Archive for June 2012
What do you do with the flaws in your life? – the stumbles, the struggles, the mistakes? How do you live with the imperfections, not of others (hard enough!), but of yourself? For no matter how hard we try, our bodies, our minds, and our spirits just can’t seem to do it all perfectly. We get sick. We get depressed. We feel overwhelmed. We can’t do it all – at least not for long.
There is a strain within our faith tradition that seems to imply we should be able to handle everything, if we just try hard enough. This is an outgrowth of the old Protestant Work Ethic: just try harder. And so we do. But somehow our lives, in spite of our best efforts, seem to just stumble along sometimes.
In 2Corinthians 4, Paul writes: “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, so that we can see that the power comes from God and not ourselves.” The treasure he is talking about is God’s light and love – a treasure we hold, but don’t create; share, but don’t own. It is a treasure in earthen vessels, not gold or silver, precisely because the cracks and flaws in clay can let the light shine through. Our “cracks” are there because they are part of what make us human, they are part of who we are created to be.
Recognizing and accepting that opens our hearts. We no longer have to live in denial and shame; we no longer need to heed the critical voice in our heads that tells us we are failing. When we embrace the cracks, we embrace our humanity, and we become more forgiving of others, as well. Most importantly, we learn to lean on God.
Below I’ve included an Indian parable about cracked pots. If you drop by the chapel, you can see the earthen pots we have on the table there. I offer both the story and the image as reminders that no matter how chipped and flawed we are, we carry with us a great and holy treasure – just by being who we are.
Thanks be to God ~ Kim
The Cracked Pot:
A Story For Anyone Who’s Not Quite Perfect
A water bearer in India had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master’s house.
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer replied “As we return to the mistress’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path? That’s because I have always known about your crack. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my mistress’s table. Without you being just the way you are, she would not have this beauty to grace her house.”
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Psychologist Rollo May observed that humans are the strangest animals of all because we run fastest when we have lost our way. Professor David Meyers did a six-year study on the sources of human happiness. He was surprised to learn that people who win the lottery are happier than those who don’t but only for three years. After the third year, their happiness declines until, six years after having all their dreams come true, they actually are less happy than the average person living below the poverty line.
Dr. Meyers concluded, “Once you meet your basic needs, nothing you can buy can enhance the satisfaction of your life.”
He might be right, but there are thousands of witnesses every day that try to convince us otherwise. Billboards, television, radio, and Internet ads all try to convince us that if we can run faster so we can buy more then we will, at last, be happy.
The threadbare cliché says, “Money can’t buy happiness,” but I’m not convinced that is completely true. It has bought me pleasure by enabling me to acquire things that I have enjoyed wearing or using. Money also has bought me happiness, but those have been mostly times when I have used it to buy something that I knew someone else wanted.
It makes me happy to buy things for those I love, but the greatest and longest lasting happiness comes from money I give or use to buy others things they cannot afford for themselves but need, things like food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare.
Money CAN buy happiness but not if you spend it on yourself.
Did you know that Christians everywhere are right now, even as you read this, observing the Season of Ordinary Time? “What is Ordinary Time?” you may ask. Well, it is the time between Epiphany and Lent, and then again between Pentecost and Advent. In other words, most of the time. It’s the time when we aren’t on holiday, aren’t preparing for the next liturgical event, and aren’t switching up the colors in church. It’s the time in which we just go about our daily lives, focusing on our everyday faith.
Ordinary Time. It sounds kind of boring, especially since most of us are programmed by a culture that values specialness and encourages everyone and everything to be, well, extraordinary. It makes me think of the Lake Woebegone slogan: “Where all the children are above average.” But I have to admit, I just love Ordinary Time. I love the rhythm of days that exist for the present, without needing to prepare us or point us toward something else. I love the smallness of Ordinary Time; it’s a time when we look for the Presence of God in all the lovely little details of our lives.
I recently received a reading from our good friend, Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough. It reminded me that life and faith are gifts that are given in every circumstance, no matter how mundane. So I share these words with you, as together we celebrate this wonderful, Ordinary Time.
Thanks be to God, Kim
Excerpts from “How to be Perfect”
Get some sleep. Eat an orange every morning. Be friendly, it will make you happy. Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but
don’t forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s
length and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your
glass ball collection.
Wear comfortable shoes. Do not spend too much time with large groups
of people. Plan your day so you never have to rush. Show your appreciation
to people who do things for you, even if you have paid them, even if they
do favors you don’t want. After dinner, wash the dishes. Calm down.
Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible,
go to another one.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.
If you feel tired, rest. Don’t be depressed about growing older.
It will make you feel even older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately.
If you bang your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air
for 20 minutes, you will be surprised by the curative powers
of ice and gravity.
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman. Be good.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, “Water, please.”
Take out the trash.
Montserrat is a monastery located in the mountains about an hour outside of Barcelona. It is renowned for its boys choir, and for a sculpture known as the Black Madonna — one of only a few such representations of Mary in the world. I first visited it 3 decades ago, as a 20 year old college student, complete with backpack and hiking boots. At that time I had been studying in England, and was traveling through southern Europe. By the time I got to Barcelona, I was exhausted and fed up with tourists (yes, I was one, too, but somehow that didn’t count!) So I decided to get away from it all and go on retreat at this remote monastery I had been reading about. To do so, I had to catch a train to the foot of the mountain and take a tramway up to Montserrat. When I got there I was the only tourist around — I was surrounded by mountains, the beautiful church, the songs of the practicing choir, and a deep sense of peace. In that place, I was able to hear the “still, small voice” that has been my guide ever since.
Last month, now in my fifties, I returned to Montserrat. This time I came with my family, among whom is my own 20 year old daughter. I had told them about this place for years, and I couldn’t wait to share with them the ethereal experience I had had. Except now we had to get there by bus — charter bus, which parked us in a lot overflowing with other buses. When we got there there were buildings I had never seen before: two gift shops! — two cafes! — one hotel! — an art museum! — and lots and lots of visitors. It is still a beautiful place, but I longed for what I had once had. After a bit I slipped into the back of the Basilica, hoping to have some quiet time before the boys choir sang at noon. I closed my eyes, and settled into the silence—of which there was none. All around me, school groups and travelers conversed freely, took pictures copiously, and filmed everything in sight. I prayed for quiet — and the voices just seemed louder. I prayed for stillness — and was nearly jostled off my seat by people crowding in for a better look. I prayed to feel what I had felt 34 years ago, and felt — alone. Finally, in desperation, I changed my prayer: “God, help me hear today what it is you want me to hear and see what you want me to see.”
And everything changed. The voices, once distinct and jarring, now seemed more connected. When I listened carefully, not to the words but the sounds, I heard yearning, and hope, and sorrow, and searching — all the sounds of what it means to be human beings, reaching out for something bigger. I was part of that humanity – not apart from it: reaching out for God and being met with love.
Sometimes we need peace and quiet, and a place apart from everyone else to hear God’s voice. And sometimes we need to be open to the place where we are, filled with surprises and irritations and disappointments, and simply ask for God’s help in accepting the new gift being offered today. ”Help me to hear what you want me to hear and see what you want me to see.” The choir still sounded beautiful and the church was still stunning, but everything else was different. So was I.
Thanks be to God.
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