Spring Cleaning

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

      This morning, the sky is clear blue and a high wind, a March wind, sways the bare treetops. Never mind that we have one more day of February – this Leap Year day – it almost doesn’t count except it’s a catch up day.

It smells and feels like spring, regardless of the date.

Lent is like that early spring wind: when Lent arrives, you know spring won’t be far behind. Lent is a spiritual spring-cleaning, opening the windows of the soul to let in new light and fresh air for rebirth.

There’s another side to the spring wind, however. Last night’s spring thunderstorm brought tornadoes with it across southern Kansas and Missouri and north of us into Illinois. Just south of us, the small town of Buffalo, Missouri was hit as was Branson.

Destruction and rebirth walking hand in hand. That’s not a new story.

Today’s first reading is from the story of Jonah (as in Jonah and the whale Jonah) and the near-destruction of the great city, Nineveh. We get part of the story here, how God repented from destroying the city because the people “turned from their evil ways…” But there’s more – after God repents, Jonah complains: so you could have done this without me. If you were going to spare them anyway, I wouldn’t have had to leave home, be swallowed by a whale, lost at sea. And God wisely says, your comfort is more important than these thousands of people to say nothing of their animals?

We humans, we’re very good at complaining.

The Psalm reading says, in part, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”

It’s spring-cleaning time. What are your complaints? How will you brush them from your soul? What would your clean heart look like? Feel like?

Jonah’s Intolerance

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent: a reading from the Book of Jonah

Jonah is four chapters long. We all know the story of Jonah and the whale, how Jonah ran away from God’s command to “Set out for the great city of Nineveh and preach against it”; how a storm came up and Jonah was tossed overboard to calm the raging sea; how he was swallowed by “a large fish.” It is, in many ways, a humorous story and one that children love.

Chapter One relates how Jonah runs away from God and is swallowed by the fish (our whale); Chapter Two is Jonah’s Psalm of Thanksgiving for being saved; Chapter Three is Jonah preaching and Nineveh’s complete conversion; and Chapter Four (which we rarely hear) is Jonah’s frustration that “God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do” and how this was “greatly displeasing to Jonah…” After all, he’d not wanted to leave his country in the first place. So what’s the point? Jonah is angry and goes out into the countryside, builds himself a hut, and sulks.

God causes a gourd plant to grow to shade Jonah and the next day causes a worm to eat the plant and destroy it. Jonah is once again angry. But God calls him to pay attention to his actions: Jonah was angry about a plant dying but showed no concern about a whole city dying. Even a prophet needs to learn the value of reconciliation over retribution.

We live in a pretty intolerant time. Great tragedies may bring us together, but division returns. We can’t talk to each other about our differing philosophies, we can only shout. We can only find fault. We can’t even have reasonable differences of opinion with family members or friends. We are intolerant of one another. 

Notice the ways intolerance enters your mind today. Be conscious of the way you judge others for not believing or acting as you do. Perhaps the universal mercy is much larger than we can possibly imagine or imitate, but we can practice.

the belly of the beast

Our PC crashed. Yes, it was old; and yes, I’d been expecting it; and yes, I have online backup. However, losing an old computer is a death. Not in the emotional sense (although there is the anger that’s likely to arise reloading everything), but rather in the amount of details. Yes, I have the laptop – so I’m not completely unplugged – but the PC has the four various businesses that run out of this house and the email programs and the Blackboard programs from which we teach classes and the favorites we use to navigate our lives and and and. You know. You have a computer too.

So yesterday was a ten-hour day swallowed by the leviathan.

I was able to do research on the laptop regarding computer towers and so yesterday morning, first thing, I called around and found the one I wanted at Metro North. Now, although Metro North is part of the greater Kansas City city, I’d never been there although I’d passed it on my drives. By the time I returned home, it was noon. And then the great hunt began.

You know the drill: the good news is that we now have Windows 7 as an operating system; the challenge is that it’s so fast that sometimes the pages disappear somewhere else with a careless move of the mouse; so downloading new drivers to match printers and programs happened first and then the slow download of programs we always use – the online dictionary being only the most minor. I looked at Mozy, our online backup, but oh, my, doing the whole thing would have meant sucking down all the demons that lived on the old computer so care and discrimination had to be used. One small piece at a time.

I’m balanced somewhere between Ahab-like behavior, just wanting to get it DONE and killing old files in revenge for the problems in the old computer and Jonah-behavior in trusting the word to go slow. My son Stephen, who is thankfully wise and careful, is the Jonah part of the equation and I more rash like Ahab.

Whales are the unknowable. The metaphor for all that is beyond our capabilities. I don’t really want to end up like Ahab, tied to the beast with ropes and going down with the waves, and yet the task, i.e. getting our lives back on track electronically and caught up with everything that needs doing – classes, banking, email, frustrates my need for simplicity.

We all have our whales. Some months back I began calling computer days times of getting swallowed by the leviathan, but that’s a phrase any of us use could use when getting caught in the demands of life. Harder to wait quietly and see what the task really needs rather than flinging solutions willy-nilly hoping one of them might catch and hold.

So I sat here today and found Ahab’s story online – the tragic hero who for the most part is a reasonable man – but his tragic flaw impatient revenge rather than waiting for the moment and allowing it to come to him; and Jonah’s, who didn’t want to do the job given him (telling Nineveh it was about to be destroyed) and so ran away into the belly of the beast where he had no choice but to wait. And when spit out, decided to do what he was asked.

Peace with the process is an elusive goal and one that has to be practiced over and over. Daily. And so this morning, I’m practicing breathing and being present as I play with words on my laptop. It gives me the place to ponder and to remember. By remembering the process, I can also remember that the rest of it will come together if I refuse to give in to frustration and rush.  

Life only ties us up when we struggle too hard.