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 – 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 – Birthday Reflections

“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble… A person’s days are determined;     you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” – Job 14:1, 5

Birthday Reflections

I’ve tried not to think about this day for a while.  Age is just a number they say.  But it is a real number. If I don’t say it aloud, maybe it isn’t so. A young delivery man called me “Miss”.  Maybe he needs glasses or maybe he’s from the south.  Since this is a milestone birthday, it is a good time to stop and evaluate. To reflect. To discern.  At this time of life, am I doing those things God desires for me to do? You know – things done and left undone. Is it time to let some things go? If so, which things.  What brings me life?  What does not?

I did not write a meditation last week because I was leaving for the Daughters of the King Retreat.  The retreat is usually a working retreat for me, and although wonderful and fun filled, I didn’t have the time or the space to reflect on these questions. I will probably need to go away for a few days to have that without distractions.

A few old age jokes come to mind.  I might as well laugh.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ― Att. Mark Twain

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” ― Ellen DeGeneres (Love this.)

“When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick.” ― George Burns

“When I was born, rocks were still soft.” – My husband

And then, though it is not a joke, this quote from Parker Palmer, “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” So, there it is. Reflection time calling.

God spoke to me in many ways this week.  A birthday week, especially when it’s a mile stone birthday, is a good time to make a sacramental confession.  Confession is healing to the soul and I do that here if my confessor comes. This year she did and I heard the words, “You are forgiven.”  She gave me a sort of penance.  First, she said, “Out of great pain comes great love. You embody this.”   I know it is true – that from brokenness comes the gift of love – but I don’t always see it in me.  Then she said to look for happy things to do, because she thinks I am depressed.  Really?? I wonder what gave her that idea.  She reads my writings, maybe that’s it.  Or maybe it was the tears. What kind of penance is that, anyway?

Happy things. I think I’ve forgotten how to do happy things.  Recently, there has been too many disappointments, too much pain, too much sadness, etc. It wears me out.  I already had a lighter feeling, and I started to pay attention.  God provided some moments.

One woman said that if I lived closer, she would recruit me for her singing group.  I don’t and I’m not sure how much longer I will be able to sing, anyway, but that was fun and encouraging.

One woman said she liked my shoes and they look like dancing shoes. They do.  I like them, too.

Our group stopped for lunch on the way home.  While waiting for the food, I went to the restroom.  The music that was being played, I think, was by Neil Diamond.  I have no idea now what song it was but It made me happy.  Maybe, I was dancing on the way back to the table, I don’t know, but my eye caught the eye of a young man sitting at a table.  He was about 21, I guess, because he was drinking a beer with his meal.  I doubt he was much older and he was singing the same song under his breath.  As our eyes met, he smiled and nodded his head.  I gave him thumbs up.  A strange connection happened as we responded to the song.  It was spontaneous and delightful.

My birthday week is over, but I still need to take time for discernment and reflection.  I will try to pay attention to happy things and seek happy things to do. Are the times of darkness and pain worth it?  Yes. They are, but only if I look for the gifts of love and growth that come from them.

In the beginning O God you shaped my soul and set its weave.

You formed my body and gave it breath.

Renew me this day in the image of your love.

O great God, grant me your light.

O great God, grant me your grace.

O great God, grant me your joy this day.

And let me be made pure in the well of your health.

~ Celtic Prayers from Iona – J. Phillip Newell

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION -Lent about Love?

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love…My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:9, 10, 12-14

This past week, a thought popped into my head that Lent is the most love filled season of the whole Christian year. I’ve been considering this and I believe it might be true.

When I first became an Episcopalian in the mid-sixties, I loved all things liturgical and I still do.  I loved Lent.  I didn’t eat meat for 40 days, and for years, I observed a fairly strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I believe this did my spiritual life some good, even though I did it because it was expected and I loved the ritual.  I came to realize that Lent wasn’t helping me get rid of what I called my “worm theology”.  I thought being dust meant that I was bad, as low as the worms wiggling around in the dirt. The Ash Wednesday service tells us, “Remember [O human], that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Somehow, I got the wrong idea about that.  I didn’t know that Lent was supposed to help change my life, not only for 40 days not counting Sundays, but for the days after Easter, as well. So, I still love Lent, but…

But I’ve been thinking (hmm…maybe I should give that up for Lent.), what if Lent is all about Love.  What if it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor.  What if it’s about … but wait!!  Isn’t Lent about repentance and sacrifice because Jesus gave up his life for us in a horrible way?  Isn’t it always about this?  Yes, but what does that mean? This – to repent means to turn around.  It means to return to the way of Jesus in this case.  Sacrifice means to consecrate or to make holy – ourselves in this case. Sacrifice means to give up our rights to our holy selves for the love of others because Jesus did.

There is nothing wrong with giving up chocolate or coffee or dessert, or whatever else we choose for Lent. I, for one, am going to return to eating in a healthier manner hoping that it will help me feel better. I hope Lent will be a motivator. Honoring God by taking care of our bodies is a holy spiritual exercise.  However, giving up a single food item stopped working as a Lenten discipline for me several years past.  I realized that it wasn’t making me a better person who was becoming more like Jesus.    There is nothing wrong about doing so if we remember what Lent is about and get the order strait – “Love God, love your neighbor, lay down your life for your friends.”

What would our Lenten disciplines be if we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice was, and is, part of a great love story? How would we love God?  How would we love our friends? How would we love our neighbor? How would we love even our enemies?  Love lays down its life for friends, neighbors, and enemies. How would we use our precious time? Would we be willing to give up some of it for the purposes of God? Would we make that our spiritual exercise? “Will I,” is the real question.

What Lenten discipline will help? The very first thing “I will” by giving up my time is to turn and return to the arms of my Lover who waits, who aches to spend alone time with me/with us. We are created for this. God is lonely for me when I’m not there.  I’m lonely, too.  If this is my priority, if I love God first, if I pay attention to God first, If I spend time with him just being together first, then I will begin to know how it is that I, personally, am called to lay down my life in love for my friends, my neighbors, and even my enemies whom God already loves, by the way.

Perhaps Lent is all about love…

“Come! Spirit of Love! Penetrate and transform us by the action of Your purifying life. May Your constant, brooding love bring forth in us more love and all the graces and works of love. Give us grace to remain still under its action and may that humble stillness be our prayer. Amen.” ~ Evelyn Underhill

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – And there was Light

These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord And these are the days of Your servant Moses righteousness being restored These are the days of great trials of famine and darkness and sword. Still we are the voice in the desert crying, Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Behold He comes, riding on the clouds shining like the sun at the trumpet’s call. Lift your voice, year of Jubilee out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes. ~ Days of Elijah, att. Robin Mark

Here we are at the end of the Epiphany Season, Ash Wednesday being this week.  Have you decided what you are going to do for spiritual practices during Lent – giving up something, taking on something, both?

Two things caught my attention today – The Gospel reading for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, coming up; and today God said to me, “Let there be light” straight out of Genesis 1.  What do these have to do with Lent? I do not know.

The Gospel: From Matthew 17:1-9 – Jesus takes three of his closest friends, Peter, James, and John with him on a hike up the mountain.  While they were standing atop, Jesus’ face changes and shines like the sun and his clothes become as white as the light. Suddenly – it’s always suddenly, isn’t it – Moses and Elijah appear and have a conversation with Jesus. Peter is so excited that he wants to build dwellings for Jesus, for Moses and for Elijah.  But then a bright cloud surrounds the three and a voice from that cloud declares that Jesus is his Son and the disciples (we) need to listen to him. This terrified the disciples the Bible says. You think?! But Jesus touches them and says, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” They look up and Elijah and Moses are gone. Then Jesus says a very strange thing. He says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Whiplash!  What?

“Get up and don’t be afraid.” Why does this story hold my attention so much this week?  Why does the above song by Robin Mark do the same? Especially here at the almost beginning of Lent. Why did God say to me this morning, “Let there be light?” Isn’t Lent about darkness, repentance, sacrifice, and maybe some groveling?  And isn’t it about Ashes?  Those that will be marked on our heads on Ash Wednesday with the spoken words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return?” Yes.  Well maybe Lent is not about the groveling, but listen to the words of the service this Wednesday.  If you can’t attend, read the words from The Book of Common Prayer beginning on Page 265.

Thoughts:  Lent is mostly about turning around which is what repentance means.  The Ash Wednesday service reminds me that I am not God.  When God said, “Let there be light”, I remember that in the beginning, God intended and created light, which is probably the same thing, and we were to live in that light in a constant relationship of love with him. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5 tells us.  Light shows us when we have gone off course – when we have decided to take our lives into our own hands rather than follow God’s plan for us.  Lent gives us a time to rethink and repent of our decisions to do our own thing. Light reveals to us those things that we do that lead us away from God instead of toward him in a relationship of Love.  The light of Jesus helps us stay on the path and is what we are given to share with others.

Question: What Lenten practices will help me to notice when I do my own thing and help me to return to all that God wants for me and for others? What will help you?

Lord God of signs and wonders, when sin has silenced our song, sing about the good you still see in us. Great Son, friend of all who stray, when shame has broken our best, create a new and living way for us. Wild Spirit winged with healing power, when lies destroy our standing, remind us that you share this road with us.

Therefore, we’ll run, stagger, and bow, then kneel, In penitence because you care for us. Amen – Russ Parker, Prayer Poems for the Journey

 

 

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Where did you meet God today?

“I believe there is within us this image of God…There is something deep within us, in everybody, that gets distorted and confused and corrupted by what happens to us. But it is there as a source of insight and healing and strength.  ~ Frederick Buechner

I am reading the book, Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes, by J. Brent Bill. Brent is a Quaker and my new best friend for the moment.  He knows a lot about the Inner Light. In the introduction, he writes, “Even though light is all around us, we often don’t notice it and the difference it can make in our souls.  That’s where an old Quaker saying, “Mind the Light”, offers help.”

I love this book. It would take several meditations to even begin to offer a meditation on what he writes in it, but one of his spiritual exercises really grabbed me. It is from the chapter titled, “The Light Without: Seeing Others.” Brent writes about a woman, attributing the story to Dorothy Bass, who asks each night while tucking her children into bed, “Where did you meet God today?” I was pondering this question the day of the Vestry meeting.  The meditation that night was…you guessed it…seeing the light of God in others. Hmm…perhaps, God is saying something to me.

As I consider this Light, I think about what the Bible says:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” ~ John 1:1-5

God is Light. Since God created humans in his Image, then somewhere within us that Light still resides.  But, as Frederick Buechner says in the opening quote, “that image gets distorted and confused and corrupted by what happens to us.”  Perhaps, though, a glimmer might still be there, somewhere.

Well, what about “truly evil” people?  Is the light of Christ in them? You might ask.  I might ask, too. The Light of Christ is in everyone.  Wouldn’t it have to be?  If it wasn’t, we would….well that will need to be another meditation or teaching.  There is no room to get into that in this meditation, and I’m not sure that I am qualified to answer it, anyway. I will say that perhaps the Light is so suppressed that it can’t get out of a person or even be acknowledged.  I really don’t know, but I will consider that possibility.  However, we could pray for a crack to open in them for that possibility. Maybe it could be reinforced by those people they meet along the road, which is even more reason for us to pray that the light of Jesus will shine in us.

“Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” ~  John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

Each night as we do our examination of consciousness, along with naming those things for which we are grateful this day and offering our thanks, it might be good for our spiritual lives to consider the question, “Where did I meet God today?”  Then, perhaps, if we are up for it, “Did my light shine bright enough that someone might have met God in me?

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their heart to know the source of it. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Grace and Peace, Donna

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – “Uncle!”

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”—Psalm 10:17

MY MORNING PRAYER

GOD!  Oops, I mean, Dear God.  I cry, “UNCLE!”  Oh, wait, that’s an old timey expression.  In case you don’t remember it (ha, ha, ha – that’s sarcasm), I say, “ENOUGH!! I’ve had enough.  Really!  I’m tired. Really tired.  I’m broken.  I’m having those chasing nightmares which also means I’m running. There is too much to pray for.  Now France. I am a broken mess.  I’ve. Had. Enough.

God, why are you smiling?  I’m serious.

“Because I love you, my little one.”

But the world is a broken mess, too.  Have you seen what has been happening?  Hate. Fear. Anger. Violence.  Etc. When I ask you to fix things, you keep telling me to fix things.  That it’s my job.  I’m telling you I can’t. I’m too small. I have no energy. I want a miracle.  I want you to intervene.  Period.

You’re smiling again.

“Yes, because I love you my broken little mess.”

“Now, be still.  I’m here.  Look at me and listen. Only here with me will you have peace.  Only in my arms will the world have peace. And forgiveness.  And love. And joy. So consider this, what do you believe would happen if all who prayed, even the broken messes, prayed for peace in the world? Every day?Think about this. Remember Abraham? In Genesis 18? Do you remember that he asked me to save Sodom and Gomorrah if he found 50 righteous people?  Then he got worried about finding that many and asked for 45 righteous people instead. Do you remember that he gave up bargaining when he got to ten people? After that he quit asking me and went home.  Did he think it was impossible? What if he had asked for one righteous person? Ponder that for a minute. Your prayers, as well as the collective prayers of all the others who pray, is part of what I mean when I tell you to fix things. I use those. Prayer changes things. Don’t despair.”

That reminds me of what Thomas Merton said.  He said, “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” I guess I want it the way I want it to be. Right??

“Hang in there with me.  Be still.  Be at peace. Ok?”

Ok. Thanks for listening, God.

“Now, why are you smiling?”

Because I love you, too, my great, big, God. I love you, too.

“I bring not only my own weariness but the tiredness of people who struggle this night [and day].  I bring not only my own pain but the sufferings of those who cry out. Hear my soul’s prayers for rest, O God, hear my heart’s plea for healing.” ~ J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction

For the peace of the whole world we pray, “Lord, have mercy.”