Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the mountaintop experience

Photo Credit: Paul Martin (via creative commons)

I realize the mountaintop experience is the quintessential stereotype of divine moments, but there's a reason for that. Just look at the view in this photo - breathtaking, awe-inspiring, deeply moving.

Here in central Arkansas we have a popular hiking hill called Pinnacle Mountain. It's a little over a mile from base to summit, roundtrip, which makes it easy to set aside a few hours one morning or afternoon to enjoy.

One could incorporate the prayer model from the labyrinth walking up the hill (releasing), sitting at the top and taking in the expanse (receiving), and walking back down (integrating). Plus, all those endorphins you'll release should aid in prolonging that feeling of union, of being anxious for nothing, of resting in God's peace.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

variations on a theme

I once had a tiny office on the third floor of a downtown church when I worked for a non-profit, and they had a labyrinth marked out on the floor of their 2nd floor gymnasium. I never bothered to go down there (ok, once… but that was for a rummage sale) because I had never walked a labyrinth and did not know what it was all about.

The labyrinth is open for public use during the day, and I’m hoping to start taking advantage of it. There is also a labyrinth in Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood, and rumor has it an outdoor labyrinth is in the planning stages for our local children’s hospital.

But even if you don’t have a labyrinth near you, or if walking in winding circles makes you dizzy, you can create patterns of walking prayer.

The labyrinth model we followed at our weekend retreat was purgation, illumination and union (releasing, receiving & integrating). But the labyrinth is not just about releasing & healing, we can bring questions, we can bring joys, we can bring frustrations.

Sometimes prayer falls naturally from our being and we easily acknowledge we are in the presence of the living God, our communication flows from our heart and our ears are open to receive. Sometimes, however, we don’t have the words to speak. Sometimes, we’re too angry, too hurt, too confused, or maybe even too ecstatic to bring the words before God.

Walking a path or using some kind of physical experience to enter into prayer can work much the same way as participating in a common liturgy. When we are given a pattern to follow, the structure can actually allow us to get out of the way of the spirit. Rather than focusing on being in control of the conversation, we follow and we listen, inviting the spirit of God to speak to us and through us in ways we could never ask or imagine.

This was made clear to me most recently on Sunday morning, through the sermon of one of my pastors and friends, Jerusalem Greer. We are reading through Common Prayer this year at R Street Community Church, and our pastoral team is teaching from the scheduled passages. Though Jerusalem initially bristled at some of the passages that fell on her assigned date, she ended up weaving together a beautiful picture of God bringing us into, through, and out of the desert, which I found to also echo what I was learning about patterns of prayer and spiritual growth.

Over the next few days (or more… we’ll see how this goes) I will share some ways I’ve thought about incorporating labyrinth inspired models of prayer into our local circumstances.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring: part 5 ~ released

Photo Credit: St. Scholastica Monastery

(…continued from yesterday.)

Entering the labyrinth path, I proceeded at a slow and steady pace, one foot in front of the other, between smooth stones and crunching dried pine needles. I started by tapping each finger one at a time on my leg, repeating the name of the person whose initial was on that fingertip, presenting them before the father.

Pacing the rhythm to my steps, I returned to the first finger and continued winding patiently through the path as I recounted the words that were spoken, the wounds that were cut, the actions that were taken.

Surprisingly, there was no fear, no anxiousness, no sorrow. The bitterness, anger, wounds and pride, indeed, had no power over me. God is greater than my heart, and he knew I was ready.

I repeated each name again, slowly, methodically, melodiously. Then I recited the name of each person’s spouse and, because they are one flesh, I went back through my fingers naming the person and their spouse together.

Once everything was out there, I began to pray forgiveness over each name:
“Lord, I surrender this person to you.
I surrender my need to change what happened,
I surrender my desire to control their actions,
I receive the responsibility to press on toward the goal, to follow your path.”

I lifted each name some more and, as I approached the center, I began rubbing each initial off my fingertips until they were no longer visible. I entered the center of the labyrinth, and I knelt at the feet of the father. One by one, I laid yellow wildflowers I had been carrying in my right hand, one for each person, at his feet, as well. I stood and opened my arms to his spirit. I silently recited several times, “You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace, the mountains and hills will burst forth in song.”

I took my pen and, where I had removed the initials, I inscribed the word “LOOSE” across my fingertips, and drew an open heart on my palm. I circled back out of the labyrinth, reciting scripture and singing hymns of praise, realizing the power to forgive, the awe-inspiring responsibility of forgiveness, comes not from my knowing how to release control, but through leaning on the grace and strength of Christ, my savior.

In the few days that have followed that encounter, it is not as if all memories have been replaced by rainbows and butterflies, but I can sense a change in my spirit. I’m less lethargic, my creative juices are flowing, and I haven’t been late for work all week (hey, that's something). I believe our father longs to release us from the burdens we willingly heap upon ourselves, to bring us fully into the freedom of his presence. If God created us, he knows our faults and our fears, and he formed our innermost being. As the psalmist says, he has searched our hearts, he knows us inside and out, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderful works of his hands.

God knows our anxious thoughts, and yet he calls us to be anxious for nothing, to seek him first and trust him to take care of the rest.

Let us commit our spirits into his hands, whether they are spirits of condemnation, fear, or anxiety. Let us allow him to mold and transform them into spirits of joy, peace and grace. May we learn to forgive as we have been forgiven. May we learn to extend grace as we have received grace. May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring: part 4 ~ initiated

I wasn’t the one who did wrong.

I was hurt deeply, you see, so I deserved to feel this way.

And I planned to forgive them, but I didn’t know how. One and maybe I could have handled it. But not when each person’s injury was piled on top of the injuries that had come before. I’m not that strong.

I had books on my shelves that held pieces to the puzzle of forgiving, but I wasn’t quite ready to read them, certainly not to apply them. It wasn’t just the pain, it was the life changes I was forced to make because of each decision, each infliction, that was beyond my control.

But the Lord, he is a tricky thing.

I signed up for the prayer retreat because I love prayer. I love the conversation with my God. I love abiding in his presence, and listening and sharing. And I especially enjoy opportunities to get away to places of beauty and quiet, where I am free to give God my undivided attention.

Arriving at the retreat center, I was filled with joy. Entering the first session, I was filled with calm.

And then the invitation, to go around the room, to make introduction, and to answer the questions: Why are you here? What question will you take to God as you walk the labyrinth? What are you hoping to hear from him? What are you hoping to release?

Like a mother who has taken her child to the doctor on promise of ice cream (Oh, sure. There will be ice cream. But first, let’s go ahead and get these shots out of the way…), the element of surprise, no time to get anxious, just a quick pinch and then all will be well. And I’ll be here with you, holding your hand.

“It’s time,” God said.

“I know,” I replied.

And I did know, because the anxiousness was gone and his peace was present. Why was I there? What did I have to release? My firm grasp on a spirit of condemnation. I wanted to forgive, and I wanted to give up my need to control. I wanted to allow Christ to heal my hurt.

I really should have seen it coming. If I had brought my laptop, I could have looked back at the posts of the previous week and seen that God was leading me to this point. It’s not that I didn’t think I would get to a place of forgiveness, but I figured it would be down the road, after I had figured it all out and knew all the right words, and had sufficiently fortified myself against future attacks. In other words, I would forgive once I had regained control.

Saturday afternoon, after spending the morning reading scripture and resting, I wrote “loose” on my left wrist in thick black ink, for that was my intention. On each finger of my left hand, I inscribed the initial of someone whose debts I needed to forgive, whose actions I needed to release, whose sins I needed to loose. I approached the labyrinth, but I dared not enter. It wasn’t that I thought it was going to be a magical walk, but I knew it would be a powerful one. The path was designed so that I could simply follow, as I conversed with the creator of the universe. No big deal, right?

I circled once around the perimeter of the path, repeating “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And again, repeating “Whosoever you forgive, their sins will be forgiven; whosoever you do not forgive, their sins will not be forgiven.”

A third time, “Forgive, as you have been forgiven.“

Then, because I still did not feel ready (and because I had made reference to the film The Labyrinth the previous day), I circled, repeating to the evil one “You. Have. No. Power. Over. Me.”

And to his fruit, I proclaimed (circling once for each):
“Bitterness has no power over me.”
“Anger has no power over me.”
“My wounds have no power over me.”
“Pride has no power over me.”

The last circle before entering the labyrinth walk was “God is greater than my heart, and he knows everything.”

He knows how I was hurt. He also knows what was going on in the hearts and lives of those I have been unable to forgive. He knows how he will redeem every person and every situation.

I stood at the entrance to the path, took a deep breath, said a prayer for peace and began my pilgrimage.

(to be continued tomorrow…)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring: part 3 ~ constrained

excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle's The Irrational Season:

It is difficult to bless and not to curse when one's control of a situation is taken away.

It is only when I am not afraid to recognize my own brokenness, to say, "Turn us again, Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine and we shall be whole" - that the broken bones may begin to heal, and to rejoice. Without this phos hilaron, this joyous light, we fight against our impotence, in our spiritual lives, our intellectual lives, a large portion of our physical lives.

But in the small events of daily living, we are given the grace to condition our responses to frustrations... If our usual response to an annoying situation is a curse, we're likely to meet emergencies with a curse. In the little events of daily living we have the opportunity to condition our reflexes, which are built up out of ordinary things. And we learn to bless first of all by being blessed. My reflexes of blessing have been conditioned by my parents, my husband, my children, my friends.

Blessing is an attitude toward all of life, transcending and moving beyond words. When family and friends gather around the table to break bread together, this is a blessing. When we harden our hearts against anyone, this is a cursing. Sometimes a person, or a group of people, do or say something so terrible that we can neither bless nor curse. They are anathema. We put them outside the city walls, not out of revenge, not out of hate, but because they have gone beyond anything we fragile human beings can cope with. So we say, Here, God, I'm Sorry. This is more than I can handle. Please take care of it. Your ways are not our ways. You know what to do. Please.


I was beyond any response of either blessing or cursing. But I knew that I couldn't go home until I had been washed clean of the hate... Feeling sick and cold I called Timothy and walked and walked... My dog knew that something had upset me. He kept close as we walked, instead of tearing off in great loops. We kept walking until I had come to the point where I could simply turn over to God whoever had [hurt me]. This person was beyond my puny human ability to understand. I could not add to the curse by cursing. But I did not know how to bless.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring: part 2 ~ birthed

Proverbs 8

Does not wisdom call out?

Does not understanding raise her voice?

At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud:

“To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, set your hearts on it. Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are upright to those who have found knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power. By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles - all who rule on earth. I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me and making their treasuries full.

The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring: part 1 ~ defined

• The season between winter and summer, characterized in temperate zones by the budding of trees, growth of plants, & onset of warmer weather

• The earliest time, first stage or freshest period

• To rise, leap, move or act suddenly and swiftly

• To be released from a forced or constrained position

• To come into being, rise, or arise within a short time

• To come into being by growth, as from a seed or germ, bulb, root, etc.

• To proceed or originate from a specific source or cause

• To take an upward course or curve from a point of support

• To start or rise from cover

• To shift or work loose

• The quality of elasticity or resilience

• Start, originate, emerge, emanate, issue, flow

• To move or cause to move suddenly upwards or forwards in a single motion

• To happen or cause to happen unexpectedly

• The act or an instance of moving rapidly back from a position of tension

• A device, such as a coil or strip of steel, that stores potential energy when it is compressed, stretched or bent and releases it when the restraining force is removed

• To release from imprisonment

• To pay for, to treat another

• To announce suddenly

Friday, March 18, 2011

Born This Way

I'm headed up to St. Scholastica this afternoon to spend the weekend participating in a prayer retreat. Every Step a Prayer is led by Macrina Wiederkehr, and will focus on different forms of praying including the labyrinth, walking meditation and sacred journaling. One of my dear friends, who leads silent retreats & is a fellow lover of prayer, will be accompanying me, so I am very excited about the three days. In the meantime, I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs from the lovely Sara Groves:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Losing Control

from Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle:

Vulnerability is something we instinctively reject because we are taught from kindergarten on that we must protect ourselves, control our behavior and our lives. But, in becoming man for us, Christ made himself totally vulnerable for us in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is not possible to be a Christian while refusing to be vulnerable…

Being a Christian, being saved, does not mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen. Terrible things happen to Christians as well as to Hindus and Buddhists and hedonists and atheists. To human beings. When the phone rings at an unexpected hour my heart lurches. I love, therefore I am vulnerable.

When we were children, we use to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability.

…Homo sapiens. Man who knows. Or rather, man who is conscious would be more accurate. Man who is conscious that he does not know. Has there been a loss of knowing since Adam and Eve, rather than a gaining? Despite all our technology there is far more that we do not know than that we know, and the most terrible defect is our inability to tell right from wrong, to do horrible things for all the right reasons, and then to blunder inadvertently into doing something which turns out to be good. We try to make the loving, the creative decision, but we cannot know whether or not we are right.

Alleluia! We don’t have to be right! We do have to love, to be vulnerable, to accept joy and pain, and to grow through them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reconcilable Differences

on Binding and Loosing from John Howard Yoder's Body Politics:

Moral discernment and forgiveness condition and enable one another in complex ways. Admonition presupposes prior discernment; otherwise the criteria for admonition would not be common to both parties. Conversation with reconciling intent is the most powerful way for a community to discover when the rules they have been applying are inadequate, so that they may be modified. Asking whether there has really been an offense helps determine which differences need to be resolved by coming to unanimity by means of dialogue and forgiveness and which call for an agreement to differ. Having experienced forgiveness together enables a community to deliberate in an otherwise inacessible mode of mutual trust...

Taking seriously this apostolic witness would seem to put us at the mercy of a number of ecclesiastical scarecrows. It gives more authority to the church than does Rome, trusts more to the Holy Spirit than does Pentecostalism, has more respect for the individual than does liberal humanism, makes moral standards more binding than did Puritanism, and is more open to the new situation than was what some called "the new morality" a quarter-century ago. If practiced, it would radically restructure the life of churches...

...We have here a fundamental anthropological insight into the relationship of conflict and solidarity. To be human is to have differences; to be human wholesomely is to process those differences, not by building up conflicting power claims but by reconciling dialogue. Conflict is socially useful; it forces us to attend to new data from new perspectives. It is useful in interpersonal process; by processing conflict, one learns skills, awareness, trust, and hope. Conflict is useful in intrapersonal dynamics, protecting our concern about guilt and acceptance from being directed inwardly only on our own feelings. The therapy for guilt is forgiveness; the source of self-esteem is another person who takes seriously my restoration to community.

The Christian community has thereby been endowed with the wherewithal for ongoing moral discernment in the face of questions which could not conceivably have been answered substantially ahead of time. Just as a wisely written constitution for an institution or government provides procedures for amendment and for decision making rather than immutable prescriptions, so the Christian community is equipped not with a code but with decision-making potential.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dare to be a sinner.

on Confession and Communion, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. "My son, give me thine heart" (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin.

Christ became our Brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in him. In him the love of God came to the sinner. Through him men could be sinners and only so could they be helped. All sham was ended in the presence of Christ. The misery of the sinner and the mercy of God - this was the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ. It was in this truth that his Church was to live. Therefore, he gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in his name. "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23).

When he did that Christ made the Church, and in it our brother, a blessing to us. Now our brother stands in Christ's stead. Before him I need no longer dissemble. Before him alone in the whole world I dare to be the sinner that I am; here the truth of Jesus Christ and his mercy rules. Christ became our Brother in order to help us. Through him our brother has become Christ for us in the power and authority of the commission Christ has given to him. Our brother stands before us as the sign of the truth and the grace of God. He has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ's stead and he forgives our sins in Christ's name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. Whe I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.

So in the Christian community when the call to brotherly confession and forgiveness goes forth it is a call to the great grace of God in the Church.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slow to Speak, Quick to Listen

on The Ministry of Listening, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and his own follies.

Brotherly pastoral care is essentially distinguished from preaching by the fact that, added to the task of speaking the Word, there is the obligation of listening. There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How long?


How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?
How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?
How long will these people treat me with contempt?
How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?
How long will this wicked community grumble against me?
How long will you mourn?
How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?
How long will you be unclean?
How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets?
How long will you wander?
How long will you cut yourselves?
How long will they be incapable of purity?
How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?


My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me.
We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
How long must your servant wait?
How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?
How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered?
Alas, sword of the Lord, how long till you rest?
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
How long must this go on?
How long will you keep us in suspense?

Friday, March 11, 2011

What are you doing here?

(*note* this is a repost from my barefoot bohemian blog, originally posted September 2008. This passage has come up for me again and again during spiritual direction and as a sacred echo in my life, and I thought it would be a good companion to yesterday's question, Where are you?)

Here's my heart take it where You will
This life has shown me how we're mended and how we're torn
How it's okay to be lonely as long as you're free
Sometimes my ground was stoney
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
~ Elijah (Rich Mullins)

Sometimes God tells people to “Go!”

Sometimes God tells people to “Let Go.”

While reading God Whispers, I was captured by references to Elijah and had to spend some time with his story. Throughout 1 Kings 17 & 18, God is telling Elijah, leave here… go here…

Elijah listened. He trusted. He followed.

In chapter 18, he experienced the power of God in amazing ways.

Then in chapter 19, Elijah lost it. He gave in under the pressures of the world and retreated to the desert to lick his wounds. Even in such a pitiful state, the Lord cared for him through His angel, and even acknowledged, the journey is too much for you.

But the journey is never too much for the Lord.

We are told that Elijah was strengthened, and traveled (predictably) 40 days and 40 nights to rest in a cave in the mountain of God.

What are you doing here, Elijah?

As if the Lord didn’t already know the answer, Elijah recounted his woes.

The Lord, called Elijah out of the cave, where he witnessed strong winds, an earthquake and a fire.

And then
the presence
of the Lord.



What are you doing here, Elijah?

And the prophet of the Lord recounted the same list of sorrows he had before he heard the whisper.

The Lord looked down on His obstinate child, recognizing that, while it was hard for Elijah to let go of the fear and the hurt, that he still trusted in his God.


And Elijah went.

I haven’t heard the Lord tell me to “Go,” as much in my life as I have heard Him tell me to “Let go.” My whole life I’ve learned to let go of relationships, places, dreams, beliefs and securities. I didn’t always recognize His voice, but He always brought me through on the other side.

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. (psalm 54:4)

The Lord isn’t surprised by the fact that I’m human, and that sometimes the journey can be too much.

He strengthens me.

He reassures me.

He allows me rest.

He reveals Himself to me.

He questions me.

What are you doing here?

He listens.

And in a gentle whisper, He insists:

Let go. Trust me. Follow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where are you?

I ask a lot of questions.

I ask them of myself, I ask them of others, and I ask them of God.

My questions are often confusing, and lengthy, and still in the process of figuring out what it is I really want to know in the first place.

I don’t think God minds my questions, because he seems to like them, too.

Jesus asked lots of leading questions, often about the crazy parables he told, knowing no one had a clue what he was talking about.

God’s not quite so cryptic.

God’s questions seem to be pretty simplistic and straight forward, which is kind of annoying, because you know he totally already knows the answer.

I think he asks the questions just to see what kind of whacky answer the human will respond with, and I think he gets a good laugh.

Oh sure, sometimes he may appear stern, but I think like any parent who is listening to his child trying to explain away a situation, digging deeper into a hole, God has to turn his head a bit to the side to suppress his uncontrollable chuckle.

Take Adam and Eve. They’re in the garden, communing with God, everything’s kosher. Cue the snake, Eve eats the fruit, politely shares it with Adam, boom they’re naked. Ok, so they were already naked, but now they know they’re naked. And they’re not just naked anymore… they’re nekkid! They start covering themselves up with leaves, hear God coming, and hide behind some trees.

God asks, “Where are you?”

Like. He. Didn’t. Know.

It’s like the parent playing hide-and-seek, whose child is lying under the coffee table with her feet sticking out the end, completely exposed. Yet, for the sake of the game, the parent continues wandering around the house, being sure to avoid the area directly surrounding the coffee table, calling out “Where are you?”

But here’s the thing for me, God could have ended it all right there. I mean, they ate the fruit, this is not going to be pretty. Like a writer whose story is going nowhere, he could have balled up the paper and tossed the draft into the waste bin. He could have called a do-over.

But he humored them. He played their little game. “Where are you?”

If God wasn’t the least bit surprised by Adam and Eve’s actions, if he didn’t scrap the whole project and go back to the drawing board, why are we so afraid to come before him honestly, just as we are?

Adam and Eve did not like everything God had to say to them, he didn’t just pat them on the head and let them off with a warning. Their actions had consequences. But life went on, and God did not leave them to face it alone. He loved them. He created them. He longed to be with them.

God loves you.

God created you.

God longs to be with you.

If you have to hide behind a tree and some fig leaves to be able to talk with him, ok – he’ll humor you.

But feel free to come before him just as you are. He already sees you, he already knows you, he already loves you.
“The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness. We hide it, evade it, gloss over it. We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public. Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility. The irony is that while I do not want anyone to know that I am judgmental, lazy, vulnerable, screwed up, and afraid, for fear of losing face, the face that I fear losing is the mask of the impostor, not my own!” ~ Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trip on Grace

I expected to respond to Ash Wednesday with a solemn, sullen post.

In spite of myself, or perhaps true to form, what I ended up with was a meditation built on three spunky songs that may or may not put one in a penitent mood.

One reason that writing is such an essential part of my spiritual journey is it helps me gather and process all the jumbled bits of sight and sound that get soaked up and stored in my soul. I am often like a peddler, with seemingly useless information as my wares, who doesn’t even know what’s in her pack until it falls out at an unexpected moment. Friends and family notice this most often when a random word or phrase uttered causes me to break into (a slightly out-of-tune) song that has been called forth from my memory.

I hear a lot of things, but I don’t always listen well.

Through the process of writing, I take the time to sit down and sort through my ragged bag of trinkets and tokens gathered from an assortment of mundane places. Sometimes I may just sift through the pile, polish some tarnish off a few items, and stuff it all back in the sack. Other times, an article catches my eye and holds my attention, and as I’m paying attention to what I found, I start gazing through the collection and noticing objects that compliment the one I’m holding in my hands. A pile of junk starts to reveal itself as a beautiful assemblage of interrelated treasures.

Writing trains me to listen deeply.

As I learn to listen, as my senses become more attentive to the world around me, I am more open to recognizing and receiving patterns of truth and beauty that are woven through the songs I hear, the words I read, the sights I observe, the friends and teachers I encounter. Margaret Feinberg refers to these as God Whispers and Sacred Echoes. (Lorelai Gilmore refers to them as a wild jungle full of scary gibberish.)

So, I thought of Ash Wednesday.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

All fall down. That's the first song I ever heard from Sarah Masen, who has long been one of my favorite songwriters:

Trip on grace.

That's a lovely phrase.

It requires a great amount of trust, a release of control, for one to trip on grace, to embrace and dive into sweet communion.

Trip on love… that was a good song:

When you feel too much, do you start to panic?

Accepting love requires us to expose ourselves to the possibility of loss.

Grace and love.

Oh, to understand how loved we truly are.

You. Are. Loved.

You. Are. Really. Loved.

Entering into the reflection and repentance of the Lenten season requires the humility to admit your brokenness, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the vulnerability to accept that you are loved in spite of how you may feel, in spite of what you may have done, in spite of who other people are saying you are.

You can be fully honest with God because you are fully loved by God.

You were created out of God’s love. You are sustained through God’s love. You will be redeemed through God’s love.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, love to love.

God’s kingdom has come near to us through his son and through his spirit. May we turn toward that truth, may we believe it, may we live and move and have our being within it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thank you for indulging me.

“Y’all, Settle Down!”

Enter any Southern household and you are bound to hear this phrase eventually.

When you do, it will rarely be offered in a sweet, gentle, rational voice (though we know how to employ that voice when necessary, if it will serve our purposes).

“Y’all Settle Down!”

If you hear this uttered, you know you have crossed a line, that you (and your compatriots) are out of control, and that the person yelling it has reached her wit’s end (Yelling? Do we yell? We convey our message firmly… occasionally in a raised voice to ensure we are heard above the racket.).

I am not an expert on practicing the disciplines of a Christian life.

I am not writing this blog from a place of superiority or a well of vast knowledge.

I am writing it from the heart of someone who likes to be in control, but who longs to rest and trust, someone who tends to get busy and anxious, but longs to practice patience and simplicity.

I am writing it as someone who is at her wit’s end with herself, and is screaming over the noise & busyness of her own life “Settle Down!”

Many of you have either read or watched Eat, Pray, Love, and some of you may have found some kernel of inspiration there. Many of us also walked away from the book or movie thinking, “If only I could abandon my entire life and spend copious amounts of time and money in foreign lands, then I too could find rest and renewal for my weary soul.” Most likely none of us have the time, money, nor the desire to walk away from our day-to-day lives and relations (ok, perhaps occasional momentary escapes).

I don’t believe we should, nor do we have to, run away in order to renew.

Many of us grew up with people encouraging us to do great and mighty things for the Lord.

We received graduation gifts adorned with Jeremiah 29:11,
“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."
But, I’m thinking, if I ever get around to the mom thing, my kids may receive a preceding verse:
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Settle down. Enjoy your life. Build relationships. Practice peace. Love God. Love others.

Do it where God places you… or where he leads you… but you don’t have to run off to find it.

My location is Little Rock.

My station in life is single, thirty-something, female.

I write from that place and that perspective.

But I am also hoping to invite stories from friends who are male, friends who are married, friends who are moms, friends who are missionaries, friends who are more mature.

In this free and public space, may we find ways to deepen our relationship with Christ and with the Church, right where God has us, and with the people he has brought across our path.

Blessings as we enter together into the Lenten season.