snip, snip

Heather gave me a trim yesterday, my first haircut since the last one she gave me (and she was in Africa for more than seven months). So I'm not quite this shaggy anymore.


"when you give a feast..."

Heather and I have been preparing for our visit to the farm this weekend, to talk about offering spiritual retreats there for the poor. We're going to use these words of Jesus:

"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.

"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Lk 14.12-14)
I remember Heather quoting this to me a few years back, talking about how she would like to do hospitality. And I really like the emphasis on giving without expecting repayment.

We also both like the way these words give the impression of feasting. Not just a meal but a banquet. We'd like to be able to offer really good hospitality, not like a shelter but like home, not a breadline but a feast (with organic berries, vegetables and beef). And a feast for the soul as well. Not just a compulsory sermon before the food is served, but prayer and worship times prepared with care, in-depth discussions on scripture, and time and space for quiet.

Lord, if you want this, please make a way.


week in photos

A few months back I discovered a new feature of Yahoo news, "The Week in Photos."

Every Saturday they offer a new collection of photographs from the news that week, a wide variety of striking and powerful images from around the world. And now the collections are archived so you can look back at previous weeks.


pass the salad

After yesterday's post, I thought I should mention that I do think the environmental movement has many valid concerns. Their critique of the destructive practices of people in industrially-developed countries is especially important. And while I don't think Jesus had the same basis for his morality (which contrasts most noticeably at points like the one I mentioned yesterday), I do think that following Jesus closely will lead to a lifestyle that most environmentalists would approve of. Less consumption and hoarding, less wastefulness, more sharing of resources and space, more care for those who share the world with us, especially the disadvantaged...

And if our talks with the folks at Plow Creek farm go well, Heather and I might eventually be living on an organic farm, eating vegetables and meat that we helped raise (practically in our back yard).



the new "unclean"

Environmental concerns have been drawing more and more attention and support in recent years, especially among younger people. And among the groups I've been involved with, like Catholic Workers, communally-minded folk, progressives, etc. So I've heard a lot about recycling, composting, global warming, environmental impact of our consumption, treatment of growers and workers in the developing world, treatment of animals in the meat industry, vegetarianism, buying local, organic, and so on.

And I've noticed (in those last few concerns especially) that there seems to have developed a new sense of the "unclean." For a growing number of people, there are foods that are to be carefully avoided—for moral reasons. And health reasons as well, which make sense to me; I'd rather eat fresher, riper, less processed foods that haven't been sprayed with chemicals. But the new moral standards for eating make me wonder. The way some people avoid certain foods with such strictness (even with an obvious revulsion in some cases) seems very similar to biblical concerns about uncleanness. The moral reasoning is somewhat different now, a combination of concerns about unhealthy additives and not wanting to financially support industries that abuse workers or animals or the environment. But even when the food is not being purchased (a gift from someone else, for example), and so not supporting any industry, it is often rejected as somehow tainted. Unclean.

This brings to mind Jesus' response when his disciples were criticized for eating in an unclean way:

Jesus called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him."

And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." (Mk 7.14-23)

Those who have defined the new unclean would probably argue that Jesus was speaking of something very different, that his concerns here seem primarily spiritual. Because how could Jesus make such a broad statement, how could he say "nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him," when what we eat certainly impacts our bodily health? And how are we not defiled when (no matter how hard we try) our consumption can always be economically linked to abuses and/or some negative environmental impact?

Excellent questions. But I think those are questions that challenge their assumptions, not Jesus.


no compromise?

Yesterday, in a message to Heather's mother (who had questions about my "language of no compromise" in a recent post), I wrote:

Your point about the need for flexibility, the willingness to change in marriage, is well taken. I agree. And I have been taught something about this already by Heather. Early in our relationship we ran into an argument in which we both took firm stands. But I soon noticed that the argument became especially important to Heather as a test of whether I could change, something she was becoming concerned about. This confused me (as it seemed unconnected to the point under discussion), and I resisted.

But she can be quite persistent (some might even call it stubbornness—she may even be as stubborn as I am). She felt this issue of changeability was so important that she even spoke of breaking off the relationship, and took off for Wheaton for the day. This really shook me. I struggled and struggled with myself, getting more desperate and confused. I got so desperate, in fact, that I went to Helen for counsel. I knew she wasn't very enthusiastic about our relationship at the time, but I needed to talk to someone who knew Heather better than I did. To my relief, Helen responded gently, and talking to her somehow provided what I needed to see the situation—and myself—more clearly. I quickly went and wrote a letter of apology to Heather, admitting that I had been wrong in our argument (and even that what she had been urging was actually a word from God to me to bring me back to my truer self) and left it on her desk to find when she got back from Wheaton. That was one of the longest nights I've ever suffered through; she got home late and didn't see the letter until the next morning. But it was pivotal in our relationship. And it has been repeated on a number of occasions (with a bit less difficulty) during the past few years.

Regarding the "language of no compromise," I'll just say that I think change is not exactly the same as compromise, as I understand it. I understand compromise to mean two parties at an impasse who then each begin to lower their expectations (or ideals or demands, etc) until a point is reached which both parties can accept, though it is probably much less than each hoped for. This I find very problematic when it comes to anything relating to the following of Jesus (who lived extremely high ideals and never lowered them).

But there can still be change that is not a compromise. When I changed in that argument with Heather, I did not consider it a compromise. I felt that she had shown me a better way, a higher path, than I had known previously. So I followed her lead, not simply to please or satisfy her, but because I realized that she was closer to where God was taking us at that moment. I've also followed her lead in other areas, recognizing that God has given her insights and strengths that I do not have, so I can lean on her as we move out of my comfort zone, doing things I have not been willing (or able) to try before. These forms of change (perhaps called repentance and growth) are very good and important, and not at all compromise (they raise our expectations and ideals, not lower them), and I expect these to be a continual part of our relationship.


"who are my brothers?"

I came across this passage in my reading this morning:

While Jesus was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But to the man who told him he replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mt 12.46-50)
I linked to Mark's version of these words a couple days ago, writing about relationships beyond our close circles of "strong ties," and how that made me think of the way Jesus talked about the kingdom of God community. How it went beyond (and superseded) even the strongest family ties.

I've been thinking more about that. There are the weaknesses of "strong tie" communities that I wrote about yesterday; the kingdom of God community doesn't share these weaknesses. But there are also obvious strengths in strong ties. In the paper I referred to yesterday, Mark Granovetter wrote:
Weak ties provide people with access to information and resources beyond those available in their own social circle; but strong ties [provide] greater motivation to be of assistance and are typically more easily available.
I would expect the kingdom of God community to have the strengths of both strong and weak ties, without the weaknesses of either.

Again and again over the past few years, I've argued that our usual model of the close, well-defined, institutional community (whether political, familial, or religious) does not fit Jesus' description of the kingdom of God. Especially in the way these groups find their unity in something that necessarily separates them from others, thus inevitably forming many distinct "bodies" instead of the one Body of Christ, the one kingdom of God.

My best experiences of the kingdom of God have led to an understanding of a single, God-given, God-directed community (very different from, though not physically set apart from the many divided, humanly-instituted, humanly-ruled groups)—a complex interweaving of relationships that is not limited by physical boundaries or institutional membership. This offers the strengths of "weak ties," and is available to us anywhere (not just in one family or neighborhood).

But what about the greatest strength of strong ties, "greater motivation to be of assistance"? Jesus' community offers this also, but it is somewhat different from the motivation seen in most strong tie relationships. It is still the motivation of love, but it is not based on shared blood or shared location or shared history. It is based on a connection that we may not recognize until we encounter one another, the connection in the deepest part of our being—to the one God. "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."

I've had the opportunity to experience this in very real ways, on my walks all over the country. People who I never met before embracing me and caring for me as an intimate friend (as is also seen in Jesus' life and ministry, and Paul's). So I know it's not just wishful thinking. It's the truth.


weaknesses of strong ties

I've been doing a little more thinking and research on the value of "weak ties." And found another paper by Mark Granovetter (written about ten years after "The Strength of Weak Ties"). In it, he brings in the work of a couple other sociologists, who expanded on his ideas.

Rose Coser observed that being deeply enmeshed in close-knit communities (made up mostly of strong ties) can limit our ability to understand and communicate to others outside our group. "In a Gemeinschaft [close-knit community] everyone knows fairly well why people behave in a certain way. Little effort has to be made to gauge the intention of the other person." Therefore these more complex interpersonal skills are not developed. Further, when our interaction with people quite different from us is limited, it also limits our understanding of ourselves. Being drawn out into "weak tie" relationships helps us see ourselves in relationship with the wider outside world, and forces us to explain ourselves (and our beliefs) to people who do not share our background or assumptions about the world. It also helps us understand that what happens to us is influenced by forces far beyond our local community. Coser saw this as especially important to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, who tend to live in close (and very disadvantaged) communities and have great difficulty moving beyond them.

Carol Stack studied a black, urban American, midwestern ghetto, and Larissa Lomnitz a shantytown on the fringes of Mexico City. They found very close, strong ties within these communities, driven especially by the economic necessity of sharing and the feeling of security provided by a close group. But the strength of the ties in these areas also tended to fragment the people into small groups, making any collective action very difficult. It also made it more difficult for individuals to adapt to the world beyond their groups, or understand the social and economic forces that were contributing to their condition, thus (in another way) perpetuating the poverty that helped form these close groups.

In this paper, Granovetter made a point of saying that strong ties are not to be dismissed, that they very important in our lives. But it is also important to see their limitations. This is a good reminder at a time when "community building" is becoming more and more emphasized (and especially within communal settings like the one I live in).


"my heart is glad"

From Psalm 16 this morning:

Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
You hold my future.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord who counsels me...

I keep the Lord in mind always.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also rests securely.
For you will not abandon me to the Abyss...

You reveal the path of life to me;
in your presence is abundant joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for ever.


In moments of joy
all of us wished we possessed
a tail we could wag.

—W.H. Auden


bless the Lord

I'm picking up Heather from the bus station at 4:40 tomorrow morning. I'm sure I won't have any trouble getting up that early (getting myself to sleep tonight might be the problem). Over seven months of waiting is coming to a happy close. I think she's boarding the bus right about now.

It brings to mind this Taizé song that I heard last Sunday and have been humming all week:

( Click here to hear me play it on the recorder.)


the strength of "weak" ties

Yesterday I overheard a radio show that mentioned a very influential work by sociologist Mark Granovetter, "The Strength of Weak Ties" (available here, in pdf). The title intrigued me, so I looked it up.

And discovered something very interesting. Granovetter found that "weak ties" (acquaintances—as opposed to the "strong ties" of family and close friends) play a crucial part in both the lives of individuals and in the health of social groups. Our weak ties tend to be with people who are somewhat different from us, and who usually circulate with people we don't know. So they are better able to expose us to new ideas and new opportunities. Groups formed mostly of strong ties tend to think alike and pass the same information around and draw on the same resources. They are usually trustworthy and familiar, but are limited in their ability to produce innovations or prepare us to move beyond the ideas or resources of that particular group. Our weak ties with people are much better at helping us branch out.

Granovetter also observed that "strong ties, breeding local cohesion, lead to overall fragmentation." Meaning that groups that pull closely together usually do so in a way that cuts them off from others outside the group. (I've observed this myself, in my experience with intentional communities.) It's our weak ties, with those outside our close-knit groups, that serve as bridges connecting us with the wider community. And these outside connections can also help keep our groups from becoming isolated and ingrown.

I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but it seems important. Jesus strongly emphasized connections beyond our limited families and social cliques, presenting the "kingdom of God" as the one, true community. These connections are usually dismissed as weak or theoretical (or "mystical") by most people, including Christians. Even so, they may be much more important than we think.

And, from the way Jesus talked about our "kingdom of God" ties, they probably can be a lot stronger than we think, too...


shaking the dust

"Whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

"And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town." (Mt 10.11-14)
I came across these words of Jesus again this morning. That last line, especially, is something I need to pay attention to right now. I've been struggling with feelings of anger. Anger towards some people I used to feel compassion for, people I've wanted to care for, intending to ease their burdens, to be a friend to them. Now I wonder how my feelings for them have turned so cold. Instead of feeling compassionate, I have to admit I feel more like calling fire from heaven...

This has bothered me more and more. Why the anger? Why so much emotion, and why have I had such a hard time sorting it out and letting it go? As I've thought more about it, I've also realized there have been at least two other times during this past year that I've felt similar anger towards someone I was trying to help.

Like in most human conflicts, I imagine there are two parts of it, mine and theirs. I'm sure there has been some selfishness on my part, some ambition to "do good," to be the one to solve someone else's problem. And when that person doesn't cooperate, or doesn't respond right away, I get frustrated and angry, feeling like a failure. This is my problem, not theirs. And, as I wrote before, my experience of failure in this is probably good for me, to get me to stop pushing my own agenda on people, stop serving my own purposes, and let God work with them in his own way, his own time. I need to learn to "go to the next town" with trust instead of anger.

But there's also their part, I think. When others reject some truth or some help we are offering, that's a sad thing. Those people hurt themselves this way, and perhaps also hurt people around them (including us) through their choice, making everyone's life more difficult. So maybe there is some cause for anger there. But it's not for us to punish. It's hard to know what would help in such a situation, maybe some kind of rebuke is called for. Some kind of knocking the dust from our feet.

The calling-fire-from-heaven anger, though, seems to indicate a need for more trust, more submission to God. Letting the work be God's, and being willing to simply do my small part, whatever God gives me to do. And trusting God to handle any rejection, to take care of the consequences in the lives of those affected (including mine).

Hey... it's snowing, big soft flakes. Nice. And I just heard that Heather's in the country; Nate picked her up from the airport in DC last night. She'll arrive here on Friday. My birthday.


a church I'd like to go to

A story in the Christian Science Monitor, about Boston's "Common Cathedral," caught my eye last month and I've been thinking about it more lately. It sounds good to me because it's work with the poor that is primarily spiritually-directed (though it seems to inspire material help as well), it goes to the people on the streets rather than making them come into churches they aren't comfortable in, and because it's a collaboration among Christians of several denominations. Apparently it has inspired similar ministries in other cities as well. I wonder if I should try to get involved somehow...

(The Common Cathedral project also has its own website.)


"weak incentives"?

In that article on gift economy that I wrote about yesterday, there are several anticipated obstacles to providing goods and services without requiring payment. One of the main ones is the prediction that without the necessity of having to pay for what we need (or the competition for people's business), people would not be sufficiently motivated to produce enough, or continually create and innovate. Also, the problem of hoarding (when things are free).

I can certainly understand those objections. And I agree that it demands a high level of compassion and selflessness to motivate us to work and give when there is no immediate gain for us (and we don't have to work for our own survival), or to take only what we need and leave enough for others (when we're not limited by what we can pay for). Again and again I've found myself struggling to find the love to replace the fear and ambition and greed that usually are our motivators.

But I believe it is an extremely important transition to make. And I think it is possible, since love is a much more powerful motivator than fear, and God provides incentives that we could never dream of.

One of the main differences in incentive I've experienced so far is that I've been able to focus much more on the value and goodness (and personal satisfaction) of the work itself, rather than on how well it meets the demands of society (pays the bills, is profitable for the company, etc). So my thoughts are about what God is doing in the world, and how specifically he wants me to participate in that. Rather than thinking about what people want, what they will pay for. This is more difficult, but also much more rewarding, since to serve God means serving the one who created me, who knows my abilities and interests and joys, and who wants to bring these to fulfillment for the good of all. What boss (or customer) can claim that?

And I'm discovering that we all really do want to work. To create, to serve, to produce something really good. To help one another. We just usually never get to freely explore those deep desires, because we're always being pushed to come up with the rent money.

The incentives behind a gift economy may be weak, at first, or look weak from those outside looking in. But the incentive of love is deep and powerful, growing stronger in us as we explore it. It is God Who is Love, waiting to fill us with himself.


"gift economy"

Yesterday, an article Heather had sent me brought to mind a good example of something I don't want to compromise, and also one of the "pure and impossible" good things I was talking about earlier. It's become known as "gift economy". It is widely discussed as an economic theory (goods and services are given rather than traded, offered freely, without expectation of repayment), and is seen in examples like Freecycle and the many open source software projects. But my commitment to it was inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus.

Jesus taught that we should give without expecting repayment, because God has been so generous with us. And he even said that we should especially give to those who cannot pay us back. We see this teaching in passages like these:

"Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay." (Mt 10.7-8)

"If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High..." (Lk 6.33-35)

"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Lk 14.12-14)

Combined with this kind of giving was the trust that others would be inspired to give also, so that all needs could be met by free gifts, without the demand for payment or trade. While most see this as idealistic and not achievable in our sinful, self-interest-driven society (except perhaps in very limited ways), Jesus promised that his Father would meet our needs if we followed his teaching and example. And his own life of giving (and living on the gifts of others) demonstrated that God can make this impossibility possible.

My experience trying to follow Jesus in this has been good so far (for almost ten years now). Beyond what I could hope or expect, actually. But it becomes much harder to see how it could work with a family. I'm waiting to be shown...

(Now that I think of it, probably the best and most numerous examples of people living the "gift economy" life are mothers and missionaries—though they usually don't preach it like Jesus did.)


how to resist?

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth;
on that very day his plans perish. (Ps 146.3-4)

This was part of my prayers this morning, and it brought to mind the thoughts of the last few days. About our plans and ambition, and how God frustrates these.

It also brings in the image of "princes," powerful men, politics. Which is directly where ambition leads, into deals with those who have the money and power to make things happen, to get the results we want to see. The only problem is that these alliances always come at a price. Compromise. There is no politics, no gathering of the strength and resources of people, without compromise. Without the give and take that gets everyone to agree to the deal.

And compromise is something I'm very concerned about. There was no compromise in Jesus' living of the truth, no compromise of the message he embodied. Yet everywhere I see that message compromised as Christians try to fit into society, find security, and establish "successful" ministries. And I know I'll face the same pressures to compromise. (I hope that's not what I'm walking into next month at Plow Creek.) How to resist?

One help I see is being broken of the desires and ambition that lead us into deals with the "princes." Being willing to lose all and be a complete failure rather than succeed by the power of men, compromising to get their support.

If God wants something to happen, he can do it without any deals. I don't need to make it happen through compromise and alliances with powerful groups. Jesus clearly avoided these. And he taught that God's power is best demonstrated, not through powerful, ambitious people, but through people at their weakest and most obedient.

I want so much to marry Heather and have a place to live and work together. And I know we can't wait much longer. But it can't be something we achieve through ambition and deals, through compromise with the people who can give us what we want. It has to be given by God. Who gives freely, in our weakness, and asks for no compromise.

Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry...

The LORD watches over the sojourners...


"To make God laugh, tell him your plans."

Apparently this is an old saying, in several cultures. A good one. And it fits with what I was saying yesterday. I heard it last night in the movie Amores Perros (Love's Dogs), directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu—excellent. His more recent one, 21 Grams, was great too.


learning obedience

Obedience has been on my mind recently. I have this feeling that I need to go through with the Plow Creek meeting as an act of obedience, no matter what I think the outcome will be. And I've also felt Heather and I can proceed towards marriage only when we are given permission to do so, only when God shows us the next step to take together. In other words, proceeding obediently.

At the same time, I've been struggling with a series of frustrations and failures. At the Catholic Worker, in Virginia, and now here. Some friends and family have felt it important to point out that these may be a sign that I'm on the wrong path. And of course they may be right. But I've been wondering if there may be a different lesson in these struggles.

Because Jesus also faced much resistance, rejection, and the apparent complete failure of his ministry. And that wasn't because he was on the wrong path. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains Jesus' struggles this way:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered... (Heb 5.7-8)
The resistance he faced, his frustrations and suffering, these were what taught him obedience.

One thing I've noticed, repeated frustration and failure can really break down our personal ambition. Experiencing our plans fall apart, seeing how easily our desires and intentions can be brushed aside by those more powerful than us (or by uncontrollable circumstances) soon reveals how small and weak our will is. Things don't have to happen just because we want them to. I thought I understood that. But the disappointment in Virginia was crushing; I wanted it so bad, and it was taken away so easily and so arbitrarily (at least it seemed that way at the time). It makes you feel pretty unimportant.

But the breaking of our own will, I think, is crucial to making us open to God's will, to make us ready to obey. Resistance, frustrations, failure, suffering strip away whatever might be driven by pride or ambition, and allow us to continue in more perfect submission to God's intentions. (Which never fail.)

I hope I've been learning that submission, that obedience. Because it feels like I don't have a lot of time left for too many more failures...


keeping our attention on...

(Mt 14.26-31, 2 Cor 3.17-18)


That action is good
which we are able to accomplish while keeping our attention and intention
totally directed towards pure and impossible goodness,
without veiling from ourselves by any falsehood
either the attraction or the impossiblity of pure goodness.

—Simone Weil


faith and the impossible

I got an e-mail from Heather this morning in which she mentioned "infinite resignation." It's a reference to Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, and his "knight of faith." The book is a commentary on the Abraham and Isaac story. And the point is that faith goes beyond resignation, by (like resignation) accepting that what we hope for is humanly impossible, yet somehow hoping still—because with God all things are possible.

I wrote a few days ago that faith means waiting, that we can only have faith about something that we do not yet have. Perhaps, for faith to be stretched to its fullness, it must also involve the impossible. As Kierkegaard writes, this is not the same as "the improbable, the unexpected, the unforeseen." Abraham believed God would provide the sacrifice (and so spare Isaac), even as he lifted the knife that would kill his son. Abraham truly gave up Isaac to certain death, yet at the same time believed that God would not take away the son he had given. And Jesus even went further. He was actually dead.

And then faith received the impossible.

If we wish to follow Jesus, if we wish to live the life of faith, we should expect to be led into the impossible. Not just the improbable or the unexpected but that which is truly impossible for us, the impossibility that we can't face without trembling. So that the only thing that can save us is a miracle...



"my soul waits"

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the LORD
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (Ps 130.5-6)

I came across these lines in my prayers this morning, and they reminded me of my recent thoughts on waiting. The feeling of waiting has become intense right now. The specific things I have been waiting for these past six months (Heather's return and our meeting with the folks at Plow Creek farm) seem very close. Yet now it seems unlikely that my (our) waiting will end soon. I'm a little scared to find out what will stretch out before us.

Several times during these past months I've grown concerned about all my waiting. It seems like most of my life has been a time of waiting for one thing or another. Is that a bad sign? Aren't I supposed to arrive at some point? Is my whole life going to be spent waiting? And, if so... how can I expect Heather to join me in that?

The other part that concerns me is that I've believed (and spoken) so much about the kingdom of God being present, here now, right now. And, again and again, I've experienced the feeling of fulfillment. But also the constant feeling of waiting. How can this be? Am I deceiving myself?

This morning at breakfast, I noticed these words as they were read:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11.1)
Of course I've heard them many times before. But they seemed more important now, emphasizing that faith means an assurance of things not yet seen or possessed. That we cannot trust in God for what we already have, for needs already met, but only for needs not yet met, for the things we wait for. To remain in faith necessarily means to remain in waiting.

I don't mean this in the sense of waiting for heaven or waiting for Jesus to return and wipe out evil one day. And I'm not thinking of waiting in a purely spiritual sense, waiting to eventually experience God fully. I mean something much more immediate and concrete. I mean waiting to see where your next meal will come from. Waiting for the chance to do the work you dream of. Or be with the person you dream of. Waiting to find out if the community will accept or reject you. Waiting to see what will happen to you when they do reject you...

Maybe this waiting is supposed to be a daily, life-long experience. And maybe it exists along with Jesus' present kingdom of God. Because even if today's bread has been richly provided, tomorrow's need still remains.

I have no complaints about what has been given to me. It's much more than I asked or expected. But knowing I can't hold onto it, that I could lose it all so quickly (even that it sometimes looks very likely that I will lose it all), makes it increasingly difficult to wait. Perhaps that's the point. Increasingly difficult lessons in waiting. So that gradually I may learn faith, waiting for the Lord.


for the new year

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
(Ps 102.25-27)