning. No one’s smiling. Their faces look drawn and ashen. The corners of their mouths droop, so do their eyelids. Their shoulders are slumped and their pace is close to dragging.
They are drained dry. They are not a picture of Christian joy, only exhaustion.
This is not a made-up scenario. It’s a memory—of an oft-repeated phenomenon.
What’s wrong with this picture? Wasn’t the assignment to promote (even manufacture) mirth? Joy in the nativity, joy in the Christmas season, which is so central and essential to our faith?
Or is it?
If a group of first-century Christians could observe our 21st Century December over-busy activities, what would they think? If they could tell us, how important would they say all that we’re doing is to the gospel message?
You do know, don’t you, that they didn’t even celebrate Christ’s birth—but His Resurrection? Of course to get to the resurrection there had to be his birth, mortal life, and death, but their focus was on His rise from the grave and ascent to the Father’s right hand “from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Wouldn’t their mouths fall open at a reading of our Christmas lists, especially the to-do one? Wouldn’t they stare, bewildered, even aghast?
What you might not know is how recently appearing in history have been many of the so-called “Christmas traditions” we feel obligated to squeeze into our already jammed calendars. I hope to get a post worked up before this week is out, sharing discoveries I made this year about this. But things have just gotten a bit jammed up here, too, so we’ll see.
But meanwhile, with all else that’s mentioned above in mind, take another look at that (mental or written) December to-do list, right now. And ask yourself, “What is One Thing I can remove from that list and not jeopardize the cause of Christ as those people knew it? Then do it! Mark x’s all over it, or black it right out!
Then, in the time you save, visit these other bloggers’ posts, which evidence a very happy hope that the tide is turning, that Christian women are getting smarter and jettisoning the overload in favor of better Christmas traditions and saner perspectives:
It’s “Mindday,” and here’s what was on my mind late last night and into the wee hours of this morning. (Free-write stream-of-consciousness, stirred by a randomly chosen prompt word):
I’m pining, and feeling utterly without hope for consistent happiness in this life, for ever again being that person about whom was asked, “Does Mrs. B____ ever not smile?” Just bereft.
Oh, I know God is with me, He has done wonderful intervening things. We’ve even had private jokes together, He and I, come to think of it. I’m feeling better already, thinking of that.
But I have been feeling so bereft of the hope of smiling inside like that former me again, it just doesn’t seem like it’s ever possibly gonna happen in this life. It seems that my only possible hope for the restored smile-maker heart is in the Resurrection and the Kingdom, where no bullies are allowed. And I’m afraid I’m getting so jaded that even that seems like it might have been somebody’s pipe dream instead of God’s reality.
So I’m pining. But, still obsessively hanging onto that dangling, fraying strand of hope, I flail around inwardly, thinking where can I get a word of hope that’s biblical? I open my iPad [I know, unlikely place, but God leads in mysterious ways sometimes], and tap the Kindle icon, thinking I still have my book about narcissitic abuse and covert aggression up in that app, and I glance where my eye falls, and lo, it’s not that book at all, but LLBarkat’s God in the Yard, in the early part talking about play as a means of soul restoration, conjecturing that even Wisdom itself/herself, like a child, played alongside God as He produced His flamboyant Creation–in Proverbs 8. (To see what Barkat is referring to, click on the link for these two references, and for the second, hover over the footnote: Proverbs 8:30 KJV, Proverbs 8:30 NIV).
I’m stopped. I consider the concept. It plays at the edges of my heart. Really. I read a little bit more, and see nine areas of play enumerated, and the first is linguistic: words, sound, and signs. I think, play with words, well, how would that be? I see freewriting mentioned, and think oh, why not, and randomly move Kindle pages and point down a finger and see where it lands, and it lands on “pines,” meaning the trees, because the nearest word other than “and” is “maples.”
I think of pine and into my mind comes remembrance of its fragrance, so vibrant I can almost smell it: fresh, spiky like its needles’ shapes, and similar to rosemary, that herb I rubbed between my hands this afternoon, then lifted hands to nose and inhaled deep, deep, again, again, and imagined it cleared my brain and lifted my spirits as it’s puported to do.
I think I’ll go play with those branches in the pot in the next room right now, even though its bedtime, because I’m playing, being just a kid at heart and little kids don’t care if they get to bed on time, in fact they often fight against it with a will. Too much fun to be had to go sleep.
Well, I don’t know if it’ll be fun exactly but I’m gonna go massage some rosemary sprigs and see what transpires. As if they were a magic plant… or something… I’m really sleepy now, kind of a good sleepy, even though again I’ve been weepy. I feel like the little kid that just had a big cry over a lost balloon that’s never coming back, and is finally done pining about it and ready to lay head on pillow. So maybe I should wait till morning to go greet Rosemary, but I’m not gonna… “I wanna… I’m gonna…” (Though I don’t want to be like him who speaks that like a mantra either, do I?…)
So I went and petted the pikey plant and sniffed and sniffed my piney(ish) hands, and oh, yes, it did smell invigorating, mind-clearing.
Which somehow made me consider play and how old “senior” people can often get away with play when nobody else can but the very young. And so I thought of play I’d like to play, and ended up in the kitchen, kneading up a double batch of Scottish shortbread and experimenting with three cookies to get the size and thickness right, including their oven incubation, and then of course tasted (ate!) one of them, with warm milk, and purposed tomorrow sometime when the snow and icy slop gets melted and settled and I’m done with my bi-weekly allergy shots, that I’ll gather pine, pine, pine—sweet smelling pine, to put in every room of this house to impart its fragrace to the air.
And maybe I’ll stamp pine stampings [inked images] on cardstock tomorrow, and thus make my Christmas cards that “I wanna” send to friends I seldom or never see anymore…
As for my mood and demeanor: I’m no longer pining. And I think there might even be a trace of a smile playing at the edges of my mouth…..