Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Consider the lilies of the field

I was reading Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation which is emailed from his Center for Action and Contemplation this evening and came upon the verse, “Look at the lilies of the field.” When I looked up the verse in Matthew 6:28b, I started at the beginning of the chapter and read it all the way through. I am constantly amazed when I turn to the Bible at how I am always led to the verses that I need to feed my spirit right at that moment.

Matthew 6 teaches about being humble, even before God, in prayer. I have to laugh at myself, because my issues with humility are such that I am not humble even when I am just talking to myself. If I’m to be honest, I must admit to spending time each day reflecting on what I have done, written and said that I am certain was clever, smart, or just darned good. Should some stray thought interrupt my mental preening, I’d have to start over at the beginning of the recitation until I got through it in its entirety. It’s sort of like Snow White’s wicked stepmother in front of her magical mirror – me, mentally standing in the front of my mind, asking myself “Who is the most wonderful of them all?” and answering myself with the mental litany of my brilliant deeds, words and thoughts.

Honestly. I am embarrassed at my lack of humility, even to myself.

I’ve spent the last four days giving the apartment a deep cleaning and cooking meals for friends. Moving all the things stacked on tables, counters, bookcases, and dressers, dusting with a damp cloth to remove all the dust and dirt. On hands and knees sponging around toilets and floorboards. Thinking up recipes, chopping, cutting, prepping ingredients, and trying to make a chicken dinner more than just a meal with chicken. I remember my girlfriend, Antoinette, from Berkeley in the early 1970’s. When you came to my apartment for spaghetti, you got spaghetti. When Antoinette served spaghetti, it was an event.

Herb and I had company for dinner on both Saturday and Sunday, and it was a lot of work for me, before and after. And you know what? It felt really good to work that hard, to do that much deep cleaning that our guests probably didn’t notice, to ponder what to cook and how to cook it, to do the washing, cutting and preparing of the meat and vegetables. Because, when I was physically engaged in all that work, I knew that I was doing it for the pleasure of our friends. I knew that I was doing it because I wanted our friends to have a few hours of a pleasant environment, a respite from their busy work weeks, to enjoy tasty food that they didn’t have to prepare for themselves, and to relax with good music and conversation with friends who love them.

Work done out of a desire to honor and to please others, work done with a thought for others’ benefit, work done with joy in one’s heart – that’s prayer in motion. We hear people say, “I lift up so-and-so in prayer.” The kind of work I’ve been describing is a physical lifting up of people in prayer. As Matthew 6 instructs, praying without being noticed, praying in secret, praying for the sheer joy of praying.

Antoinette offered a graciousness that I lacked back when I was in my 20’s. True, she was artistic and creative. She was also in touch with the notion of looking at the lilies of the field, in touch with nature and how beauty touches our spirits. I, on the other hand, was in touch with “getting the job done,” a woman focused on a business career, doing the tasks without giving much thought to how the work I was doing could be a gift to others.

Grace is a gift freely given by the Creator to all of us, but we have to be open to receiving it. When I decided consciously in my early 30’s to embark upon “being a good person,” (which predated my return to the church) I was opening the door to letting the grace into my life. I’ve learned to consider the lilies of the field, and since that time, my paid and volunteer work also have taken on new meaning and blossomed, because I'm focused on touching people’s lives and not just on ticking off completed tasks.

I suspect I have a lot more cleaning, cooking and work to do in my journey towards even a rudimentary understanding of humility. I just hope that the camel doesn’t make it through the eye of the needle before I get it.


Everyday Mysteries said...

What a great post. I love your gentle self-chiding. And I can SO relate. Glory moments last a long time in the memory. But, on the other hand, so do moments of shame. The remembering and hoarding of both kinds of memory is indeed prideful.

Your "prayer in motion" reminds me of Brother Lawrence, the kitchen monk, whose practice was to remember the presence of God during everything he was doing, all day long. He says "God's treasure is like an infinite ocean, yet a little wave of feeling, passing with the moment, contents us. Blind as we are, we hinder God and stop the current of His graces."
Thanks for your wonderful thoughts!

C said...

Is it really wrong or bad to remind yourself how good you are, boost your self esteem? Without self-esteem how can we be confident enough to do good things to others?

Couldn't you interpret your ego-stroking as self-maintenance you need so that you can be in good mental shape for helping others?

Feeling good about things (that we do or we are) is a natural way to encourage good behavior towards ourselves and others. It's the insecure who aren't confident, though they might be arrogant, that are violent or hurtful in their daily dealings.

I agree that there is something deeply satisfying about meditation via physical labor. It's like working out... we all know we should, and resist, but it feels so good when we get around to it we wonder why we resisted for so long. There's something very satisfying about feeling accomplished and productive and helpful.


C, I think it is healthy to have a strong sense of self-esteem and to be realistic about your gifts and how you use them. However, it is easy for some of us, and for me, to lose my sense of proportion and to get stuck in self-preening. That's what I want to steer clear of.

Your analogy of physical work and exercise is apropos. I could benefit from regular exercise!