Posts Tagged ‘spiritual formation’

Keys, Astonishment, and a gentle bop on the head.

March 11, 2018

Doors open. Doors close. Both physically and spiritually. Sometimes at the same time.

One of the things I do is go on 24 hour service retreats with college students. At a recent retreat before we leaving to go to our service site, I decided to take my things out to my car. The students were slowly packing up their things. My bags were ready to do. As someone who has camped in tents, I am in the habit of packing up as soon as I get up; otherwise someone is going to walk all over them during the course of the day. So I was packed. And I stepped out to put my things in the car. I looked up from the trunk of my car to see that to see that the students had followed me out, like pack laden ducklings. I saw the last student carefully closed the church door- closing in our only key to the building. I called out,  but I was too late. We were locked out of the building.

We called our contact from the church (whose keys I had, the ones that were locked in the building) and she worked on finding someone on a Saturday morning who had a key and who could let us in. I sent the students on to the service site and I stayed to wait. It was, for Michigan in January, a nice sunny day. Waiting was quite pleasant. I had time to think and I realized- to my astonishment- that I wasn’t upset or angry about what had happened. Honestly a few years ago, I would have been furious. Mad at myself for not carrying the keys with me and upset at the student who shut the door, which I had intentionally propped open. But I wasn’t upset. Hmm I thought. After all these years of being intentional about spiritual formation, perhaps, maybe, I have actually grown some. I was amazed and surprised. I thought about how much nicer life is when I don’t go through it angrily. Someone with a key eventually came and I joined the students at our service site. Our retreat finished without any further problems.

Later on I told this story to my spiritual formation group. I have been meeting with these women for probably 10 years. I wasn’t boasting. I was telling the story of how astonished and surprised I was. My Saturday book group was reading The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. We had been talking about joy and anger, happiness and sorrow. I shared my experience with them also and my astonishment and surprise at my lack of anger. Maybe the Dali Lama and the Archbishop are right, we can live with more joy and less anger!

Then the next Tuesday I was getting some things from a storage room at work. I had to reach over my head to get a cardboard tube and a light aluminum stand. The shelf was, as it always is, cluttered. This time cardboard tubes and stands fell down. One hit me (not seriously, more of a tap than a hit really) on the head. I was furious. Livid. Angry. And all that day I was easily provoked to anger. In traffic especially. I was just angry most of the day. as in pounding on the steering wheel,swearing at other drivers angry.

When I got home, I wondered what was going on. Why was I so angry. I hadn’t had a day like this in a long time. In fact, I thought, I just had that day on retreat where I wasn’t angry. The day I told my friends about…. oh. yeah.  You know, about how I have spiritually progressed so far that I didn’t get angry. oh. yeah.  Very funny God. Very funny.

But, really it is funny -in an eye rolling, sheepish way. I was reminded how very unpleasant it is to live angrily. Particularly when one is angry about trivial and transient things. Being temporarily locked out. A bop on the head. Being cut off in traffic. Really not worth getting angry about.  And my tale of astonishment and surprise? I was honestly astonished and surprised. And I was just the tiniest bit proud of myself. Well maybe just a tiny bit more than tiny.

Ah well, as Eugene Peterson says, “There are no experts in the company of Jesus. We are all beginners.”

I wonder if God looks at us and sometimes just has to chuckle.


Painting and re painting

July 12, 2014

I looked at the front of my house and saw some peeling paint. I looked again and saw more peeling paint. This did not make me happy. Just four years ago I painted the house. I know that proper preparation is critical for painting success. I spent days, no, more like weeks on prep. I power washed. I hand scraped the entire house. Up and down the ladder. I scraped  most of the south side of the house down to bare wood. Then I bought good paint, expensive paint. Paint that was supposed to last 25 years. I didn’t really expect 25 years but I was expecting more than four.

So last week I washed the front of my house and started removing the peeling paint. It came off in pieces as big as my hand,down to bare wood  in about 20 places along the front of the house. When I looked at the pieces they were made up of both the new paint and the old paint. I figured I must not have prepped and painted as well as I thought I had. That’s what you hear about painting: poor prep= poor results.  Just because I just think like this, I also thought there is a metaphor in all this about our spiritual lives.

We do what we think we are supposed to do, as well as we can and still the paint peels. Growth in faith isn’t a one time process. You can’t spend one summer working diligently on your spiritual life – scraping, washing, painting- and expect it to last 25 years. So with a philosophical sigh I began re washing, re scraping and re painting and thinking about spiritual formation as a never ending process.

Hoping to figure out my mistake I googled “peeling paint”. I discovered that my current problem was most likely due to my using really good latex paint. The new paint bonded to the old paint (like it should) and  expanded and contracted with the weather (like is should). But the new paint ended up pulling the old less flexible paint off the house. As you might imagine I was annoyed. I spent significantly extra money to avoid problems and ended up with other problems. The only way to avoid this, according to the painting sites, is to scrape the entire house to bare wood. And painters on the sites confessed that this is seldom done- too much difficult and too expensive. They implied that perhaps a paint of lesser quality wouldn’t cause this problem- or at least as much of a problem. Now that’s sort of depressing. Every few years I’ll have the opportunity to repaint parts of my house. Short of vinyl siding, I’ll never be done.

I don’t like this new information as metaphor for spiritual growth, but there it is. No matter how hard I try, how attentive to the details I am, how meticulous I am, how carefully I prepare, things will still peel and crack. I will still need to wash, scrape and re paint from time to time.

I knew that. I know that spiritual formation, like painting is never done. But I must confess, I was sort of hopping I could, at some point, take a break and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Of course I still can enjoy the fruits of my work, just not for as long as I had hoped.

The front is repainted and it looks good. I am happy  about how the house looks every time I pull into the drive. And I think, “I did that. I painted my house.” And next week, I start working my way around the rest of the house.

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