Archives for October 2017

One: Living in Harmony with our Inner and Outer Lives

“Ah, not to be cut off,

not through the slightest partition

shut out from the law of the stars.

The inner–what is it?

if not intensified sky,

hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke (Ah, Not to be Cut Off)

I know urbanites who possess the soul of a farmer, stay-at-home mothers with the soul of a CEO, and 9 to 5’ers who dream of life as an artist. I know parents whose desires sit at odds with the act of parenting, pastors separated from the life of Christ, and families disconnected from the love that once bound them together. It seems many of us are living divided lives, detached from each other, our spirit, or our own desires.

At times, I find myself living in this same divided state–one in which the deepest desires, longings, and needs of my inner self are not expressed in the self that empties the dishwasher every the morning, teaches the technicalities of college writing, and fills  in the squares on the calendar with the same activities on endless repeat. I long for the serendipity of glancing in the mirror to find my inner and outer selves perfectly aligned.

For most of us, the divided self is the one that sings slightly off-key. We sense a dissonance in our life’s song, but we can’t quite find a way to connect the person we know ourselves to be on the inside, with the person we present on the outside. We wish for harmony between them, but we’re content to remain at odds with our very self. We think it’s either too hard, or too tiring, or it requires an upheaval of our structured lives to live in harmony.

And for some of us, this might be true. To live with congruence might mean letting a relationship go or encouraging the growth of a new one. Perhaps it means switching jobs, or homes, or towns. But, more than likely, it means simply dropping the pretense and allowing our dreams to be our dreams, our desires to be our desires, and our needs to be our needs.

It is living with what is, while carrying hope for what our lives could be. But where to begin? Most of us can’t and shouldn’t turn our lives upside-down overnight. So how do we begin to sing our divided self together?

We remember ourselves.

We take the memories of our younger self, or most whole self, and we allow them to remind us of who we are and what we love. We remember the way a story slid beneath our skin and sparked us alive, or how slipping into the cool water of a lake transformed us into a fish. We stop cutting ourselves off from the little version of our big selves, and we remember who we were meant to be before real life intervened.

We speak words that are congruent with our inner life. 

Which is to say, we speak the truth in love. We say the things we mean–our yes means yes and our no means no. We tell the truth about ourselves. We stop ruthlessly editing our lives for fear others won’t believe us, desire us, or understand us anymore. It is impossible to live a life of inner harmony, when we spend all of our energy worrying about pleasing other people. This requires a healthy dose of wisdom and maturity, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. We aren’t here to make others comfortable. We are here to live out the fullness of Christ at work in our lives.

We grow to love our shadow selves.

An undivided life is one that embraces both the best and worst of ourselves. We accept that part of living a life of harmony and congruence means receiving our fears, wounds, and limitations. These are just as much a part of us as our strengths and potential. We recognize our woundedness and our limits as integral to the formation of our character, and we allow the shadows to become an expression of the light of Christ in our lives.

When we find our inner self and outer self at odds with one another, it’s time to listen to our life, and ask where do we hear harmony and where is there dissonance? We must envision what congruence looks like, and take a first step, however tentative, in its direction.

A Cure for Everything that Ails You: On the Healing Power of Art

Because we live on doorstep of NYC, we often find the culture of city life seeping into our everyday. Our highways jam with commuters, and our schedules swell with too much to do in too little time. We pay exorbitant prices for everything from a cappuccino to burgers to real estate. It can be a drag to feel the financial and emotional weight of city life, without the buzz and opportunity of it.

After living in European cities for many years, and taking more weekend city breaks than my children care to remember, I’ve felt the loss of arts and culture more intensely than anything else in our suburban life. Art museums, concert halls, and theaters become houses of worship when I immerse myself in the imagination and beauty of the work. I feel closer to God through the strains of a violin or the brushstrokes of a master artist.

Throughout our ten years in New Jersey, we’ve struggled to find time to schlep into the city despite its siren call, so it was a revelation to discover that sometimes, the city comes to us. I found that one of our local theaters hosts performances by New York City artists, and last week we carried crumpled tickets and plastic glasses of wine into a performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra. Except we weren’t at Lincoln Center. We were a fifteen minute drive from our home, and I didn’t have to worry about wearing sensible shoes or crying from exhaustion while sitting in traffic at midnight.

Enter jazz. Enter joy.

This particular night of pleasure capped another week of madness in the media. In-fighting, name calling, disasters, political dumpster fires. You name it, we experienced it. I feel the dip and roll of this particular coaster keenly, and I know I’m not alone. If you have a pulse, you probably feel it too. I am tired of living with anxiety over the breaking news cycle. I need sources of joy to pour out like honey over the bitterness stirring up my fear. I need the salve of camaraderie and peace.

Here is a cure:

A saxophone’s solo. The gravel-like voice of a man who has lived through hard times and composed music to tell it. The pathos of a suspended note. A band playing at the crossroads of wildness and restraint. Men whose faces take on the animation of boys when the trumpet sounds into the silence.

I have never seen so much joy among band-mates. They nodded, bounced, and shook their heads in rhythm. They caught one another’s eyes with raised brows as if to ask, “Did you hear that?!” The approval on their faces, the sheer delight, was as much a jewel as the music. Each man had his turn to display his gift, and his mates sat back and reveled in it. The Latino from New Jersey, the black man from New Orleans, the white man from New York City. Each brought something rich and diverse with their own instrument.

Sitting in the audience felt like being invited to sit in on a private conversation between best friends. They spoke their own language in a series of notes, strung like gold across the expanse of the dark theater.

It was everything I wish the world to be in a single evening. I felt whole when I slipped my jacket on and held hands with my husband as we exited. We caught each other’s eyes and raised our brows, and I knew we had experienced equal delight. We held the jewel for a fleeting moment. We heard it.

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A Moment to Breathe: A Book Giveaway

***This giveaway in now CLOSED. Congrats to our winners, Sandra and Sierra!***

….

“Inside, I’m dying with fear,” he said. “I think we all are.”

I read these words in a recent NY Times article, spoken by a seventeen year old boy living in a tumultuous political climate, and I felt them bore deep into my body. Every time I read the news or turn to twitter or scroll through my Facebook feed, my bones melt under the flame of fear. I struggle to stand beneath the weight of all the hard news, the horror, and the helplessness I feel in the face of it.

Inside, I am dying with fear. Fear that I know too much to be silent. Fear that I don’t. Fear that hand wringing and pearl clutching will become my permanent posture. Fear that I’ve given up hope. Fear that this is my children’s inheritance–a broken world of cracked images. Fear that if we no longer recognize the Imago Dei, how will they?

Frederick Buechner wrote “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” and I cling to these words as if they came straight from the mouth of God himself. Perhaps they resonate because this is the essence of the message we discover in God’s love letter to us. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. But, Jesus. The Christ. Redemption. Don’t be afraid.

When the cares of the world of the world feel like too much, I take solace in scripture. I find myself most often in the Psalms, where I reach across centuries and cultures to knit my soul to those experiencing every emotion from lament and anguish, to joy and triumph. I know we need action and real solutions, but this is the place where my heart releases the posture of wrung out hands and embraces a posture of possibility.

I need the words of the Psalmists of the past to speak into my present and remind me that there is nothing new under the sun.  Beautiful and terrible things have happened and will continue to do so. How will I be a part of creating beauty? How will I seek redemption for God’s kingdom here and now, while holding onto hope for the not yet?

I believe my place is to speak peace to the rising fear. It is to speak Jesus to the terror and horror of the news cycle. And not only to speak to the larger-than-life fears, but to speak to the small fears that blister our souls with their heat. I want to speak peace and hope to the fear that we are not enough, we are unlovable, we can’t change, we aren’t a good friend, mother, daughter, wife, Christian. These too are the fears that melt our bones, and keep us from becoming warriors for shalom in our own homes.

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to a beautiful devotional called “A Moment to Breathe: 365 devotions that meet you in your everyday mess.” curated by the (in)courage community. It releases today, and I’d love to give two copies away to readers. Eighty women contributed their words to create this devotional as a means of reaching across the divide. Just as the Psalmists are my companions, the writers of “A Moment to Breathe” would like to become your everyday companions too. We may not have the divine inspiration or the poetic cadence of the Psalms, but we have our hearts, handed to you across the page.

If you’re in need of a moment to catch your breath between news cycles and outrage and dishes and deadlines, please leave a comment below to enter your name for the book giveaway. If you prefer to get on with it, you can purchase a copy for yourself (and perhaps a sister/co-worker/friend?) wherever books are sold.

I will choose two winners to receive one book each by the completely unscientific method of pulling your names out of a hat. Or, more likely, a salad bowl. Giveaway closes on Tuesday, October 10th. Leave a comment below telling me how you combat fear in an age hell-bent on inflaming it.

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