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Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

21 Days

Today is the last day of my 21 day full fast (or juice fast I should probably say) and tomorrow I will transition to the Daniel Fast, basically a vegan diet through the end of Lent. It has been an illuminating time. We humans spend a lot of time dealing with the business food: planning, purchasing, preparing and finally eating, but then cleaning up and storing what’s left. My days were less preoccupied. My time in prayer was without hurry. Being faithful to alone time with God was much easier. The discipline was worth it.

My challenges in walking out God’s truth have not changed as much as I had hoped. But I have been more aware of my choices and tendencies throughout the day and for that I am grateful. My heart has been open and quicker to forgive. It’s a process.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18]

Today is a day for giving thanks. Spring is upon us. As the shoots begin their journey upward, so does my soul climb.

 

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Self Absorbed

It’s a confession. Self-absorbed says it all. Not so much that it’s all about me, just spending way too much time and energy on how “me” is doing. How do I look? How’s my weight? Should I cut my hair? Should I meet a man? How will I support myself? Worries and questions are like a drumbeat within.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [Matthew 6:25-26] 
My prayer time has been wrapped in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It keeps me on track and gives more focus to my time alone. But if it is true, that I am committed to “Your will be done,” then one would think I’d have a freedom. And for the time I sit in my chair and keep my eyes and heart on God, I feel it. But then I have to take a shower and feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box and get dressed for the day and and and and. Your will be done loses resonance. The old “honey-do” list is a “me gotta do” list. “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” [Luke 10:38a, NIV] 
I know. I know. But like Yoda says, I do not do.
Practicing the presence of God is a discipline. But I’m pretty sure my self-absorption gets in the way. It is a choice, a conscious one, that must be exercised throughout the day. Can I teach myself to be absorbed with the Presence instead? Can I look for Jesus in the eyes that I meet, look for the Holy Spirit all around me?
Breathe.

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I’m not sure why I’ve been so dense about this scripture for so long. Did everyone get this and me just today? Sigh.

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:5-8, NIV] 

For some reason, I always associated being born of water as baptism. It is one of those symbolic acts that we are encouraged to do, from death to life kind of thing. In some churches, it is even mandated.

But today, I just realized that we are all born of water. I mean, human beings are born of water through the womb (hint: water breaking and all that). We are all the same in this way: humankind. We are all born with tremendous potential for all things possible in our three dimensional, time-constrained world.

However, how are we born of the Spirit? Is this that conversion experience when we accept Christ? That’s certainly an implication from scripture but I’m thinking some careful study might be good here as well. But accepting the reality of Jesus and the reality of the Holy Spirit, may only be the starting point. I think there is also a revelation of spirit that is needed. The Spirit is all around us. Heaven is all around us, for lack of a better term for that “other.” It is not a place as we know place.

Being born of the Spirit requires a certain relinquishing the body, not being so concerned about its state of affairs, recognizing the fleeting nature of the body, and cherishing instead the spirit within whose true home is heaven, with God and in God and through God.

Our spirit birth can be easy or difficult. We make it less difficult by practicing the ways of Jesus and thereby manifesting the “fruits” of Spirit. We agree to the paradoxes of going the extra mile, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute. We give thanks in all circumstances, for they are too are merely a moment. We journey the life of the flesh in anticipation of the birth in the spirit.

Can we dwell in the spirit now? Not really, but we can engage there through the Holy Spirit and in our relationship to God. Prayer is a key component and being still and meditating. These are ways to center down into those places. Sometimes, in worship, we are experience the Presence. The more self-less we are, the more likely to enter that Place.

Spirit of the Living God, breathe on me.

 

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Wisdom Eludes

Wisdom continues to elude me.

Not wanting to repeat myself, I did a small search of my previous blogs on wisdom. I’ve written a lot about wisdom, its mysteries and its manifestations. And yet, I don’t seem any closer.

True wisdom remains elusive; its profound mysteries are remote. Who can discover it?
So I turned and dedicated my heart to knowing more, to digging deeper, to searching harder for wisdom and the reasons things are as they are. I applied myself to understanding the connection between wickedness and folly, between folly and madness. [Ecclesiastes 7:24-25, The Voice]

I look but do not see, I listen but do not understand, I think but do not understand. Or, maybe I do.

The patterns of my life show a lot of impulsiveness that resulted in rather long term consequences. For instance, I accepted Mike’s proposal of marriage after a mere three days and married six months later (even though we lived most of that time 600 miles apart). What was I thinking? Granted, that marriage lasted 31 years, only due to rather fierce faith and determination that I would not divorce again.

Last week, I was part of a interview panel for an open position. One woman struck me in her responses; before every answer, she paused, perhaps three seconds, maybe longer. I don’t know if she was praying or breathing or centering down, but I sensed that moment with her. She was gathering her thoughts and focusing them.

Here was a facet of wisdom in action. Pause.

Back in my acting days, I had the opportunity to perform in a Harold Pinter play. Known for his deep silences and pauses, the role was a huge challenge for a novice actress. I don’t think I ever really understood them or what had to happen in my mind to make them work.

Nonetheless, right now, I am considering such moments as an opportunity for wisdom. She is not a flirt, but a long-term relationship. She is the still small voice. She is the one who makes connections.

Today, I breathe. I pause. I invite wisdom, yet again, to dwell within.

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Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man [servant] will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”Abram agreed to what Sarai said. [Genesis 15:4, 16:1-2, NIV]

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! [Luke 10:40, NIV]

Both of these women were movers and shakers: let’s git er’ done.

These are not intrinsically negative traits, without the energy and determination of many women, things would come to a halt. In my own case, I think of my mother who was resolved to emigrate from Germany after the war. She asked all the questions, she made all the connections, she filled out all of the paperwork, she made it happen.

The difference may lie in the Promise. Both Sarah and Martha were impatient and unable to embrace the paradox of the Promise. God told Abraham that he would have an heir, but Sarah could only see the reality around her. She could not manage the possibility against the odds. She considered herself a pragmatist; she was a control freak. Martha could not leg to of what “had to done” in the face of resting. Who has time to rest, we ask, there are places to go, things to do, people to see. They were both on a human clock while God was in a timeless space.

I don’t have a personal promise from God, not in so many words. But I do have the same scriptures that everyone has about God’s blessings, God’s care, and God’s love. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11, NIV]

Sarah and Martha are in me, I know. They are part of my DNA too. It is time to give them a break and give myself a break. My life is good, my God is Present, and I can choose to be content, giving thanks for what is today.

Thanks be to God.

 

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“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” [Leviticus 19:11] Period. 
We are living in a culture in which lying has become a norm. I think we always knew that our leaders were lying but up until recently, there was a kind of unspoken understanding that the “lies” were somehow for our good, that we were being shielded from the ugly truth of dangers around the world. We were like little children who were not ready to hear about sex or how babies are born or that our beloved Uncle was a raging alcoholic and wife beater. Everything is fine.

But now, we are discovering that the lies are bigger and more dangerous. They are so pervasive that it has become difficult to discern the truth anywhere. We have one side exposing truth as breaking news and the other side proclaiming that all news is fake. Like the barrage of violence in games and movies and in real life on our streets and in our neighborhoods, we are becoming desensitized to it.  So it seems, with lies.

So what does this have to do with me, right here, sitting in my quiet chair in prayer?

First of all, I’m not much better inside my little life. I exaggerate and pretend, I withhold and I cheat. I too am a liar. So was I convicted this morning as the notifications ran across my screen about the lying game in Washington. I am no better and before I get all self-righteous about others, I must clean up my own house.

Forgive me God.

Because the political climate right now is so charged and the people so divided, my only comfort comes in praying for the power of truth to prevail. I pray that Truth expose evil and lies and danger.

But I also pray for truth in my own life. Fill me Lord with the Truth of your Holy Spirit, fill me with your kingdom that truth be my natural way. Stop my mouth before I speak, soften my heart before I judge, breathe into me.

Lying is a choice and for this reason, it is sin. We all know better, whether Christian or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Hindu or Atheist. Let us all carry the banner of Truth today.

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accept-circumstancesHow many times have you heard someone say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.” I think anger might be healthier and easier to overcome.

Disappointment is a sinister sort of behavior. At first, seemingly benign, but like English Ivy, it creeps and sucks the life out of its host. It’s a cancer. I know this because I have allowed disappointment to take up much space in my heart and soul. So many of the roads I chose did not lead me where I thought they would; so many choices gave less than hoped results. I have been like a child who longs for a special toy at Christmas but doesn’t get it. Sure, the other toys are great, but what about that one?

I have seen disappointment ruin marriages and upend families, I have seen it lead others into substance abuse and depression. I have watched disappointment erode joy in my own life.

Much of my practice in disappointment was born in my upbringing. I don’t want to bash my mother, but she was a taskmaster who demanded much of her children, most likely because she sacrificed so much to build a family as a single mother. But she too suffered from disappointment, coming to this country with so many dreams, most unfulfilled. Disappointment is a family business.

The antidote? Confession first of all. I realized this today in my quiet time. It’s time to release this dark animal from its deep hiding places within. It’s time to acknowledge that it is there and ask God to forgive me for hanging on to it for so long. God forgive me.

acceptanceSecond comes thanksgiving. To those of us who have done a lot of swimming in the waters of disappointment, giving thanks for “what is” over “what we wanted” is not simple trick. It’s time to make a conscious effort: daily, hourly, even minute by minute if necessary. Thank you God.

And thirdly, forgiveness. It’s a blame game in the world of disappointment. From blaming our parents to our partners to our children to our God, and of course, ourselves. It’s time to forgive all the players. I forgive.

Wrap these steps up with scripture. There are many that speak to it, but the simplest to learn is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18,  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” For it is in this simple truth that new disappointments can be resisted. 

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