Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blessings

This is one of those days when I feel full almost to bursting with the blessings in my life. Really. But also aware of the precariousness of it... the tension between good and evil lived out everyday. Something that is straight-up blessing today could turn into something terrible tomorrow. and it could be my fault. but that's being human, right? That's what it is to long for heaven, where the good stays good... and truly, purely, perfectly good, with no struggle over whether it actually honors God or not.

Lemme give ya'll a list:

1) After last week's 2am post, my friend Herbertia paid me a visit. Herbertia is... um... I'm going to say that she functions in my life kind of like an angel. I know that's cheesy beyond words but I don't know how else to say it. She came into my life at a really bleak time and basically just kept telling me what a rock star I was... and when H. says something, you listen. But it's not just that. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that H. is the first black woman who ever really tried to be my friend. She GAVE to me... gave me her friendship, gave me praise, gave me unwavering commitment as my friend and my advocate. I didn't have to win her, didn't have to overcome her cynicism about me, didn't have to be afraid all of the time that I would say or do something unintentionally racist and lose her. She just loved on me because she could see that I really needed it... and she changed my life through her commitment to me in very practical ways that I'm not going to post on the internet.

This spoke to something deep in me. I'm an emotional person, but I don't cry on demand. I cry every time I talk about racism. I went to a high school that was 70% African American and I got a tiny tiny TINY taste of what it's like to be the minority... and a hated minority at that. I was pretty meek then, but even I got knocked off of the sidewalk by black girls and had black guys say sexual things to me just because they could. Other friends got their butts kicked. When my parents went to that particular high school it was worse. I've told people before that I wouldn't trade that experience for anything because I learned so much from it about what it's like to be judged all the time for something that you can't ever change, what it's like to not be given a chance to show what you've got to offer, what it's like to be afraid every day of how you will be perceived because of the color of your skin. That's gold to a Skinny White Chick like yours truly. It hurt, but it was worth it.

But anyway I digress. H. didn't know I had a blog and hadn't darkened the doors of my office in months. She came by to tell me about a situation in her life that she'd confided in me about, that has caused her a great deal of suffering, but which God has resolved in ways that were beyond her imagining. What she actually SAID, though, was "I came to thank you, and to tell you that God is faithful, and that if you wait, He will give to you more than you could ever imagine." She told me her story (which was amazing) and then I showed her my blog entry about hope deferred, and we both cried. I sobbed, actually... kinda not cool to do at work, but maybe you had to be there. She showed me some scripture in Romans about God's faithfulness and we talked a little more and then she left. Maybe 20 minutes later my Dad emailed me another passage from Romans about all of creation groaning, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise, waiting for its redemption.

So God answered my 2am prayer.

2) We had our final memoir writing class with Nina this week. The class has been divided into six sections to coincide with six phases of life, and this week was "legacy"... basically, reflection on the final years of your life... how you want to be remembered, how you want to REMEMBER. I've already posted about how my personal mission now is to try and tell my own story redemptively... not to lie or gloss over the crappy bits, but to try and see God's Hand in it, and to try to remember that I really never intended to be an idiot.

This class was powerful. We had a really rich discussion about what we valued and what we wanted to leave behind. Nina wrote something fantastic that I will post here if she remembers to email it to me. :^) I concluded my response to "How Do You Want to be Remembered?" with this

"Ok, so this is how I want to be remembered: As someone alive in her community. Someone who was passionate about her life, her work, her friends, her family. Someone who didn't hold back what she had, but not out of a sense of duty... out of a sense of abundance, a recognition that she has blessings to overflowing and wants to share them all."

which surprised even me. and which --in typical Moff style-- is a little melodramatic, but that's how I feel, and I guess I never would have known that if somebody didn't make me write it in a memoir class.

3) Saturday morning went to my friend Bethany's wedding shower. I'm going to be one of Bethany's bridesmaids. In 2004, when Bethany left for Kyrgyzstan to be in the Peace Corps for two years, I was wounded. She was the third friend in the last few years whom I'd utterly loved and whom had then run away to a foreign country to Change the World... which of course I wanted to do. She had been a really good influence on me already and I felt like she was maybe my only really positive influence at the time. I remember at her going away party leaning my head back on the couch in her living room, tears welling in my eyes and thinking "This is how it goes. Everything beautiful ends, and everyone you love leaves you." Yeah, I know... melodramatic. But this is what I used to believe, that loving someone meant they would leave you.

I didn't write any letters to her... sent her maybe two emails in the whole two years. She wrote letters to me a few times. She sent me really nice sky blue wool socks she bought from an old Kyrgyz babushka at the market that I wear in the winter when the floors in the apartment are cold. She copied me on her group letters, and also emailed me long personal emails when she had time and internet access. I was hurt that she'd left, so I didn't respond.

I was a jerk.

But she came back, and she forgave me. In fact, she's never acted like she was mad that I ignored her... and now I'm one of her bridesmaids (and she picked a SEXY bridesmaid dress, ya'll) and I'm her friend. I know this is because she's a Christian, and wise beyond her years, and she can see behind the pettiness in people. I'm really fortunate she's my friend.

4) The Date. I went on a date. It was a very nice date and he is a completely unexpected and very complicated, difficult, beautiful blessing, and that is ALL I'm gonna say. Really.

5) This morning's worship service at Reston Presbyterian. Cindi and I went to do an offertory of Cindi's song "Silence", where Cindi hypnotizes everybody with her guitar skills and her sultry voice and I basically stand there attempting to move rhythmically to the music with my hands in my pockets until the part where I Belt Soulfully. It's an evangelical church and they opened up with a bunch of praise songs before we did our thing. and it was awesome. I don't know why, really. Normally praise music leaves me cold but I guess it's just been a really long time. We sang "You Are Holy", that song where the guys sing and then the girls echo, and then the girls get to do the rhythmic singing on the chorus. I normally think of Michael W. Smith when this song is done in church, which naturally evokes a gag reaction in me (I know that's unfair, but it is what it is). This time was different. I was really praising God in it. We also sang "The Wonderful Cross", which also tends to put me to sleep, but again, this time it was different. I was standing in the front row of a Presbyterian church with my hands lifted, praising God, and it was the most natural thing in the world.

6) Amanda. Elise. Lisa. Could write a whole post about how each of them blessed me tonight, but I'm even getting tired of my writing now, so I'll just say their names as a kind of prayer of thanksgiving and leave it at that.

Bless the LORD oh my soul... and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name.

Every good thing comes from You, LORD. I've got nothing to say but thank You.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hope deferred

So I can't sleep... it's 1:49am, and as it has often been in the past, the culprit is my usual thorn in the flesh, good ol' hope deferred, the thing that the writer of Proverbs says "makes the heart sick." This particular hope deferred is by no means unique to me, but has dogged me for most of my life, and has led to a lot of spectacularly poor decision making that has baffled everyone close to me... and in retrospect, baffled me as well.

I know that everyone lives with something that eats at them in the middle of the night... sometimes lots of somethings. I am mindful of, and grateful for, the large variety of things that I DON'T have to worry about that other folks do. I think the thing that bothers me the most is not the waiting, but the sickness of soul that results, and what I do when I'm feeling it the most, and how much that basically amounts to a failure of faith... which then makes the whole situation worse because I feel like I haven't just failed myself but failed God. So it's a nasty little cycle and it's kept me back from a variety of things for a long time.

If I recall correctly, the writer of Proverbs chucks in this little couplet

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick
but desire fulfilled is a tree of life"

without context, in one of those series of chapters that are basically lots of wise sayings that are not in any particular order. I remember clinging to that a long long time ago, thinking ok so God gets it, and He will take care of it. Which I guess is true, but that doesn't mean that He gives us the object of our hope. What it means --or I guess the meaning I've ascribed to it-- is that our sickness isn't pointless, and that He uses it for something. I'm pretty sure that's true of me... I have a lot of energy for other things when I'm not fixated on that one thing, and the struggle with this particular thorn in the flesh has taught me some measure of humility. However, when I am fixated on it, it's like I'm in a battle with Tar Baby from the Uncle Remus stories. I act like a crazy shadow of my normal self, and I get stucker and stucker and stucker as I attempt to solve the problem on my own terms without waiting for Him.

I knew I was asking for it when I wrote that poem last week. ;^\

So I'm up at what is now 2:10am, with a sick heart and this same old hope deferred, and a mind that won't shut up about it already... and I thought I'd announce it to anyone who reads my blog, because I --along with I guess everyone else who does the same thing-- write and read to know that I'm not alone.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oh the brilliance...

Ok, maybe this is the coffee talking, but the new Radiohead video for "House of Cards" (you can download it from their website here) is completely bloody brilliant. I have no idea what you call the effect they've used but it is super cool... and I am more in love with Thom Yorke than ever (sigh).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So here's a poem

Yesterday I stayed home and committed to real, authentic, me-time. In other words, absolutely minimal use of email, iming, texting, Facebook/Facebook chat or phone. Minimal time on the internet. Focus on my mile long to-do list, myself, my apartment, my writing, etc. I actually worked a full day, just entirely on personal stuff that needed doing, some of it urgently.

This morning, the train stopped on the tracks outside Vienna station, but I was early today so it didn't bother me --without even trying much I was earlier than I've been in months. I was reflecting on that, and I had this sudden space of peace that didn't leave me until I got in to work and started reading all the panicked emails from students and receiving the panicked phone calls and letting that get under my skin.

In this space of peace, a poem/prayer came to me... I opened my moleskine and it sort of just plopped out of my pen without really going through my brain. Maybe that's obvious from the quality of the product, but I want to share it anyway:

"The Quiet Comes Unbidden" or "What Happens When You Try"

I cleared a space for me yesterday
and found a space for You,
overgrown by weeds, bushes and branches,
rusted tools beneath the grass,
the old artifacts of my spiritual self-maintenance.

I went into the space for You
hesitantly, wanting only to reclaim my peace,
to stop the ceaseless cycle of frantic worry,
only seeking rest, only seeking rest,
I cleared a space to sit, and sat, waiting.

Tears came, of course, memories of the stillness
I used to feel on entering here.
I always had to fight to get inside
but once there I always used to find
a cultivated space
and a path in the grass, well-worn from our walking there.

I have been waiting for You all my life.
I have been waiting for You from eternity.
I have been waiting for You to
clear the clutter of my frantic soul,
to hush the ceaseless babble in my brain
and to bring me --finally-- to peace.

I have been waiting for You for my whole existence.
I have been waiting for You since time began.
I have been waiting...
but at some point now closed to memory
I locked and barricaded the gate.
I put up a barbed wire electric fence
and a 7 foot wall around my soul.

And I have no idea why.
I have
no
idea
why.

I have been waiting for You to tear the barriers down
and You've been waiting for me to do the same...
this inexplicable mystery of You
waiting for me
behind the gates, among the thorns,
waiting for me to come and find You
before You would still my soul.

Having found You again,
I will lose myself in Your embrace, Jesus,
and never let You go.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Synchronicity, yogic cats, and the art of happiness

Hello blog. I've missed you.

So the past two weeks have been a flurry of activity... positive, beneficial activity that I have largely enjoyed, but still, I've been too busy to blog or do much of anything other than skitter breathlessly from one event to the next... which I guess is a nice problem to have and sort of not typical in the Life of the Moff.
So. Here I am.

I'm continuing to unearth cassettes from my vast collection... I still haven't found a permanent place for them after The Move, which is good because it means I'm still noticing them. Earlier, I was listening to this fantastic collection of songs for baritone and piano by Gabriel Faure and wondering WHY I'd forgotten about them. Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor resulted in this:


Scratchy, my little yogi-cat, assuming shivasana.

Guess he likes Vivaldi.



Before that, I was laying on my couch with my (nerd) copy of (nerd) The Portable Jung (nerd). The reason for this is that I've been doing a lot of random chatting/pontificating about synchronicity lately, when pretty much everything I knew about the concept I got from the liner notes of The Police's Greatest Hits. Not that said liner notes didn't edumicate me, but you know, not enough to keep talking about it. I want to minimize as much as possible the frequency of conversations In Which I Sound Like An Ass.


So. The bottom line from my reading is that Jung's synchronicity is, as would be expected, quite a bit more empirically based and scientific sounding than either The Police's "Synchronicity" or "Synchronicity II" or Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. Jung's shortened definition of synchronicity is "meaningful coincidences". In the essay included in my little volume, Jung doesn't go into any attempt to explain the causes of these meaningful coincidences, but does a fine job of describing and cataloging these events. One of the cooler examples he gave was one that Jung himself experienced, where a very stiff, intellectual patient was describing a dream she'd had the night before in which someone gifted her with a golden scarab (large beetle). Right as she was describing this, Jung heard a knocking against his window and turned to see a large beetle trying to get in the window. He opened the window, palmed the beetle, and presented it to the patient, saying "Here is your scarab." Which wigged her out sufficiently that she stopped being an insufferable know-it-all and actually started to open up a little.


(Pause to acknowledge my stereo and the stunning beauty of "Pavane" from Peter Warlock's "Capriol" as played by Christopher Parkening. mmmm-MMMMMM)


k., so Jung never says "God" or anything like it, but he does make a very interesting observation. He goes into some detail about a particularly significant scientific study involving a pack of 25 cards divided into groups of 5 "suits." All 25 cards were arranged randomly and folks were asked to guess the order of the cards. Some people were able to guess a statistically very improbable number of cards correctly, and one person even guessed ALL 25 correctly. The experiment was repeated with the subjects 4000 miles away from the location of the cards, and also with the subjects guessing the order of the cards at some future time. In all cases, the number of times that certain people were correct about the card order defied statistical probability.


In his discussion of the study, Jung mentions a phenomenon noted by the experimenter, that the results of the experiment seemed directly correlative to the mood of the subject:


"An initial mood of faith and optimism makes for good results. Skepticism and resistance have the opposite effect, that is, they create an unfavourable disposition."


Wow. So if people thought that they were going to guess the cards correctly, they did. Wow.


This immediately brought to my mind the portion of the Gospels where Jesus visits His hometown and is unable to perform many miracles there because of the lack of faith in the townspeople, who are saying "yeah that's the carpenter's son, what's the big deal?". He makes a comment about how a prophet will never be received well in his hometown. Although I no longer remember the exact reference for this, that passage made a big impression on me. In the mysterious dance of God's sovereignty and our free will, this passage indicates that He allows our skepticism to limit His own efficacy in meeting our needs. I've taken this as a warning to me to maintain a childlike belief in His abilities, and to forcefully reject cynicism and skepticism in the way I approach God or His work in the world. The cost of skepticism seems to be too great.


However, having Jung say that meaningful coincidences --what I tend to call answers to unspoken prayers-- occur in direct proportion with our openness to them was not what I was expecting. I know that some people would say that by the same token folks who see U.F.O.s or Elvis are probably already walking around expecting to see Little Green Men or the King and probably have The National Enquirer on speed dial... but it doesn't mean they ACTUALLY saw these things, only that they interpreted what they saw to fit their experiences. However, that's not what Jung is talking about... he's talking about the sort of things that you can't rationally explain as something else.


For example, a woman of my acquaintance had been called to testify for her (male) friend's divorce trial. It had been a nasty divorce and the man's wife had completely demonized him to their two daughters. My friend had been asked to be on standby the morning after her first round of testimony in case they needed her to come back. So she was dressed for court, waiting at home for the phone call, and decided to go pull some weeds in her garden. Two women came out of the house next to hers, which is for sale. They greeted her and struck up a conversation. As the conversation progressed, it turned out that one of the two women had just testified that morning for the same divorce case, but was a friend of the wife's. She had never met the husband, but was convinced that he was an appalling person. My friend had the opportunity to talk to this woman about her friend, and to explain that he was in fact a decent guy. Due to the utter coincidence of their meeting, this woman was very receptive to what my friend had to say. This woman has a daughter that is friends with the daughters of the divorcing couple, so there is hope that maybe another picture of their father will get to them via this very unexpected source.


Synchronicity, the Hand of God... whatever you call it, it would take quite a great leap of faith to really believe that an event like that was truly random. I personally think that God used my friend to place a seed of doubt in the minds of the ex-wife's acquaintances that will flower into a renewed relationship with his daughters.


In the same conversation that my acquaintance relayed her story, we began talking about happiness, specifically the happiness of people in Denmark. For several years now, people in Denmark have consistently rated as the happiest in the world according to an annual study conducted by researchers at the University of Leicester in UK. This stat made the press again about a month ago, I think. Apparently, the Dutch are happy because they have Very Low Expectations, which sounds kind of hilarious, but it makes sense. The whole idea of happiness v. unhappiness brought to mind relative deprivation, a concept I studied early in my masters program. It's really very simple: the higher your expectations, the more unhappy you will be when they are not met (and the more likely they are NOT to be met, all things being equal). Americans are, as a rule, not all that happy because they have very unrealistic expectations, based partly on media and advertising.


This is not rocket science, but it is important... if for no other reason than this conversation keeps coming up in my life, so I am paying attention to it. I remember reading somewhere that the key to happiness was to have a little bit of something to hope for in the future and enough to get by today. I tend to think that's true... however, I'm well aware of a) the insidiousness of the Gospel of More in our culture and b) how often my own personal unhappiness comes from having high moral/emotional/relational /intellectual/physical/material standards that are almost impossible for me and others to meet on a day to day basis.


This is also a fundamental problem in the life of the Christian. We are called to be like Christ, but we know we're going to fail... we will never be like Christ while we're still on this earth. So how do we deal with that, striving for something we know we won't attain? I guess it's by focusing not on our own ability but on Christ Himself, and trying not to expect all that much from ourselves... but even that doesn't make a lot of sense.


My general philosophy has become that I can't be like Christ, really, but I can try to be loving, because that's the baseline of the Great Commandments. Turns out I suck at loving God, others and myself, too, :^) but all I can do is keep trying... and try not to expect too much of myself, but to be open to what synchronicity might come.


ps. R.I.P. to Olive Riley, the World's Oldest Blogger, who passed away yesterday at the age of 108. Thanks for being cool enough to grace the Internet with your story.