December 26, 2010

One who did not say Yes to God

Not everyone who heard the news of the birth of Messiah were overjoyed. In the liturgical calendar of the church, I am always brought up short by the remembrance of St. Stephen on the day after Christmas and then on Dec. 28, the Feast of Holy Innocents commemorating Herod's response to the birth of Jesus. He could have said 'yes' to God like Mary and Joseph and Zechariah did, but he did not.

Those in power felt threatened by the birth of the Christ, and none more so than Herod the Great. He was the ruler of Judea, by caveat of the Emperor, and feared anything or anyone who ruffled that status quo. Even his own family was not exempt from his deadly rages. Imagine how this mad man felt when he heard the wise men announce a ‘King is born’. (Matthew 2:1-8) He sent spies to follow them and When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’” (Matthew 2:16-18)

The quotation is from Jeremiah 31:15-17. We rarely hear the rest of the citation which contains a promise and hope. "Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the LORD: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the LORD: your children shall come back to their own country.”

This was probably small comfort to the parents in Bethlehem, mourning the loss of their toddlers, but it can remind us that God does not ignore any grief. Michael Card’s song Fellow Prisoners reminds us
“…chains can’t bind the hopefulness.
And the bars can’t block the means of grace.
And the distance that might separate,
Cannot defeat the prayers…
So fellow prisoners, remember,
That we may know captivity.
But there’s a purpose in the Calling,
For it is the Lord who sets the prisoners free.”

As with all the songs on his album Soul Anchor, Card uses citations from Hebrews. This one is based on Hebrews 10:34 and 13:3 which call us to “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” (Hebrews 13:3) because we possess “something better and more lasting.” (Hebrews 10:34)

The week after Christmas can feel like a let-down, after all the build up and excitement leading up to the holiday. I suggest you find a ministry to pray for or support in some way for the coming year. It may have to do with prisoners, like the Wings Ministry or Kairos. It may be adopting a service man or family or supporting a local food pantry. It could be something personally near your heart. We tend to remember the less fortunate around Christmas, but then they are safely tucked away for a year. The needs don’t end. We can fight evil, like Herod’s, by living out God’s love. As Card says, “bars can’t block the means of grace and the distance that might separate, cannot defeat the prayers.” Jeremiah tells us "there is a reward for your work, says the LORD." Nothing done in response to the love of God is unfruitful.

Next week we’ll look at one last group of people who followed the call of God on their lives—the Magi.

December 25, 2010

Christmas Day 2010

Come Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord! 
I hope your Christmas Day is filled with blessings of family and friends. Our family had the special joy this year of having our newest grandchild be 'Jesus' in the Pageant at church. Her brother had the part 4 years ago when he was the correct age, so it's rather a family tradition. This year he was an angel. in this photo from the rehearsal, he's on the left, beside the donkey and his sister (the star of the show) is in Mary's lap.

Michael Card’s song Celebrate the Child reminds me of Who this Babe in a manger is.

Celebrate the Child who is the Light
Now the darkness is over
No more wandering in the night
Celebrate the Child who is the Light

You know this is no fable
Godhead and manhood became one
We see He's more than able
And so we live to God the Son

First born of creation
Lamb and Lion, God and Man
The Author of Salvation
Almighty rapped in swaddling bands

Enjoy this version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus-one of the youtube versions filmed in Macy’s. I think it reminds us of the presence of God’s glory everywhere!

For a smile, check out this digital rendition of the Nativity Story (what might have happened if the Magi and Joseph had computers).

December 19, 2010

Saying Yes to God with the Shepherds

Christmas is almost here. The commercials for the product you ‘have to’ get are increasing. Those in church work are feeling a bit stressed with the last minute production of bulletins and pageants and sermon preparation. We are all busily wrapping gifts and hoping we got what everyone wanted. Where in all the rushing around is the ‘reason for the season’? Where is the ‘desire of nations,’ spoken of by the prophet Haggai?

The prophet is called to speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest, and to the ‘remnant of the people’ exiled in Babylon under Darius (ca 500BC) He says, “Be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” (Haggai 2:4-7)

Georg Fredric Handel uses this citation in his well known work Messiah. It is one of the more thrilling parts of the oratorio, I think. Nearly everyone knows the Hallelujah Chorus, but not everyone has had a chance to hear other parts of the massive work which uses Bible citations set to music to tell the entire salvation story.

Haggai is reminding the Jews in exile that God is with them and will come among them with power. In the midst of our Christmas preparations, it is easy to forget that the Lord does indeed come, but not necessarily as we expect. Unlike the vision Haggai creates of the shaking of earth and nations, God is in a manger, visited by some of the lowest members of society-the shepherds.

Even though they served a necessary and important function, shepherds were considered uncouth and smelly and not fit for ‘polite society’. However, it is these men on the fringe who receive the message from God. Like Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph they were greeted by an angel,Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-20)

Like Mary, the shepherds were receptive to the news of the Savior’s birth. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” Because they were willing to hear and believe, the shepherds were witness to the miracle of God who stoops to enter the lowest of homes and hearts.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Paul reminds his fellow Jews that “Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’…Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.” (Hebrews 3:1-6)

Like the Shepherds, we are called to ‘hold firm’ the confidence, pride and hope of our calling as children of God. Michael Card calls this our Soul Anchor:
“So hold fast, draw near
It’s a soul anchor
Hold onto the hope…
Hold onto your courage
Before we call he answers us with hope”

"Before we call, he answers us with hope" says Card. The humble shepherds knew that hope. They were minding their flocks, when the most glorious hope of all interrupted their lives with the opportunity to say Yes. They abandoned their livelihood and after seeing the Child, they "they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them." All were amazed, says scripture, but not all returned with the shepherds who came back to the stable, "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Now, 2000 years later, we sometimes lose sight of the One who made the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

What can we do to rediscover the surprise and joy that the Shepherds must have experienced when angels filled the sky and proclaimed that Messiah was born? There are a few days left in the season of Advent, perhaps one thing we can do is return to our Advent box. Look at the images of God we put in along with the fears, scars and changed dreams you put in the box. This week add your hopes and prayers—hopes for yourself, your family, your friends, the world, etc.

Behold, the Desire of Nations has come. He is our Soul Anchor and all things are possible in Him. We have “a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” (Hebrews 6:19) How does that change our life? How will that change your life? I hope you will find time in these last few days before Christmas to take time to consider the Desire of Nations and how that His coming offers amazing hope.
On Sunday, we'll look at someone who said 'NO' to God's call.

December 12, 2010

Saying Yes to God with Joseph

Today’s the Third Sunday of Advent. It doesn’t seem possible that we are more than half way through Advent. On the Third Sunday many people light the pink candle in their Advent wreath in honor of Rose Sunday. It is also called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word for Rejoice used at the beginning of the service.

The Third Sunday reminds us that we are moving closer to the joyful birth we are anticipating. It is a good day to look at a central, yet often forgotten figure in the Nativity story. Joseph of Nazareth is an important and integral part of the whole saga. Without his acceptance of God’s call, the story would have been very different.

His story is found in Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph and Mary are betrothed, which by Jewish law was the same as being married, except the couple did not live together. If either party died, the remaining partner would be considered a widow or widower with the rights of a surviving spouse. Likewise, if the man or woman was unfaithful, the punishment was the same as if they were living as man and wife. This could mean stoning for adultery.

Joseph is confronted with a choice when Mary tells him she is pregnant. “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly,” says  scripture. In my book Mary, My Love, Joseph struggles mightily with the decision* before being reassured by the “angel of the Lord [who] appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

Joseph wakes up and “he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” Matthew says that the prophecy from Isaiah 7:13-14 was fulfilled: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’”

It took faith for Joseph to accept Mary’s announcement and take her as his wife. He would have to bear the snickers of the neighbors and the knowing glances from his friends. Even though he had the assurance of the angel and his love of Mary, he also learned to lean on God who promised (Hebrews 13:5):

Never will I leave you, That’s something I’ll never do
Forever remember that it’s true…
And when you fear, the scars and tears
Remember what I have sworn
I’ll be with you through the storm… (Michael Card, Never Will I Leave You)

Joseph’s life was turned upside down by Mary’s pregnancy. Everything he carefully planned as husband was changed when God called him to be father of Emmanuel. Zechariah had God carefully ‘boxed’ and found it initially impossible to believe God could act in his life. Mary believed that nothing was impossible with God. Joseph’s compassion and love won over his doubt and fear so that he could respond with faith and take Mary as his wife.

Michael Card has a Christmas song that explores Joseph’s thoughts after Jesus’ birth. Even holding the baby, he wonders "how could it be?"

Joseph's Song
How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be...
Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God...
How could it be

Joseph asks "How could it be?" When things don’t go as I plan, I tend to rant and rave. After a while I calm down and then I can see that there are opportunities in the new direction of my life. Usually, it is only in looking back that I recognize how much better God’s plan was than mine. Joseph, too sought to find "where I fit into this plan of yours, How can a man be father to the Son of God."

What sorts of scars and fears did you identify and put in your Advent box last week? Did you hear the voice of your inner 'censor'? A spiritual director once told me that the first step to healing is to identify and become aware of the scars.

This week, identify some of the plans or dreams that you had to let go of. Think how the end result was different than you thought it would be, and where God was in the process. Can you, with Michael Card, know that God’s word is true that says, “Never will I leave you…Forever remember that it’s true, never will I leave you”? Sometimes it takes the passing of time for me to see the good that came out of a vanished dream or plan.

Next week as we draw near to Bethlehem, we’ll look at how the Shepherds, the first visitors to the Newborn, responded to God’s call.

*Excerpt from Mary My Love by Cynthia Davis (see the Books tab above or my website for more info)

Blindly I headed for the hills beyond Nazareth. If anyone greeted me, I did not hear. Mary’s words repeated their terrible litany in my head.

“Bear a son…God man…I do not lie.”

Faster and faster I walked, until I was running up the mountainside. The same grove of trees that saw my decision to wed Mary received me. Like a mad man I smashed my hands against one trunk and then another until my rage was spent. In despair I fell to my knees.

“God, why do you mock me? I believed you gave me Mary’s love. Now she admits that she carries a child which is not mine!” Renewed anger set me to pacing. Suspicion fueled the fire. “Joachim was eager to accept my offer. Did he know that his daughter was no virgin, even then? Was I the dupe all along?”

I heard the animal growl that came from my throat. If the man had been near I would have choked an answer from him. My head began to pound from my emotions and unanswerable questions. Sinking down with my back against a tree, I buried my face in my hands.

“God, the girl blasphemed to cover her lie. How can you not strike her down?”

A memory of her radiant face gave me pause. The innocence and beauty of her announcement came back to me. I dared not believe it true.

“God, is Mary a victim of some hoax? God, did you steal my bride?”

Throughout the day I alternately paced and sat, prayed and cursed, raged and wept. The evening shadows started to darken the grove when a horrifying thought occurred to me. I crashed to my knees, gripping a sapling for support.

“I do not accept Mary and her child, she will be stoned!”

The pain that grabbed me by the heart radiated throughout my body until I could almost feel stones striking me. I slid to the ground in agony. My father’s recital of what happened to his mother flashed into my mind. Groaning, I covered my head. With my eyes closed I saw the rarely used pit outside of Nazareth. Only once had I seen anyone stoned there. A man convicted of blasphemy had been dragged to the place. Every man in town had taken turns throwing rocks until the body was an unrecognizable bloody pulp.


I sprang up, eyes wide with the remembered horror. I could not condemn any woman to such a death. Sanity slipped me a lifeline.

“There is another option,” I whispered. “I can send her away until the child is born. No one need know.”

I tried to ignore the insistent voice that hissed ‘you would always remember’. The shadows grew as I resumed my pacing. My pride shied away from naming the child as mine. True, the gossip could be stared down. Many men sampled the marriage bed during the betrothal. No one would condemn me. I would be the only one to know the infant was not of my seed.


Worn out from the day’s passion, I sank to my knees. The Name of the Most High was all I could say. Over and over I repeated the word…

December 5, 2010

Saying Yes to God with Mary

This week we’ll look at someone’s whose response to God’s call was different from Zechariah’s. The record of this meeting is in Luke 1:26-38. Six months after his visit to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel visits another resident of Israel: “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” She is, understandably “perplexed”.

 Gabriel announces astonishing news to this teenage girl. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

This is the fulfillment of Messiah prophesied by many prophets including Jeremiah (23:5-6) “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

Mary is astonished and wonders, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Unlike Zechariah she doesn’t argue and accepts Gabriel’s explanation. He tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

Perhaps in Gabriel’s answer Mary hears an echo of Isaiah’s words, “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

A young girl in Nazareth when confronted with the astonishing and life changing news, responds “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Zechariah argued that logically he and his wife were too old. Mary could have refused to believe and complained that she didn’t want to be shamed by an unexpected pregnancy. Instead, Mary was able to ‘Say Yes’ because she didn’t stop to contemplate the ramifications and practicalities of Gabriel’s announcement.

We can miss seeing and hearing God by being too mature. An open, child-like heart that trusts that “nothing is impossible with God” easily accepts God’s call. How often do we try to second guess God and map out the way forward when we would be better off just stepping out in faith like Mary? Mary lived her simple faith because she knew what Michael Card meant in his song By Faith. Card recites some of the deeds of our spiritual ancestors from Hebrews 11 and than sings,

Faith understands and offers
It assures and calms our fears
It can shut the mouths of lions
And make sense of scars and tears
We persevere in hope
And with conscience clean and clear
We walk this fallen wilderness
With Salvation’s Pioneers…

Looking to God for guidance and enfolding ourselves in the “Faith that understands and offers…and makes sense of scars and tears” means we can say ‘Yes’ like our spiritual ancestors listed by Paul in Hebrews Chapter 11 (and by Card in his song). Paul reminds the Hebrew Christians, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely…looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

It is when we look to Jesus “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” we can be like Mary in our response to God’s call on our life even if it means facing lions or fire. We become, as Card sings, “sure of what we hope for, seeing what is yet unseen…new life where none had been” we find “hope for the comfortless [by] the faith that [we] possess.”

Did you start an Advent Box? I was a little surprised by some of the things that came to mind when thinking about God and my response to God last week. The exercise did get me thinking about some of the messages I consciously or subconsciously give myself about God.

This week, if you are doing the box, add some things that keep you from “looking to Jesus.” Put in some of the fears, scars, and tears, things which prevent you from seeing the cloud of witnesses so you can, as Card says,

“fix your eyes on the Champion….
Understanding that He cheers you on…
So hold on and do not grow weary of the faith that you profess…”

If you need a time of quiet meditation as you prepare to think about what to put in the box, listen to Michael Card’s rendition of the song Immanuel.
Next week we will see what Joseph's response was when God asked him to 'say Yes' to the incredible events unfolding. See you then.

November 28, 2010

Saying Yes to God with Zechariah

Welcome to my Advent blog. For the next few weeks I’ll be looking at how those involved in the Nativity narrative responded to God’s call. Please join me on this last journey of 2010 to see what God can say to us through the actions of Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and even Herod and the Magi.

We enter these 4 weeks of preparation for Christmas, called Advent, with a look at Zechariah. His story is found in the Gospel of Luke (1:5-25). Zechariah was a priest who served in the Temple. He and his wife, Elizabeth, “were both righteous before God.” Like another righteous couple from generations earlier (Sarah and Abraham), they were childless and “getting on in years.”

One day Zechariah “was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.” This must have been a proud moment for the old man. We don’t know if he ever had this honor before. It is unlikely, because by this time in history there were many, many descendents of Aaron who could claim the right to serving in the Temple. In fact, even by the time of David and Solomon, the priesthood had already been divided into ‘divisions’ (see I Chronicles, chapter 24).

So Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies, the nearest any human could come to the Living God, to burn incense. This was a time of holy fear and trepidation for priest and people. A rope was tied to the ankle of the priest serving, just in case he was overwhelmed by the Holy One, so he could be pulled out. The people were separate from God and only the appointed priest could go into the Holy of Holies.

Michael Card’s song, A New and Living Way, gives an image of how it was for the priest.
“Year after year, there the priest would stand.
An offering of blood held out in his hand
Before the curtain there He would stand in fright.
It hung there to hold in the Holy to keep in the Light.”

Zechariah had no way of knowing that this time something amazing, life-changing, and indeed world changing would happen. “There appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was "terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.” The angel addresses Zechariah with comforting, if seemingly impossible, words, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”

I suspect I would be just as skeptical as Zechariah who asks, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” It would seem that priests of the Lord are no more open to the interruptions of God than the rest of us! Even though he was knowledgeable in the writings ABOUT God, Zechariah was not used to being impacted BY God.

It is difficult to wrap our mind around things when God acts in ways that we don’t anticipate or that seem impossible. We have our little corner of the world all mapped out and we are quite content with life the way it is. True, it’s not paradise, but it could be worse. Then God comes in and turns everything topsy-turvy. A job change or new opportunity makes us pack up and move. An accident or illness interrupts our carefully laid plans. Change happens to our carefully laid plans, no matter what.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had long ago come to terms with the fact that they would not be parents. Now, in the twilight of life, God announces, ‘you are going to have a child’. Not just any child, either, but the prophet announced by Malachi who prophecies, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

The angel tells Zechariah, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Being struck dumb seems a bit extreme, but perhaps it was God’s way of giving Zechariah time to come to terms with this event that would start to turn his life upside down and then transform the rest of the world. He finally came out of the Holy of Holies, unable to speak, “and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary….When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.”

Somehow he explained to his wife what happened. Ultimately, “Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’” Elizabeth, in her own body, had confirmation of the words of Gabriel. As she grew great with child, she and Zechariah likely paused often to praise the amazing acts of God. They came to understand that their child would usher in the “New and Living Way” Michael Card sings about:

“When the time was full, another Priest came to save
He would offer forgiveness, for He was the offering he gave
From His sacrifice, from that dark disgrace
Came the power to make anywhere a most holy place
A new and living Way…”

When Zechariah was asked to ‘Say Yes to God’, he found that all his years of learning had not prepared him for meeting the Living God. I find I can relate. It can be easy to be busy studying (and writing) books and articles about God. The danger is that sometimes we think we’ve got God figured out and try to put God in a convenient ‘box’.
This week, I’m going to try an activity. In a box I’ll put images and words that are reminders of God. I know a photo of a sunset will be one thing I will add. There are Bible verses, too, that I like. I hope this exercise will make me a bit more aware of how I limit God’s action by the way I think.

Next week we’ll meet Mary, a young girl whose response to God was very different from Zechariah’s.

November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. The grade school images of Pilgrims and Indians linger in our minds. Traditionally the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 with their Indian neighbors. A good harvest meant that the small colony would survive the winter in the new world. This was certainly a reason for the religious refugees to give thanks. Other locations have claimed the honor of the first Thanksgiving, though. Florida, for instance says that the earliest ‘thanksgiving’ celebration was by the Spanish in 1565 in St. Augustine. Virginia, too, notes that a ‘day of thanksgiving’ was in the founding charter 1619. Even Texas lays claim to the being the location because the Spanish explorer Coronado celebrated a thanksgiving Eucharist in 1541 in what is now the Palo Duro Canyon of West Texas.

 Wherever it started, Thanksgiving has only been an actual holiday since 1863, but the date of the celebration varied. It was established as fourth Thursday of November when President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law on December 26, 1941. Two years later Norman Rockwell painted what has become the iconic Thanksgiving picture as one of his Four Freedoms series. Entitled Freedom from Want, it was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and then was featured on war bond posters.

Some of us are blessed with having family nearby to share Thanksgiving with. Others will travel to share the home fires. For many, Thanksgiving isn’t the Norman Rockwell painting, but another equally homey gathering. There are others who will not find much to give thanks for.

I hope you will have a lovely, blessed Thanksgiving, however you celebrate, and that you will find a way to offer a helping hand to someone less fortunate.

Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. During the season, I’ll be exploring how we ‘say yes’ to God by looking at the response of Mary, of Joseph, of the Magi, and of the Shepherds. I hope you’ll join me.

November 14, 2010

God Routinely Blesses

Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam…
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…”

This ancient Jewish blessing is the start of many, if not most, Jewish prayers. The shofar calls the Jewish men to pause in their work and pray. According to Barbara Brown Taylor, an observant Jew will say “at least a hundred blessing prayers each day…upon waking up…before setting out…wearing new clothes…for pastries, fruit, vegetables, and wine.” This fall we’ve looked at various routines that can bring us closer to God. When we become aware of our routines, we wake up to their real purpose, which is to bring us blessing.

Even the interruptions and discomforts, even the pain and dis-ease of life are ways to find (and be found) by God. Perhaps we would do well to consider the practice of some of our faith predecessors who blessed even the seemingly bad things. Paul talks of being in chains as a way of preaching the Good News: "I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel...the whole praetorian guard and all the ret [know] that my imprisonment is for Christ...the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment." (Philippian 1:12-14)
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” says Paul later. (Hebrews 10:31) We have to be open to the blessings that happen every day, all around us! L’Engle adds “We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God…but the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord…is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.” When we let go of control and are open to being blessed and to offering blessings for all things, we come closer to God than in the Cathedrals of the world. It is about how we live and are blessed by the One who imbues all things with Life.

A long time ago someone introduced me to the poem “Well” by G.A. Studdart-Kennedy. Studdart-Kennedy was a chaplain during WWI. He earned the nickname “Woodbine Willie” by giving Woodbine brand cigarettes to the wounded soldiers he ministered to. I've always been struck by Studdart-Kennedy's vision of meeting God after death and how that one word 'well?' sums up our response to God's blessings in all that happens, but esp. in our interactions with one another.

This poem is a soldier telling a dream. It’s a bit hard to read until you get into the rhythm of the Cockney accent. He dreams he dies and finds himself beside “a solemn kind o’ sea…A throng ‘o faces came and went, afore me on that shore.” The soldier sees everyone he has met and realizes “the dirty things I’d done to em, when I ‘and’t played the game.” Then “there before me someone stood, just lookin’ dahn at me…
And 'E said nowt, 'E just stood still, For I dunno 'ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years, But time out there's all wrong.
What was 'E like? You're askin' now. Can't word it anyway.
'E just were 'Im, that's all I knows. There's things as words can't say.
It seemed to me as though 'Is face, Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed, Like the sea beneath the sun.
'Twere all men's face yet no man's face, And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech, 'Ye did 'em all to me.
'The dirty things ye did to them, 'The filth ye thought was fine,
'Ye did 'em all to me,' it said, 'For all their souls were mine.'
All eyes was in 'Is eyes, – all eyes, My wife's and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd 'ow sad, With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi' the speech o' light, They said, ''Er soul was mine.'
And then at last 'E said one word, 'E just said one word 'Well?'”

The narrator, knowing he has failed to live a good life, asks to go to Hell, but
“'E answered 'No
'You can't, that 'Ell is for the blind, 'And not for those that see.
'You know that you 'ave earned it, lad, 'So you must follow me.
'Follow me on by the paths o' pain, 'Seeking what you 'ave seen,
'Until at last you can build the "Is," 'Wi' the bricks o' the "Might 'ave been."'

(From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy--you can read the whole poem here)

From the ground we walk on to the people we meet, all are incarnations of the Holy. When we are blessed, we ought to live in a state of returning the blessings. Like the observant Jew and in company with Paul, we ought to try to ask a blessing on everything that comes our way. Some things won’t be easy to bless or find a blessing in. In the Hebrew tradition, a prayer of blessing for bad news is “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the Judge of Truth.”

It is up to me to be open and aware of the blessings in all things. L’Engle quotes H.A. Williams who says, “Justification by faith means that I have nothing else on which to depend except my receptivity to what I can never own or manage.” I ran across a gentle reminder of the importance of accepting each step as a blessing. Probably you’ve seen the “Daffodil Principle” since it circulates the email regularly. It’s the true story of a Rushing Springs, CA woman who annually, since 1958, planted daffodils on the hill near her home. Apparently tours ended in 2009 (at least according to the articles I found.) (If you haven’t seen it, one version is found on the internet here  and a video of the garden here.)

At the end, the narrator says, “’It makes me sad in a way,' I admitted to Carolyn. 'What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!'
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. 'Start tomorrow,' she said.
She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, 'How can I put this to use today?'”

I hope this series of blog-meditations has left you with some thoughts about how to be receptive and open to the presence and blessing of God in all our routines. I hope this week I can remember to ask “how can I put this to use today?” Next week is Thanksgiving. See you then.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

November 7, 2010

Routinely Labeling or Naming

God is found in the routines of our lives. Whether we are hiking through a forest or plodding down a city street, God is with us. If we are aware of the sights and sounds and smells around us or if we are lost in numb repetition, the Holy lingers on the edge of consciousness waiting to be invited in. Finding God nearby can be as unexpected as coming across this squirrel I saw in a public garden in downtown Denver a couple of years ago.

George Eliot says, If we had a keen vision of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat…As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.” That ‘stupidity’ keeps us from awareness of the One who created all and makes us prone to labeling things and people. We may say liquor or candy are bad, while milk and fruit are labeled as good. People are lumped into groups with convenient tags. In this election we’ve heard more than enough of candidates categorizing each other as pro-this or anti-that. It is too simple to make decisions based on such rhetoric, but we are all guilty. Someone poorly dressed and dirty approaches and we automatically assume they are homeless and planning to ask for money. Maybe the person is a day laborer heading home or even an eccentric millionaire.

Madeleine L’Engle insists, “To name is to love. To be Named is to be loved.” She says, “The name of God is so awe-ful, so unpronounceable, that it has never been used by any of his creatures…But we, the creatures, are named, and our names are part of our wholeness.” The converse is true, too says L’Engle. When we label those around us we are Un-Naming them according. She notes, “It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label…If we are pigeonholed and labeled we are un-named.

We have to be careful and aware of the way we encounter others as I blogged a month ago. It is easy to label or just ignore, but as Taylor reminds us, “At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self…it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to qualify as a capital “O” Other—and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.”

Seeing the Face of God in each other is an awesome responsibility. The group Casting Crowns song “If We are the Body” is a not so subtle reminder that as Christians we are the Body of Christ and as such we are the hands, arms, feet of God.

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls' teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know.

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?

And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them
There is a way? There is a way?

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tell him that his chances
Are better out on the road...
But Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ…

In the coming week, I plan to try to be more aware of times when I ‘label’ rather than ‘name’ people—and in some cases it won’t be easy. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll see in the ‘Other’ the face of Christ. Maybe, just maybe, I can be the hands or feet or face of Christ to someone else.

Next week will be the conclusion of this series with a look at the Blessings we can find when we see God in the routines.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

October 31, 2010

All Hallows Eve

Since September we’ve been looking at Routines and how God is present in our day-to-day life. By becoming aware of our routines, we can also be more aware, as Madeline L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor say, of God found “in the work” and “under our feet.” We can consciously be aware of the Holy present in the ground under our feet, in the images around us, in the altars (holy places) in our lives, and even in the interaction with those we meet. The past couple of weeks we’ve looked at how interrupted routines can also heighten our awareness of the Holy in our lives. God breaks in when we let go of our routine, whether on purpose, by being aware of things around us, or in the disruption of the daily habits. Holidays are another way that our routines are disrupted and God breaks in.

Today is All Hallows Eve, more commonly known as Halloween. For most of the world it has lost its historic link to the Christian Feast of All Saints Day (Nov. 1), when the church remembers that we are all saints. The link to being the Eve (night before) the celebration of all the saints of God is largely forgotten or ignored now.

Now, these origins are so obscured that some consider the celebration of Halloween as just a secular or even pagan or diabolical holiday. However, the roots go back to the time before the Christian church came to the Celtic lands of what is now England and Ireland. Before the church adopted the practice of remembering the faithful departed saints, there was an even more ancient festival associated with the change of seasons and the end of October. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was the time when Celts honored their ancestors. It is easy to understand how the early church would find a way to relate the remembrance of the faithful saints with the existing feast remembering ancestors. Around the 9th century, the early church wisely adopted and redeemed Samhain, just as happened with other many existing feasts and celebrations.

There are records of Christianity in Britain by the 3rd century and of course the legend of Joseph of Arimathea coming to Glastonbury soon after the crucifixion. The first Church authorized evangelism was under Pope Gregory I who sent Augustine to Britain in the 6th century. (This is not Augustine of Hippo, one of the famous theologians of the church, who lived 200 years earlier.) Augustine’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude did not sit well with the people of Britain who had developed their own form of Christianity in isolation from the rest of Christendom.

One cannot but wonder (at least I cannot help wondering) if the adoption of Samhain into All Hallows Eve was not a centuries later footnote at one of the church councils to offer an olive branch to the Celtic roots of Britain’s Christians. The change of the seasons was perceived, by the Celts and other ancients, as a ‘thin space’ or a time when the boundary between our world and the ‘Otherworld’ was translucent. Spirits (good and bad) could come and go at such times. The Celtic celebrations involved masks, body painting, and bonfires. From this comes the wearing of costumes and even the jack-o-lantern. Now, of course, Halloween is mostly about wearing costumes and getting treats or going to masquerade parties. We rarely pause to remember the saints who have gone before.

The Rev. Gary Kriss notes, “There can be little doubt that our Christian observances owe much to pre-Christian customs. Witches and ghosts, unseen demons and the souls of the dead wandering in the dark were very real to ancient people, and this should not surprise us…We may need to step back for a bit of perspective before we too quickly dismiss the quaint and ill-informed customs of the ancients as pagan nonsense. Indeed, as the days grow shorter and the hours of natural light are fewer, we would do well to reflect on the importance of light, literally and figuratively, in our lives. To shed light on a problem is to move towards a solution. To come out of the darkness into the light is to overcome fear and ignorance.” (

Even in our modern life, we have things that frighten us. We may not pray, “From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedie beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us” as an ancient Scottish litany puts it. However, we do have to deal with the fears of our own time. Halloween is a time when we can lightly touch scary things—and bring them into the light where they aren’t so fearsome.

The cultural routine is to celebrate Halloween with ghosts and goblins and costumes and treats. We’ve been looking at our routines and how to transform them into ways to be more aware of God within them. Maybe you can start a new routine around Halloween. One way might be to incorporate the eating of donuts on Halloween as a reminder to pray for the saints in your life. An old tradition involves the use of donuts as ‘soul cakes’ in the Middle Ages. Beggars would go from house to house offering to pray for the departed in return for food. Supposedly one cook decided to make her cakes in the shape of the circle of eternity—and the donut was born.

Perhaps another way to find God in the Halloween norm is to reflect on the lives of the saints we have known. Who has been influential in your faith growth? Give thanks to God for those persons.

I know I promised to talk about labels, but it is not often that Halloween falls on a Sunday, after all. Next week, we’ll get back to the routine, if you’ll pardon the pun.

October 24, 2010

God when we Get Lost

Last week we looked at interrupted routines. Routines are like predictable paths. In fact, often they ARE predictable paths. I don’t know about you, but I usually take the same route to and from work every day. I know pretty well how to time the lights along the route so I don’t have to stop. It’s the same with my daily habits. If I don’t have time to do my morning journaling or check the email before work, I feel out of kilter.

It’s amazing how early in life we fall into routines. This week we, my husband & I, babysat for our grandson while his mommy was in the hospital having his baby sister. He’s 4 and already has a set way of getting ready for bed. First he puts away toys, then gets into night clothes, then you have to read two stories, then he looks at books for a little while in his room before climbing into bed. You forget any step of that routine at your own peril. In the morning he has a series of steps that can’t be hurried, even if Grandma has to get to her own house before taking him to preschool and going to work! (He really is excited about his sister, I just caught him with an expression that says 'quit taking pictures'.)

Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that there is a spiritual discipline in getting off the regular paths and getting lost “because once you leave the cow path, the unpredictable territory is full of life.” She also says that when you get lost you have the opportunity to “take a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.”

Getting lost doesn’t necessarily have to be taking a wrong turn. It might be “getting lost looking for love…between jobs…looking for God…” Getting lost can be an opportunity to “move through my own chattering to God to that place where I can be silent and listen to what God may have to say,” according to Madeline L’Engle.

In thinking about this week when I was ‘lost’ from my routine I thought that the opposite had happened. Because I was rushing to get everything done I didn’t think I had really taken time to pray. Then I realized that I DID find some ‘out of routine’ prayer times. God woke me up in the middle of the night for some intense prayer time! Driving to work (and feeling rushed) I found myself praying the Lord’s Prayer to calm and center myself! Keble, in his closing stanza, notes that our daily goal should be to ‘live more nearly as we pray.’

Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray

Getting lost from our routines, or in the midst of the routines, might give us just the interruption needed to turn back to God. Along our routine paths, God can become routine. When we are lost, God is very near. ‘Getting lost’ on purpose—taking a different way home or stopping at a park can offer respite with God. When life sends you down a path you weren’t expecting and you feel lost or just out of kilter, you may discover new ways of talking to God.

Sometimes we end up really lost, like the Prodigal Son, even feeding pigs like in this Bartolom√© Esteban Murillo painting. We are far from the normal, comfortable home we envisioned. When we hit bottom, we are indeed at the “Ground of Being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, coined that phrase for God as the source of all being. Like the Prodigal Son, that is often when we ‘come to ourselves’ and say “Father I am not worthy to be called your son/daughter. Make me as one of your servants.” (Luke 15:11-32) The good news is that God welcomes us back as if we had never left!

Max Lucado (Cure for the Common Life) notes that “We need regular recalibrations…But who has time…? You have carpools to run; businesses to run; sales efforts to run; machines, organizations, and budgets to run. You gotta run…Christ repeatedly escaped the noise of the crowd in order to hear the voice of God. He resisted the undertow of the people by anchoring to the rock of his purpose: employing his uniqueness (to "preach to the other cities also") to make a big deal out of God ("the kingdom of God") everywhere he could.”

Getting lost may just be the recalibration you need. Look back over your life to see where you ‘got lost’ from the path you had plotted out for your life. Taylor says, “the practice of getting lost is both valuable and undervalued…in this culture [where] the point is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible…doing at least five other things while you are in transit.” Think about where God was in the times you felt lost. If you find yourself ‘lost’ outside your routine this week—look for the Holy in the changed circumstances.

Next week we’ll look at how labeling one another is a way of keeping our norms and routines ‘secure’.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

October 17, 2010

God in our Interrupted Routines

There are many things that interrupt our routines. Some are delightful-like a family visit, some not so much-like pain or bad news. This month has been filled with interruptions for me. There was the visit from our daughter and her family, including 3 grandchildren, another grandbaby due to be born any day (different daughter), and preparations for the consecration of a bishop. All nice things, but they have kept me from my normal routines.

John Keble says,
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us daily nearer God

It is true that the daily routine can and does lead us closer to God. It is comforting to have a nice, set routine to follow. We don’t like to have our well organized lives interrupted and do our best to cling to the ‘trivial round, the common task’. However, sometimes it is the interruptions that present us with the opportunity to find an even more intimate experience of the Holy One.

The visit from our daughter reminded me of how enthusiastic children are. They visited during Balloon Fiesta and were delighted every time a hot air balloon was sighted near our house. A trip to the zoo was also a full of eager exploration. As noted in previous posts, the routines of life can numb us to that sort of delight. Sometimes an interruption reminds us, as adults, of the need to be passionate about our relationship with God.
Sometimes it is in the uncomfortable and even painful interruptions that God finds us. As CS Lewis points out, in The Problem of Pain, “[when my house of cards tumbles down] for a day or two [I] become a creature consciously dependent on God’s grace…Let Him but sheathe that sword…and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over-I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness.”

Barbara Brown Taylor notes that many of the world’s great religions grew out of an experience of suffering. She says, “Pain makes theologians of us all. If you have spent even one night in real physical pain, then you know what that can do to your faith in God, not to mention your faith in your own ability to manage your life.”

We look for the reason for our pain when something goes wrong and often blame God. However, if we embrace the suffering, we discover something astonishing and even miraculous-God is with us in the agony. In our pain we discover common ground with others because all of us does experience some sort of sorrow or pain or grief. Like the hummingbird hovering over this flower, there is beauty even in the hurt.

Our culture often makes us believe that life is meant to be a bed of roses and that obtaining just the ‘right’ car, house, dress, etc. will make us happy. Lewis shines a different light on the reason for difficulties. He notes that trials and tribulations are a way of reminding us that our “modest prosperity and happiness…[is] not enough to make [us] blessed…all this must fall from [us] in the end, and if [we] have not learned to know Him [we] will be wretched.”

Madeline L’Engle tells of the time when her 9 year old granddaughter was hit by a truck. She says that all she could do was “say with Lady Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,’ and then to add, ‘No matter what.’ That was the important part, the ‘no matter what’…It made me affirm to myself that God is in control no matter what, that ultimately all shall be well, no matter what.”

Problems have a way of leveling the playing field, too. Think of the way communities suddenly pull together in the face of a natural disaster and families often come together around the bed of a sick member. In the commonality with each other, we find communion and ultimately healing.

Disruptions of routines can be blessings if embraced as gifts from God. They can turn into times when we encounter God. Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to look at the ‘interruptions of routine’ as opportunities to find God not distractions from God.

Next week we’ll look at how Getting Lost—an interruption of routine, too, can help us find God.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

October 10, 2010

God Met in Routine Encounters

The anonymous author of a devotion I read recently reminded me that “we are not merely [individuals] …It is as a people gathered…that we find sustaining strength.” The writer is referring to Christianity, but the same holds true for all human interaction. We need each other.

Keble agrees. As the hymn says,
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.

Our friends help us see heaven because they share our views and love us. There are many other people, though, who aren't in our circle. We like to think we outgrow wanting to be in the 'in crowd' when we get out of Middle School, but it's not necessarily true. Barbara Brown Taylor states there are people in all of our communities who do not belong to any of the same groups we do...Some of them stand right in front of us. [The clerk] is someone who exists even when she is not ringing up your groceries, as hard as that may be for you to imagine.”

It is not easy to be aware and actively engaged with each person you meet. Many of us would rather remain safely with our carefully selected friends. Madeline L’Engle warns that we easily fall into the trap of judging those who don’t agree with our beliefs and even with our likes and dislikes, but we can move beyond that. She notes that her husband likes beets, which she does not. “We do not have to enjoy precisely the same form of a balanced meal.” Likewise, we don’t have to each like the same art or worship in exactly the same way. L’Engle admits, “But how difficult it is for us not to judge.”

Keble talks about ‘old friends’. Isn’t there a possibility that we might find heaven in new friends if we are open to seeing one another as beloved creations and children of the same Father? Taylor states, “Encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get-in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing—which is where God’s beloved has promised to show up.”

At first it sounds odd and even frightening to think of being that open and vulnerable to everyone we encounter. ‘How can I look at the drunk, homeless man in the same way I look at my child?’ we ask. ‘What if I am friendly and open, but the clerk is snippy or ignores me?’ It is easy to come up with rational excuses to not really look at the person in front of us, isn’t it?

The Christian music group Casting Crowns has a song called “There is Hope” that offers a new way to look at ‘every man’. Watch the video and see what you think.

There is Hope

As the musicians remind us, Jesus is the Hope.
There is hope for every man
A solid place where we can stand
In this dry and weary land
There is hope for every man
There is love that never dies
There is peace in troubled times
Will we help them understand?
Jesus is hope for every man

Jesus told his followers (and us), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) That is the kind of love Taylor and Casting Crowns are talking about. I like the way Taylor paraphrases Jesus: “love the God you did not make up with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and the second…to love the neighbor you also did not make up as if that person were your own strange and particular self.”

How can we offer hope to others and give them 'a solid place on which to stand'? This week, I challenge you to really look at just one person as if they were, as Taylor says, “as if that person were your own strange and particular self.” Maybe hope is as simple as a real smile to the clerk who is tired or the bus driver who has been fighting traffic all day.

Next week we’ll look at how finding God in the routines can be healing.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

October 3, 2010

Altars in our Routine

So far, in this series, we’ve looked at several ways to find God in the day-to-day routines of life. Spiritual routines of daily prayer time and Bible reading certainly help us listen to God and follow the right path. The so called secular things in our lives can also be ways to find God nearby. Taking time to be like a child and let our imagination work, stopping to really observe the ground under our feet and the beauty around us, and even the symbols around us can be icons of God to us.

When we are aware of things around us, even the routines can become times to meet God. Psalm 98 calls us to “sing to the Lord a new song…Let the sea roar, and all the fills it; the world and all who dwell in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord.” (vs. 1, 7-8) All creation celebrates God who is everywhere. It can be easy to be conscious of God when we are in some grand Cathedral, and forget once we step outside that God is there, too.

As we become more aware of God around us we discover, with Barbara Brown Taylor, “God can come to me by a still pool on the big island of Hawaii as well as at the altar of Washington National Cathedral. The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other.” She says that there are altars everywhere. Taylor points out that Jacob encountered God at Bethel when he dreamed of the stairway to heaven. Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:16-17). His realization led him to set up an altar to commemorate the encounter. “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars,” claims Taylor.

Madeline L’Engle suggests that “Our way of looking at the place of the earth in the heavens changed irrevocable when the first astronauts went to the moon.” We can no longer look for God ‘out there’ like the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin who claimed there was no God because he couldn’t see Him while in outer space. That makes it even more important for us to see the altars around us.

Have you ever been in a place that was, for you, an altar—a holy place? Was it while reading a book, walking on a beach, sitting at your desk, hearing a piece of music? Barbara Brown Taylor says, “I can [try to] talk myself out of living in the House of God. Or I can set up a little altar, in the world, or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am…and how awesome this place is.” On a recent trip to Colorado, these mountain blue jays were a blessing to me, a reminder of the One who cares for the birds and who loves me.

Celtic spirituality is heavy with the understanding that God is in all things and everything is replete with God (and therefore an altar). Prayers for fire lighting and bread kneading and all other daily tasks abound. As Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote, “all things in God and God in all things.” It is all encapsulated in St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which says in part:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

This week, I plan to look for the gateways to heaven, the altars in our midst. They are there, you and I just need to be aware. Will you join me in looking for bushes that burn, ladders to heaven, and other assurances that God is present?

Next week, come back to see how we can find God in the routine encounters with each other.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.