A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Dark inside?

I have been writing, recently, about darkness of the spirit. These times aren’t necessarily negative. Sometimes, the sense of God may be present, but the sense of direction might not be, and there may also be a deep feeling of loss. Though unpleasant, these could be teachable moments that are necessary for our spiritual growth. In order to come through them, to keep our balance, to grow, and see what they have to teach us, we need to stay attached to God and our Christian community. Having and writing about this doesn’t mean that I am depressed, though I occasionally may be, nor does it mean that I’m in trouble.  What it does mean is that I am learning to walk in the dark.

We share our stories for many reasons, and in this case two come to mind. We share to develop intimacy with others and to tell what God is doing and has done in our lives.  This is a way of “telling the story”—not just God’s story but our story in God’s story; what God is doing, and has done, in our lives. And, as usual, I have one.

After brain surgery in 1992, when the doctor intentionally cut my balance nerve to correct a problem with dizziness and accompanying nausea caused by Meniere’s disease, it took me some time to be able to stay upright without having a horizon upon which to focus. I still have to pay close attention to my walking and I have hardly any balance in the dark, especially if I’m not expecting dark.

Once when I was attending my annual spiritual director’s retreat, the facility director, in his opening remarks to attendees, told us that the smoke detectors, recently installed, would sometimes malfunction and sound off for no apparent reason.  If they did so in the night, he told us the best thing to do, if we couldn’t disable it ourselves, would be to go to the office, in my case downstairs, find the phone and call him.  I said a quick, silent prayer to God that this wouldn’t happen. But…!!

In the middle of the night, my detector started blaring.  I can’t get up on chairs – the balance thing – and I wouldn’t be able to reach it, anyway – the short thing – and to go downstairs in the dark to the office (note to self:  bring a flashlight next year), find his number and then call him, all while the alarm is waking everyone, was impossible. This would happen to me. I so love calling attention to myself.

As I put on my bathrobe, there was a knock on the door.  A woman’s voice asked if she could come in and disable the alarm for me. Oh, YES!! Please! She did, I thanked her profusely and went back to bed.  The next morning she was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps, she was an angel sent by God to rescue me. I’ll take that.

Is there a point to this story aside from bringing a flashlight and writing down a phone number (I now have a smarter phone)? Well, maybe, when its dark all around and you don’t know where you are or how to find your way, be patient.  God, who loves you, knows how to get through to you, care for you and even guide you. Darkness doesn’t last forever.

Today, this quote was posted on Trinity’s Facebook page:

“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Grace and Peace, Donna

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Don’t Quit Now!

“Dark midnight was my cry, dark midnight was my cry,

Dark midnight was my cry, give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus.

You can have all the world, but give me Jesus.”

~ African American Spiritual

“What is saving your life right now?” This question was asked of the delegates at our recent diocesan convention by Greg Garrett, keynote speaker and author of the book, MY CHURCH IS NOT DYING. He was awesome, in my opinion, so an aside is required.  He said that when we listen to the faith stories people tell, we learn that the Church isn’t dying but it is changing. All things do. The theme of the convention was “Proclaiming the Kingdom,” and Greg told us that we can do this by telling our own faith stories.  We were challenged to sign a pledge, if we use social media, to put our faith stories out there.  Post something.  I’ve tried to do this since I’ve been on Facebook so it was easy to sign that pledge. I found it interesting that I was already planning to teach a class—The Bible: A Love Story, part of which will help attendees get in touch with their own stories so they can be shared.  Subtitles of the class topic are “His Story – Your Story” and “Learn the Story – Tell the Story” (aside over). Stay tuned.

Back to the convention and the question, “What is saving your life right now?” I wrote it in my notes.  A woman at our table asked me to start the discussion as she had observed me writing and wanted to know.  I told them what I wrote but that I needed to think about the answer.  As most of you know, my year has been very challenging with my own health issues including three surgeries, my brother’s accident and loss of his leg, and the death of my mother.  We are having numerous problems, requiring expensive repairs, with our house, etc., and so on.  I said that I know God is with me and working in my life but that I had no clue on what or where things are going.

I have spent time with the question and, in the process, made some discoveries.  A large pool of grief covering a lifetime of events, along with fear, has surfaced. This has surprised me. Are there, perhaps, more stories in the making? I was ready to quit—quit writing, teaching, whatever, and throw in the towel, just quit—but I’m more or less over that.  I ran across a quote the other day that said, “You will be the most tempted to quit when you are closest to your calling.” Well, that’s something to think about, too, isn’t it?

So, I’m ready to answer the question, “What is saving my life right now?” Here goes.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, and that God is loving.

I believe that Jesus loves me and there is nothing I can or ever will do that will change that.

I believe that God is present with me even when I don’t feel his presence and even when I’m tempted to doubt that he is.

I believe, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

I believe that God says, “I know the plans I have for you….plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I believe that Jesus has Kingdom work for me to do. I believe in him.

And, I believe in you.  You—the Christian Community, the Body of Christ, Jesus with skin on. You help save my life.

So, that is my answer.  How would you answer?

“And when I want to sing, and when I want to sing,

And when I want to sing, give me Jesus.”

Grace and Peace, Donna

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – A Hunger Yearning

 “Prayer is the light of the spirit, and the spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness. Like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. Prayer also stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the spirit, peace to the heart. I speak of prayer, not words. It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by humans, but by God’s grace.”—John Chrysostom

 I was looking again, today, at a photo of my nephew and his granddaughter that I have in my office.  Once again, it drew me into a deep silence and unspeakable yearning. I wrote a meditation on this photo about two years ago, but it seems to fit where I am today, too, so I’ll repeat it with some modifications.

I love this picture of my nephew….and his granddaughter….. Something about it touches my heart and I can feel the longing and love between them.  There is a mystical quality about the light in the room as well, almost as if the sunbeams are bouncing off particles and dancing around the room which is filled with the Presence of God.  I love the little heart that is superimpostrent and kaydanceed on the picture. The love between the two is all that is known in this moment.  She has come for a visit and will go home, back east, in a day or two. There is deep sadness here that I also sense. This moment of love and embrace is suspended outside of time and I feel tears in my eyes when I think of the parting that will come.

I am reminded of the Soul and God when I look at this.  I am reminded of prayer.  It reminds me of being held in Jesus’ arms when words are not necessary.  Only love.  Only trust. The soul is safe where it belongs and God, while holding her, knows the love and feels the pain of the separation that will come when she leaves this time of embrace.  He does not want her to go even though he knows that she will. The soul will also feel the separation when she is not in his arms.

As I sit here today, I can feel the yearning hunger deep within me.  I realize that it is not just any hunger.  It’s not just my hunger for God that I feel, but God’s hunger and yearning for me as well.  And God’s hunger for you. Why do we ever leave this intimate embrace?  Why do we even try to fill the longing with things rather than with God? I don’t really know the answers, I only know that we do both. I only know that I do.

A song runs through my mind that tells of this desire of the soul.  It dances around the room with the light of God.  The words are:

“Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardor glowing; O comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

“O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in its heat consuming; and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

“And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far out-pass the power of human telling; for none can guess its grace, till Love create a place where in the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.”—HYMNBOOK 1982

May you be blessed with yearning strong this day. ~ Donna

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – The Dandelion Says….

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.’” ~ Matthew 13:24-26

About two weeks ago, I attended the annual retreat for spiritual directors.  The topic was Soul Gardening, so we meditated on the soul plants we had been given as gifts from God and weeds in our garden which might need to be eliminated. I thought about weeds.  What if the weeds in my soul are gifts, too and not something to pulled up or sprayed dead? Maybe, we should listen to them before we decide.

I love happy yellow dandelions.  About the first plant to bloom in the spring, dandelions are the first food available to bees.  Children make bouquets from them for their mothers and bracelets, necklaces and crowns for fun.  When dandelions go to seed and we blow on them, fluffy seedlings float into the sky to spread the joy.  When young, the leaves can be good for eating, and dandelion blooms make fairly good wine. I read that if we kill all the dandelions, the population of bees will be greatly reduced which would be disastrous for our food supply.  In spite of this, most often, we get rid of them.  We don’t want them were they are, because they are weeds…. Or are they?

Perhaps, the weeds are in my soul, along with spirit gifts, to give me something or teach me something—for my benefit and the benefit of others.  If I sit with my dandelions and listen to them, what might they tell me? I’ll share one story. I have listened long to it.

I have a genetic tendency to clinical depression and panic attacks. I don’t have them, now, but there is always a possibility if I don’t pay attention to my life.  There was an extended period, as a young woman, when I was almost totally incapacitated by fear. I couldn’t leave the house; sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed, and I was afraid of everything including God.

It is very unfortunate, I believe, that this weed growth took place when my children were little.  I wasn’t available to them when they most needed me. I drank too much to mask the fear and pain because I didn’t know what else to do. God was eventually able to break in, providing a diagnosis and assuring me of his love, and healing began. I believed that the best thing I could do for my children, first of all, was to get healed myself and so I began the long journey of recovery. I needed medication and therapy for a time and our Christian community was available to pray for me and help when I was ready to panic. So – Gift or Weed?

Rather than zapping me well, God impelled me to become well. I wanted this weed to be pulled up or killed immediately, but it wasn’t time for that.  There were lessons to be learned about me and about God that I would have missed.  The ensuing healings, redemption and transformation are part of my story. Some healing still needs to happen in my family, but God isn’t finished with us yet.

Perhaps, the point of the weeds in our souls is to get us in touch with the One who grows and heals and who turns what appears to be supposedly noxious weeds into lovely trees. Do I love this process?  No.  But I’m so, so grateful for it.

We are the broken, you are the healer, Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save.
You are the love song we’ll sing forever, bowing before you, blessing your name.

~ Lynn DeShazo; Gary Sadler

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Who am I really? Part 2

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner

As you can probably tell, this is not Friday.  I have been away for Diocesan Convention since Thursday and have just come home. In last week’s meditation, I reflected on the following questions that arose for me while reading a book by Palmer Parker.  Who am I really? Who was I created to be before life happened? What is the passion for service that God put within me before I was born and before the world took me over? What was God’s dream for me? Have there been life clues along the way that help give answers to these questions?

In light of those possible clues, which I wrote about, who am I today?  Do those early clues and today’s passions coincide?  I still need a great amount of solitude and silence. It is within this place that I hear God most often. My main desire is for prayer and deep listening to what comes from this.  I still, always, have something I’m reading.  I never was very fond of going to school, though I loved learning.  It was never in my thought that I would become a teacher of any sort, but now that is part of what I do, mostly in the areas of prayer, discernment, spiritual formation, spiritual growth, and transformation.  I still sing in choir and usually have an inner song. I did not become a nurse but I am involved in praying for healing in our church’s prayer ministry.  I am not the kind of nurse who rubs hurting legs; instead I am a Spiritual Director who walks with others as they discover God in their own journeys.

Writing is a great surprise to me, even more than teaching is, and was not something I ever wanted to do. I don’t see early clues, but maybe it was a Holy Spirit gift for this time.  Writing does help me be aware and it helps me learn a lot about God and myself.  I would miss it. Within our purpose in life, there are different calls and different ministries that seem to fit within the dream God has for us in the beginning.

In her book, LIVING GRACE, Martie McMane rephrases Fredrick Buechner’s quote by saying, “The kind of work that God usually calls you to is the kind of work a) that you need most to do and b) that the world most needs to have done.” She said that when we discover our Holy Spirit gifts and connect them to something God needs to have done in the world, it isn’t hard work.  I would say that we are created for a time and a calling such as this.

Once long ago, I was given a “hint” from the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. When I read the story, verse 44 struck me.  It reads, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’”  I heard, “[You] unbind them and set them free.”  Somehow my pleasure and God’s pleasure are wrapped up for me in this verse. If the stories I have shared were clues to God’s dream for me, then I believe that I have, with God’s help, been fairly true to that dream.

For what purpose did God create you?  What is your deep gladness?  How does God want you to live that out in the world?  Where do you feel God’s pleasure?  What has your name on it? Are there clues in your earlier life to this call? Answering this will take time, prayer, discernment and reflection. Paying Attention to the movements of God within are important in discovering and knowing the person that we have been created, and called, by God to be.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” ~ Isaiah 6:8