Invasive Species

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. ~ Thomas Merton

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I’m unable to be simultaneously perturbed and in a state of grace. I’m increasingly aware that when I choose to be annoyed, I take a step away from grace and open myself to invasion.

In ecology, invasive species are generally non-native plants or animals that harm the environments they invade. Removed from their natural habitat, you would think these transplants might struggle to survive, but in fact, they thrive. Imported, invasive species are largely without natural enemies, leaving them free to multiply and overwhelm their environments.

In the spiritual realm, the soul is like loamy soil, able to sustain most anything planted in it. Sacred spaces, our souls are designed to be nourished by wisdom and love and grace.

But soul health has its own delicate ecosystem. One of the most common invasive soul species are pet peeves. Here are a few of the things I often hear mentioned:

People who don’t use turn signals/ tailgate/ take up 2 parking spaces
People who intimidate/ humiliate/ ridicule others
People who let their dogs bark/ children scream/ babies cry incessantly
People who act superior/ arrogant/ patronizing
People who throw trash out the car window/ on the beach/ on the sidewalk
People who text/ read a book/ shave/ apply make-up while driving
People who leave shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot
People who are self-righteous/ defensive/ argumentative
People who rant about political/ religious views that differ from your own
People with a full cart of groceries in the express line
People who allow their children to yell/ fight/ run in restaurants
People who lie/ gossip/ back-stab/ stir-the-pot
People who make excuses for their mistakes/ their children/ their habits
People who continually criticize/ correct/ find fault
People who ask for advice and then do the opposite of what you suggest
People who talk on their cell phone/ to each other/ walk around at movies
People who are prejudiced/ judgmental/ bigoted/ racist                               People who whine/ complain/ feel sorry for themselves
People who are always negative

If you’re like most folks, there’s something that consistently bugs you. My personal peeves are comprised more of attitudes than actions, which makes it easy for me to justify maintaining them. It isn’t hard for me to make a case against arrogance or bigotry or cruelty. If I start down that path, my mind rolls those peeves over and over until they’ve taken root in my all too accommodating loam.

Most invasive species do not spread randomly, but move along corridors through suitable habitats. ~ Indiana University Pub

My heart’s desire is to be peeve-less.

I’m trying to be diligent about what I plant in the corridors of my soul. Pet peeves thrive because they aren’t native and don’t belong there. Unchecked, they choke out the love and compassion and kindness I’m called to offer.

Plant a peeve and it will grow. When Grace is the gardener, peeves get plucked. But when we lose sight of Grace and instead, begin petting our peeves, they will most certainly flourish, causing real harm to our souls.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.

Alcatraz

               Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes us real.                           ~ Thomas Merton

I visited Alcatraz a few years ago. It’s a sad and haunted place. Alcatraz was designed to break people. The weight of it all still hangs in the air there.

My first job after college was as a Correctional Worker. It was a job for which I was exceptionally ill-suited. I was 21 and while my Psychology degree qualified me, my personality didn’t. I was inexperienced, naive, easily intimidated and phobicly adverse to confrontation.

Unfortunately, I’ve always interviewed well.

I worked in a residential facility for women that was a stop over between jail and integration into the community. Most residents came to us after serving prison time. The offenses ranged from multiple DUI’s to the killing of a Federal Marshall.

As the newest staff member, I was assigned most of the pat and strip searches. When it was time to do random drug testing, I was the one who watched while the residents used the restroom to make sure they didn’t dilute their UA’s.

Although Corrections was miles outside of my comfort zone, I wanted to make a difference. I know the women I worked with could sense my hesitancy and tentativeness. I was always polite but so uncomfortable. Years away from being broken, I didn’t know anything about humility.

I thought understanding the socioeconomic/environmental/cultural reasons for behavior would enable me to help/fix/cure. More than anything, I was intimidated and embarrassed – reactions which shifted the focus back onto me. Because I was embarrassed, I robbed the residents of yet another portion of their own dignity and worth.  I looked at people without seeing them and missed the opportunity to look into their eyes and pray that they might see some glimmer of God’s grace.

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.
Some days I can still feel pride creeping back up my neck. I’m hurt or fearful or insulted and I begin to rationalize instead of relate. I become insular instead of open. I catch myself putting my fake on.
Pride is its own prison.

Knowing God’s Will

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. ~ Thomas Merton

I took a class once on how to know God’s will. It was a large group and, as you might expect, there were a wide variety of views, varying from: You can’t –  to God will tell you where to park your car if you’re listening. Scripture was cited supporting every possible position and the debate was lively and endless.

I’m not much of a debater. I won’t presume to tell you how you can know God’s will. I can only tell you what I know about myself which is not all that much, as it turns out.

I was a Psych major. You know the type. I was one of those people who was always drawing out other people’s feelings while tabling my own. I would have described myself as hugely introspective. I thought that I thought very deep thoughts.

Merton was right. I don’t really know myself and the fact that I think I’m following God’s will doesn’t necessarily mean that I am.

But, along with Merton, I do want to follow Him and I believe that the desire to please God, pleases God. And that’s grace, isn’t it?

And so is this: I also believe that He will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust Him always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear,  for He is ever with me, and He will never leave me to face my perils alone.

With Grace and Gratitude

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.                     ~ Thomas Merton
~
It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Despite the name, I’m not sure there’s really that much thanks associated with Thanksgiving. It’s more about floats and food and family and football and that’s OK because Thanksgiving is a holiday.

There’s nothing in the definition of holiday that includes holiness or happiness. A holiday, according to Webster, is a day on which one is exempt from work. And even though 17% of US workers will spend Thanksgiving at work, most will find some way on some day to celebrate.

But because holidays receive a so much hype, it’s hard not to wrap them up in a glitzy mess of assumptions and expectations. On one hand, it’s easy to give way to the idea that everyone else is having a Norman Rockwell day. It’s equally easy to expect magic – to build in expectations that this day, this year, this time, will be different, will be perfect.

The reality is that holidays are intrinsically a celebration of life and love and blessings for some and a reminder of loss and loneliness and lack for others. Which they are for whom varies from year to year. But thankfulness, gratitude –  takes nothing for granted. It isn’t reserved for the 4th Thursday of November.

It’s not the state of Thanksgiving that concerns me, it’s the condition of my own heart on each and every day. Am I seeking to have a heart that’s rich with thankfulness and an awareness that God has already given me everything? Am I living a life so filled with grace that it spills out all over everywhere? Am I so steeped in gratitude that I take less and less for granted?

May this Thanksgiving and the day after and the day after that be days of grace and gratitude for each of us, simply because we know God is good, not by hearsay, but by experience.

A Remedy for the Regular

Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for Joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not yet begun to live. ~ Thomas Merton

Pleasure, however grand, isn’t sustainable. It wasn’t meant to be. If it were, we wouldn’t experience it because there would be no ordinary and no pain to give it definition. Yet, there’s a persistent temptation to measure ourselves or to measure the quality and value of our lives by our varying degrees of pain and pleasure.

Just as everyday life can seem mundane after experiences of pleasure, it comes as a sweet relief after periods of pain. Pain always seeks a remedy and when I experience it, I’m momentarily grateful for the ordinary.

On the rare occasion that I have a terrible sore throat, or a bout with the flu or a period of heartbreak, I long for the regular. But once my throat or my stomach or my heart are back in place, it’s the regular that seems to be in need of a remedy. That’s the pull of pleasure. But pleasure wasn’t meant to be a full course, only a taste.

Joy is something altogether different. Joy comes in and remakes me. Joy is my traveling companion through both pain and pleasure. Joy sustains.

I’m learning to see pain as God’s megaphone (C.S. Lewis); pleasure as God’s gift; and Joy as God’s grace!

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. ~Thomas Merton

Long before Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about it or Kelly Clarkson sang about it, folks held tightly to the theory of the school of hard knocks. I think we often do this in an attempt to make sense out of pain and suffering.

It’s peculiar, though, isn’t it? The school of hard knocks is the playground where the bully wins. What doesn’t kill us makes us something, but I don’t think it makes us stronger. It’s more likely to make us: angry, resentful, unforgiving, fearful, hard…

Sometimes I think we confuse hard with strong.

If we get stronger, it’s most likely despite, not because of the hardship. What doesn’t kill us in fact often makes us weaker but our Father, in His grace, promises to be strong in our weakness.

It’s not what almost kills us that makes us stronger. It’s love and compassion and tender care that enables us to fight the good fight because these gifts nurture and strengthen us, expanding our capacity to learn to love and lean when pain and grief and loss come along again.

I believe that Merton is right: Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. It’s our job to keep a careful eye on the winged seeds.