What does Jesus look like anyway?

I think we do a major disservice if we raise our children to “type” need. In considering Matthew 25: 31-46, where Jesus basically breaks it down like so: don’t just do it for Jesus, do it for the “least” of these; it’s easy to walk way looking for the ragged and wondering if behind the smell of urine is Jesus.

After years of praying for God to soften my heart, I have found my heart has led me into a number of experiences with others.  I found myself feeling a sense of sadness for a really adorably dressed, well-groomed, “pop-culture pretty” 23 year old “chick”. Similarly, I felt compelled to reach out, aware of the fact that a 40+ year old woman I met was experiencing a deep hunger for the freedom offered through grace. Then I met and prayed with this guy who I realized was suffering in his relationships because of a lack of faith. Then I massaged oil into my Grandmother’s skin the night she died because I could tell… I could just tell.

And so my point: we are all the “least of people”

Really. I think my whole life until a few years back, I took this verse and started to do that thing where everytime I saw a homeless person I thought “What if it’s Jesus??” And give him all my cash in my pocket. (True story: I did this at the ball game then didn’t have $$ to get out of the parking lot at the Courthouse and had to ask the car behind me to spot me..) :-/ #humility

Anyway. I think it’s easy to do this! I think you can get in this mode where people who look poorer than you, act hungrier than you, seem thirstier than you,  are on your radar and you feel some great mission to find them based on what you think they look like and treat them all as good as you would if it was Christ himself asking for a bite of your Jimmy John’s.

But here’s the deal:

Have you ever bought yourself a great oufit and looked down to see your kid’s jeans are completely high watered?

Have you ever talked to your boss about workplace politics and realized he was totally frightened?

Have you ever met with a 90 year old woman and felt compelled to touch their hand and kiss them on their cheek like you would a cuddly 6 month old baby?

We are all in that place – never too mighty to be cared for, never too fortunate to be experiencing a deep need for love and grace..

I think this Matthew verse is especially challenging because in it I feel God calls us to truly open our hearts and connect within the human experience. The first time I spent time at a woman’s shelter, I recall praying to God the most concrete prayer walking in: “Open my heart, please.” I was almost begging him to help me. And in my time with the women found myself realizing, “Erin, these women know you know they’re homeless . Don’t see their need – it’s no different than your own need – connect and laugh, relax and hangout.”

The needs Jesus lists are our most common needs and I consider this initial charge to be “Being a Reasonably Good Human Being 101″. I believe starting from an awareness of these needs, you allow caring to settle into your heart – it takes root – and you begin to grow to deeper places of insight.. you are able to move into performing acts of justice. You have a hieghtened awareness and are drawn to things you believe should change. You become more aware of levels deep within people – into a more specific part of the human condition. All of this unique to the eyes of YOUR heart, seeing things that you are especially equipped to notice BECAUSE of the person you are divinely designed to be.

God gave our heart eyes to see spiritual needs in others and by attempting acts of mercy, I feel you obtain some necessary level of humility that allows you to move forward -(aware both in how to care for others and how to accept care) in meeting others in their moments and act towards justice. Always true to your calling. And ultimately able to make a really profound difference in the world.

We are all the least of these.

Click here to watch this week’s message: “Breaking Up With Yourself: Part 2″

A Good Tree: A #CoreGroup reflection on “service as attitude”

Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.                                    – Lao Tzu

 

I am sitting here trying to figure out the best way to get out what I have been thinking through since Sunday after listening to a message at my church (check it: Breaking Up With Yourself: Part 1).

The challenge we were given was to consider service not as an action but as an attitude.. to consider the fruit which we bear.. to consider how the words of our mouths are the overflow of our hearts.

Based on Luke 6:43-45, we are pointed to consider a tree: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” And as I have been working through my personal application (finding myself in various degrees of depth) I consistently go back to this:

trees don’t think about what fruit they are going to bear.

Trees do not have conscious minds. That’s why in Jeremiah the man whose faith is in God is referred to as a tree planted by a stream.. not worrying in the drought, not fearful in the heat. The tree is a tree: a system that pulls nutrients from where it is planted, reaches for light, channels energy through its tissues, and – low and behold – grows, potentially bearing fruit. In this sense, faith (to me) is not ignoring impulses or feeling as though we can’t be a little freaked out and aware of the fact that we need water; faith is trusting the idea of impermanence (the tree, our body, will inevitably perish) and “being who we are” in all circumstances. Faith is also knowing God shows up and being ready to soak up the rain.

Side story..

I once had a particularly almost dead plant. I was packing up and moving out of the house I shared with my then husband and I looked at this plant and considered tossing it. But I didn’t. I packed it up, moved it to my little apartment, started throwing prayers in its pot via random dimes, watering it and talking to it while I did my dishes. Without thinking about its progress, one morning I turned the corner into my kitchen and saw that the blessed thing was thriving. Not just alive.. thriving.

I share that because it points back to what I think is essential for service as an attitude: going with who you are and what your inclinations are but without a lot of measuring, competition, or tracking. Knowing what your talents are and what time you have requires spending time knowing this core of who you are from which you are able to discern.

Give whatever is like breathing to you. Make it effortless. And, in that, no longer think so much about what you are producing. Just love and live with a strong heart and let your actions and interactions bubble up from there.

In my own life the fruit I claim I put out there are my ideas: ideas for you, ideas for the yoga studio, ideas for my work, etc etc. And out pour words, words, words. (Which makes me think of this favorite line from a favorite author)

But what does it look like if I consciously bring into alignment that which I am doing – saying – giving with that which is in my heart? How many ideas might I pass on sharing just because I think of them in order for the moment to arise when the contribution is coming from my core? Is stirred by the spirit I have invited in my life?  

All of this leads me further into these types of questions: Am I resourceful in pulling the nutrients from the soil in which I am planted? Do I need a new landscape to draw from? Am I reaching daily for sunshine / Jesus energy :) and bringing that into my inner system – my energy – my chakras? Am I even allowing the space and time I need to mature to pass in order to ultimately produce the fruit I am divinely designed to produce?

 Or am I forcing it all?

Trees don’t think about the fruit they bear, trees bear fruit. And good trees bear good fruit: the outcome of its character – its heart. So here we are now looking at this idea and I wonder how we may be more mindful to cultivate a life that helps us live authentically, giving truly from a place where our talents lie. Life, to me, gets more peaceful when I stop thinking of all I could give on my part and – instead – giving what I feel I should from my heart.

It seems to me that a Christ centric approach to service involves being a “good tree” in that you turn off all the noise and quiet the mind. Allow yourself to mature through daily feeding knowing the moment will come for you to give and, when it comes, you’ll know exactly how to make that apple.

Swimming in the Dark

This is a picture of Ellen coming up (or going down) earlier this summer. I thought of it for this post because it's it - it's the place.
This is a picture of Ellen coming up (or going down) earlier this summer. I thought of it for this post because it’s it – it’s the place I describe in this writing..

There is a sink full of warm water and mostly clean dishes in my kitchen. I was washing those same dishes last night when I took a phone call (my older sister Emily calling me back) – talked for an hour – then went off to do a bit of reading before falling asleep. The dishes sat overnight and were added to by breakfast. It wasn’t long into re-washing the dishes that I felt compelled to capture a moment for which I am quite grateful. Sitting down to write this post, I’m looking at washing these dishes for the 3rd time tomorrow.

Mid-week this week I found myself fessing up my honest take on some situations to two of my confidants. In allowing myself to be brutally honest, I realized just how critical I had become. Even though I wasn’t always expressing this sentiment, it was in me. I was humbled by what I looked like: going on and on about how inefficiently people communicate. All of these situations were truly opportunities to show compassion. And truly in all of this, there was a distinct opportunity to show myself that same compassion. I was reminded of a poem by Fleur Adcock (check it: here) and really took a minute to breathe and allow myself to be how I am. I have a bad habit of comparing what I like and find entertaining or noteworthy with what others may like and find entertaining or noteworthy. It felt good to experience some complete whole breaths of self compassion. And thus lay off everybody else who is just being who they are.. interesting concept, right? (I’m laughing – because of how sure I am I have solved this puzzle before and how certain I am I will need to solve it again.)

Thing is – I came across something tonight that I haven’t had before (though I swear I have but I can’t remember) for which I am grateful. Really really grateful. It was like being given a key.

I took my daughters up to the pool at about 4:45pm. For about 2 hours, I did what’s typical: socialized with other moms, read (here’s what I’m currently on my 6th attempt to read..) and answered my children’s inquiry “when are you getting in” with all sorts of creative milestones “when I get to page 93″ – “when my heart is ready” – and (most commonly used) “when I  get hot”.

Around 7:30, when Ellen got out and said she was bored, I pulled out a deck of cards. After a couple of rounds of Go Fish and Rummy, the night sky had completely fallen. The pool lights were on and making the water dazzle like only a summer time pool can on either a humid August night or one of those magical mid vacation nights when you know longer know the date. We both started joking about jumping in with our clothes on and before long, in one quick movement, I dove in and began a completely different experience.

Swimming in the dark with the world lit up below us, I started to feel something really super familiar. I had flashes of feelings from my past but without images or stories.

I felt lucky. I felt really loved. I felt a sense of simplicity. I felt I could go on forever. These feelings were fleeting, but over and over while jumping around and playing nonsense games, I would get them. Flash. flash. flash.

I started out on a lap to the deep end of the pool where I planned to go over to the ladder and climb out to meet my towel. The flashes continued. Without thinking, I found myself stopping at some point in the deep end, keeping my eyes closed, plunging down under the water and letting my knees hit a bend after my feet hit the floor. Pausing. Exhaling. Then coming up for one breath, keeping my eyes closed and going down again. In recalling this, my motions continued as if on auto-pilot.

Over and over again without opening my eyes, I felt this incredible feeling of nothing. I wasn’t an adult but I wasn’t a child. I was only myself. I had no age. Just the feeling of warm water over my whole body then stillness. A part of my inside was laughing at the joy and the freedom. The secret of buoyancy and its power to let you leave the demands of the every day physical reality in which we live. For a parallel, it was nothing like driving: where you’re behind a machine and watching lights, cars, and trying not to text.

My mind started getting busy trying to grab words to describe how happy I was in this and sure enough I lost it. But now I know I have this spot – now I know that there is a familiarity in water that takes me to my inner most place where I am not even “Erin” but I am my soul. My non-critical, very curious, full of wonder, and quite generous soul. 

It’s just draped in lightly freckled skin with eyes that are (at the moment) pretty tired and in a body that has dishes to do.

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