>A "reflective" moment

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(Pablo Picasso, “Girl Before a Mirror“, 1932)

Psalm 18:26:

“With the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.”

It all started this morning when I was brushing my teeth. I was looking in the bathroom mirror and had the sudden realization that when you look in a mirror, you don’t see yourself–you see yourself, backwards. You see everything behind you, but nothing in front of you. Mirrors are not all that useful when we think about what lies ahead. Great for reflecting on what is behind us, though.

Then as I sat down with my morning habit of “The Daily Office” and my systematic, monastic run-through of the Psalms, what should be part of my reading but this tidbit in Psalm 18? (That’s the trouble about the habit of regular Bible reading…it leads to thinking. Imagine that.)

As I sat with that thought, what bubbled up was a realization that we DO tend to reflect what surrounds us. If we surround ourselves with abundance and generosity, we tend to reflect those values. If we surround ourselves with the tools of self-absorption, we tend to reflect a self-absorbing nature.

Yet, things bigger than ourselves tend to influence what others see and reflect, themselves. I sat with my coffee, and pondered backwards. Although I could not tell you at what point this shift occurred, somewhere in that process of my becoming a physician, there was a day that I somehow stopped worrying about who I was to become–to “be”– and thought more about “What do I want to reflect to others?”–and in that process I began to become that person. My best guess is it started to happen at some point when I realized medical students are apt mimics of their residents and attendings–for better or worse. But I remember thinking way back when, somewhere back there, I became cognizant of the fact I wanted them to mimic the good parts of me. It might have even happened when I caught one mimicking something I’d rather they not mimic in me.

I imagine many parents go through the same thing. A day comes when many parents realize that it’s important for their children to see parents who reflect the values they want their children to embody. It’s a day when they stop reacting and start consulting with their spouse about how to project that image. As that happens, parents mature, and relationships mature.

So it is with the “holy habits” we take on as we recognize regular spiritual disciplines are a part of being in relationship with God–things like regular prayer or meditation time, Bible reading, keeping a prayer list, etc. In the beginning, we take them on because we think we are going to “become something” as a result of the habit–that this somehow will make us more in tune with God. But over time, we come to realize God was in relationship with us all along, and it’s no longer to “please” God, catch God’s attention, etc. It is more to create a milieu that others can see when THEY are needing to see God’s kingdom.

My EfM mentor often has described her experience of having survived a scary time on the ventilator as a result of surviving an often fatal pulmonary disorder called Bronchiolitis Obliterans–Organizing Pneumonia (BOOP.) She knew many people were praying for her, and in her mind, she could see a “net.” Part of the process she trusted in her own ability to trust God, no matter what the outcome was to be, was to “lean into that net.” She has described how she came to understand she was to lean into this net, that it was not about the net having particular power to control whether she lived or died, but simply that she was to learn to trust its power.

When I think back to this recent article I read, where Fr. Ron Rolheiser describes what he believes to be the ten major faith struggles of our age, it makes me realize that conventional notions of evangelism are like us looking in the mirror–us, backwards. To me, evangelism has far less to do with me personally, or my efforts, as it does to be a part that maintains that “net.”

Yes, our holy habits shape what we reflect to others to some degree, and that reflection can be part of what others see as they search for what Rolheiser describes as the four great spiritual yearnings people most seek–a personal morality, social justice, mellowness of heart and spirit, and community as a constituent element of true worship. More importantly, our holy habits shape and maintain the net–it’s not so much about “us” as we might think.

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>A hedge-y endeavor

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Ecclesiastes 10:10:

“If the iron is blunt, and one does not whet the edge, then more strength must be exerted; but wisdom helps one to succeed.”

Well, that is pretty much the sum total of what the Bible has to say about splitting logs.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the fence builders out here, totally rebuilding my pasture fences. My long-eared equines (mostly my mule) have taken a toll on my woven wire fence. I opted for a taller fence, and seven strands of barbed wire. The other flaw in the previous fence was that the previous builder put the staples and clips on the OUTSIDE. Equines simply lean against the fence and pop the staples and the clips bend open. It doesn’t take much for determined long-eared equines and their belief that the grass really IS greener on the other side of the fence, to wreck one.

One of the decisions I made was to put hedge posts in for my corner posts. Hedge is one of the densest, sturdiest, most resistant to rot and decay woods available in this part of the world. It’s even better than many of the treated posts available. The sidelight has been there are little “leftovers” of the posts given to me so I can burn them in my chiminea later on. Seeing as how hedge is also one of the highest BTU delivering woods out there, this is a bonus.

There’s only one problem–some of them are too big for my chiminea. I had to break out my axe, my splitting maul, and my wedge, and revisit something that used to be a real pain in my life–but this time, as a tourist, as a pastime.

Let me share a little history. I grew up with a wood stove being the major source of heat in the house where I lived the bulk of my junior high/high school years. I grew to hate the wood stove and everything associated with it. I hated being dragged along to cut and split wood. I hated stacking wood, hauling wood in the house, and lugging out the ashes. I hated how the house was cold in the early mornings, I hated how I often had to get dressed in front of the wood stove in order not to freeze, and I hated how it seemed the entire set of activities of daily living revolved around feeding and maintaining that wood stove every winter. I hated how wood heat dried my nose out, I hated how all my clothes seemed to have a smoky smell to them, and I hated how we had a propane furnace and never used it, being told we couldn’t afford it.

I vowed never to have wood heat in the house, and I have kept that promise.

Yet I love sitting outside by my chiminea fire. Go figure.

Most of the wood I use in my chiminea has been cut by someone else. But I kept all my woodcutting tools because once in a while I still have to deal with an oversized log.

As I looked at the little pile of hedge logs that was growing by my driveway, I made a radical decision–I would use splitting them as a form of meditation. I would simply split them and see what popped in my head as a result.

I pondered the first log. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was 30+ years older than when I used to do this all the time. I used to have well-tuned muscles for this task. I was younger, slenderer, better muscled, and more flexible. What am I doing? I could throw out my back or miss and cut the end of my foot off. Out of all the types of wood I could have taken on, I took on the densest, hardest wood in NE Missouri. Am I NUTS?

Just the same, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, opened my eyes, reared back and let fly with the axe. It landed pretty much where I intended it to go, scoring the log. I took a few more whacks with the axe, then grabbed the splitting maul and started in with it. Pretty soon, after a few swings, a big chunk of that log came flying off with a pop, and I felt the rush of feeling the maul peel right through 18 inches of solid wood.

I wish I could have seen my own grin.

Over the next half hour, things came back to me I did not even realize were buried in my memory banks. Layers of clothing started to peel off as I felt myself sweat. My hands found the right spots on the handle. I automatically used already split pieces to prop up the piece I was working on. Before you know it, I had a little pile of split logs, just the right size. Realizing one little pile was enough, I quit, and got a soda and sat down to think about what had just happened. I was tired, but not sore. I wasn’t sore the next morning, either–I’d done it about right.

But as I sat and drank my soda outside in my “post-splitting” phase of the exercise, I realized just how GOOD it all felt. Something I used to hate to do became pleasurable. I felt very physically and spiritually “connected”. I felt empowered. I found myself saying, “God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’m glad I had learned how to do that, all those many years ago.”

I’m sure God laughed.

It brought me to some other interesting spiritual awakenings. Nothing that happens in our lives is for naught. It made me realize that things we hated, things that hurt us, things we discarded as “no use to us,” can eventually come to good. Mistakes aren’t mistakes, and things we came to regret only remain regrets if we choose to leave them there. Left the size they are, they are useless–but if we dare to take them apart, no matter how hard they are, they can come apart through the power of things we forgot we have or never knew we possessed–in other words, with God’s help. Most importantly, we can turn loathing into gratitude. We can take what seemed inert, dead, and useless, and turn it into heat, light, and warmth.

That in itself, is a form of resurrection, isn’t it?

>The video that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck

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When I watched this, I cringed. I don’t know or really don’t care if the man sitting on the pavement has Parkinson’s or not, (I think he does, judging from his head movements) or what created the situation that put him in the position to want to counter-protest the group of Tea Partiers. I don’t care about what life choices he made to be without health insurance. I don’t care about his lifestyle habits. The only thing that matters to me is the chilling attitude of the man in the white shirt and tie throwing money, and his words, “I’ll decide when to give you money.”

Does this man think he has the right to decide anything for any of us any more than the rest of us in a free republic?

Money seems to be the one thing that we always seem to think we have more control of than we really do. There’s always someone out there who wants to tell any of us how to spend our money, and we always seem to act like we know more than God in how to spend our money. We always think “we” earned it.

Earned. That’s an interesting word. Forces beyond us determine the worth of our labors. Society has deemed janitors are worth X amount an hour, and managers are worth Y, and the various professions are worth Z. Even the same job has different worth in different cultures and geographic areas. But “we” earned it.

I wonder how the man throwing money at the man on the ground felt. Did he feel justified? Did it make him feel a little wealthier for a moment? Did he feel a little guilty later that he was “over the top?” We’ll never know.

Did the man on the ground ever pick up the money? Or did he leave it lie?

So many questions; no good answers. But it chilled me to think any of us has the capability of being either the man on the ground, or the man tossing the money around. Probably each of us has behaved at least a little bit like either person in the video at least once in our life. Pray for all of us.