Saturday, April 11, 2015

Vacations are Good! And a bit about Prayer: The entryway into self-knowledge

I haven't posted for some time because we traveled for Spring Break, and the two weeks preceding vacation were filled with family-emergency stress.  Thus my half-written pre-Spring Break post stayed half-written. Sometimes life is like that. It was delightful to leave the crisis for a while and be captured by the amazing, surreal scenery of Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon--surreal in that even though I have now seen these places with my own eyes, it is hard to believe they are for real because they are so incredible. Here are a few pics:

 Driving into Zion National Park

 My daughter and husband at the "weeping wall"

 The trees were so beautiful

 My husband and teenage son: They took a few more adventurous hikes without the rest of us.

 My parents traveled with us, here they are on the trail at Bryce Canyon

 Yes, we hiked down into Bryce Canyon, and back up--and up and up!

 My daughter with Grandma at the Grand Canyon.

That's my guy, in front of "Grandview Point"

But now I'm back. And it's time to deal with those same stressful issues that I'd left on the doorstep. Time to form new routines, as my high schooler will be finishing his semester at home and online, and very soon I will finish my part time banking job and return home again for a season. A few months ago I had a strong feeling that I needed to head back home. I thought I would have more writing and reflective time--I have an idea for a new novel that I've not been able to work on or develop. But the nudge to be home may be more about the kids. I'll miss my co-workers, but I look forward to doing a better job of home, business and ministry management, and not feeling so behind all the time!

Today I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the stressful things. Some situations drag out, even for years, and there are no easy answers, no shortcuts through. Life with teens can be like this. With my first son, a counselor told me I was just waiting for the front cerebral cortex to develop, and pointed me to this fascinating article published in National Geographic.  Now that I have a mostly pleasant and easy to live with 20 year old, I understand what she meant. I also have the perspective I did not have the first time around, that we will get through this. This 15 year old will grow up and mature--probably into a terrific young man. I already see occasional signs and indications of this, in an immature form.

But I what I really want to share is a quote from N. T. Wright that has me thinking. It's from the 2 week (nice, short and do-able!) reading plan I just signed up for using this app.

"Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change--the re-ordering of our loves."

I read this and thought: Is that true? Is prayer the only entryway? For me it has perhaps been the most common entryway, but I have also been helped by professional counselors and by conversations with perceptive mentors and close friends. Yet even these I tend to "process" in my journal, which I write as a letter to God and which is, essentially, prayer.

I do believe that it is God who gives the light in which we are able to see and perceive what is true, about ourselves and about others and our world. I think it probable that most of the time, we have no idea how much this is so. If God withdrew his presence and light entirely from our world, we would experience the darkness and confusion of being utterly left to ourselves, and we would know the difference. But the above quote speaks not about what is generally true, but about specific and personal knowledge, revelation or insight--the kind that effects deep and lasting change--for a specific person.

If God is the one who formed us, it makes sense that we would receive the keenest insight about ourselves from him. This concurs with my experience that a kind of clarity comes through prayer. A kind of "knowing" that is deeper than mere knowledge or facts. Prayer cuts through our muddle and confusion, it interrupts and redirects the circles and ruts that our minds tend to run it. In plain speech, prayer cuts through the crap. It reveals not the general truth we already know, but the new and specific truth we did not yet know, and it also shows us what is important, and what is not. What is compelling for us, what we need to do next, and what we don't. And then there is a kind of peace that comes through prayer and union with God that simply comes no other way. It is sometimes given unsought and unexpectedly, as we are driving or walking down the road or showering or cooking or seeming not to be praying at all. Other times it is actively sought, and can be extremely hard won.

That sums up my own experience of the self-knowledge that comes through prayer. But really I do not even like the word "prayer", it sounds like something formal and separate, something that we "do" and then leave off doing, instead of something that can be a part of every moment of every day. The "prayer" I am talking about is more a living with God continually--talking with God, thinking and feeling and perceiving with God. I think this is what N. T. Wright is describing as well.

The "re-ordering of our loves" is another meaningful, loaded string of words. I'm not even going to try to unpack that one. This quote above from my devotional has given me so much to think about. It reminds me of all the good teaching I received from my good friend and mentor Ron Frost. I look forward to reading more from N. T. Wright, it is refreshing to discover the kind of writer/teacher/pastor who can stretch my understanding in new ways, and yet is not too dense or impractical for this rather impatient and busy mother to read.