Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Talking to Baxter

I talk to Baxter. Yes, I admit it. He and I have conversations over various things. Sometimes, they are trivial - the weather, sports, the day’s schedule. Sometimes, Baxter hears about my frustrations. Sometimes, he listens to my opinions on politics, the economy, the Church, or local issues. He usually doesn’t say much in these exchanges. If I have been away for a while, he may offer a friendly chirp to welcome me home, but usually he is silent. So why do I talk to Baxter? With so little to say, what does he have to offer to a conversation?

A true conversation is more than a bunch of words being exchanged between two or more parties. It is a matter of fruitful dialogue. It is a meeting of minds and hearts over a common concern where the exchange contributes to the common understanding and commitment behind the talk. Conversation isn’t just about finding answers to questions we have. It is about creating a bond between the partners in the dialogue, so that they grow closer to each other in the process. This bond creates a freedom to explore any topic, even sensitive ones which demand mutual respect and confidence from each other.

Talk is the cheap part of a conversation.True sharing of ourselves is the valuable ingredient.

Baxter doesn’t talk much, but he adds a more important piece to our conversations. He listens. Listening is a key to our conversations bearing the fruit of genuine dialogue. If we don’t listen to each other, we talk pass each other. We may exchange a lot of words, but they are empty sounds. They get in the way of meeting the person speaking them because we aren’t listening to what that person is expressing when he or she speaks. People tell us what they care about, what they cherish and want to protect, what ideas mean to them and how they serve their deepest values and commitments. But we have to listen for these things. Too often we get lost in making our point in a conversation or winning the argument, and we miss the deeper message the other person is sending in all the talk. “I am here. Take me into your world with respect and regard for who I am and what I stand for.” Listening acknowledges and incorporates this part into any conversation.

God listens. That is why we should never be afraid to speak honestly and sincerely to Him in prayer. In fact, God is much more concerned about the deeper message hidden in all our talk, than about most of our blabber about one thing or another. He reads our minds and hearts, and He wants to fill them with His grace. He uses His respect and esteem for His children to win us over. Just because we don’t hear anything in prayer, doesn’t mean God is absent. He is listening to help us hear ourselves and do what is necessary to follow faithfully.

Yes, I do talk to Baxter. He talks back less often, but he pays attention nonetheless. God works that way too. Maybe if we learn to listen more and talk less, we will have better prayer and better conversations with each other as its fruit.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Taking A Break

Baxter is back! He enjoyed the summer. He worked on his tan, took a few extra naps, explored the scenery in the area, and generally broke away from the usual work day routine to relax and relish life. It doesn’t take much for him to rejuvenate himself. Cats have simple needs, and a little break from the pressure of daily feedings, litter box use and choosing a place to nap does a world of good. Baxter comes back to his duties now refreshed and ready for another year of antics and foibles that teach us about living better with God.

Do we take breaks, time away from our schedule? Not the big interruptions we may plan like an annual vacation, but the chance each day to stop, smell the roses, and think about what is happening in our lives. In the spiritual tradition of our faith, these breaks were known as the particular examen. They were brief times of prayer and reflection, time-outs in the midst of other activities. They happen in place. A person doesn’t run to the church for these moments. Rather wherever we might be is the place we use to stop, reflect and pray.

What do we do with these breaks? Our tradition offers some help. First, recall that God is with you in this moment and He is always with you throughout the day. With the pressures of our daily activities, we can lose sight of God in our midst. He’s there, but we can’t see, hear or sense His presence  because we are lost in our own world. Taking a break cracks open the moment to God’s presence.

Next, review how you are doing. Where did you blow it today? Did you lose your temper, get  distracted from the person talking to you, or add an attitude of despair, cynicism or unfair criticism to the situation? It’s o.k. Just ask for help and forgiveness. Where did you nail it so far? You offered to help another when you weren’t obliged; you listened first and spoke later; you refused to cheat, lie, gossip, or steal when seeing others do it. Give thanks and be grateful that you are an instrument of God’s grace in this world.

Lastly, ask to stay focused on God as the horizon in which you see everything and everyone you encounter, and on yourself as a witness to God for others. As Saint John writes, “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” And further in 1John we read: “God is love, those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Invite God to be busy with you. Think of yourself as God’s hands and eyes and ears and tongue to work and understand and listen and speak in ways which make God’s light and love present to yourself and others.

Baxter’s long summer break is over. All vacations hopefully fade into pleasant memories, but we don’t have to lose the values they bring to our living. Take a break with God a few times during the course of your day. Take it in place. Find the God who is walking with you each day in these moments, and let Him guide you for the rest of the day. You will come back to your normal routine differently each time.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bad Dog!

Overall, Charlie is a very good dog. He doesn’t mess in the house, he doesn’t bite, and he doesn’t USUALLY bark excessively. 

Charlie’s biggest mistakes are being insistent on going out when he has already been and sneaking food from low tables whenever possible. To solve most of his disciplinary issues, we utilize a squirt bottle. His face gets sprayed with water whenever an infraction occurs. This is a highly effective deterrent, and merely showing the squirt bottle ends most naughty behavior.

On occasion, though, I have been known to yell at Charlie when he is being bad. “Charlie! Bad dog!” Those simple words in an angry voice cause him to stop, put his ears down, and come cowering to my side. He absolutely does not like yelling and he definitely doesn’t like me to be upset with him.

Charlie never questions my upsets. He doesn’t avoid the confrontation. Instead, he immediately takes responsibility for causing a disturbance. He wants things to be set right again as soon as possible. He is so sweet and cuddly, and clearly so apologetic, I can’t help but forgive him immediately!

We aren’t like that with one another, though, are we? If someone says that we have upset them, we don’t claim responsibility. Either that person was mistaken, we were misunderstood, or perhaps our  intentions were taken out of context. We don’t do things wrong, and we definitely don’t hurt people. Apologies don’t come quickly in our society.

The opposite is true, too. Whenever someone wrongs US, we can’t let that go. Even if an apology does come, it probably wasn’t meant or it came with an ulterior motive.

No. Apologies aren’t given and they aren’t accepted. Forgiveness is not something we do very well.

No wonder we have such a hard time with God. We can’t forgive or apologize to one another. How can we imagine a God who not only accepts our apologies, but one who SEEKS to forgive us? But, that is exactly the kind of God Jesus shows to us. Just think of the many parables of finding something lost. The lost coin, the lost sheep, and especially the lost son.

God loves us so much. When we have failed, all we have to do is ask for forgiveness, and it is granted. No intention or explanation is necessary. Jesus tells us, too, that we need to learn to love  each other as God loves us. That means forgiving one another.

We’re people, not dogs. Forgiveness is a bit harder than petting a sad pup. But, we have a  greater capacity to love than Charlie does.

Let’s love each other and forgive and ask for forgiveness. Then we can all be good! Right, Charlie?

Christy Cabaniss - Parish Minister