Thursday, July 21, 2016

5 Questions To Ask Each Day

Amidst the cacophony of noise in the world it has often become hard to hear the gentle voice of grace in our days. It can become too easy in this culture to get lost in all of the loudness and the chaos. We begin to look at others as problems and not people (a prime example of this is whenever I am stuck in the bumper-to-bumper morning traffic as I commute into the city).  Certainly I have begun working on changing this in me by praying that I can see them not as impediments to my having a good day but the opportunity to see each one as made in the image of God and to take the time to pray for them.

It's amazing how much the world may not change but I do when I take the time to stop focusing on the negative but focus on the goodness of God. In such moments I am attempting to feel what the Hebrew language calls shalem. Shalem means: complete, safe, at peace, whole and it's related to the word for peace shalom.  Instead of magnifying my frustration and irritation, but magnify a sense of gratitude gives me a sense of shalom and shalem.  

As Annie Dillard wrote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." How am I spending mine?

Ecclesiastes tells us that our time here is but hevel. Many have mistranslated this as "vanity" when the more correct translation would be "vapor." This changes the verse's meaning significantly. "All is ephemeral." So during this brief, vapor of time we have, how do we spend it? How do we use our lives to help impact the lives of others, even if it's just to say a kind word or smile?

Our time is short, but so much can happen in a brief span of time.  Consider the next 60 seconds.

What will happen in that blip that most of us won't register?

In the next 60 seconds:

250 babies will be born.

150 people will die. (Not a thought we like to have).

Your heart will pump 83 gallons of blood.

6 million chemical reactions will take place inside every single cell in your body.

The universe will expand 2766.4 miles.

The sung will fling 60 million tons of matter into space.

1,800 stars will explode.

A hummingbird can flap its wings 4,000 times.

All of that is amazing and magnify that around the world and throughout the universe that we aren't even aware of most of the time. Add to that the great longing in the world. In Jesus we see that God was not interested in abstract ideals but in the dirt and soil reality of the Word taking on flesh. Christ came to this world as one of us and showed through his life and the Eucharist that the divine was rooted in the daily. In his book The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon writes, "Man's real work is to look at the things of this world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does and man was not made in God's image for nothing." The more I begin to grasp this, the more it transforms not only me but my interaction with those around me. That's why, throughout the day, I've begun to ask myself 5 questions to help me focus on what is really important:

1. Do I comfort more than I seek comforts?

2. Do I choose compassion over comparison?

3. Am I attentive or do I seek attention?

4. Am I judgmental or joyful?

5. Do I express my grumblings more than my gratitude?

How I answer those questions in my actions and my words can have a huge impact wherever I am without my realizing that it does. We do not know how we can affect another person's life, a stranger's life, by simply choosing patience and kindness in how we react and reach out to others. Christ understood that to impact and change others required him to have an intimacy with them. He was present in their lives. He was about relationship because that's what led to restoration and redemption. Jesus believed in a shalom that was more than the absence of conflict but the kind that brings wholeness: that causes people to dwell in harmony with God, with others and with the land itself. 

Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, best known for writing The Little Prince, once said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." Do I cause others to long for the "endless immensity" that is the love of God by their seeing me do so in my daily life? Does my attitude and my actions speak of this divine love before I even open my mouth?  

I pray that I do.

I pray that I walk in radical compassion. That I love bravely and without conditions.

I pray that I strive not to impress but to make a positive impact in someone's life who most needs it. 

I pray that God can help work through me by his Spirit so that I can answer an exultant, "YES!" to each of my 5 questions each day.

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