Stability and laundry

We have a clothesline made of 4×4 posts. When we first installed it, we used little metal contraptions with little socket for the post and a long spike underneath. A couple of inches of socket and some screws are not strong enough and don’t have enough leverage to keep a tall 4×4 post upright, especially when it’s holding four lines of wet laundry in the wind. So eventually Mark pulled out the metal thingies and did the harder and longer work of digging post holes, mixing concrete, and setting the posts again.

Why the metal things to begin with? Partly because it would be less work, and mostly because they could be removed relatively easily — in case we wanted to take the clothesline down in the winter, or move it somewhere else if the first location turned out to be a poor choice.

Options.

Keeping options open means not being able to commit to much, and not being able to get much from anything. Choosing is a form of stability — a commitment to a place, to a project, to a partner, to a parish, to be fully present there. I have a hard time being fully present; I am often distracted by another conversation nearby, the other items on my to-do list, other ways to do the thing I am trying to do, fears of making the wrong choice, etc. I have more often considered the costs of commitment than the benefits.

Our clothesline is so much stronger now. The posts don’t wobble. They remain straight and secure even when the lines are loaded. It’s stuck where it is now — digging out that concrete would be a lot more work than putting it in was. I’m less bothered by this permanence, this reduction of options, than I thought I would be.

If I hadn’t written this blog post, I would sneer at it; it’s such a preachy little devotional piece, finding a spiritual application in some ordinary object. Words, and the arrangement and offering of words — pesky, puzzling things.

Baptismal gowns

My friend asked me to make baptismal gowns for their twin boys, who were baptized this All Saints’ Day. We chose Ginger Snaps Designs “Brantley” day gown pattern, a lovely white-on-white striped shirting material, and a crochet-style lace and ribbon trim. The pattern was coming together quite nicely, very straightforward.

IMG_0444

But we were having trouble achieving the plain wide satin hem she wanted. This blanket binding was too coarse, with a manufactured edge that seemed too inelegant for this application, and neither of the laces I had on hand seemed a good alternative.

IMG_0447

We couldn’t find a satin material we liked, but this satin ready-made ruffle seemed at the store like it might work, along with this shimmery lace trim, but it too had that inelegant edge and was rather stiff and thick, making the gown look like it had a hoop skirt.

IMG_0452

The solution was a ruffle made from the same shirting material on the bias.

IMG_0465

I had thought I would embroider a cross on each gown, but my embroidery skills are better suited to very simple doll faces and writing my name in my choir robe. Instead I crocheted some to appliqué.

IMG_0467

Earthly things and things heavenly

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP p. 234

This week’s prayer involves a distinction that is easy to make too black and white. It is tempting to think that earthly things are all the things that have anything to do with this earthly life — food and clothing, work, relationships, hopes and dreams and fears, war and peace, the environment, etc. In that case the things heavenly would be God and… heaven. Harps? Streets of gold? Maybe our character and moral progress? Or our sins and need of repentance? The strength of our faith, the quality of our doctrine, etc.

But heaven is not some place outside this universe where we go after this earth is destroyed and we have died. Heaven is the renewal and redemption of the only universe God has made, including this earth.

What if everything about this present life is intimately connected with life in the age to come?

What if earthly things, the things that are passing away, are the things of falsehood, evil, and sin? People are heavenly things, and so are our relationships. The earthly anxieties I need to let go are not things like caring about people or even myself — how then could one practice the command to love neighbor as self? — but things like worrying about winning and maintaining other people’s approval, trying to contort and distort myself to meet others’ expectations, or any other kind of desperation around trying to get my relational needs met. One could make a similar exploration of earthly anxieties around other things of this life, too — and there are even earthly anxieties around heavenly things — like misguided efforts to earn God’s favor, or a distracting and fruitless scrupulosity.

A Buddhist and a Methodist…

A year or three ago I came across a children’s book written by Thich Nhat Hanh, called A Pebble for your Pocket. The whole thing is quite lovely. I especially loved and remember the section about anger. He talks about holding one’s anger as one would ideally hold a colicky baby — listening warmly and affectionately and tenderly, not threatened or reactive or otherwise taking it personally; not dismissive, suppressive, scornful, or otherwise pushing it away; not enraptured, enmeshed, or otherwise morbidly attached to it.

Recently my friend gave me a most beautiful book on prayer by J. Neville Ward. In the chapters on fear and suffering, he talks about pain, whether of the body or the mind, as an alarm signal, a warning that something needs attention. The right use of the mind, whether in fear or in pain, is to either come to some decision to act, or else to realize that in this case no action is warranted or possible. In the case of fear, it is then necessary to detach or disengage from the fear, as “further brooding on the matter is a misuse of the mind” (68). In pain that goes beyond the ordinary warning signal, it is necessary to “accept the situation, reject [one’s] resentment and self-pity, and… to wish to do God’s will in this situation” (77). I imagine Ward would see both cases as a detachment, and that detachment does not mean denial or repression, but involves acceptance and wise action.

I think the two could talk to each other, especially in further illuminating what detachment is and is not.

Thich Nhat Hanh might point out that it could be fruitful to explore how brooding and self-pity compare to and differ from compassion toward the self. That sometimes sitting with a feeling or set of feelings might be more fruitful when it is less focused on solution and action, and more focused on simply listening, observing, allowing, feeling, caring — on simply being with the self that is afraid or in pain. How often what our friend needs is not our advice or problem-solving assistance or external help, but our compassionate presence, affectionate and warm, often silent, unhurried, unworried — should we not offer the same friendliness to ourselves?

J. Neville Ward might suggest that it is important to know when enough time and energy has been invested in the matter, and when it is time to turn to action, whether action to resolve the matter, or some other action of doing God’s will in the situation.

I wonder if both would agree that the cessation of the sense of fear or pain is not the only or most reliable signal that it is now time to detach and move to other things. The very terms “detach” and “move” suggest something to detach and move away from. So there must be some other signal or signals by which one can sense when to remain still and silent with the feeling(s) and when to go on to something else while the feeling(s) continue in the background — some sense of having done what is called for, having reached the end of what can be done in this moment.

Perhaps it seems peculiar that I could worry that detachment could entail any sense of scorn or lack of compassion toward the fearful or pained self, that I would need reassurance that compassion and acknowledgment don’t (have to) cease when one turns to action or other matters. I wonder if either or both of these authors would readily understand that worry.

Talking about depression

I understand the desire to make depression legitimate by framing it in purely medical terms.

To get as far away as possible from the idea that it’s a mere choice or some kind of flaw or weakness in character, in spirit or faith, in maturity. To avoid any hint of blame or complicity for people and systems that may otherwise be thought to be part of the issue.

And yet I worry that we risk losing so much by limiting our understanding of depression to ‘chemical imbalance’ as if anyone even really knows what that is and how it works and why.

Surely the abundant life includes experiences of deep grief, sorrow, anger, and fear as well as the more pleasant feelings; not all pain is pathological. Surely our physiology and our mental and emotional and spiritual being are intimately interconnected, mutually influential. Surely our personal history, our culture(s), influence and are influenced by both. Surely the existence of evil, the challenges of the human condition, even the bits outside our immediate personal experience, also influence us. Surely we can come to a richer, deeper, broader understanding of mental, emotional, spiritual health, that accepts the benefit for some people of certain kinds of medications and / or certain kinds of therapies, and that also is willing to explore the subtle nuances and limits of agency and relationships and circumstance.