A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Praise and Thanksgiving

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD! ~ Psalm 150

Well, I am late again with A Friday Meditation. Something keeps getting in my way of getting it done on time, but I did want to write to you this week, because it is unlikely that I will be writing the next two weeks because of having surgery.

Morning gratitude:

I am grateful that my application to switch medical insurance over to Kaiser this year was messed up by the provider because I love my medical team at UCHealth. Well, love might be a little strong, considering.

I am so grateful for my medical team. Even though they seldom tell me good news. They are working for my best.

I am grateful for a friend who showed me that there is still good news in the midst of bad. Light still shines in the darkness!

Morning gripe:

So many doctors. So many procedures. I feel violated and that my body is not my own. It’s as if I have no say about what is being done to it and am required to let the assault continue. I really do need to do something other than going to the doctors and the hospitals, or staying home because I am not feeling well at the time. Hubby takes me to lunch often to get me away from the house and to tempt me to eat enough protein. He is a good man. I love him. And I do have a say.

The Morning Prayer Gospel lesson (Mark 5:21-43) is one that I have been holding on to for two or three weeks. It includes the story of the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage who comes up behind Jesus and touches his clothes believing if she does so she will be healed. She is. Jesus tells her that her faith as made her well. I have adopted the image of hanging on tight to the hem of Jesus’ robe when I am feeling a bit lost.

The other story in this passage tells about Jesus raising the Pharisee’s twelve year old daughter from the dead. The father had received word while they were on the way that his daughter had died. Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” The people had already started mourning by the time they arrived at the house. Jesus said to them that the child was only sleeping and he told her to get up. She did. This is a passage of scripture that is full of hope and healing. “Do not fear; only believe.” I repeat this to myself several times a day as well as staying tightly attached to Jesus.

When I remember the images in this story and listen anew to the words of Jesus, I am able to get back to grateful. “Practice Gratitude” is Element #7 in the Trinity Way of Life. This element is there for a reason. The reason is that we need to express our gratefulness to God no matter what is happening in our lives. Doing so helps us to see the light shining in the darkness even if it is very dark. Practicing Gratitude helps us remember that there is a God and we are not God. Practicing Gratitude reminds us who we are. We know how to do this.

And then there is praise. I used to have lots of trouble trying to understand the difference between praise and thanksgiving, but they are two separate spiritual exercises. They do resemble each other, however, and both are necessary to our spiritual health. Like expressing thanks, offering praise to God reminds us that we are not God. In offering thanks, we acknowledge to God what he is doing for us and what he has given us. When we praise God, we acknowledge and express who God is and not what he does.

A simple grace gives both. “God is great, God is good and we thank him for our food.”

Over and over words from the last few weeks – God, you are all good. You are all Love. You are creator. You are healer. And so on.

Thank you (practicing) for being in my life moment by moment. Thank you for being light to my darkness. Thank you for providing a hem to hang on to, and for saying, “Do not fear; only believe.”

You are God, and we praise you.
You are Lord, we acclaim you.
You are Eternal Father – All creation worships you
All creation worships you. Amen. – Unknown

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – ER Trip

But you O Lord are a shield for me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.” – Psalm 3:3

This is not really a meditation. It is more of a reflection of my life at the moment and I want to share it with you. Things will change for me and my writing may be sporadic along with other things that I do. It is definitely ironic that I would write about breathing three weeks ago – ironic that I suggested we pause, take a deep breath and breathe in God – because two days later, early Sunday morning, I went to the ER with sharp chest pains. I had been having pain for a few days which I thought was bursitis. The sharp pains made me wonder if I was having a heart attack, so I asked my husband to take me to the hospital for what I thought would be some pain medication for bursitis.

By the way, if you mention that you are having chest pain when you go to the ER, everything speeds up, immediately. X-rays, blood tests, scans of various kinds. My bursitis pain turned out to be an inoperable, seed bearing lung cancer with fluid around the lung causing the pain. There are other cancers as well – brain tumor, perhaps thyroid, etc. I am still having tests to determine what all is going on. So, I spent the ensuing weeks in shock. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the words I was hearing. Neither could my family and friends. I have been unable to write since then because I couldn’t put words together. I’m still not good at it. But, again, writing is a spiritual discipline for me whether I write well or not.

There is much I don’t know.

Why? What caused this? I was a low cancer risk person. I had all my physicals. Recently. Why didn’t we see? Why questions are not really helpful because we cannot see the big picture and most often there are no answers.

I am reminded of this quote by Ann Lamott. I love it and it makes me laugh which is important at a time like this. “The first thing I am going to ask God when we meet face to face is, ‘What on EARTH could you have been thinking?’. And He or She will know exactly who I am talking about, the many way-too-young who have died or had serious pain so far, in my 60 years here. Who have been raised by closet psychotics? ‘What was THAT all about?”’ God will say what God said to Job—‘I’m God, and I don’t have to explain. Plus, there is a zero chance you would understand. No offense. Rock on.’” God’s ways are not our ways.

The Job story tries to understand and explain why bad things happen to good people. A piece of the Job story that I particularly enjoy happens after days and days of Job and his rather unhelpful friends, who had stopped listening and gone to meddling, trying to figure it out. They said Job must have done something to cause God to bring this upon him. Job knew he had been faithful. For him, the situation was just very hard to understand. Finally, God comes rolling up in a whirlwind. He is fond of wind and whirling. God chastises Job’s friends for sullying God’s reputation. How dare they say that God brought this upon Job? Then He takes on Job. Read this story sometime when you have an hour or two. It is worth it. God, in the past asked me some of the same questions that he asked Job when I took him to task about what he was doing. I’ve really stopped asking what he is up to because I probably wouldn’t understand it either.

This I do know. I sent this out with a prayer request update a couple of days after my ER trip. “I know that ultimately God wins. God does not cause disease. Disease is from the evil one. [Sometimes with the help of our own bad choices.] I know that God is good and I will not give in to despair. I know that God loves us/me and there is nothing we can do about it. [I say this so often I’m starting to be quoted.] I know that I will fight evil back as long as I can wherever I can.”

We know that much of what Jesus did was heal people from disease. One scripture says that on one day he healed all of those who came to him. God does not always change circumstances but he is always with us in them. The Church Mouse Meme says, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle, God helps us handle what we are given.” So true.

My spiritual journey now is to try to stay in the moment, which I should do anyway since the moment is all we really have. I will try to practice the awareness of God’s presence. Breathing in his presence just got a lot more intentional and personal. I confess that I do have moments of panic when I get scared and hold my breath causing me to forget to stay where I have pledged to stay. The perimeters of my journey have greatly changed. I ask for your prayers for me and my family. I’m praying for a miracle and hanging on tight to the hem of Jesus’ robe.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Breathe

 

This is the air I breathe. This is the air I breathe.

Your holy presence living in me.

This is my daily bread. This is my daily bread.

Your very Word spoken to me.

And I, I’m desperate for you. And I, I’m lost without you.

This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence living in me. ~ Michael W. Smith

This morning when I went to pray, this song kept  wandering through my mind. It is a beautiful praise song and it says something about our relationship with God. Because, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters – Genesis 1:1-2. The word for spirit is the same word that is used for breath. God’s breath blew across the waters as he brought life to the majestic universe that he was creating from nothing. Apparently, when the story in Genesis begins, he had already created the water and something representing the earth to hold it. We are all born from water into form and then we begin to breath.

An aside of sorts – A year or so ago, I thought about the spirit blowing over the water as I said my before bedtime prayer.  What was it like before there was nothing?  Nothing but God?  God? I tried to imagine this and I really couldn’t.  Suddenly, I saw a deep night navy sky studded with millions upon millions of stars. I could imagine this, because I had seen such skies before. I tried for a minute to imagine what it was like before such a sky was created, but….  As I looked at the stars, a round section in the center of the sky moved. It shimmered like water with a pebble being thrown into it. It took my breath away.  Was it God’s breath hovering over me that caused this experience?  I realized that this was as close as I could get to imagining before creation.  Then I realized that God had just blown me a good night kiss and my breath returned.  He might have said something like, “Crazy little girl child thinking she could imagine such a thing. Really nice try, though.”

But back to the creation story – “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being – Genesis 2:7. The creation continues.

And with that he (Jesus) breathed on them (his disciples) and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit – John 20:22.  Yes.  We need this, too.

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last – Mark 15:37. Or “gave up his spirit”  John 19:30. This was voluntary, His spirit returned to his Father then returned to his body at his resurrection. After some additional teaching and after reassuring his stunned followers that he was alive and would be with them always, he left again. How can this be?  

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled those disciples with new life and power. Filled once again with the breath of God, a new restored creation began – the Church, the Body of Christ including you and me, is reassigned the mission of spreading God’s Kingdom on earth by loving God and neighbor and doing those things that Jesus did. We have that same original mission and the same breath of the Holy Spirit enables us to do the piece of work that we are called most specially to do.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and his Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and his Father one. Jesus says: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:10) and ‘The Father and I are one’ (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of his Holy Spirit. Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.”

My thoughts: What if the very air around us is the breath of God still creating. What if every time we breathe we breathe in God?  What if I try to comprehend what that would be like?  Once again, I most likely can’t.  But here is what I/we can do:  Every time we need a pause because things are crazy – pause, take a deep breath.  Imagine that we are breathing in the Holy Spirit.  Imagine it.  When we say our daily prayers – pray, breathe.  Know that Jesus is breathing into you.  Whenever we need a deep breath…. Yes.

You are the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me.  My daily bread-your very word. I’m desperate for you.  I’m lost without you. Breathe. (Paraphrased sort of).

 

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – What’s Up?

Many are the plans of a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

I have been thinking about discernment. Particularly mine. I want to discern if the things that I have been doing are still what God wants me to continue, or if he has something else in mind for me now that I am older and my energy is less. I have a wee tiny niggling in the back of my mind that he has a little something, but maybe not. He may still be just fine with what I am doing.

As a spiritual director, I often get the questions: How do I get still? How can I listen and Pay Attention to God? How can I see Jesus? How do I discern God’s will? All are great questions.

Discernment of God’s will, or any discernment for that matter, is a process. Finding God’s will requires a real desire to know it and a commitment to follow God’s direction when we find it. If we put stipulations on what we will do or not do, we will not get discernment. Unless, of course, like St. Paul, we get knocked off our ride and blinded for a few days. That’s a new way of seeing. We can’t limit God to certain ways of communication.

Discernment isn’t a decision-making process and what God has in mind for us isn’t always easy to discern. He doesn’t often write his desires for us on a wall or on auto-correct, although he has been known to do so. He has as many communication skills as he wants to use, so prayer is essential. However, there are other helps. Part of my job as a spiritual director is to accompany people during their discernment process – help them ask the questions they need to ask and discover the blocks they may have to hearing God’s will and carrying it out.

Thomas Green in “Weeds among the Wheat” has a suggestion I find most useful, which is to give God what Tom calls a “blank check.” We need to be willing for God to write on that check what he desires to give us. This helps us become willing to find God’s way rather than being willful and wanting our own way. And did I mention prayer?

Frederick Buechner writes – “Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, “to call,” which means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.…. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet.” ~ “Wishful Thinking”

“Gladness” or “Passion” is very important in discernment. What is it that gives you life? Passion for God’s call gives energy so if it is lost in what we’re doing perhaps God is calling us to something new. Although, there are other reasons that passion or gladness might be lost, burnout and/or depression, for example, so this needs discernment, also.

If, in our process we hear from God, as a friend of mine often does, “Keep doing what you’re doing”, we are most likely already doing what God has in mind for us now. In which case, we continue on continuing on.

As usual, I have a story. Many years ago, I was reading the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus directions to his friends, “Unbind him and set him free” (John 11:44b) jumped off the page for me. I believed God was speaking and after some prayer, I enrolled at Aims and started taking psychology and counselling classes. I planned to become a family counselor. I had no idea that God had a slightly different calling than I thought, though the classes I took are very useful. They give me another eye through which to see as I offer spiritual direction, even though spiritual direction is not counselling. A friend who was attending St. Thomas Seminary called me and said there was a program for spiritual directors there and that I should take it because I was always asking what God was doing in any situation. So, what was the process.

First –Prayer was the most important part of my process. I had a niggling sense that I needed to be doing something to “unbind and set free”. And I wanted more than anything else to want what God wanted. Then I took a step of faith and began. I had a sense of where I was heading, but it wasn’t complete – only the first step. And then, more prayer.

Occasionally, God’s call comes in a blazing bush. I have had a few. There is hardly any room for doubt, but the call still needs some discerning. Thomas Green says that discernment isn’t possible if you already know what you are to do, but I don’t always trust my hearing. Most often, there is peace when the discernment is finished. So for now…

Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. – Proverbs 16:1 (MSG)

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Power from Above

“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down upon you.” ~ Luke 24:48-49

This coming Sunday is Pentecost which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church and, therefore, to you and me. Perhaps, I should say something about this – but what?

This story comes to mind. It is a witness story of Jesus and his story with me. I had been a spirit filled and released apprentice of Jesus for some time so I was no stranger to what the Spirit will and can do in, to, with and through a person. However, I was a newly certified spiritual director when this event took place.

I was asked to lead a weekend retreat for a women’s group from another church. I believe in doing my homework, so I prayed and tried to prepare.  Absolutely nothing came to me.  I jotted down a note or two, but…! When time came to leave for the retreat, I grabbed a couple of books thinking I could always read something and let them spend time meditating. This was not a silent retreat, so this could be very interesting.

When I walked into the retreat place, the music team was practicing a song I love, so perhaps, everything would work out. I had brought along a couple of parishioners from our church who would be praying for me. I don’t exactly remember what happened, but we did begin with music. We sang.  The woman who put together the retreat said things.  I probably had a few introductory remarks. The first thing I do remember, other than music, was the prayer stations we had. The two ladies I brought with me manned one of them.

What followed, I remember with great clarity. I wrote it down. I hadn’t planned to go for prayers, but I felt a little God nudge. I would wait until the station which my friends manned was empty.  (Because the other ladies might be intimidated praying for the leader, perhaps. Hmm, bit of ego there it seems. Not one of my better thoughts.) The real reason – I am introverted and I was scared because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t want to walk across the room where people could watch me. Jesus did not agree with my plan and told me to go there, anyway. Ok, then…

I did and I asked for something, probably. The instant their hands touched me, I was on the floor. This happening is sometimes called “slain in the Spirit” but I prefer “resting in the Spirit” – it’s not as violent sounding.  Whichever – I felt very much at peace and held as I lay there.  Of course, every eye in the room was focused on my prone body. So much for introversion – just sayin’. I could hear my friends telling folks that I was alright. This has happened to me only once and in retrospect, I don’t think it was really for me anyway, or at least only partly.

I got up from the floor and returned to my seat beside the woman in charge. She said, “Interesting.  I doubt if the ladies know what happened.”  WHAT!! The name of the group, being what it was, led me to believe that they would know about these things. I must explain it. So, I talked about the Holy Spirit, about spiritual gifts, about resting in the Spirit, about tongues, about healing and, most likely, other Jesus things as well.

So, the retreat continued.  I read something from the book I brought.  There was laughter. We had more singing, a break, and another evening session. Then, it was time for prayer again. A woman, that I knew from this congregation, who had MS, came up to my station using a walker. She had been in a wheel chair. She said, “I want all that the Holy Spirit wants to give me.” Alright!!  I prayed for the Holy Spirit to do just that and she started to fall.  I grabbed her and lowered her to the floor.  Her friend was concerned but I assured her that she would be fine.  I kept my eye on her as we prayed for others.  When she started to stir, I went to her.  She said that her legs were burning and she had had no feeling in them for a long time.

My first thought – I am so very proud of this – was, “Oh, no.  God wants to heal her.” Isn’t that great? I really trusted God, but I wasn’t sure of me. I had to continue, however. I was the retreat leader.  Or so I had thought. I turned to the ladies and told them that God wanted to heal Bernice, and I asked others who felt comfortable praying for healing to join me in laying hands on her. It’s better that way, anyhow.  More community like. We prayed, she got up from the floor and started walking around.  Her friend’s jaw hit the floor – probably others as well –  as we watched her dance around.  The word was that Bernie didn’t sit down all night. The last I heard, she hasn’t yet.

I certainly would not have planned the weekend this way, but God had his dreams for this congregation, so he took over.  I was called to be there as part of it and I am still amazed.  God can do some pretty good work through scaredy-cats.  Even introverted ones. Sometimes, he lets them know.

Two years ago, at convention, I ran into a woman from that group. She told me that I had no idea what had happened after that weekend. There had been all kinds of confusion and dissension in that congregation about gifts of the Spirit and whether you needed to speak in tongues to show that the Spirit had filled a person. It was tearing the congregation apart. After this weekend, it all went away.  There was healing in the congregation as well. Wow!! Thank you, Jesus!!

I don’t know how to end this writing and it’s already long…so, be not afraid.  God does have his dreams and his ways.  “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” ~ Esther 4:14

…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~ Acts 1:8

 

 

HOLY SATURDAY MEDITATION – Love is in the Tomb, Today

A HOLY SATURDAY MEDITATION

Love is in the tomb, today.
Today is a sad day in the life of the Christian Church—Jesus has been crucified. He has died. This is the only day of the year when there is no reserved sacrament. No communions will be offered and no sacraments can be consecrated. (Until after sundown which, traditionally, is Sunday.) This day is for remembering that Jesus has died but is not yet raised.
For the disciples, who do not know the end of the story, it is a sadder day, still. All their hopes are crushed. Not only that, their dear friend has been savagely killed and they weren’t able to stay awake with him as he asked at the last. Some have betrayed him, and abandoned him, too, and their grief is intense. What will they hang on to, now? How can they remember Him? How can we? Love is in the tomb, today.

One Disciple’s Lament

Oh God! My God! Why have you forsaken us? They killed him. They have killed my Lord. Why? Why? When he was so kind and gentle? He was the one—the Messiah. How could they not know? Our Hope is gone. Were we all wrong? No! No! He was! I stayed there at the cross and watched this horrible thing. I can’t bear those images. I wanted to run away. My heart is broken in so many pieces and I cannot stop crying. Sobs come from the depths of me and tears run down my face like rivers.
Oh, his dear face. Blood! So much blood! He cried out to you, his father, God. And he forgave those who did this. How? He forgave me, too. He healed me with his love and now he is gone. There is a hole in me. How can I go on? Where will I go? Where will any of us go?
I can’t go on without him. If I could only touch him one more time. Maybe…? Why? They beat him again and again. If I had not gone there to be with him, but I had to go. I had to stay. I had to. He felt abandoned by you and betrayed by his friends. Why did you not save him? Why? He loved you. I will not abandon him, now. He said it is finished. Finished? What is finished? How can it be finished? I can’t leave him here in this tomb alone. I feel abandoned, too, but I am staying here in this place where he is buried. Help us. I am lost. We are all lost. How can I live without him. How can any of us?
Never again will I see his face, know his love, or hear him call my name….Love is in the Tomb, today.

(dlw 2014 – revised 2017)

A MAUNDY THURSDAY MEDITATION

A MAUNDY THURSDAY MEDITATION

John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Traditionally in the Christian Church, this day is known as Maundy Thursday. Three main events take place on this night before the Passover festival – Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the institution of the Eucharist [Holy Communion], and his giving the “new” commandment of love. The sctipture lessons for the day and the church services which will be celebrated today bring these to mind. As we begin this day, Judas has plans to betray Jesus and he, with the remaining disciples, are beginning their final meal together before Jesus’ arrest—though the disciples don’t know that it is.

“Jesus got up, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel.” In this culture, foot washing was done by slaves. Peter can’t handle this and objects. He says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”…”Never.” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.… Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Jesus washed their feet to illustrate humility and the spirit of servanthood. He says, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”… Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you…” He will give another example, but that is tomorrow’s story.

Today we will wash one another’s feet as a reminder of our being servants to each other.

Reflections: How does Jesus wash your feet? How do others? In what ways do you wash others feet?

After washing, Jesus’ puts on His robe. He tells his friends that He is going away, soon, and they can’t come with Him this time. Then He says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This Great Commandment is Jesus’ dream for his friends. That includes us.

Reflection: How are you doing with this? How am I?

In I Corinthians 11:23-26, the apostle Paul reminds us of Jesus’ words at this common meal – the Last Supper, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” These are the words that are still used today in our common meal, the Eucharist.

Thoughts: Do this in remembrance of me…re-member me…the Body of Christ for us – the body of Christ…to become and reflect the Body of Christ to each other and the hurting world. “Do this and re-member me.” This is Jesus’ dream for us. Don’t the events taking place during this Last Supper all say the same thing? I believe Jesus just might be serious about this.

After this meal, Jesus and his disciples leave for the Garden where Jesus prays and the disciples sleep. Stay tuned.

As you read, pray and attend services today, imagine yourself as a disciple in these stories and events. What are your thoughts and feelings as you accompany Jesus and as you listen to him? These next few days of our journey with Jesus are intense and we need to pay attention, be aware, and not let them pass by lightly.

(dlw 2015, edited 2017)