Thursday, June 17, 2010

choosing life 06/17/10

The area I struggle with most is taking care of myself, my dogs, and my stuff.  I think of it as stewardship.  Out of curiosity, I looked up "steward" on MS Word's thesaurus and in my oh-so-last-century thesaurus in book form.  The word wasn't even in the book (this does not mean computers are better!), and Word gave me only "warden" and "park ranger."  So I will attempt to define the word for myself and in particular to my own situation.  Steward ship is  - whoops, well first of all, it's one word - and it is caring for creatures and things with love and attention.  It is also respecting their identity and separateness from yourself.  You do not go into a task with assumptions, consciously or subconsciouly, about what a particular person, pet, or thing needs.  You keep yourself open, empty of assumptions and expectations for them, and you approach the work (and complete it) with hospitality to the work and to God.  (I am thinking of Henri Nouwen's description of hospitality in his book Reaching Out - wonderful.)  It is a form of prayer when you do the work with an openness to God and to what he might show you as you work, and when you also do the work with love for whatever you are working on.  Evelyn Underhill wrote a number of books about spirituality and mysticism.  In one book she wrote:  "Living the spiritual life is the attitude you hold in your mind when you are down on your knees scrubbing the steps."

I prefer to live like Chester and Ferdinand the bull - just sit in the field all day smelling the flowers.  In my field, there are also books to read and things to do on the computer.  But I also need to work, to participate in life in a more active way sometimes, to care for what I am given.  I can describe stewardship because I have spent time in the field reading about it, and also because I have observed others doing it and have prayed for and received a greater understanding of it.  But that's where it ends.  I do not live it.  But if I am to truly live, if I choose life, I must live it as well.

By the way, stewardship is very different from ownership.  I do not own my life, my dogs (or children if I had them), or my stuff in the sense of them belonging only to me.  I do not have control over what happens to these things, although sometimes I think I do, and others do have a stake in them, partial ownership in a sense, whether or not I choose to share these things and the caring for them.  Yes, I have a car title, and I have papers from the animal shelter showing their release of Oliver to me, but they do not belong only to me.  They belong to God and, in the sense of living in community and being a part of the body of Christ - and a part of humanity in general - they also belong to others.  But the caring for these particular things I've been given is my task, my vocation.

Cleaning the house, walking the dogs, consistently eating healthy foods are all so much drudgery to me.  But I know they don't have to be; in fact, they are meant to be much more than just the duty of doing the task.  I finally began to understand this - the knowing went from my head to my heart - on my 2008 retreat.  At some point in those 30 days and 90 meals, after witnessing the love and hospitality with which the nuns (they use the word sisters) prepared my meal and my place at a table (I ate alone - part of the retreat) I began to understand that you can do this work with love and even joy, and that there is much more to it than just getting the task done.  So I started making my bed every day.  I spent a lot of time in my room at the retreat, and when I started making my bed I saw how that gave me a more peaceful, welcoming space in which to read, write, and pray.  And once I saw it in that way, it was no longer a depressing, annoying chore but a way to give love and hospitality to myself and to God.  And then, when I am hospitable to myself and more open to God, I am better able to show hospitality and love to others.

But when I returned to my "normal" life, I dropped those habits and returned to my usual state of mind and practice when it comes to caring for things, which is hating the work and doing as little as possible.  It is choosing death.  And I am finally ready to choose life as much as I can.  Recently, I took a few steps to help me live this way; this blog is one.  I have also shared this particular struggle (even this I do not completely own) with a few friends and family members and have asked for help (gasp!); to hold me accountable to stewardship and to be my companions on the way by praying for me, checking in with me each week to see how things are going, and doing activities with me outside the house (my field).  And I respond to their inquiries; I maintain communication and communion with them.  Caring for Grandpa has also been a great way for me to practice love and hospitality while doing seemingly mundane tasks.

(If you struggle with stewardship - or whatever you want to call it - yourself, you may find helpful.  A friend recommended the site, and I haven't spent a lot of time on it yet, but my friend found it to be very encouraging.)

Something I observed and appreciated today:  a 50-ish-year-old man walking with a 70-80-ish-year-old woman through a parking lot, holding her arm and talking brightly about the things around them.  The woman's back was very hunched, which pushed her head down so that she could only see the area around her feet.  I only caught a few words that the man said, "There's a...." but I could hear the love in his voice.  On the drive home I remembered that yesterday I watched a younger woman with a very similar back and head position crossing the street.  So when I got home I tried walking like that to see what it was like, and bam, God showed me something.  I hadn't been conscious of being open to him, wondering if there was something I could learn from these women, but to my delight I see that I am doing it now, sometimes at least, without thinking about it.  I saw that I often walk that way myself - I was curious about this strange, different way of walking through life, then I discovered it was familiar.  I look down a lot, especially in the house, because I do not want to see all the things that need to be taken care of.  For this same reason, I've left burnt-out light bulbs where they are and the house is darker as a result (in case you couldn't make that jump from A to B yourself - eye roll).

Okay. Well, it is time to leave the field of flowers for a while and practice stewardship. I will set a goal for myself today: I will do at least 2 loads of laundry, I will take the trash out, and I will replace at least one light bulb. You gotta' start with baby steps; otherwise, you'll get overwhelmed and drop the practice.

I am so thankful for my companions in this way of life.  If you need a companion of your own, I would love to be that for you, with prayer and, if I can, with other things that would help you.

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