A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Dark

Hello darkness my old friend; I’ve come to talk to you again, because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping.  And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.  ~ Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

So, I took one of those stress tests, not the medical kind, but the one that adds up stress points for changes and chances in one’s life over the course of one year.  I so flunked and I knew I would.  Though, I didn’t quite realize how badly I would.  There are stressors I’ve had that weren’t even on the test and this year is only a continuation of the year previous. If I added them both together and divided by two, I would most likely still have an F minus, minus.  I don’t even know why it is that I’m still standing.  I shouldn’t be able to get out of bed.  Actually, I do know why.  It is the power of God that gets me up in the morning and brings me through the day. Also, if I stay in bed, my body starts hurting.

Speaking about getting up – in the middle of Wednesday night, I was awakened by a shrill sound.  At first I thought it was an alert on my phone but it wasn’t. I couldn’t get the sound shut off even when I turned the phone hard off.   It is especially difficult to find a noise when you can’t tell from which direction the sound comes, which I can’t.  I put the phone under my pillow but it didn’t stop the sound.  I went into the hall to see if it was a smoke alarm.  But no.  The sound was in my bedroom.  I was about ready to wake Dave in the other room to help find it, when my eyes alighted upon my alarm clock….  Somehow, the alarm had been turned on when the cleaning team was cleaning my room.  Midnight.  Dark night.  God’s humor?

A couple of mornings before, I awoke with the above song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel going through my head. I think God may be trying to tell me something. As you probably already know, I don’t do well after periods of prolonged stress, but I have coping skills to help. If I can’t keep the brain chemicals in line, I am likely to crash. However, there are times in the spiritual life when,” darkness” is a sign that God is working something deep in the person going through it.  The Dark Night of the Soul is a time of God’s silence and often felt absence.  It is not the same as depression though it may feel like it and sometimes is accompanied by actual chemical depression which may need treatment.

I am not yet depressed, or anyway, not terribly.  I’ve been here before.  In my case, it is not the absence of God that I feel because occasionally, I feel him.  It is the Silence of God that I’m going through.  Although while writing about this, it is very possible that God is using an alarm clock and a stress test to speak to me.

Ann Voskamp –  spiritual writer, said, “It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us.”

God uses these “Dark” times to grow us in our interior selves and in our relationship with him.  I heard that years ago. A woman said that if you don’t know where God is, it is because he is working within a place we cannot go with our senses.  We can’t tell what he is up to. We can’t find the path. Often there is no glimmer of light.  But amid the dark there is hope.  As I said, I’ve been here before.  God had to get me to the place, where I can’t interfere. And I can’t.  I don’t know how and I don’t want to. I’ll just continue to keep on keeping on or in other words “Show Up.”  God will do what God needs to do.

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Pruning needed?

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. ~ John 15:2

Today, I gave Kailua a blessing because I wanted to and it seemed the right thing to do.  Also, because she is beautiful and she is teaching me a lesson.

Kailua is a house plant – a Hoya (sometimes called a wax plant) – and that is what we usually called her (The Hoya is blooming…).  When we moved, we decided to give her a name so we named her after a city in Hawaii because we thought that was where she originated. Not so, but oh well.

Kailua was given to me 36 years ago by a friend when we came home from making our Cursillo.  It was a cutting from her plant and was in a teeny tiny pot.  The thing about Hoyas is that they like to be pot bound in order to bloom. It will usually take a couple of years before they do and they do not like to be moved around.  They like light as well.  If you mess with them, they just might not bloom at all.  They like to be grounded in one place and they don’t like changes.

We have moved several times in the 36 years.  Some places she loved, some she tolerated, and in a few she pouted in serious dislike.  I moved her to bigger pots twice bringing on the pouting, but she got over it.  So, before we moved into this new house she wasn’t doing well.  I decided she needed a new pot and a serious haircut on some straggly vines and on her root ball. I hoped she would come out of it someday and talk to me again.  I saved some cuttings, now named Junior, rooted them and put them in a new teeny, tiny pot just in case Kailua decided that this was all too much to deal with. Surprise of all surprises, she loves the whole thing – the haircuts, the new pot, the sunny window – and she is putting on new shiny leaves daily.  Junior is, too.

And so……what’s the lesson?  You might ask. You could have your own meditation regarding Kailua’s story if you set with it for a time but this is mine.

I am so like Kailua.  I like to be grounded in one spot.  Moving, along with other issues, has been stressful. I really don’t like change though I’m getting used to it. Many times my haircuts are hard to manage (Can you tell?). It takes me a while to settle in and let blooming begin. In the meantime, there may be weeping and pouting.

God does not worry about that for which I am grateful after a time.  He knows how beautiful we can become after pruning, cutting out our dead wood, much of which we don’t know we have, and put in a larger pot.  He, unlike me, can see a long way down the road to where he wants me to go, what he wants me to do, what tangled up root ball he wishes to dismantle and what beautiful gifts of abundant new leaves will be able to grow after the pruning.  If we allow it, he will begin that transformational process.  It is easier with our active consent.

These last 18 months have been a challenge.  They have been stressful and I’ve had to struggle to keep balance in my life.  I know God is working deep in me because I’ve had similar times before.  Not quite so many issues at once but very stressful times, anyway.  I’ve always, so far, come out the other side of these with more inner healing, more understanding of the workings of God in my life, more compassion and more love – sometimes a new ministry. I expect that will be the case this time as well.  Thanks for the object lesson, Kailua. I’m grateful.

Thank you, God.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Dropped Stitches

Bind us together, Lord; Bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.  Bind us together Lord; Bind us together. Bind us together with love.

This song popped into my mind, today.  It is mostly sung at camp meetings and in praise and worship services. It asks God to join the group singing into one body – the Body of Christ, and it caused me to think about broken cords or threads.  Perhaps yarn and dropped stitches.

I am knitting a new throw or shawl for my prayer chair – either the one in my bedroom where I have my morning prayer or the prayer room where my husband and I say prayers together in the evening.  I also give some spiritual direction here.  (An aside – one of my great-granddaughters, who is four years old, has dubbed it the “talking room.”  When I asked why, she said because there are chairs in it.  I imagine that is because there is no bed or TV there, but I’m guessing.  This child is an extrovert and always has something to say, constantly.  Her older sister, the introvert said, “Or it could be a reading room.”  Love it. Just in case I repeat this story too often.)

Well, back to the prayer shawl.  The pattern for this shawl is lacy but not hard, especially if I use markers to mark where the pattern changes.  Even so, every once in a while, I notice that within the pattern, I am missing a stitch and I can’t figure out where it went.  This dropped stitch does not cause the knitting to unravel and it is a fairly easy fix to add a stitch back in.  You can’t really see the mistake because of the pattern, but I know it’s there. I would need to unravel and re-knit to make the piece mistake free, so I don’t.

Sooo…, where am I going with this meditation? I’m not sure but it makes me think of God binding together into a whole. Perhaps, it shows how God binds me together when I’ve messed up or when I’m otherwise broken and not the whole person that God plans for me to be.  I’m grateful that he doesn’t unravel me back to the beginning.  I used to think that I would need this if I strayed from the mark at all.

God uses the dropped stitches to form us if we will let God do so.  God uses our mistakes, sins, and misdirections to help form us into the people God wants us to be.  How, I don’t know.  When we look inside ourselves – when I look inside myself, I can see the healed and somewhat healed scars from where stitches were dropped and remade and mended over. Sometimes, the dropped stitch is very near the beginning and, from my point of view, the whole thing needs unraveled to that point and remade.  The hole is too big.  Too painful.  Too buried.  But if I look carefully, I may see a tiny patch there that is growing to look like the perfect stitch as if the hole had never been there. This tiny patch is becoming part off, and forming me into, who I was created to be.

How does God do this?  I have no idea; I just know that God does.  Why? Same answer.  I have learned over the many years that, if we allow it – because many times the stitching hurts – the person we become, that I am becoming, is the person God dreamed me to be all along.

 “The Shepherd laughed, too. ‘I love doing preposterous things,’ he replied.  ‘Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weaknesses into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection.,’” ~ Hinds Feet on High Places

 

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- The desires of my heart

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. ~ Psalm 37:3-5

I read this psalm a few days ago.  Isn’t this great news?  God will give us what we want if we just trust him and do good things.   The rest of the passage tells what those good things we should do are; trust/commit ourselves to God; delight in him and be still before him.  Refrain from anger, forsake wrath, don’t fret over those who prosper in their own way, and don’t worry. The psalm lists many of the things the evil and wicked do, but we are let go of that, trust God, do good, anyway. That is so easy, thanks very much.

But…maybe this psalm has another meaning or can be thought about differently.  We can make such a pharisaical practice of doing good things, then when we don’t get what we want or many of those things for which we ask, we are at the very least disappointed.  We aren’t often all that good, either, because we do get angry when we see the evil prosper. We can’t treat this scripture as a formula.  I’m not fond of formulae because they are most often about getting it right when it is really so all about Grace. The Pharisees had the formula down pat but they forgot about love, about being in a love relationship with God and then loving others. It is about being in love with Jesus and staying in that relationship.  Then, God will put within us that which he dreams for the desires of our heart to be. His dreams and his desires become ours.  And we go from there.

Do I have an example? Well, with a little time I could probably come up with several. Maybe it is my writing. I never wanted to do it, because it requires lots of discipline and some organization. Not my strong suit at all. And what do I have to say anyway. Then maybe teaching for the same reason. But, both have gradually become part of my passion.

Many, many years ago, I wanted many things that would make my life easier and more glamourous. I wanted my children to be happy, healthy and prosperous.  I wanted the same for my husband.  I wanted to be happy, healthy and prosperous, normal desires.  I didn’t get them all.  There was illness, sadness, and brokenness, as well. Then I began to realize that God was there with me in all of the mess.  I started to know that Jesus loves me (loves all of us as if we were the only one.)  Much of what made me sad made God sad as well.  As our relationship grew, my desire became that others would come to know that God was love—that Jesus loves all of us and there is nothing we can do that will change that in any way. I didn’t know how to live with God’s desires at first, so I started doing what was right in front of me. It changed over the years. Little did I know that what I wanted to do – my passion – was God’s desire planted within me for the needs of the world in my small part of it.

So how do we start?  First of all, remember that it’s all about the relationship with Jesus. Then look for what is in front of you that you love to do?  Maybe it’s visiting the sick or lonely, feeding the hungry, finding shelter for the homeless, caring for orphans or…writing or teaching about God’s love.  What is your passion for the world? What is God’s for you to do?

Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Now, if I can only remember this.

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – God Still Wins

Come, people of the Risen King, who delight to bring Him praise;
Come all and tune your hearts to sing to the Morning Star of grace.
From the shifting shadows of the earth we will lift our eyes to Him,
where steady arms of mercy reach to gather children in.
~ Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend

This coming Sunday, November 22, is the Last Sunday after Pentecost. It is also known as Christ the King Sunday, and on this day we celebrate Jesus as King over all. The way the world is today, sometimes though, it hardly seems that he is King, and we wonder about that.

Exactly one week ago today, terrorists in Paris reminded us that evil is still rampantly alive in this world.  We have heard in the news of attacks in other places, too. The world seems truly dark with shootings home and abroad.  Every day or several times a day, we hear of these things. It really looks like Evil is stepping up its game. Terrorists promise fear which can immobilize us if we give into it. Where is God in all of this?  Where is our King?  I intend to ask that someday, but right now the only answer we really have is in the Bible (Matthew 24) when Jesus said this would happen, that there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, nation rising against nation, murder, persecutions, etc., but that is not the end. Yet.  These things are not new. They are repeats.

I’m not going to continue being gloomy about this, because there is nothing that the enemy would like more. So what do we do?  Well, one is that we need to continue to be grateful people.  Thanksgiving is coming this week to help remind us with this.  We are to thank God in all things and circumstances. We have been promised that the King will come again, and that, in a real way, he has already come.  The Kingdom is coming, is here, and not yet here in its fullness.

Come, those whose joy is morning sun, and those weeping through the night;
Come, those who tell of battles won, and those struggling in the fight.
For His perfect love will never change, and His mercies never cease,
But follow us through all our days with the certain hope of peace.

I love the song that I am quoting in this meditation. Actually, it is my meditation for today. It lifts my spirit into the spirit of God so that I remember that we are called to live the Kingdom life, now.  We are to bless and not curse.  We are to pray for friends and for our enemies.  We are to forgive.  When I feel overwhelmed, when I don’t have words to pray, I hold the situation – evil and all – into the light of God.  When I feel my own hate surface, I circle it in my mind and breathe this light into it.  I believe this actually does something.  At least I know it does for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this and it does give me peace. You may have your own way of praying for situations like these.

Come, young and old from every land – men and women of the faith;
Come, those with full or empty hands – find the riches of His grace.
Over all the world, His people sing – shore to shore we hear them call,
The Truth that cries through every age: “Our God is all in all”!

 Advent begins in one more week.  It reminds us that we are a part of the Body of Christ in the world today and that we have Hope; we have a job to do, and Jesus is King! God wins! Amen? Amen.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice! 
One heart, one voice; O Church of Christ, rejoice!

Happy Thanksgiving. Stay Blessed.

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