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Obstacle or Opportunity

At the recommendation of a friend toward the end of 2019, I requested (and subsequently received) Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book 12 Rules for Life for Christmas.  Peterson is a Canadian psychologist and his book is mixture of theological history and philosophy as well as behavioral psychology.  Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 12 rules which, themselves, are pretty straightforward (always tell the truth, measure yourself against yourself and not others, etc.).  However, their explanation and treatment is quite dense and each chapter therefore long.  I say all of that because I just got around to finishing the book this past week.  This I found ironic, as the last chapter was titled “Pet a Cat When You Encounter One.”

 

Peterson suggests that petting a dog is easy, predictable and therefore uninteresting.  We know what we’re getting with dogs – a human’s best friend.  Dogs will always approach us with interest, will wag their tails, offer sniffs and licks, and enjoy being scratched and petted.  Nothing surprising.  With cats, however, we don’t know what we’re getting.  A cat might run away from us or arch its back and hiss.  It might be completely aloof and not deign to notice our presence.  But it might also curl up on our lap, nuzzle into us deeply and purr loudly.  Precisely because we don’t know what we’re getting with cats, there is the possibility for great disappointment but also for great joy and gratitude. 

 

Peterson compares this to the limited nature of being human.  To be human is to have limitations – of knowledge, of ability, longevity, etc.  To be human is not to know or do everything.  It is to suffer grief, brokenness, injury and death.  This limitedness causes us great stress.  We agonize over what we can’t understand or control.  But it is precisely limitation that allows us to experience transcendence.  Only because I have limits, for example, can I ever rise above them.  Only because I am not perfect can I experience and recognize glimpses of perfection.  Only because there is a goal I have never before accomplished is there the possibility of that goal one day being attained. 

 

Earlier, I mentioned it was “ironic” that I completed this book last week because of how the emergence of the Cornonavirus has invaded our lives.  If anything reveals to us our human limitation, this is it.  There is so much beyond our control right now – from an ability to guarantee our own safety and non-exposure, to assuming that the items I want are on the shelves when I want to purchase them.  Situations like these remind us that we cannot control how the next few days will unfold, let alone the trajectory of the rest of our lives.

 

Which brings us back to cats.  For whether you are a “dog person” or “cat person” we have a choice.  We can view COVID-19 as an obstacle or an opportunity.  Focusing on it as an obstacle is easy.  It’s the predictable way we usually view disruptions to our schedule, feeling disappointment and aggravation at best or fear and grief at worst along the way.  Or we can be surprised by what this time in our  history allows us to do; asking “What is the unique opportunity ‘social distancing’ gives us the chance to explore?”  Is a time of self-quarantine an opportunity to do something at home we’ve been neglecting?  Does it invite us to to reach out and connect with someone we’ve been putting off because we’ve been “too busy.”  Is  it giving us a chance to be more “still” – as Psalm 46:10 instructs – and see God in stillness and rest? 

 

I don’t know how you may answer this question, but I do pray we think of cats this week.  Life is indeed unpredictable, and in its unpredictability reveals obstacles that bring to light our limited and finite nature.  But at the same time, and often in the very same events and circumstances, there are opportunities to be amazed, joyful and grateful in ways which, because of our limited nature, we may have never before considered. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Talk Less… Listen More!

Can you hear me now?”  We know exactly what those words imply.  Someone is talking on their cell phone and there is a disruption in the conversation.  Desperate to reconnect, one caller asks the other “can you hear me now,” knowing there is no point in continuing the conversation unless the other one is fully tuned in.  A generation (or two) ago, something similar could be said with a T.V.’s antenna.  “Can you see me now?” the television set seemed mockingly to ask as someone in their living room or dorm room would frantically manipulate the antenna’s long arms – even wrapping wadded up aluminum over the ends – in the attempt to see the picture clearer and receive a stronger signal.

Believe it or not, these everyday examples teach us an important aspect of prayer.  In both, the disruption in communication comes not from the sender but the receiver.  The one sending the message is talking away and sending all kinds of information over the airwaves.  The problem lies not with them.  They are communicating just fine.  But if the receiver is actually to receive the message, the receiver has to do something – move, adjust something, take on some activity until the signal is reconnected.  Similarly, when it comes to faith, God is continually and constantly communicating to us - through revelation in the natural world; through our conscience and instincts; through our lived experiences; and certainly through the Holy Word.  The question is “Are we receiving the message God is sending?”

Enter prayer… where prayer is as much about listening as talking.  It is removing the clutter, distractions and noise from our lives so that we can hear a God who is always speaking.  It is making adjustments in our daily lives and creating the kind of environment where the signals God sends can be received. 

In our Christian walk and certainly in our worship, we rush to fill voids with words.  When it comes to prayer, we discuss techniques and methods for how to pray.  These usually involve what kind of words we are speaking to God and in what order.  There is clearly value in such things.  The words we speak matter.  They should include things like praise, adoration, confession, thanksgiving and a concern for others.  Yet, I like to think of prayer first and foremost as listening.  “Be still and know that I am God” says Psalm 46:10.  So it is that when we allow moments of stillness to permeate our lives, listening is much more likely to follow.

The first commandment God gave to Moses in Exodus 20 is given in another way in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”  These two verses have a name.  It is “Shema” in Hebrew, which literally means “hear” and is taken from the first word of the commandment.  Our ancient ancestors have been calling this “The Shema” for millennia, as though they understood that for there to be any kind of action involving heart, soul and might, listening was required. 

So this week, as you are taking time to devote your attention to God, give yourself a break and worry not about your words – whether they are sophisticated enough; theologically proper enough; even whether they are pleasing to God.  Rather, consider taking a few moments to just “be still” and listen.  After all, God gave us mouths that close and ears that don’t.  Maybe that is for a reason?? 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

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