And What Do You Need?

My spiritual director has what feels like go-to questions. She’s too experienced to use go-to questions. In reality, she listens to me and to the Spirit and follows those cues.

Her questions hover with where I am. What they really show are the basic questions I keep needing to return to, revisit, and re-hear. They repeat because I’m still needing to hear them.

The particular question–because there are a few that occur to me in this way which I’ve scribbled into my soul over our eight years together–is “And, Michael, what do you need?”

I can hear the questions the way I can hear my breathing. Usually after running or exercising or working hard, I hear what’s been there, unacknowledged and unnoticed. I hear my breathing. The questions are like that. The longer I’m in direction the more this happens: I find Lucy’s words coming up. She is a means of grace in that way. God speaks through her to me. And I’ve been hearing that question. Michael, what do you need?

It turns all my energy, energy I often direct toward being good for others, ministering to others, caring for others in the church, home, and hospital–all that meaningful energy comes to me in a question. It’s hard to pay that kind of attention to yourself when you serve others. Until you have to. Sometimes you don’t realize you have to until it comes up in a good question.

So, here it is for us: what do you need?

People Who Insist You Avoid Shortcuts

Photo Thanks to Leroy and Lifepix

Photo Thanks to Leroy and Lifepix

Surround yourself with people who insist you avoid the shortcut.

When I read Seth Godin’s words in that recent post, it made me take a minute to express my gratitude for people who forbid me–with their lives, with their ways of being, with their manner–to take short cuts.

I had to write one of them. I did something similar last week on a facebook wall. I’ll do something like that in a month when I see a mentor for his birthday. I’ll do thanksgiving around my own birthday too.

I’m thankful that not only is Seth Godin great for quality, pointed writing wisdom, but he also helps me notice the people pulling it off. He helps me bring to mind people who are relentless in focusing their energies on building something good.

Because I work in ministry, my focus is usually on people who build other people. Those are my heroes, mentors, friends, and colleagues. I spend myself with those who contribute. I befriend them.

I befriend people who give. I’m a giver. I build givers. I’m a teacher. I collect teachers around me. Because those folks don’t take shortcuts. Because those folks don’t let me take shortcuts.

They take very long views. Dangerously long views. They believe in the worst of students. They slow down when someone needs attention. They breath deeply when everyone’s afraid.

Those are the folks who teach me to “take my time” and attend to what’s in front of me with grace. They are the people in my spiritual autobiography, in my life narrative, in my regularly changing life review when I’m on the MICU and being grateful for the number of witnesses who people and participate in this life that I live.

They’re the ones around the interior kitchen table of my heart. They’re the people I thought of when I read Seth’s brief reminder. I’m thanking them all as much as I can because they’re lovely.

Advent Post #5

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:29)

I think hearing from God can be a wonderful thing. In the past, I’ve been known to say that I heard from God, and though I have only grown more guarded with such ways of framing my sense of the Spirit’s voice, I think it’s still a communication that changes you in good ways when it happens. But hearing from God is not an entirely splendid event. God says things that upset the soul.

I think to Samuel, one of my closest biblical friends, and when he was called, he didn’t know what was going on! He ran around the temple at night, looking for his teacher, waking up the temple servants, trying to find out what it was he heard. And even then, the message he received sent the ears of Israel tingling.

Sometimes, when I’m praying for people who have said that they want clarity from God, I ask that God upset that person’s soul. When I say that in my prayer, I have Mary in mind. I have in mind the unhinged way I imagine this girl to be.

In my mental vision, she is not the staunch woman, leaning near her firstborn when he dies on Calvary’s cross. She is not the woman who shakes away the words of Jesus at that wedding in Cana, right prior to his first miracle. No, this Mary is different. This Mary is a girl. This Mary is just beyond childhood. This Mary, in my vision, trembles at the gripping phrase from the angel’s lips.

She is tutored in Jewish identity. She knows the scriptures. Mary has heard the story of Samson’s parents when the angel told them how to feed and raise him. This Mary recalls those stories from “just days ago,” and this Mary is hardly thrilled. This Mary suffers, if just for a moment from an upset soul. She is stricken by the healing but troubling tone of perfect Love who comes to enlist her in God’s plan to reclaim all things. That reclamation, it seems to this Mary, begins with her.

And she does not run to it. She pauses, maybe stops altogether. This Mary knows that feeling of tense, unsurrendered tightness lodged between her shoulder blades. She knows the “No” lifting up from the bottom of her belly. She knows the control she thought she had over her future, the label she wanted for her first child, the future she planned for him whenever he’d come.

Perhaps she sees a bit of the picture in front of her son, the treatment he’ll receive because of his teachings, the broad and deep ways he’ll be offended and mishandled because of his claims for justice, liberation, and salvation. Perhaps Mary sees the entire problem that is his upbringing, shrouded in mystery, and his ministry, cloaked in the clear-headed direction of a world redeemed from anguish and poverty and oppression. Maybe she didn’t want that future.

The Samuels and the Marys of scripture do not entirely run to God’s plan and desire. They get to it, eventually, but they are probably not the swift-footed heroes we make them out to be in our fiction. No, I think they are obedient and cautious. They are no less surrendered in that eventual practice of God’s purpose, but they always are people whose hands have to learn to relent and release. They are people, not characters. And all people war with God when they see God’s future for them.

Can you relate to this Mary during this Advent season? Can she be as much as exemplar as the other, most robust Mary, older by all those years living toward the fulfillment of the angel’s prophecy? Might you need to wrestle with the troubling words of God? Can your God handle your reactions, each of them, to God’s words?

Desmond-Harris on Facebook, Compassion, and Choice

But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your “friends” to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with.

Call me intolerant, but my view is that, if someone’s reaction to an unarmed black teenager being killed is to announce that he probably deserved it, that person is not someone I’m interested in being associated with, and I won’t miss him or her a bit after I hit “block.” There are too many compassionate and smart people in the world for me to waste even a fraction of my social media scrolling time on interactions with people who are either racist or unintelligent and insensitive enough to appear so.

From Jenee Desmond-Harris’ article “How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson” here

Prayer for a Friend as He Presents

You have never had a problem presenting yourself.  You have always communicated well.  So as my friend communicates, will you?

When he walks into the room, present yourself to him as he presents himself and his stuff to others.  Calm his heart and nurture his nerves in your hand.  Make him see and hear what he should.

May every inspection that happens in that time be full of accuracy, wisdom, and practical help.  Season the words of his listeners with grace, empathy, care, and truth.  Bring them closer to each other and to beauty as they talk.

Grant that this presentation brings you glory.  Enable it to connect with the broader bigger vision of his doctoral work in powerful, effective ways.  And perfect every step in the future of this work.  Bring it to pass in a ravishing way.

In Christ’s name.  Amen.