This week I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s latest: Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s a book about three essential prayers that Lamott says are necessary for all of us to go back to over and over again. Saying to God, “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!”
The first two sections were typical Anne Lamott good– honest, raw, and real. So real that her words make you want to figure out how to write like this in your own voice.
But the third section has captured my attention in way that I think we don’t talk about enough as people of faith: Wow!
Lamott writes: “The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace.”
And when you put it like this, I don’t think we don’t know how to say wow. Sure, it’s a simple enough word, but I can’t think of the last time I heard it in a conversation.
Maybe it is because we don’t know how to stop.
Maybe it is because speechlessness as a prayer doesn’t seem to equate to “real” prayer in our minds.
Maybe it is because we are people who like to rush on through to the next project, the next meal, the next adventure that we keep our eyes shut to “Wow” most of the time.
This week as I’ve been traveling with the team from Feed The Children in Guatemala, there have been a lot of wow moments.
The children getting a book for the first time.
The smiles of the mothers.
The birds (and flying beatles) waking us up in the morning at sunrise.
As we’ve been thrust out of our normal day-to-day routines saturated in the beauty of a country with lush hills and valleys, colorful clothes and flavorful foods, it is much easier to say wow. Especially as we’ve served meals to children with the sparkle of gratitude in their eyes for a simple plate full of tamales, rice and beans, you just can’t help but smile in wow!
But I don’t think you have to go out of the country or into a new experience to have a “wow” moment or to offer up a “wow” prayer. Such opportunities are all around us, I believe.
Our children learning to say please.
Waking up before our alarm goes off.
An unexpected invitation to dinner.
A card of thanksgiving.
What about you? what is making you say “Wow” where you are today? Here’s some photos of mine.
Most if not all were minorities.
Many were elderly, walking with canes or walkers.
Many were young mothers with babies in strollers or in car seats.
Many looked cold after standing in line for three or more hours simply to make it to the front of the line.
Many spoke of their long journey home, taking two or more buses to get back to their doorstep.
Most looked weary with the burdens of a hard life– a life that had a lot to do with self-reliance, determination and perseverance to succeed even under less than desirable circumstances.
These were some of my hungry neighbors in the northeast neighborhood of Washington, DC. They gathered in mass nearby the Central Union Mission because they heard Feed The Children came to town with “the big truck.” Feed The Children came with boxes of essential can goods, personal care products such as soap and toothpaste, and loaves of bread, oatmeal, and even some chocolate for the way home from its partners including Pepsi, Frito Lay and Wal-Mart.
As I gathered with my neighbors and stood in the line of folks giving out boxes to families in need, I couldn’t help be overwhelmed by how deeply embedded hunger needs are, only a few miles from our nation’s capital.
Can you imagine what a line of 800 people looks like? (As soon as we thought we’d made headway in passing boxes out, the line seemed to get longer and longer). Can you imagine what it is like to be hungry enough to wait in the cold for a box of food which might only last you a week? Can you imagine the humility that comes from asking for help to simply feed your own children?
As I helped elderly women and young mothers put their canned goods and Corn Flakes into their suitcases or duffel bags, wishing them well on their journey to get all their heavy weight home, I could help but think about what Jesus would say about all of this.
How in a nation of plenty do we allow some of our neighbors to live with such little when many of us take so much?
How do the poor, in a town where media coverage runs on just about anything, become invisible to us?
How do we call ourselves good neighbors, as residents and frequent visitors to the District when some of our neighbors simply do not have enough food to feed our families?
Of course, these are big questions to ask and big questions without simple answers. And, the folks at Feed The Children know that food is only the beginning– you feed hungry people so that doors of greater relationship can be opened for lasting change. Feed The Children just is a small drop in the larger assistance movement in communities. Feed The Children’s food drop’s like today mean little if they aren’t connected to greater, long-term investment by partner organizations. And Feed The Children’s network of building lasting change with in communities like DC is certainly growing by the day. Today was more than about just food– Feed The Children made sure of this.
As I reflect tonight on my experience today at this event, I am sobered most of all. I know I need to think of my neighbors– all of them– in new ways. I need to remember as much as I have, there are those who struggle in my own neighborhood to buy vegetables and shampoo.
Maybe for all of us on this Holy Week as we stand around in the crowds, watching and waiting for and with Jesus– we can all do our part by remembering the poor among us. We can thank God for the blessings in our life, both great and small. Yet, we can remember that no matter how wide we think our vision is in our community, there’s always hungry folks among us wanting to be seen and feed too.
Sometimes of late, I look around at my life and don’t recognize myself.
Situations that used to make me anxious like ever-changing plans for where I’ll be in a given week– are par for the course.
Weeks of the year like this one, that used to be full of the busy cries around the church office of “Holy Week is coming, holy week is coming” are just another week in the year, actually quieter than normal.
Being able to answer someone when they ask what’s going on next month with a definitive answer is simply a thing of the past.
Kevin and I now spend time between Oklahoma City, OK and the DC metro area and every other place in between as we balance this lifestyle of being where we need to be at the time. Kevin works in both places. I have things to do in both places and other places too. Defining where exactly is our “home” becomes murkier all the time. Since January, it is rare that I haven’t been on an airplane at least once a week. We have been blessed to have the resources to do what is needed (and for this, I’m grateful everyday), but it’s been a big change. And, I’ve looked for resources from any place I can to manage it all. And this is one I’ve thought a lot about lately:
One summer while I was in college, I worked for a youth camp organization– an international and domestic traveling team for two months. Before the summer began, we were told to pack one suitcase that would contain everything we’d need for all sorts of climates and living conditions. I showed up on day one with the biggest bag of them all– something about having my own stuff made me feel more secure. But, instead, I just felt awkward.
Soon I would be challenged at every possible level. I slept in a new bed every couple of days. After the first week of camp, we moved on to a new location. I knew this was what I should be doing for the summer . . . but there were so many moments when I wondered what I’d gotten into!
But, as the days went on, I learned the best thing I could do was travel lighter each week. Maybe I didn’t need to get so attached people we met at the work sites? Maybe I could exchange my big mama bag for something smaller at a thrift store? Maybe as everything changed from week to week– the scenery, the traveling companions beside me and even my moods– I was being given tools to teach me? Simplicity of purpose became the gift which led to contentment.
And again, here in 2013, with Feed The Children so much a part of what drives the heart of our schedule, I’m having similar stirrings.
Can I live with what is right in front of me?
Can I be content anywhere? Can I find the good in situations or places that are not always ideal?
But, again there are challenges (or maybe just growing edges).
When your life is spread across several places, you often don’t have your first choice of what to wear on a given day. When I get dressed in the morning I often get to pick out something from what is in a suitcase, even if it contains the same choices from what I picked last week.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t always get your life in your best case scenario. For example, I love sit-down dinners at home. But to expect a daily routine of always eating with Kevin on Mondays at 6 pm is out of the question. We must connect to each other in other ways.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t get the luxury of getting peace from your circumstances. If I only found peace from running in a particular park or reading in a particular chair or drinking tea from a particular mug, then simply peace wouldn’t exist. I must find peace from the presence of the Holy, whom I know is with me wherever I go.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t “work” like normal people do. If I got my esteem from the praise of a boss or a work environment, I’d just be in complete misery right now. But, I can’t let other’s opinions of me be the words I listen to the most.
In these Lenten weeks, I’m growing to be ok with whatever each day holds, even if it doesn’t look exactly like it did the day before. I’m learning to live with less stuff. I’m learning God’s presence can be found on airplanes, in guest beds of friends homes’, or back in my favorite writing chair in VA. And, if my heart settles a little, no matter what the circumstances, life can be good. Sometimes even very good indeed.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
What does this practice look like in our modern context?
Last summer I spent a week of training for my spiritual director certificate at the Interfaith Institute in Berkeley, CA. Throughout the week, my cohort explored the practice of deeply listening to one another through a variety of different activities. We shared stories. We worked with images. And we even went on solitary walks. Now, eight months later, the memories of this experience are some I still treasure dearly.
And, there’s one gem I gained from our Hindu instructor I’ve thought a lot about this Lent. She said, “If you want to listen to God, then you need to limit media you are taking in.” Or in other words she offered: “If you want to be close to the Divine, ask yourself, why are you watching so much tv or listening to so much of the radio or watching movies on Netflix online?” Her words were practical and to the point.
I love media like most of you. Sometimes I think my computer is attached to my body. Sometimes I find myself sad when I don’t have a day to catch up on the recorded shows on my DVR box and just veg out. Sometimes the silence of driving in the car with the radio is deafening. My generation loves noise.
But then there are moments when I truly turn it all off and I’m so glad I did.
On Sunday night, Kevin and I were cooking in our Oklahoma apartment’s kitchen. The counter space is limited and we were side by side. He was chopping fruit. I was baking bread. We were preparing to host breakfast the next morning for the country directors from Feed The Children in town for the week.
We had both previously commented how excited we were about watching the Oscars. Being movie buffs, we couldn’t wait to see who won what and how funny (or not) the jokes were. But then a strange thing happened. We came home from the grocery store and we didn’t turn the tv on.
I don’t know how, but we forgot about the Oscars.
We unloaded the car, cooked in silence for a while and then began to talk to each other– sharing details about our weeks that we would have missed if we didn’t take this time of pause. I learned more about some of Kevin’s deep burdens and he learned more about mine.
I think that listening to God is like this. I think this is what Jesus was modeling for us when he went to the lonely places and prayed.
Sure, we all might have intentions about what we are “doing” this Lent to grow in our faith– no sweets, no soda, exercising more or even drinking more water, but what good are these things if we don’t allow the slower pace of life to help us listen?
Listening to what we are to do next in our daily rhythms . . .
Listening to what our primary relationships need most from us . . .
Listening to what we can only hear if we turn our tvs and computers off . . .
In reading through the gospels, it seems to me that as much as Jesus was “on” and busy, he was always looking for a retreat, quiet and silence. Thank goodness that it is this season, that reminds us every year that the most important thing we can all do is unplug and listen!