Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting Out of the Boat

Lent. These 40 days preceding Easter mark a season of prayer, penance, sacrifice, reflection, and good works. Growing up, my family and I began Lent with Ash Wednesday. Having ashes placed on my forehead at Mass, I would make my way to a mirror after church. The mark of the ashes was meaningful and of great importance. The ashes gave me strength. They gave me hope.

Lately, I’ve been tired. I have lost hope in a variety of areas. But that isn’t who I am. So, as the season of Lent begins, I am going to grab onto this opportunity to get myself back on track. I will work towards conversion and to prepare myself for Easter, for Spring, for the Resurrection--Christ’s and my own.

In the past several months I have slipped. Normally quite determined and strong, I have strayed too far for too long. It’s time to get myself back. My words here may be vague but I know exactly what I am talking about. Perhaps over the next 40 days I’ll share some of those points where I’ve been sidetracked and have gone astray. But tonight, the evening before Lent begins, I am reminding myself that God needs me to keep going on this journey. He’s not through with me yet.

I read a passage in my devotions book. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”. (Matthew 21:22). God’s ear is turned toward those who pray to Him in faith. Peter was the only one who walked on water beside Jesus, but he was also the only one who got out of the boat. Until you make a decision to believe, and then act on it, nothing will happen”.

The passage makes reference to the story of Peter and other disciples of Jesus who were sent ahead of Him in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Several hours later in the night, the disciples encountered a storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. The disciples were terrified upon thinking they were seeing a ghost but Jesus told them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Peter spoke to Jesus and said, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." So Jesus invited Peter to join him. Peter got out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. Yet when Peter began to take note of his fear, the wind and waves, he began to sink. Peter cried out and Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught Peter.

I’ve allowed other people, other elements, other influences to interfere with my journey in negative ways. I’ve been sinking deeper and deeper into fear. I’ve allowed wind and waves to halt me. That ends tonight. I am not presumptuous in thinking I’ll be walking on water any day soon, but I am ready for the ashes of this season.

I’m getting out of the boat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Nine Day Stretch

The school day had ended. As I packed up folders of correcting work and put away my school laptop, I looked around the classroom to make sure I had everything I needed. I made sure the noisy heater was indeed turned back on so my room would not be an ice box upon my return, and I left myself a few notes on the chalkboard and on my desk, a strategy I had begun several years ago knowing the strange lost feeling I often have upon returning to work after a stretch of days off. Notes that would answer, “What were we doing in each class before vacation?” and “Where do I begin again?”

Once in the car, I babbled on about my day to my husband as we made our way home. It had been a good day, including great talks with my teens who were remarkably quite on task and full of great insight and appreciation for the day’s lessons, despite it being Friday. I gave Eric the recap of each block and found myself getting awfully nerdy again with my ideas on the authors I was introducing to my teens. I’m not altogether sure why I sometimes feel the need to tell him so much about what I do in the classroom. But today, it was as though I had to get everything said before our commute came to an end, to purge and to be fully empty of any residual “job speak” from the workweek.

Lugging my bag into the house I said hello to the puppy and dropped my things on the floor. Would I look at these items at all during the week before that last Sunday night of vacation? Maybe. Maybe not. Now was not the time to decide. My son met me at the kitchen island. “Vacation”, he said with brightness in his eyes. “Yes! Vacation!”, I repeated with a smile. We chatted briefly about our plans for the first weekend and then went our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon, both knowing the joy that comes with having no set schedule for the evening.

I prepped a light supper and watched some previously taped shows on tv. I cuddled with the pup and received a big hug from my daughter when she too arrived home for the start of vacation week. She too met me with one word, “Vacation!”. It seems we indeed had all received the memo on the word of the day. There was a lightness in everyone’s step. Smiles were plentiful. We were feeling free.

It matters not that we’re doing nothing extraordinarily different from any other evening tonight. It’s simply the peace of mind that comes with having a stretch of road in front of us--nine days of being free to break the routine or to select the routine if we choose. Nine days to sleep a little more, to breathe a little easier, to snuggle or to go off in separate directions, whatever we desire. Nine days to step away or to step closer, to move quickly or to not move at all. The first few hours of a vacation are especially exhilarating. There’s nothing like them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Transparency and Transformation

"Most sculptors make the mistake“, he said, “of thinking of eyes as form and they therefore make them as spherical surfaces. Eyes are not forms, they are transparent, and what one really sees is the light of the soul in them – and that is what I try to give them". ---Walter Russell

When you are someone like me, you look into others’ eyes quite deeply. You read others’ words and look for clues. You watch the way others walk, the way they settle into their chairs, and the way they turn back to face you. When you are someone like me, you crave that light that is within them, and you long not to forget how it feels to have the warmth of that light upon you.

Craving that light today, I settled into the sofa and popped in a movie that I had not seen. I had read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love over a year ago and have had a love-hate relationship with its story. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the film based on the memoir, but having received the movie for Christmas, I decided to give myself over to it today. I’d arrived home feeling depleted. Exhausted from my day, an emotional and mental weariness that has been all too common as of late, I needed an escape of my own. Not about to take off to Italy, India, and Bali to “find myself” as Ms Gilbert did, I decided to live vicariously for a couple of hours.

I began the film and rolled my eyes as she made the decision to leave her husband. I shook my head as she whined to her friend about needing “me time”. But I continued to give Elizabeth a chance. And as she had done in her book, she caught me. Speaking of the Augusteum in Rome, Elizabeth Gilbert says, “We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we're afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked at around to this place, at the chaos it has endured - the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn't been so chaotic, it's just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation".

Perhaps this is where I’m at. A few weeks ago, a dear friend commented to me that he loves my “transparency and my willingness to keep it real”. I was extremely touched by his words and after reading them in his note to me, sent at the end of what had been a tough day, I began to cry. The word “transparency” caught my attention. His remark suggests that I am open, that I allow others to see me, without pretension and with complete accessibility. I hope that it was a compliment; I think it was. But the truth is, I have always felt most alive when I am vulnerable and exposed. It’s something I struggle with, however, but not in the way one might think. Perhaps right now, I am in the midst of crumbling ruins. But it could be that my life is readying itself for transformation. I won’t be abandoning my husband for a trip to learn the power of good food and meditation, but I will remember that “to lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”.

Always a bit desperate for the light of the souls I see in the eyes of my loved ones, perhaps it is time for me to sculpt a new form. But I’ll keep it transparent, for to be any other way would make me unrecognizable to all.

"God's not interested in watching a performance of how a spiritual person looks and behaves. The quiet girl who glides silently through the place with a gentle, ethereal smile...who is that person? It's Ingrid Bergman in "The Bells of St. Mary's" – not me. God dwells within me...as me". --Eat, Pray, Love