Exile

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This morning I awakened in the kind of pain that makes it difficult to move. I knew what it was, knew what was needed, and so for the second time in ten years, I called in to work to let them know I would be staying home today. I’ve been resting, using ice, and stretching. I am doing better—still moving gingerly, but better. My friend Shelly says that if we neglect our Sabbath time, sometimes we will enter into a time of forced Sabbath. I must admit this feels good—to stay in my PJs late into the morning, listen to my body and heed its call.

The truth is, work has been hard lately. Just yesterday I suffered a bit of disillusion after an exchange with some of my colleagues. Sometimes a system can feel too big to change unless we work together, and often the people we serve take the brunt of this kind of stagnation. Sometimes a system can feel so big that individuals get caught up in their own agendas and resist working together for change because it might require much. I feel myself being pulled toward this way. Yesterday, in a very small way, I felt like Jeremiah—my voice falling on empty ears. It was a hard place to be and I didn’t like it. So, this morning I am resting my tender heart, collecting the manna of this moment.

Eugene Peterson defines exile as “being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with.” Of course, he was speaking of the Jewish exiles in Babylon at first, but he is skillful to draw a quick parallel to our lives today. That’s how I felt yesterday. Like I was in exile.

When the Israelites are in Babylon, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem. “Build houses and make yourselves at home,” he says. “Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. … Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

“The aim of a person of faith,” says Peterson, “is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.”

Today it feels like I am hiding from the reality of life. But tomorrow? I pray I will be able to jump back in, to “discover truth, create beauty, act out love.” I will continue in this discovery of what it means to belong to God in this place I do not want to be.

Exile.

 

On Sleeping Trees and Sabbath-Keeping

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Last week I read an article about a study that indicates trees may actually sleep at night. Scientists have discovered that from about two hours after sunset to right before sunrise, a sample of trees studied drooped their branches and leaves about four inches in a posture of rest.

The researchers hypothesize that this droop is either caused by a loss of water pressure inside the trees due to the absence of photosynthesis at night (turgor pressure), or they speculate, trees may have a natural circadian rhythm—just as humans do. That means, the tree was designed to need rest.

Apparently, and this is something I’ve not given much thought to but it makes perfect sense, circadian rhythms in plant life are well documented and known. But until recently, we haven’t had the technology to study a plant as large as a tree.

Why does it surprise me that science is discovering how much of creation has a built in need for rest?  I read about the drooping trees at a time when I am struggling to find more rest in my life. This morning, to remind myself how I have managed this in the past, I re-read the chapter on Sabbath from my book Playdates with God. I thought I’d share a tiny portion of that chapter here—a gift reminder for me and for you.

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I remember long afternoons under the shade of the apple tree—cooling our tongues with the juice of green apples, drifting in and out as the sun played chiaroscuro over eyelids. And I remember the scent of summer rain through open windows as my little brother and I lay whispering on my bed—waiting for our bodies and minds to drift into our afternoon nap.

Rest.

As I gently touch these memories with the finger of my heart, a pit of longing wells up inside of me and I wonder, when did I forget the way the slowing down leads me into the arms of the Father?

My Jewish friends would not be surprised at this tender ache that pulses inside of me. “You are missing the keeping of Sabbath,” one tells me. “Your life is too busy. How can you hear the voice of God amidst all that noise?” He believes this longing for rest is built deep into my spirit; he believes God put it there. Indeed, Judith Shulevitz in her book The Sabbath World, tells us, “[A]t the core of Sabbath lies an unassuageable longing…”

It is a longing, she goes on to say, for something that is unattainable. For, in this fallen world we live in exile—separated from a perfect union with God or with one another. Yet, in Sabbath-keeping we experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come.

…  And so I began to sit with the longing. I started small—Sabbath moments. With each setting sun I would gather a bit of the day together at its edges and be still. Light a candle, play some music, contemplate beauty, and meditate on the pure and lovely things in my life.

These moments took me back under the apple tree—looking up through the branches at the clouds moving slowly across the sky. And I felt the promise of new life; the hunger was sated for just those short moments.

The rabbis speak of the additional soul that is granted on the eve of the Sabbath—the neshamah yeterah. In his beautiful book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “Neshamah yeterah means additional spirit. It is usually translated ‘additional soul’…Some thinkers took the term neshamah yeterah as a figurative expression for increased spirituality or ease and comfort. Others believed that an actual spiritual entity, a second soul, becomes embodied in man on the seventh day…”

This is a soul which is all perfection, he says, and when the Sabbath day is over, this soul ascends once again into the heavens from which it came.

I do not know about such things. But when I remember those Sabbath moments from my youth—and when I capture them now in this old skin—I am tempted to receive this rich lore into my heart. For, those moments are counted the sweetest in my mind and are perhaps the closest to perfection I will ever come.

**This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

Winsome: An Invitation

Winsome

[win-suh m]
from the Old English wyn (joy) and –sum (some).
sweetly or innocently charming.

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The first time I met Kim Hyland we were preparing to climb a ropes course that ended in a zipline. We were on the eastern edge of Nebraska, at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, and we were brave. I didn’t get to talk to Kim much at that retreat; just followed her hand-over-hand up the ropes. But two years later, at the second Jumping Tandem Retreat, I went to her breakout session. In that session, Kim shared about her struggle with perfectionism and finding healing through surrender. As I listened to her open her heart up to our group, I thought back to our zipline adventure and pondered how hard it must be for a perfectionist to abandon control that way she did that day.

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Brave.

Kim often speaks about how embracing brokenness has opened her to joy in ways she never imagined. At the time of that second retreat I had just released Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World a few months earlier. I was still tenderly testing the waters of sharing that part of my story—this discovery of wild joy in play. When I meet a sister who has lived that discovery, a kindred who holds fast to wonder for dear life … well, the heart sings in recognition. That’s how it has been with Kim.

I was thrilled when she asked me to be part of Winsome, the retreat she founded that is held in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. I’d love for you to join us in April. If you’re wondering whether Winsome might be a good fit for you, read this. Here are some thoughts from other women about the retreat. Visit Kim at her blog to get to know her a little better. Maybe I’ll see you there? The special earlybird registration rates are going on now, until 1/29. Read more about Winsome here and let me know if you are attending. I’d love to sit on the porch with you, sip tea together, and breathe deep the joy of the Lord.

Playdates with God: Yes to Sabbath Moments

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My playdates have been small lately, but rich. So many things tie me to the house—this ever-busy calendar of ours. This is the in-between time, the time of waiting for summer’s exhale when the earth and I can breathe a deep sigh.

For Father’s Day last year, the boys bought their dad a hammock and isn’t that just perfect? It’s where Bonnie and I have been grabbing our dates with the Father lately. Every afternoon or early evening we recline under the Maple tree, listen to the meadow grasses offer a shooshing to the wind, and memorize the way light falls through reaching branches.

Bonnie stretches out beneath the cupping cloth; she finds a stick to chew or digs for grubs in the grass. And I just listen. The sounds the ear tunes out in the course of a day amaze. It is more than birdsong; there is the steady ticking of metal on wood as the wiry fence gives sway, the sounds of distant traffic, the bark of a dog, squee of a young child … and if I listen closely, I can hear the buzzing of my friends the honeybees.

When I was a girl, this was what summer looked like. Exhausted by the spending of all those long, hot days, my sister and I would rest on our backs in the high grass, stare up into the sky, and study the clouds. This was true extravagance, I know, and how my heart longs for that kind of freedom once again.

In his book My Bright Abyss, poet and essayist Christian Wiman says, “To be innocent is to retain that space in your heart that once heard a still, small voice saying not your name so much as your nature, and the wherewithal to say again and forever your wordless but lucid, your untriumphant but absolute, yes.”

This is what the Sabbath moment restores to me. Innocence. A naming of my true nature. Space to say yes to a God who is always asking.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

There is No Hurry

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I move through the days as a series of slow steps, a circling round and round again. The rhythms repeat and sometimes I feel the weight of the earth laboring in its turning. When each day melts into the next I know it’s time to change direction, time to shift the gaze and trip myself up.

Last night I went for a run, starting over again, as I have been on a rest to avoid pounding this tender heel. Who knew plantar fasciitis would take so long to heal? I’ve been doing the stretches and taking ibuprofen but still, some days the pain makes me walk funny and I feel old and fragile. Finally, I could not wait another day to get outside and feel the sun on my face again, pain or no.

So I lumber along and I am aware of the long break from running in my lungs and once again I rail against the injustice of it all, drive my body all the harder, feel my muscles protest against this sudden demand after the long holiday, and there is an odd sort of pleasure in this pain. I am on the edge of despair as I approach the steady rise of a hill lifting up before me.

I have forgotten that I do this thing for pleasure, that it makes me happy to explore my little valley on foot, that I feel good in the doing and for the doing. This doesn’t feel good. Frustration at the loss of months and years of conditioning runs alongside me, when I hear a voice in my head clear as a bell:

There is no hurry.

These words fall like a stone into the middle of my striving, then lose their weight and float before me like a feather. Suddenly, I feel lighter too.

There is no hurry. Aren’t we all heading in the same direction? There are things I want in this life, yes, good things. I run toward them blindly, sometimes. And I forget what is best. I forget to see the way the sunlight falls, all golden in its descent behind the hills. I forget to hear the invisible sparrow’s song from his secret place. I forget the pleasure of studying the cracks in the pavement, how water flows into the lowest places.

There is beauty in the repeating rhythms of every day, if I slow to see it. I, too, will bend low. And be quenched.