The Bucket List

Gabi Rizea: Romanian sculpture of rotting tree stump into bucket perpetually pouring out

The following is taken from Ann Voskamp’s reflections on the “bucket list”:

… I wander into a little Mennonite General Store in a village so small you’d miss it if you blinked too fast. The 100-year-old wooden floor planks creak. No electricity or lights or fluorescent bulbs buzz or flicker. Lanterns hang in grey lit rooms, brave flames burning back the morning’s mist. A wood stove crackles in the middle of the store, surrounded by shelves of kettles and pots and stacks of bread pans.

And there it is — on a windowsill of an old wavy glass window —- a wee little miniature steel bucket.

I pick it up.

That is what you often pick up when you’re in pain — a bucket. Like you’re carrying a bucket of weight. Like you can fill yourself up with all the things to drown out all the pain. Like if you fill yourself up with a bucket list of all the experiences — you could douse out all the pain.

Pour your heart out…

I turn the little bucket around in my hands — and there it is in my bruised heart: Maybe the best way to deal with pain in your heart — is to pour your heart out.

Slowly — I tip the bucket over.

Maybe…. When I hit the bucket— I don’t want to leave a bucket list as much as I want to leave an empty bucket — a life poured right out.

Maybe — the best kind of bucket list — is a list of how to pour your bucket out. The purpose of your life is to find your gift — and give it away.

The gifted are the ones who find their gift — make it into a gift for the world.

The bucket sits perfectly in the palm of my hand. I can’t stop thinking:

Maybe — the best way to get rid of your pain — is to pour your life out.

Maybe empty buckets — are the fullest kinds of buckets.

If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to Me, you’ll find both yourself and Me. (Matthew 10, The Bible)

Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. Remember: Though He was in the form of God,He chose not to cling to equality with God;

But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new…” (Philippians 2, The Bible)

Christ poured Himself out — to make us new vessels. And as we pour out the Christ in us — Christ makes new vessels all around us — and in us.

When you pour out your broken heart, pour out your life — you pour out your pain.

It keeps falling on my cracked places like a gentle rain:

Live with His attitude in your hearts.

Christ’s attitude about hearts — was to pour them out — not to try to protect them.

Let your heart live unguarded again — and you let love capture you all over again.

In the upside down Kingdom, you have to guard your heart from being wrongly guarded.

Guard your Heart?

True: You guard your heart against sinful thoughts getting in… or out — but don’t guard your heart against love… that needs to get in or out. Guard against sins — but not against hearts.

Guard your heart against evil — and there is no doubt: a prison of loneliness is evil.

Guard your heart from the things that will crush your heart: bitterness, loneliness, uneasiness, defensiveness.

Guard your heart from being guarded because everything you do flows out of your heart — and a heart can’t flow if it’s walled off, blocked in, and shutting out.

Your heart can’t be walled in — because your heart has to flow out. Because out of the overflow of your heart, your whole life flows.

Live with walls to block out pain — and you will block out all the love that’s trying to get in.

Live with walls to block out pain — and those same walls will block your own love from flowing out.

Your job is not to find love. Your job — is to find all the walls you’ve built to keep love out. Because you have to tear down those walls — so your own love can flow out. This is only way your life can flow out — this is the only way you can live…

Taken from Ann Voskamp: “The Absolute Best Bucket List You Can’t Miss — Or You Miss Out on the Life You’ve Always Wanted.”

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The Mystery of the Poor

St. Joseph’s House on Chrystie Street.

As Dorothy Day was preparing a supper at St. Joseph’s House on Chrystie Street in New York, she looked around at all her fellow workers and thought how hopeless it was to try keep up appearances:

I looked around and the general appearances of the place was, as usual, home-like, informal, noisy, and comfortably warm on a cold evening. And yet, looked at with the eyes of a visitor, our place must look dingy indeed, filled as it always is with men and women, some children too, all of whom bear the unmistakable mark of misery and destitution.

Her look was burdened with questions she and others had of her work with the poor:

Aren’t we deceiving ourselves?

What are we accomplishing for them anyway, or for the world or for the common good?

Are these people being rehabilitated?

How can you see Christ in [these] people?

She answers these nagging and cynical questions:

It is an act of faith, constantly repeated. It is an act of love, resulting from an act of faith. It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts, too, with the help of God, and the works of mercy, which you, our readers, helps us to do, day in and day out over the years…

How can I help but think of these things every time I sit down at Chrystie Street… and look around the tables filled with the unutterably poor who are going through their long-continuing crucifixion.  It is most surely an exercise of faith for us to see Christ in each other. But it is through such exercise that we grow  and the joy of our vocation assures us we are on the right path…

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him… The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.

From Dorothy Day, “The Mystery of the Poor” quoted in “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.”

Dorothy Day was well acquainted with poverty and misery. After her father’s printing press burnt down in an earthquake, the family descended into “humiliating poverty”, David Brooks writes in his fine book, “The Road to Character.”

War, the onslaught of the Spanish Flu pandemic, the fall of currency, and the general poverty of the poor all brought about great insights to what ministry is, and what suffering does for us in the Curriculum of the Spiritual Life.

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A Thirst to be made Thirsty

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire.

O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.

Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”

A prayer by A. W. Tozer

This echoes with familiarity with the likes of Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst for You,” and Thomas Merton’s prayer, “The Desire to Please You, Pleases You.”

… And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

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Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love, by Leonard Cohen

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh, let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance Me to the End of Love lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Remembered on the occasion of my son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding last year at this time.

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Learning to Pray from the Heart

… In a world that victimizes us by its compulsions, we are called to solitude where we can struggle against our anger and greed and let our new self be born in the loving encounter with Jesus Christ. It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in broken with all of humanity an ready to reach out to anyone in need…

Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken…

In our chatty world, in which the word has lost its power to communicate, silence helps us to keep our mind and heart anchored in the future world and allows us to speak from there a creative and re-creative word to the present world… Too often words are superfluous, inauthentic, and shallow. It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn’t be better served by our silence than by our words…

For us who are so mind-oriented it is of special importance to learn to pray with and from the heart… We find the best formulation of the prayer of the heart in the words of the Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.”

It is the mystery that the heart, which is the centre of our being, is transformed by God into His own heart, a heart large enough to embrace the entire universe. Through prayer we can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and work, all hunger, loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God’s heart has become one with ours.

Here we catch site of the meaning of Jesus’ words. “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:29-30)… we can carry this burden when our heart has been transformed into the gentle and humble heart of our Lord.

… Solitude, silence, and prayer allow us to save ourselves and others from the shipwreck of our self-destructive society… [from] the raging torrents of our tumultuous times…

From “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence” by Henri Nouwen.

May we learn therefore to pray from the heart.

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On Ordinary Canvas

Christ Carrying the Cross, early sketch by Rembrandt mid 1630s. Pen and wash, 14.5 x 26.0 cm. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.

“This portrait of Christ is to be painted again on the ordinary canvas of our lives.”                                    John Howard Yoder

Portraits of Christ are many and varied.  A review of the early works of an artist like Rembrandt gives us an interesting glimpse into his spiritual journey as Christ’s life intersected it. No doubt it is with an artist’s insight that Yoder recognizes the best medium on which to paint the extraordinary beauty of Jesus is the very ordinariness of our lives – for it is not the canvas that is the object of viewing… it is the art itself.

In this theme, Julie Canlis writes a remarkable little booklet titled, “A Theology of the Ordinary.” She notes at long last a cultural “weariness with the cult of extraordinariness.” She observes,

The Spirit’s primary ministry in us is an identity-forming ministry, calling us to trust in God’s fatherly goodness and allowing us to cease from perfectionism and performance. All the other miraculous sings that the Spirit can and does work in us pale in comparison to this!…

No one wants to see someone on reality TV minding his own business, taking naps when he/she needs to, commuting to a boring job that pays the bills and keeps children in school, loving his neighbour, and helping manage the church finances. Ordinary life is… well, another synonym for mediocre? This is a suspicion lurking both within and without the church…

When we live our lives as ordinary persons, we become an extraordinary picture to the world of what we were intended to be: God and humanity united together in heart and purpose.

With this mind, it is helpful to see how The Message crafts the translation of Romans 12:1:

So here’s what I want you do do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

May this be the portrait of Christ painted on the ordinary canvas of our lives.

For more see “An Ordinary Grace,” or “To the God of my Daily Routine.”

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Practicum of a Soul Friend

Practicum of a Soul Friend: a practical guide

This is an exercise to explore what it means to be a soul friend by sharing personal history in confidence and prayer. Each person is take turns in the role as listener and narrator. Take at least an hour each (or more time if necessary).

In preparation, think through your story and write a few notes as a kind of outline of your story. Along with that keep a note-book handy to write what ever comes to mind as prayer reminders. Learn to listen, pray as you can, and be as honest with God, another person, yourself as best as you can.

Even though you may be familiar with your story, and may have told components from time to time, this is an exercise in integration and deep listening – including you listening to yourself, as you make connections to events that you may not have before. Allow yourself to feel what you feel as you tell your story.

Short Personal History:

One person at a time: one person narrates their life, the other intently listens. Allow your friend to enter into their personal history slowly, as this can only be gained with growing confidence in each other. Begin with general facts, and over time fill in more intimate details. Avoid moving too fast; learn to listen, empathize slowly. Deep memories may only arise slowly. Pray as you listen inwardly, so that you too may be guided to have insights while you listen and question. The listener can probe more deeply to clarify first impressions, as well as stimulate memories.

The listener is primarily trying to assist the narrator to express interior experiences and deep feelings, that may have interconnections the narrator has not linked together previously. The narrator needs to feel they are paid attention to; taken seriously, as they may not have been before. It is a profound thing for a person to feel the power of listening – to be understood and accepted.

Aim to create a safe environment for confidentiality and trust. Remember, the listener will soon be the narrator. As a listener – consider the acronym “WAIT” (“why am I talking”) if you hear yourself talking [too much] when the narrator has been trying to share their story. It is always better for insight or deeper understanding to be made by the narrator – for this becomes their own possession internally.

Sometimes the narrator can’t find the words easily, or at all; be patient. Prod gently, but let the narrator find their own words. If you as the listener think something key has been left out – ask about it.

As the listener, you can summarize what you’ve heard and encourage the narrator to express his/her insights/issues in prayer. You may do this through out the process, or at the end.

Phases of Personal History

Early Childhood:
Describe the when, where, how of your upbringing and family life. What was “your normal?” What were the traumas, childlike or catastrophic as they may be. What are your vivid memories, and what do you like or dislike about you childhood.

Were you aware of God; did you have a spiritual sense at all? What was your experience of church, school and the people you met there? What were your hobbies; what took the lion’s share of your time? What were your dreams as a child?

Describe the entry into and through puberty? When and what did you discover about your sexuality. What were the primary issues and topics over which you spent time thinking? Talk about your friends and/or the betrayals of friendships. Where was God in this time of your life?

Early Adulthood:
What was your high school years like? Did you have a sense of direction, preparation, vision? Were you going to post secondary education, on a big trip, or a gap year, or did you go straight to work? What did your spiritual journey look like? Where was God; where were spiritual friendships in your life?

Marriage and Family:
Talk about your courtship; getting married and the dynamics of getting to know yourself in the process of getting to know your spouse better. What were key decisions, arguments or incidents in your early courtship/marriage? If you have children – how did you decide when to start a family; what were you hoping your marriage/family to be like? What is your marriage and family really like? Where was God in all this?

Where is God in your life? What is the role of the church? What are your deep disappointments/frustrations with your walk with God? What do you deeply desire from God, from life, from your friends, from your wife? What now? What is the pressing desire you have that often is left unsaid/un-prayed? Can you speak it/pray it now?

As Narrator:

Now that you’ve heard yourself go through the phases of your life, what is it that you heard as you integrated all the elements of your life? Do you like what you heard? What do you wish never happened? What do you wish Jesus did then, or would do now? What would you like to pray about, or have another person pray with you about? What did you appreciate about your listener.

Would you like to confess and receive forgiveness?

Take as much time as you need; then switch roles. Offer the other person the privilege of being listened to, and fortunately, to be understood.

This practicum was taken from a course I took with Dr. James M. Houston at Regent College, 1994. I have found it fruitful every time I’ve done this with men and in men’s groups (though it is not gender specific).

For more, go to “The Greatest Gift of My Friendship.

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