listening to the heart of God

“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)

2013-09-03 11.13.17Babies know when Momma is holding them; Dad doesn’t sound or feel quite the same, and though Grandma and Auntie and Brother are lovely, no one is Momma except Momma.

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?)

Look up, Look out!

In preparation for my trip to France, my dad suggested we spring for an international plan–just in case we really needed to make a call or use our phones while we were abroad–it’d be better to pay a little up front instead of footing the bill if we needed the service but hadn’t paid for it beforehand.

I didn’t listen to him.

Thankfully–as you can safely assume from my recent glowing updates about my trip–we didn’t encounter any emergency that required use of our cellphones as phones (though you’ve already seen much evidence of our use of our cellphones as cameras!).  I learned something important from not having my phone’s “smart” capability accessible most of the time, though–I learned to look up.

Sitting with my husband at lunch, waiting for the food to arrive, walking down city streets, waiting in line at a museum or (yet another!) church–I had no excuse not to look up, to look out at the people passing on the street, to look at the architecture, to look at the sky.  All this looking at other things not only helped me to keep my mind attentive to what was in front of me–which was no small change!–but it also kept me from looking down, looking at myself–navel gazing.

When we look down at our phones, we’re not only missing the world around us, but we’re teaching ourselves to do something strange with our bodies.  Our necks are cranked down–not the way we’re made–and our bodies are hunched over, literally curling in ourselves.  What kind of patterns are we teaching our minds and hearts through our bodies if we’re curved in on ourselves all the time?  We’re not just missing the world around us, but we’re becoming the only thing that we see–and it’s not a particularly attractive angle at that.

When we hold our bodies so that our eyes and faces are looking out and up, do you know what happens to our hearts?  Our hearts are opened, as our backs are held up straight–as if our very souls are ready to shine and share with others.  If we look down, it’s not only ourselves who are missing something; everyone else around you can’t see you and your beautiful heart–we’re robbing ourselves, and others, of the great beauty that all the world possesses.

I got into this work (being a priest) because there’s nothing I love more than seeing God at work in people’s lives.  Sometimes I lose sight of that love, and the work gets to be onerous.  In France, I was made to look at the beauty of people, of buildings, and of nature all the time.  It helped me remember that there is beauty everywhere, all the time.  We need only to look for it–and looking out and up is one of the best ways.

(super short approximation of sermon delivered 6 July, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  Original version had a lot more about Gothic architecture in it; see another entry soon…)

Courage and Pilgrimage

Over the last few weeks, I did a lot of stair-climbing.  It wasn’t just at our walk-up rental in Paris, but in museums, castles, cathedrals, old hilly towns, terraced gardens (aren’t you sympathetic for my knees?  …not so much?).  By far, the most terrifying climbing, as one might imagine, was in the cathedrals–two of which enticed us up into their spires to enjoy the great heights which Medieval builders scaled.


Above, in Strasbourg, it took all my concentration to commit to each step up.  If I took my attention off of just the next stone slab in front of me–if I looked out over the rooftops, or looked up the set of stairs as far as I could see, or stayed still on the steps too long–I got dizzy and I would suddenly feel unsteady, as if I was about to lose my balance and was going to fall.  Objectively, my body was no less-grounded whether my eyes were looking at rooftops or at my feet, but my mind and heart were easily overwhelmed with the task at hand: overcoming my fear of heights in order to be able to enjoy the secure and amazing view at the top of the stairs.

I realized as I climbed that the journey up the spiral stairs was a fruitful way to think about trials in our everyday lives.  Focusing on more than the very next step in front of us, allowing ourselves to lose focus on the present moment in order to try to take in the whole project we’re working through–that’s a recipe for disaster; the only way to not be overwhelmed, crushed by the enormity of the present reality, or drowned in a deluge of fear and negative emotions, is to actively put them out of your mind–to practice putting them out of your mind over and over again, and to choose (and practice!) instead focusing on just the one next thing to do.  Thankfully, in my case, the one next thing was very clear, and very simple–step up.  One at a time.

20140704-083249-30769794.jpg Climbing these stairs at Chartres, just as climbing through trials in life, I didn’t know how long the ordeal was going to last before I arrived at the top and I couldn’t enjoy the views and hints of the reward in the midst of my climbing–it made me feel unsteady and sick!

Just as in life, what got me through was deep, deep breathing.  What is breathing but inviting air–wind–to move through you, to energize, awaken, enliven you?  What is the Holy Spirit but air, wind?

In our trials, throughout our lives, God is eager for us to call upon the Holy Spirit to surround, fill, enliven, energize, and sustain each of us every single step of the way.

healing mountains & seas #ujjayi

You know that noisy breath that yogis practice?  Ujjayi breath calms the mind & body and serves as an anchor for yoga practices.  You don’t have to be posin’ to use it–often I practice the deep, intentional breath walking down the street (my yoga teacher says it’s really breathing that does you good in any exercise).  When you constrict the muscles at the back of your throat and force the air through, up and out of your nose, it sounds like the ocean–that’s what I always hear people say.

As I’ve fallen in love with the mountains over the last year, finding deep comfort in the tall mounds of earth that peek out behind trees and skylines, drawing the horizon higher, I’ve been a little crestfallen that the foundational breath of yoga has to do with the seashore instead.

What joy on Monday: our little family hiked to the summit of Mt. Pisgah, and as we wound higher and higher, I realized that ujjayi breath doesn’t only sound like the waves of the ocean: ujjayi breath sounds just as much like the wind blowing determinedly through the trees and ridges of the mountains.20140430-115653.jpg

Now I envision my dear Blue Ridge Mountains as I take poses and force air through my throat.  Not only does that air mimic the wind of beloved hills, but also reminds me that the mountains and trees stand steady in the midst of blowing tempests, even as it allows the living air to change it slowly and slightly.


fearful anticipation

walking to my morning watering hole (does that title work for coffee shops, too?) down Main Street with sandals on my feet, my fingers tingle just a little bit with the cold.  Later today, it’ll be 70 degrees, but now it’s hardly 50 out–I love the freshness of the morning. 

Even so, the peeking sunshine jogs my memory of long, hot, sticky days in July and August–already I dread walking more slowly because it’ll keep my temperature down and feeling as if I’m swimming down Main Street.

It’s 51 degrees, and in my mind I’m already baking in 101-degree weather.

My memory and anticipation (of sweaty 101 degrees) ruins the present moment (of gloriously chill 51 degrees).  Some anticipation is good; studies show that most of the enjoyment and mood-boost of a vacation occurs before the actual event takes place.  When anticipation steals the present moment’s joy, though, and even causes you to lose focus on the good, blessed bits of life, anticipation, and especially fear (if “fear” isn’t too serious a word for a reaction to hot temperatures!), ought to be kicked to the curb as quickly as possible.

Big futurey clouds can quickly overshadow the present moment; all the uncertainty and possibility can overcome the gentle, ordinary beauty of your simple surroundings this very moment. 

Instead of looking ahead in fear to July’s heat, or to the possibly wonderful, possibly disastrous future, may we take a deep, deep breath and notice the beauty of this very moment right here.