On Micha Boyett’s Found

Today I’m reviewing Micha Boyett’s book, Found. All block quotes in this piece are taken from Found. For more on Micha, visit her website, michaboyett.com.

1.

“It’s just that all the answers of my evangelical past—read more Scripture, pray longer, try harder, serve more people—have become heavy burdens in my life. I can’t do enough to prove myself spiritually fit.” ~ Micha Boyett

In the fall of 2012, I quit praying.

Our youngest son’s health was failing, and we were trapped inside a Children’s Hospital, watching him waste away. I prayed every prayer I could muster, prayed for healing, for life, for the doctors to discover the underlying condition. I prayed prayers of faith, and lack of faith. I gave God the grand out–if it be your will. I prayed early morning prayers, and prayers while doing late-night loads of laundry in the hospital commons.

And then one night, I stopped praying altogether.

There are times when doubt is not a creeping, sneaky thing. There are times when you cannot work your way out of doubt. There are times when doubt is a hound of Hell with iron teeth clamped around your throat.

2.

Identity issues are very real things.

In my mid-thirties, I uncovered a deep distrust for the evangelical platitudes of my youth. I’d done most of the right things—read scripture with continuity, prayed continually, joined the ministry machine for a stint. I was a bootstraps kind of believer, hoping that by enough tugging I might pull myself up to heaven. I wouldn’t have told you this, of course. I would have told you that I believed in grace.

“Can you try so hard to be perfect that you miss God? I wondered. Maybe they’re missing God.”

3.

When Micha was in eleventh grade, an itinerate preacher—a well-meaning one, I’m sure—visited her church in the Texas flat lands. A young fellow, he told the church-goers that if they “trusted Jesus enough,” they could “go an entire day without sin.” By implication, I suppose he might have opined that by trust and pure-D old boot-strapping effort, one could string a lifetime of sinless days together.

And there, among the flat-land throng was Micha, she with a budding intuition. Go without sin? Is such a thing possible?

“I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was supposed to be a better witness for Jesus. But these words, this sermon, did not free me. The words squeezed my insides. They felt wrong.”

4.

In one’s early days, life is filled with notions of grandeur, of world-changing, of exploration. By our late-twenties and early thirties, so many of us are filled with notions of survival, instead—make it through another day at the office; change one more poopy diaper; arrive at church at some point after the opening hymn but before the benediction.

Micha dreamed of taking on Africa, of becoming a missionary to unreached peoples. This, she thought, was the pinnacle of Christian sainthood. Perhaps she thought that this sort of devotion would prove her fidelity toward God. Perhaps she believed that by good, holy work, she could reach heavenly status. No matter, by her thirtieth birthday, she’d walked far from those youthful dreams, was raising a child in the congested heart of San Francisco, groping for connection with God.

“I’ve realized that just about everyone is like me, second-guessing, longing for courage to find awe in the world.”

5.

Prayer does not have to be a complicated act, an exercise in the effluence of words. Prayer can be simple, an act of understanding that the everyday, mundane tasks can be done as unto God. This, is Boyett’s grand claim, and she derives it from the Rule of St. Benedict.

It is a grand and freeing claim, indeed.

By contemplation, by study, by visiting the monks who have devoted their lives to prayer and service, Micha learned the solace in the simplest prayers, prayers like, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

She breathed this prayer in rhythm over the waters of the South Platte, fly-line unfurling on the waters. She found that even fly-fishing can be done as unto God. She has learned the way of simple prayer—perhaps the way back to prayer.

“Our prayer should be free of preoccupations and it should normally be short.”

6.

“Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.”

Is prayer about moving mountains in faith? Is prayer about finding healing in an Arkansas hospital room? Is prayer a form of magic, a spell to be cast over the problem du jour?

No. This sort of prayer, I think, is born from the same bootstrap mentality that says you don’t have to sin. This sort of prayer is more about the pray-er, more about the need and the faith, or the standing required to conquer a thing.

Jesus taught us to pray more simple prayers, prayers that connect us to the very fabric of God and his universe. Boyett the Benedictine, the Mama Monk, teaches us the way of this sort of prayer, too. There is freedom here.

7.

“I feel like the water must have felt when Jesus changed it to blood red wine.”

Sometimes epiphanies are sudden things, they come up like a west Texas thunderstorm, change the landscape of everything all of the sudden. Sometimes, though, they are slower working. Sometimes they start at the surface and work their way down to the fabric.

Was I praying all wrong back in those Arkansas Children’s Hospital days? Was there a reason my prayers ricocheted from the ceilings? I don’t know. I know some simpler prayers might have done me well, though.

As for you: do you believe that God likes you despite your own broken prayers, your inability to measure up, to go a day without sinning? Do you believe that you identity is found in your endless doing, your striving. Do you wonder whether you’ll ever pile up enough works to reach the heavens?

There are gems in this book of Boyett’s. She sneaks its Benedictine shots in with the grace of a God-bearer and the chops of one with a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. She writes beautiful sentences, allows the reader his own slow epiphany.

God’s love is not only for the deserving doers, the perfect prayers, Micha might say. Instead, it is for the everyday common man, for those too tired to try measuring up to some silly standard. And yes, most of our standards of measuring are silly.

Grab Found. Benedictines, Baptists, and low-church Evangelicals welcomed.

bookLG-found2

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Psalm #17 (For the Strivers in Their Striving)

Today’s psalm is for the strivers who love their striving. (Click here for more of the psalm series.)

*****

Psalm #17 (For the Strivers in Their Striving)

In this tabernacle of great green floor unfurling,
the bright blue above, sometimes black and star-flecked,
we kneel, fingernails busy like tiny shovels
searching for the ancient, eternal
word of Life that was breathed first
below the roots, and then into saplings,
into the nests in sycamore boughs,
into all.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

It is in the jutting limestone,
in sandstone, dolomite,
in the bill of Hawksbill Crag,
in the point Whitakers Point.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

It was spoken into seeds,
into ovum and ovum’s lover,
implanted so that it might be
a perpetual echo of the All
of all being.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

In the full faith of virgins,
in the cavernous, hollow caves–
yes, Word is there.
In the triumph, in the joy of death,
it springs from the river
whose streams make glad!

Cease scratching and know; be known!

There is Word under your nails,
in the creases of all knuckles.
In our hair down hill on borrowed bike,
in foundry callouses and sulfur burns.

Cease with tiny shovels, with claws of scratching! 

In the cousins, most–
we, in the midwinter of our todays–
before the coming of the spring flocks,
it finds Home most intimate,
most present,
most actual.

Thanks be to God!

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Good Links (The Found Edition)

Here in the Boston Mountains, spring has come to thaw the good earth and the weeds have begun their sprouting. They grow fast, the weeds, the first green things of the season. There are daffodil shoots by my front door, too, a foreshadowing of something beautiful breaking.

Weeds are not the only things shooting up here. The boys are shooting up, and up, and up, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine them all as seven foot tall bottomless grocery pits. Ian, our third boy, has a stomach that empties into his hollow leg. I swear it. He’s always asking for more to eat. On Tuesday Taco Night (“Everything is Awesome”), he ate four tacos, an apple, an orange, a handful of chips, and another taco. He’s only six.

Lord, save us from the teenage appetites.

My appetites have shifted over the years, of course, have been turned more to art, music, and words. This week, I’ve found a few good works to slake my thirst. Enjoy.

BOOKS

I’ve been digging into Micha Boyett’s book (check out her new site!), Found, and let me tell you something: it is good. In it, Micha writes of her struggle to add-up, deals with the subtleties of a quiet works based righteousness. She explores the way of Saint Benedict, a way marked by less striving, by a kind of restful labor.

Micha writes of her long, broken prayers, how they never seemed to add up or amount to much. Having left a successful ministry position for full-time motherhood, she struggled with core identity issues. Would God love her enough? Would she be a worthy saint without some grand God-task? What if she never changed the world?

Is this a book that deals with motherhood? Sure. But deeper, this is a book that deals with the endless striving of modern Christian culture; this is a book for men and women alike. (We all suffer from our own identity crises, don’t we?) Grab a copy. Better, grab three copies and give two to a friend.

MUSIC

This week, the music segment ties in with geopolitics. “How,” you ask? Good question.

Yesterday, in an bold move to bring back the Cold War era, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a declaration formalizing Matthew Wilder’s 1983 hit, “Nobody Gonna Break My Stride,” as Russia’s alternative national anthem. Taking the stage with Crimean Solid Gold dancers, Putin declared, “Nobody gonna hold me down! Oh no! I’ve got to keep on moving!”

According to credible reports, state run television has been playing this video for the last twenty-four hours.

LINKS

The Malaysian Flight 370 debacle just keeps getting stranger. One day, they’re searching a stretch of ocean the size of the state of Pennsylvania, and the next day, they expand the search “to include a several-hundred-square-mile zone in the Indian Ocean as well as each of the seven or 22 additional spatial dimensions posited by string theory.” Follow The Onion for the most recent updates (sort of).

I love it when a fella writes good words about his wife, and Nathan Elmore has penned some of the best. He writes, “[h]ow can I say this? I suppose Amie is as good at nurturing smaller human beings as I am at putting fish sticks and crinkle fries on a tray and placing them into an oven…” Classic. Go check out Nathan’s space.

I’ve followed Ann Kroeker for years. She has killer editorial skills, is wicked-sharp with a pen, and is kind to boot. This week she writes about forming writing habits. “Don’t break the chain,” she says. Any aspiring writer (or recovering addict, for that matter) will want to read this. If you’re looking for a writing coach, or just some good advice on keeping the pen ink flowing, Jump over to Anne’s site.

John Blase:
“we live haunted by the remains of
a paradise half-seen in dreams.”
Go read this.

MUSIC--THE REDUX

For those of you who don’t know Nish Weiseth, you should. She’s an extraordinary doer, a wonderful thought-leader, and a connoisseur of good music. Last week she set the hook and reeled me in with Twin Forks.

Oh, my.

Thanks for stopping in this week! And if you’ve run across any good links of your own, let us know in the comments.

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On the Violences of Christian Taking

I.

For a moment let’s be still. Let’s listen to the chatter of birds returning from milder southern winters; let’s smell the neighbor’s fresh mulch spread in anticipation of the spring thaw. For a moment, let’s see the daffodils stretching upward, or at least imagine them begging to break through winter’s last gasp, its final chokehold.

II.

On Saturday, I visited a coffee shop with a hippy flair Carrboro, North Carolina. It was a packed house, with Tar Heel students sitting at the island tables that populated an outdoor garden. One student swung in a hammock, looked up through the greening trees. I walked by the hammock, smelled the weed stuck to his skin, noticed his nary-a-care smile. He looked up at me, said, “hey, man. Cool?” I had no idea what the question was, so I looked down, smiled, and nodded.

“Cool,” I said.

In the coffee shop, the high-ambition students sat along the room’s edges, they with their headphones on, furrowed brows sunk into the spines of text books. On occasion, they’d cast a longing glance to the low-ambition students in the center of the room, they chatting and laughing about who knows what. They were an eclectic mix of doers, and resters. They were a mix of take-the-world and take-what-comes, alike.

I watched the children poised on the unknowing edge of prosperity’s ambitious burnout. I wanted to tell them to dive into the pit of take-what-comers, to let things develop without assuming the onus being a catalyst, some sort of personal Big Bang.

“Go swing in the hammock,” I wanted to whisper in all their ears, but they wouldn’t have listened. I wouldn’t have either.

III.

Cool?

IV.

Before the Carrboro coffee shop, I sat in a lake house living room with fourteen men. We were strangers before the weekend, each of us coming from different professions and being invited by the five members of a sort of spiritual direction community. There were two pastors, a tech-startup cat, a money-manager, an executive coach, and a rock-and-roll church administrator from the Rocky Mountain State. There were two pastors from Virginia, and a peace mediator from Old Dominion, too. A seminarian had driven from the Blue Grass state, and two money managers and a pastor-therapist from middle Tenessee attended. Then there was me–a lay lawyer from the Ozark mountains.

One might ask whether a retreat of strangers is as uncomfortable as it sounds. I suppose the answer depends on the sorts of people that comprise the collective, but in our case, I would say it was anything but uncomfortable. We talked in simplest terms about the things we wanted and the status of our souls. We shared a common desire to live what’s left of this one life well, to push into relationships that are meaningful, that go beyond the platitudes of job, and money, and even family.

There’s something rich about sharing the status of you soul in a collective of otherwise strangers. Pretense and posturing disappears (if you let it). There are no business competitors, no one to get a leg up on. If the collective is honest, and ours was, it fosters a sense that, when you take it down to the nuts and bolts, we’re all so similar, all have the same underlying self-consuming doubts and struggles.

Near the end, I shared about my growing distaste of the creeping, subtle, Christian violences. I told them I was weary of Christian ambition, of church mission statements that include grandiose statements about “taking the city for Christ.” I’ve had my fill of warfare metaphors, and fighting memes. I’m tired of long-on-opinion and short-on-grace living. I want a community that’s flips the notion on its head, one that rests. I want a community that believes the great “give us this day our daily bread.”

We unpacked the notion, and the pastor from Virginia boiled it down to the bones–”at our church, we’re not looking to take anything anymore; instead, we’re hoping to cultivate a community of restful belonging.”

Belonging–I think it’s what we all want if we’re honest.

V.

Spring is not something to be seized and dragged into our present realities. It comes in its beauty, in its own time. It comes and we belong to it in the same way the cardinals, or the redbuds, or the daffodils belong to it. It comes without effort–without our effort, anyhow–and it’s the best of graces. This is the way of the good things of God, at least that’s the way I reckon it.

Is this the way of belonging?

VI.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Take what comes.

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Psalm #16 (Elegy)

Last week I participated in a small retreat in North Carolina. The spiritual directors (for lack of a better term) asked two questions. First, they asked “what is the state of your soul?” Next, they asked, “what do you want?” Today’s psalm deals with the second question.

*****

Psalm #16 (Elegy)

I.

When the lesser lights escape my eyes
and the wild berth of my first person present
enters the great conflagration, its carbon
reduced and confined
to columbarium,
Ozark stone,
or the cypress-kneed banks
of my grandfather’s Black Bayou,

When I rise to the new third-person
(the indefinite glorious pronoun),
wake to the far-shored tomorrow,
may the minds of men turn tender
and remember
that their seeing, their receiving
was born of my best attempts
to cast honest visions,
to give give truer gifts.

II.

This was meager,
and how I knew:
only dim,
only poor.

III.

Even as I learn to see through new eyes
without the film of today’s dawn,
may my sons tell of my best efforts.
May I be found
like Einaudi’s crescendos,
like Peter the Saint’s confessions,
like the Psalmist’s cup:
beautiful,
true,
and overflowing
from this one finite chalice.

Amen.

*****

Photo (top) by gogoloopie, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post and book spine photo by Seth Haines

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