Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Knowing Without Grasping

Silent Saturday is held the first Saturday of every month at St. Patrick's. A few of us gather and someone reads aloud one of the passages for the next morning or shares a short meditation. We then observe three sessions of silent prayer, in increasing duration, followed by walking meditation around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The two ladies who started it have faithfully held this ritual for years, and I've been joining them since summer.

This month, they were both out of town and I agreed to lead the session. The first Saturday of February dawned a glorious, unseasonably warm day. No one else showed up for Silent Saturday, but one of our Altar Guild members was at the church to set up for Sunday's service. I asked her if she'd like to join me, but she politely declined, explaining that she only had time that morning for set-up.

Not wanting to delay her from her other Saturday commitments, I encouraged her to go about her work and to not mind me. I'd just carry on as usual from one of the pews.

She was incredibly gracious, obviously careful to make as little noise as possible. Even so, it was somewhat difficult to settle in to silence with the sounds of preparation echoing occasionally in the space.

But then something happened. The Eucharistic words "Body of Christ, Bread of Heaven" began surfacing in my thoughts as I sat with my eyes closed and hands open. For someone like me who wrestles with the idea of Christ -- simultaneously drawn to The Word Made Flesh and skeptical of the assertion that Jesus Christ is the only way to God -- this was a bit unexpected. No matter how I tried to detach from the words and simply be present in silence, I kept returning to them. And somewhere in the space between her activity and my stillness, I knew and participated in the Body of Christ.

Knew, yet still couldn't grasp.

It was an experience like stretching my hand out the window of a moving car, feeling the air slip over the surface of each finger, over my palm, permeating each pore. Leaning my head so the rush of wind envelops my face and teases my hair. Breathing deep. The current around me and inside me... and yet. I can't hold on to it. I can't close my fist around it and put it in my pocket. Can't hold a single breath.

I have to exhale.

I'm obviously reaching to wrap words around the experience. I know I can only give an approximation. But I think it has something to do with balance and being present in the moment. Sometimes we are the ones in silence, whose hands are still and open. Creating space. Waiting. Sometimes we are the ones in motion, whose hands are moving and serving. Setting a table. Preparing bread. Some of us do one more than the other.

But we can all eat the bread of angels. Taste an incomprehensible mystery. Open ourselves to glimpse what we cannot grasp. The body of Christ. One Body, many parts. An inhale. An exhale.

We balance each other.

We are each other.

And maybe, sometimes, if only for a single breath, we know it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Buffy and Winter

I had high hopes the new year. I was going to have a renewed sense of purpose and focus on establishing some new practices. Only, that's not what happened. I just couldn't seem to muster up the motivation or the discipline.

Instead of focusing on practices and purpose, I spent the better part of January binge-watching the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I had never seen before. I spent any time I had to myself watching Buffy save the world a lot. After spending most of 2015 hardly watching any television, this was... well... a change from that.

I'm not saying it's good or bad. It's just what happened.

I did manage to stay with a couple of my old daily practices. I continued Morning Prayer, and, thanks to an overly-energetic puppy who joined our family in June, I still took walks in the woods every day. I admit I probably would've foregone the walks if the dog would have let me get away with it.

Since I couldn't find my way to starting any new practices, I placated my conscience by trying to use the time in the woods to be present and notice what was going on around me as the seasons made their way through the woods. Even as I experienced a growing sense of general disconnection due to my lack of motivation and discipline, I determined to look for what was still beautiful as the green of Summer and the colors of Fall gave way to the short, cold, gray days of Winter.

I always try to take at least a minute in the woods to close my eyes and breathe deeply, to make myself aware of my connection to the earth beneath my feet and the trees surrounding me. Right now, most of the trees are empty. Just trunks, really, with bare branches sticking out in angles.

I've been feeling a lot like those trees.

I began 2015 with anticipation. I'd been told my career was about to be upended, so I thought it would be a year of big, exciting, scary change. But then it wasn't. And now it's 2016 and I'm in seemingly the same place with nothing temporal to show for the transformation I thought was inevitable. Like a tree in winter, whatever shelter or beauty I had in former seasons is gone, carried away in the biting, Autumn wind. I have nothing to offer.

But surely something happened or is happening. Trees don't cease to exist in winter. Things are happening under the ground, right? I tried to reassure myself with those thoughts. But I've since learned that trees are dormant in winter. Almost nothing is happening. They wait out the season, drawing on resources they saved in the other seasons, trying to stay alive. Not especially encouraging to my analogy. But then I found this:

"It is possible to force a tree to evade dormancy if you keep it inside and with a stable temperature and light pattern. However, this is usually bad for the tree. It's natural for trees to go through dormancy cycles, and the lifespan of the plant is dramatically decreased if the tree is not allowed to go dormant for a few months. Trees have winter dormancy for a reason, and it's best to just let them run their course as nature intended."

I know I'm not a tree, but something about those words is reassuring. Seasons of dormancy are natural and healthy. I remembered that Parker J. Palmer uses the seasons a metaphor for exploring selfhood and vocation in his book 'Let Your Life Speak.'

Palmer writes that winter is a reminder that "times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter-it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves....Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being."

Maybe I stumbled into this dormant season and maybe binge-watching an old TV series isn't the best way to renew myself and prepare for what's next. A part of me is a bit terrified that nothing is next. Terrified that the trees will soon be filled with leaves and new life and I'll still be dormant, with nothing to offer.

I guess that could happen.

But maybe recognizing the necessity of an occasional time of dormancy can bring me the perspective I need. I hope it will help me be more understanding of myself and others. And I pray I can now try to look clearly at the ground of my being and at least open myself to the possibility of a new season.