At the beginning of Lent, I asked for reflections on the topic of Intentionality. Our Lenten services were short-sheeted. But this is an important topic. Your thoughts and reflections are welcomed on an ongoing basis!

 Living intentionally. Being mindful. Daring yourself to the vulnerability of being who you really are no matter what others might think of you or criticize.  Seeing your life, your heart, your authentic ‘self’ without judgment, but with compassion, with kindliness, with forbearance – even fondness – for those unique and quirky parts.  These reflections carry on our lenten consideration.

From Luke’s account – our passage du jour: “Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

Can you recognize the One Thing, the priority, the best use of your time and energy? Or are you hopelessly caught up in a “to do list” of distractions and busyness, frustrated, waiting for your real life, someday?

Intentionality, purposeful living, our attempts, successes and failures at finding the One Thing was to be our theme for the 5 weeks of Lent. The COVID-19 virus changed many plans. But as I reconsider the theme, I see importance in reflecting on how we each regard our lives in these days.

Thank you to Bill Krueger and Shawn Mai for these written reflections.

Although it was written a week or two ago, Shawn’s thoughts add to or expand the themes of his verbal reflection on this week’s ‘Sounds of Home – Rummage, part 2‘.

Mark 13: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”

During this Lenten season Linda has invited us into greater vulnerability and authenticity as a spiritual practice.  This invitation has helped me to uncover a bad habit…allowing my wounded 6 year old self to reign freely in making meaning in my life.  When is it ever a good idea to put a 6 year old behind the wheel of a car during rush hour?

Mike Miles referenced Walter Wink on Saturday in the West Denmark text study.  I believe Walter Wink’s thoughts on “A Third Way” applies to what I want to talk about.   I can violently fight my inner demons, I can passively submit to my inner demons, or I can respectfully disagree with my inner demons.  In this case my inner demons are shame, fear, and regret first experienced by my 6 year old self.  

Part of my spiritual practice is finding space inside.  Shame is an emotion (like anxiety) that closes down space.  What I’m talking about is when I’m anxious or shameful I can actually feel it in my body.  My chest gets heavy and closes off.  When that space disappears I am no longer creative, imaginative, or hopeful.  When I’m “in my skin” I literally feel my chest open up.  When my chest space opens up I have the capacity to imagine all sorts of new possibilities and ways of thinking.

This weekend while we were walking, Chuck and I talked about being pulled out of the present and either being overtaken with thoughts from the distant past or yanked into the future by fears of what might be.   I had a little ‘a-ha’ moment as we processed.  I never formulate anything silently on my own, I’m an external processer so I work out a lot of things on our Saturday morning walks.  Thank goodness for effective witnesses like my husband in my life.   

Recently, I’ve fallen into mulling over work decisions from a year and a half ago.  I inherited a troubled, ineffective staff inhabited by a group of rogue independent contractors who prized resistance and undermining over a shared vision focused on the needs of our discipline.  There’s no judgement in that sentence, now is there.  

I made some difficult decisions to help some unhappy members of the team move on.  Gaining clarity and support from my leader, I pushed my team in ways they hadn’t been pushed.   As a people pleaser, this was challenging work.  Ultimately, members of the team forced my hand in drawing hard lines.  I created performance improvement plans that resulted in at least one difficult leave taking.  Again, as a conflict avoider, I had to learn to flex new muscles.  

I have since left that position but have found myself ruminating on the past.  My young people pleasing, conflict avoidant parts are not looking back kindly on the difficult decisions I had to make.  Recently, my young parts had begun sowing thoughts and feelings that are the “go to” thoughts and feelings of my 6 year old self.  

This is where the Saturday morning stroll comes in.   As Chuck and I walked, I felt this familiar rising of shame and regret coming up.  Not taking a moment to wonder what that feeling might be attached too, I made the leap to the events of a year and a half ago.   I began to rehash the old history again with Chuck.  Unfortunately, he’s had to listen to these thoughts and feelings way too much.  As I began sharing (yet again) he stopped and said “I can’t listen to this.  I’m sorry but my capacity to rehash this with you is limited and I’ve hit my limit.”  Of course, I felt defensive and a victim of not being heard…the indignation of my 6 year old self was palpable.  

Recognizing the poutiness of my 6 year old self gave me pause.  How can I make the leap from the beauty of this walk to events that are long over?  Why do I breathe life into the characters trying desperately to be resurrected in my mind, that are long dead?

Shame for me can be addictive.  Not that it isn’t real in the moment but is it easier for my brain to latch a hold of past events that have made a rut in my brain?   Instead of recognizing what’s taking place in the moment, my brain grabs a hold of the past and gets an endless infusion of the drug of shame.  In my case, an easy target for shame to feed on is the easy target of those events of a year and a half ago.

As I took a breath, I had a transformative thought.  Might my brain just have gone on auto pilot and taken a swig out of the bottle labeled “bad work decisions?”

What I did for the rest of my Saturday is thought about how this all might be the emergence of a new spiritual practice?  How might I breathe into the present, keep awake (in the spirit of Mark’s Gospel), and disassemble the old temple of worshipping negative experiences, and instead build a temple out of gratitude and thanksgiving?  How can I reclaim a more authentic connection with my self and other people that isn’t based on “fake news” (I ruin people’s lives and make horrible decisions)?

So what does this have to do with the fig tree in Mark?  How do I soften my heart and  become like the branch of the fig tree that is preparing for the unfolding of new leaves?  Instead of staying in the frigid, frozen bleakness of gray winter, how do I soften toward the new life of spring.  

It begins by treating myself like I would treat my neighbor, with some respect and grace.  When I’m not stuck in self blame and degradation,  I can start to soften.  Thoughts that pave the way for softenness include:

-“you did your best with what you knew at the time”
-“you are a good person and you are human”
-“times were different and don’t apply current reality to a different time in history”
-“there’s a lot of arrogance in being in that kind of control”
-“Other people have moved on, you probably can too”
-“What are you grateful for that you’ve been able to do?”

With these questions I can gently invite the 6 year old who I’ve put in the driver’s seat to sit next to me and I can teach him as my adult self takes the wheel and navigates through the sometimes rough terrain.  I can then honor all of who I am and continue the work of transformation that I believe we are called in Christ to be about.   ~ Shawn Mai

Scottish people all over the world celebrate “Burns Night” on January 25th.   It consists of singing, dancing, kilt wearing, poetry reading, addressing the haggis and, of course, a “wee dram”.  I recently witnessed this annual ritual, attended by one of Mr. Burns descendants. One of the poems recited was the famous “To a Mouse” with the line “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew…”.  

The things we want and hope to do usually involve a plan to make things happen or, at least, taking advantage of an opportunity if it arises. We act with purpose to realize our goals, such as  saving money for a house or car, meeting new people to expand our horizons, or even taking a chance on love.
In doing these things we know that sometimes things don’t work out, although they often do. In the course of trying to realize our aspirations we become vulnerable to circumstances out of our control, such as economic downturns, the fickleness of human emotions or, in the present case, the global pandemic.

This is being written from a cruise ship in the Bay of Bengal. Our adventure was cut short just past the half way mark due to the Covid 19 crisis. No more stops other than for fuel and provisions. We cannot set foot off the ship. 
Connie and I have no idea how or when we will get home. We don’t spend much time worrying about it or trying to make arrangements since at the moment there are no known options. The 91 Americans and 16 Canadians on board hope to know more by April 13 when we are scheduled to be back in London.

We have become the mice whose nests have been plowed up. 
I like to think that Robert Burns’ mouse made a new nest and tried again. We are doing the same, optimistically laying plans for future adventures.  Meanwhile, this one continues.  ~ Bill Krueger