Some days require double-strength stress relief tea. Continue reading
I wonder how long it is that my mind will be in this space, that my refrain will be from the second part of the third verse of psalm 6, “low long, O Lord, how long?” It feels like every day is the last one I can stand. Sometimes, I ask my husband to drive me home or I sit and stare at the wall, paralyzed. Psalm 6 gives voice to my frustration. I roll my eyes and pound at my pillow, I complain and cry about this disease that leaves me dumb, disorganized, addled. But I’m asking the wrong question. Continue reading
This week, I’ve been thinking about the thief on the cross to whom Jesus promises, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It’s never too late to start over.
As the shine of yoga-camp-life wears off, and we’re traveling, my new healthful routine gets to having cracks in it and my body and soul feel the un-balancing starting to set in. Instead of starting the day with psalms and meditation, I’m eager to get going, feed the animals, start the coffee, then suddenly I’m showering and driving to work, the day long-since begun and no quiet time to speak of.
How important it is, though, when I know not what a day will bring, to spend a bit of time waiting and asking to be filled up with strength and compassion for the day ahead–though I’m blind to the future, God, the giver of all strength and compassion, is not. Indeed, God knows exactly what I will need. God knows what a day will hold and exactly what I will need to survive, thrive, and serve him well in it. Why not give him a chance to fill me up before it begins?
And I must remember, it’s never too late to start over. Of course, a new day with its morning light and freshness is a natural, comfortable moment to start over, but it can be anytime of day. The thief on the cross started over at the very last possible moment, and it still wasn’t too late.
The Three Crosses (Rembrandt) via
Just last week, a favorite blogger of mine, Cup of Jo, highlighted this article which suggests a different approach to visiting an art museum: choosing one or two or three art works that speak to you in some way and spending a good chunk of time in front of each one.
When I visited the Met on Friday, I tried it.
There’s a room with three or four El Grecoes; we’ve got one of his Adoration of the Shepherds (above) prints in our dining room, but this time, I was struck by El Greco’s Healing of the Man Born Blind (below).
I sat and stared at this painting for probably about seven or eight minutes; studying its intricacies, noticing the way light was reflected off draped clothing, gazing intently at the faces and their displayed emotions. I’d had a really strange and wonderful experience earlier in the visit (to the Metropolitan Museum of Art) with John the Baptist and St. Francis, and the tree of Jesse (more in a post coming soon!), and in this particular image I was struck by how familiar the bald man in the right-center of the picture seemed to me.
And was here was a ton of energy because of what Jesus was doing in the middle of the painting, or in spite of` what was happening with Jesus and the man born blind?
It didn’t even really register with me till I found the photo of this painting online that the characters near the center-bottom of the image, who in the little info card next to the painting in the museum referred to as possibly the blind man’s parents, seem to be at least somewhat inter-racial–of course, I’d observed their skin tone, but it hadn’t struck me as strange till I electronically grabbed the image and remembered it’s about 500 years old.
El Greco is so much about texture, it’s hard to appreciate the image without his super gloppy painting style. It was well-worth a few extra minutes’ time.
In hot pursuit of Spanish-influenced artists, I sought the Met’s collection of Caravaggios. That day, The Denial of Peter caught me. I sat and watched. Caravaggio’s use of light has captured my imagination since I saw something of his in a museum in Dublin. Peter’s face is fully lit–his aging bald head similar to the one I observed in El Greco’s piece–and all hand in the painting (even his own!) point toward him. We see the glint of the soldier’s armor, and the suspicious eyes of the woman near the fire, all judging whether Peter is part of the rabble-rousing troupe who had populated the courtyard that night.
How many times had I been in that courtyard, full light glaring in my face, trying desperately, defiantly, not to shield my eyes from the truth while at the same time denying its power over me?
Meditating on a few pieces, looking deeply into the true, hard work which the artists had put into their paintings, helped me to understand more deeply God’s movements in our lives.
What do you see in these paintings? Do you have a painting or piece of art that changed or expanded your understanding of God, or the divine, or the world?
“But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.” (Psalm 131:2, BCP)
From our very moment of creation–those little cells furiously dividing in a womb–there’s one voice, one heartbeat, one digestive system that calibrates reality for us. When we are again near that same heartbeat, napping on top of Mom, or hear that same voice (even decades later!) the deepest, most primal part of us responds. Some bit of ourselves, deeply coded with the nourishment (the life!) that this person provided for us, always knows Mom’s voice and body, the being that taught us by her simple presence and lifeblood what life and the world are.
God does exactly the same thing for us, but on an even deeper and more primal level. The most profound calm, the Most-Anti-Anxious-State, the greatest security, and the truest reality arrives when we sit in the presence of God. Yoga and meditation (and prayer) teach us to do this literally–to physically sit down, to face up to our racing minds (and hearts) and start digging in our heels, slowing down our minds, listening through distractions and listening into quietness.
One of my colleagues has a plaque on his office wall, “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” God is sitting next to you, where ever you are, whether you want him there or not–when we quiet down, we can start to notice his presence.
Part of the point of yoga and meditation and prayer is to help us recalibrate to that original orientation–sometimes it’s awkward and feels uncomfortable or even painful (physically, or socially, or psychologically) to slow down, to sit down, to quiet down. Persistence in sitting quietly, in praying (or meditating or doing yoga), begins to loosen up our knotted up selves, and the searing shout of silence starts to feel more like a peaceful river of quiet.
God, his identifying heartbeat, his stirring voice, is not always the loudest or most insistent sound (often it is one of the quietest) in our lives, though it is the most profoundly sustaining.
For what God says to us in the quiet, a sermon preached by Sam Wells, “The Heart of God.“
For what struck me about Psalm 131 last September, “Psalm 131 Mash Up” (isn’t it funny how certain poems speak to you at particular moments of the year? And isn’t it funny how the same words evoke something so different in the same person a year hence?)
A stark departure from my morning’s post, but by looking at today’s entries, you get a pretty good idea of Who Emily Is–yes, it’s a curious and intense combination. Pray for me.
1. an app that makes falling asleep, keeping track of my day, breathing deep, and staying calm all DOABLE (there are 10 or so free meditations that give you a sense of the offerings. Dozens more meditations for lots of different subjects are available with a subscription–which I’ve bought & highly recommend. I’ve never been asleep faster than when I use the “sleep”ones; they’re especially great for travel, late nights, or when your mind is spinning).
2. Quercus by Penhaligon’s. You’ve probably experienced the great power of scent-memories; when I traveled to London in June, some of Penhaligon’s Lavandula was at the top of my international shopping list. A promotion allowed me to try a new shower gel for free, and wanting to try something very different, the clerk suggested Quercus. Without really meaning to, I used it almost exclusively through our travels–now a whiff of the scent takes me straight back to long evenings in little French towns, sunny days inside and outside cathedrals, and field after golden field as we drove through the countryside.
Scent-wise, it most reminds me of Cefiro, by Floris, another English perfumerie, another spicy unisex scent. Quercus’ lively smell at the beginning fades to a comforting woodsy, mossy scent–perfect for late summer and the shift to fall.
3. Sewing. My dear little Singer, bought 3 years ago on Craigslist (oh, Durham Craigslist–and even more, St. Louis Craigslist!–I miss y’all!!), has taken the plunge into quilting with me. For the perfectionist among us, quilting is exacting, but also artful. Attacking my first quilt for a gift, as mentioned in last week’s Happiness List edition.
This morning, I also re-edited a skirt I made for our French adventure–you just can’t buy Julia-Child-style-frolicking-skirts anywhere anymore.
Happy weekend, friends!
“The various disciplines of the spiritual life are meant for freedom and are reliable means for the creation of helpful boundaries in our lives within which God’s voice can be heard, God’s presence felt, and God’s guidance experienced. Without such boundaries that make space for God, our lives quickly narrow down; we hear and see less and less, we become spiritually sick, and we become one-dimensional, and sometimes delusional, people. The only remedy for this is the intentional practice of prayer and meditation.”