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Some thoughts on the gift of time

It is always intriguing to me when the various streams from which I am reading all come together in one congruent message. For the past several weeks, I have been reading about the gift of time… each new day… how we receive it… how we perceive it.

It began as I was reading Eat, Pray and Love… the author reminisces about her time spent in Italy and the beautiful way Italians relish each day and especially the sheer beauty of doing nothing, “Bel far niente”. I literally laughed out loud as I read it because having lived there for ten years, I knew exactly what she was describing in her book. At the same time, I saw, perhaps for the first time, the beauty in what I had learned from my Italian brothers and sisters. Read more

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

The spirituality of place…

During his ministry on earth, Jesus would often steal away from the crowds to reconnect with God. I am keenly aware that if Jesus needed this in his ministry, it is a good idea for me also. But it is not just because Jesus did it. I am aware that I can quickly get caught up in the hectic pace of our culture or adopt ideals about my role that don’t come from the One who has called me. If I linger to long in an unhealthy place, it can begin to taint all that I do… even the good things.

Over the years, I have become aware that the mere action of going back to the physical place where I have met God can usher me into  into God’s presence. It is the power of ritual. Ritual is a habit or repetitive action that holds within it the power of memory and transcendence.  This would also be true for our practice of prayer and other actions that can become powerful rituals in our lives.

The beauty of ritual is that whether I feel like it or not… whether things are going well for me or not… returning to the practice itself and going through the motions can bring about spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and a sense of connectedness.

There are many examples of the spirituality of place in the Bible. The children of Israel were experts at marking the sacred places so that they could later return and remember the story. In Genesis, we find Abraham returning back to  the trees of Mamre. They were a sacred place for Abraham.

We too, can have sacred places to return to time and time again. It could be a favorite tree, a painting, a grassy meadow, imagining a psalm or a favorite chair. All of these can become open doorways into the presence of God:

The Chair

it is funny to me
that a chair
has become
a sacred place
a temple
of momentous grace
and love
where the holy one
pierced my deepest parts
with love breath
purging darkness
caked clutter
from the intimate places
that for so long
were
uninhabited

one glance now
unleashes the memory
and ferries me
into Love’s breath
and I breathe
once again
deeply

Practicing the Sabbath… yielding for God’s provision

Practicing the Sabbath continues to be a life-giving practice for Harry and I. Admittedly, we have had to make some adjustments along the way. For several weeks now, we needed to change the day of the week due to previously scheduled events on Saturdays. So, we decided to make our Sabbath during this time from Thursday evening at sundown until Friday evening at sundown.

This week was especially difficult for me as I had tasks, sermons, rehearsals and extra services pile up and leave me feeling breathless. Read more

The spirituality of words…

The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.

It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect  as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.

Writing has become a form of prayer for me:

words
a mere human
invention
clumsily strung together
describing
the mystery
God
unfolding
around me
in me
yet
unleashing the power
of memory
stories
of the Holy One
and
me

“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”

Psalm 71:17-18

What does it mean to be playful?

As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.

“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.

“We are playing…”

“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more

A prayer for those who feel caged…

Over the past years, I have become increasingly aware of my own “caging” experience. Sometimes, circumstances and people unknowingly squelched my sensitive spirit. There were other times where I, unknowingly, entered the cage, wounded and afraid, thinking that it would some how keep me safe. Still other times, persons in my life were uncomfortable with me and needed to place me there.

It can be overwhelming to wake up one day and find that for too long you have been living in a cage. You wonder if the wings you have been given can take flight. Yet, you long for the freedom to soar into the places yet to be discovered. Here is my prayer…

Uncage the bird
before the floods come
engulfing its song
into endless night waters
let the holy breeze
give flight
to its wings
that it may soar
into the place
of endless days
where Light
dispels
the great sadness
that held its heart
captive
for too long

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”     Isaiah 40:28-31

Sometimes, practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes…

Sometimes my practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes along the river looking for living water… let me explain.

In the Exodus account, God gave Moses the power to perform miracles and signs so that the Egyptians would know that He was Lord, the One True God. After turning his staff into a snake, Moses touched the Nile River and turned it into blood along with all of the water in Egypt. Everything in the river died and smelled.

Then, in Exodus 6,  the Egyptians dug holes along the river in search of living water. I am struck by this imagery.  I can imagine the heat and the stench as the Egyptians dig holes into the parched earth with parched souls, hoping to find living water. They were digging beside a gruesome sight of blood and flies which was once their source of life, industry and wealth. Egypt was nothing without its water source, the Nile.

The answer for the Egyptians was simple… acknowledge that the Lord was the one true God and release the children of Israel to worship Him. I think that our answer is also simple… there is a River of Life that runs through each of us… we can tap into it at any time. Too often, we find ourselves right beside the Source of Living water… but because of our own spiritual hardness or the complexities of life… we dig holes along the river longing to quench our spiritual thirst. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Perhaps the practice of inward gazing at the Source of Water within us rather than struggling to dig holes outside of the water source would bring the spiritual refreshment that we long for. This requires practice and patience… seeing through the layers of our humanity to behold the divine that has been birthed, by the grace of God, within us. There is something beautiful to behold within each of us.

A. W.  Tozer writes, ” Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs there is within them a secret communion always going on.”

O, Lord, may I have the grace to slow my frantic digging and gaze upon the One who has taken up residence within me; the River of Life. Amen.

telling a new story…

Yesterday’s sermon on being an inspirational you really struck a chord with me. Harry spoke about the Genesis account of God breathing life into the dust and making humans. God made something out of nothing.

I am reading through the book of Exodus right now so I found myself reflecting on Moses. Moses was an insecure, stuttering, murder whose parents had given him away to be raised by complete strangers. He really didn’t have a great future ahead of him and he certainly wasn’t our stereo typical ideal church leader.

But… God in his mercy and grace chose to inspire Moses. He breathed life into Moses and made someone who seemed destined to be a failure into someone wonderful. God gave Moses everything he needed to be successful! Moses became a selfless leader who led Israel out of destruction, slavery and a dismal story into promised freedom giving all of the children of Israel a chance to tell a better story. There are few leaders that have ever been as great as Moses.

It strikes me that God is in the business of redeeming people and he invites us to practice this as well. Unfortunately, the church seems to fumble with this call, especially the Mennonite Church, which I love dearly. Read more

It takes some effort to frame our days…

Like Jacob… we can take the time to re-frame our days. Just has he stopped before moving into Egypt to honor God and offer himself to God, we too can take time to do that.

There are many ways to frame our days that have been passed down throughout the history of Christianity. Morning and Evening prayers, the Examen, the Daily Office, the practice of centering prayer are just a few.

I find it helpful to begin my day with reading scripture and then move into a time of centering prayer. I find that it re-frames my entire day. I tend to see things that happen throughout the day with spirit eyes… which is a good thing. I find that if I begin the day centered in God’s presence I have a much better chance of staying centered!

I was never good at praying out loud for any length of time growing up. Read more