Give and Take

It’s not all one way.  There is give and take.  There is the in-breath and the out-breath.  There is the two part pumping system of the heart that makes the heart-beat.  There is the offense and the defense.  There is birth and death.  There is listening and speaking.  It’s not all one way.

Having been made in the image of God, it seems that God wanted there to be a receiver and a giver in all of life. That is part of being in and of the heart of God. And, it seems — the way life works…we each get a chance to stand in the shoes of the giver and the shoes of the receiver. For, the more that I get another 24 hours of life, I have come to know that at some point of life’s journey, you find yourself on your knees (both literally and figuratively) — and when you do, you come to know what it means to be on the receiving end of giving. It’s just the way “Howie” made it. You might ask, “Who’s Howie?” An introduction will help:
My young friend clad in our traditional Primary uniform and a full head of bushy hair with a smile and personality to match. “Hey Sr. Bearss, come sit here by me” said my lunch pal. After a review of the contents of every lunch (including my own) he inquired with dancing eyes that could turn any day from darkness to light, “How’s Howie?”

“Howie?” I inquired. “Yeah, Howie. Your friend. How is Howie today?’ he asked again between bites. I did a quick review of our youngest children, hoping that I hadn’t missed welcoming a new child. Trying my best impersonation of our social worker, I took a different angle, ” Um..can you tell me more about Howie?”

With indignation punctuated with his unique pattern of speech he hopped up and stood straight in front of me, “You know…the guy you are always talking about. ‘Our ‘Faw-der who heart in heaven, Howie by d-ye name’ — you know…that guy… your friend Howie — how’s Howie?”

As he was too serious and concerned about my friend, Howie, I didn’t have the heart to correct him, although the first grader across the table gave it a valiant try. Instead, I assured my young prophet that Howie was doing just fine and I was hoping that he and Howie would also be good friends.

Imagine for a minute that we trusted God enough to call God ‘Howie” — and to expect that God was more present than the closest friend we have. For to be willing to receive — to find yourself in the place of ultimate vulnerability that is required to be in the position of need — is to let down the guards of a well-positioned ego and to have no other alternative than to be willing to receive without a chance of return. Life has taught me a great deal about that in these years in Detroit. To have gone from the ‘giver’ to the one in need. To be on the road with the cross and to have been met by Simon with nothing but need. My friend, ‘Howie’ always seems to bring into my life those who give without expecting a return and who teach me again that in order to make the final shot, someone has to give you the ball.

Of Give and Take. It goes both ways. To let ‘Howie’ be so present that I am confident that I will be given all that I need as my response is one of being willing to give — without counting the costs. It is the brief pause between the in-breath and the out-breath where our hearts are open to the give and the take of life.

Today, Lent reminds us that it goes both ways — let Howie do both for you today — expecting you to both be ready to give and to receive

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted”
Psalm 34

conversion – conversation=?

CONVERSATION minus CONVERSION = “AT”

“AT” latin translation=apud
among, at, before, amongst, beside, ​b​y

​My Lenten Translation=
Conversation before Conversion

Conversation
​Conversion

Many of my greatest life disasters have been the result of my own best thinking. It’s amazing what I can orchestrate with an absence of protein, people and anything that resembles prayer. In these moments, I can create a whole new pothole that appears to be the solution to all of life’s dilemmas….and it all sounded like such a good idea…
One of my lifetime mantras:
My mind is a dangerous neighborhood
that no one should go into alone.
Especially at night

I’ve reflected on the number of times that Jesus had his “people” do several things:
Stop and Listen within
Eat Together
Move to the next place
Act Together

Jesus and the disciples knew who was who. They knew who was the Master and who were the disciples, but that didn’t prevent mutual conversation that led to conversion. The disciples, and my favorite disciple, Mary Magdalene, didn’t start out with the whole thing figured out. They sat on hillsides and had conversations. They asked questions. They challenged the answers he gave. They dared to say that they were afraid. They argued with one another. They worried about what other people thought of them. Conversion happened after the conversation.

They couldn’t predict the outcome before the conversation. You can’t strategically plan for the conversion until after the conversation. They knew who was who but they had conversations where they chose to be mutually vulnerable. It wasn’t perfect. It had unclear benchmarks. When they didn’t get it, he took them back to the hillside for another conversation — and they ate together — and then came conversion.

Conversation before conversion.

Any winning team requires members to be teachable — coachable. There are plays to learn and penalties to face and defeats to learn from. And after the defeat, there is “chalk talk” when the conversation becomes the instrument for the conversion. Conversation before conversion.

Conversation requires not having the answer before it begins — and leaves open the possibility that the most important conversations are neither convenient nor scheduled. Sometimes, it is the five minutes walking to the car with a colleague — or making the coffee — or recycling yesterday’s game — sometimes the conversation to conversion happens because our hearts get a chance before our minds can convince us ‘that nothing good will ever happen with this knucklehead’. Conversation before conversion.

In these moments, some of my best directions have been revealed to me. And…I can’t get my head around the fact that God sometimes needs me to show up so that conversion can happen for someone else…it’s about Give and Take (but that’s for tomorrow)

Today — Conversation before conversion

rebound.reset.respect

​My mother had a way of meeting me right where I was. By the time I was born, she had found a maturity — and the gift of humor. She didn’t need to solve my problems or take away the pain or give me an excuse for being either irresponsible or self-absorbed. She didn’t lecture me with long-winded advice, but always had a story…and it usually happened in the kitchen. She taught me to Rebound…Reset…and Respect — both myself and others, but always being real — remembering that unless you decide to take a shot, you can’t win.

Such was the story the day in 8th grade when my dark and dreary world of “unfair” adolescent gloom met her mid-life questions of meaning. I knew the tone — it meant that the kitchen was turning into her classroom and there was a lesson that would not be resisted. The best way to quicken the curriculum was to be attentive, quiet and forego argumentation (no matter how sure I was that I could win).
(Recently, I have read this teaching of hers on the internet…I thought then that she made it up — more likely she read it in the gospel according to Reader’s Digest. The source is important , but not more important than what I learned that day and have been living for a lifetime).

At moments like this, her instructions were clear, direct and to be followed. With me, the softer her voice, the more she was containing the interior volcanic action. Slightly above a whisper she gave me the list, “Get out three saucepans. Fill each one half-way with water and bring them to a boil.” I followed directions hoping that we weren’t cooking as that could be an all day experience and I didn’t want to lose hold of my misery. While I followed directions, she gathered three items: an egg, a carrot and some coffee grounds.

Then, I felt like I was in English class as I had to describe each one by texture, size and weight. Following instructions, I put one in each of the three pans of boiling water and turned the time for 12 minutes. “Do you see what we are doing here?” she asked with the hand on the hip that I can precisely duplicate. I affirmed my clueless understanding. “Just wait” she instructed. I followed.

After the objects had been sufficiently boiled she asked me how they had changed and with the muffled sarcasm known so well to those of us who love adolescents, I described the change. I knew by the look on her face that I had missed the point. Then, came the teaching that keeps on teaching.

And so in a softened tone and a single tear that crept down her wrinkled cheek she began, “Life…she said to me…brings its share of boiling water moments. One of these pans represents the pain that is caused by others, while another represents the pain that will find you without inviting it and the third is the pain you create by your own actions. The question is what will you do when you hit the boiling water. Will you become like the egg — once full of the possibility of life and now with a tough outer shell, hard on both the inside and the outside. Or, will you be like the carrot –once tough but when the boiling water arises, you become weak and soft. Or, will you be like the coffee grounds and change the nature of the boiling water with your flavor. It’s your choice. The boiling water happens. What you do with it is your choice.”

And then she turned, picked up the keys to the car and left me in the kitchen.

Rebound
Reset
Respect

It’s the Lenten journey…to experience what it means to hit the boiling water moments…to take a moment to reset — sometimes my expectations, sometimes my quick reaction, sometimes my fast judgment, sometimes my confusion about who I am and who God is…and this Lent I have taken on the added practice of Respect. It’s easy for me to relate to life as though it could all be solved in 160 characters or less — to be so sure who is right and who is wrong and to expand the river of divide between “we and they.”

Respect means being able to really shake hands at the end of the game and be the coffee grounds that changes the water. Life, it seems, teaches us the skills to be the hard boiled egg that can’t be broken or the carrot that weakens. The Lenten journey this week, for me, is about making Respect the result of my Rebound…letting the boiled water Reset my heart and open me to having even my hardened adolescent heart broken open by a love that taught my how to face the fire with both a tear and a teaching.

Today….Rebound — Reset — Respect

Thanks, Mom.  I did listen.  It just took me a while to get it.

..of the Fourth Week with the Final Four

Outrageous
“The man born blind replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

Unbelievable
“You were once in darkness, but now you are light. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

No experience. Can’t succeed
“The Lord said, ‘There, anoint him, for this is the one!’ “

It only matters if you get caught.
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.”

It’s all Madness
This Fourth Week of Lent
with the Final Four
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell
what gets you
in the Final Four
and what prevents you
from getting to
the winner’s circle

​It’s the Fourth Week of Lent
with the Final Four

Give and Take
…of conversation and conversion
Give-4 and For-Give
rebound.reset.respect

Now, is the time for the commercial
right before the
final match
when we decide
the difference
between who we really are
and
the mascot that appears from time to time

Now, is the time for the Final Four
before the last brackets are set

Welcome to March Madness
Where the blind see
the lame walk
the fallen rise
and the same message
is available to us

if we are willing to show up
for the game of the heart.

Stay tuned to this station
for the Fourth Week
with the Final Four

19: Listen — twice as much as you speak

Once upon a time…

There was life before Sesame Street…Netflix…Live Streaming and DVR…back in the “dark ages” — some of us grew up with Captain Kangaroo — more like Mr. Rogers than Star Wars– Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans (so named because his jeans were allegedly green, although it was impossible to tell on the black and white 19″ screen) who had a good friend and my personal favorite, “Dancing Bear”

The youngest of five children and born to my parents as their mid-life surprise, I thought of myself as my mother’s cohort. I went wherever she did and filled her world with my chatter. Later in life, it was these early years that cemented our relationship as best of friends. She always seemed interested in my rendition of the latest adventures of my imaginary friend, Jan, and the world through my eyes. Occasionally (likely as she needed just a moment of sanity), she would suggest to me, “I have a great idea — why don’t you go play a game. Why don’t you go and impersonate Dancing Bear!”

I thought that was a GREAT idea. It is important to note that Dancing Bear never spoke. He was silent. My impersonation of Dancing Bear gave her a reprieve from my world of self-expression. And, in later years, she recalled to me with exuberant joy that I was content to dance through the day in silence, but then when the “espacio” was done, she would have to hear about all the things I had been thinking about while dancing.
Side-Note: Now, I just write them…

​Through the course of my life, I have learned and re-learned the importance of Dancing Bear time. We remember the koan: you have two ears and one mouth that you might listen twice as much as you speak.

Such is my work of Lent this week — to listen twice as much as I speak.

For me, Lenten listening begins with impersonating Dancing Bear,putting on the mask of silence…to stop…to cease not only the words that I speak, but the inner conversation, as well. It is to silence not only what I say, but what I think, but do not say. The Dancing Bear of my childhood taught me to stop talking. The Dancing Bear of my adulthood teaches me to stop the chatter within that prevents me from hearing anyone else, including (and most especially) God​.

It’s not easy to listen without expectation of how I will speak. It’s not simple for me to be as still on the inside as Dancing Bear taught me to be on the outside. Generally, it is only a momentary vacation of solitude before I find myself solving the next problem or languishing in the bliss of my imagination as I rearrange the furniture rather than be available to the silence within. But, I’ll take those few moments and delight in them, much as my mother did. And, I think God doesn’t mind if my experience of those few moments of silence results in what I learned so many years ago…there, in the midst of silence, there is joyful dance.

See…those days of black and white small bulky screens weren’t so bad…

24: The Slow Ebb of Change

The problem with change is that it takes too long. I remember telling my mother that I thought the childhood story of the Rabbit and the Tortoise got it wrong. The Rabbit had more fun! Winning without excitement wasn’t my objective..


​One of my spiritual teachers told me this story for a rather obvious reason:

In the midst of a Michigan winter, a mid-aged couple decided to celebrate their 30th anniversary by escaping to the small cottage in a Southern state where they had first honeymooned. They looked forward to it for months.

As life would have it, the woman’s work life prevented her from departing on schedule, but her husband went ahead, promising to get things ready and send her a message when he arrived.

After his arrival, he did as promised, only his 50-something fingers slipped while sending the message on his i-phone. One letter error in the email address meant that his message did not arrive in the mailbox of his wife, but instead it was sent to a woman whose husband had died the week earlier. A Pastor, the man had lived an upright life and his wife was deeply held by grief.

The message read:
“Darling. I miss you more than you can imagine. Hurry to me please. I know that you will be here sooner than you thought. It’s so lonely without you. Things are different here. You will be pleased to know there is internet here.

Be prepared. It’s very hot down here.”

Love, your Beloved Husband

I got the point…Speed and Care are often the necessary elements of change. Intention and deliberate action take attention. Change requires focus and focus requires me to slow down — pay attention — and be ready for the surprise delivery.

Making Change means being willing to give attention.

And WAIT

What change of attention will you have today?

25: Making Change

I might be the only Religious of the Sacred Heart who was Employee of the Year at KMart — I made a lot of change at that cash register. KMart did a lot of things for me — the Assistant Managers saw something in me that my High School did not. When I was told that I was likely not college material, they saw otherwise. And one of the sentences in that recommendation cited my speed and accuracy in making change and being a change-maker. I learned a lot at KMart…and making that change paid for a good portion of my high school, college and graduate school tuition.

At the time, I thought being a change-maker had to do with the quick mental calculation between what was given and what was returned. But, life has taught me that making change gets harder as the years increase. Like the fast snow we had this week that left me following the ruts of the tires of the car before me, I follow the pathway of the patterns I have created. Some significant and some insignificant. But, making change has become more difficult.

It’s Lent: Making Change

I love big change that transforms systems and creates challenge. I am not such a great fan of small change. Time and life have taught me that big change is the result of small changes repeated over time. Like the success or failure that is the logical conclusion of the next right choice, change takes time. Eating breakfast before the coffee. Moving the step counter to my right wrist instead of the left. Putting the car keys in the left pocket instead of the right. Getting gas before it is a crisis. Answering the email that I don’t want to open. Eating the vegetables last like dessert instead of first to get them over with. Listening without deciding that I don’t agree before the person speaks. Watching the commercial instead of flipping to the opposite basketball game. Speaking when it would be just easier to let it go. Stepping on the treadmill instead of letting the knowledge of what it will take to get back to where I was stop me. Believing that one small action of change matters.

It’s really simple — it’s just about making change. I didn’t think it would open doors for me — I just thought standing at that cash register would help my parents pay for my high school tuition — it was just about making change. It still is.
Authors Note: When you send a post and schedule it to be delivered…it’s always good to hit “publish” — I have a couple extra “change-makers” that have been sitting in cyber-space, so it’s not that I can’t count…only ‘user error’ that needs to change…

29: Second Sunday of Lent

I was visited by a Middle School student last week. We were solving all the problems of the world (or at least the question of non-uniform attire on St. Patrick’s Day) …when she glanced behind me and asked,

“Hey Sr. Bearss…what is that?” — I turned and wasn’t sure which of the countless things (or piles) she might be referencing.
“That grey thing. Is that from a museum?” she asked intently.

“This?” I asked as I stood up. She nodded affirmatively.
...(I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry)...”This is a telephone.”

“Really…” she was both intrigued and fascinated, “how do you talk in it and where do you listen?” Trying to appear calm, cool and collected, I pointed out the features of my classic 1998 desk phone.
“Where, she pondered do you dial — and how do you text?” her curiosity and enthusiasm were palpable.

I gave her the chance to call me (on my cell phone, of course) — and before she was whisked away for her next class, she left me with a line that is framing my next week of Lent…

“Sometime you have to tell me more about that. I love hearing about what you did in the olden days…”       In a split second, I realized that I was now being categorized with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie.

Lent, you see, is all about change
some of it I am aware of — and sometimes like the antique object that I use daily — change happens around me and I have to leap to catch up.

Lent is about making change. Perhaps in large ways that are mile-markers on our journey. I have said some good-byes lately that feel that way — to both people, ways of thinking and attitudes — but mostly, change happens as i keep it very simple and just “make the next right choice”

Today’s gospel — the Transfiguration — teaches me of the inside and the outside of things. To be transfigured or transformed changes the very nature of things and is often transitory — it remains only as long as we need — to be certain that what we have experienced becomes real.
But when the moment has passed, it never really leaves us…because we are changed.

Births, deaths, heart attacks, incredible grace — those moments when life stands perfectly still and for a moment something is transfigured within and around us … and try as we might, we never go back to normal.

Like the phone on my desk that will never be the same — or the day that I realized that God created both the parts of myself that I celebrate and those that get in my way — or the day that those planes hit the Towers in New York and I knew a piece of what it means to lose a child …even if she was my student, not my daughter…or the moment that my niece gave birth as my mother was dying and the paschal mystery wasn’t a concept any longer.

Welcome to Change week — grab that old land line and let’s make some change!

It’s going to be a week like no other!

30: The Trunk of Things

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do to be honored by others. They have received their reward in full. When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. What is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5

No question about it — Lent is an inside job.
It’s almost March Madness — it’s all about the score at the final buzzer.
Lent can tempt me to keep score:  how have done on the fasting, what’s the day count until I see the rewards of feast, what’s the status report…

But, Lent — is an inside job.
Where the invisible is what counts and the inventory on the interior followed by action towards change is what really matters.  I am not a big fan of repetitive actions that never get done.  I’ve never understood why it is so important to fold laundry when the items in question will never been seen by another.  If it’s not about wrinkles, what is the point?

And yet, Lent brings me to the invisible — to go to those corners that are not evident but are the root of things.  To clean out, throw out the attitudes and habits that clutter my ability to have my actions and intentions merge — to clean out the corners and crumbs of the past and leave some empty space.

Today:  Vacuum out the trunk

The trunk of the car doesn’t win awards in the “organize your life” manual.  It falls in the last chapter and is not usually a measure of the quality of self-management.

In my case, it often holds my unrealized good intentions — the bags intended for Salvation Army, the recycling, the box of paper that needs to be shredded, the old gym shoes and blanket covering the possibility of being caught unprepared by winter, and of course…the tool kit that my Dad gave to me when I made final vows — (while others got beautiful candles and touching notes, I got jumper cables…)-as he was concerned that I might be the only nun who could change a tire (definitely not the case).

 

In the sea of papers that constitutes my life and the coordination of digital files that dare me to consider an organizational arrangement, the trunk seems minor. But, it’s the Lent of things.

To vacuum the trunk is to clear out what has been rolling along with me over the miles of recent life and to make it possible for there to be room — for what has not yet arrived. To vacuum the trunk is to create a space between what has been and what will be and to give ritual to feeling those remnants of the past forced into the vortex of letting go. To vacuum the trunk is to be willing to both let go and expect. It is — to do the inside job that the outside might match it.

31: Take the Steps

​”If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that another has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled and then return”
Matthew 5

Words like this leave me like I felt in the middle of the half-marathon — too far forward and too far back. To imagine being completely reconciled and able to offer my gifts without recognition of additional ‘cobwebs in the corner’ feels like the definition of the impossible dream.

During my morning meditation each day, one of my intentions and requests of God is for the grace to move through the day without creating “new material” for reconciliation. It’s a good thing that God’s patience exceeds my own!

I was reminded this morning of one of a story from my dad’s years of aging and slowing. He loved their home, but regretted when shingles took the neurological function of his legs and he was no longer able to use the steps to the basement where the shower was. As I would head down the steps, he would always say to me, “make every step count and never take them for granted.”

I am a step-counter, measuring daily success by the consistency with the 10,00 step mark. Generally, I measure the steps, but I don’t “matter” them. Today, my Lenten practice is different.

Just for Today: Take the Steps and Make them Matter

I can’t do it all in a day … but I can make today’s steps count — I may not be able to reconcile all things in one day, but I can make today’s steps count. I can take the steps … one at a time and make each one matter… and then, knowing today’s steps have mattered, I return to the altar knowing that today’s material…mattered.