Friday, January 25, 2013

Communication as Healing

“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”
-Proverbs 12:18

True to my extravert nature, I am a talker. I think out loud, I’m happiest when writing or exchanging dialogue (I don’t think any of this will be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me). I feel, I express, I have so many things on my mind I want to synthesize and share. I want to become better at saying things that matter, that make a difference- rather than a lot of fluff. Some people when they speak their words resonate with power. What makes that difference?

Right now, I want to focus however on the above verse, about how wise words bring healing. I have all sorts of things I think about this, could say about this. For now however, I am going to leave it as a meditation point. This week I am going to do my best to say less, and then when I do say something, have my words be centered on bringing healing/health to whomever I am speaking to. I am also going to watch in my life for people who are good at this- who are concise and truly giving in their sharing.
 I know many people in my life right now who are dealing with real tragedy- real tough events in their lives. With different forms of conflict, death and tragedy. Something with the month of January seems to be stirring up things for others. Tragedy has been a part of my life in the past, but is not something I am suffering from intensely now. I feel therefore it is me who needs to be rigorously active in the lives of those who need it, as others were for me in the past. I hope and pray to be able to use my words to heal and support others in their unique trials.
I would love to hear other’s thoughts on what this means to them: who do you know who often uses words as healing? Who often speaks from wisdom? Why is this an important thought/idea? How can it be better applied in our lives?
James 1:19My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Everyday God

I think it is natural for us to call on God in the highs and the lows of life. We celebrate him at our happiest moments, after successes or triumphs in life. We also call on him when we are feeling lost and/or afraid. Indeed, many people first develop their faiths at times like this- when God is needed in the picture- after a death or disappointment or during some life trial. During these peaks I know I find myself praying more often- I felt very intimately close to God during the deaths and major breakups I have experienced. I also have felt close to him during the peaks of joy in my life- those times where I am witnessing beauty or love in action- those times that make you want to sing or shout or say hallelujah!

Recently I’ve been asking myself however about faith in every day. How do we connect with God on the unremarkable days? When the emotional fuel isn’t there for us to call out to him in some sort of exclamation? And how can we turn the normal days into those where our relationship with God flourishes? I remember thinking the other day- my days are so busy, how am I supposed to fit God in?

I have heard the following declared of Buddhism- “Buddhism is not a religion it is a way of life.” I could spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting Buddhism and Christianity, and why in recent decades the two traditions have melded for many Western believers (see this link if you are interested in reading more about this ). The point of bringing it up however is more to reflect on what it is to have a faith as a ‘lifestyle’. In the Webster dictionary, lifestyle is defined as:

“A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group”

Christianity for me has historically not been a lifestyle. I went to church and confirmation, but otherwise I would just keep on living my life my way. I didn’t know what it really meant to have God in your everyday life or to live out your faith. God came up in prayer, on holidays and in church, and that was it. It took me going to St. Olaf to really learn what it was having God being a part of your daily life- he was with me in the chapel, in discussions with my friends, in class, in the music, in the wind chimes, in the trees, even abroad.

For modern day Christians who also struggle to resolve their faith being a part of their regular daily life- I believe WWJD movement was a brilliant solution. Too bad the bracelets became cliché and now are a thing of the hippies J.  However the concept is great: have something on your person, reminding every day to live your life in a way that reflects your values, faith and the bigger picture. What would Jesus do if he were me and were here right now? That is a profound question, as I think it recognizes the human/divine relationship brewing within all of us. And ultimately- I think recognizing “who Jesus was” is to turn outward and have compassion and affinity for those around us- family, friends and strangers alike. Ultimately, I see the “What Would Jesus Do?” drive as a reminder of simply doing good. Another way to say this is having your “Faith in Action”.

Another angle of having God being a part of daily life I believe has to do with prayer. Prayer is our communication portal with God- it turns faith from a conversation with ourselves in our heads to a conversation with God. My pastor a couple months ago did a lecture on prayer for our church’s small group. One of the things he said that struck me was- “I would much rather you prayed 4-5 times a day for a minute than 5 minutes at the end of the day.” This struck me as a very different experience of faith, because instead of communicating with God at the beginning or end of your day in a time of silent reflection, you rather would be sharing with him throughout the busy-ness of the day.

I will say in this regard we Christians may have something to learn from Muslims, whose culture revolves around setting aside 5 times during the day for prayer. The call to prayer in a Muslim city is a beautiful and eerie sound- I wrote an essay about it once titled “Turkish Dawn” if anyone is interested in it. The noise and the dust swirling reverberates in you and seems to whisper ‘God is here! God is around us! Remember him!” Again, a deeper discussion would be needed looking at whether five 10-15 minute prayer sessions a day is really necessary/ideal for faith (I don’t know the answer to this), but again- this practice really does bring God into the everyday life.

So far, this leaves me with two possibilities for bringing God into the everyday and regular. One: regularly considering my faith and letting it seep into my every day actions and decisions (simply put WWJD). Two: pray and meditate in multiple spurts throughout the day. Take prayer out of the bedroom, and have it be a part of my everyday life.

I think there is one more method worth mentioning of having an everyday relationship with God. And that is the act of celebrating. Another way to put this is to practice finding joy in life, or rejoicing in your circumstances. Try this: any time a complaint touches your lips or filters into your mind- stop. Breathe. And then consider “How can I rejoice in this situation?” Here is another method my dad recently recommended to me in practicing joy- stretch your hands above your head and look up for AT LEAST 30 seconds. Honestly every time I do this I can’t help smiling at the end, despite my best efforts.

 I know several people in my life who are exemplars of really finding joy in life and embracing what comes at you. My father, Jim Running, Lydia Pfotenhauer and Nate Bloomenshine are a few that come to mind. These are the type of people who regularly say “This is great! Isn’t this great?!” or even when they are disappointed are able to see a glimmer of good in the circumstances or what is to come. And from appearances at least, these people are really those who I would point to as examples of those who are living out their faith daily- as they have made it a habit to celebrate living and God.

I think there are many ways to celebrate life every day; whether through artistic expression, singing in the car, hugging someone, just even smiling or looking someone in the eyes or doing something ridiculous like yelling wohoo! out loud. And by celebrating our circumstances and life, we are directly celebrating God and what he has given us. It is part of why one of my new year’s resolutions is just going for a walk once a month, and reveling in the world God has created and its beauty. We show love to him by rejoicing in our day, circumstances, others and surroundings.

Ultimately for me, the point of having an everyday God relationship is to make my faith authentic and real. As much as I love talking about faith and going to church, it would feel hypocritical to me if that was the majority of my faith. I want my faith rather to be a lifestyle- a way of walking more than a way of talking. And although the starbursts of faith in the highs and lows of life are important (and sometimes life changing)- I want to develop the habit and muscle of having my spirituality be a genuine part of who I am and what I do every day.
And I imagine having God in your everyday doesn’t have to be a lot of work, or effort, it doesn’t have to be a huge sacrifice of time or energy. Rather it is just simply including him day to day by doing good, praying and rejoicing. This everyday relationship will take practice, and as with all habits a mental muscle will need to be built. But in the end I believe this type of faith really would lead to a very different type of life- and faith that is really a lifestyle.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Faith + New Years Resolutions?

The New Year is a natural time to set about life with new goals and ambitions for oneself. The stereotypical American resolutions seem to be: 1) save more money 2) Exercise more 3) spend less  4) Eat less. My family always makes a point of doing New Years resolutions, we came up with five as a family and five each individually. Often times they included things like –Visit one National Park or –De-clutter downstairs garage or something along those lines.

I think the goal setting New Years resolutions provides is important. Its healthy to set out to accomplish things; it gives us drive, purpose, intention and potentially fulfillment if we feel we have accomplished said goal. It also causes us to strive, to reach out for new things in life and grow in the process. I believe goal setting says a lot about people’s character as well- because it answers the question- what is it important for you to achieve in your life? What are you willing to make happen?

Yet I haven’t yet made any formal resolutions this year yet- in part because I am dissatisfied and disenchanted with the process. I am not quite sure why I am making new goals, and also have less faith in my ability to really accomplish them. Plus, given the medley of things I'm already doing in life, why should I take on more?

I think the biggest questionI am left with is WHY am I making New Year’s resolutions? What is really behind it? By, for example, saving more money, what do I believe I am more fundamentally achieving? Some of the answers with this example that come to mind are: newfound sense of security, peace, happiness etc.  MAYBE I would achieve those things, ultimately psychology points to that having more money in the bank does not achieve those things. There seems to be something missing in this whole process.

Over the last couple of days, I have been wondering the part in which God plays in my New Year’s resolutions. How much am I driven to resolve in the New Year to connect with him in a new ways? To better serve him? To more fully practice my faith? My go to approach in New Years resolutions has not been to include him. To be very honest with myself, God plays a very little part in all of my new goals for the year. Rather, the goals I would make are specifically targeted at myself and the quality of my life- and are things I set out to accomplish alone. Are things that I WANT, that I believe will make me happier at the end of the year if I have accomplished them. I am left asking myself how much I am crossing the line between healthy self-development vs. full self-absorption.

I wonder how taking on an attitude of Partnering with God in my new years resolutions would affect the process? Also, how would making resolutions inspired by my faith change the tenure of what I am setting out to achieve in the new year?  What if my new year’s resolutions included a bigger picture than just me? That my goals were motivated primarily by my relationship with God and others?
So here it goes, as an expirement I'm going to make 3 faith driven New Year's resolutions (I might make more faith or non-faith ones in the future, but this is a start). Not in order to be a better person, not just to satisfy myself, but rather in an effort to recognize and contribute to my relationship with God, others and the bigger picture:
1) Go on a walk at least once a month with the intention of                                                         relishing and celebrating God's creation/the beauty of the world
2) Pray/Meditate at least once a day- especially focusing on what I am greatful for
3) Show someone once a day that I love them (could be a phone call, act of kindness, letter, favor etc. Also can include new people)

I don't know how these goals will make a difference for me, what I do hope is they somehow make a small spiritual difference- with God and with the lives of others. And that seems to make them actually worthwhile.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vacation: Creating Space for God

I did a very unusual thing this past week- I took a real, cliche, rejuvinating vacation- on the beach. I flew down to Florida for a week with my aunt and uncle and literally spent a week in the sun with no plans. No Plans! No social plans, no schedule, nothing! If you had asked me why I was going or what inspired me- I couldn't even really articulate a good reason to myself much less out loud. It just seemed like the thing to do.

I am not very good at vacationing naturally. My fear of boredom and needing something to do took over the first part of my week (its kind of pathetic really). I quickly wrote down a list of 25 different things to accomplish- and diligently started tackling my 'fun' list.

Thank goodness the wind and the sun were persistant! The allure of the natural world became too much for me to resist- and eventually I put away my to do list and started to live in the present on my vacation. What do I mean by this? I followed impulse- if I was hungry I ate if I was tired I slept if I was hot I swam and if I was curious I read; and if I wanted to run around in circles and cartwheel on the beach I did that too! In the process I wrote letters and saved the lives of small crabs who had washed up on the beach. I swam in the ocean and spent time playing and giggling with my older cousin Jenny.

Although location made a difference on my trip- I realized how important it was for me to mentally allow myself to go on vacation- to let up on my usual patterns of thinking and allow for the world to filter in and just enjoy- without guilt or shame or need. How rarely I allow myself to do this! And in that shift- that mental quietness- God showed up. The good spiritual forces of the world were close at hand and were dancing around in the birds. And I was so oblivious the first couple of days to the important presence I was witness to.

For the rest of my trip I created three goals for myself:

1) To breathe deeply and clearly
2) To be present and follow healthy intuition
3) To center; with God myself and the world

And man, when I was doing these three things I was so happy! At night I would stand at the edge of the balcony in the warm wind looking at the stars and feel God close around me in the air and the heavens. During the day I would walk down the beach in the glistening sunshine and just smile at the beauty of the sunlight dancing on the thin films of water washing over the shore.

By the end of the vacation I can't say I was left with any grand revelation or new insight. I learned a lot every day through reading and conversation, but nothing that was earth shattering. I guess maybe my biggest accomplishment of the trip is that I didn't finish my list and am ok with it. I came back to the new year and my life at home with a new context, a new perspective highlighted in peace and a feeling that love is all around us in God and in others.