Sunday, April 5, 2015

early on the first day of the week

Last night’s rain left a faint scent in the morning air as we made our way slowly to the gravesite. The week’s dust had settled, silenced by the sky’s tears. Yesterday was no day of rest. Evening prayers were bitter. Something told me we were bidding farewell to Sabbath for longer than a week. Faith would never be the same.

We took his body from the cross just before sunset on Sabbath eve. Now, early on the first day of the week, the smell of oil and spices were still fixed in mind, as if we were laying our Rest to rest all over again. We wanted to remember, even if it hurt.

That I could be a cloth, clinging to his body. His death was my death. Where would we go? What would we do?

Somehow, the thought of him still drew me to his side. I felt called, compelled. Where else could I go?

Here I am, walking. The gravesite is in view. I am ready to pay my respects, to offer my devotion to the One who saved my life. I am ready to die. Maybe on the other side he will show me love and hope again. My life can never be the same.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parker Palmer on The Mystery of Depression



I have friends who suffer from depression. This morning, I read these words by Parker Palmer in his wonderful book Let Your Life Speak. In chapter 4, Parker Palmer shares his own struggle with depression. In the midst of his story, he tells of a friend who suffered from depression and he gleans some valuable insight from the experience. I hope this passage provides a glimmer of hope and reveals a pathway to compassionate understanding.  –Troy

……………………………………………

“Twice in my forties I spent endless months in the snake pit of the soul. Hour by hour, day by day, I wrestled with the desire to die, sometimes so feeble in my resistance that I ‘practiced’ ways of doing myself in. I could feel nothing except the burden of my own life and the exhaustion, the apparent futility, of trying to sustain it.
                “I understand why some depressed people kill themselves: they need the rest. But I do not understand why others are able to find new life in the midst of a living death, though I am one of them. I can tell you what I did to survive and, eventually, to thrive—but I cannot tell you why I was able to do those things before it was too late.
                “Because of my not knowing, perhaps I have learned something about the relation of depression to faith, as this story may illustrate. I once met a woman who had wrestled with depression for much of her adult life. Toward the end of a long and searching conversation, during which we talked about our shared Christian beliefs, she asked, in a voice full of misery, ‘Why do some people kill themselves yet others get well?’
                “I knew that her question came from her own struggle to stay alive, so I wanted to answer with care. But I could come up with only one response.
                “’I have no idea. I really have no idea.’
                “After she left, I was haunted by regret. Couldn’t I have found something more hopeful to say, even if it were not true?
                “A few days later, she sent me a letter saying that of all the things we had talked about, the words that stayed with her were ‘I have no idea.’ My response had given her an alternative to the cruel ‘Christian explanations’ common in the church to which she belonged—that people who take their lives lack faith or good works or some other redeeming virtue that might move God to rescue them. My not knowing had freed her to stop judging herself for being depressed and to stop believing that God was judging her. As a result, her depression had lifted a bit.
                “I take two lessons from that experience. First, it is important to speak one’s truth to a depressed person. Had I offered wishful thinking, it would not have touched my visitor. In depression, the built-in bunk detector that we all possess is not only turned on but is set on high.
                “Second, depression demands that we reject simplistic answers, both ‘religious’ and ‘scientific,’ and learn to embrace mystery, something our culture resists. Mystery surrounds every deep experience of the human heart: the deeper we go into the heart’s darkness or its light, the closer we get to the ultimate mystery of God. But our culture wants to turn mysteries into puzzles to be explained or problems to be solved, because maintaining the illusion that we can ‘straighten things out’ makes us feel powerful. Yet mysteries never yield to solutions or fixes—and when we pretend that they do, life becomes not only more banal but also more hopeless, because the fixes never work.
                “Embracing the mystery of depression does not mean passivity or resignation. It means moving into a field of forces that seems alien but is in fact one’s deepest self. It means waiting, watching, listening, suffering, and gathering whatever self-knowledge one can—and then making choices based on that knowledge, no matter how difficult. One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one’s selfhood and resisting things that do not.”







Monday, March 2, 2015

play as my new prayer

Roughly every two years, while we were living overseas, we’d take a summer furlough in the States. The summer of 2009 we knew it was our last furlough because we were already making plans to transition from our life in Spain the following summer. Yes, we planned that far in advance.

By the time our last furlough rolled around, I had put in motion a process to hand off leadership of the church we’d started to a gifted group of people. Basically, I had asked a handful of folks to think about serving in such a way that they would consider themselves to be the group who would keep the church going should anything happen to me and my family. It sounds like a grim way to explain what we were asking, but I wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting themselves into.

“Let’s say I don’t come back from our summer in the States,” I said to each of them. “If you take on this key leadership role, you and the others would keep the church going,” I said. “Think about this during the summer and we’ll talk more in the fall to see whether you’d like to serve in this way.”

So, that summer I was scared out of my boots. What if none of them wanted to take on leadership in that capacity? What if they decided it would be easier to just close up the church when we moved? My heart sank as I thought about the real possibility of this, so…I began to pray.

I was desperate and there was nothing else I could really do. I suspect that’s what most of us do; we don’t start praying, really praying, until we’re desperate.

That’s okay. God knows what it takes and…that’s okay.

That summer, I found that every time I read even the smallest bit of Scripture—even just a phrase or one verse—a prayer would form in my heart. Sometimes the prayer was simply a rephrasing of a Scripture nugget.

I’d read, “God did not send his Son to condemn the world” and out would come “Thank you, God, for acceptance.” Each sentence, each phrase, seemed to call out some kind of childlike reply.

I found myself thinking of these simple prayers throughout the day and they came to me in a “flowing” kind of fashion.

I began to write them down and, after a month of this, I discovered I had filled many hand-written pages in a notebook. As I glanced at them I thought, “Maybe these could help others, too.”

So, I began sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, one per day as a kind of meditative focus. If you’re reading this, you’ve maybe been annoyed by them.  I do apologize if that was the case.

But, for those who actually liked them, I want to say: the time has come for me to call that little prayer project to a close.

It’s hard for me to write that. That one-per-day rhythm has sustained me for about 5 and a half years now. It’s hard to let go of it.

What won’t change is the fact that I will keep praying every day just like that. What will change is that I am no longer making it a habit to share it publicly on Facebook and Twitter.  To be sure, sharing it publicly was a way to keep myself accountable to doing it.  As I shared it publicly, however, I found that people would reach out to say how much they needed that prayer or to ask to talk further. In some strange way, God was able to embrace someone in love through the prayer. So, I kept sharing.

But now I sense God’s Spirit prompting me to “just keep it secret.” So, that is what I am going to practice. I think of it as good soul work.

………………………..

I cannot explain all the reasons why it is good to “keep it secret.” I only know that is what will be good for an indeterminate time now.

I can say that play is becoming prayer for me. An analogy:

When I was in college I had the chance to practice the craft of acting in a rather intense way. That experience transformed me. It buoyed up my spirit on an ocean-depth of God’s creativity, grace, freedom and joy. I never felt closer to God than when I had the chance to get into a part and collaborate with an ensemble.

Doing the best I could at creating a role felt worshipful to me. Acting was prayer. I know that sounds idolatrous to some, but I suspect musicians, poets, and novelists have the same testimony about the relation of their creative process to rich spiritual nourishment.

At any rate, I am convinced that to do something well is to do it as if you are doing it for God.

Anything.

Take cooking: do it as if you are doing it for God and you can’t help but do it well. Not because you have to, but because God is a God of desire, joy, freedom and delight. It is an invitation not a demand, an irresistible invitation in which we get “caught up” in the pleasure of it all.

God claps and stomps a foot in rhythm and everyone gets caught up in the dance, laughing, taken away.

That’s what acting was like for me. Art was prayer. I feel like it’s becoming that again.

……………………..

I’ve had the privilege of leading a small group of people since early November in a course called “The Creative Call”, based on a book of the same name by Janice Elsheimer.

We’re all a group of creative wannabe’s. None of us make a living at art-making, but maybe a couple of us wouldn’t mind that. Regardless, we’re basically a group of folks who have been learning why it’s important to nurture our creative self and how to do that.

A few weeks ago, I got really practical with the group and had them do a short exercise I use when I lead team building retreats. It’s called the “stop, start, keep” exercise. It’s simple but powerful. It goes like this:

“To nurture your creative self, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) stop doing. Next, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) start doing. Finally, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) keep doing.”

One member of the group wrote:

“Stop: The amount of time spent on social media. Start: Doing art with someone else. Keep: reflecting and incorporating my journey into what I create.”

Beautiful! Perfect. Powerful.

I got to thinking: what do I need to stop, start and keep?

…………………………………

The older I get the more I realize that maturity grows in proportion to the wisdom one exercises when choosing between two goods.

As we grow more mature, our soul expands. We can take on more mess because grace has become thicker, stronger.

As grace strengthens, so does our ability to see goodness everywhere and in everything. Even shadows become good.

As I contemplated what I needed to “stop, start and keep doing” I hope you can understand how “prayer” could be in the “stop” category. While I’m not stopping prayer per se, I am stopping the public part of it. Still, choosing to stop prayer was like choosing to stop something good. When I told my wife I was going to do this, she said: "Oh, but don't do that! Your prayers are so good and people like them!"

Well, it's hard to choose this but I know it is good and I am grateful for the experience of it. 

So, now, play will be my prayer. I think it will be that way for a long, long time so I hope my new prayer does not bother you.





Monday, February 23, 2015

the world traveler

for Meaghan, on your birthday

You were 11 months old when we moved to Europe; we celebrated your first birthday in Portugal. During our time in Europe, you attended four different schools and lived in 5 different homes in three different countries. Yes, this spanned 12 years of your life, but I think it is safe to say we got used to living out of suitcases. Here you are, making yourself at home in one.



I remember pushing your stroller over cobblestone streets, uphill to our shared home overlooking the river that opened into the Atlantic. The bright yellow house punctuated the vibrant blue sky amid lush green gardens. The home had no central heat, nor water heat, so we managed to make do with portable propane heaters. When we bathed you we worked out a system so that, when you were finished in the bathroom, the bedroom would be nice and toasty for jammy-time.

There was a large, round glass-topped coffee table in the center of the living room that you had a love-hate relationship with. You loved crawling under it, but when you wanted to stand up, you’d rap yourself on the back of the head and cry out from the sharp pain.

My prayer for you on this your 18th birthday is that wherever God takes you he will lift the glass ceiling and will show you nothing but bright, vibrant colors, warmth, comfort and rhythmic alleyways. May you find a true home in God wherever you may roam—even when living out of a suitcase. May you continue to face adventure with quiet strength and courage.

I love you, Meaghan, and could not be more proud of the woman you have become.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

on the prospect of skipping lent

I don’t know why but, as Lent arrives this year, I find myself especially heavy-hearted. In previous years I’ve understood that Lent involves a certain sadness, but I feel as though I can especially identify with it this year. I haven’t wept but feel as though tears would come easily if I let myself cry. By all accounts I am blessed and should have no reason to feel this way. Nevertheless, I find myself feeling alone. If not for a loving family and friends, I do not know what I would do.

When I pray alone, God seems distant—so these days it takes everything in me to simply utter the words “God bless” and add a name. Because my heart wants a deeper connection in prayer, I pause a second or two after each name and in a simple, childlike way trust that God knows the details of the intercession. Still, believing that God has heard my prayer seems to be nothing more than a stretch of faith.  Praying with others feels fuller to me. Maybe that is because I am borrowing their faith. I don’t know.

I cannot focus on sustained solitary reading, either. I have read Matthew and Mark in the last month but nothing really stuck with me this time. It is more speed-reading than sustained reading. In an effort to read through all four Gospels, I began reading Luke, but now I find myself flipping randomly to the Psalms of pathos for a semblance of solidarity. When I turn to the Psalms I only have to read a few verses and I find it is enough. The writer understands the experience that I call “welling up.”

I want to eat comfort food often, though I’ve managed to keep making healthy choices, thank God.  Still, the desire is there and I am very aware of it.

So, I guess you could say I am simply trying to take it one day at a time these days. I am trying to simply delight in moments: the entrance of my wife into the room, the long embrace of a friend, laughter with a couple on the mend, the smile of my daughter, the earnest effort of my son, the light conversational cadence of dinner guests.

Today, the furnace beneath my office worked a little harder. I know that I should have turned the thermostat down to conserve energy but, to be honest, I just needed a little warmth. The cold bit my eyes on this morning’s walk. Even the dog almost slept through lunch. Winter is tiring.

Sometimes a heavy heart comes out as frustration. I find myself feeling angry too often lately. I get angry at the way we treat each other. I get angry about apathy and indifference. I get angry when I feel overlooked. I don’t like feeling angry, but I have to be honest—that is a real source of sadness.

I know that Lent is supposed to be a “purple” time. That is what I teach…that purple is a sad color and Lent is a time of sadness. But, I don’t like sadness. I don’t want it to linger. I want joy.  I know…I know…sadness plays a role in joy, but how I wish it could be another way!

Pray for us sinners in this, the hour of our need. Pray for me, if you think of it.  Maybe this year it would be good for me to skip Lent and just carry on with Easter.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

"be with us and hear us"


Fire of the Spirit, life of the lives of creatures,
spiral of sanctity, bond of all natures,
glow of charity, light of clarity,
taste of sweetness to sinners—
be with us and hear us.
Composer of all things,
light of all the risen,
key of salvation,
release from the dark prison,
hope of all unions, scope of chastities,
joy in the glory, strong honor—
Be with us and hear us.

-Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179


Sunday, February 8, 2015

the God of the discouraged

Yes, I know what that feels like.
To be forgotten and overlooked.
My work can be seen everywhere,
wondrous and beautiful.
I weave words
in poems and stories,
hoping to make friends,
comfort the hurting,
inspire the deflated,
create peace.
I have poured out my heart
for the sake of others,
to bless—
work sprung from joy and hope.
Oh, that people would see and hear
and lay hold of it,
grow fuller and brighter!

But only a few notice.
I am hidden,
but want to be found.
I feel ready to give up.
I have spent a long time…trying.
Yes, I know.
That is how I got to be

the God of the discouraged.
Take comfort. We are few
but we are not alone.

Shhhh.
Okay, cry.
You are not alone.
You are not forgotten.








the God of the discouraged
by troy cady