Thursday, March 1, 2012

Waiting for God(ot)

Have you ever wondered what waiting looks like?

Maybe that's not the right question.   I mean, I guess we know what waiting looks like in our everyday lives.  After all, we wait in line at the grocery store, or the car wash or Redbox (or if you're me, McDonald's) quite frequently.  It's not exactly rocket science.  You just wait (and find some creative ways to distract yourself like fiddling with your cell phone, people watching, or reading the magazines near the checkout) until it's your turn.

Of course, then there are those times when  the ante is raised a bit and the amount of time we're going to have to wait turns unpredictable,  like when you're clipping along to see your relatives for the holidays and suddenly the interstate becomes a parking lot, or the airport is snowed in.  And in those instances...weellllllll, things get a bit more interesting, don't they?  Frustrations mount, boredom and restlessness set in, time seems to move  slowly-- if at all-- and we are just so. stuck. waaaaiiiiiiitttttting.

Still,  at least in those moments we can pick SOME point in the foreseeable future and know that our waiting will in all likelihood be over by then.  Because, after all, we probably won't be "parked" on the interstate for 24 hours.  And we probably won't be snowed in at the airport for a week.  Sure, it's a challenge and we have some obstacles to overcome, but ultimately we know we'll survive it, and from that we find the strength to endure.

But what about when the period of time we're going to have to wait is completely unknown?  And the "person" we're waiting for is invisible like God?  And what about when we're not even sure exactly what it is we're waiting for? 

What does waiting look like then? 

And how do we know when we're done?

These are the thoughts swirling around in my head as I try to make a comeback today with this blog. (Which seems like the perfect word to describe how I'm feeling right now about it-- blah-ugh). 

I'm having such a difficult time getting out of my own way! 

What I want to do here is spout all kinds of wisdom that will make you (and, more importantly, me!!) gasp and awe at just how brilliant I am, but the sentences and ideas swirling around in the vortex of my mind just aren't making much sense. 

So let me try to break it down a bit.

After several years of heartfelt prayer and many brilliant people crossing my path either through their friendship or their own writing, I've been made more aware in recent years of how I wait for God.  And how I *know* when it's His voice guiding me.  Please understand I'm not saying it's the right way, or the only way.  I just think I may have done it a lot sooner (wait for God, I mean) if someone could  have broken the process down into steps for me.  But at the same time it's not that easy to do (break it down, I mean)  because it happens so automatically that I often don't even realize it until the waiting is done!

In fact, it's a lot like trying to put into words, step by step,  the process of...breathing. 

That's it!  Breathing! That's a GREAT place to start.  And even as I write this I'm realizing I *know* it's the place to start because awhile back I read that one of the very names for God-- YAHWEH-- was not meant to be spoken at all, but breathed!   

SO, here we go: 

by Lisa Christiansen

BREATHE - I think that starting with breathing just makes good practical sense because inevitably, if I'm having to wait for God, it's because I've been running for awhile--either in the wrong direction or without a guide-- and I'm suddenly lost.  And I don't know about you, but when I'm lost my good friend Panic is waiting right there ready to take over for me.  So my breath quickens.  And it's important to realize that even though I don't know what the Sam Hill is happening or where I went so wrong, I'm really OK at this very moment, and so I need to breeeeeeeeeathe. 

Deeeeeeep, soooooooothing breaths. 

The type of breaths that center me and make my mind STOP (or shut up, in my case) and just focus on the task at hand. 

*Breathe*     *Breathe*    *Breathe*    

Sounds simple, I know, but I can't even tell you how often  I'm really "panting", more than breathing!  But once I get focused, I sometimes  even get "fancy" with the breathing and breathe a word like "Spi-rit"  or "Yah-weh"  or "Yesh-ua"  For me personally, I like to breathe words that are not in English because my brain really is able to take a back seat then.  It just kind of surrenders and says, "All right, you lost me...I don't even know what you're saying!!"  Which is good, because in all likelihood, the reason I'm lost is because my head was working overtime and leading the way.

OK, so let's see... what else? 

OPEN YOUR EYES -  Yes, so now you know I'm a complete idiot and I run around with my eyes shut.  Well, OK, maybe I don't literally run around with my eyes shut, but just like when I start breeeeaaaaathing (instead of panting), this is usually about the time I realize I'd been going through the motions of life, without really seeing.    Kind of like when you pull into your parking space at work in the morning and realize (frighteningly!) that you don't remember anything from the last five minutes, but somehow you got there. You were obviously going through all the motions (stop at the light, turn the corner, avoid the pedestrians, etc. etc)  but you realize now--with a bit of shock!--that you really hadn't been paying attention at all.  Yep.  This is usually a good sign that it's time to bring the world back into FOCUS and just -- observe.  After all, God was watching you the whole might as well be aware of what he was watching!

HOLD ON - When my boys were in Cub Scouts their Handbook contained suggestions of things to do if they ever got lost somewhere.  One of the suggestions was to hold on to something around them:  a tree, a lightpost, etc.  (To be honest I always thought this sounded silly because how is holding on to a tree helpful if you can't find your parents at the zoo??)   That being said, when I realize I'm spiritually "lost," I have learned that it's really helpful for me to go back to what I know for sure.  This means I keep myself busy with household chores and I usually write long lists of things to do, because somehow--and I can't say how or why exactly--but the mundaneness of all of this is helpful.  Perhaps because it's a reminder that maybe I'm not as lost as I first thought.  After all, if I'm doing things that are so familiar, then I can't be too far gone, can I?  CAN I???? (Go away, Panic...breathe, breathe)

LET GO - I know, I know.  I just said HOLD ON, and now I'm saying LET GO.  Before you call me a hyprocrite, let me warn you  it gets even trickier than that,  because the only way I can recognize the things I have to "let go" of,  is by "holding on" to the things I know for sure --at the same time!  It's kind of like the old game of "pat your head and rub your tummy." 
You see, while laundry, and cooking and vacuuming and dusting are "things" I can hold on to, the "things" I need to let go of aren't really "things" at all--fear, worry, doubt, anger--these are the types of things I contemplate as I'm carrying out mundane activities.  In fact, it's probably the very fact that what I'm doing IS so mundane that I don't have to think about it, and it frees up my brain to try and make that loooooooong and winding journey to my heart.  Along the way, I search to see what it was that lead me (or drove me) off the Path in the first place.  If it was fear, then I need to recognize it and LET THE FEAR GO.  Was it worry?  Doubt?  Anger? ,etc.  The list really goes on and on, but somehow when my hands are busy my mind can more properly comprehend if the things that veered me off course were things God would want me to hang on to, or let go of.

PRAY THROUGH EVERYTHING - This is not as hard as it may first sound.  Prayer is really just another word for communication with God. And when you Pray Through Everyhing, it really just means you are (trying to) keep a vigilant awareness of what God (in your heart/soul) is telling you.  Another name for this is "contemplation" and its a type of prayer that helps to keep you in the moment, (or the NOW as Eckart Tolle likes to say).   The thing is, as long as I do the hang on/let go exercise, I really am praying through everything!  Richard Rohr (a Franciscan priest and mystic) has a place in New Mexico called The Center for Action and Contemplation.  He named it that on purpose and says the hardest word to understand in the whole title is "AND!"  I couldn't agree more!  But like everything else...practice makes perfect.  This new level of awareness for me changed so  much of the "burden" of prayer as I use to know it.  Because I used to have mental lists of people to pray for, and I would try to remember to pray for them at night, but would inevitably fall asleep after only a few names!  Then I'd feel guilty and beat myself up, aye yi yi!  This practice of (contempletive/living) prayer is so much at the end of the day (because I've been more aware all day of being in God's presence) I simply place my head on God's hand (in the form of my pillow) and drift into peaceful (prayerful) slumber.   And if you think God doesn't use that restful state to come to us in our dreams, you might want to think again!

IT'S ALL IN THE FAMILY - I want to be crystal clear about one thing here.  Just because I focus my life on Christ does not mean I think it is the only way to God.  However, it is the only way I know, because it's what I've been taught.  I like to think of Christianity as my love language with God.  That being said, the thing I love most about living a life in Christ is that this makes God our Father!  Astonishingly, this is so often (by myself, too) taken for granted, but it's one of the very reasons Christ was put to death--claiming kinship with God!   So that's why this reality --I am a Child of God!--more than anything else is what I think about when I am lost.  Sometimes this can soften things almost instantly and it certainly opens up dialogue (prayer) for me much faster.  If I'm angry at God, what would I say to someone in my family I was angry with?  (FYI--Keep your words real just like you would for your family.  God can handle it!)  Would I "hold on" to that anger forever or would I eventually "let it go"?  And if that's too intimidating to think about, I use Jesus or the Holy Spirit as my guide.  After all, the Christian God is a Triune God, and this is so convenient because if you find yourself flustered with one, pray to the other, your point will be heard!  (Plus, who can pass up a buy 1, get 3 deal???) 

SPIRAL -  Even though I'm ending with this, it's probably where for me the lid on the whole concept of a spiritual journey was really blown out of the water:  being taught what a "map" of a spiritual journey  might look like!  We are so focused as humans (especially in America) on GPSing everything--we mark our start point and our endpoint and try to figure out the shortest, fastest way there-- that we really have to unlearn that for a spiritual journey.  A spiritual journey is not linear, its circular!  If you do not know this (I didn't for a long time) your journey can seem so fruitless, because you find yourself back examining questions about yourself, God, the world, etc. that you thought you'd already answered!  This can be extremely frustrating and humiliating (which reminds me...more good news! ...if it's humiliating it could be another sign you're on the right track!)  Of course, if you are only going in "circles" you may want to try again, because the thing to realize here is while the journey is circular you should be either "climbing higher" in your questions about these things, or "going deeper" and finding new meaning in the questions.  As long as you are doing one (or both) of those, then you can be fairly comfortable in the knowledge that you are making progress! 

If you've hung on with me this far, I thank  you!  It was not easy and I feel as though I really just got done stating the obvious.  Like I just explained to you what your hair looks like.  (As if you didn't already know).  In fact, I feel about as ridiculous having described all of the above "steps" as the two main characters appeared to me in the novel  Waiting for Godot.  [Hence, the title for today's post (insert English major friends' smiles here)].  I haven't read it since high school, but much like today's post I thought it, too, was a huge Snooze Fest!   

Still,  I know that the makings of a spiritual journey-- and what it looks like when people are waiting for (and walking with) God-- wasn't always obvious to me, and perhaps if someone had taken the time to spell it out a little more clearly (even if its only as clear as mud) it may have helped.

Then again, there's always the possibility that since the journey is never really complete, perhaps I just needed to spend the last few days of writing (and re-writing and editing) this little reminder for myself!

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