A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Listen!

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is Advent again. In his sermon this morning, Oscar Uzin said: ‘Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily papers.’ The Lord is coming, always coming, Be alert to his coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.’” ~ “Gracias! A Latin American Journal

Henri also writes, “The word ‘listening’ in Latin is ‘obedire’, and ‘audire’ means ‘Listening with great attention.’ That is where the word ‘obedience’ comes from. Jesus is called the obedient one, that means the listener. The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, is ‘surdus.’ If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word ‘absurd’ comes from. So, it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading and absurd life. ~ “Discovering Our Gift Through Service”

In our Trinity Way of Life, we call being alert and listening, “Pay Attention.” We can not only spend a period each day focusing on God alone in prayer, being with him and listening for his voice if he speaks, we can become alert to God working in circumstances and people around us. Walt Whitman said, “I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name.” But it is hard to be alert and aware of all the ways God speaks to us unless we have that connection with him through prayer.

It is so easy, isn’t it, to get disconnected. We get sick. We get especially busy. We have company. We are company. Right now, we have that shopping, cleaning, wrapping, baking, decorating, planning the big meal stuff to do, don’t we? We’ll have our quiet time later. Why are we doing all this again? But sometimes later never comes. We’re tired. We are out of our accustomed place for praying. Other people are still here. Little by little, we stop being alert and in touch.

At the Quiet Day at the beginning of Advent, Fr. Jack asked, “How is your connection with God going? Does it need to be renewed?” My answer to this question was, “Yes”. That is often my answer. It’s not that I feel disconnected, exactly. It’s just that I don’t sense the closeness, now, that I often do. Finding out that I am so sick was a major shock. My illness had been going on for some time, but I was just beginning to feel that something was wrong and had made appointments with the doctors. So much else had been going on in my life that I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Ending up in the ER in great pain and being diagnosed with probable cancer in three places and perhaps more hit like a ton of bricks. I was stunned. Why had I not known?”

I knew that God was with me, always, but my feelings turned off. I disconnected in a way. I think I am starting to come out of that, but the relationship needs a little TLC. Our Renewal Weekend the end of August came at a good time for me as Fr. Russ Parker came with his words of blessing, healing, and listening. I so need all of that.

For the last several weeks, I have been waking up at 1 am. Absolutely wide awake. I’ve tried to go back to sleep but I am not able to do it. I am totally alert to something. It dawned on me one night that, just perhaps, God might be calling me to spend some time with him. Maybe he has something to say. So, for the last week or so, I have been getting up, at 1 a.m., going to my prayer chair and becoming still – listening. I haven’t heard any particular words, but I have become more aware of his presence sitting there in the semi-dark. I believe that we are renewing our relationship. Words may come later. His presence is enough.

Advent is a great time for reconnecting. So is Lent. So is Sunday. So is right now. So is tonight. So is 1 o’clock in the morning. We get to choose to pay attention.

Lord, help us to rein in all the distractions that bombard us daily. Let us pay our full attention to you. Let us truly listen to your requests. Keep us from the shortsighted absurdity of bestowing our attention on the wrong things. Amen. ~ Henri Nouwen

Grace and Peace,
Donna

 

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Rule or Law?

A Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action which places us in a position to receive from God the power to do what we cannot accomplish on our own … Richard Foster, “Life with God”

I read the other day in the news that scientists or archeologists have found evidence, in Morocco, I think, of homo sapiens 100,000 years older than the oldest found so far. Wow!! That boggles my mind. How many years is that? More than I can fathom. I thought you might like to know just in case you missed that news segment.

I have been sitting here on this gloomy day trying to get a clue of something I would like to write. Nothing comes to mind. It has been a busy week and I am a bit tired. That might have something to do with it, but writing for me is a spiritual discipline; it helps me voice what is going on inside myself. As a very strong introvert, things I’m thinking about may not be thought through. They just hang out inside until I get tired of them. So, what is going on? I’m rather bored with myself today.

Politics – I don’t want to write about that.

This week at our meeting, St. Anne’s chapter of the Daughters of the King will be reviewing and sharing our personal rule of life. What spiritual disciplines do we practice, now? Are they working for us? Does something need tweaking? Do we need a pause button? How is our Sabbath practice? You get the idea.

When I began to have a rule of life many years ago, I used one that was given to us at Cursillo. The components of this rule were three – Prayer, Study, and Action. This rule was to be lived in community – the Church – and reinforced by meeting together in a small group to check how we all were doing. We need a rule to regulate our spiritual lives. It is not a law which we are bound to follow and perhaps get wrong. Shame. Our rule is to open space for God and help us serve others. Love God and love our neighbor – Jesus said this is what it’s all about.

My rule of life changes every so often, but it always includes those above. It is based on the Rule of St. Benedict which I might write about another time. The Daughters have a rule of prayer and a rule of service, and though not one of our rules we have a focus of evangelism – spreading the good news by telling our story and praying for the spread of the Kingdom of God. Our disciplines for our spiritual growth are based on the Baptismal Covenant.

I believe everyone needs a rule or a way of life if they are serious about growing spiritually. It is so easy to drift. I need to guard drifting in my own life. As a spiritual director, one of the things I do is help people decide what to do to open that God space and strengthen prayer and ministry in their lives as well as I need to do in my own. We are fortunate to have a corporate Way of Life for our congregation. It strengthens our community life and is a good place to begin.

It always happens. I think I have a handle on this and somebody interjects another element – not to the Trinity Way – but to my way. It went like this, “Keeping your body in shape is a spiritual discipline. It’s not just about losing a few pounds, wanting to live longer, or trying to look nicer. ~ Richard Warren

Then why? I want to know.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Well, there are times when some people stop preaching and go to meddling. So, what to do…. I have been rather lax lately. I have been low energy and not feeling top notch. Do you suppose that not exercising might have something to do with it? My diet is not always great and I need to make some doctor’s appointments. I most definitely need to add this piece to my rule of life. The last few days, I have reintroduced stair climbing into my exercise routine. Whew!! Well, it is my exercise routine all by itself at the moment. I have some work cut out for me.

It is well and good, Lord, if all things change, provided we are rooted in you. If I go everywhere with you, my God, everywhere things will happen for your sake, that is what I desire. ~ St. John of the Cross

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Habits and Covenants

Holy habits are that: the disciplines, the routines by which we stay alive and focused on Him. At first, we choose them and carry them out; after a while they are part of who we are. And they carry us.” ― Mark Holly Buchanan

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 1:5-8

Last week I was too tired to sort out on what I wanted to reflect from the Daughters of the King retreat. It was a fun filled time, sort of like a pajama party, when in our cabin in the evenings, populated almost entirely by our St. Anne’s Chapter of Daughters from Trinity. We always bring, and eat, way too many goodies, but then that’s what PJ parties are for. We also had time to visit some with women from other chapters, and great times of reflection at our tables made up of women from different chapters.

However, it is the teachings, given by our Chaplain, Fr. Terry McGugan, that I want to tell you about., so as our friend, Sandy, says, “You might want another cup of coffee or tea.” Or since it is evening, a glass of wine or soda.

Fr. Terry’s theme for us throughout the year has been our Baptismal Covenant which is found beginning on p. 304 of the Book of Common Prayer. First, we are asked if we believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and God the Holy Spirit. We affirm that we do. Then we are asked, 1. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers”? 2. “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” 3. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” 4. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and 5. “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” To each of these questions, we answer, “We will with God’s help.” How many times do we say these words at baptisms then go home and forget about them until the next time? I’m not going to answer that because I am afraid that it, also, is way too many.

Fr. Terry had made a simple outline on poster board that he placed on an easel by the podium. As, I looked at it, I suddenly realized that it was a “built into the Covenant” Rule of Life. Look.

Will you……
1. Live in Christian Community
2. Seek Holiness
3. Proclaim Jesus by Word and Example
4. Seek and Serve Others
5. Strive for Justice and Peace
….I will, with God’s help.

Daughters of the King have a Rule of Prayer and a Rule of Service and we try, with God’s help to live the Baptismal Covenant. At Trinity, we have a corporate rule of life called the Trinity Way of Life. These Rules in no way contradict the Covenant which we promised to follow at our baptism and which we reaffirm every time there is a baptism we attend. Every year, the Daughters of the King have a time when we look at the rule we have chosen to follow, to see what is working for us and what is not. Many use the Trinity Way which is very helpful for our spiritual growth. In the beginning, we start small and let the Elements grow in us from year to year. Reviewing it, from time to time, helps us learn how far we’ve come in our desire to grow closer to God and more like Jesus. Or, perhaps, how far we have not.

These Baptismal Covenant promises fascinate me because I had never noticed them as a day to day way of life before, and I have no idea why. I’m supposed to catch these things. No matter which rule of life we use, it is important to have one that follows, at least, the promises we have already made. Without even a simple plan, we can easily get off track and lose our way. But as the quote above says, after a time of use, they become part of us.

May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark.
May you always hear, even in your hour of sorrow, the gentle singing of the lark.
When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone,
May you always remember when the shadows fall—you do not walk alone. ~ Irish Blessing

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Things in Piles

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” ~ Henri Nouwen

I was sorting things into keep piles, save piles and move piles, when I remembered a dream that I had several years ago.  It was actually just an image.  I had shared it with some friends and one of them had drawn a picture of it and wrote down thoughts that had come to her as she drew.  I saved that picture somewhere, but I don’t know where.  I thought I had put in in an old journal but I couldn’t find it.  When I was packing for our move, I threw two of these journals in my stuff to take to temporary quarters with me.  A note about that image was in one, but no drawing.  The rest of the journals, I threw away.  There is a journal person’s prayer that says:  “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, please throw my journals in the lake.”  I took care of that before anyone had to do it for me and get curious about what I had written. I was only mildly curious, myself. Randomly picking up these two has been enlightening or at the least interesting. Let me share some of them.

First, the image that I had in the dream that kept me from throwing all the journals in the lake.  It was New Year’s Eve, 1997.  I wrote, “I was walking around something.  It seemed like the altar [at St. Alban’s in Windsor].  Nothing was on the altar – no cloth or anything.  Then I noticed green succulent tiny leaves clinging to it.  Behind the altar was a terra cotta flower pot. It had broken open on the floor.  My sense was that it had fallen off the altar.  Dirt was all around it – potting soil dirt and the plant was growing from this and clinging to the altar. Hum?”  I wish I had the words my friend wrote. Today, I was thinking about how our spiritual growth and transformation (at least mine) really takes place when we embrace our brokenness and don’t try to bury it or ignore it. At those times when we lie broken and scattered, new growth comes from clinging to God.  I don’t know what else to do with mine.

There are other stories, too, that I “accidently” saved – about the angels that came to collect my sister’s mother-in-law when she was dying – about saying goodbyes to many things, and about the day 21 years ago, just before Palm Sunday, when our son died from suicide and the little blue bird that came to see me before I left the retreat I was on and came home to this news.  Many of these stories are about brokenness, loss and God’s grace in the midst of it all. I will read some more of them in the days to come. Maybe, I’ll share them.

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Patience, anyone?

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. ~ Colossians 3:12

A woman stopped me in the hall after a meeting at church and asked if I had ever considered writing about patience. I hadn’t ….but, I always try to be open to what the Spirit is saying, so…  The women said she didn’t think that having patience meant to sit around and do nothing.  Was there an implied, “Does it?” at the end or was that my own question? I don’t make a habit of praying for patience. We joke about it, though, saying that praying for it will bring upon us opportunities to practice.  Maybe opportunities would occur anyway.

The next day, I read this quote by Henri Nouwen: “Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”

Dictionaries say that patience is a noun and, basically, it is a quality, capacity or habit. Patience is something we have. Now, I just want to rush right out and buy some, but patience is a fruit of the Spirit. “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” ~ Galatians 5:22ff.  Fruit develops in us when we stay attached to the vine from which it comes. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” ~ John 15:5.  Patience is not something we can manufacture on our own or buy even if we wish it.

I stay attached by spending quiet time with Jesus listening- paying attention, being still with him. This is what I can “do”.  If further action is required, which usually requires some discernment, I often find the answer in the stillness. Patience requires a certain amount of trust that God has it covered and our attitude should be one of gratitude.

I have a current example.  My husband and I hope to move into a patio home.  We hadn’t thought to move but we kept having problems with our older home that we aren’t able to fix on our own.  I would post these issues on Facebook, occasionally, and a Friend reported that her husband said we shouldn’t fix anything but sell to them.  I thought she was joking.  But when she kept “joking” I realized God was speaking.  In short, we said we would sell our house and begin looking for another. We found one we want; it seems right, but the owner’s daughter hasn’t given a price, yet.  Maybe, it’s not God’s plan – maybe it is.  Our Friends house is in the process of being sold and we need to move in about one month.  We made an offer on the one we want, and we are waiting.  We are praying, friends are praying.  I am trying to stay attached to Jesus hoping patience is ripe while we wait for further instructions. Most of the time, I have patience.  But ONE month……? Really? Breathe. Be still. Listen. Good practice for Lent.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. ~ Colossians 1:11-12

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Signs and Wonders

 

 “When he [the royal official] heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” ~ John 4: 47-48

This scripture caught my attention.  Suddenly, it was like I was seeing it with new eyes.  I had always assumed that Jesus’ comment to the official was a rebuke that we should believe without having to see miracles.  But, Jesus decided to heal the son, anyway.  And the official, along with his whole household, believed.  So, the thought came, “What if Jesus was saying that unless we see signs and wonders, it is difficult, if not impossible, to believe.”

Gospel lessons this week point to this.  Mark 7 tells about Jesus healing a deaf man with speech problems.  Afterwards, Jesus ordered those standing around not to tell anyone, (yeah right), but the more he ordered them, the more they told the story.

John 5 relates the story of Jesus healing a man lying by a healing pool. Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well then told him to stand up and walk. He did.  The crowd who observed this, and the man himself, began to tell of Jesus healing of him to anyone who would listen. God’s story spreads.

In John 6, Jesus feeds 5000 people with a boy’s lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish. The large crowd had been following him because they saw the signs in the healings he was doing. The Bible says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’”

Later, some of the crowd from the picnic look for Jesus. When they catch up with him, they ask how he got there.  Jesus, not answering, said, “…truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Then he preaches another sermon.

So, what if…..we need to see signs and wonders.  Perhaps it is not a sign of unbelief to want them but a pointer to the Kingdom of God.  What if we need this outer experience of God as well as the inner experience of God.  What if telling the stories of these signs in our own lives is part of our evangelism—part of telling the story.

I’m teaching a spiritual formation class on the Bible as God’s great love story for the humans he created and their unfolding understanding of that relationship.  We will, also, work with our own stories – past events in our lives to become more able to see where God is in them.  Not all stories have signs and wonders, but some do.  We can recall them when we wonder where God is or if he really cares.  These are our Gospel stories to share with others.

I have many stories but this is, hopefully, not a book, so I’ll only share two of my biggies.  Condensed, the first is about the healing of our daughter when she was five days old.  She had developed internal bleeding and doctors did not know why. She was moved about 50 miles from one hospital to another by ambulance. Doctors decided that if the bleeding did not stop in a few hours, they would have to do exploratory surgery.  I did some major wrestling with God all that night and, as the next day was Sunday, we called our church although they did not really believe miracles happened anymore. We asked for prayers, so they prayed, and at that instant our daughter was healed.  The military doctor said it was a miracle.  It was.  Signs and Wonders. The church came to believe that God still does miraculous healing and I came to believe that God hears my prayers.  The story spreads.

Second:  I had lost a special earring that my husband had given me.  I know I was wearing it that morning because I kept touching it.  One such time, I found it gone.  I looked around my desk.  In the wastebasket.  In the bathroom.  In my car. No earring.  I prayed that God would show me where it was but….  Dave was away on a business trip so I had been reading late in bed that night.  I needed to go to sleep but first I went to the bathroom.  When I came back to bed, I noticed something shiny on the blankets.  I picked it up and there it was – my earring.  How could this be?  Had I not worn it to work?  Had it fallen into my clothes, etc.? But then I noticed that the back that holds the earring on was still there……God brought the earring to me.  You may find this hard to believe, and sometimes I wonder myself.  We all find it hard to understand signs and wonders from time to time.  What did I learn about God?  I learned that God cares about things I care about—even little things.  It is a love story, after all.

And the stories continue….   What are yours?

The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt. ~ Frederick Buechner

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