Manna Meditations

what grace looks like …

Manna Meditations, Day 5

Honest words?  Yesterday, my heart was heavy.

I was thinking about a few dear friends who are suffering, quietly and without much support, and the things I knew — the hurt I was carrying for them — hummed behind my eyes like a headache.

It wasn’t a good day for walking or climbing or wandering — the cold felt like it could crack bone — and so I felt trapped indoors with the weight of the hurt… No place to go.

But.

After church, T took the wheel.  He steered the car into the blue hills, the unbroken forests, going nowhere in particular … just aiming toward the quiet.

And the quiet was there.

After awhile, I blinked back tears and saw sun — so much sun! The world was bathed in the warmest, thickest, woolen-blanket kind of light, and its sparks caught in the treetops, flickering and winking in the highest twigs. The road ahead of us gleamed wetly with it, even though the air was bone-dry.

I leaned my face against the cool of the window, and suddenly I felt my soul settle into the comfort of just … being.  Not working.  Not making — no hands on the wheel.  Just … looking.  Letting in the light.

And it struck me, how precious it was, to be in a place safe enough to just be. To lay back and receive the day’s goodness, not as reward for effort, but simply as a gift.

Manna.

I let the landscape flash past, and then after awhile I held my phone to the window and snapped without looking, believing that I was in the presence of so much wonder that any of it would have been beautiful … any of it would have been enough.

And you know what?  It was.

💛

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Confessional

When the Past is a Pool of Water by the River’s Edge

I scramble down the trail to the ravine, feet sliding on loose rocks, camera balanced on one hip.  When I catch my breath, I look up to see what I’ve come for:  the river, twisting green in the sun.

This is the place I come to when I need to think about the Past — need the sensation of something rushing away, disappearing around a bend. Today, though, as I leap across a line of boulders near the river’s edge, the Past just won’t recede.  A quiet hurt still lingers — as if dirty water washed over me and left a residue — and I can’t seem to scrub it from the gray matter.

Oh, mercy, I whisper:

Mercy.
Mercy.
Mercy. 

Sometimes it seems like the only prayer I know.

*

It would be an easy mistake, whether you know me by my words or in everyday life, to misread my gentleness as a deeper form of goodness.  To see me as the most shiny and unblemished sort of saint:  sweet-faced.  Sweet-voiced.  White-frocked, well-dressed — eternally clean.

People make this mistake all the time.

But the truth is, if I’m a saint, I’m one with skinned knees and a dented halo — a sinner, stumbling drunkenly toward some holy glow.  I’m a complicated creature, drawn toward complicated situations, with a penchant for getting lost … and when the Maker knit me together in my mother’s womb, he gave me the blessing and curse of a wandering heart and a ravenous mind.

Thank Heaven, he also made me a mouth to cry for mercy.

*

So I stand on the river’s edge, praying and shooting:  white water, muscling through rapids.  The light shattered like a mirror on the rocks.

Don’t let all this beauty fool you, I think.  This is a dangerous place.  Hikers have been swept to their deaths here, and the rangers have posted signs telling me so.

But my stubborn heart never could heed a warning.  And besides:  any place you go to hurl the hurt away from you is a place where you might be dragged under with it, if you don’t know when to let go.

*

Mercy.

*

On this day, the mercy comes as a flash of light at my feet.  I look down and see where the river has pooled in the boulders.  The pools have polished the stone smooth, and the water within is skinned with green moss.

I drop to my knees and adjust the lens. And I understand then, with this palmful of water in my viewfinder, that there are places in the heart where the past can get caught — where the hurt forms a pool. And who knows, then, how long it takes for such a wound to heal?  For a hollow of water to evaporate into sky??

But.  Even a moss-clouded pool reflects the sun, however faintly:

rocks2

Even a scar is a wound that has healed, in its way…

*

I leap from the rocks to the sand.  Walk toward where the river curves in a calmer stretch.  My eyes hunt through the wreckage of old floods:  bottles and broken glass.  Tires.  Twisted tree limbs.

And I’ll tell you:  there is beauty everywhere, if you know how to look.  If you have eyes trained by mercy.

I stand very still. I am waiting, I guess, for the sun to make its way down into these small pools.  To turn them into flame.

I breathe — breathe — my fingertip tingling against the shutter button.

I’ll tell you a secret that every good sinner knows:

rocks The Mercy is already here.  ❤

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Confessional

Because sometimes the person who needs your compassion the most … is you.

I’m posting today as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion — a simple call for one thousand individuals to interpret and write about the need for human compassion, each in their own way.  Me?  I’m here to suggest something that at first sounds counterintuitive: if we’re going to practice compassion for others, sometimes we first need to practice it for ourselves. ❤  

*

I still remember where I was when I first realized that life was going to require me to be a more compassionate person — a lot more compassionate.

I was in grad school at the time, on a cold, gray afternoon much like this one, driving home from a long day on campus.  I took the turns hard, my hands clenched on the wheel.  The car squealed around the curves, plumes of gravel skittering behind the tires.

I drove angry because I was angry — angry at myself.

I can’t remember why I was angry, now.  Maybe one of my students had copped an attitude and I’d let him.  Maybe I’d written another short-story that I considered to be sub-par.  Maybe I’d said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing, worn the wrong sweater or spent a dollar badly.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was repeating a string of words over and over to myself, whispering straight toward the snow-flung windshield, my voice disdainful and savage-sounding and soft:

You’re so stupid.  You’re so stupid.  You’re so stupid…

*

We’re here today to talk about compassion, and in that moment of my life, I thought I knew what it was.

Like many young people raised and educated in the conservative Christian milieu, I cut my teeth on principles of self-denial and Christlike compassion.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  

By my mid-twenties, on that gray ribbon of a road, I’d heard those words so many times that they sometimes seemed sewn on the backs of my eyelids, so I could see them subconsciously each time I blinked:

Do unto others.

Love your neighbor.

Do unto others.

Love your neighbor.

I thought I was doing this.  I really did.  I didn’t see any problem with the fact that I’d been trying to love my neighbor while starving myself half to death — plodding back, again and again, to an eating disorder that never left me thin or beautiful enough.

It didn’t seem strange to me, then, that I was trying to love God while constantly bad-mouthing His handiwork.

On that day though, as the car shuddered around a turn, I heard myself saying those words — You’re so stupid, you’re so stupid — and I realized with sudden shock that I would never think of speaking to anyone else this way.

I wouldn’t call my friends stupid.

I wouldn’t even call my enemies stupid.

But somehow, here I was calling myself stupid and thinking that this constant name-calling was okay.

In that moment, it was like my Creator shook me by the shoulders and said:  If you can’t love yourself, what happens when you try to love your neighbor as yourself?

My Creator was right:  I wasn’t training myself to be a very good neighbor.

*

I don’t know when, exactly, I began believing that to love myself was a kind of selfishness.

I do know that I stopped believing it that day in the car.

I slowed the vehicle and wept quietly as I drove, asking the Creator to give me better words for myself:

More compassion.

More love.

I’ve been trying to treat myself with kindness ever since.

And here’s what I’m learning:  if I can love myself, I am better equipped to love those who aren’t able or willing to love me in return.

If I can forgive myself, I have good practice in forgiving my enemies, among whom I often stand.

And if I can see beauty in my own mirror — even when I’m feeling too fat or too thin, too old or disheveled or tired — then I’m much more likely to see beauty in the face of some exhausted woman on the street corner, who might well need a kind word.

I don’t know why all this is true; it just is.

So here, I guess, is what I am getting at:  if we’re going to talk about compassion today, then let’s not neglect to give a little to ourselves.

Would you take a little time today to see your own magic?  To pass it on?

I dare you.  ❤

If you’d like to read more from those individuals participating in the 1000 Voices for Compassion project, click the button above.  Or search the hashtag #1000Speak on Twitter.   
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