Perfect Moments

We are rich, and everything which we possess is a gift and a sign of the love of God and the love of men, it is a continuous gift of divine love; and as long as we possess nothing, love divine is manifested continuously and fully. But everything we take int our own hands to possess is taken out of the realm of love. Certainly it becomes ours, but love is lost. . . the moment we try to be rich by keeping something safely in our hands, we are the losers, because as long as we have nothing in our hands, we can take, leave, do whatever we want.  (Bloom, Beginning to Pray)

Today was one of those gorgeous Texas spring days. There was bright sun, a cool breeze, and no bugs. Zenie and I walked down by the river and had a picnic lunch. She had on her old sun hat, pink tutu and green rain boots. I was wearing one of my grandmother’s old blazers and a new pair of dangling earrings. We ate left-over pizza by the water and watched the ducks and turtles. Zenie made up silly songs. Every moment was perfect. God’s richness and love was evident.  I wanted to stay there, in that place, sun and ducks and songs and never let it change.

These moments happen from time to time.  They used to be reunion lunches with old friends or late night talks around the table. Now often they are the precious cuddles  on the couch with my little girl or  quiet dinners with Michael.  They are times when the world just feels right.

My problem is that just when things feel perfect a tension begins to build in me.   I want so much for nothing to change, for things to stay exactly as they are that I try, as Bloom says,  to take the moment into my hands, to possess it, to make it last. This tension sometimes is so strong that I end up ruining the moment that I could never have truly captured in the first place.

Of course, sometimes I’m just the opposite. Zenie is sweet and hilarious and I am so caught up in all that I have to do I don’t notice her. The world around me is irrelevant, I am living in the future, or at least in my mind, running through my to do list and missing out on what is right in front of me.

I love being a mom of a toddler and I want so much for my darling little girl to stay as sweet and little as she is right now. Sometimes each moment of growth feels like a loss . Then sometimes I feel like I need to just close my eyes and make it through, to plunge ahead and not stop to look around.

I think part of what Bloom is getting at is that we have to live right now. Not in an imaginary world of what may come, not in  trying to stop change from changing and not in the past.

My little girl today is not who she was yesterday (really for those who are around toddlers, you know it is true). Life must be lived in the present, no amount of thinking about the past will actually take me back in time. No worry about the future will get me there sooner. I only have right now. I can cherish it. I can breathe deeply and enjoy the sun and wind and the snuggles. I can know that God is there and his love is there in each moment.  And then as time moves on I have to let it go and live in the next moment as it comes.  I can’t make my girl stay little but I can enjoy who she is each day. And I can make each day fuller by keeping my mind here, on this time, not reciting an argument from last night, not planning one for tomorrow. Just being there in the sun feeding the ducks, enjoying that God gave me that moment to recognize that what I am enjoying are the manifestations of his divine love.

Coming to Terms with my Inner Two Year Old

I have a hard time believing that God is real. If God is really in charge and he is really good then why am I suffering and why is there so much misery in the world? These are questions I ask myself everyday (seriously, several times per day).

But if the fullness of light and good is to exist it only makes sense in the context of the fullness of darkness and evil. If things were always good and everyone always got what they wanted then we would all walk around self absorbed and greedy. It takes the potential for loss and grief to keep us grounded and to know what we value and why. Likewise if everything was miserable all the time then we wouldn’t know the difference, we would suffer and hurt but not have reason to hope for more.

The truth is it isn’t necessarily suffering that makes me doubt. My bigger problem is my I think I know more than God.

I want to have a second baby as much as anyone wants anything. We are good parents, healthy and have a great family, it doesn’t make sense, why would God keep this blessing from us?  There are wonderful families that I pray for daily whose children have fatal diseases, why would God let this happen?

But as much as I think I know, I don’t really. I can’t see the past or the future. Perhaps the heartache of infertility will make me the exact sort of mom that my daughter needs. Perhaps another pregnancy would lead to health complications and not allow me to raise the daughter that I have?

Yet I stand before God and stamp my feet and say “Please let me have what I want, why won’t you let me?”

I pray like Bloom says, with passion and eagerness not because my heart is stirred for God himself, but because I desire to get my way in the world.

Taking a step back, this scenario feels familiar. I remember Zenie this morning wailing, crying, stomping because she wanted milk in a pink cup not a purple one.

I’m not so different when I come before God with my demands and pleas.

“I am the door,” Jesus says. Bloom adds “. . .-before you knock at the door, you must realize that you are outside.”   I am realizing that to pray isn’t to list off the things that God already knows that I want, but to recognize that I need God.

Aimless Happiness

Reading Beginning to Pray, I was struck by this passage:

“When I found myself confronted with perfect happiness, a quite unexpected thing happened. I suddenly discovered that if happiness is aimless, it’s unbearable. I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was always something beyond them. But because it had no further meaning and because I believed in nothing, happiness seemed to be stale.”

I relate to this. I find myself always eager for the next thing.

“If I could only finish medical school. If I could only find an amazing husband. If I could only have a child. If I could only be a stay at home mom.”

Desire after desire have been satisfied. Each one is pleasing. But none of them really makes me content. There is joy, but not fulfillment.

I don’t think I am alone here. In America we have so many options to entertain ourselves and occupy our time. We are encouraged constantly to keep up with the latest fashions and trends. With each new desire there is the hope that this will really make me happy.

I wonder what it looks like to seek contentment in each moment. To say “I know I don’t have what I want but I am going to set my heart of being happy with what I have.”

I think Bloom would say that, in itself,  probably is not enough. That just having a good attitude will wear us out. But that we are able to be happy at all times only because God is in all things and as we know God our happiness continues to grow because God is infinite.

Unexpected Conversions

In the introduction to Beginning to Pray Bloom tells a story of his own conversion to Christianity.

“I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion of the prophet of  Galilee was true, and the Centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God.’”

He goes on to say “. . . the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event in history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact.”

In many ways I share this story.  Like Bloom, the liturgical seasons played a role in my conversion. He was brought to a talk about Christ during the season of Lent (the season a few weeks before Easter). For me it was during Holy Week (the week of Easter).  That season, a time of preparation for the church, was for me, a time of preparation for my own change of heart.

My parents divorced while I was a teenager and my world view began shifting. I no longer relied on anything that I had been raised to believe. My thoughts were consumed with skepticism and doubts.  At the same time, I had good friends who were concerned about my spirit.  They were praying for me and bringing me to their church services. But I was distrustful of both of the Orthodox faith I had been raised with and the evangelical teaching I was now coming into contact with.

Seeking to explore all this more I began to read the Gospel of Luke.  I was struck first by how much of what I had heard in both churches was there, written down, 2,000 years earlier. And also with how powerful I found it. Something was stirring in my spirit, though at the time I was only reading out of interest and did not at all desire to be converted.

Alone in my room one Thursday afternoon, a totally ordinary day, I was struck with a sense that I wasn’t alone. In fact I was certain that God was there. I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff. To jump was to fearfully accept God. To decline was to stay on the cliff, to stagnate and die. It didn’t feel like I a choice anymore than it is a choice to breathe. I had to jump.

That night I went to my Orthodox church, and as they always do on the Thursday before Easter, they read the stories that lead up to Christ being crucified.  I was teary eyed and trembling. The story had become real. Now I was part of it.

It has stayed real. In all my doubts I return to this moment. An encounter that I can’t explain but that changed completely the trajectory of my life.

It is at the same time comforting yet uncomfortable to make decisions everyday based on an experience and an understanding of the world that I can’t explain.  But like Bloom says, I am certain that something happened that day and is still happening in me. It is undeniable and so for me Christ in me in undeniable.