Living Peace in a Wild World

Our family returned last week from La Casa de Maria Family Retreat. The theme this year was “Living Peace in a Wild World.” It was a beautiful week: relaxing and exhausting at the same time. I usually come back from Family Retreat full of ideas I want to share, but this time, I struggled. With at least a half-dozen drafts sitting on my desktop, none of them were quite right. Also, it’s summertime, which makes it extra hard for me to buckle down. I have to take care of all my usual responsibilities, but afterwards… my kids are around, the sun is shining, the water is calling. You get the picture. And now it’s Sunday morning, Monday night, Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning.  I hope you don’t mind if I just get the conversation started, even if it’s not as polished as I’d like it to be.

The retreat team had our first meeting to discuss the 2017 theme just days after the election of President Trump. Emotions were high and if we wanted to work together, politics had to be off the table. The retreat wasn’t for another eight months, but we agreed they should remain that way. But at the same time, we wanted to address what is so clearly needed in our world right now – PEACE. How could we and the families on retreat more truly become the peacemakers our faith calls us to be? How could we learn to be part of the solution, instead of the problem?

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Matthew 5:9

Each day at La Casa, we tried to address that question.

On Monday, we talked about how to make peace with others in the wider world by recognizing that what we have in common is far greater and far more important than what makes us different. We can’t hold hatred, prejudice, and self-righteousness in our hearts and be peacemakers. It just doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to hold space and grace for difference – of color, orientation, nationality, religion, politics. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but that respectful dialogue is essential. In fact, when we drop our impulse to attack, or condemn, we can actually learn to appreciate and celebrate “the other,” (which obviously makes for a more peaceful world). The day ended with this great reminder from Heineken.

On Tuesday, we explored how we can make peace within our families by recognizing that we have each been made in the image and likeness of God. We used a quiz to discover our “True Colors:” Good as Gold (reliability and rule-following), Genius Green (justice and investigation), Beloved Blue (relationship and heart) and Optimistic Orange (spontaneity and freedom). Although it was fun to find out more about ourselves and family members, the point wasn’t about identifying our “color.” Peacemaking comes by recognizing that our differences aren’t weaknesses, but rather strengths we can appreciate. Respecting each other’s unique gifts and ways of operating in the world is actually a way of honoring God’s divine plan for difference and diversity, embedded in the very fabric of creation.

On Wednesday, team members gave beautiful testimonies reminding us of this big truth.

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Life is never simple and the more we insist that it make sense according to our own limited perspective and understanding, the less peace we will have. Only the wisdom of the Holy Spirit allows us to make peace with the paradoxical nature of life. The major themes of the gospels were alive that morning in the stories that were shared as we heard how the more gifts we’ve been given, the more likely we are to squander them, that losing everything can make us more willing to give it all away, that tragedy can bring reconciliation and that sometimes, death can even bring healing.

Remember the line from the hymn so many of us sang when we were small from the prayer of St. Francis?

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We might still sing it in church to this day, but have we ever considered that we can’t give what we don’t have? Peace can’t begin with me, if I don’t have it in the first place! So on Thursday, I invited the retreat community to consider what it means to find inner peace, beginning with our own bodies.

Too often, we think of science as something separate from our faith. Our churches haven’t done us any favors on that front either, but if we believe that God is our Creator and that we are beautifully and wonderfully made, then we can see how we are biologically hard-wired to make peace.

In conflict, our heart rate elevates; our muscles twitch and tense, and our breath gets really shallow. That’s how our bodies respond to stress – courtesy of the Divine wisdom of our biology. Yeah for the flight-or-fight instinct! Because of you, we survived as a species! But in a world that moves so fast and is so full of tragedy and trauma and conflict, our bodies are on the verge of high alert all the time. Conflict and stress are the air we breathe.

But we have also been given a gift in our ability to calm our central nervous system, particularly by controlling our breath. When we slow down our breath, when we make it deeper and longer, we also change the state of our bodies. We are creating peace within, which gives us a lot more freedom to decide how to react to things. That’s Divine wisdom we don’t hear nearly enough about.

I began with a guided breathing meditation from Plum Village for the little ones and then I asked everyone else in the room to chant with me. I knew it was a risk, like nothing we had ever done before, but chanting is an ancient part of our faith tradition. For thousands of years, people in in religious communities have chanted the Psalms, multiple times a day. And if you are a part of the evangelical tradition, you might think of chanting as the proto-type of the modern-day worship experience – where a worship pastor repeats the same low, steady chorus over and over again, so the whole congregation can find the same rhythm of breath and sound and experience the same emotions. Chanting allows us to regulate our breath, slow down our heart rate, and create a peaceful place within ourselves.

We used the most famous lines from Dame Julian of Norwich, the medieval English mystic.

All shall be well.

All shall be well.

All manner of things shall be well.

The response blew me away. I had hoped to get a few people chanting with me, but the whole room participated fully for several minutes. And I’ve heard from quite a few people that they’ve kept it up since they’ve been home! And to get the benefits, it doesn’t have to be chanting; any type of intentional breathing during prayer, singing, yoga, sitting, or meditation will help us increase our experience of inner peace.

One of my favorite quotes about peace comes from Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, an artist, activist and writer who was killed during the Holocaust.

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Creating peace within ourselves an essential part of becoming a peacemaker, but it’s too often neglected. I think that was one of my main takeaways from family retreat this year.

We can get so focused on making peace that we forget to be peace.

A peaceful presence will do more to change the world than any activism we might take on.

I want to close with this reflection on peace offered by a young woman at a church service I attended. She began with John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And then she read her poem:

Peace is…

Gentle breezes

The sound of slow, quiet breathing

The waves of the ocean

Peace is…

Standing steadily on a balance beam

Peace is…

The sound of the turn of a page

The softness of old paper

The quiet of a library

Peace is…

Silk, rubbing soft against your skin

Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer says, “The things that have saved us are still here to save us.”

Peace is…

Snuggling someone you love

A crackling fire

Cozy socks

A warm mug in your hands

A kiss on the forehead

Peace is…

Someone who holds you while you cry

Peace is…

A garden

Fresh air

Sunrays coming through clouds

Making a daisy chain

A butterfly, coming close enough to touch

Lying under a tree and looking up through the leaves

Braiding long hair

Peace is…

The feel of a hug

Peace is a balance between light and dark, happy and sad, warm and cold, fire and water. It’s at the center of a wheel of opposites.

I was blown away that this almost-child was so attuned to what slows her down, unites her heart with God’s heart, makes her feel safe and content, in harmony with herself and the world around her. She cherishes all that brings her peace and honors it in the telling.

When was the last time you felt at peace in your own body, in your own home, or in the world?

That’s my invitation to you this week. Take some deep breaths. Come home to your own body. Let your mind wander.

What and where and who brings you peace, so you can be a peacemaker, first and foremost at peace yourself?

If you are as brave as the young poet, share three places of peace you experience on a regular basis here, or on my Facebook link!

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The Third Word: PERSISTENCE or the Art of Showing Up in Three Parts

 

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I feel a little sheepish to be introducing the third word in this series, PERSISTENCE, after a three-week delay. However, without PERSISTENCE, there would be no #Signs of Love at all, much less this much-delayed post.

(You can catch up here with the first two words: COURAGE and ENCHANTMENT .)

Part One: The Background

I love the practicality of this word. According to Rob Bell, PERSISTENCE is the engine of just about everything. Nothing in the world would get done without it. Books wouldn’t get written; companies wouldn’t last; marriages would fall apart. The fact that we exist at all is due to our evolutionary drive to just keep going. A spark might get us started, but without PERSISTENCE, we’d stay right where we are.

Of course, we need to find that spark in the first place, that particular something worth our time and effort. Rob Bell introduced the word ikigai, a Japanese word for “that which gets you up in the morning” to describe that impetus. Once we find that passion, or purpose, PERSISTENCE will follow. Sure, setbacks make us want to give up, but when we find ourselves lagging, we can return to that original question. What gets me up in the morning? People give up, because they are pursuing something other than their ikigai, or they don’t what it is yet. It is living out of your purpose, that makes you PERSISTENT.

Now, if you are thinking this sounds a little “pie in the sky,” you might be right, which is why it was helpful to have Elizabeth Gilbert there to hit us with the reality stick.

For her, PERSISTENCE is a total grind most of the time. That’s why we call it PERSISTENCE! If it were easy, we would call it “Fun!” and we would do it all the time. But things are hard, so we don’t. Each of us has a history of not following through on people and projects. Our lives are littered with unfinished things – personal and professional – and we can carry a lot of shame about those things. But when we beat ourselves up over it, we tend to believe that we are undisciplined losers, who have never persisted in anything in our whole lives, which LG assured her audience was NOT TRUE!

The third letter LG asked us to write at the creativity conference was from our PERSISTENCE. “Ask it to give you a pep talk,” she said, “and remind you of all the things you have accomplished together – the mundane and the momentous.” That letter would help us counteract the story we tell ourselves about our ability to follow through: “There are many things you do DO. Look at them all.”

Part Two: The Letter

So here is my letter from PERSISTENCE. Much like the others, I find it embarrassing and if I didn’t believe in the power of vulnerability, I wouldn’t be sharing it with all of you.

Dear Ali:

I am your PERSISTENCE and this is damn sure what I want you to know about me: I exist! You are fiercely persistent. I may not be bombastic and loud, but I show up every single day! I get you out of bed in the morning to pray, to learn, to stand before God, to make breakfasts and healthy lunches for your family – all before 7:00 am. To kiss and hug your kids, even when they are bugging the crap out of you. You make your family food – you shop and prepare it. You take care of the house and the laundry. You exercise. You raise good kids, the hard way, in ways that no one else sees. You remember other people’s stories, even the details, and you follow up with them to see how they are doing, because it matters to you. You write thank you cards for goodness sake! You read hard books most people haven’t even heard of and then you connect them to your life and try to make them relevant to others. You prioritize your marriage and the romance that sustains it. You willingly choose to hang out with 14 year old girls on Tuesday nights and you do it all with a smile on your face and Love and joy in your heart. You are disciplined enough to know that your own happiness doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t contribute to the happiness and wholeness of others.

You’re welcome,

PERSISTENCE

Sigh.

At the time, I felt proud of my list. Today, it feels silly.

In part, that’s why it’s taken so long to publish this essay. I was all set to go, then Alton Sterling was killed, then Philando Castile, then the Dallas police officers. I didn’t know what to say. What difference in the world does my own little PERSISTENCE make in the face of a world gone mad? Last week, new waves of terror began: Baghdad, Nice, Germany, and then more violence in our own home: Baton Rouge, Kansas City, Miami. Where will it be tomorrow? What could I possibly say?

Almost nothing, except this.

Part Three: The Love

Through obstacles and distractions, victories and heartaches, PERSISTENCE is the virtue of showing up; it is the ultimate act of “keep on keepin’ on” and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit. That is what I re-learned about PERSISTENCE last week while Tim and the kids and I were at Family Retreat.

As I prepared my talk for Thursday morning, I remembered my true ikigai. My purpose on earth (and yours too ultimately) is to Love. Over the course of my lifetime, my ikigai will take a hundred different forms, but currently it means making meals, hanging out with teenagers and writing this blog. And as much as my FEAR and ego like to tell me otherwise, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. Thank God PERSISTENCE is there to remind me that I just have to show up and do what I do.

The theme for this year’s Family Retreat was “Love is…” and I had asked them to call my talk, “Love is Fearless,” but with everything happening in the world that title didn’t really work for me, because choosing to Love is actually pretty scary and no matter how much we Love, we will still be afraid. The world is a scary place and bad things happen to good people –Loving and kind people. But Love allows us to face our fears and act in spite of them. Love means doing what is necessary to create more wellness, more wholeness, more HOLYNESS for ourselves and those around us – in our own home and in the world.

Love is what we were made for and Love is what we are here for.

And we know that to create those things – health, wholeness, holiness – we have to show up! Of course, we’re happy to show up for the good things, but we’ve got to stay put for the hard things too – the things we’d rather NOT show up for, the ones that involve pain, disappointment, embarrassment, and hard truths we’d rather lie to ourselves about. There are many things in our lives we’d like to run away from, but that’s not Love, because it lacks PERSISTENCE.

On the first day of Family Retreat, I read the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 on Love. Maybe you’ve heard it before? It goes something like this, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” If you’ve never read the chapter, dig in, because it is good stuff.

The Love that Paul describes is not the wimpy kind of Love we’re used to giving and receiving. This is next-level Love. This Love is MUSCULAR. It is ROBUST. It is HEARTY. It is PERSISTENT. This Love is COURAGEOUS.

We need look no further than Jesus on the night before he died to see the COURAGE and PERSISTENCE of Love. Was he afraid in the Garden? Absolutely. He sweated blood. I don’t think any of us has ever been that terrified. And what did he ask of God, the ultimate source of Love he had come from, drawn on and trusted in his whole life? In that moment, Jesus asked for a pass! He was afraid, like you and I would be, and he asked to not have to show up. He said, “If it is your will, let this cup pass from me.” And then what did Jesus do?

He showed up! He got up and he walked out – unarmed, and vulnerable – knowing he was going to lose his life, his reputation, his friends – and he trusted in LOVE to see him through it – all the way through the pain and the fear and the trauma of rejection and the hardship that he would face in the following hours.

And Love let him walk through it. That’s the part we wish weren’t true. When Love wins, it can still feel like losing.

Love doesn’t excuse us from anything, but Love allows us face ALL things – with our heads up, even as our hearts and sometimes our bodies are battered. When we choose to Love as Jesus did, all things can be redeemed. I believe that with all my heart.

Thank you, PERSISTENCE, for reminding me what I’m here for.

Today, if nothing else, I will show up to Love.