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Posts Tagged ‘change’

stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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MicahEach year brings its challenges and dreams, its disappointments and surprises. I am alive, blessed with work and shelter, and healthy for the most part: for these things I give thanks. I want to keep my focus this year on the Christ within, the story that God has given us in scriptures to mark my way, and the people  around me to share the journey. I want to lead and I want to be led. I want to be a light and pierce the darkness. I want to count to ten before I speak ill of anyone. I want to practice contentment. I want to be a champion for joy.

My verse for this year is Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal [human], what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humblywith your God.

My long term resolve for this year in God is to

  • st patrick prayerTo read the Bible through again (daily), this time using one of the chronological plans where the poetic and prophetic chapters are interlaced with the historical. I found this particular plan at the website: Blue Letter Bible, if anyone cares to join me. It can start on any day of the year.
  • To re-imagine prayer and pursue an interior life, daily.
  • To celebrate what is good by dropping small notes into a jar and then reading them on 12/31/14, daily.
  • To respond to God’s will and submit to the Holy Spirit, daily.
  • To write. Daily.
  • To honor the gift of health by engaging my body in exercise, wellness, and nutritious eating, daily.
  • To order my spaces, not with guilt but with respect for the endowment God has provided.

Let it be so, dear Christ, dear Spirit within and without.

I invoke the Lorica Prayer of St. Patrick (in which lorica means body armor or protection), I enter this year with Christ.

 

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angelic protectionFor he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. [Psalm 91:11-13]

When I was planning a Lenten devotion series for my church along with my daily responses to the selected scriptures, I accidentally switched the weeks. As a result, the theme of “My God, My Protector” ended up now instead of week two. Funny, I don’t know how it has worked out for anyone else, but this is the week I have needed confirmation of God’s loving protection more than ever.

I am feeling so tenuous and unsure of myself. Every task feels gargantuan and I am unable to get anything done on time, with hours and days racing by with no benchmarks. I guess some of these feelings might be as a result of my previous commitment to the peeling away of outer self and exposing of inner self. In theory alone, it’s a dangerous possibility; but this chaotic reality is unexpected. And why? For this very reason: I am not familiar with this person, this tremor, this confusing cacophony of feelings and thoughts.

So often, I am the bull in a china shop, I plunge into tasks with no subtlety whatsoever and simply trust my knowledge and instincts. But these days, I am on tiptoe, softly treading, unsure of my steps, unsure of the surroundings, unsure of my choices. Everything looks and feels peculiar.

Another devotional book I have been following this season is A Day in Your Presence: A 40-day journey in the company of Francis of Assisi compiled by David Hazard. It’s an old book and a series from the early 90’s, but the entries are very short and hit directly to the matter at hand. Then, in the midst of this study, the new Pope takes on the name of Saint Francis. Why did his choice strike such a chord? I don’t really know; it’s not like I’m Catholic, and yet, the synchronicity of it gave me pause. Something is happening: like a secret revolution.

God is speaking to his people about the Way again. And it’s not big and dramatic and full of signs and wonders. It’s a quiet revolution of the heart. But in that kind of change, it’s important to surrender to the protection of the Holy Spirit. It’s important to trust God in the midst of change. I ask now that God send those angelic messengers to hold me close and prick my spirit to submit to the Presence within.

Amen. Selah (pause and calmly think of that). Amen.

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time is now[If you truly fast . . . ] Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” [Isaiah 58:9-10]

Oh the promises God gives in so many different voices. I am slow. I am slow to respond with internal change.

I am reading a book by John Sarno, M.D. on healing back pain (and many other aches & pains) through a mind-body connection that we have lost. And in it, he says how slowly the subconscious responds to change. In another venue (not sure if it was a book, web site, or magazine article), I read about the difficulties that overweight people have in maintaining their weight loss and that the body, for many years even, wants to return to its former (heavier) state. It’s literally a battle within for the psyche to accept the “new you.” Or,  I think of more serious scenarios where abused and battered women stay in marriages and partnerships because it became the norm and a “new normal” hard to imagine.

These illustrations reveal tendencies in my personal spirit too. I have a comfort zone within which my spirit does not adapt out of easily. Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits experience a time of confusion when we try something new, when we step out of the familiar, when we dip our toes into unknown waters.

jumping inHow do you walk into the ocean? Do you run full tilt and jump headlong into the frigid waves, exulting in that blasting sensation? Or, are you like me, slowly wading in and letting each body part get used to the water beforslow ocean walke going the next step, the next depth. Only when the ocean takes charge and bursts over my plan do I give in and dunk in. But there are times when I don’t even get past my knees. Maybe the first steps are too cold or too rocky or too slimy and I turn back. I don’t give the ocean a chance to envelope me. I go back to the sand (and really how comfortable is that?).

There are four parts to a complete Lenten experience:  fasting (the change up), prayer (the conversation),generosity (reaching out to others), and confession (owning up to our mistakes). This is the perfect time to enter the ocean of God’s love, God’s invitation, Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s waters. Whether slow or fast, the time is now.

I will never be one to jump in with full abandon. But I do commit to a slower journey. I choose it. I choose to work inward so that my outward self becomes less judgmental, more connected, and filled with the Light of Christ. I want my night to become like noonday. It’s a process. And like everyone else, it’s outside my comfort zone.

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Photo by Ed Rybczynski

Photo by Ed Rybczynski

Leaving is not easy. Starting over is never easy either. But sometimes, that’s all we can do. Circumstances and time and emotions come to a head, and it’s clear, something must change. At this time of year, we mockingly call them resolutions (and I say mocking, because we laugh at our poor resolve over the years). But true change is no joke. True beginnings are powerful and even painful.

Genesis 31:3; 17-18
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” . . . Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels,and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram,to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

Meaningful change is rarely made overnight with a glass of champagne in one hand and horn in the other. It’s rarely a wish list; it’s a must list. That kind of break with the past comes after a build up, a collection of situations, a norm that is no longer acceptable.

Often it takes an epiphany or insight, a new view of an old way, that becomes the impetus for change or builds a desire or appetite for metamorphosis. We see with new eyes. We see reality. We see truth. And it is longer acceptable.

In Jacob’s world, it took more than fourteen years to realize that something had to change. He had achieved the short-term goal of acquiring wives and even children, but he was still dependent on Laban. It was time to grow up.

I remember making a very small discovery, probably in my late twenties, that there was no one who would be picking up after me. If I chose to leave dirty dishes, they would be there the next day. If I put my clothes on the floor, they would remain. If I forgot to water the plants, they would die. If I wanted my immediate environment to be pleasant and acceptable, I would have to do it.

But sometimes, the changes are more challenging, like women who have entered abusive relationships or tied themselves to addictive personalities or other enslavements (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, television, and other mind-numbing substitutions for living). To see these situations in their true form is beyond difficult and may require divine intervention.

For myself, I pray for open eyes this day, to see clearly. I pray for God’s revelation and direction. I pray for loved ones whose eyes are still closed. I pray for my role in their lives. I pray for grace and mercy and courage. I ask for epiphanies to abound.

Today. Not resolutions but meaningful change.

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RebekahAbraham is old, really old, and decides to once again, take matters into his hands to find a wife for Isaac, who must be around forty by then. Abraham sends his highest ranking servant (unnamed throughout the story) to the land of his ancestors to find a wife. The servant puts out a kind of “fleece” to determine which maiden is the one. Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, passes the test. And off she rides, maids & nurse in tow.

Genesis 24:67
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

I’m sure there are a number of wedding rituals that were still in place even in those times but unfortunately, these are not shared through this story. Rebekah agrees to travel right away (which smacks of “get me out of this family,” an escape route that many young women take) and takes on the adventure of a lifetime.

Rebekah is going to an unknown land just like Abraham did those many years earlier. She only has the promise from a servant, an array of fine gifts and gold, and the hope of a future. She had tremendous courage, I think, as well as curiosity. Rebekah embraced change.

I wish I knew more of what must have happened within the summary text, “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother.” Was there a ceremony? Or was it merely a matter of having relations with the woman to secure their marriage bond? Is there significance to it being his mother’s tent, or did that simply signify the tent for women? Was it a harem like situation where all the women of the household lived together?

And more interesting still is that Rebekah became the woman who brought comfort to Isaac at the loss of his mother. I cannot help but think that Isaac was estranged from his father Abraham after the great testing on the mountain. At least, I don’t believe they were close. Instead, Isaac gave his heart to his mother. And when she passed, he felt alone and engaged in the building of his own herds and belongings. And although he did not take a wife, I’m pretty sure he was no “40 year old virgin.” There were slaves and concubines undoubtedly and maybe even children, but these would not inherit the promises of God. They were of such insignificance, they are not named or identified. Even Rebekah came from some wealth, since she traveled with her own entourage of nurse and maids.

And so it is, that the progression of God’s plan for building a nation is finally moving again. The entire process had stopped at Isaac’s apparent reluctance to take a wife.

But once Rebekah arrives, he accepts her, he marries her, and more importantly, he loves her. This love statement could have been excluded but it is here for a reason. At this point in the story, Isaac loves, that is, he cares about his new wife more than himself. He is sensitized to her needs and her desires. He wants to please her. He wants to nurture her. He wants her to thrive and be happy. He loves her.

How often does the story begin this way? My story did too. What happens? How do we lose that adventure and love? Did God change his mind? It was a match made in heaven. So was mine. How do we lose sight of God’s gift to one another? Why do so many life events cool our ardor, our belief, our joy?

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Abraham pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah, that God not destroy them if ten righteous people (those doing right), could be found. And God agreed. It only takes a few to save the many.

Genesis 18:32
Then he [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [the Lord} answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Jesus turned the world upside down with twelve disciples. These twelve were dedicated, who brought with them, their families and their neighbors and their friends. They touched lives and then those people touched lives. And today, we are the fruit of those twelve.

In the movie, Pay It Forward, a young boy, in response to a school assignment of coming up with direct action that could change the world, he devises a simple plan of helping three people with good deeds (things they could not do for themselves) and then challenge them to do the same. Exponentially, the impact would be as great as the disciples’ challenge, a charitable pyramid.

Sometimes, I see myself taking no action at all because I feel so insignificant in the face of our world’s despair. It is hard to remember the value of saving one, of helping one, of changing the course of a single life. It is indeed like the story of the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean one by one. An old man, who sees him, tells him how many will be lost and what difference could he possibly make, the beach was strewn with dying starfish. Yes, but the boy reminded him, he made a difference to that one, the one or few that he was able to throw back into the saving waters.

It is unlikely that I will be the next Billy Graham, speaking to thousands of a hope in the midst of despair, but I could be a friend to one more. I am not comfortable with people whose lives are a shambles. Their troubles are so overwhelming. I want to tell them how to fix it, to do this or that. But I have seen their inability to act. How do I befriend such a one?

It’s a trust issue I think. I have to earn trust and then, perhaps, there would be an opening for more than just a temporary fix. Jesus did not heal everyone, but he was present for them all. He did not feed everyone but he gave an example of how it could be done. He did not change the financial circumstances or status of individuals, but he gave them a better way of handling their situations. Except for the twelve, and the women who followed as well, those lives he changed forever.

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