I once read a book entitled, 3:00 A.M. Meditations For The Middle of the Night. I thought of it recently as, in the middle of the night, a little before 3:00 a.m. if I remember correctly, I stood on the balcony of a friend’s timeshare watching and listening to the breaking of the waves on the shore.
I love the ocean. I am probably more at peace near the ocean than at any other time. Standing on that balcony was no exception. There is just something about the water, the waves, the beauty of the breakers, and the wind that is usually present in small breezes or huge gusts.
But as I stood there, watching and listening, I reflected once again about how that constancy of the waves breaking on the shore is much like the presence of God in my life. God is always with me, washing over me, surrounding me, and yet always new, just as the beauty of the breakers is always new and amazing.
It was a fitful night for sleeping, there at my friend’s timeshare, but a fruitful night in other ways. As I was awake again around 4:30 a.m., I once again went and stood on that balcony. This time as I looked out over the shoreline it was immediately evident that low tide had arrived. The receding of the breakers in relation to just an hour-and-a-half earlier was striking. And that prompted thoughts about how God is certainly with us in the high moments of our lives as well as in the low moments, and everywhere in between.
Neither of these thoughts is all that profound, nor likely very original. And yet I share them because they were reminders to me of truths that sustain my life day in and day out. I hope they serve as reminders for you as well.
At a recent book club gathering, a club which usually includes my wife and some of her friends, but to which the husbands were invited this time, the conversation at our table after dinner turned to religion. Some of the folks at the table were Catholic, some were Protestant and one was a Buddhist. It was fascinating to say the least, as those informal, spontaneous conversations usually are. Planned discussions are good too, but they are often thematic, whereas these spur-of-the-moment ones arrive with the freedom to roam anywhere.
We talked that evening about baptism, styles of worship, bringing food for hospitality hours, and, as so often, sexuality and the church. There was no one trying to convince another of something, just a desire to learn, to understand better, in a safe environment.
I wonder how many people would show up if my church offered an open forum where it was okay to ask any question? My only guideline for the gathering would be that you can’t attend if your agenda is to convert people, especially to convert people to your own opinion.
Years ago one of my best friends was a rabbi. We worked together on community projects and interfaith worship gatherings, we played golf (which was nice for both of us since neither of us was particularly good at it), and we talked about religion. Those talks though, like the one the other day, were spontaneous events. It would usually happen that we would have lunch, become engrossed in our conversation, make our way back to his office, and sit and relish the time with each other as we continued to talk. He long ago moved to another city, but more than anything I miss those talks.
It is often said that the topics of conversation that are best avoided are ones that center on religion and politics. Of course, in the months ahead many in our country will be discussing politics, but I fear that much of the discourse will be less than civil. Perhaps we should begin by finding the courage, patience and openness to discuss religion, and then politically focused conversations might not seem so difficult.
If you have a question, I will do my best to answer it. But I may also ask for your understanding or opinion about that same topic, so that together we might both grow from the experience.
Genealogy research has become a pursuit for many, and even a big business to a degree with the software sales and tracing of DNA. I have an interest in my family’s history, and though I never seem to make much time for looking into it, I will at some point go through the documents and photos that I have and likely discover some wonderful stories and people.
Although I do have that collection of photos and papers, I only have five things that belonged to my maternal grandparents. Among those is a small, handcrafted table, a couple of wood-burning creations made by my grandfather, and a Bible that belonged to my grandmother, in her native German. I am grateful to have these items, for they tell me something about grandparents whom I never knew personally, with both of them having died before I had that opportunity. In some ways, I wish there were more things that would reveal more of their stories to me. In other ways though, I am thankful to have this limited number of treasures, because I can actually name those five things.
As I was going through some of my things the other day, I could envision my children not really caring that they had literally a thousand of my things, but rather wishing that I had culled things down before I died. And so, I am trying to give them that very gift. I think I may put in a box the things that I hope they will find interesting or meaningful, and label it as such, and then label the other boxes with words like, “These things meant something to me so I kept them around, but feel free to just toss the boxes when I die.” It’s up to them of course whether they are curious about those latter boxes, but then they probably have enough interesting things of their own without spending time looking at mine.
Most of us have so many things, and often we forget we even have them. They are keepsakes, and so we have packed them away to keep them safe. And, honestly, there are times when the re-discovery of them in a box in the garage is a wonderful experience. There are other times, of course, when we ask ourselves what moved us to keep something in the first place.
If you are a historian, or a biographer, the more material there is to delve into, the better. Who knows what may emerge to fill out the picture of a person’s life, or reveal the deeper history of a place or time. But for most of us, how much do we really need? Each of us will answer that question differently, but for me, I plan to keep going through things and thinning out the number of boxes. And, my church yard sale will appreciate anything I care to donate by way of reducing my things down to less than a thousand.
It is always fascinating to travel. Two friends of mine have been traveling in Europe and posting photos and comments on Facebook, and it is amazing to see and hear about their experiences. It is equally revelatory to travel here in the United States. Recent travels have reminded me of both the uniqueness of our country as well as of how much we share commonalities despite different geographical circumstances.
As I ordered food in a fast-food establishment in Tennessee, I had to ask the young woman to repeat her question of me. Twice I asked her to repeat the question, and finally I got it. Her accent gave me trouble, and perhaps my accent (unknown to me) gave her problems. Then, in another locale, the hotel clerk asked me a question as I was checking out. I tried to make sense of what she was saying to me, but my comprehension was not kicking in. So, I looked at her with eyes that said, “Please ask me again.” She did. And she got the same confused look from me. I think her question had something to do with whether we had enjoyed our stay, but she finally abandoned her attempt to be nice and simply asked if we were checking out. Both incidents reminded me that it is important to listen to one another and that sometimes listening requires extra attention.
In those cases though, I felt that I was indeed listening, but still with difficulty understanding. The questions that remained were two: Had I really been listening attentively? and, Were the other people doing their best to communicate or were they simply repeating things that they said numerous times a day without much thought?
Both questions are appropriate ones, not just when traveling in areas where the dialects may be different, but also in daily conversations at the grocery store checkout stand or at the dinner table. Listening is a gift that we can offer to one another. Striving to communicate clearly is another gift. In our fast-paced world, we frequently do neither of these well.
Who do I need to listen to with more care? How can I communicate more clearly? Both questions are answered in concert with the offering of a gift of time, the time that is necessary to do both well.
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