Light ~ New Year ~ 2019

Light.  Light is my theme for the year.  Longing for light.  Looking for light. 

Prayer for the year:

That the joy of God’s presence, Light, be my desire, vision, goal.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  Only Light can do that.  Hatred cannot drive out hatred.  Only Love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters…
And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.” – John O’Donohue

  • Longing for Light motivates my participation with the Choctaw translation project. Ancient Choctaw wisdom knew that the earth’s sun reflected God. God is the Source who created the sun. God is the source of Scripture. God brings His promises’ Light to our hearts. 
  • Light as a 2019 theme found me. One day in December I confessed to a friend my lack of clarity.  Her compassion created a small space of clarity:  “Sometimes we only receive light for the moment even while we are waiting and longing for more.” (Barbara Ashcraft)
  • Her words created an interstice in my lack of clarity.  I had to look interstice up in the dictionary:

in·​ter·​stice | \in-ˈtər-stəs noun

  1. an intervening space, especially a very small one.“sunshine filtered through the interstices of the arching trees”

If you live near Jackson, come see an art exhibit ‘Interstice.  Lydia is a dear friend and supporter.  Come see!

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Everyday Compassion

When days are long and nights are disrupted and i’m tired to the bone I used to ask myself to choose between compassion and self-care. Well, still — if I’m not thoroughly intentional, my habitual response is to separate the two.  If I don’t do it to myself, most circumstances or perhaps other people ask, encourage or pressure us toward one or the other.

Any people-worker would have the challenge.  Not just missionaries, also non-profit workers, therapist, pastor, other healthcare workers!  How about plain moms and dads? I think so.

I’ve come across the term compassion burnout.  Made sense.  Even if we’re doing decent self-care, what about when the compassion needs are way beyond average?  Even with good boundaries, what about when grief presses in on basic functioning?

Last year I was very much in the “burnout” stage.  I wondered about my inability to cope.  Friends reflected back to me my hard-heartedness.  Exhaustion, yes.  Rage, yes.  Compassion, what’s that?  Somewhere during that time I came across the term self-compassion.

At first I reacted. My theology and worldview didn’t have a category for “self-compassion”.  Compassion doesn’t come from a self.  My personal self I knew to be entirely inadequate.  Wow, I would sure be in trouble if that was my prescription.  But what if self-compassion didn’t mean compassion sourced in myself?

So I reflected.  Compassion is a response to pain.  I certainly, it seemed, would be aware of my own pain. I have a responsibility in responding to my pain.  My knee-jerk response was always to do some “self-care” – like physical therapy after an injury.  The problem is that I had left it on automatic since, well, ever.

What had crept in while I wasn’t looking was judgement and independence. If I’m honest.  Hurry up.  Take care of yourself.  You’re doing a bad job.  Why did you allow yourself to get hurt?  Even problematic circumstances wouldn’t trouble you so much if you could just take care of yourself.  And get better.  Just get it done. Really need to get good at this.

I never questioned this (judgmental) self-work.  Religion never seemed to question this talk, and that was where I (understandably) learned to take care of my soul.  A number of Biblical proverbs can be easily misread this way.

One good thing I received from my religion was a confidence in my connection with God – since after all He reached out to me first.  And any reaching back to Him would be welcomed with delight.  So I surrendered to the idea that I might be wrong about my first idea of self-compassion.  And asked for understanding.

So I write to remember what I received from God.  An image. From the Bible  I’d known it since, well, ever!! I just never “saw” it!!

“Clothe yourselves with compassion” is the verse I memorized as a child. My old picture was of “ok, first, make sure you’re mentally prepared to be nice to people.  Check.  Thankfully that old, automatic picture of that verse is fading. 

The new picture is Jesus giving me the softest, coziest, most comfortable sweater imaginable for the bitter cold of my soul.

It’s summer in Mississippi now.  So now I’m thinking of the elven cloaks of the Lord of the Rings – they were warm when needed or cool in the blazing, sweltering heat.

Ok, what a relief.  Self-compassion doesn’t mean compassion sourced in self.  And compassion and self-care are not diametrically opposed. Neither are something special to “get good at”.  But, oh, there is no habitual response to life allowed! Full engagement.  It means self taking the next step – awareness – acceptance – responsibility – keeping in step with the Spirit of Life.

I still don’t have to “get good at” self-compassion.  I simply become aware of the bitter wind of pain freezing my soul. Or dehydrating heat of disintegration sapping my energy.  My responsibility is to reach up and take the sweater, the cloak. And wrap it around myself.


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“So Tired?” or “Just Lazy?”

I remember when I first asked for the word for tired in Choctaw. I was pregnant. And working. I just wanted to find a way to express how tired I was! I was studying Choctaw in Red Water Community. Someone said “itííkabih.” Someone said “itakobih.” Everyone laughed. Someone said something about something meaning lazy. I was shocked. Lazy was the furthest thing from tired in my mind. Tired meant you had worked!!

The more they talked about it the more confused I got. I decided I couldn’t tell people about my tiredness in Choctaw because I might be saying I was lazy and I wasn’t going to know. Because, two things. I didn’t understand the laughter. Always a sign something else is going on in the language I don’t know about. Also, the only difference my linguistic, left-brain-dominant mind could see was in the vowels. Just fill in the blanks: _t_k_b_h

Did Choctaw people ever see these two things, tired and lazy as similar? My Choctaw friends tell me these two (similar) words are entirely different things, these tired and lazy concepts. They are the experts. It makes sense of the surprise of folks who can’t believe these two words sound so similar after all! But why would the language itself act like the concepts are related? What’s buried in the history and structure of the language?

The linguist in me knows we often don’t notice the connectedness of our own words, even when it’s marked clearly. OR we have no idea how to describe it to our next door neighbor who sees the world upside down. (or do I see it upside down?) Well, I didn’t try to make “sense” of it. Just listened.

It’s been 9 years since I took that class. I kept inquiring about the two words. I almost always get laughter. And almost always there is someone who appears not to have been around a white person asking about the words. And they laugh because the two words sound so alike. Really? These folks have been using these words their whole life!

I do hear them use the two different words in ways that make sense to me and would translate into English. Yet other times the Choctaw language carries the words into various contexts differently than our English words “tired” and “lazy”.

Eventually I learned to use the Choctaw word appropriately on a few occasions. I laugh too. Let’s just say you either have to be there, or write (at least) a 5 page discourse paper – that’s for another time and another meditation. When I discuss these concepts with the translators, it seems I’m getting it. AND I only know the tip of the iceberg about appropriate use.

So, I don’t have a diagram describing the two words that sound so similar in Choctaw. Go ask a published linguist. Where I find meaning is that it’s given me pause to meditate on my own tiredness and my own laziness. Let’s just say I have to clarify something I’ve discovered. Lazy is not parallel with busy. Lazy is not opposite of hard-working. And the best way I have to describe that is like the two different Choctaw words – the spaces between the consonants.

Lazy and it’s opposite, Good-Work-Tired are like two different ways to fill in the consonants. The consonants of life are the sun coming up. The sun going down. And a world of people I cannot escape over whom I have Zero control. If I let the spaces get filled in with priorities from anywhere but God, I will be burdened and resentful. Is that lazy? Probably.

If lazy means un-prayerful priorities then lazy is where I started and that’s where I’ll end up. Weary from hustling, because even if I had success, that too would be exhausting and lazy-making. If I allow God to fill in the spaces – even when it means making people unhappy – my body will be tired, but my body will also be satisfied and at peace. I will experience “the unforced rhythms of Grace” I will “learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

How will you fill in the blanks today?

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Choctaw Bible

Laura Christel has worked with the Choctaw  since 2008. She helps the translation team to bring Choctaw Scripture to the Choctaw people.

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Quarterly Meeting and Being

Today I took notes at our quarterly meeting.  Next I’ll write up the minutes. Minutes are a legal document for which we are responsible to the IRS. I’ll travel to the office Thursday with intercessors from my church Holy Trinity to do an office blessing.  I’m sure there will be more emails and phone conversations.  I need to write a chart to keep us on track the next several months.  And write a flyer to ask for volunteers.

But today, we talk about what is.  We laugh.  We commiserate. Pray.  Sing.  Give each other a hug on our way out.

On the way, the cotton fields were singing.

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