I've gotten a good head start on Margaret Guenther's Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Directions For the Second Half of Life. It's a wonderful book about growing up spiritually -- a process that, as Guenther points out, has less to do with reaching a particular age than it has to do with growing into an inner maturity.
Even though I'm barely into chapter four, I've already gleaned some valuable insights. I love Guenther's thoughts on intercessory prayer, especially her suggestion to broaden and deepen our prayers by using "icons" of the real people we know and love to remember and lift up others in similar situations and conditions. In other respects, Guenther stretches my sensibilities -- in talking about exemplars of mature faith she talks about her own identification with St. Anne, grandmother of Jesus; perhaps due to my thready Lutheran hagiographical knowledge base, or my anxieties about my own slouching toward older adulthood, I just can't relate. (I'd rather think of myself as a sort of fun maiden aunt who is a cheerfully subversive ally of precocious children, or maybe the gray-haired-terror-with-a-heart-of-gold one finds in novels like Anne of Green Gables -- stern and intimidating on the outside, a soft touch on the inside.)
But here's a phrase that jumped out at me from the book's pages the other day: Guenther, describing a St.-Anne-like, serene, unflappable director of a nursery school, noted the school's only two discernable rules: Don't hit people and don't leave the playground.
This pretty much sums up the Law and the Prophets, doesn't it?
Mechtild of Magdeburg, a medieval German mystic/ecclesiastical gadfly/right-on woman, used the imagery of play when talking about our relationship with God; in fact, she referred to God as her Playmate. And indeed, when we ignore our Playmate in favor of self-serving adventures beyond our playground, we get ourselves into trouble. And loving our neighbors the way we love ourselves means -- no hitting.
I have to tell you -- I don't earn too many gold stars in either column. I am so prone to wandering out of bounds that sometimes I think I need one of those harnesses that anxious parents use to rein in their wayward toddlers. (And on several occasions I've felt that elastic yank.) And I suspect that "Does not play well with others" shows up in my student file quite frequently -- weekly, in fact; at least.
Don't hit people and don't leave the playground -- words to live by; words to practice examen by.