"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

16 September 2005

Discipline and Peace

Our new Sunday School class is on the spiritual disciplines. Great teacher. Great, and for me very needed, subject. But I already find myself in avoidance, making excuses.

I am not disciplined in these areas. Partly it’s just human laziness, of course. There’s an element of having had folk in my life who made me feel like an evil person because I hadn't cloned their habits. Some of it’s irrational fear of drawing too close to Him – maybe He is waiting for me so He can shoot me down, chew me out, tell me how really a worm I am.

All of it’s just excuses. And part of me wants to embrace this class and maybe find ways to void those excuses. And part of me is afraid to find more rules and instructions and methods of organization that I can’t possibly follow, so that I will feel once again a miserable failure.

Thinking on all this last night, I was struck with the realization that it’s not just “discipline” – making myself do certain things at certain times in certain ways and amounts. But it’s desire – desire not for the disciplines but for the One the disciplines help us to know. All the prayer and Bible reading and fellowship and sermon-listening in the world mean nothing if done for their own sakes. (And I know they can be so done.)

And there is the heart of my reluctance and failure in the disciplines. For all my reliance on relationship, I do not rely on relationship with Him. Oh, I rely on Him. But I do not rely on relationship with Him. I do not love Him and long for Him as I do for my earthly father. And I want to, and I am afraid to, and I am so lazy . . .

And here’s another Scott Cairns poem that somehow speaks to this frustration and failure in me and comforts me. The title is, I understand, a Greek word for “peace.”

Stillness occurs with the shedding of thoughts.

– St. John Klimakos

Of course the mind is more often a roar,
within whose din one is hard pressed to hear
so much as a single word clearly. Prayer?

Not likely. Unless you concede the blur
of confused, compelled, competing desire
the mind brings forth in the posture of prayer.

So, I found myself typically torn,
if lately delivered, brow to the floor,
pressing as far as I could into prayer,

pressing beneath or beyond the roar
that had so long served only to wear
away all good intentions, baffling prayer.

Polished hardwood proves its own kind of mirror,
revealing little, but bringing one near
the margin where one hopes to find prayer –

though even one’s weeping is mostly obscured
by the very fact and effect of one’s tears,

which, for the time being, must serve.


Fieldfleur said...

Interesting. Scott's poem makes the need for prayer sound a bit futilistic, egocentric. Maybe it is (at least the latter)? Do you ever get tired of skin-flaying in the faith of what we don't do, what we aren't? Sometimes I do. Just an errant thought I'm sure.

Take care, thanks for addressing the important stuff,

alaiyo said...

Hi, Teri. It may be because I've been immersed in Cairns' poetry the past week, but I don't get the sense that he's suggesting that *prayer* is egocentric, but that our fallenness and egocentricity can get in the way of prayer, keep us from being able to speak or hear clearly.

And yet the hope is in the fact that "it is sufficient." Maybe not the ideal, maybe not what He and we would like it to be, but sufficient. When His children come to Him, He receives us, delighting in the desire and the attempt, however flawed it may be.

One of my children is going through a terrible struggle right now. I *feel* that I should be able to pray "continually" (meaning at least regularly) and eloquently for that child. Yet the "roar" of life keeps drowning out my awareness and ability, even when I am actively trying to pray (which is far less often than it should be).

And so I rely on my tears and God's mercy and know that He hears and cares far more than even this mother can and that He accepts even the tiniest sacrifice I am able to make -- and so I love Him, and His kindness challenges me to try a little more, seek the peace in which to hear Him a little more diligently.

By the way, you mentioned perhaps wanting to email about teen children some time -- you can reach me at alaiyo_beth @ yahoo.com. (It has added spaces to avoid spam.) It's a challenge, and I'm not sure I have anything practically helpful to say, but I'm good at saying "I know how you feel!" :-)