Where do we go from here?

14 Aug

This is a question that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Life always seemed to be twisting and turning in directions I had not imagined. In High School a Jimmy Buffett song, Cowboy in the Jungle, became a theme song for me. The refrain is:

With no plans for the future
He still seems in control
From a bronco ride to a ten foot tide
He just had to learn to roll.

Roll with the punches
Play all of his hunches
Made the best of whatever came his way
What he lacked in ambition
He made up with intuition
Plowing straight ahead come what may.

In this morning’s reading from The Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister writes concerning Priests becoming part of the monastic community. The Priests needed to know that they were becoming part of a family and their ordination would not get them special privileges. Yet, Chittister’s commentary is also about getting on with our lives.

“Benedict knew what most of us learn sooner or later; it is hard to let go of the past, and yet, until we do, there is no hope whatsoever that we can ever gain form the future”

She also quotes the Tao Te Ching,

“The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.”

I am living a life I never imagined. It is a challenge to let go of the past and the expectations that were a part of that past life. Yet, if I do not let go of those expectations, I will never see what is in front of me. I think it is an opportunity, one more time, to cling closely to the Divine and find the peace and joy and gifts waiting in the present moment.

I experience wonderful blessings everyday; perhaps it is not the way I thought it would be, but I find myself grateful and hopeful.

I pray for you this day, as you reflect on the path you are on, that you see the beauty of God in this moment. Maybe it is not what you expected, or wanted; but it is beauty all the same and we cannot experience the richness of it until we let go of the past.

Peace

Baggage

8 Aug

Hello from Charleston, NC. I am here to perform a wedding for a friend’s daughter and it is HOT. I have packed ‘heavy’, so I have my laptop and my devotional book, and book I have been meaning to read.

It is interesting that today’s reading from Joan Chittister’s commentary on the Rule of Benedict lands on possessions. The monks were never to own anything privately and even gifts given to the could not be accepted without the Abbot’s or Prioress’s permission. In this time of bulging closets this seems like crazy talk. However, Benedict is endeavoring to create an environment that give life to our spirit, not our bodies, or pride.

How much lighter our lives would be without all the heavy baggage we carry around. Having said this, let me say how much I have enjoyed shopping in Charleston. I think it is a matter of attitude. Perhaps it is as simple as separating our needs from our wants. Everything I have acquired so far on this trip I could have done without, but I have enjoyed finding a great sale and an item I will use well. AND, have been so very grateful for the of buying a treat for myself. Maybe my baggage is heavier, but I try to keep my heart light.

So, the place where all of this intersects for me is in also reading, The Return of The Prodigal Son:A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen, which was written four years before his death in 1996. Just reading the prologue about Nouwen leaving the life of a Harvard professor to go and carry for a community of mentally challenged adults has been helpful for me. But the book really focuses on the painting of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. It is a painting which captured Nouwen’s heart and mind.

The opening chapter of the book describes the early life of Rembrandt which was weighted down by arrogance and indulgences. Yet, throughout his life he experienced the deaths of his children and wife and finally was bankrupt. Nouwen describes Rembrandt’s paintings which document the changes in his life. The bright light of success and decadence which illuminated his outer world transitions to an inner light of humility and wisdom.

I feel as though I have been rambling during this blog. Maybe it is the effect of a freer schedule. Yet, what I want to say, what I think I always say, it to spend your heart, your mind, your time, your money on that which is life giving, that which is of God. Know that the baggage that you carry can be no weight at all if you give it to the Divine with a joyful heart.

I find there is not end to counting my blessings. I pray you find blessings in your life today.

Peace

Blessed to be a blessing

5 Aug

This phrase goes through my head quite often. It occurs several times in the Scriptures, beginning in Genesis.

My journey has not turned out the way I thought it would, but in each day I can find blessings upon blessings that I receive from the Divine. I know that the challenge is that even as I accept and acknowledge all the wonderful gifts in my life I am given an opportunity to be a blessings from God for others.

Have you considered that lately? The blessings; joy, health, strength, talents, everything is a gift to you so that you can share it with others. I tell the story of when I received my first car (a yellow ford pinto) my senior year in High School. My mother was very clear with me that it was not for my personal, private use, but was a gift so I could help others. My mother meant that it was for me to drive my sister around or help her with errands she needed to do, but I heard it in a broader sense and have been picking up hitch hikers ever since.

Blessed to be a blessing . . . I think each of you have a wonderful, gifted life. First, you woke up this morning, so that’s a good start, then you could get out of bed, found clothes and food and hopefully good work to do. . . what blessings!!

A few days ago I read one of my favorite sections from the rule of Benedict. It says that everyone should have some work to do. If they are strong and able then they can work in the fields, and if they are old and infirmed then they can be given a task that can be done within their limitations. Also, if they have talents or special skills then they should be given the implements to practice their talents. In a Benedictine world people get what they need to work for the community. Blessed to be a blessings.

I travel tomorrow: a new adventure awaits. I will be gone almost a week and am praying my parents will weather my absence with no problems.

I hope this day brings new, deeper understanding of all that God has gifted you. If you don’t feel very gifted, try some prayer, or just listen to someone with all your heart and attention. That will be blessings enough for one day. Peace

More than skin deep

23 Jul

The last two morning of my Benedict devotional have talked about showing up and showing up on time. Benedict is really strict about the monks getting to chapel and meals promptly. This is not just an obsessive/compulsive thing, it is about honoring the community and the commitments we make. When was the last time someone made an excuse about not being where they were suppose to be, OR you made that excuse??

People will often come up to pastors and explain why they have not been in church. (Actually, this does not happen as often as my early days of ministry.) It was if making the excuse made not showing up OK. Yet, if we are not willing to at least show up, how is God going to be able to work any change in us. How can our hearts be penetrated. This is not just about the worship hour, but also our prayer life, and also our attention to God throughout the day.

Of course, showing up is just the first part, being open to the transforming power of the Divine is the big step. Joan Chittester includes this Sufi story.

To a group of disciples whose hearts were set on a pilgrimage, the elder said, “Take this bitter gourd along. Make sure you dip it into all the holy rivers and and bring it into all the holy shrines.” When the disciples returned, the bitter gourd was cooked and served. “Strange,”said the elder slyly after they had tasted it, “the holy water and the shrines have failed to sweeten it.”

The goal of our worship, the goal of our prayer, the goal of our lives is to be changed from the inside out by God’s penetrating power. Sometimes we need to be inconvenienced, to have God’s agenda be at the top of our agenda.

You see, I have been working on my niece’s wedding dress. I love making it with all the details. Yet, as I sew all the pieces of expensive fabric I want her marriage to be the thing that costs the most and has lots and lots of time invested. The wedding dress will be there for just a day, yet we have spent so much money and energy on the pretty outward dress. I truly pray for her and her fiance to spend as much money and energy making their married life as beautiful as her dress will be on her wedding day.IMG_20140720_141252

How shall we grow

19 Jul

This is a question that is often on my mind. For the people of the churches I pastor I think the question is about getting more people in the pews. I understand their concern, yet it is not my primary concern. I want their churches to be a place where people are welcomed and strengthened in their faith. I think if the people who are currently in the pew (and me) are able to grow in our faith, then that’s the important part.

So, how shall we grow. In this morning reading from Joan Chittister’s Rule of Benedict, she tells this story:

“How shall we ever change,” he disciples asked, “if we have no goals?” And the master said, “Change that is real is change that is not willed. Face reality and unwilled change will happen.”

I think we, as human beings, spend a lot of time not facing reality. We think we can do the list of things we have in our head, because we think we have to do them. We stress about what isn’t, instead of embracing ‘what is.’

I remember the first time I went on a silent retreat. It was wonderful. My two sons were young, pre-school age, and I was alone for the first time in years. I realized that who I had become over those years was someone who thought she needed to take care of everything, fix everything, make sure everyone was OK. Wow, it was great to let go of all of that . To face the reality of being a very limited human being instead of acting like I was God. And I knew that if I had not been on silent retreat for 3 days, if I had not had the time to let the Divine Presence show me the reality of the life I was living, I would have continued to run around stressed out and exhausted by the ridiculous life I was creating in my head.

Of course I know there are a thousand more “realities” I need to face about my life. But, I believe that is where God can enable me to grow. When I willing, openly, look to the Divine Presence to see my life, I can begin to understand how my life needs to change. My life can be transformed by God’s grace, but the catch is I have to choose it. It have to choose quite time with God, I have to choose to open my mind to God, I have to choose to listen to God through scripture, friends, the world around me and in my heart.

For me it helps to know that God wants good things for me. It is the life that God can show me that is the best life possible. I want to grow in that life. I want to cultivate a deeper joy, and compassion, and grace, and discipline, and hope through the source of power that is unimaginable.

So, you want to grow?? Try facing the reality of your life through the loving eyes of God. Good luck – I’m praying for us.

Cry “Abba Father”

15 Jul

The reading in the book of Romans includes this address to God; Abba Father. The apostle Paul is writing about the new relationship with God that has been created with God. It is amazing to me that a man who grew up as a pious Jew would be able to change his understanding so drastically. A good Jew would not even say the name of God, only “Blessed be he who. . .” God was powerful and more than a little scary to most faithful Jew.

But now, through Christ, God becomes Papa. It is what the word Abba means. When my children started talking, I decided that men took the first sound a baby could say and decided it was about them. In any case, this shift in understanding about the name and nature of God is HUGE. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way.

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

Do you believe that God is “Papa?” Is there a desire/ache in you to be with God, tell the Divine all about your life; sit in uninterrupted time to enjoy communion together? One thing I love about Paul’s writings in the passion in them. Paul’s passion brings understanding to who we are and whose we are. It is God who confirms the very essence of our being.

It is our relationship with God that names and claims us and gives our life meaning. Yesterday I preformed a funeral for a wonderful member of my St. Paul’s church. He was a open, generous, and loving young man – just 37. He was also a husband and football coach. On a typical Sunday morning there have been about 35 folks in church. Yesterday there were about 300. It was quite literally wall to wall people. Many of them young men who had been coached by Adam.

It was clear that Adam was not just a Christian in church. He took his love of God and put it into action in every part of his life; in his marriage where he made sure his wife knew she was first in his life and on the field with “his kids.” He was a truly loving, caring man who enjoyed every moment of the short time he had on this earth.

And I cry, “Abba, father,” wanting to be held by God in times of grief and loss. Yet, I know God has created us, all of us, as family and the time apart is only a brief moment. I resolve one more time to use those moments well; to live the passion of Paul’s writing; as a person of faith completely in love with the Divine. I want to dance to the beautiful music of the Gospel story and let others see what God can do and, mostly importantly, that they are deep loved by God, their Abba father.

Why

8 Jul

I know this question is asked a thousand different times each day and in a thousand different ways. It is asked by small children who wonder at life and seek understanding, it is asked by frustrated people who find their wishes and goals slip from their grasp, and it is asked by those who grieve.

Yesterday I was told of the unexpected death of a dear man from my small church. He was only in his late thirties; Adam leaves a wife and many people who loved him. The question of “Why” looms in many peoples minds. We want to understand why this tragic death would occur to someone so full of life and caring. We want to have meaning in a world that has turned upside down.

It is a question that has been struggled with through the centuries from the book of Job to “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” People have given their reflection on the reason for pain and suffering in the world, and the power of God within that pain.

Although the question “Why” bubbles to our minds and hearts in times of deep grieving, I don’t think it is a useful question. Even if the exact reasons for a death can be answered, the pain remains. I have never believed that God is the one who causes the time of death or that “when your times comes, there is nothing you can do.” I am not a fatalist.

I believe God is with us. I believe God grieves with us, as Jesus wept with his friends. I believe that God is the author of life, and eternal life. I believe God shares the strength of the Divine healing spirit with us through prayers and friends and time.

In my small church we are like a small family. If someone is not there on Sunday we usually know if they are on vacation, or visiting other family somewhere. In my small church everyone has their place to sit and when their space in empty there is usually a reason. I can find no reason why Adam should not be sitting in his spot, I can find no answer to the question, Why. I can only stand with others who are grieving the tremendous loss and seek God’s healing presence.

Peace

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