Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer and Senses

One of the best summer memories I have is of a family get-together we had out on our farm in the Bohemian Alps. We made homemade ice cream, played kick-the-can and watched bugs swarm around the telephone pole lampposts that were on either side of the sloping path that lead from our house to the chicken coop and to the barn.

I can still hear the sounds of the locusts and giggling friends, feel the sweat on my forehead, taste the ice cream and smell the fresh, country air and the scent of freshly-mowed grass (maybe that's because I just mowed the lawn).

Our five senses help us to remember moments. They're like little Polaroid cameras that take small snapshots of our lives as, with all our being, we try to hold on to some sense of permanence (or at least stability).

Unfortunately, our senses record the bad stuff, too. The smell of a hospital room, the taste of liver and onions, the feel of bugs crawling on our skin, the ringing sound of firecrackers going off a couple feet away from our ears, and the sight of someone younger than us in a casket. . .

It is on the inside where these memories remain. In Hebrew, the word nephesh pretty much sums it up. In English, the closest word would be being. There's something in the very fiber of who we are that is changed by what we experience. There are scars left on our nepheshes (not a word, tecnically) that time will not heal.

When and if I pray each morning, I take a moment to examine my senses and to consider that I am in the presence of God. This seems easy on the surface. Most meditation focuses on breathing or chanting to push all thoughts aside. Prayer leads me to see myself as I am, to be quiet, and to remember God.

For Orthodox Christians, the prayer that is uttered most frequently during Lent contains the phrase "grant me to know my own sins and not to judge my brethren". Hard as it is to acknowledge all the memories I have and how they've shaped my being, it is doubly hard to know how I have hurt others and myself. It is triply hard to know those things and not to judge others based on some standard I have for my own life.

Last night, at about 2:30 a.m., our neighbor from across the street decided to set off a firecracker that shook our house and most of the houses on our block. Within seconds, I was out of bed, pulling shorts and a shirt on and heading out the front door to have a little talk with this guy. I had no idea what I was going to say.

To cut the story short, I received no apology, not even an admission of guilt from my inconsiderate neighbor, and he and his buddies carried on a little less noisily, for all I know, the rest of the night. As I headed back inside to go back to bed, I thought of all the things I might have said. I thought of cursing this man up and down, of getting some sort of revenge, of mostly just giving him a good talking-to.

Each day I pray that God will help me to "love my neighbors and my enemies" as He has loved me. It's strange when our neighbors turn into potential enemies. It's even stranger to treat everyone as a brother, sister, father or mother regardless of what they do.

My sense of hearing will not quickly forget what happened last night, but I can choose to forgive my neighbor and ask for forgiveness from God for the anger I harbored toward him. I can choose to die to myself so that Christ can live in me. But I can only do this as I continue to pray and examine myself, all my senses, asking that God would "enlighten my mind and guard all my senses".

Now it's time for a summer Saturday afternoon nap. I forgot to mention that getting plenty of sleep refreshes the senses and makes forgiving just a little bit easier. Maybe I'll wear earplugs this time.


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