Finding my way at Krogers

grocery-blog post

After finally finding a parking spot adjacent to Krogers I enter the grocery store to find no available shopping carts. I turn around, return to the parking lot, and find one in the metal shopping cart carrels. My annoyance and impatience are beginning to grow.

I find a cart with a cranky wheel which causes me trouble as I try to push it back into the store while clutching my grocery list written on recycled paper and my reusable bags. As I follow my mental store map I notice just how very busy the store is with many people maneuvering carts filled with groceries. Feeling irritated, I begin to focus on my breathing: in deeply, out deeply, in deeply, out deeply. I move slowly through the store unable to quickly navigate at my usual pace and any remaining patience I had is now gone.

At last, I push my cart into a check-out line behind someone with a full cart, so full I can’t load my groceries onto the conveyor belt yet. The woman, appearing unkempt, asks the cashier several questions which slows the process. And with each question, the cashier gives the woman her full attention, patiently and graciously answering the woman’s questions.

Meanwhile, I am tapping my foot, feeling peevish toward both of them.

The cashier turns toward customer service to ask a question and the woman turns to me, smiles, and says, “Sorry for taking so long. I don’t know how to use the new WIC cards. Before I moved away we had paper coupons and now that I am back, I have to learn the new cards.” She sheepishly smiles at me.

Lying, I tightly smile and say, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

Then the cashier returns and they continue checking out.

As I wait, an inner voice says, “June Mears, you speak and write about compassion for the poor yet when a poor woman slows you down, you lack compassion and mercy.”

I immediately see my Self and repent.

As the woman leaves she apologizes again and I truthfully and heartfully smile at her and say, “It’s no problem. I hope you have a good day.”

As I reach the cashier, I thank her for her kindness and patience with the woman. The cashier responds, “Well, it’s hard for people to learn to use the WIC cards and they need them to feed their families.”

“Well, you were very generous with her and thank you,” I say.

She slightly shrugged as she swipes my groceries over the scanner. “Well, it’s super busy when the accounts are refilled and folks buy their groceries.”

“I thought it was busier than usual,” I say.

“That’s why”.

As I wait for her to finish I gaze at the loving face of God as seen in the face of the Kroger cashier. I find God at Krogers.

***

“Love and mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people.”

–Anne Lamott

Attentive Living: A review of Liturgy of the Ordinary

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren  (InterVarsityPress, 2016)

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It is easy for me to zone out while doing tasks by listening to a podcast, or a recorded book, or NPR. I dislike doing chores without distraction. On occasion, I practice the discipline of silence and  imbue my chores with sacredness. I remember Brother Lawrence, the Carmelite brother who worked his adult life in the monastery kitchen and while cooking, washing dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor as a time for prayer: “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God,” from Practicing the Presence of God.

But usually, well, my chore practice is to be distracted, and will organize my chore schedule to coincide with the NPR schedule so I can be absorbed in something not related to the task at hand.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, writer and Anglican priest, Tish Harrison Warren suggests that all our tasks can be imbued with the sacred. And, truthfully, she is making a convert of me. She reminds the reader that spiritual formation is taking place in us during these daily activities: “Is it in the repetitive and the mundane that I begin to learn to love, to listen, to pay attention to God and those around me.”

She shapes the book on themes which we find in ordinary life: checking email, sitting in traffic, fighting with her husband, calling a friend, and sleeping. She reminds us through an Annie Dillard quote that, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So then, how do we spend our days—distracted and not fully present to our lives or mindful of God’s presence in and around us? Harrison Warren confesses, “It is hard for me to believe that checking email could ever be a place of prayer.” Nevertheless, she hopes her work, her tasks, will be blessed God.  Additionally, Harrison Warren suggests being mindful of God’s love and presence during the repetition of our daily life is similar to the repetition of our transformation, or, our sanctification:

Daily life, dishes in the sink, children that ask the same questions and want the same stories again and again, the long doldrums of the afternoon—these things are filled with repetition. And much of the Christian life is returning over and over to the same work and the same habits of worship. We must contend with the same spiritual struggles again and again. The work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.

Importantly, Harrison Warren reminds us that bringing the sacred into the everyday is not a mental effort but it involves and engages our bodies:

If we don’t learn to live the Christian life as embodied beings, worshiping God and stewarding the good gift of our bodies, we will learn a false gospel, an alternative liturgy of the body …. Our bodies are instruments of worship.

Her reflections are robust, and, truthfully, convicting (especially about checking her social media the first thing in the morning). The book includes discussion questions and practices that could be used for personal study or a small group study. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life is well-written and accessible for readers who are seeking more meaning into one’s everyday life, especially while doing chores.

 

 

 

Prayer for compassion

june mears driedger

A cross-stitched labyrinth made by Kevin Driedger for Christmas, 2007. A cross-stitched labyrinth made by Kevin Driedger for Christmas, 2007.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a compassionate heart this new year.

I pray for a heart that is willing to expand with your compassion, with your love.

I pray for a set of compassionate eyes that see what your eyes see.

I pray for a set of compassionate ears that hear what your ears hear.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a heart willing to extend compassion to those who annoy me, infuriate me, enrage me.

Help me to see these people as your children, worthy of your love and compassion and therefore deserving of my love and compassion.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a heart that is bold enough to seek reconciliation with those whom I have hurt, harmed or dismissed.

Help me to understand, to know (deep in my bones)…

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The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 2)

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“My friends, the world situation is grave. Humanity with fearful faltering steps, walks a knife-edge between complete chaos and a golden age, while strong forces push toward chaos. Unless we, the people of the world, awake from our lethargy and push firmly and quickly away from, all that we cherish will be destroyed in the holocaust which will descend.

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

The Golden Rule would do as well. Please don’t say lightly that these are just religious concepts and not practical. These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of life, chaos results. Through obedience to these laws this frightened, war-weary world of ours could enter into a period of peace and richness of life beyond our fondest dreams.”

Steps Toward Inner Peace

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Peace Pilgrim lived 1908-1981 and walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981 spreading her message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 1)

peace_pilgrim-1980-hawaii

“There’s no greater block to world peace or inner peace than fear. What we fear we tend to develop an unreasoning hatred for, so we come to hate and fear. This not only injures us psychologically and aggravates world tension, but through such negative concentration we tend to attract the things we fear. If we fear nothing and radiate love, we can expect good things to come. How much this world needs the message and example of love and of faith!” —Steps Toward Inner Peace

(Peace Pilgrim lived 1908-1981 and walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981 spreading her message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”)

In reflection

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Embracing the Other:

Engaging across the divides

I am unsettled by the frequency I have unfriended or blocked people leading up to the national election. I have placed friends and family members into a metaphorical box, labeled it Others and placed it in the back of my heart closet. I exclude Others from my life and create a distance from, whether that be an emotional or physical or relational distance. I dismiss these Others by not taking them seriously, by trivializing or mocking them, by refusing to listen to their heart stories of joys and pains, and ultimately, I exclude them from God’s love. I consider them unworthy of God’s love, grace, and mercy.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), Miroslav Volf describes three qualities of exclusion. First, exclusion entails the cutting of bonds that connect individuals to one another. The Other emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away and driven out of its space, or as a nonentity that can be disregarded and abandoned. We see this everywhere on social media, cable news, and even within the church. We see people disregarded and abandoned, with news reports of refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes only to be refused entry into other countries. We see this in our national political conversations. We see this in all forms of social media. And we see this refusal to meet the Other within our congregations, conferences, and denominations.

Second, exclusion entails erasure of separation, meaning the Other emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like ourselves, or be subjugated to ourselves. We see this in the continued fragile relationship between people of color and white people; English and non-English speakers; LGBTQ and hetero persons; progressive believers and fundamentalist believers; Republican and Democrats. These are all forms of exclusion.

And third, exclusion is judgment. Volf writes, “Strong disagreement with a lifestyle, religious belief-system, or a course of action—a disagreement that employs adjectives like ‘wrong,’ ‘mistaken,’ or ‘erroneous,’ and understands these to be more than expressions of personal or communal preference—is felt to be exclusionary.”

Volf suggests a “theology of embrace” as the way of loving and reconciling with the Other. He breaks down the image of an embrace into four movements to help us understand how we might do this. These elements of embrace include:

  1. Opening the arms is a gesture of the body reaching for the Other. Open arms are a sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in, and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other. Open arms are a gesture of invitation and hospitality.
  2. Waiting is the act of postponing the desire of welcoming the Other to myself until I know the other is willing to open their arms in reciprocation. Waiting on the Other allows the other to decide if they wants to be reconciled or left alone. The Other cannot be coerced into an embrace, otherwise the embrace becomes an act of violence. If embrace takes place, it is because both individuals want it—embrace must be reciprocal.
  3. Closing the arms is the goal of the embrace. It takes two pairs of arms for one embrace.
  4. Opening the arms again allows the individuals freedom to be themselves. Additionally, opening the arms again begins the cycle of embrace.

The embrace transforms the Other—the person I have dismissed or hated or oppressed—into my brother or my sister, one that I can truly love. In truly loving my brother or my sister, I enter into a relationship based on trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and intimacy, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I begin to see the Other as God sees them—as one who is created and loved by God—not as a monster to be rejected by the world.

Our ability to embrace the other is not based on our willfulness, on our insistence. Our ability to embrace the other is based on God’s embrace of us. We can embrace because God first embraced us. We can love because God first loved us.

A longer version of this post was published in Leader magazine, Fall 2016.

Photo: By Dhiriart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46459574