Sunday, 25 November 2012

Small Delights

One November morning in Toronto I was walking to my optometrist when I neared a couple of men talking. They were standing beside a row of parked cars and from one car window a woman was reaching to give some cash to one of the men. He offered it to the other man, whose truck was parked adjacent. The money was refused. I gathered that the younger guy had boosted the first man’s car battery and as I continued past I smiled at what I was hearing.
“Oh no, that’s okay, thanks.”
“Come on. I really appreciate your help!”
“Nope. Really. No – I’m not going to take it, man. But thanks.”


Twenty minutes later I was returning home and shared grins with a young woman walking toward me. She was holding an ipod with its speaker on and singing aloud with the tinny- sounding pop song, careless of what any of us might think.


Later at a grocery store I overheard two employees teasing each other about how much they had contributed last year to their Christmas project. Their voices were full of goodwill.


May your day sparkle with small delights.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Love by Listening

Was there anyone in your childhood who ever gave you their full attention - a teacher, grandparent or neighbour? They looked into your eyes with a smile and asked you friendly questions, listening for a moment, at least, to whatever you wanted to tell them. What a feeling!
How often does that happen to you now? 

Sometimes conversations feel like competitions. Self-absorbed talkers apparently think that you have nothing to say that’s really worth their attention. To them, there is no sound as sweet as their own voice. If they pause long enough for you to make a comment, whatever you (quickly) say reminds them immediately of something in their own life and instead of expressing any interest in what you just said, they respond with another comment about themselves.

They don’t seem to realize that what they’re actually communicating is, “Well, what you just said about your life  (your job, your illness, your child, your vacation trip) is a good excuse for me to talk about myself again (my job, my illness, my child, etc.). All that I’m really interested in is ME.

I’ve often left this kind of exhausting and futile type of interaction wondering why these folks don’t just stay at home and talk to a wall, or a mirror. They don’t seem to care whether others make any response to what they say. They certainly have no regard, let alone love, for their listeners.

Although the bible clearly says that we "should be quick to listen and slow to speak." (James 1:19), I admit that I had to consciously learn how to listen well. 

My education in this skill began when I attended local parenting classes, soon after I became a mother. I was fascinated to discover that when toddlers are screaming “Mine!” we can often defuse the situation by temporarily removing the toy from the fray and listening to the little combatants. 
“Oh, poor you. You really, really want this car, don’t you?” Tearful nod.
“And you really don’t want Jason to have it, do you?” Vehement head shake.
”And Jason really wants it too, right Jason?” 
“Yes! It’s MINE!”
“Oh dear, what should we do? Both of you really want this car.” 
I was astonished that even three year olds could often compromise after they felt properly heard. They would suggest taking turns or one would volunteer to use a different car for playing.

Decades later I witnessed the same technique offered in marriage counselling. Labelled “active listening”, it is one of the clearest expressions of selfless love. When you speak, I look at you with attention, nod, smile, and make encouraging sounds. When you finish I ask you questions so that I can understand you better. I listen carefully to your answers. Later it will be my turn to speak and yours to actively listen to me.

This works on every level, whether we’re in conversation with a child who says, “I hate school”, or a friend who tells us about an exciting vacation. We don’t immediately start talking about our own school days, or about the time we skied across Antarctica. There will come a time when those comments may be welcomed, but not until we’ve heard the other out.

One of the ways our Creator has always expressed the deepest love for humanity has been by listening to us. 

“Before they even call out I will respond; while they are still speaking I will hear…Does the one who made the human ear not hear? 
Call on me in prayer and I will answer you. I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about” 
(Is. 65:24, Psalm 94:9 Jer. 33:3)

It’s quite simple, really. If we don’t truly listen, we don’t truly love.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Shalom, Peace, Enjoy!

When did you last turn sideways and crab hop along a pedestrian crossing? 
Me neither. 
I smiled today when I noticed a young girl doing just that on her way to school. She personified joie de vivre. Her lighthearted dance reminded me of a paragraph quoted in an exquisite art and faith book titled, Dwelling With Philippians.

The author mentions enjoyment as inherent to "peace", or as the greeters at my daughter’s synagogue wish us, “Shalom”.

The peace which is shalom is not merely the absence of hostility, not merely being in right relationship. Shalom at its highest is enjoyment in one’s relationships. A nation may be at peace with all its neighbours and yet be miserable in its poverty. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself. 
(Nicholas Wolterstorff)

Lately I’ve heard more non-Jewish use of the Hebrew word, ‘shalom”. The English word, “peace,” has felt a little shopworn ever since it started being used as a casual greeting by ‘60’s hippies. Especially on Remembrance Day, we identify with the Christmas carol's lament: 
“There is no peace on earth…for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” 
To Hebrew speakers, the word, “shalom” may sound equally hollow, but I was inspired by Wolterstorff’s suggestion of a deeper meaning, that the peace offered by God includes the full enjoyment of life’s rich relationships. 

Enjoyment offered by God - what a concept! The Hebrew scriptures and the gospel of Jesus tell us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours, yes, even our neighbouring enemies. That can sound more like Herculean labour than enjoyment. 

Recently I went through a bout of trying harder to be a good girl. There’s no quicker way to take the fun out of life. I needed reminding that when the Great Mystery brought all of creation to life S/He said, “It is good.” Jesus said, “I’ve come so that you can have abundant life.” Early Christ-followers wrote that when we trust God, we can experience a surprising inner peace that affects every relationship.

Gazing at a friend’s newborn baby, watching a schoolgirl skip across the road, hearing words of mercy after failure, counting on the One for whom nothing’s impossible: this is shalom. 
(now there’s a shopworn cliché...)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

“Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die.”

I’ve often quoted the above line from Tennyson’s poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, without knowing who wrote it nor its context of the Crimean War.

I quote it when I don’t understand a situation, especially in government offices, and airports, but I’ve always quoted it incorrectly, “[Ours] is not to reason why, [ours] is but to do or die.”

It hit me today that the correct version, “to do and die”, sums up a hard fact of life, even for grateful children of God. In fact, as people of faith we have to do and die without knowing why.
According to Jesus, with God as our strength, ours is to “do”: to revere our Creator, to be thankful for Her good gifts and to add some hope and healing to our world, even when nothing makes sense.

I don’t understand why life is so unfair, why random natural disasters end the lives of thousands in a day, why humans foment hateful conflicts, small and large, and why personal tragedy comes to some and not to others. 
Most of us have asked  “How could a loving and powerful God allow so much suffering? It makes no sense.”
Know-it-all Christians (and others) are either simple-minded or arrogant. We can’t know it all.

I’m glad that brilliant people like physicist, John Polkinghorne, confirm for me that we don’t have to be stupid to follow Christ. Christian faith isn’t nonsensical. 
But we sure do have to be humble. It takes guts to trust Christ’s leading when we don’t understand, especially when we’re all heading to the grave like the cavalry brigade in Tennyson’s poem, without knowing exactly what will happen afterward.

The famously mistreated bible hero, Job, who lost everything, despite his faithful obedience to God, said this:
“Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him.”
And then continued,
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him”
I love how realistic the bible is about human nature; nothing’s sugar-coated. Job trusted but did not understand, and talked to God about his confusion.

God refused to explain, but during a lengthy tour of nature, reminded Job that he wasn’t God. The story includes an oh-so-familiar detail; Job covers his mouth. We can hear him thinking, 
“Oops. I forgot who I was talking to. Please don’t kill me.” 

Then Job says to God:
 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. 

Jesus, help us to remember what you said,
 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

P.S. I recommend these two excellent books on this human conundrum. 
 Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

 Can God Be Trusted? by Dr. John Stackhouse