Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Lesson in Dancing

Every now and then, we all get knocked back on our heels. It might be finally writing the 400th page of your new novel and realizing you aren't even close to being done. Or maybe you woke up and decided that after a decade slaving away you just don't like your job anymore. Maybe you got too much sun and now realize that warm toes beat cold weather every time. Regardless of why you are taking the hits, and we all take 'em, there are a couple of things we've all tried when hit with a wake-up call.

Deciding to start a new relationship and chain someone to the bow of your personal misery ship is one of the Very Bad Ideas.

Let's face it, drama is inevitable in each of our little worlds. As we stumble along our own roads we collect varying degrees of baggage at some points and discard it at others. When it comes to jumping headlong into a new relationship you probably want to make sure you can tread water by yourself a little first.

It isn't that you won't grow and change and evolve in a relationship. But a certain core of stability must be present so that you have something upon which to build. If you are both emotionally-stunted and only quasi-available, the best you can hope for is some severely dysfunctional chaos. Which might take the form of some really passionate interplay or some wildly distracting conversations. But ultimately, without a foundation, anything you build together will probably end in rubble with first few tremors.

Sadly, the best advice is the oldest advice. You'll know you are ready to be with someone else, when you are capable of being by yourself. Only you can really say when it's time to leap from the sidelines into the Great Dance. From time to time you might even end up on the floor because you let go of the rail a little too early. Those are the times we might need to lean on other partners and friends who help us limp back to the comfort of the couch with cuddling or some casual flings. If leaning on them in your crisis helps you cease being crippled, then lean heavy. But only for a season. If you want your limbs to limber and strong you must learn to lean on them alone.

Partners in the Great Dance are only evenly matched when they can both stand on their own, come together on their own terms, and bring their independent strengths and leverage. If you are properly equipped then by all means, hit the floor. If you aren't properly equipped you should definitely be prepared to hit the floor, but we prefer you don't drag us down with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Shema

It's no secret that I'm a creature of volatility who generally avoids habits. However there are certain habits to which I do steadfastly adhere and encourage others. The first is prayer. The second is reading. The third is (wait for it. . .) writing.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
-- Deuteronomy 6:4-5
It's fairly common find the habits of the daily devotional, which usually encompasses the reading and the prayer. For me that's not enough. We are called to "pray without ceasing" which to my mind is really about an attitude or mindset. Unfortunately, we are human and such a broadly ambiguous goal usually ends up serving as license for casualness and a general slacking-off.

My desire to treat such a call with practicality of purpose and honor the intent with sincerity gives me pause to consider the more formal religions and their merits. The above passage from Deuteronomy is called The Shema and is the main prayer for Jews. Shema can be translated "hear" in Hebrew a name derived from the contents of the passage. It is customarily said at least twice a day, firstly when you arise for the day and again when you retire.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Jewish thought and practice. It is a cornerstone habit, if you will.
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
-- Matthew 22:37-40
As we are reminded in this passage, habits by themselves aren't all the Lord requires of us. Surely love for our God and our neighbors is mandate here. But in practicality we are also given the mechanism by which to make this real in our lives. Jesus makes it clear that we are to interpret all of scripture through the filter of these two imperatives.

For myself, I stand amazed at how simply impactful and relevant that simple adjustment makes on such a weighty issue. With one small clarification the precepts are moved from concept to application. They are made relevant and real only by shifting them from simple habits to a lens through which we can view all the rest of our world.

In case you were wondering, yes, I often speak The Shema. (wow, how self-centered am I?)