Uncovering Joy – Out of Control
(Jesus) also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
There are so many ways I try to maintain some kind of control in my life. It can be quite fun to catch myself in the act of trying to control the universe – at least a part of it. Here‟s an example of a bit of control within the routine of the day...the week...the year.
Most days I have oatmeal for breakfast. You might simply say, “Hey, that‟s a healthy way to start the day!” It is. And yet, within that window in time that is the start of the day, oh my...what a control-freak I am. Coffee is started – of course! Then there is the daily pattern of putting out the plate for the fruit and the bowl for the oatmeal. The fruit that will go into the bowl of oatmeal is prepared after I have fixed the fresh fruit plate. Milk and orange juice are taken out of the refrigerator. Juice is poured and then the juice glass and the fruit plate are put on my placemat at the table - juice on the far right corner and the fruit just to the left of the juice. The cloth napkin is placed to the right of the placemat – this is where I will place my vitamins and my fork. The oatmeal is put into the bowl with the “oatmeal fruit” and stirred together. Coffee is poured into a mug and I undo the alarm on the house and pick up the paper off the front stoop. Finally, milk is added to the coffee and to the oatmeal. The coffee mug is placed on the right of the placemat right in front of the juice. The bowl of oatmeal is put to rest in the center of the placemat and the vitamins are brought over from their containers on the microwave. By the way, the placemat set up is done so that I can unfold and read the paper while eating without having anything spill or get wet.
Everything...has to be - just so. No surprises. The day my wife brought home a rice cooker that also cooks oatmeal - I didn’t know what to do. Can I use this thing? How will I have to reorder my morning rituals? This is not merely a moment of anxiety for a person who can be a bit too controlling; this is a part of the spiritual crisis of life that attempts to have its way with me – every morning.
Knowing that I can be like this from the very get-go of the morning, I also know that I must allow myself to fall into moments of the day that will surprise me. I find that other people will be that surprise time and time again. It may be in what they say or how they look or the unpredictable manner in which our paths cross. This kind of change and surprise stretches me and becomes a source of great joy. The surprises of the day can also be that which creates anxiety. And yet, if anxiety stops us from being surprised, having our heads turn, and entering life we have not yet experienced, then we will miss the joy of God‟s Reign that is eternally available to us.
One of the routines of the summer is to ride my motor scooter or car over to the church building and close the two basketball courts on the church parking lot. It is a routine. And yet, I never know who will be there or how things will go when I announce to the dozen or two players that the courts must be emptied. Most often the players are very respectful and go along with the closure because they understand the wishes of the neighbors who live right alongside the courts. This is not always the case.
As you would expect, there can be the one or two players who are new to the courts or do not know that I am the person who does this most days. There have been some challenges and some incidences that I did not anticipate. In other words, there are times when I am out of control. I have a history of avoiding such times. This goes way back. It is part of my growing up history – my family story – my way of coping. Therefore, I have often had to face my controlling demons that prohibit me from being open to experiences of potential joy.
I have come to see that I often forget to breathe when my routine is interrupted or I am entering a situation over which I am not in control. So, as I have noted previously, I breathe – deeply...fully...inhale and exhale. On my way to the courts, my breathing is a reminder that each person on that blacktop is beloved. I am not there to control anyone. I am there to be a part of a larger community and that means things will not always go my way. So...I breathe. The breathing reshapes my experience and my interactions. Rather than being a rigid and enforcing presence, I’m free to engage the players with the simple question about the score and letting the closing time be stretched to meet the few remaining points. It may also manifest itself in giving a very brief history as to why I show up to do what I do. The breathing also may give space to one of the many players to step up and do the teaching to the new person. So, in real time, in the uncontrollable moment – I breathe.
I often say that I am not the bravest soul in the world. To be quite honest, I‟m a bit of a coward. Those basketball courts have taught me that when I breathe and enter the moment with some integrity about who I am and honor others, I am willing to invite in and bring up the needs of the larger community, and I am able to walk into that which is not my preferred situation. The well-being of life in something as simple as a basketball court takes place when the need to control passes by like a breath exhaled. It is in those moments that I am free to be surprised by joy. It doesn’t take much to let anxious moments flow through us when we trust that out God is present in those moments we think we can control. Most often, God becomes visible as we face what is at hand and how God’s image of wholeness and shalom takes shape in ways I had not anticipated – in ways I cannot control.
One night the courts were full and before I left the house I took our camera and thought I would take some pictures of the action on the courts. I went out a bit early so I would have time to mingle before announcing the closing of the courts for the night. There were a number of new players and as I parked my motor scooter I had to remember to breath and let go so that I could more fully take in the moment at hand. To my surprise, that simple camera and a few action shots brought some of the new players within reach...and maybe I came into reach of them. I was freed up to laugh and enjoy the action without spending my time attempting to control my time and theirs.
Some of the best avenues of contemplation take place when the wind of life moves among us when we are doing nothing more than riding on a scooter or walking out onto the parking lot. It involves an awful lot of letting go and taking hold. When we practice something as simple as intentional breathing it begins to offer us space to let go. Breathing is natural – we’re all doing it right now – no effort for most of us. Then again, as the situations around us change and they conflict or interrupt what we expected to be able to control, it is very easy to give up our breath. It is not easy to notice when our breathing changes, but it can make a big difference as to how we see what is right in front of us.
Contemplation in the middle of things enables us to transform how we live within the middle of things. I don‟t think we are called out of the world to engage the world that is right at hand. We are invited to be present within that which is forever changing and inviting us to see beyond our own controlling ways. Like the parable of the Kingdom of God in which there is a person who scatters seeds, the Reign of God comes no matter how we breathe. Yet, when we experience the changing of the face of God‟s Reign growing up among us, the discipline of breathing opens us to what way come next – even that which is out of our control.