The bountiful eye

Prayer 1: Having need.

Our Father,

Who art in heaven

Give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread, give me bread…

 

Prayer 2: Seeing need

Our Father,

Who art in heaven

Give then bread, give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread give them bread, give them bread, give them bread ….

 

Prayer 3: Filling needs

Our Father,

Who art in heaven

Give me a bountiful eye. The daily grace to see, to give, to share, to rejoice, and to receive.

May thine be the kingdom

Amen

“He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed;
for he giveth of his bread to the poor.” (KJV)

 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Living Prayers

Our daily lives can be a form of lived-prayer, where prayer is not a pleading or shopping list of requests, but a kind of whole-hearted care and attention to the life-tasks God has put before us.

 We know this already — Augustine, Brother Laurence, Mme. Guyon, Richard Rohr, Thomas Moore, (even Levinas, I’m told) all remind us that our daily tasks can be a form of prayer if we undertake them with the  care and attention we might give to a session of focused meditation.  When I think of that, I think of being alone doing the gardening, or sewing something with perfect attention to detail. Or writing. It is probably quiet, and I am probably alone. Augustine, in his letter to Januarius for example, describes the kind of ‘effortless’ activity of praising God we might begin ‘in this life’ as we rest in Christ:

 

 This rest is not slothful inactvity, but a kind of indescribable tranquility coming from effortless action…. we don’t pass on to it through a period of quiet, which is then replaced by effort — that is, the beginning of the activity does not put an end to the quiet. No, there is no return to effort and anxiety; the qualities of quiet continue in the activity, so that there is no weariness in work and no restlessness in thought.

In reality however, there are many things demanding our attention, and it is rare that I have the space in my house to complete my work in quiet without effort or anxiety. I wrote about my weekend recently:

I went to bed late after finishing watching the Handmaid’s Tale with DH, was woken during the night by crying children, awoke too late for quiet time. Made lemon pancakes to order while balancing hot chocolate requests and assistance with toileting, dressing gowns, getting down plates etc. Talked to DH about the state of the university and the upcoming conference. Organised the family to clean and tidy as much of the house that was possible. (DH completely re-sorted all the stuff in the lounge, the kids made their room worse, I did the bathroom, washing, kitchen, master bedroom, vacuuming and generally just bossed people around and crossed things off a list).

I then spent some time with my youngest, then put on my exercise gear and walked to uni with my backpack to get my computer because I realised I can’t actually go to work on Monday since DH will have to work (and I have to care for my youngest) so I can go to Auckland on Tuesday for the conference starting Wednesday (which is my normal day for childcare responsibilities). Oh, at some point I talked to my dad while I was doing dishes about gender discrimination in the workplace and the conference he went to last week.

 While I walked I tried to auto-dictate my thoughts on work/worship and care/attention but it was too hard because it started to rain.  On the way home, I bought lunch for all from the supermarket and a few things we needed like dishwashing liquid. I got back home, organised lunch, hung out another load of washing, had a cup of tea then went to bed for a nap. At 4pm I was finally able to sit in bed doing some writing while the kids played on the computer.

Throughout all of it, I thought of my friends going through relationship troubles, the enneagram types of people I care about, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, the handbook I am editing. The things I didn’t get to: ironing, cleaning out the laundry which stinks, the cat food spilled everywhere, the gardening… work. I fought off panic that these things will never get done, and that my life will descend further and further into chaos.

So how do we make those prayers of quiet activity in this kind of rush and chaos? I don’t feel  centred, quietly attentive, balanced. I feel unbalanced and constantly wobbling on the edge of falling off. If I miss one weekend of this carework, the whole things caves in and it takes me months to get back to a state of normalcy. I feel guilty that I don’t give friends (let alone strangers in need) outside my family enough time and attention, but also feel panicked that if I don’t get my jobs done on Saturday then the following work week would be chaos with no uniforms, dirty work clothes, lost homework and toys all over the house, tears from the children as we rummaged through our stuff to find whatever was needed. So much of life is just managing the arrangement of material stuff. I don’t give the people in my life enough of my joy or playfulness because I am always worrying about not doing enough, not being organised enough, and falling into chaos.

Part of all this is the worry about not being enough as a carer and as a mother. As women, we are told in different ways our whole lives that these things are our responsibilities, that the children will grow up neglected and damaged if we don’t do our jobs properly and their faces aren’t clean and their school socks matching. That however much we give our children and families, it is never enough. That it is not OK to find enjoyment in work and success because we are probably failing our families. The men in our lives have often been brought up with different pressures: to perform in the workplace, to be a star, a success, to always be confident and Mr Fabulous, to produce and produce and to be a strong protector of the women and children in their lives and not to rely on them for friendship or care too much but also certainly not to rely on other men for care either. To not have so many feelings.  To not be hurt so often. Most of us know that both those identities are impossible, and that no one can really fulfil them. They are lies.

The truth, as Augustine identifies, is to find our identity in the refuge and rest of God, since ‘through him we can do all things’. Not all the things. Just all things that are given us in this moment. For me this is where the attention comes back in. We can do our work with care and attention, offering it up to God as a form of worship –  as Paul says in Romans 12 we can offer our very bodies (and their activities I presume) as our spiritual worship. So can I apply this to my busy Saturday, where quiet was not very often present?

I did actually try this. All day, as I tried to do all the tasks before me, my attention kept slipping to obsess about all the relationships and tasks in my life, and the panic and stress would arise that it will be never be enough. Like one does in  meditation,  I tried to acknowledge my feelings or the interruptions from others without judgement, then bring my attention back to the task at hand, and accept I can only do what I can do for the amount of time I have to do it.  I have to trust that that will be enough.  At work, I tried to do this too: panic arises regularly when the tasks and relationship demands overwhelm, and I have begun to deliberately take an audible deep breath then as I exhale, deliberately acknowledge, then put aside, all the things and focus on the one thing that has to be done right now.  With relationships, I tend to obsess over everyone else’s problems. But I can then offer those up to God (after laughing at myself) and turn my attention back to what I can do in the time and space I have, then let it go. Usually, listen with care and attention, try not to offer to help or fix everything, but to just be there in the moment. It doesn’t feel enough, but it has to be.

So, all of that is to say I guess I can apply Augustine’s idea that a form of prayerful activity can proceed from the space of quiet rest. It isn’t really effortless, yet, for me.  But I think the key idea is this: Do what you can when you can with care and attention. Then hand over the rest to God and continue to pay attention when something comes your way that is again yours to do in the moment. What else can we do? There is never enough time, and maybe that is how we grow to depend on the One who is beyond time, who invented time.

Kelly Dombroski also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com.

Be gone, cruel voices

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

I’m thinking of when you have something important to do, to say, but become paralysed by your uncertainty about your ability — or your right — to do it, to even begin! What if what I have to say is not actually so important, if it is, in fact, foolishness?

This seems to be something writers experience a lot. Other jobs I have had — well, they let me continue on in a haze when I’m feeling uncertain. I’ve done banking through break-ups, pruned grapevines in the depth of winter and depression, scanned grocery item after grocery item and mouthed words of welcome even as I wondered, who am I, really? What value is there in my life? But with the job of writing –unless I am writing about the actual feelings of pain, uncertainty, doubt — I cannot just keep going through the difficult feelings. These things can grow so large as to become overwhelming cruel ‘voices’ that absorb all my attention, and writing is, at heart, a task of focused attention — even ‘foolish’ first drafts of writing.

This week I had guidance on this problem from two sources. One was a prolific writer of theology from the second century — Augustine of Hippo. Augustine writes to his childhood friend Nebridius with joy:

I’m delighted to have you thank me when I don’t hide anything that comes into my mind from you. I am delighted I can please you in this way. Whom can I more freely share my foolishness with than someone I can’t displease?

I immediately shared this quote with my good friend, also writing a book. I was thinking, to be honest, that my friend could think of me as a reader while writing, because I could not be displeased, I’m already ‘all in’ for this important project.  The cruel voices that taunt the writer as he or she writes are indeed formidable, and they tell us we have nothing to say and are not worthy to write and no one will read us anyway. But these voices fade in to nothing if there is even just one reader who wants to hear what we have to say, however ‘foolish’ it appears. Augustine found this person in Nebridius. I have experienced this with some of my dear colleagues and friends as I have finished difficult pieces. As friends and readers, we can say for each other ‘be gone cruel voices, we don’t need you here’.

Of course, these voices are not just present for writers. Many people experience cruel voices telling them they are worthless. What I was reminded of through  my friend this week is that we do not only have to rely on our friends and ‘readers’ to help us say ‘be gone!’ to those cruel voices.

I recieved the prose, you see, and it was utterly beautiful and compelling. I couldn’t help but comment — is this the same person? Choked up, my friend confessed the secret of this clarity of voice and purpose. The voices were quieted, this time — by the power of prayer. Prayer before writing might bring to mind The Reader, The Faithful Reader, more faithful than Nebridius or I. This was the second lesson for me.

The faithful audience and reader of all our lives is the One who gave life to all, gave up life on the cross, and breathes life in and through us. This One is delighted to hear what we have to say, to see our task through to completion, because this is The One who gave us that task in the first place — whether this task is writing, teaching, parenting, serving, ministering, caring, public speaking, or any other task in which we have to face fear and doubt.

I was reminded this week of what our lives might be like when the cruel voices fade into insignificance in the light of One whom we cannot displease with our efforts at speaking and living the truth given to us: Compelling, beautiful, clear in voice and purpose.

What do you have that is difficult to do at this time? What might the result of your task be if your only audience is God, a God of love and compassion who takes joy in your ‘foolishness’? This week, dear readers, think of your Dear Reader, your Audience of One, the One who looks on your ‘foolishness’ only with the greatest delight. Those cruel voices may indeed be gone, or at least, be not as overwhelming.

Kelly Dombroski writes at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com,  among other places.

Neuro-biology and “life abundantly”

Sometimes creation seems full of tiny miracles. I don’t often enough count my own body as one of them.

However earlier this week I was captivated by a video appearing in my newsfeed:

[Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hv1m2wnGQA. Video image: large sphere to left is pulled along something resembling a path, by a long ‘rope’ with two leg-like appendages which ‘march’ rhythmically].

That merry little trooper is (according to some scientists) myosin, dragging a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex: “Happiness in action.”

I’m not sure the science is that straightforward, but what it reminded me is that my body, and perhaps especially my brain, is full of tiny miracles; a delicate biological symphony in motion.

When I think about the way that God has equipped us with bodies that can sense, translate, and process such a variety, such heights and depths, of sensation and emotion, I feel like it tells us something about God herself, and something about the human lives she hopes us to lead.

I have been pondering then, what it means in John 10:10, when Christ tells us he has come that we may “have life, and have it to the full” (NIV), or in another translation, have “a rich and satisfying life” (NLT), or another: to have life “more abundantly” (KJB).

I don’t believe in any way that personal happiness should be our sole goal in life. But what a generous God she indeed is, that bestows us with the capacity for such joys along the often difficult paths of the Kingdom.

Yet capacity is not the same as fulfilment of promise. And SO many things work to steal this from us (as John 10 also says).

As I’ve thought about this, I wanted to focus my prayerful response on those of us who right now feel that our brains are somehow broken… bent a bit… or just different in ways that are hard to understand:

May Jehovah Rapha (the God who Heals) shine gently into those hidden places.

May she write her story there, in the amazing bio-chemistry of our bodies.

May we be attentive to small miracles both outside and inside of us. 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.