From Exile to Hope: November 17, 2022

From Exile to Hope: November 17, 2022

November 17, 2022

Welcome, welcome, welcome

By: Rev. Lee Roorda Schott

In this week when we’ve experienced our first snowfall of the coming winter, a friend posted a meme on Facebook that included this sentiment: 

If you choose not to find joy in the snow,
you will have less joy in your life
but still the same amount of snow.


It’s not hard for me to find joy in snow (yes, I’m one of those people), but those words immediately made me think of the carbon steel skillets my husband insists on using. Unlike a handy Teflon pan that you can wash up with soap and water, these must be cleaned with coarse salt, wiped carefully, and then seasoned with oil. I said to him once that I’d be happy if I never had to clean one of those skillets again. 
Which, when I stopped and thought about it, was really dumb. My husband is a great cook. (And, I should note, I married a man who does the cooking!!!) There is real joy in the food he cooks in those skillets. He chose these pans as the proper tool for that work; I respect that. My impatience with this cleaning process pales in comparison. 
So, yeah. I can choose not to have joy in these skillets, which means I will have less joy in my life, but still the skillets need to be tended.
It’s that way with a lot of chores. Taking out the trash. Folding the laundry. Getting gas. Replacing the toilet paper roll. Flossing my teeth. I think sometimes I’d be happy if I never had to do those things again. They can weigh me down. The tedium. The peskiness of stuff that needs done. This again?
One day it occurred to me to time how long it took me to take out the trash. It was, all told, about ninety seconds. 
Ninety seconds.
You know what else takes about ninety seconds? Cleaning a carbon steel skillet.
How worked up do I need to be about something that takes ninety seconds?
I’m reminded of something Pema Chodron said, about the way we get hooked into negative emotions. She’s talking about physical pain, which might trigger an emotion. Chodron says:
[A]n emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just ninety seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it.[1]
Why do we rekindle it? It’s because our thoughts start piling on. We have a twinge in our back, and we think, “Omigosh, my dad had such horrible back pain for all those years; is it my turn?” And then we remember that heavy box we had to move out of the way in the garage yesterday, because our son left it there, and we think, “This is all Sam’s fault! If only he were more responsible….” And pretty soon we’re arguing with ourselves whether it’s Sam’s partner’s fault, or our bad parenting, and where did we go wrong. And that pain in our back has just been magnified tenfold.
The…shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and a half minutes may be drawn out for ten or twenty years. We just keep recycling the story line…. We rev up our thoughts about it. What if this happens? What if that happens? We stir up a lot of mental activity. Body, speech, and mind become engaged in running away from the feeling, which only keeps it going and going and going.[2]
Chodron’s description of how we react to physical pain isn’t that different from how we react to snow, or repetitive chores, or that thing that bothers us at work, or at church. We rev up the story about what could happen, who will be hurt, how our plans will have to be rearranged, how frustrating all this is, or boring, or intentionally calculated to hurt us. Pretty soon our heads are spinning with something much bigger than the original stimulus which might, if left alone, have dissipated in as little as, what, ninety seconds?
No longer than it takes to clean a carbon steel skillet. Huh.
Our contemplative Christian tradition offers the Welcoming Prayer as an antidote to just this phenomenon. This prayer notices the semi-automatic excessive reaction pattern we have to pain in its various forms, and do you know what it says?
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
This prayer invites us to welcome, literally, our annoyance at the weather forecaster who just put snowflakes across the next three days, or our impatience with an empty toilet paper roll, or our anger at that coworker who made that same mistake again. We’re invited to say (and mean!), “Welcome, welcome, welcome.” And then this pattern of prayer goes on to invite us, in the face of this stimulus, to let go of 

  • our desire for power and control
  • our desire for safety and security
  • our desire for affection and approval
  • our desire for things to be different than they are

It isn’t that we have to love all those things. It’s that we want to quiet our minds and emotions in the midst of them. “Welcome, welcome, welcome,” we say. And breathe. And not become mired in our reactions. “Welcome, welcome, welcome.”
Sometimes I need to say it a bunch of times before I stop gritting my teeth. Ninety seconds worth, maybe. “Welcome, welcome, welcome.”
You might be thinking of those complicated family members, around the Thanksgiving table. “Welcome, welcome, welcome.’
When I’ve welcomed a thing, I find myself closer to a being able to take joy in it, or after it. Cleaning skillets. Taking out the trash. These things that, when I’m honest, take almost no time at all: They don’t deserve to enmesh me in negative energy! Plus I can anticipate the joy of these tasks being finished, things being refreshed, and ready for the next time. 
Welcome, change. Welcome, people. Welcome, gritted teeth. Welcome, aching bones. Each bringing something I need to know, or address, or adjust. 
Welcome snow, even. 
More welcome, more joy. 

[1] Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change (Boston: Shambhala, 2012), 11-12, referring to Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of InsightA Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (Plume, 2009).
[2] Ibid., 12.
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