Normal

When most everything feels so abnormal and foreign to us right now, it’s okay to feel it and at least to normalize the feelings. We’ve never been here before, collectively. The adrenaline of new information and new risk is wearing off as we settle into our shelter-in-place lifestyles. The novelty of using Zoom, Discord, FaceTime, and any video calling service is wearing off. And our bodies are finally starting to catch up with our racing minds.

For two or three weeks now, all we hear about, all we think about, maybe all we talk about is the coronavirus and what impact it will have on us. And our bodies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. Personally, I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and sleepiness throughout my days than I ever have before in my former, office-working life. My body is teaching me what it’s like to mitigate risk by running marathons, not sprints.

So if you’re starting to feel the adrenaline buzz wear off, the novelty is just not so novel anymore, and you’re missing the old life, it’s normal to feel that. We all lost something, albeit temporarily, so abruptly that we went into fight-flight-freeze mode to get through the immediate danger, and now we’re realizing that the enemy moves much slower, but can run much longer too. We are feeling the adjustment as we shift into road trip mode instead of drag strip mode. Allow yourself all the grace you need and know that it’s normal.

We’ve never been here before. It’s totally normal to feel anxious and worried.

Some of us have never been homeschool parents. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and stretched thin.

Some of us have never worked from home. It’s totally normal to struggle with focus and feel like your work and home are too close.

Some of us have never been without work. It’s totally normal to feel angry and afraid of how you will provide for yourself and family.

Some of us have never stayed in one place for so long. It’s totally normal to feel restless and confined.

Some of us have never been alone for so long. It’s totally normal to feel a need for human touch and affection.

It’s totally normal to feel exactly what you are feeling.

Yes, beloved, it’s totally normal and I hope you can rest in that. Thank your body for taking care of you so well.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Fìn

Or was that just the beginning?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about transitions. Beginning and ending and beginning. I think we all can feel the typical New Year energy humming in the air. Like the self-aware population of our earth collectively decided to strike a tuning fork before the 2020 recital, re-tuning our instruments for another year of practice, rehearsal, and performance. That really is the ritual we’ve built into the much maligned New Years Resolution. For some reason, we feel the gravity of that transition, but can we really say there was much functional difference between the two days? It was Tuesday, then it wasn’t. A Wednesday was born, then it wasn’t. Yet 2019 was laid to rest while 2020 dawned. It was inconsequential, yet momentous.

The New Year transition has the power it has because of the power we’ve collectively given it. The accepted calendar says something shifted, and that’s enough for us all to call it a holiday and watch a ball of lights drop to the ground in a city most of us don’t live in. Substantially, something seems to have changed, so why not act like it? There is something so natural in using artificial transitions like this as a reset; hence, the New Years Resolution. Use this time of year to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and collect yourself for the future. New Year is a great beginners course in embracing transition and harnessing the power of forward vision. Because as hard as this New Year might feel to stick to your goals, you can bank on there being one next year. And do you want to merely start over or have something to build on? This particular orbit, this wheel of fortune and fate, really never stops spinning.

Around this time of year, my wife and I take a long weekend to get away from the house and the job and the cats and the chores to intentionally celebrate what went well in the previous year, recognize what didn’t go well, and set goals for the next twelve months. Throughout the year, we harness the power of the transitioning months to review our goals for the year, course correct, and set specific items to be accomplished in the next 30 days. Once a week, we sit down for twenty minutes to review progress made, details of the week, and celebrate the small wins. Twice a day, I take time to write in a journal, taking notes on my day and review progress made on the year’s goals.

It’s not always perfect. But it’s regularly intentional. And it’s a few steps beyond utilizing New Year. Each transition is useful to address some facet of our many-sided lives. The New Year rolls the calendar over. The birthday marks another successful orbit around the sun. The wedding anniversary marks another year you successfully avoided divorce and hopefully developed an even strong intimacy and friendship.

I wonder how different our culture would be if we gave more thought to these kinds of transitions and rhythms? How do we end and begin things? Are we paying attention enough to use them in their full potential power? How could a shift in mindset change a day or a year?

Consider the Jewish practice of Shabbat or Sabbath. The traditional day of rest in this culture begins at sundown Friday evening and lasts through sundown Saturday evening. The transition from day to day in this mode of thought occurs with a concrete, predictable moment that observably occurs every 24 hours. The boundary in the calendar is actually far less arbitrary than saying “midnight” is when the date changes. So if the day begins at sundown, it follows that the first substantial act of the new day is actually rest and sleep. Regardless of whether Sabbath is beginning, rest and sleep are the first things on the agenda, top priority. Only after vital time is passed resting does waking, eating, working, and playing begin. This is really what we were handed in the Genesis story of creation. Adam enters the scene on the culmination of the sixth day, then the seventh day is declared to be a holy day of rest, consecrated by the Divine Itself. Like he got to walk on the stage for the first time just for the standing ovation. Adam’s first full “day” of Being was passed in rest.

It’s a mindset shift. Are you sleeping every night in preparation for that day’s work or are you sleeping to catch up from the last day’s work? Do you charge your phone battery before you utilize it as a tool or do you charge it after you’ve spent it? Do you earn your paycheck to budget and spend in the future or do you earn it to cover what you bought in the last two weeks? Are you leaning forward in anticipation or limping behind in despair?

How can you treat endings as beginnings and beginnings as endings? How can you Fortuna_Wheelrethink transitions that will help put you in a growth mindset? In the historic cantata, Carmina Burana, composer Carl Orff adapted 12th and 13th century poems to create a work of musical mastery. The poems deal with the ever turning cycle of fate. In a very real way, the piece at the same time celebrates and laments the wheel of fortune. The opening (translated) lyrics erupt from the choir:

O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes playing with mental clarity; poverty and power it melts them like ice.

The first poem of the piece is known as “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and starts with the very well known “O Fortuna”. And in a perfect illustration of the ever turning wheel of fortune, the work ends with the same poem, the same declaration, “O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning”, the same notes. The beginning could be the ending of another cycle while the ending could be the beginning of another cycle.

So consider this New Year a chance to subtly shift your mindset and set some real intention behind the transition of the decade.

Fín.

Or was that just the beginning?

Sabbath

Driving through the snowy, foggy Homestake mountain pass, dropping down into Butte, Montana, I was struck by the simple beauty of the pines capped with snow, like a quintessential Christmas morning. They were recently given a gift from Winter, an investment in their vitality, adorning them with beauty in the current season and with hydration for the next. No wind or creature disturbed their stately branches, which flexed under the weight of a fresh powdery snowfall. There was a romantic simplicity to this still paradise. A calming peace, observing the snow rest on the trees, almost teaching the fog that was actively rolling in exactly how to gently kiss the mountain peaks above. Certainly, it taught me that nothing in Nature needs a reminder that rest is a gift. Rest, Sabbath rest, is available and it is too often overlooked.

I have learned what value comes from truly allowing myself to rest. Choosing the creation story as a model, I, with my wife, Dixie, have crafted for ourselves a habitual, weekly day of rest. As the story goes, Nature was crafted by God in the first six movements of creation. The symphony of creation began with a bang and continued to crescendo through the crafting of light and galaxies, planets, lands, plants, animals, and mankind. In the sixth movement, Adam (mankind) was created out of the rich soil of the Earth and given the breath of Spirit and Soul, marking the species with the Image of God. Then, almost as if the whole thing needed a joyous punchline, God’s finale, the exclamation point on the whole story, ended with a rest.

“…having finished his work, on the Seventh Day, he rested…” (Genesis 1:2)

I believe this offers several things for us to learn. First, though we often fool ourselves into thinking it, mankind isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Apex predator, perhaps, but cosmic apex? no. Divine breath was infused into us on the sixth, while, I would suggest, God chose to breathe the rest out into the universe itself, sealing the whole thing with an image of divinity itself (Colossians 1:15-20). Second, the seventh and final movement of this holy, cosmic Week ended with the Divine resting to enjoy It’s masterpiece. But the seventh Day to God was only the first full Day for mankind! This would suggest that whenever we observe rest, we are actually at the beginning of something new. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, if God himself chose rest to punctuate a Week of work and creativity and if we are crafted after his Image, his personal blueprints, then we certainly deserve to choose rest ourselves.

The Jewish community traditionally observes Shabbat from Friday evening to Saturday evening. Christians traditionally observe Sabbath on Sundays. My wife and I choose to observe our adapted Sabbath Thursday evening to Friday evening. My day job holds a four day, ten hour a day, work schedule, allowing Friday to be the first day of my typical weekend. Therefore, with a week’s worth of good work behind us, we enter Sabbath together with specific practices to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming of our other six calendar days.

Upon arriving home after work, I change my clothes into comfy lounge clothes for the rest of the evening. Before dinner, we (imperfectly) strive to power our phones all the way down and leave them off until Saturday morning. After enjoying dinner together, Dixie and I observe a time of Eucharist (Communion) by breaking a cracker, sipping some wine and praying together in gratitude for a week full of work, lessons, and memories behind us. The reminder of the evening is set aside for our weekly at-home movie date night. Friday morning, we allow ourselves to sleep in, with no alarm threatening to end our slumber (because even the alarm clock can rest once a week). We intentionally leave the bed unmade, so that when we return to bed on Friday night, we’re reminded that the world will not come crashing down around us if perfect order is not maintained. We begin the day with a sweet breakfast, usually pancakes. This is an adapted Hebrew practice, where the father of the household would wake the children on the morning of Shabbat with a spoonful of honey. This special bit of candy was intended to help train the children’s minds to associate the societal day of rest as a treat and a blessing, rather than a day of limits and regulation.

The rest of the day is spent through the lens of soul care. Chores are allowed to wait until Saturday. In the winter, soul care activities include playing Nintendo together, reading books with a pot of tea, naps, writing, playing music, building Legos, cooking food together, and listening to records. In the summer, we try to orient toward the outdoors. We will go for walks in the woods on local BLM land, play frisbee, hang hammocks in the park and read, go for picnics on middle-of-no-where backroads, and sit and talk on the back porch while I smoke my pipe. Almost every habit we’ve carefully cultivated is allowed to rest on our Sabbath. I mentioned that there is no alarm clock and that we forgo making the bed. In addition, I choose to let my low carb diet rest and take it as a “cheat” day, though I am not gorging myself. While every other day is noted and described in my journal, I want these special days of rest in my home to live specially in my memory, between me and my family, so I choose to leave the pen alone.

I even allow my bible to rest on the table for a day. While tradition would have Sabbath observed with community worship and scripture, I choose to let even this rest. Yes, Dixie and I regularly attend our church on Sunday, even serving on the music team regularly. For me, however, letting scripture rest on my table for the day helps me release it as it gift with an open hand. I’ve struggled in my spiritual journey by letting scripture reading, devotions, prayers, and the like become a source of guilt and shame if I missed even a day. I used to be so disappointed in myself if I lagged on a reading plan, rushing through to “catch up”, all the while, not attending to it by seeking the wisdom within. I never want to be guilty in the timing and manner I approach the bible, so, it rests alongside me. This has taught me valuable lessons too.

On a sunny, breezy woods walk in the summer, my bible, phone, and journal left at home, I realize that my sanctuary for today is the treetop canopy. My bible is the first incarnation, the world infused and held together with the breath of Spirit, of Christ. My hymnody is a simple silent attention to the dancing leaves, the subtle birdsong high above me, and the sunlight dancing through the branches. My silent thoughts and prayers mingle with the gentle breezes and assertive gusts that bring me a flavor of far off mountain air. What news from a higher elevation may I discern from the whisper of the trees that are presently bending at the weight of this rushing glory? An attentive disciple upon the peak of Sinai, sipping anew the pure substance distilled beyond language. Here is that breath of God of which I spoke, huffed into my lungs on the sixth Day, then sighed into the Universe on the seventh. Sabbath is here to teach us how to rest along with the universe.