Monthly Archives: April 2010

Companionship vs Intimacy

It’s been awhile since I posted about Benedictine hospitality and my hope of understanding what it means to live a life of genuine openness to others. I’ve been reading a book called Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, which has some good things to say despite its unfortunate quality of writing (which makes sifting the good stuff out of it a little challenging).

Yesterday, however, I came across a chapter that has been resonating with me. The chapter is titled “Companionship and Intimacy” and begins by making the claim that we no longer have clear definitions of either of those words and live our lives confused about the varying levels of closeness in relationships. The authors (Father Daniel Homan, OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt) explain their belief that our culture gives the wrong idea about the importance of intimacy: that spiritually healthy people are those who constantly “connect to others in a profound way.” (130). They go one to make the claim that despite our need for “relationships of depth,” in order to live hospitable lives we have to learn to be a simple companion to everyone we come in contact with, without forcing depth into every relationship. We learn how to fully listen, be present to the people around us, and show that we care, without always being fully known (130-131).

I’m ruminating on this. Though Homan and Pratt claim that “Media” is the culprit for teaching us the necessity of intimacy in every relationship, I’m not sure I buy that. I do, however, agree that we really don’t know how to pursue simple companionship. And I’m wondering if my need to “go deep” (to use some Christianese) with everyone I come in contact with is more a result of the Christian culture I live in than in the Media’s lies. (My humble opinion: the “Media” gets blamed for every cultural failure we know of…at least in every freshman Writing 105 paper I graded when I taught college writing. What do we even mean when we say it’s the Media’s fault?)

How often do I automatically consider intimate connections when I think of having significant relationships in the church or in life? I know that I’m leery of building relationships here in San Francisco because I feel like a failure at keeping up with the friends I already have in the other places I’ve lived. To be a friend to more means to fail more. It means more emails I won’t reply to for months. It means more people eventually giving up on a phone relationship with me because I’m a phoneophobe (is that a word?).

I love people and I believe in meaningful relationships, but is it possible that I don’t know how to simply love and care for those around me without building relationships of depth that I can’t fully commit to? And is that a selfish thing to be thinking about? Are Homan and Pratt getting at something that makes me nervous because I feel like it’s wrong to build a relationship that is not a complete commitment of myself?

To quote Homan and Pratt: “Discretion requires you to respect someone without trying to be their best friend. Hospitality is not a call to unquestioning intimacy with the whole world…Hospitality is a call to revere what is sacred in every person ever born” (139).

I’d really like to know what you think about this. In order for us to truly be people who are open to the needs of others, we have to be willing to meet the surface level needs of those around us, without forcing depth. What is your response to these definitions of “companionship and intimacy”? Do you find yourself pursuing both kinds of relationships or only those of depth? And where do you think these definitions fit in the larger discussion of hospitality?

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Hello Robert Frost

I’ve picked “Hyla Brook” as our poem for now through May. I have to admit I don’t know much about Robert Frost. I’ve never really studied his work in any other capacity besides reading him in some college overview of American poets. I also tend to really hate “The Road Not Taken” for the fact that it seems to be the only poem that Southern Baptist preachers know or use in sermons. (What’s the deal with that? Is it some prerequisite in seminary?)

But, friends, it’s time for me to read and appreciate Frost, despite my aversion to his most famous poem. I don’t know “Hyla Brook,” but I’m feeling drawn to its meditation on nature and its images. I really love “ghost of sleigh bells in a ghost of snow” and the “faded paper sheet” of the brook’s bed. I’m also drawn to the ending and what it means to “love the things we love.”

It seems proper that we should have this one in our heads before June actually hits and all the hylas (hylas are frogs as far as I know) are gone underground with the water. So, join me in memorizing and we can discuss more of what it means to “love the things we love for what they are.” And maybe, by the time I’m finished with Frost, he’ll be among the things I love.

If you know this poem or you have some deep reverence (or aversion) to Robert Frost, please share! I’d love to know what you think.

PS  Thanks to all of you who shared your thankfuls yesterday! It’s always such an encouragement for me to hear what’s great in your life. I love having you here.

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Thankful Tuesday Q’s

It’s Thankful Tuesday and it’s raining. My boy slept longer today but 6:30 still doesn’t cut it for me so today I’m avoiding deep, contemplative thoughts about my thankfulness. Instead, I really really really want to know about yours. I’m serious. That means you have to leave a comment, people.

So, here are my questions for this Thankful day.

1. What one thing from this past weekend are you are most thankful for?

2. What book are you reading right now that you’re most loving?

3. What book can you not wait to read once you have enough money to order it from Amazon?

4. One extra thankful?

I’ll start! See my answers under the comments. And enjoy your Thankful Tuesday.

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How the words fall in.

A disciple asks the Rabbi, “Why does the Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The Rabbi answers, ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until one day the heart breaks and words fall in.”

(from The Politics of the Brokenhearted, by Parker Palmer)

Let me start by saying I haven’t read Parker Palmer. I know nothing about the essay/pamphlet from which this is quoted. I only know that this was printed in a handout I received at church yesterday. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Since I wrote last Friday, I’ve been in transition, coming back from visiting my family in Texas, enjoying the California sunshine with my little clan, and reacquainting my toddler with the unhappy reality of the Pacific time zone. (Wondering why it’s taken me all day to get this post up? The sweet boy was grouchy and awake during this morning’s 6 am writing time.)

I also can’t stop thinking about what I wrote on Friday: my struggle to believe God is speaking to me in love. How it’s difficult to acknowledge what my friend shared with me: that God is growing me into a sturdy tree, that I can maneuver my roots into this city and that those roots can follow me, resulting in something beautiful.

As I was praying in church yesterday, 12 hours home from our trip, I realized I do believe God would speak to me in kindness. Of course I do. God’s words to me have always been spoken in kindness. It’s my brain that distorts God, that feeds me guilt and grows debilitating fear inside me. My belief is a whole lot more complicated than an easy explanation. Belief comes to me, but softly and without fanfare. Sometimes it takes a few days to soak in. Sometimes it’s easier to diminish the faith I have than to acknowledge its complexity.

I just finished rereading my brother, Jason Boyett’s new book, O Me of Little Faith (I was honored to read it for the first time in its draft form). It was just released a week and a half ago and it’s a beautifully written contemplation of his (and I believe, the contemporary evangelical’s) struggle to believe in a God he can’t live without. (I’d review it but I’m biased so I’ll leave it at that.)

While writing last Friday’s post, I was shoulder deep in his book and I had his doubt on my mind. Jason and I have shared doubt in common since I was adult enough to realize it was in me. That would be around my freshman year of college, when my older brother was 23 and already married.  It’s been a common thread for us, something I could share honestly with him long before I could speak it to anyone else.

Doubt has been debilitating for me in some sense, but not completely. I didn’t go into full time ministry in order to hide my doubt, but in spite of it. I love Jesus not simply because I love the idea of him, but because I’ve experienced him. I don’t read the Bible because I’m trying to convince myself, but because my soul finds life in it, despite my brain’s refusal to cooperate from time to time.

So when I read the above quote as I sat down to worship yesterday, my insides resonated. I understand that when I open scripture, my brain and my soul take different stances. They shout at each other. And then, at some point, one wins over the other. The words sit on my hard heart. And, eventually, something beautiful happens: my heart melts just enough for the words to soak through.

So, everything I said on Friday? You can chalk it up to this process I’m in. Someday, I’m hoping I’ll believe the moment the words land on my heart. But for today, I’m letting them sit quietly. And quiet is very monastic.

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Tree Roots

If you had asked me ten years ago which of my brothers would be running a ministry for impoverished kids in Amarillo and living out an inspiring life of faith, I would not have picked Brooks. He’s always been a cut up. He’s a charmer. A ham. And his serious side is hidden under about eight layers of sarcasm.

I could write a very long piece about the process of his emotional and spiritual transformation, how he went from being your average business suit to risking his family’s entire livelihood in order to feed and love the kids he met at the local soup kitchen. But I’ll leave it at this: I respect him. A lot.

In spite of the fact that my spiritual journey has been leading me toward all things liturgical and monastic, Brooks has slowly veered toward the Charismatic.  No, he’s not praying for gold teeth (which, believe me, is the weirdest Charismatic movement I’ve encountered so far), but his church is one to emphasize the receiving of visions from God for the encouragement or direction of others. And that kind of thing gets me all shaky.

I should point out here that I love my brother’s church. Whenever I’m in my hometown, I’m much more likely to spend my worshipful moments among their authentic community than anywhere else. Plus my brother usually invites me (I think because he thinks it’s funny to put me in situations that make me squirm).

Last night I joined him and my sister in law for their home group’s weekly Bible study/prayer time. I’ve met several of their  friends at some point before but managed, for the most part, to spend the hour quietly and awkwardly smiling from the corner in my cushy seat, having not read the book being discussed.

So I was surprised (to say the least) when, following the study and time of prayer, Sam, a man I’ve met once before, spoke up in front of the group: “Micha, I need to share something with you.”

Panic. Maybe you understand this by now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I talk about prayer because I’m bad at it. I pursue the life of faith out of the lens of a terrible doubter. And I’m in a constant state of fighting off nasty guilt, most of it coming from a fear that God is disappointed in me.

So, if someone has received what he says is a word from God for me, you can count on my certainty that God wants to remind me of my prayerlessness, how he’s missed hearing from me for the past week almost as much as my tummy muscles have missed crunches.

That’s not what he said. He said: “Micha, you’ve spent so many years trying to win God’s approval through your own works. That’s in the past now.”

He’s right. I’m on a long journey of giving up my attempts at controlling how God sees me by controlling how all of you see me.

Sam continued: “San Francisco is full of people who have rebelled against culture, who are longing to see Christ as counter cultural. Don’t be afraid of rebellion.”

As I was thinking, what does that mean?, Sarah, who I knew growing up, was speaking. “Micha, I feel like God is showing me a tree, in your distinct neighborhood in San Francisco, growing up out of the place where your house is. It was a tree you had to uproot from Philadelphia. And it was a really painful process. But God is saying, ‘It’s okay to spread your roots, now. You can settle, despite the fact that you may not be there long term.’”

She continued: “I just have this vision of you and August walking to the park, and the roots following you, making this line in the sidewalk. The tree is following you wherever you go. And as the roots spread out, little baby trees are sprouting up from the roots.”

They prayed for me. I cried a little. Then I got in the car with my brother, who said: “You’re so worried that God is done with you now that you’ve left the ministry, but he wants you to know it’s not over.”

Most often when I hear something that may be from God I cannot comprehend more than: I need to think about this some more. I drove back to a tantrum-throwing toddler who would not fall asleep. Then I got on the phone with my husband and complained about how the internet wasn’t working and I wouldn’t be able to post on the blog for another day. I lay down in the bed I’m sharing with my little boy, and listened for a second.

I stared for a long time at our house in my brain: where the tree would stand, how it might follow me and my stroller like one of those commercials (you know, the one with the financial red line). I watched little off-shoots sprouting. I heard Sam say: “That’s in the past now.”

I’m leery of people speaking for God. There are plenty of crazies spouting crap and signing God’s name under it. But, I want you to know that the God who may have said those things to me last night is the God I want to believe in: kind, hopeful, willing to see me as more than a disappointment, willing to use me despite my craziness and prayerlessness.

So I’m going to think about those tree roots some more. And I’m going to pray. I’ll let you know how that goes…

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Natalie Merchant = Thankful

Since I’m imagining most of you spent your high school and/or college careers in the nineties, I’m hoping that a Natalie Merchant song was at some point part of your coming of age soundtrack. For me:

  • 10000 Maniacs’ “Because the Night” needed to be sung with an elaborate car dance that my college roommate Jamie and I made up and performed in transit anytime either of us was in need of a pick me up.
  • Anything from Tigerlily, which was my high school I’m-a-writerly-type-who-likes-to-journal album of choice during junior year.
  • Of my favorites from Tigerlily, the winner is “Wonder,” which I’m unashamed to make known, was my theme song for the traditional cheesy pre wedding video of growing up pictures Chris and I showed. And now that I think about it, Jamie and I had a car dance to that one as well…

I’m writing about Natalie Merchant not only because it’s Thankful Tuesday and if I can’t be thankful for my awesome car dances with Jamie today, when can I be? I’m also writing because I came across a New York Times article yesterday about Merchant’s first new release since 2003. Since the birth of her daughter around that time she has been on what she calls, “a maternity leave.”

However, as many of us can probably attest, “maternity leaves” aren’t always what they appear. She has been working, writing, and creating what sounds like some pretty fantastic things. And I’m feeling relieved to know that our matriarch of coming of age folk music angst is not releasing some touchy feely I’m-a-mom-now album, but a seriously creative reflection on motherhood.

In her new album called  “Leave Your Sleep” she’s recorded original music to accompany poems she and her daughter love.  As the article states, most of the poems she performs “encompass lullaby, elegy, fantasy, nonsense and tall tales.”

Natalie, Motherhood, and Elegies? I’m in heaven. Jamie, let’s strap our boys in their car seats and get some sweet new moves ready. Happy Thankful Tuesday.

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Friday Night: Sleep and Dream

This past Friday night, I found myself in the midst of a second fear-filled sleep for the toddler who must imagine terrible slime monsters on the walls of my parents’ basement, where the crib is stationed. (It sounds worse than it is, by the way. The basement in my parents’ house is finished with its shelves covered in my mother’s bright, happy Pez collection. Though I guess a multitude of Pez dispensers could be extra freaky to a 22 month old.)

I was half asleep, carrying the boy back to my bed, knowing that it would result in the next night’s Act III of the same event. Boy cries. Mama wakes. Mama is incapable of standing next to crib singing boy to sleep when she’s tired and her feet are cold, plus her husband is home in California so why not take the opportunity to let the snuggly, squishy child sleep in bed with her?

Here’s why. Because snuggly, squishy boy is really the mini version of the smelly, long legged, floppy armed teenager he will be soon enough, and he cannot control the incredible splat his limbs make when he rotates across the bed. Nor could he control his head Friday night when it smacked straight in to the metal bedpost at the head of the guest bed the two of us were “snuggling” in. Head slammed. Crying. I rocked him for a couple of minutes until the pre pre-pubescent man-child that he is shook it off and immediately feel asleep.

(I would find out in the morning, after we woke, talked, and scooted ourselves to my parents’ kitchen that he actually bore a black and blue right eye. Yes, Mama should have turned the light on.)

I should also say that I was dealing with the mini curse of my own plugged-sinus-mouth-breathing that night. There’s something about mouth breathing that, combined with a toddler flopping around my bed, made the night full of awakenings. When I finally slid into sweet unconsciousness, I realized:

I was in Russia. Yes, my husband’s job had moved us yet again. But this time, it was not to an awesome, more hipster, eco-friendlier version of New York. No, it was to a Russia completely fabricated in my “how could I NOT have learned that in high school?” mind. Meaning, I don’t know a lot about Russia. All I know about Russia I know from movies. So this Russia (city unnamed) was a movieland Russia. And in it, I had a received a parking ticket.

Big surprise. I will not tell you how many parking tickets I have received in my current city. However, know that I didn’t get any of them on purpose.

At first the parking ticket scenario was not a frightening one. I would pay it; we’d all be annoyed and move on. But as I went to pay said parking ticket, I was accosted by Russian Mafia, all speaking English in a scary Mafian-like Russian accent. Somehow, I was then in a smoke-filled, sketchy bar, at a table with the Mafia men and my husband, trying to bribe our way out of their scheme of killing me off like one of those cheap Bond girls.

My husband assured me that the scheduled date of my execution (two weeks away) was plenty of time to get some money into the hands of the right people. But the dream suddenly fast-forwarded and I was staring down my next-day execution, thinking,” I should probably call my mom and tell her that I’m being exterminated.”

We had not met the right people and we were at some undisclosed (at least to my brain) sporting event, looking for a certain Mafia man, our last hope. He brushed past me, spilled his drink on my shirt, and suave-like whispered in my ear, “There’s nothing I can do. Tomorrow you will hang.” (Actually, I don’t remember what he said, just that he was creepy and we left knowing I would die.)

Chris and I walked along the cold, shadowed streets of the fake Russia of my mind, talking about our son and our life together, how much we would miss each other, when suddenly, a musical cue! Some quickening melody in the dream told us to run!

From there, I was in the presence of Frank, the helicopter/airline pilot from Lost who was promising me a way out of my impending punishment: Air school!

“Of course,” he said, “You’d have to be okay with flying a plane.”

“ Yes.” I said. “Absolutely. I’ll fly a plane if it means I don’t get annihilated in the morning.”

But it turns out that Frank knew a lot more than the fact that somehow being in Air School could save my life. He also knew I was a “candidate.”

(At this point, if you don’t watch the show Lost, my dream will mean nothing to you. I apologize. If you do watch Lost, you recognize the utter awesomeness of Frank’s revelation.)

My being a “candidate” meant my life was saved. Smoke Monster Locke would rescue me from the Mafia if only for his own purposes of getting off the island!

I woke before all this news could be fully celebrated in the dream. Therefore, I’m asking you to celebrate it with me now. Awesome dream, right? Yes.

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