I think one of the first things I say after the obligatory "I'm fine" when asked about how I am by someone is "Busy". That doesn't, of course, make me unique. Life is busy and it seems to be getting busier and busier. That isn't anything unique to me or to my profession. Most people are just plain busy, partly because the demands from work are increased and partly because the pace of life has sped up along with the technological innovations which make it possible. Many, many commentators have commented on this increased pace in life and have duly lamented it...often without any serious desire to change it. And, if I'm to be entirely honest with myself, while I recognize the problems of my own over-busyness, I'm not sure my desire to slow down is very strong either.
Busyness, for me, makes me feel like I'm contributing and like what I do matters. In my busyness, I accomplish a fair bit, even if it never quite feels like enough. Despite complaining, in my head mostly, that I don't have time to myself, I have to admit that I like having a project to do, preferably three or four. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I know that many of the things I do as a teacher benefit my students in ways that, perhaps, I don't always know. The work I put into curriculum, marking and extra-curriculars are goods for their own sake. They are contributions to the life of my students and to the life of the school. And that is a good thing.
Yet, this week, I kept going back to a comment by Lauren Winner in Still that busyness is the new sloth. That is, we are conditioned in this society to use our busyness to avoid people and obligations and, in the end, God. It is easier for me to say "I'm okay. Just busy" to someone asking how I am because it permits me to limit my conversation with someone, from really engaging with who they are and how they're doing. It is easier to limit my prayer time with God because x needs to be done and, God knows, that is something that needs to be done- I know that because You told me. It is easier to disregard those interruptions where, as Henri Nouwen has pointed out, are often where God is calling us because I've busy doing something else for the Kingdom, thank you very much. Busyness, for me, can be a way of avoiding engaging with people and the world around me. And God, of course.
Ironically, busyness, also, causes me to lose sight of the value of the work that I'm being busy with. My focus shifts from working well to getting it done so I can make a notch for another achievement. Work, real work is an offering of one's skills and creativity, given by God. It is another way to connect with God as we give the work as an gift to those around us. Busyness makes getting it done, accomplishing something more important than the offering. It disconnects me from the value of work-the offering of myself to God and my fellow human beings. It becomes a task, with little intrinsic value- just something to be done and ticked off on a job list.
None of this isn't really a sudden revelation for me. This old compulsion has been and old friend/enemy for a long time. Nor do I surrender to it without some resistance. I recognize that there are times that I just have to drop what I'm doing and listen up to God. I know those interruptions in my day matter, especially when I get that chance to show up when God is calling. And I know that I need to slow down and pray deeply. Sometimes, I even manage it. When I remember all those things, life makes more sense and less like I'm running on ice. It's hard to slow down and just let go and let God. When I do, though, I'm less anxious and less stressed. I can do the work in front of me better and more peacefully.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Presentations play a fairly major part of my life as a teacher. I present lessons to students. I might present PD to colleagues. I listen to presentations from both students and colleagues. This week, I had some fairly important presentations to give: my presentations to incoming Grade 8 students and to their parents. Those are important because they mark the beginning of my annual efforts to convince teenagers to take Latin with me in sufficient numbers to keep my program healthy and vibrant. More presentations follow, of course, to grade 9s to take advantage of a second change to enter Latin, to my current students to convince them to go on to higher levels-, but these Grade 8 presentations are pretty important because they set the tone. I'm always a bit anxious and it has only been in recent years that I've found that I can let go of that anxiety by remembering that God will give the students He wants me to have, so I really just need to trust that. I can make the presentation, but I don't control the outcomes.
Yet, other things this week got me thinking about presentation. In particular, I got to thinking about my own tendencies to want to give presentations to God; that is, my tendency to want to craft a neat, organized and, if possible, engaging little presentation about what I'm intending to do rather than the messy process of asking for help while I'm still discerning. It would be so much more comfortable to just report my solution to whatever it is that I'm trying to sort out and just get God's little red stamp up in the right corner- preferably with a gold star or two for good work. Of course, that isn't how discernment is supposed to work and my tendency to want to wrap things up merely causes me to anxiously chase my own tail trying to solve the problem myself. I know that, whenever I'm dithering, it is almost certainly because I'm trying to think my way to that presentation and I need to stop and start asking questions about why I'm trying to solve this problem on my own. Then, I need to take it to someone- God, of course, but, since God tends to work through other people, someone else who can help me sort out the tangle that I've created in my own head. The times I do that usually are the times when decisions become more clear. And that is why I'm getting better about remembering to do it eventually. .
So, what I think I'm learning is that my relationship with God and others doesn't need to be a slickly designed presentation, but an invitation into a much more dynamic, creative and messy process. When I give a presentation at school, no one sees the false starts, mistakes, and just bad ideas through which I had to dismiss and correct to get the final process. Yet, it is in those false starts, mistakes and bad ideas that I learn and in that creative process that I grow. The point of discernment is not to look good, but rather to learn what live out the life that God intends for me. Like my Grade 8 presentations, I still don't control the outcomes, but I have to trust God, either in prayer or through others, will show me what He wants for me and that is going to be a better outcome than anything I'm likely to come up with on my own.
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Now, that experience is funny when you compare it to what the season is actually about. Epiphany is all about the breaking out of the divine into human life; the moments where God bursts into mundane human life and nothing is ever quite the same. So, we see the coming of the Magi to the carpenter's son, Jesus, and the startling pronouncement of Jesus' kingship by the Gentiles. The divine fingerprints are all over this story. The Magi are guided by strange, divinely-produced astral phenomena and are supernaturally warned not to trust Herod. Joseph and Mary are supernaturally warned to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod's fearful wrath and just as supernaturally permitted to return safely years later. It is a strange story and it is one that clearly changes the scene so profoundly that nothing is ever quite the same. God breaks through the humble beginning of Jesus to make sure that Jesus' real, divine status becomes more clear.
All this got me to thinking about those other smaller epiphanies which still break into my life- much less dramatic, but not less disconcerting. Of course, I'm not exactly the kind of person who sees divine manifestations every day over breakfast. No angel has ever jumped out at me and told me to go to a foreign land, even when I first decided to come to Toronto to study. Yet, there are moments in my life where God's fingerprints become visible in unexpected ways and nothing really remains the same after that. Maybe it is as simple as reading Martin Buber's I and Thou for a Philosophy of Religion course and realizing that, for the first time in a long time, I wasn't feeling anxious. Or, perhaps admitting my desire to attend a church service and sense of unworthiness about doing so to a patient friend, who invited me to her church anyway. Or, at the installation of a college president, being commissioned with the other students to live out our vocation in the world and realizing, weeks later, that that was a rather different proposition than I expected. Or any number of other epiphanies which twisted my life in ways that I really couldn't anticipate. That only goes to show that I'm about the last person to know what is good for me. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing to know about myself.
Yet, I wonder sometimes, because of this, if we don't give Epiphany its due. It seems so much an ending to the Christmas season season that I don't think we appreciate what the Epiphany seasons is supposed to teach us. Epiphany really represents a beginning, a new chance for God to show Himself in his wild and wonderful ways. I wonder if we can't look for those divine fingerprints around us and quietly give thanks for our unpredictable and spontaneous God. May your epiphanies, little and great, shine forth and illuminate the path before you.