The Incongruous

A friend and I were moseying around in a civilized park–acres of lawn, old trees, a pond with ducks, play spaces for kids. I was enjoying it all, casually looking around. Suddenly, “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Is it possible?” I pointed. Over there, it looked very much like a big boa constrictor swaying through the grass. Here? Could it be?

Since neither of us feels the usual revulsion to snakes, we ambled in that direction to see what was what. Sure enough. Two big boas were sidling around on the lawn, seemingly at ease and unconcerned with things around them. Two people were there, too. They turned out to be “walking” the boas which were part of their educational menagerie—they take animals into schools, to give the kids new experience. We had a fine time with all of them—people and boas—in spite of the loud scolding from nearby grackles.

Later, I began to reflect: how do we respond to the incongruous, the thing that doesn’t fit, the totally unexpected? I’m not thinking here about tragedies that completely alter or even destroy people’s lives. I’m wondering about the smaller, but still incongruent, experiences. Like boas in a civilized park.

Comedians say that incongruities and the unexpected give them much of their material. We can agree. Shown to us in certain ways, surprising inconsistencies can give rise to much humor. On the other end of the response continuum, my father exploded in anger if anything surprised him by being out of place.

So, some of us laugh at sudden incongruities. Others don’t. Still others respond with curiosity: “What is thatdoing here?” Investigation usually follows. It can be interesting to discover what our own reactions are. Do we open toward the unexpected with willingness or fascination? Do we instantly shut ourselves down in self-defense, perceiving the unexpected as threat? Do we feel wonder: “Wow—look at that!”

Our instantaneous responses may indicate how we face our daily living in the larger sense. Are we braced for trouble? Do we expect to be thrilled and fascinated by the day’s events?

For me – well, I wouldn’t want to have missed playing, even cautiously, with a boa constrictor for once in my life. And I wonder what I have missed at other times, when caution shut a door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rain Comes

 

It’s raining!!!

Three exclamation points? Ahh, this is desert. Here, rain is an Event. In a “normal” year, this desert gets 10 – 12 inches a year. Desert lives, as it were, in perpetual drought. So when it rains—well, yesterday, as a good shower abated, the children were outside, jumping and yelling and pointing and getting deliciously wet. Some of us more “adult” folks would likely have enjoyed doing the same.

Our three western religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam—were born and grew up in the Middle East, in desert country. So in the mystical side of those traditions, rain is a symbol for Grace. Grace is, basically, an undeserved gift from the Divine One. Like rain, a needed gift. The symbol is apt.

Water is essential for life. Likewise, Grace. Indeed, the great ones experience all life as pure gift. It cannot be earned or in any way deserved. The only true response to such a gift is acceptance with gratitude. Further, all the elements essential for life on this planet have been equally provided. Human beings don’t always know how to receive or develop those elements, and we don’t always experience abundance because of our ignorance, but the essentials are present, divinely given.

Rain makes a difference in living, even beyond sustenance. It may not be appreciated or even recognized the same day, as rain can cause temporary havoc. With a little time, the plants recover and grow, the animals and humans do better. Grace, too, can upend things for a while, yet human beings also grow through their response to it. Let’s watch for those moments of enrichment.

On one point, the symbol doesn’t hold. Rain is sporadic and not always predictable. Grace is steady, always flowing, always being given. As the New Testament says, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust.” We do not always recognize it, we take it for granted and ignore it, we may not know how to accept it. Yet our fullness of well being depends on our gracious acceptance of the Grace-given possibilities in life.

It’s raining!!! Let’s be like the children and dance in the puddles!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Trashcan

 

 

She was bent over double, head, shoulders and arms in the gas station trashcan. I assumed she was one of the local homeless folks, so when I’d parked to fill the tank, I dug out a bill for her.

She had moved to another trashcan by then and bent herself double again. Unable to see more than her lower half, I felt a little uncertain, so I gently said, “Good morning.” She unfolded herself out of the trashcan and when her head was free—wispy gray hair poking out beneath a brown knit cap—she returned my greeting.

“Can you use a bit of help?” I asked, offering the bill.

“Oh, no! I don’t take no money! No no NO!”

She paused. “You have compassion,” she said. “That shows you have Jesus in your heart. But Jesus died for our sins, not for money.”

It was my turn to pause. She was a tiny woman, well under five feet. A flat, wrinkled face and nearly toothless mouth—she could have been anything over 60. Bright eyes, though. She wore a shabby brown coat over a few layers of non-descript shirts. The only color in her outfit was the gold in the striped, heavy socks that folded above her ankles. Nevertheless, she was not in rags. Her missing teeth made her speech difficult and she spoke very fast. She went on talking, dignified and insistent. It was, I gathered, mostly about Jesus. It may have been the most urgent sermon I’ve ever heard.

Then, “I get along… a little pension… a little room…I do this,” she pointed to the trashcan, “’cause I get 90 cents a pound for cans. So I got a little to give people livin’ on the street. Jesus said we should take care of each other, right? And He’s coming back to check on us! That’s” – and her meanings were lost in her own eagerness.

I understood little, but her attitude radiated self-respect. She stood erect, her eyes intense and her words flowing like a stream in spring. As she talked, she grew happier, until she broke into a “hallelujah” song, unfamiliar to me but decidedly joyful.

I guessed she might go on all day, so I moved away. She waved as she sang, as if to speed me along. I offered only, “God bless you!” and a silent prayer for her. Driving off, I mused that, differences notwithstanding, I might have just been given a lesson or two in befriending the soul.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Those Blahs

What about those slumps? Or, as my husband used to call them, the blahs. Those times when even the most fascinating project is uninteresting, when even the people we care about seem colorless.

Blahs happen to all of us. Maybe we don’t know what brings them, unless it’s a response to a noticeable event. Sometimes after a great accomplishment, or when we’ve been treated badly—and believed it! Or maybe we just wake up “on the wrong side of the bed,” as the old saying went.

My slumps, thankfully not frequent, do not seem to be related to a discernable cause. They just appear and for a time, nothing is interesting. What I’ve learned is that the cause matters little. It’s what I do with the blahs that makes a difference.

Most of the success literature out there tells you that you must “push through” a slump—work harder, don’t give in, stay at it! If you let slumps order you around, they say, you’ll get behind or something worse.

I beg to disagree. If I care about myself, or to the degree that I care about myself, a slump is there to be heard. Like pain, it brings a message. It’s better to pay attention. It might mean, for example, “Slow down, little one! You’re running too fast.” Or “You’re forgetting yourself—take heed and notice what’s up with you right now.” Or “You’re carrying negativity. Check it out—and let it go.”

It’s not always that clear, either.

So I’m slowly learning to respond differently, to let the indifference be there, accept it, and give to myself whatever seems to be desired. Sometimes that’s a jigsaw puzzle, like a mini-vacation. Sometimes it’s a sleep-in time, because I might just be tired. Sometimes it’s the opposite—I need activity, so I may walk. Sometimes I need to hear the voice of a friend—so I call and say so.

At the very least, a slump is a call from our soul to our awareness to meet some need, to adjust something that’s gotten out of balance. It may not be big, but it’s important, because our soul is needing care that only we can provide.