A Note from my Mother (devo180 recap)

A new weekly feature here on Wherethewind.com brings a week’s worth of devotions from my other website devo180.com and puts them together in one long blog post. I will be editing them for continuity, so the text isn’t exactly like it is on the other site. You can go there and get the original. This one is from the first week of September.

I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. (2 Timothy 1-5; context)

“May you continue to have the space for reflection, the silence for relationship with God, the time for relaxation, and the temperament to recognize and rejoice in all of creation.” You probably don’t recognize the name of the person who wrote this quotation. And that’s okay, because she’s not famous (except in genetically exclusive circles). She’s my mother, and she is one of the wisest and gentlest people I know. She could easily be a saint except that her miracles aren’t the flashy kind that gets you noticed by the canonization committee. Anyway, she wrote those words to me over the summer in a card celebrating the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. The card has been propped open on my desk ever since, and I’m excited that I get to share it with you.

So I invite you to dig up some wisdom from your own mother. If you can’t, dig up some wisdom from one of those surrogate mothers that everyone seems to collect (I’ve got about five, I think). Reflect on that wisdom, and then we’ll pick up with the first phrase of my mother’s message.

Space for Reflection

In her note to me, my mother prayed that I have “the space for reflection.” Now, the word “reflection” is one of my all time favorite words, so I’m sure my mother knew that it would resonate with me. We use the word “reflection” in two main contexts: we see our reflection in mirrors or still ponds and we engage in reflection when we think back on previous events. In both of these contexts, gaining space – both spatial and temporal – allows us to make the most out of reflective moments.

They say that you don’t learn from experience; rather, you learn from reflection on experience. If the middle linebacker (yea football season!!) takes a bad angle and gets blocked out of the play by the left guard, he now has gained some vital experience. But there’s a good chance he’s going to get blocked out of the play again unless he reflects on the mistake and takes time to correct it. For football players, the space for reflection is the film room. For the rest of us, the space happens when we intentionally pause to look back over our days and discern how we succeeded and failed at living the lives God desires for us.

Now let’s get back to the mirror context of the word “reflection.” The word comes from the Latin word flecto, which means “to bend.” Literally, “reflection” is “to bend again” or “to bend back.” So when we allow ourselves the space for reflection, we literally “bend” or, to make the action physical, we “bow.” We bow to the God who is patiently waiting for us to hold up the mirror to our days and see God reflected back at us.

Silence for Relationship with God

My mother prayed that I develop the silence for relationship with God. On the surface, this may seem like a strange juxtaposition – silence and relationship don’t usually go very well together. In a human relationship, a “silent” party may be accused of being incommunicative or may be cowed by an aggressive partner into non-speaking.

But there’s where we make our mistake – too often, we think of silence as a “non-something,” as an absence of something. But silence, when we are speaking about how it functions in our relationships with God, is the exact opposite. Silence is a full something. Practicing silence does not mean shutting off all the noises around and within you. Rather, practicing silence means replacing those noises with attention to what is there, hidden in the background beneath the noise.

This fullness of something beneath is God’s presence. It is beneath the noise because God’s presence is the framework of existence, the structure, the undergirding support for all things. It makes sense, then, that when we find ourselves in silence, we notice this behind-the-scenes presence. When we become attentive to this presence, we can begin to participate in our relationship with God. And it is then that we will notice that God has always and forever been participating in God’s relationship with us.

Time for Relaxation

The third prayer my mother had for me was that I find the time for relaxation. She apparently has some inkling into the fact that I would probably work all the time if I didn’t have people around me to tell me to slow down.

I remember during my first year of college having so much work and reading to do that I never had any time to relax. I always told myself that I would relax when my work was done. The trouble was that when I finished reading for one class, I would need to start it for another, and by the time I was done with that reading it was time to start reading again for the first class. And then there were papers and projects and studying for exams and…and…and…

Finally, a day came when there was just too much hitting me all at once. Then I realized that there was never a time when I wouldn’t have some work for class to do. So I started scheduling relaxation time in order to be more effective when I was working. And that put me on the right path.

The best time to relax is at the moment when you say to yourself, “I am just too busy right now to even think about relaxing.” You (not to mention everyone around you) will be better for it. Remember, Jesus often went off by himself for a bit of a recharge. You can too.

The Temperament to Recognize and Rejoice in All of Creation

The final prayer my mother had for me in that card back in June was that I have “the temperament to recognize and rejoice in all of creation.” I love that she didn’t simply pray for me to recognize and rejoice in creation. Rather, she prayed that I have the “temperament” to do so. In so doing, she asked God that I be granted a specific tool for my faith’s toolbox, not just the effect the tool brings.

Growing into a temperament that recognizes and rejoices means nurturing a certain demeanor, a set of behaviors that leads to the expectation that there is and always will be something to rejoice about. This temperament is not about glossing over the bad stuff or pretending that everything is fine and dandy when it’s not. We aren’t trying to delude ourselves when we seek this temperament. In fact, we are trying to do just the opposite.

Remember two days ago, when I talked about the fullness of God’s presence being the something beneath the silence. In the same way, nurturing the kind of temperament my mother is talking about has to do with searching for the greater reality around and upon which all transient reality clings. Discovering God’s presence in our lives, both when times are great and when times are tough, is all about acknowledging that God is there, undergirding our existence with God’s own greater existence. When we discover this, or more often, when we rediscover this (considering we have a tendency to forget about it), we can recognize and rejoice in creation.

And in so doing, we recognize and rejoice in God’s creating movement in our lives.

I leave this moment with you, God, wishing for open ears to listen, a sensitive mouth to speak, and strong arms to embrace your people.