Tag Archive | God

Gems

pincushion protea

a gem of a flower

pincushion protea

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a gem of a thought

“When devout Christians believe that only Christians of a particular doctrinal stripe have access to God, that, for example, God hears their prayers only, they stand in cosmic immodesty.  The Christian Bible more than once makes the point that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the mind of God is vastly different from our own minds.  Thus, when Christians categorically state that Jews, or Muslims, or believers in other faith systems are outside the provisions of God, they utter arrogant nonsense.  A respectful agnosticism is called for when often there is offered in its place a self-interested certainty.  If God is the God of all, and not just a tribal deity, then God has made provision, not necessarily known to us, for the healing and care of all his creation, and not simply our little part of it.”

Peter Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus

Overcast on Ash Wednesday

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Bare branches mere bones of

sorrow etching crosses black and

bleak against a heaven that has

forgotten how to smile.

*

Sky knits a seamless shroud;

the air is thick and still with

heaven’s grief for all the sadness of a

world of stitches dropped and patterns

gone awry; silence in my sagging pines.

*

Has God forgotten us? misplaced his

once delight in wind that tiptoes

through my chimes? in mischievous

white clouds that spill their joy into my trees?

*

My only answer is a Presence

brooding over all the tatters of this

wilted earth, pulling me to Silence

that has held within its womb

all that is, from dawn of time until this

solemn Day of Ash; bare-branched

crosses stretching high into the sky;

smudge of ashes burning on my brow;

enough; the Presence tender holds my

dust, rocks me in the empty trees.

Pentecost on My Deck

Pentecost

I was saddened not to be able to be in church to celebrate Pentecost a few weeks ago.  But as it was a warm day, I decided to spend some quiet time on my deck, simply looking, listening, and being open to all the wonders of my back yard.  What I experienced was truly a gift. 

***

Our resident mocking-bird trills her

song in a myriad of tongues—in sparrow,

wren, in chickadee and finch; red maple

sways in gentle breeze, a-blush with crimson

leaves of fire, prophesying summer sun

and raindrops dancing down from stars

that will forever sing their gladness in

the darkest of dark nights.

*

Two sparrows flit around their nest,

sheltering, feeding their tiny young,

all unaware of God’s heart beating,

God’s breath stirring in those fragile

fresh-born birds, mouths open wide

to take in all they can of life’s

abundant grace.

*

And yes, I say, yes, Pentecost

is here.  Right here.  Spirit whispering

in those flaming leaves, Spirit twittering

in the tongues of birds, Spirit caressing

tiny lives, even my own, as I sit lost

in wonder at this tender, holy

kiss of God.

Un-sheltered: A Lenten Meditation

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          The little sparrow peeks out the tiny door of our new bright blue birdhouse, and my heart skips half-a-beat. I find myself captivated by his wee head happily framed by his new-found shelter. How does such a tiny warm-blooded being, I wonder, survive in the frigid winds this winter has brought us? I do some checking, and I learn that he has a much higher metabolism rate and a higher body temperature than we humans have. That he probably grew extra feathers last fall, feathers coated with an oil that provides insulation and water-proofing. That when he fluffs his feathers, he creates air pockets that give him even better insulation. All of this helps, I’m sure, but still I’m happy that this little one has found some extra shelter in our little birdhouse.

          So many others I’ve seen lately in the news have not found the shelter they so desperately long for and need. There’s the shoeless orphan boy standing in the frigid snows of North Korea. The Syrian father brooming snow off the tent that serves as a temporary shelter for his refugee family. The aged Ukrainian man carrying a bucket of coal through the snow to try to keep his family warm while war rages through the streets of his town.

          All so defenseless in these Lenten days of arctic cold. I say a prayer for that North Korean orphan, for that Syrian father, for that aged Ukrainian gentleman. I say a prayer for greater justice and peace in our troubled world, and for all who lack shelter in these bitter cold late winter days.

          I look again at my sparrow’s tiny face. At the cold trees and the snow-covered ground. And I give thanks that the One to whom I pray is One who cares about shelter for all creatures. Cares enough that he un-sheltered himself and came to earth for us and for our salvation. Lived among us and taught us to care for each other.  Fed the hungry and healed the sick, all the while having no shelter for himself, nowhere to lay his head. I give thanks that he un-sheltered himself yet further on the cross, stretching out his arms, the very Wings of God, to shelter every tiny life through all of time, through all eternity.

          Mystery beyond comprehension.

Food for Thought from Julian of Norwich

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As we approach All Saints Day, I want to pass along some wisdom from Julian of Norwich, an anchoress* who lived in 14th century England. Julian is most known for these powerful words of assurance that have echoed through the centuries:

 

All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

 

Here are some further thoughts from this saint (not officially canonized, but nonetheless a saint), taken from her only known writing, Showings:

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and I thought: What can this be? And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.”

“And this is what [God] means when [God] says: Every kind of thing will be well. For [God] wants us to know that the smallest thing will not be forgotten.”

***

*An anchoress was a woman who withdrew herself from the world for a life of prayer and meditation. An anchoress lived in an enclosure that was attached to a church. She received the sacrament through a window to the church, and parishioners could ask for her help and prayers through another window that opened to the world.

Darkness, Dissonance, and Deliverance

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Reflections on Psalm 34

(1)I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (2)My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. (3)O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. (4)I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (5)Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. (6)This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. (7)The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. (8)O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. (9)O fear the Lord, you his holy ones; for those who fear him have no want. (10)The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (11)Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (12)Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? (13)Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. (14)Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (15)The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. (16)The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (17)When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. (18)The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. (19)Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. (20)He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken. (21)Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (22)The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

***

I usually begin my mornings with a Psalm. Quiet. Restful. Reassuring me of the intimate care of a God who is my Shepherd. Reminding me of God’s care for the needy as well as for me. Reminding me as well of God’s concern for justice among the nations. Praising this God who creates and sustains all that is and all that ever has been. Music for my soul.

Until I come to Psalm 34. Here the music becomes dissonant. Jarring, in fact, as I read of a God who rescues from every trouble (see bold verses above). From every trouble? Then, where, I wonder, where is that rescue for so many who long for God’s rescue?

I live with a chronic illness. I have a number of friends who are coping with chronic illnesses, a number of friends who are caring for a spouse or child with a chronic illness. I also read the morning paper, listen to the evening news, and see and hear the woes of the world piling one on top of the other. The dark side of life. All of us have experienced this to some degree. All of us have known something of the sometime absence and silence of God.

So Psalm 34’s claim of God’s “always-rescue” has been a problem for me. It’s an exuberant psalm, apparently written by King David after he had been delivered from the clutches of a foreign king. And I can understand the keenness of his joy. I, too, have had moments—haven’t we all?—moments of sensing God’s strong, delivering hand in our lives. But David’s promises in this psalm seem to over-reach. Spilling out their blissful pledges of God’s deliverance from every trouble, they seem to describe a world quite alien to the real world of illness and pain and evil writ so large across our lives.

Or do they? I’ve spent a good bit of time puzzling through this psalm, ranting at times, more quietly listening at other times. One thing has become very clear to me. The God of Psalm 34 is not a distant God, but rather a God who is deeply involved in all the ups and downs of our lives. A God with eyes and ears focused on our everyday lives. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, a God who is “present in, participating in, and attentive to the darkness, weakness, and displacement of life” (from The Message of the Psalms). I like the way folk musician Iris DeMent sings of this God as a God who reaches down, gets right down there on the ground to touch our pain.

This Presence is surely a gift, but the troubles remain. So instead of singing so exultantly about God’s deliverance, why doesn’t the psalmist simply state what we all know—sometimes this ever-present God’s delivers; sometimes not. At least not in the way in which we would like to experience God’s deliverance. We (at least I!) would like for God to wave a magic wand and make our troubles presto-vanish in the wind. We (I!) do not like darkness.

But I’m coming to realize that maybe God’s deliverance is always real, but real in ways only apparent if we are humbly learning what David calls “the fear of the Lord” (v. 11), learning to live into an acceptance of the mystery of who God is and of who we are. Certainly, if the God who delivered David is truly there with us in the darkness, “near to the brokenhearted” (v. 18), eyes seeing us, ears hearing us (v. 15), that in itself is a consolation and an opening to deliverance. Realizing deep within our souls that we are not alone, not unseen, not unnoticed, but are accompanied by a divine Presence:

  • delivers us from the isolation that so often accompanies the darknesses of life,
  • delivers us from self-pity,
  • delivers and enables us to find a mindful acceptance of the disruptions of our lives,
  • delivers and opens us up to new resources, new inner strengths,
  • delivers us even to a new wonder at the Mystery in which we live and move and have our being.

In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of Jacques Lusseyran, who was blinded while still a young boy. He never was “delivered” from the blindness of his physical eyes, but Lusseyran learned to “see” a new light in his soul; learned as well to hear amazing things with his ears and developed a deep sensitivity to everything he touched or sensed around him. Certainly his life was limited by his blindness, but that very blindness also opened up his life, and I do believe that Lusseyran, like so many who have been “delivered” in unexpected ways, would gladly sing Psalm 34 and rejoice in God’s ever-present deliverance.

I pray that I may learn to do the same.