Standing in front of the little coffee cart, waiting for the first customers of the day, I start the morning recalibrating the professional grinder. When the weather is cold, the beans need a little more motivation to release their oils, and so a smaller grind. When it is warm, the beans expand and let go and the coarser grind works beautifully to produce perfect, creamy, espresso. This calibration is not automatic. It requires a small shift in the gears around the grinder, a tiny movement which requires slow and practiced patience to make sure the gears don’t move too much, or too little. A tightening of the arm muscles to match the resistance of the movement, and then a whisper soft touch as you push the gear one way for fine, one way for coarse, and then a smaller movement as you recalibrate. Perhaps in a temperature-controlled building, this would happen once a day, however, in an outdoor set-up—at the mercy of the elements—this attention to grind, and recalibration is constant.
A life of recalibration
I live a life of constant recalibration. My habits and practices are reflections of the small intentional movements toward what I hope is a life of wholeness. Healthy habits are not always fun, not the things we want to do. Habits are disciplines, and in this Lenten season, these practices (for those of us who acknowledge and attempt a practice within the season) become more of a focus: reorienting of our diet, our exercise routine, our times of prayer, our time with family, our lessening of screen time, our reliance on dessert or alcohol or any other regular go-to. Building habits requires so much practice—anyone who has played a sport that requires any conditioning can tell you how exhausting, and how painful, practice can be. They will also tell you that practice is necessary in order to excel at that sport, or that instrument, or …
While I am attempting to constantly recalibrate my habits in order to live wholeheartedly, wondering whether the habits are reflecting my loves, and whether the puzzles of my daily life add up to wholeheartedness, I sometimes lose the goal. I lose the focus on why wholeheartedness is important to build communities of love. What good does that do in my daily life? In yours? In the life of my family? My church? And if my desires are for the kingdom, why do I really just want a cigarette and a good hot medium roast ethiopian coffee….recalibrate, recalibrate, recalibrate.
Wholeheartedness has become a buzz word thrown around in the popular-culture arena throughout the past several years in response largely to the work of psychologist, Brené Brown. Brown’s research conveys the clear need for humans to stop and take stock of why we feel so disconnected; why we lash out instead of connect—and she conveys her data, as well as her lived experience, in a secular, public, and vulnerable way that originally reached the world in a pivotal cultural moment where it became increasingly popular to highlight how situations and ideas affect each individual person a little differently based on life experience and perspective.
Brown’s work and research, meant to create paths toward connection and community, has had the unintentional (in my opinion) side effect of hyper-focus on the individual and his/her experience, placing it high above and/or completely discounting the communal effects of any given experience. In Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead, Brown gives tools for connection, for building communities, for creating safe spaces that inspire community culture building, but our contemporary self-reflecting, self-affirming, movement toward individualistic truths and relativism as a standard, largely ignores this call to community. Instead, we embrace the authentic and unique experience of the individual as unquestionably valid, and more important and true than any other individual experience, resulting in division within communities and families rather than movement toward empathetic response, and shared goals.
Listen and learn
Devouring the breadcrumbs of Brené Brown’s trail after having completed my Masters of Education focused on Empathy in the classroom, I was already rooted in the recognition that the more you listen, the more you learn about people. The more you understand their struggle, their grief, their shame, the better you connect. James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom and then subsequent You are What You Love, had previously inspired me to pay close attention to my habits; and even more to how those habits reflect and build the foundation of my values. Parallelling the habits of our daily life to liturgical practices, and vice-versa, Smith says “Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies” (Desiring the Kingdom, p. 25).This recognition of the need to pay attention to the habits we build into our lives–the habits that form who we are, speaks directly into the space of longing to live in a way that wholeheartedly, vulnerably, shamelessly, recognizes a person’s lived experience. The difference between this wholeheartedness within society’s accepted view of who a person is though, is where the road gets muddy. Identity gets muddy. Goals get muddy. That espresso grind needs just a little more recalibration.
Throughout all of this recognition of self, perspective, lived experience, the small habits and pieces that make up who we are, we are all seeking a wholeness that is only found in Christ. The problem is that we forget that this is where wholeness is found and continue the constant recalibration of habits and practices by reorienting the focus on ourselves, individually, relativistically. Seeking to be fully ourselves while we keep trying to redefine what that means, what it means to be vulnerably, honestly ourselves—looking for that unique description that might encapsulate our identity, when really living wholeheartedly means to be wholly yourself. You are, I am, they are beloved children of God, without shame, without fear, because we are forgiven. Wholehearted, wholly loved, children of the living God, beloved, saved, and forgiven; no matter the broken – no matter the lost -no matter the fear and trepidation or the seeming mis-steps we take along the journey. All our little habits, our small recalibrations, our attempts to be vulnerable and empathetic, all of these paths lead to the same Grace extended through the death that opened eternity in the presence of God. We are (whole), because he was (whole), and is, and is to come. And instead, I’m so entrenched in the daily trying to align my habits to reflect and restore that faith, that I forget my compass should always point to Jesus. I forget that it is not the small, uniquely definable calibrations that make me who I am, but the creator of the universe who has created who I am, why I am here, and how I can live out of that love.
Jesus’ whole-hearted life
Jesus’ life was lived wholeheartedly. He did so with the understanding that his path led to death—and he walked it anyway. In a sense, isn’t that true of all of us? We know the eventual path of this life is death and thankfully a death of this life; a death to this world, a death to the brokenhearted, broken desires of this life, and a welcoming baptism into the whole heartedness of eternal life.
“We are forgiven, because he was forsaken”—and didn’t Jesus, dying, still cry out? “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This seems to be the refrain we cling to: human beings, dying. “Why have you forsaken me?” And in adopting that question as our own, we entirely miss the forest for the trees. Caught in our constant recalibrations and attempts to live wholehearted, we forget to be thankful that we can. We forget that, in fact, Jesus was forsaken, but we are not.
Last week, I lit a candle as I entered the empty church building, and touched the water from the font to my forehead. I walked and prayed with the smell of smoke in my nostrils and the cool water on my head. Praying through the stations of the cross and thinking about Jesus and his willingness to lay down everything in this world in order to provide a path for us to follow in love and life and death and into new creation. The intention of the stations, the candles, the water, and the slowing down, these are my recalibrations. These are the reminders of why I am here, of how I can live in this world through the lens of Grace and Love. Recalibrating: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27). Through water, through death, we are saved, we are beloved, and we are made whole. We are not individuals trying to make a wholeness out of so many pieces that we cannot keep track of where the goal was, or is. We are individuals that make up a body, a community, a world, individuals with a communal goal of love.