Lord, I’m tired, worn out and if i’m honest, a little scared. There seems to be so much you are calling me into–it looks like too much for me to handle. But I can’t deny you’ve given it to me. It’s huge and awkward, like an over-sized beach ball, but it’s not heavy. In my quiet moments, I marvel at what you’ve entrusted to me. But today is not a quiet moment. Today I am feeling the chaos of to-do lists, detailed emails, articles to type, jobs to quote, family to attend to. I’m not able to make myself present to you. Would you, in your grace, dear Lord, make yourself present to me? Calm my flighty heart and speak peace to my whirling thoughts. Speak to the little fear, and give me greater love. Let me attend to you as you tend me and embrace your quiet and compassionate presence so that the works of my hands would be strengthened to do your will. Amen.
I leave early, hoping to avoid the tangle of traffic around O’Hare. I don’t, although I rationalize that it could be worse. As the snarls ease, I charge forward in my husband’s Subaru with exuberance, only to have to brake hard at the Elmhurst curve. This accordion-like driving continues onto I-55 until magically the traffic reaches the driving equilibrium of “rural” Illinois. I begin to relax.
I listen to my favorite NPR trifecta of programs: Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, This American Life and Science Friday. Ira Glass is talking about the current patent wars. I feel knowledgeable and urbane as I am driving through the Chicago suburbs. Suddenly, I realize that I am not: we moved to Wisconsin to escape the patent wars, the tumble of quickly irrelevant technology, the sophisticated maze of structured investment products, and expectations of life that have nothing to do with a rhythm of rest and work, nothing to do with connecting to other human beings and God. Though we have chosen to step out of that life, I miss it. I miss its stimulation and the sense of power that comes from knowing something more or different than the next person. This sobers me.
Somewhere beyond Peoria, I get impatient to have the drive completed, to have arrived. As I listen with half an ear to a discussion of summer reading, I shift my body, relax my shoulders, take a deep breath and let it out. I have just switched to vacation driving mode. Enjoy the driving, let the thoughts wander; accept the boredom gracefully. There is nothing that can be done while I drive except to drive.
At some point, I realize I am not cool. I suspect I will not remember this for very long. Both of these things sober me.
I arrive at my hotel room for the night. This is an older hotel; the room is clean but spare. I am disappointed. Even though I made the reservation, I must have subconsciously wanted something more, something luxurious. I remember the last retreat I was on—this room is spacious and coordinated in comparison to that room. I thank God for the space, make my peace and am content.
Lord God, stepping out of the normal pattern of life heightens my awareness of the small movements within me attributable to your grace. Help me to carry that awareness back into my daily pattern, that I may better love, serve and hear you. Amen.
This Christmas, I attended the best Christmas party ever.
It really didn’t look like anything interesting beyond a nice get-together to begin with. We were invited to our friends’ home, Dan & Karen. Karen loves to host, Dan loves to cook so they’re a formidable combination. At first, John & I thought the party would be small; us, Dan & Karen, maybe their kids, and the Olsens, a family of 7. (Yes, that passes for a small party at our church.) We found out the day before Christmas eve that we’d also be joined by Dan’s sister, her daughter & boyfriend, and another couple from our church. We would also have a white elephant gift exchange. Our idea of a big party is 8 people, so this was definitely becoming a stretch for us. To add some spice, a winter storm was on its way and that meant John & I would need to leave to early to visit my family, on Christmas day. We were becoming stressed and apprehensive.
After spending much of Christmas Eve preparing for our trip, we slipped off to celebrate Christmas Eve at Light of Christ. What a sweet service! Expecting a handful of families, we were blessed with many visitors! The Kemper Center Chapel was full of candlelight as we sang “Silent Night.” Fr. Eirik delivered a children’s sermon, then corresponding sermon for adults. Communion was wonderful, and I prayed with the hurting. My heart was open to the newborn Christ, the spirit of Christmas.
As we apprehensively stumbled into Dan & Karen’s home, both John & I warmed to the party. There was wine and cheese and excellent conversation. There wasn’t one person I didn’t talk to, including Kathy’s daughter and boyfriend, who I didn’t know at all. There was a spirit of “goodwill” coursing through the room that we were ministering to each other along with peace and (dare I say it) happiness! When we sat down to eat, there was plenty of delicious food–a beef tenderloin with mushrooms and onions, potatoes, brussel sprouts (which I love), fruit salad. We talked and shared stories about our families and laughed ourselves silly. Even the white elephant gift exchange–which I’ve usually experienced as long and tortuous–was short and fun. We left feeling full of Christmas cheer and full of good things.
As I’ve reflected on this party, I’ve been amazed at the presence of Christ despite the lack of overt discussion about him. I can picture Jesus being there, engaging in small talk, laughing at jokes, digging into Dan’s food with gusto, engaging the kids and making sure Kathy’s daughter & boyfriend felt welcome. In fact, this might have been one of those magical, heaven meets earth moments where we got it right as fallen human beings–the Spirit was so present within us, and we ministered it so effectively to each other that maybe Jesus didn’t need to be anything more than be another human being enjoying a great party.
What a gift to him and to us!
Merry Christmas, everyone.
As a spiritual director, I spend a lot of time thinking about wisdom. Somtimes I’m asked “How will I know something is of God?” Sometimes I’m sitting with someone in the throes of making a difficult descision where wisdom seems out of reach and the temptation is to make a decision just for the sake of “getting things settled.” When you know you’re desperate for relief, how will you know if you’ve made a good decision?
Our epistle reading on Sunday was from James 3–I don’t think I’ve ever read it from this translation before. Two things struck me about this description of wisdom: first, this descripton reads a bit like a list of the fruits of the Spirit. Secondly, this description of wisdom parallels wisdom in the book of Proverbs, especially Proverbs 8, where wisdom is personified as a woman.
My own perception of wisdom is almost equal to “facts.” Facts are true statements; they are what they are, nothing more, nothing less. You can build them to make arguements, persuasions or string them together to make boundaries. But you would never think of a fact as a person. A robot maybe, but not a living thing.
James’ Wisdom sounds like a living being, a person. Just reading this one sentence from James, you can imagine hanging around Wisdom and finding her a remarkably calming person. Wisdom will talk you off the ledge or out of the tree. You can talk to Wisdom, reason with Wisdom and Wisdom will always be gracious and peacable to you. And what about talking to someone who is utterly sincere? That’s different, isn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like a description of someone you’d love to get acquainted with?
If you’re trying to understand the nature of wisdom, it is worthwhile to do a word study on it throughout the entire Bible. But for today, I just want to point out the living nature of wisdom. If you are trying to make a decision and there seems to be no life it it, either you are not ready to make the decision or there is no wisdom in it. If you are contemplating a decision that, as you sit with it, it fills you with peace, is open to reason and appears to be life-giving, that is the way of wisdom.
It is always a good idea to get to know Wisdom before your hour of need so that you can recognize her when she comes. Make a friend of Wisdom.
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1-7, ESV
Bless Yahweh, my soul, from the depths of my being, his holy name; bless Yahweh, my soul, never forget his acts of kindness. He forgives all your offenses, cures all your diseases, he redeems your life from the abyss, crowns you with faithful love and tenderness; he contents you with good things all your life, renews your youth like an eagle’s. –Psalm 103:1-5
My concept of contentment comes from a form of Christianity that sets itself up in opposition to the world. Contentment, my old schooling says, is a tool of the enemy used to lull us into complacency, to keep us from acting on the things God calls us to.
This Psalm states “[Yahweh] contents you with good things all your life….” It’s a radical reminder: God gives us all good things and he wants us to find contentment in them. This is not a contentment linked to complacency, but rather with peace and a larger sense of our place in God’s plan, and ultimately leads us into renewal of life.
I personally do not expect life to be easy, but the good things in life give us a contentment that allows us to rest in the pure goodness of God; that good rest is surely another way for him to work out our salvation within us.
Lord, let me see the good things you give me and be content, resting in your goodness and loving kindness. Amen.
Right now I am sitting in a light-filled room, sunlight pouring in through a skylight and warming my legs. Despite the location of this room–a doctor’s office–the light is working its magic on me, calming me, warming me, relaxing me, filling me with peace.*
Recently I’ve been personally aware of light as a description or indication of God’s presence. This spring as I’ve taken walks with Roxie, I’ve been very aware of how the sun hitting my skin and as it has warmed I’ve felt warmed by God’s presence. Or gardening, the heat on my back, watering the herb bed, watching the growth of my plants reaching for the sun, feeling completely immersed in the present, in unity with nature and God. And how often have you sat in a worship service in a direct beam of sunlight and felt God’s presence more strongly because of it?
In prayer light can be an important sign to us. Insight or healing can come with a sense of being surrounded by light, having our situation illuminated by a direct source of light or by a light that seems to be everywhere all at once. We talk about the words of scripture “burning” within us; when monks of old used to copy scripture, the decorated it in ornate ways and this was called illumination. And think about how little light it actually takes to illuminate a dark place.
If you find yourself naturally sensitive to light, consider how you might allow it to remind you of the presence of God.
Lord, be my light today. Let the illumination, the warmth, the heat all remind me of different aspects of who you are. Let me be a beacon of your light in this world, illuminated by your presence. Amen.
* OK, I cop. I started this post last week.
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
“48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” –From Luke 24.
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”–From John 20.
All right. How many of you have fallen off your devotional wagon since Easter? Show of hands, please. Ah, I figured I wasn’t the only one. The drama of Jesus’ Passion can be exhausting to walk through. Imagine what the disciples went through! Forget drama, enter trauma. It is a lot easier to believe in the Resurrection of Christ when you know the whole story. The disciples were stuck because of what they had seen. The evidence of their eyes overwhelmed Christ’s words to them. After Jesus’ death and burial, they huddled together to comfort each other, but also because they were afraid–they figured it was only a matter of time before the Jewish leaders would come looking for them to kill them.
Into this setting of fear and despair steps Jesus, greets them all with “Peace!” Notice the time it takes them to actually believe that it is truly Jesus, in the flesh, alive, human, resurrected–he had to go so far as to ask for food and eat it in front of them for them to truly believe! In Jesus’ presence, their despair turns to joy, their trauma is redeemed. The hoops Jesus has to jump through to make them recognize it is truly him give us a greater sympathy with Thomas who has not seen and does not believe. A week later, Jesus appears to all of them again, this time with Thomas present. Thomas sees and believes.
Did you notice the instruction Jesus gives the disciples? To stay in Jerusalem until power comes. Why do you suppose he doesn’t immediately send them out? I wonder if it was in recognition of their humanity, that they needed time to reconcile what they saw–death and resurrection–as one event, not as an end, but as a beginning. To realize for themselves what it meant that Jesus was alive and not dead, to process what it meant that his kingdom was heavenly rather than earthly. After huddling in disappointment, did they huddle again in joy to wonder what was coming next?
Lord, let my Easter exhaustion turn me to you; speak “peace” to my muddled soul and let me find joy and wonder as I contemplate your Resurrection and what it means for the whole world. Amen.