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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

listentogodIf it’s true that God commands at all, then it would behoove us to know what that would be like. How do we hear or see God’s commands?

Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens . . . [Psalm 78:23, NIV] ; And he [Jesus] continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! [Mark 7:9, NIV]

On a recent NPR broadcast, they were discussing the evolution of hearing in medicine. For so long, all diagnoses were based on what a physician or healer could see in addition to the report of the patient. However, with the advent of some basic technology (the stethoscope), a doctor could not “hear” inside the body. In fact, they posited, that sight is like a movie screen, ever before us, but sound is like a swimming pool, all around us. The trick is to learn to discern what we are hearing.

Sounds are everywhere. We tend to tune out most of them. Even in the “silence,” there is sound. And certainly, inside the body, there are a multitude of noises and vibrations.

In the midst of all the clamor, we are told, there is also the “still small voice” of God.

There are many recorded commands of God in the Bible. For this reason, this book guides believers. But I believe there have been interpretations and assumptions about the commands: which are truly the commands of God and which are the fabrications of humans? Which are culturally grounded and which are unbound by time or space or geography?

We are also faced with the mystery of the law articulated through the Jewish history and God’s commands in the Old Testament and the power of grace with the appearance of the Messiah in the New Testament and Jesus’s commands.

It is for this reason that we must look within and without. We must read and contemplate and engage in conversation. But we must also pray, meditate, and spend time within the secret places of God alone.

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thank youIt’s pretty simple really, and repeated throughout scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, we are encouraged to “give thanks.” It’s a natural response and when it’s genuine, it’s the cinch to a bow or knot, those words wrap up the exchange. . . for that moment, for that day perhaps. But it’s never too late to reopen the conversation and it’s never too late to give thanks, whether it’s to God or to a stranger. The words carry power, the sentiment carries humanity and when thoughtfully given, recognizes the I-Thou in the other.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1, NIV]
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV]
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [I Chronicles 16:34, NIV]
Where human thanksgings, one to another, are considered polite and, unfortunately, in many cases, somewhat rote and even cavalier, the command to give thanks to God is fraught with much more weight. This is increasingly clear when life becomes overwhelming. But Paul, in I Thessalonians, admonishes us to give thanks in ALL circumstances (both delightful and dreadful). Well, we might think, “surely God doesn’t mean I am to give thanks for illness or corruption or betrayal or sorrow?”

Yes and no. I am not giving thanks for the situation itself but I am giving thanks that God is still in the midst of that state of affairs, and because God is there, I am promised that I can have confidence in the outcome, which will be God-covered (one way or another, sooner or later). I can, if I so choose, rest in this truth. I am given the opportunity to trust God again and again. I am given the chance to confirm my faith, my commitment, my relationship with the Godhead. It is a choice to give thanks. It’s not that the world will come to an end if I don’t, but I can improve my relationship to challenges, in that simple expression.

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:27, NIV]

Thanks. Yeah. Just sayin.’ Thanks.

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kudzu chokesThe parable of the sower still resonates despite our modern culture. It is a simple tale and yet each of us can probably identify with one or more of the seeds in the story. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that I have lived them all at one point or another. And not necessarily in the order told.

Still others [people], like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” [Mark 4:18-20]

The worries of this life and the desires for other things are the most insidious traps, for they absorb the brain’s thoughts. Like any computer, the RAM can only handle so much at once. And when I fill my head with tapes of concerns, old conversations, looped memories, overdue notices, commercials, and Facebook pictures of all the “other” happy people, there is no room for the workings of Spirit. I crowd out Spirit. It’s not that I don’t trust God in theory, but I don’t leave enough space for God to work.

The good seed hears the word but then “accepts” the word before crops can spring forth. Accepting is a process the involves the conscious as well as the unconscious mind.

In the same way that I have been simplifying my house, it is time to streamline the mind. Set aside what I cannot change and give God the room needed to cultivate a better way.

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palm treeSometimes it’s hard to believe that there is still life in a thing, in a situation. As people grow older and face their own mortality or, as in my circumstances, walk through the death of a loved one, time seems to be a kind of betrayer. We no longer appear to have the time to do anything new or worse, the energy to even begin, to try, to initiate. And when that happens, we go from stasis to decline. Unless–

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;

    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” [Psalm 92:12-15, NIV]

What is bearing fruit at my age? Generally, it’s a metaphor for having children, but what else? I had an evangelist friend who maintained that bearing fruit meant bringing people to Christ. His quiver then, was full of “saved souls” [Psalm 127:3-5]. Others focus on the fruits of the spirit  [Galatians 5:22-23a]: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, looking to improve their characters through acts of generosity toward others, for truly, these fruits are mostly relationship-based. Still others interpret fruit as prosperity, bringing forth a cornucopia of wealth and plenty (aka, fruitfulness).

For me, today, I put forth a very simple meaning: fruit is the natural outcome of any living thing. We are all bearing fruit, all the time, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. The nature of this fruit depends on our make-up, our beliefs, and our intentions.

seeds in the wind“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes. A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.” [Luke 6:43-45, CEB]

Today may be the result of my decisions made in my past, but tomorrow has the potential for anything, and depends so much on my choices today. And so goes the cycle, I learn to walk the day I made while at the same time, I can blow seeds into the days to come.

I have a future. Today I can plant a dream, still.

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Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Today I am the dove who asks for God’s strong hand to carry me, to disentangle me from the barb wire of my current circumstances, to confirm my faith in the Way and to show the doubters how God provides. I know my afflictions are minor compared to the great tragedies of the world, so I claim the dove as my emblem.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
    how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
    do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. [Psalm 74:18-19]

I am looking for a confirmation or perhaps I should confess, I’m looking for a sign. That’s so childish, I know. But if I am honest with myself, that’s the truth. I am quieting myself as much as I can in the midst of a very busy week, each night a program or meeting or work that requires my attention. In between, keeping the house impeccable for showings as well as taming the flourishing vegetation after our heavy rains. Calling in repair men and dear friends to do those things I cannot do. And prepping for book group and writing for writing group and volunteering for church and Opera House Foundation. All the while, looking for a place to move within my new, much smaller budget once our house does sell. And then, balancing the adult kids, one pregnant, another frustrated with me and my “needs,” and another out of state. Yada yada yada.

Hear my prayer, Oh Lord. Keep me mindful. Help me practice your Presence in the cracks. For this reason I fast, to step away from the daily preparation and consumption of food at the least. People spend a lot of time on this, I see, from planning a meal to purchasing the ingredients to preparing it, eating it, and cleaning up.

The tears come easily. I am at the six month mark this weekend of losing my husband. The time is harder now than it was before in many ways. This grieving thing is a harsh and unpredictable road. It’s so much more than simply loss of a loved one, it’s the transitioning to a new lifestyle, a new identity, a touchless world, an aloneness, and a limbo, always in doubt of the future.

Despite all the idiosyncrasies of Mike, he was a rock to our family, a given in the midst of change. Not that God is not a rock, of course. But I am not so full of the Christ Spirit that I do not need or want the comfort of my mate. We survived a lot of troubles and disappointments together. We stood the test of time, half my life.

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secretplace1After life gives you lemons and even the lemonade is undrinkable, it’s clear that God has something else in mind. I am, by nature, a doer and problem-solver. I have made a lot of lemonade in my life. But I have come to the borders of my self-sufficiency. Whatever comes next is new territory. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” [Psalm 91:1-2, NKJ] So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. [Daniel 9:3] I am peeling away then at the layers that have shrouded that secret place where God and I have met in the past. It is a slow process, like pulling English Ivy, the tentacles of memories and circumstances, loss and sorrow, missteps and futility, have covered the way. But I must push on and push in, for whatever I do next must be directed by God; I need confidence in the hand of God guiding me. I don’t have that anymore. Whatever has sustained me in the last six months is no longer enough. Even though people offer to help, unless the direction is clear, we are all going in circles. What next? That’s my prayer. What next?

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tentWe don’t cry out much anymore. I mean, if I cried out from that deepest place, I’d probably be put in a straitjacket. So much. Just started pulling out of muck and felt a bit of hope again, then another disappointment, another unexpected challenge. I understand why people drown. Too much water.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
     Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy. . .
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning. [Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6]

I have my faith. Relax.

But I am crying out, down in that private place only God knows about; the place I reserve for tear collecting, the place I hide, the place I wait. No one can really tell. It’s small and protected. Like a fantasy tale, that place changes shape depending on my state of heart. Sometimes, like today, it’s covered in sound absorbing quilts. Not a black hole yet.

 

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