The Multiplication of Rage

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fire-orange-emergency-burning.jpgYou know how muscles get stronger, right? It’s by being broken down. Stressing muscles causes micro-tears that allow for growth.

This seems a very appropriate analogy for life right now. I am going through a time of great spiritual…let’s call it development. “Reorientation” and “upheaval” both sound good, but they aren’t really accurate. Basically, I feel like I’m looking at a stressful situation (my life) and beginning to consider not just how to handle it but whether I’m making it worse by my own spiritual-emotional habits.

I meet weekly with a wonderful pair of women for faith sharing. We’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. It’s been a weekly occasion for mind-blowing, in beautiful but sometimes very challenging ways.

“How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace would multiply as long as there are people to receive it?”

The thing is, what Nouwen says of love, forgiveness, joy and peace is equally true of judgment, resentment, anger and intolerance. And when I say intolerance, I’m not referring to the common topics associated with that word these days, although it applies there, too. No, what I’m talking about is tolerance for irritation. For having our convenience thwarted. You know. The car that’s driving too slowly in front of you. The school district’s decisions about scheduled days off and weather days. The incompetent cashier or the inconveniently-timed software update.

Every January and every Lent, I spend a fair amount of time discerning how best to grow as a human being in these fresh seasons. Yet nearly every year, I get a few weeks in and discover that I’m off-course, or at least, not digging deep enough.

pexels-photo.jpgI’m angry these days. So very angry, all the time. Angry about big things, but finding that it gushes down into far too many of the little ones, too. Eroding my capacity for tolerance for hassles, for kindness to people who inconvenience me. Even my capacity to love.
I’m hardly alone. This essay came through my Facebook feed last week; the resonance of it left me speechless. The first few “top comments” prove the author’s point.

And I realized that I had to turn off the radio in the car again—not just for a few days, but for the duration of Lent. There’s no silence, no peace in my heart; I feel this frantic, well, franticness (to materialize a word) to fill every moment of blank mental space with stimulus, with information. We are desperate in the modern world, and we don’t even know what it is we’re desperate for.

I think it’s rest. A rest we can never find, because we’re strung so tight, the slightest little whisper of a breeze makes us vibrate. Silence feels like a threat, like walking on eggshells through a room where a very colicky baby has just fallen asleep after hours of constant screaming. We’re longing for rest, and also authentic connection. I mean, what else is the draw of talk radio, podcasts, and social media if not to feel like someone is talking to us? Accompanying us in our minor pilgrimages across town?

Yet the only way to get to a place of rest is to sit down, shut up, and shut down, and we have to go through silence to get there.

I’ve had the radio off for two weeks now. Not just off news radio, but off. And still, it’s hard. I thought it would get easier after a week’s withdrawal, but it hasn’t. I feel the pressure in my chest, in my brain, begging for relief.

We all know when we’re strung tight, we can’t roll with the punches; we have no give in our strings. We just snap. It’s no wonder I’m angry. Sure, there are plenty of things, legitimate outrages. But I can see how easy it would be to let anger and negativity crowd out every good thing about my life. Anger feeds on itself and grows bigger, more all-encompassing. As Nouwen said, they multiply as long as there are people to receive them.

I’d rather take his solution and multiply kindness and forgiveness.

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But dang, it’s hard to make that shift. We’re wound so tight toward rage, the force is nearly impossible to resist. You try to turn toward the light and the dark pulls you right back.

But we didn’t get here all at once. It’s been coming a long time, and we’ve encouraged it. I know I have. So I have to commit to seeking the light, again and again and again and again, until it at last feels like my home territory.

I’m writing stream-of-consciousness late at night, following choir practice when my brain is revved up and won’t shut down so I can sleep. (Ironic, given the topic, I know.) The danger in opening myself up like this is that people will judge and/or try to tell me exactly what I SHOULD do, which is not at all useful. (In case you missed the hint: please don’t! I don’t need more negativity in my world, and neither do you.) I’m not putting these reflections out as a cry for help or an invitation for judgment—quite the opposite. I think I’m expressing something that is a universal wound of modern life, in the hope that it will resonate, and help others to set sail on their own, desperately-needed journeys of the spirit.

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Rest and InSpiration

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michael-lashesI came downstairs after my shower yesterday—midmorning, post-workout—to find Michael lying on the couch, half-covered up by a throw and staring out at nothing. I had intended to take him to the basement and let him play with the multitude of toys there while I worked at the piano on edits for the last piece for my Easter collection for flute & piano. But it’s been a rough transition for him, going from morning preschool and afternoon nap to afternoon preschool and no nap at all. So instead, I laid down on the couch beside him and wrapped him up in my arms. “You tired, sweetie?”

“Yeah,” he said in his “forlorn” voice.

“You want to take a nap?”

An extended nod, there against my chest. Then an extended shake of the head. I laughed, and so did he.

I knew I should just cover him up with the throw, kiss his cheek, and go do my work. An unplanned nap? In the morning? This is a gift from God, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow.

But I was sleepy, too, and he felt so good in my arms. And maybe, after all, the gift was a different one: the gift of stillness, one I could embrace—literally—or toss away in favor of an extra half hour of work time.

I closed my eyes, and we snuggled down in the quiet house. My brain treated me to a tour of all the things I could and should be doing, but I pretended it wasn’t talking, and the shrieking faded to a dull roar.

I love being snuggled up with a child in the moment when they go to sleep. The breathing changes. The body relaxes. I couldn’t sleep myself, but I laid there with his head on my arm, eyes closed, opening them every so often to look at those impossibly long lashes, then closing them again to rest in stillness.

And then, after a handful of minutes, inSpiration trickled through the synapses and sang me the solution to my editing quandary. Regretfully, I maneuvered his head off my arm and onto the couch pillow and went downstairs, knowing I’d probably solved the problem more quickly by NOT doing than I would have if I’d gone straight to the basement as planned.

And filled my heart in the process.

Living Slow

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Sometimes life seems like a full-on sprint. I take a deep breath, as I did on Tuesday afternoon last week, and comfort myself that this is the worst a Tuesday is ever going to get, this school year. Or I have a Saturday like this past weekend, in which nothing was scheduled and consequently I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish that was so long, our whole family working together couldn’t have finished it all. Of course I was grumpy and torn. It was a perfect weather day and we had nothing we had to do. And yet I had myself so tied up, it didn’t even occur to me until I sat down to write a blog post 36 hours later:

Why the bleepety-bleep weren’t we all out on the Katy Trail renting bicycles?

A full-on sprint is supposed to be a brief thing. Bolt only had to hold that pace for nine seconds. I, on the other hand—and a ridiculous number of you who are reading these words—keep treating life like a sprint that hits the 26-mile mark and keeps on trucking.

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Image via Pixabay

A week ago, we took our kids to the drive-in theater. This theater is about two and a half miles by road—one mile as the crow flies—from the farm where I grew up. And yet I had never once been there, until last weekend.

We watched Pete’s Dragon, which I found underwhelming. But the moon was setting, a pale silver sliver sandwiched between a charcoal-gray cloud and the privacy fence. A fat yellow star (planet?) hung off its starboard bow. And there, sitting on a really uncomfortable surface of gravel with nothing but a flimsy blanket for padding, and nothing for back support except the dusty bumper of my van (if you’ve never spent any time in the country, you have no idea how dusty the back of a vehicle can get in one trip to town), I found myself entranced by the slow, steady shrinking of the distance between that sickle and the fence. First a stretch, then a brush, then a touch and at last a long, slow swallow, until only a silver tip was left. And the next time I looked, it was gone.

I thought of this again this past Saturday afternoon. I ran errands in the morning…seven stops, an hour and forty-five minutes. I came home with a truckload of cedar mulch. Ate lunch. Measured ingredients for three loaves of bread. Then spent two hours transplanting geraniums and lamium, weeding and mulching four flower beds, and mowing the front and sides of the house.

Then I went inside and started folding laundry while watching Netflix. But I could hear the wind blowing through the sycamore trees outside my window, and I thought, Girl! What are you doing? No one needs you right now, and for your slice of time to yourself you pick FOLDING LAUNDRY?

And so, grumpy with all I was leaving undone, I went outside and sat down in the Adirondack swing beneath the weeping willow, and watched the wind flirt with the treetops for a few minutes.

I love the way every tree has its own voice. Pines sigh, or roar when it’s gusty. Sycamore and oak and maple chatter—sycamore being the sound with the crispiest edges. But my adolescent weeping willow is a soft hiss, like velvet on the ear—and the soul. I turned off my mind and practiced my meditation/being-still-in-the-presence-of-God. I watched the crown of that willow tree fling its head in circles, and I had the oddest sensation that I was actually looking at something sentient. And of course, the sycamore trees danced above us.

And I flashed back to that slow moonset. The way the deliberateness of it, and the pace, so slow I couldn’t even see the movement, put the brakes on my heart, too. How it seemed to lift the pressure to do, do, do, and freed me to be, be, be.

The trees did the same thing.

I love the feeling of being.

It’s hard to achieve sometimes.

Um. Almost all the time.

We need more slow living. We were not meant to rush through this world, never recognizing the beauty all around us. We were meant to work and then rest. We don’t need to fill every moment with noise and distraction, blocking out the world. Sometimes we need to embrace that moment of discomfort, of emptiness, when we pull out the ear buds or turn off the smart phone or leave the piles of laundry. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the things we could be doing, and set them aside in order just to slow down, to stop, even, and just, for a few moments…be.

Time To Breathe

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Katfish Katy 1I don’t take enough time off.

Which is more than a bit ironic, given how much I twit my husband about checking email and working from home.

The great thing about writing from home is that I can do it anywhere, any time, in the cracks of regular life.

That’s also the worst thing about it. Because I start trying to fill every crack with productive time. Even my down time is spent folding clothes or scrapbooking–I never allow myself TV time unless I am doing something productive.

This weekend we went camping overnight, and I left my computer at home. It was harder to make that decision than I would like to admit. Early morning is my best time, and to be camped beside the river, in the quiet, with only the tree frogs and the insects for company? I knew I was giving up a precious commodity.

Katfish Katy 4But I also knew I needed a break. The thrill of writing a new manuscript has settled into a rhythm of high motivation and determination, but I also feel an unsettling certainty that I’ve got all my eggs in one basket right now, and I need to be writing music and essays and nonfiction pieces. Things that, yanno. Pay. Not to mention promoting the things I already have out there. But all that nibbles at the edge of my enjoyment, and this week, as I’ve been fighting off a cold, I realized I was teetering on the edge of burnout.

Katfish Katy 5So I left the computer at home.

And I had trouble getting to sleep, so in the chill of a fifty-degree morning beside the Missouri River, I stayed in my sleeping bag until the kids got us up at, well, (cough-cough-six-thirty).

I didn’t miss a moment of our first real campout as a family, and for that I’m very grateful.

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