Habits and Inspiration

I’ve never been a big fan of habits. In spite of what Octavia Butler believes — “Habit will sustain you, whether inspired or not” — I have scorned habits in favor of a more creative, spontaneous, non-habitual life. But this morning I came to my senses. I’ve not been inspired, and I’ve gotten out of a habit that sometimes brings inspiration.

Elijah joy IMG_9566

Elijah

I’ve felt like the psalmist . . .  or like poor little Elijah just 24 hours ago when he couldn’t keep anything down. Not even the Gatorade. When a joyful 19 month-old child gets sick, he doesn’t know what hit him. Sometimes his 76 year-old grandfather doesn’t know either.

Some viruses can’t be seen under a microscope. Some illnesses require more than an Internist’s diagnosis. Their origins defy medical explanation and resist our usual remedies: a stiff drink, an anti-depressant, vitamin and mineral supplements, exercise, or a change of diet. Which is where habits come in.

It’s been weeks since I got out of the habit of morning prayer. Flailing about at four o’clock this morning, I remember the line from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen: it’s the four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions that trouble us over a lifetime. I’ve gotten out of the habit of greeting the day with readings from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), spending a quiet time pondering the psalms and other readings assigned by a calendar prescribed by doctors of the soul. I need to return to a healthy diet.

My best friend is hospitalized, awaiting surgery required by complications from pancreatic cancer. His time is limited. So is mine. Fifty-four years of friendship soon to vanish like the morning mist. Whatever happens today on the operating table, it won’t be long before one of us is gone. I open the BCP. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; O LORD, be my helper,” cries the psalmist (Psalm 30:10-11, BCP), recognizing that there is no quick fix for what ails him.

My friend knows this feeling. He also has a habit that serves him well when the raindrops keep falling on his head. When the four-o’clock-in-the-morning clouds and torrential rains come over him, he turns, as do I this morning, to that which he has not made up, and crawls inside the psalmist’s faith that “weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:6, BCP).

Returning to the habit I’d neglected, I read the psalm again and pray for my friend. But I’m not seeing my friend. I’m seeing someone else. I’m looking at Elijah. He has crawled inside his mother’s watchful care…in the bathtub. He is smiling, playing, and splashing the bath water with no hint of memory of last night when he couldn’t even keep down the Gatorade.

“You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy. Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever” (Ps. 30:12-13. BCW).

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 15, 2018.

Remember me according to . . .

Opening up the cabin after a month away, the temperature was a bit chilly before we built the fire in the wood-burning stove. What warms me more than the fire is the stillness of the place. I read the Psalms differently here. I take time to ponder them.

Psalm 25 is the one I pondered this morning. At first it struck me as the kind of religion that’s killing us — the prayer of religious pride. A second and third reading took me deeper. 

BCP“Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…” (Psalm 25:2-4a, Book of Common Prayer paraphrase). 

Truth and falsehood. The ways of shamelessness and its opposite — treacherous schemes — collide in this psalm. I come to the cabin to get away from the treacherous schemes. I’m for truth and goodness, not treacherous schemes! That’s Trump, not I! Like the psalmist, I claim what no one can honestly claim: “in you have I trusted all the day long” (25:4c) But the psalmist is wiser.

Truth and Falsehood

Truth and Falsehood, Iza Bella [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s as though the psalmist suddenly realizes it’s not true. He shifts his eyes from himself to the One who forgives sin. Maybe s/he’s confused? Maybe he has a split personality? Or maybe just a concrete thinker whose immaturity leaves no room for shades of gray? Or maybe he suddenly remembers something beyond the self and its righteous posturing.

“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Psalm 25:5-6). 

When you look at me, see me through the eyes of eternal compassion, the eyes of your steadfast love. See me the way a grandfather can’t help but see his 17 month-old grandson, Elijah, after Elijah has opened the kitchen cabinets he’s been told repeatedly not to open. See the look on the grandson’s face when he’s caught and his mother tells him “NO!” Watch Grandpa cover his face with his hand to hide to his smile and giggle as he sees the defiant look on Elijah’s little face. 

Perhaps God is like that. The LORD of life (the Breath) is Mishomis —Ojibwe for ‘Grandfather’! See grandson Elijah playing  peek-a-boo with his Mom from his car seat.

Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, Mishomis.

  • Grandpa Gordon, in the wilderness with The Book of Common Prayer, October 22, 2018

In stillness I wait

fd102fe612128b9da9857f58e5286d30I see things in the wilderness I do not notice at home.

Last night the sky was lit by lightning on every side —north and south, east and west— but the lightning was flashing from far away. There was no sound. There was no thunderstorm within miles of the A-frame under the stars.

The cabin by the wetland is like that — a place apart for a news-weary soul. A humble shelter of rough-cut pine without electronic devices among the crows, owls, white-tailed deer, skunks, and swans. Yes, the skunks are here, digging for grubs at night, but the skunks here don’t stink up the place like humans do back home, and, like the crows, owls, deer, and swans, they know nothing of the world I’m trying to leave behind.

1928_bcpThis morning’s Psalm from the Daily Office of The Book of Common Prayer brings its own kind of light from afar.

We give you thank, O God, we give you thanks,
calling upon your Name and declaring your wonderful deeds.

“I will appoint a time,” says God,
“I will judge with equity.

“Though the earth and all its inhabitants are quaking,
I will make its pillars fast.

“I will say to the boasters, ‘Boast no more,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not toss your horns;

“‘Do not toss your horns so high,
nor speak with a proud neck.’”

[Psalm 75:1-5, Book of Common Prayer]

The lightning flashes from ages ago, calling me to hope for such a time.

In the morning stillness of the wilderness, I wait.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, uploading at the truck stop 12 miles away, September 23, 2017.

 

Reading my own obituary!

It’s startling when you see your own name on the obituary page!

But there it is, right there, posted on the internet.

Published in the The Argus on 10 May 13

STEWART Gordon On 3rd May 2013, Gordon aged 86 years. Resident of Sussex Heights sadly missed by family and friends. Funeral Service at Hove Cemetery on Wednesday, 22nd May at 10.00 a.m. (Graveside service) Flowers or if desired donations for the Martlets Hospice may be sent to S.E Skinner and Sons, 145 Lewes Road, Brighton, BN2 3LG Tel. 01273 607446.

Condolences to the family of the older Gordon in Sussex Heights this Wednesday. Some day it will be this Gordon Stewart…with the middle initial ‘C’ on the obituary page, but I won’t be reading it. For Gordon’s family and for all who will eventually stands at the grave, this lovely graveside prayer from The Book of Common Prayer offers consolation and call us to live our days with meaning, thanksgiving, and hope:

O Lord, support us all the day long
until the shadows lengthen, and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.

Then, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging
and peace at the last.