And Then I Slept

Emerson Inn quote

On Saturday evening my head was pounding and I felt half present, the result of a summer cold that hit me hard and knocked me down. It was a lovely holiday, filled with friends, family, activity, food, and games. But the stress on my body from lack of sleep and busy work and home schedules caught up with me.

So at 9pm, suddenly alone, I found myself sobbing. It all felt too much. I felt inadequate, I felt weak, most of all I felt tired. The whole world seemed upside down. And then I slept.

It is amazing how my perspective can change after a good sleep. 

One of the things I love about the Psalms is how they speak to human need, whether it be fear, depression, hunger, thirst, or sleep. The Psalmist is unafraid to voice his honest thoughts to God in the form of beautiful poetry. And Psalm 3:5 speaks to the perspective offered after a good night’s sleep:

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

We have bodies that function best when they are cared for. Cared for in the proper sense, with healthy foods, exercise, and adequate sleep. And so many places in my faith tradition point to a God who understands our humanity, sees the complete picture. From offering breakfast on the banks of the Lake of Galilee to feeding a massive crowd who was growing hungry, we see he meets the needs of the whole person, takes into account our human frailty. And so it should be with me, understanding the person as a whole, changing my care to take into account tired bodies and worn souls.

How are you frail today? Where do you need a God who will offer you rest? Where do you need a friend who will walk beside you offering tea and hope in the journey? 

When My Anxious Thoughts Multiply Within…..

I woke with a headache. It started at the base of my neck and before long wound its way up to my temples. I was acutely aware that it was a headache born of anxiety.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within….”

Policeman are out in full force here in the city. Army men parade the streets. All the surrounding towns have loaned their safety units to Boston. Random checks are occurring in the subway and people clutch their arms to their bodies a bit tighter.

It’s part of the terrorist process. For the bombs don’t just terrorize for the moment, although their worst physical impact is felt then. Bombs and attacks terrorize far longer than the actual event. It’s like dominoes. The terrorist domino effect – where one thing happens and pretty soon you have a world spinning to try to keep the dominoes from crashing down.

I work in state government and we have received email upon email giving us resources, recognizing that even those not directly involved feel the ripple effect of the sadness and terror that reigned on Monday. Articles on grief and post traumatic stress flood my inbox. And I am grateful for the attention that the Department of Public Health is finally giving to what people around are experiencing.

But for me it’s not enough. For there has to be a faith element that wraps around all these resources. A recognition that the God who sustains and heals will continue and work through and beyond man-made resources.

And I find the answer in an age-old Psalm, sung for generations, sung to those in captivity, those in exile, those in war, those fleeing their enemies.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul”.* This is the missing ingredient to all the other resources.

*Psalm 94:19 “A text of this kind shows us forcibly the power of Divine grace in the human heart: how much it can do to sustain and cheer the heart. The world may afflict a believer, and pain him; but if the grace which God has given him is in active exercise in his soul, the world cannot make him unhappy. It rather adds by its ill-treatment to his happiness; for it brings God and his soul nearer together — God the fountain of all happiness, the rest and satisfaction of his soul.”~Charles Bradley, 1845

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Housekeeping the Soul

Every two weeks I have house cleaners come to our home. I began this about seven years ago and I would rather give up any other luxury than stop this one.

Why?

Because there is something cathartic and amazing about having a house that is ordered and clean – even if it’s only every two weeks! This couple is skilled at what they do – they move in with dust bins, heavy-duty vacuum cleaners, polishes and oils. Nothing is sacred or safe from their cleaning supplies. I love it. They come on a Monday and at the end of the day, I enter our home to the smell of clean. And I love the smell of clean.

Just as housekeeping uncovers dirt and dust fluffs that escape the naked eye, so does housekeeping the soul uncover those things that are otherwise covered with open piety. Behind the closet of my soul is an old grudge against someone from my past, a recent bitterness toward an event in my now, a deep wound that doesn’t seem to heal.

If dreams are housekeepers of the mind, perhaps tears are housekeepers of the soul, for tears are part of this housekeeping process.

Initially they flow out of self-absorption or self-pity, but as they flow a change occurs – the self-pity replaced by confession and cleansing.

Rockport

A confession much like the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 51.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

As the tears flow in sorrow confessing sin, the housekeeping continues and they move on to be tears of glad gratitude that shout “Let me hear joy and gladness! Let the bones that you have broken, rejoice”.

The housekeeping cleanses and comforts the soul and I move forward knowing that the “sacrifice of a broken spirit and a contrite heart” will not be despised.

Blogger’s Note – As I’ve been ‘housekeeping’ my soul, I realize I need to take a short break from blogging. To this end, I’ll be reposting a few pieces from two years ago in the next week. Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to being back after this ‘housekeeping the soul’ break!

For Those Who Cry in the Night

The day time is busy. People, projects, expectations, tasks — they fall into each other like dominoes and there is no time to cry. This busyness, endless chatter of ‘must do’s’ – this is a gift. A gift that takes the mind off the dull ache of sorrow.

But the night does come. And when it comes and takes over, when you can hear a pin drop in the silence, when all is dark — that’s when the tears come. Fast and furious they come, with big gulps of silent anguish. Tears like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – dragon tears, hot and salty.

All over this city are those who cry in the night. All over this nation, this world, are those whose sorrow hides by day and cries by night. Whether hospitals or homeless shelters, brick mansions, or slum hovels, grief is no respecter of people or status. And God sees them all, knows them all by name. Calls them. Seeks Them. Sometimes even hunts them down.

And His Word whispers by day and shouts by night: Weeping may endure for a night, But Joy comes in the morning.*

Psalm 30:5b

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A Heart of Wisdom

A Psalm comes to mind as I pass the Boston Common on my normal route to work. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.

The city is in its normal chaotic Monday morning state with walkers and bikers bleary eyed and impatient. Disheveled and smelly homeless are side by side with Suits and Designer bags, because this is the city and its streets and potholes are no respecter of persons.

And I fear I don’t know what the verse really means. What is a ‘heart of wisdom’? What does it look like? How do I respond with a heart of wisdom? How do I live as one with a heart of wisdom?

Mondays are not a good time for this type of contemplation. I have that weekend hangover that longs for today to be Saturday and the beginning of days off instead of Monday and the ending. Today I would like to be Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey with her famous “What is a Week-End?” so immune is she to the middle class struggle.

But if not Monday, when? If I want to figure out this ‘heart of wisdom’ and I want to live it. I know that putting it off for another day is not wise.

And I may not know what it is, but I surely know what it’s not! A heart of wisdom is not rushed, nor is it apathetic. A heart of wisdom is not proud or narcissistic. A heart of wisdom does not speak before it thinks; does not jump to conclusions; does not boast; does not treat others poorly.

I’ve already fallen in three of these areas and it’s not yet 7:30 in the morning. Is there any hope? Hope is in the verse itself, for as I look at the brevity of life, I am sobered. A childhood friend from New Zealand lost her 19-year-old son to a tragic accident this weekend; cancer seems to be quickly claiming the bodies of people I know and care about; I have people dear to me who would give anything to be able to get up and go to a job. And a heart of wisdom would look through all this to see the big picture, would look through the chaos and pain and see the eternal, live according to the eternal.

“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” I repeat the verse silently in the elevator to the 4th floor. This today is my prayer.

Tripping on Cobblestone Streets

“If I should say “My foot has slipped,” 

Boston is known for its cobblestone streets; former cow paths really, filled in with cobblestone as first horse and carriage, then automobile, came along. It’s one of the things people find charming about Boston.

As someone who lives here, they are at times charming – and at other times annoying. While a hallmark of the area, they are hard on the feet. My shoes wear out quickly, uneven on one side of the heel, causing discomfort in my legs. Or I don’t see a change in the level of stones and my ankle turns.

It’s easy to trip. Lost in my thoughts, thinking I’m steady on my feet, I trip and I curse.

I want to cry. My foot has slipped and I think I’ll fall. I do that silly, quick look around that we humans do when we stumble, knowing that my thoughts are obvious to anyone who studies human behavior “Did anyone see me?” There’s someone at least two blocks away — I’m safe from having to acknowledge to another my human frailty. I right myself and I keep going. My thoughts, previously calm, turn anxious.

It happens a lot. And because I am who I am, I quickly draw the parallel between my tripping, my stumbling, and life.

I trip a lot in life. I lose balance. I stumble and sometimes I fall. I lose my way, tripping in the process. Anxiety increases as peace decreases. And I hate it.

“If I should say “My foot has slipped….” These are words from the Psalms that I learned long ago. But to be faithful to the Biblical picture painted by the Psalmist I must finish the verse. It’s not enough to just acknowledge that my foot slipped, that I’m embarrassed and frustrated.

“Thy loving kindness, Oh Lord, will hold me up.”

It’s an important ending to the verse, an important addition to my thoughts. I steady myself and take a deep breath. The cobblestone streets are still in front of me, they will not go away. They are a part of living and working in this area.

Life with its trips and stumbles is not going away. But thy loving kindness, Oh Lord, will lift me up. 

But there’s more: Continuing to walk, I remember the ‘more’ “When my anxious thoughts multiply within, your consolations delight my soul”. The tripping in life, the stumbling and falling is bound to happen, and with this comes anxiety. These verses acknowledge my inevitable slipping and God’s loving kindness; my related anxiety and God’s consolations.

“If I should say “My foot has slipped”, Thy loving kindness, Oh Lord, will lift me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul” Psalm 94:18

At the Intersection of Despair and Confusion

It’s so easy to lose faith, to lose heart.

I sat on the subway staring at an advertisement for higher education. The ad showed a map of streets with a bubble over the top “At the intersection of Career and Success”.  I stared at it for some time, quite possibly to avoid eye contact with the person opposite me. Ah yes….I am becoming quite Bostonian.

As I stared, I thought if this was a bubble over the map of my current world it would say “At the intersection of despair and confusion” Quite a contrast to the hope portrayed in the ad.

I have been here before, and I know “this too shall pass”. When this bubble appears over my life I am at a place where I’ve no choice but to fling myself on God’s mercy, to pray passionately that he will comfort, intervene, give hope and wisdom.

The intersection of despair and confusion will soon be replaced by a different intersection because that’s what life does. But right now I feel I’m in a traffic jam, stuck at this intersection with cars all around honking for me to move — they don’t see the red light in front of me.

In the midst of these thoughts I close my eyes and hear the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 40:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.

At the intersection of Despair and Confusion I turn to the only One who can give me wisdom and strength — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God of miracle babies and ladders to Heaven; God who wrestles and marks for life; God of laughter and mercy. A God who will turn despair and confusion into hope and clarity.