Hyperichius said, ‘Keep praising God with hymns, and meditating continually, and so lighten the burden of the temptations that attack you. A traveller carrying a heavy burden stops from time to time to take deep breaths, and so makes the journey easier and the burden light.’
~The Desert Fathers
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
While out on a walk into the nearby national forest, I saw a doe. Off in the distance, a fleeting moment as it saw me about the same time and bounded higher up the hillside and behind some brush. For many that’s not exciting news. Especially for those who live in relatively rural areas.
Deer are common in much of the country, and yet, for me, it was exciting enough to pull out my phone and text Amy, “I saw a deer!” In the twenty years since I’ve been a regular in these mountains, I’ve never seen a deer.
Most of the other wildlife around, I’ve seen. Squirrels, both gray and ground, coyotes of course, all kinds of birds, bobcats, bears (in the last couple years), even some bighorn sheep when I was camping near the peak of Mt. Baldy and San Bernardino flying squirrels, which would land on a bird feeder at my parents house in the middle of the night and not be bothered when I’d turn on the light.
But I’ve never seen a deer up here even though I’ve seen deer in many other places and assumed deer were native to the area. I’ve long suspected that it has to do with the really huge fires these mountains had in 2003 and in 2008, pretty much encircling the mountain communities with their devastation. Like in Bambi, the deer were driven away.
Then, yesterday, I saw a deer, twice even. Maybe the same deer, as I saw it once while walking up the trail and then again on my way back.
The other day we were watching a movie as a family and I looked up out the kitchen window and saw a hummingbird at the feeder, a nice comforting sight, which encouraged me because I had forgotten to refill it, so hoped the hummers hadn’t given up on me.
Back to watching the movie—Age of Ultron—and then saw more movement outside. Another bird at the feeder, but not a hummingbird. An acorn woodpecker? That’s not a good fit.
Yeah, the woodpecker could hang on the feeder and maneuver around, but the feeder was made for hummingbirds. I got a little worried about what the woodpecker would do (they’re kind of bullies around here) and yet I was curious all the same. Clearly it realized there was something good to be had but it just wasn’t the right sort of bird for that.
It flew off finally after a few minutes, thankfully not knocking the feeder down or breaking it by trying to get through the ceramic flowers.
That moment has stuck with me since, not so much the bother about the woodpecker but more a growing sense of how much I try to force some kind of spiritual sustenance at times, and in those seasons where I’m just really caught up in frenzies, I add frustration about not experiencing God’s peace or guidance.
In the past I’ve felt guilt, that I’m not doing the this or the that which I know I should be doing or anger, at myself or at God, about the season of flurried demands that I am in and wishing for a setting that would allow me to recover a sense of my self and focus on those tasks that are life-giving rather than life-draining.
I know how that woodpecker feels.
Yet, there’s this regular invitation the Spirit offers. I can’t be a woodpecker trying to get into a hummingbird feeder, I can’t force myself into peace or orchestrate being handed the kinds of opportunities that I think I need to develop the rhythms I want. I’ve tried doing those and will admit that even in the last couple of years as new opportunities for restoration have arisen, I still find myself striking my head against the walls and knocking at the doors that never get answered.
Impatience, irritations, feelings of regret combined with pride-violating experiences of being overlooked in my areas of strength by the gatekeepers. I can get locked into the pattern of “what ifs” or “it could have beens.”
Given the length of my journey in seeking a place of calling this dispiriting retrospective clouds my whole sense of self and depresses my sense of present faithfulness in doing the work I have before me. I hang on, not feeling able or increasingly even willing to keep at it. I wasn’t made for this and I wonder why God shut other doors only to have me stuck on a feeder I can’t feed from.
It’s me, I know, though it took me a long time in my 20s and early 30s to finally realize this, not excusing the circumstances or justifying being mistreated at times, but coming more and more to the realization that while I can’t force opportunities, I can attend to what I say I believe by re-orienting my emotions in an attitude of praise and noticing.
It’s not a quick turn, to say the least. A sea-going cargo ship carries tons and tons of weight, hard to stop and hard to turn once on its way. So too my sense of self and emotional trajectory can get locked into destinations of frustration and despair, yet in the work of God I’m invited to look around and see from a different perspective, to become, to be present with myself in a new way. The discipline of this turning isn’t itself easy, an intentional embrace of faith, from knowing what I should do and trusting that this is actually what, and who, God calls me to be.
In the turning toward praise, in the seeking of stillness, in the letting go of those areas of frenzy and assumed identity that promise so much but leave me hanging, I begin to not only see differently but be differently. The fruit of the Spirit begins to grow and ripen within, I am no longer the outsider to myself and the world I long for but am increasingly the person who I truly was made to be, oriented in God’s perspective because I begin by praising the God who has variously haunted and comforted me my whole life.
I choose the Spirit rather than wanting, ever wanting, the sustenance that seems so sweet yet isn’t available to me.
Do I trust God? I’ll admit that I struggle with this.
Will I praise God even still? That’s the invitation to enter into a posture of trust even with my tangled doubts and memories of being abandoned on the sides of roads and left out of relevant opportunities. If I am who I am made to be in the Spirit, living the day with faithfulness and praising God for what I see and what I am able to do, then I know that this God of life itself can bring the sweetness and fullness into this moment, into this place, into this season.
Come what may, I can experience peace and hope and expressed love that all indeed is well.
God is with us. Do we see and respond to this transforming reality? Or do we want the world to create idols for us that mimic a sense of the divine in fractured patterns of insufficient meaning?
That’s the crossroads for me today and every day.
Life awaits. It begins with praise. Who or what shall we praise this day?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”