December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

As I heard in a sermon last Sunday, this time of year is when divinity and humanity intersect in an explosive way to change the world. As I have noted in other posts, the season changes have been considered ‘thin times’ by Celtic spirituality and others for millenia. These are times when heaven comes close to earth and the gateways are open so that it is possible and even probable for the Holy to enter into the secular. Of course, Immanuel, God with us, is the ultimate breaking in of the Holy into human existence.

 We can get caught up in the celebration of “Happy Birthday Jesus” and the secular fun of presents and family-all good! It is too easy to forget that the whole reason for Immanuel was our salvation via the cross. Jesus was born to be Love Incarnate and that to the point of death on the Cross. May your heart be open to receive the offered Love and to bear it into the world in reconciliation and peace.
Music and art help us be more aware of this truth. Christmas songs, like The Little Drummer Boy express the longing of all humanity and the welcoming of the Infant to all who come. The Drummer Boy brings his only possession and only talent to offer to the “newborn King…” The Babe responded to the joy of the Boy-“then he smiled at me…” Recently the blog Busted Halo had a post about this song that was interesting.

The song, Come to My Heart Lord Jesus by Emily Elliott reminds us of the entire journey of the Infant whose birth we remember and recount:
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
When the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
 I offer you a final image to meditate on. The shadow of a cross falls across the manger and the toddler Jesus plays in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop with spikes as the sun casts the shadow of a cross behind him.

May you have a joyous Christmas tide, welcoming the Holy Child into your life more deeply.

May the manger of your heart hold the One who created the stars and the One who became an Infant.
May the manger of your hands shares the One who redeemed the world and continues to reconcile each of us to God.
May you find joy in the One who is ever with us.

As the hymn says, "Come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee."

December 22, 2013

Expect God to Act

And so we come full circle here in the last Sunday of Advent. We have looked at being aware of God around us-an activity that requires us to be vulnerable and to set aside the walls we have built up. We have discovered that faith is necessary to expecting God. We saw that expecting God means hearing “I love you” from God.

In the season of Advent, the lessons all remind us that God acts in a mighty way. Not just in 1st century Bethlehem, but in the teaching of the Old Testament prophets and in the early church. God still acts today. When we are aware and expectant we can see that.  

We like to pretend that we control our destiny-but it is God who acts. “Man proposes, God disposes” as the saying goes. As noted back on the first Sunday of Advent, Expect is an active word-from the root meaning to look or to see. When we Expect God-we look for God in our life and in the lives of those around. When we look for God, we will see God at work.

In this Advent season we often hear sermons about Mary and how she said “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) We are reminded to be as obedient and willing to serve as Mary. What we don’t hear as much about is how courageous Mary was in her willing response. For me, this Annunciation by John Collier captures some of that fear, as Mary seems to hold herself back from Gabriel. Yet, she ultimately doesn't question or refuse. Mary says 'Yes' to God.

Jim Trainor recently said,  Even in her fear, Mary says Yes. You see, courage isn’t not being afraid. Courage is not letting your fear stop you from saying, ‘Yes.’”

How do we say ‘yes’ to the Living God? As passive spectators or active participants? Rachel Naomi Remen (A Time for Listening and Caring) says, “Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” To me this represents a paradigm shift in thinking. We serve because we are working alongside God for world that God called into being and said “It is Good”. I think Remen is correct in saying that fixing and helping are the ‘work of the ego’ because we cannot and should not think we can ‘correct’ or ‘improve on’ God’s work. We can be stewards and co-workers in the vineyard.

Trainor continues in his blog, “God challenges us today – like he did Mary – to get out of our comfort zone, way out of our comfort zone. He challenges us to keep following that little baby that Mary brought into the world – and that means being vehicles of his healing and restoration and rescue and reconciliation.”

 None of us know what 2014 will bring. We can be assured that God is going to continue to act and that we who wait on God with expectation will find opportunities-new and old-to respond ‘yes’.

 I wish each of you, my readers, a blessed Christmas and a Holy New Year. I hope you will continue to stop by from time to time to see what's happening with this blog and with my books. It's hard to fathom that 6 years have slid by posting to this blog, on a weekly (sometimes more often) basis! I pray that sometime in those years my words have touched a chord in some reader and will do so in the future. 

December 15, 2013

Expect God-through Prayer

On this 3rd week of Advent, we continue to look at how to Expect God to Act in our lives. God does act, even when we aren’t aware of it. Expecting God is becoming aware of the Holy in our lives again. It is rediscovering the “faith of a child” that simply waits with expectation for God to be present and act. Advent seems the perfect time to wait in expectation.

Expectant waiting is not just a passive thing. It’s not just sitting around waiting for God to show up. Think about Mary and Joseph as they waited in expectation for their Child to be born. Anyone who has ever been a parent or around an expectant couple knows they didn’t just sit around. They had to do things to get prepared. The cradle and the swaddling clothing had to be made. They had time to consider how their lives would change with the addition of a baby.
There are things we can do prepare ourselves to expect God. Active waiting might involve putting down the i-pad and going for a walk. Even if you don’t find God right away, you may improve your health! On the other hand, you may just catch a glimpse of the Holy. Hands Free Mama, another blog I catch periodically notes, “If you should happen to catch a glimpse of what really matters in life, regard it with care. Decorate it with flowers. Cover it with love. Hold it in the sunshine. Give it a little bit of your time and attention. And if the world tries to push you forward, listen to your heart instead. Because if you don’t make time for what really matters, no one else is going to do it.” (sorry I can't find the exact post for this quote.)

I think that what she says can carry over into our Expecting God in the day-to-day. When we do see or experience or notice God we should pause and regard God, care for the time, decorate it, perhaps, and certainly love and be loved by God. We should hold and give the Gift of God our time and attention so that we can hear that still small voice of God.
One way to do that is prayer. Not necessarily the rote prayers we may say regularly, but quiet time spent expecting and waiting for God. Joan Chittister comments, “Prayer is an attitude toward life that sees everything as ultimately sacred, everything as potentially life-changing, everything as revelatory of life’s meaning. It is our link between daily-ness and eternity.” (taken from a FB post 11/19/13)

Finding and keeping a prayer time can help to rediscover the anticipation of the child’s faith and the awareness of God’s presence. And prayer can be done while walking or while kneeling, while sitting on a bus or in the quiet of your room. God is delighted when we turn to him in prayer, which is of itself a form of faith and expectation. We pray because we expect God to be there. And when we do pray, we hear God say-I Love You.
Some might argue that prayer isn’t a very active way of Expecting God. On the other hand, prayer can be very intense and indeed active. Prayer in itself is waiting expectantly to hear God and to know God. Continuing to practice time with God will help you find that God is present in the day-to-day...maybe when and where you’d least expect to find God.

This prayer from another blog I follow encapsulates, for me, what we want when we wait and pray expectantly, esp. in Advent:
We're waiting for a revolution;
Waiting for the impossible.

We're waiting for change,
For the coming of the One.
We're waiting to be told, "Yes,"
To be included.

Go with hope that,
Whatever you are waiting for,
God will answer
The prayer of your heart. 
Will you take some time during the rest of this busy season to “catch a glimpse of what really matters in life [and] regard it with care”? Will I?

December 8, 2013

Expect God in Faith

This Advent, we are looking at how to learn to Expect God to act in our lives. The season of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas is filled with all kinds of anticipation. We wonder what we’ll get for Christmas. Will it be what we asked for? We see the glittering Christmas décor in magazines and expect that we can make our homes look the same. In all of that expectation, we may forget the One who we are really preparing to welcome. We may forget to Expect God to come into our hearts anew each day and esp. on Christmas.

Expecting God requires faith and I recently read a quote from Madeline L’Engle: “Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” Perhaps we adults try to be too rational about God. We rationalize even our expectations of God by saying ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘God is too busy to care about my little problem’. Faith however says the opposite. Faith says God considers each of us worth so much that he ‘sent his only Son…”(John 3:16) Faith says “Ask and you shall receive.” (Matthew 7:7)
Jesus says we must “have faith like a little child”. How can that be? A child can’t understand God. And of course that’s the point. We are not meant to understand or explain the Holy, but to believe and expect that God is present. We become aware that God is good and God is in all things.

A child often finds it much easier to believe than we adults. A child simply believes. A child accepts God and fairies and magic without trying to figure them out. A child finds joy in pretending to be a princess or a soldier. A child waits impatiently, but with expectation, for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. A child doesn’t doubt that his wish on a star will happen. A child is quick to share joys and hurts and wants and needs. A child expects a good outcome to each morning.
We adults too often lose that anticipation and expectation. We smile tolerantly when a child wishes urgently on her birthday candle. We helpfully act the part of Santa or the Easter Bunny to ‘keep the magic alive’ for our children, all the while shaking our heads at the innocence that believes these fictions. We hide our own hurts and wants and needs out of fear of seeming weak and not self-sufficient. We crawl out of bed, too often, dreading the day to come instead of expecting to find God in the midst of the joys and challenges.

So what if we tried to recapture the “faith of a child” and to expect to experience God as we go through each day? What if Advent really is the start of something wonderful and God really is coming? I follow a daily meditation ( which recently noted, “When John the Baptist said the Messiah was coming, people had a hard time believing it, especially when it came from a guy who ate bugs and wore strange clothes. And yet they followed him, eager to hear more about the One Who Would Save Us. There's a bumper sticker: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” This season asks us to wonder what we would do if we believed the impossible could happen. What if the Messiah really is coming again? What if there is a revolution ahead? What if God is bringing heaven to earth?” 
You cannot force an experience of God. You can only be open and wait in expectation for God to brush by like a butterfly or explode in front like a burning bush. It’s not easy to be that unguarded because in order to be available and expecting God, you have to be vulnerable to being hurt by those around you. But faith tells you that “all things work for good” and that “my yoke is easy, my burden is light”. Maybe it is worth the risk to try and be more open.

This week, I plan to try and be more expectant to the wonder of God around me. To be more child-like in my faith and expectation of the Holy exploding into my life. I wonder if there will be any change.
Join me if you dare…

December 1, 2013

Expect God-Awareness

At a recent retreat, the spiritual director mentioned that we should Expect God to Act. That really caught my attention and I started wondering what difference it would make in my attitude if I started living as if I Expected God to Act in situations, rather than trying to manipulate them to what I thought God (or I) might want… It seemed the perfect topic to delve into during Advent. These 4 weeks of preparation for Christmas are often cluttered and it can be difficult to find a minute to breathe, much less take time to expect God. But, really Advent is all about being in Expectation of the Christ Child and of God coming into our lives in a new and powerful way!

For me, to Expect God means to live in openness, faith, prayer and to be willing to allow God to be in Control! I wonder if these Advent meditations will help me be more active in my Expectation of God in my life-we shall see. 
In order to Expect God we have to be aware and look for God in and around us. We like to think we are rather self-sufficient creatures. After all we have all these electronics that give us instant access to anything we might want-whether it’s buying something or looking up information. We can be in constant touch with our friends and acquaintances via Twitter and Facebook and the myriad of other social media opportunities. We can share our joys and sorrows with the world and we can believe that they care.
In reality we are insulated from real relationships and from God by those very electronics. Instead of going out in traffic and finding a parking space and fighting through the crowds on Black Friday, we can stay cozy in our PJ’s and shop online. Sure it is less hassle, but do we miss the opportunity to meet a friend unexpectedly or offer a friendly smile to an exhausted sales person or give our place in line to a harried mom with small children? I’m not saying that I make a point of going out in crowds, esp. on Black Friday, but I wonder if I’m missing some human interaction because of that.
Expecting God to act in our lives means we have to be available to God. Expecting goes hand in hand with Experiencing God. The ancient root for Expect means to look at or see, while Experience comes from to try and to be present. They are active words that require response. However, it is all too easy to let the challenges of the day snatch away even our deepest experiences of God. Morning devotions bring us close to the Holy. An hour later a crashed computer or irritable co-worker make us forget that in all things God is present if we just look around and expect God. Like this poor dove sitting on my doorstep last year, we can smash into the glass and sit there stunned for awhile.

Although the sitting quietly was forced on this dove, I wonder what would happen if instead of letting the challenges of the day snatch away my awareness of God, I paused and even practiced some deep breathing exercises, to bring me back to awareness of God, when circumstances start to stress me out... It has been shown that when you are stressed, deep, slow breaths actually do help you relax. When you are stressed or angry you breath in short bursts and don’t fill your lungs entirely. That is why a child having a tantrum sometimes starts gasping even though they don’t have asthma.
In this time of Expectation for Christ's birth, which often translates into time of greater stress, I'm going to try it:
Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in the expectation of God acting-Breathe out all the air and let go of the tension of anticipating bad things.

Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in the expectation of God making all right- Breathe out all the air and let go of the need to be right or to ‘fix’ the problem.
Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in God loving me-warts, and failures and all- Breathe out all the air and let go of feeling inadequate or mistreated.
Breath in slow and deep and Expect God to act in the present, in the now and be open to being aware of that happening.
Next time, we will look at Faith and Expecting God.

November 24, 2013


Back at the beginning of the season of Pentecost I used the image of the Holy Bridegroom and quoted from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It seems a fitting way to end this season of Ordinary Time, which really isn’t ordinary at all, but full of the action of the Holy One. God is our Bridegroom, God is our partner, God is indwelling in all parts of our life. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent-the time of preparation for Christmas. I’ll be offering ideas on how to live as if we really Expect God to be present and act.  

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. In the midst of the feasting, we could perhaps pause to remember those less fortunate and also offer thanks to the One who is our reason for being, our companion and our guide. The One always above, below, behind, before us, on right hand and left as the hymn says. The Holy One who is in our troubles and in our joys. The God of Love to whom we are bound as a bride to bridegroom and who holds us forever in that love. And not just you and me, but everyone in the world (even those we don’t personally find lovable)!

Thank God for God’s great love and offer yourself to him in St. Patrick’s hymn of praise, which you can view above:  

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

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.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord

November 17, 2013

God of Ordinary Time

So we come to the end of this series of thoughts taken from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. At the same time, we are drawing to the end of the season of Pentecost-that long stretch between the Feast of Pentecost and the start of Advent, sometimes called Ordinary Time. Because it is such a long season of the church, we might think that we can just ignore it and go our way without considering the actions of God much during those 6 or 7 months. Just because there aren’t any grand high feast days doesn’t mean that God is napping. In the Northern Hemisphere, the months of the season of Pentecost are the times of ‘seedtime and harvest’. In the Southern Hemisphere, the months are the times of rest and fallow for fields. As city-dwellers, we forget that the land needs fallow times to regenerate, just like we do. This ‘Ordinary Time’ is the opportunity to see God at work all around us, if we open our eyes!

Madeline L’Engle says, “We do not ever stop being part of God’s plan, part of the unity, part of the work of the coming of the Kingdom when all shall be made new.” Whether your life is in the time of seedtime or moving into the harvest time, each of us is part of God’s whole and holy plan. Times of rest and laying fallow are to be welcomed because there is a new seedtime coming and new fruit to bear. If you are in a time that seems fallow-rejoice, for new growth is coming.
In God’s plan, L'Engle reminds us, we are given “vulnerability…We are promised not that we won’t be wounded, that we won’t bleed, but that we will be transformed. We are promised not that we won’t die, but that we shall live.” Rohr agrees. He says, “to hold the contradictions with God, with Jesus, is to be a Christian and to share and participate in the redemption of the world.” Throughout the Bible and our lives, we see how times of trial and wounding bring forth new ministry, new direction, and new faith. You have only to look at the martyrs and saints to see that their lives were not a garden path, yet their faith grew and strengthened because they knew God was in it all.

The whole process of planting and growing, harvest and fallow fields reminds us of this cycle of seeming to die, in order to live. Jesus himself uses it as a metaphor: "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) As part of that new creation we can grow deep roots into God. This graphic (from a Facebook post) reminds me of that truth and calls each of us to work for the peace of God in our own lives and in others.
Joseph, son of Jacob, although he has much reason to seek vengeance tells his brothers, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:19-20) Like many other people of God, he understands that God WAS present in all that he endured and as Paul reiterates, “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Because God is in all parts of our life, Rohr says the Cross with “those two bookmark images, the blood being the price of letting go and the water being the invitation to union and divine feeding” is the guidepost we need. Through the mystery of the cross we learn “how to stand against hate without becoming hate, how to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves.” He asks, “Can you feel yourself stretching in both directions-toward God’s goodness and also toward recognition of your complicity in evil? If you look at yourself in that moment, you will feel crucified.”
According to Rohr, the revelation of the cross is that we see “the opponent is not so much evil as a symbol of a greater evil of which he or she is also the victim.” Only then can we “agree to carry that victim status together with Jesus. We agree to bear the burden of human evil, of which we are all victims and are all complicit.” In that acceptance and being open to the vulnerability and contradiction we learn “we can’t do it alone…only by a deep identification with the Crucified One…[do we become] his ‘new creation.”

The vulnerability, scary though it can be; and the wounding with the scars it brings, are instruments of our transformation. It is an odd and Divine paradox that very often plays out in the ‘ordinary times’ of our day-to-day lives. It can be easy to forget that God is in the vulnerability, fears, wounding and scars because they are all around and within each of us. That is exactly where God is, too-in the midst of us! God is with us even, maybe especially, in the ‘ordinary times’ when we think we are abandoned.
Are you in a time of planting or harvesting, in a time of fallow or growth? How can you, as the graphic says, pull others into your peace-which is grounded and rooted in God alone?

November 10, 2013

God's Eyes

I took a break last week, but now we’re back to looking at some insights from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. This week we consider seeing the world through God’s eyes.

Rohr claims that mystics throughout the ages, “knew … by gazing upon the one that we have pierced, praying from a place of needed mercy [allowed] Love which changed them from the bottom up…God gazed at them through the suffering and sad eyes…to stand under is still the best way to understand.” It is not just mystics but artists and musicians who name this paradox and this reality. George Studdart Kennedy’s protagonist in his poem Well knows that the eyes of the London whore are God’s eyes. Gordon Lightfoot sings about a “child born to a welfare mom…a week, a day, they’ll take it away…” and even the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the Suite Beethoven’s Last Day finds Beethoven at the point of having to choose whether to exchange longer life for himself for the life of a poor child in the street. “It’s the arching of a life…”
Because “God is the God of love and love will not rest while there is any suffering left, any rebellion, any anguish” Madeline L’Engle notes we have to be willing to accept the vulnerability of our call to live in love and to name and empower those we encounter. She goes on, “Jesus said, ‘what I want is mercy, not sacrifice’.” All we are really called to do and be is open and involved in the cosmos. To be a butterfly on a leaf and let the wings we flutter echo in the universe and beyond.

We are called to see the world through God’s eyes. We must see that the London whore and the beggar in the street are just as important as royalty on a throne or the latest teen idol. According to Rohr that happens when we stand under the Cross-then we see that in and through the Cross “God [is] somehow participating in human suffering instead of just passively tolerating it and observing it…that also changes everything-at least for those who are willing to ‘gaze’ contemplatively.” In the Cross is the “very pattern of redemption…Jesus is, in effect saying…’I’m going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again!’”
There is nothing outside the control of God. As Paul said, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)

Because the Cross changes everything, we can agree with Paul, that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:18-24)
Rather than bemoaning the inequalities and the pains of our circumstances, we can instead be like this child who knows that “God is SOOOO good!” That might just free us to be more like the butterfly exalting in being freed from her cocoon and experiencing the first breath of air on her wings!

Would changing the way you look at the suffering of the world and the challenges of your own life change if you really believed Paul’s words, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”? What if you understood in your heart that Jesus’ work on the Cross was in effect saying “I’m going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again”? Would you then be more able to see the world and our fellow humans in it through God’s eyes? Something to think about, for sure.

Next week will be the last in this series based on L'Engle and Rohr's work.

November 3, 2013

All Saints'

On this Sunday when we remember the saints and the Saints of the Church, I'd like to remind you that we are each a saint. The Church Universal recognizes some people through the ages as extraordinary Saints and gives them special honor. Depending on your tradition, this can include a special 'feast day'. These are people like the Apostles, like St. Francis, like Julian of Norwich, like Martin Luther King, Jr. All of them as the hymn says "just folks like me."* Each of us is indeed a saint-a servant of the Living God.
How do we get from just ordinary person to saint... Well, it's the action of God. There is a story that is especially appropriate to this time of year when there are pumpkins all around...

A little girl was asked "What is it like to be a Christian?"
She replied, "It's like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the pumpkin patch, brings you in and washes all the dirt off of you. then he cuts open the top and scoops out all of the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc., and then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His Light inside of you to shine for all the world to see."

Remember this if you feel discouraged about whether or not you are a saint of God-you are indeed. This hymn might help you too:

*I Sing A Song of the Saints of God (by Lesbia Scott)
I sing a song of the saints of God, 
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.

October 27, 2013

God of the Cosmos

Moving deeper into insights from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9 we discover that both authors express the truth that God is greater than the entire universe. L’Engle quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who states, “for a soul to have a body is enkosmismene (roots in the cosmos)” We are part of the entirety of the universe and like the butterfly whose wings cause ripples across the cosmos, so too our actions have far reaching consequences even if we never see them.

Rohr thinks Christianity slipped away from the Cosmic proclamation of Love toward the forensic and judgmental God image. He says that the cosmology of “True Christianity beguiles, seduces, invites, cajoles, creates spiritual yearning and draws humanity into ever more desirable mystery, healing, and grace.” The Love of God pulls us into union with God rather than Fear of retribution.
Part of the universality of God is that God is present in the joys AND in the pains of life. Rohr says, “Holding the mystery of pain and looking right at it and learning deeply from it” is necessary because “God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering. This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer.” In other words, our pain helps us feel and understand and empathize with others’ pain. Then we are willing to be vulnerable enough to open ourselves to the world and even the cosmos that is filled with human pain.

One way that we can be open and impact the universe is in and through prayer. Prayer is sitting in the presence of God whether with or without words. L’Engle notes, “God can take my fumbling faltering prayers and make something good.” St. Paul knows that we may not always know what to pray. In Romans 8:26, he writes “In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” God’s Love will breathe life into the prayers of our deepest pain, and when we open ourselves to bear others pain to God in prayer. It can be difficult to be willing to be that open and vulnerable to God and to the world, yet it is how we are transformed.
Madeline L’Engle quotes Parker Palmer as saying, “the self becomes real only when reacting with other selves. We do not become real in isolation, but in response to the others we encourage along the way, and who call us into being. Not only that, according to L’Engle, “we act on those whom we meet and we call them into being. We are in a very real sense “Namers” and not the ecthroi who are ‘un-namers’ bent on removing the identity of those they encounter.”

I am reminded of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who only became real by being loved by the Boy. “He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.” The Velveteen Rabbit is real to the Boy, but you recall that ultimately the Rabbit becomes really Real-really ‘Named’ and whole only after being cast off after the Boy is ill. Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping sideways and whirling round as the others did, and he grew so excited that when at last he did stop to look for the Fairy she had gone.”
In order to be more whole and holy we seek atonement or at-one-ment with God. Rohr says, “we [have] emphasized paying a cosmic debt more than communicating a credible love…the cross became more an image of a Divine transaction than an image of human transformation.” At-one-ment with God happens when we allow God to transform us-to make us ‘Real’, like the Velveteen Rabbit, through LOVE.

With L’Engle we might do well to pray “At-one me with You and Your love…whenever we pray, we are tapping the power of creation and that’s a mighty power…we have to try to turn to love, to know that the Lord who created all, alto loves all which was made.” L’Engle notes that in Genesis “God did not say, ‘It is finished’, that did not come until the Cross. What God said after making the world was, ‘It is Good. It is very Good’.” We have the opportunity, the option to take God at God’s word-to drink and eat life in Eucharist and in communion with life and living. In that living we are vulnerable and we are changed.
In the Loving hand of God we are transformed and as Chardin says we have “roots in the cosmos”. Like the picture above illustrates (by Melanie Weidner,, from a Facebook posting), we can withstand the storms and pains of life because we are rooted in the Holy and in the Cosmos.

The meditations from A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr continue in November.

October 20, 2013

God of Grace and God of Glory

Continuing with thoughts from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. Last time we pondered the contrast between a ‘forensic’ God and a God of Love. According to both L’Engle and Rohr, we too often believe that God is keeping score. Instead, our God is, as L’Engle notes “the image of God within us is Love.” This time, we will consider how that God of Love is manifest-as the God of Grace and God of Glory.

One of my favorite hymns is by Harry Fosdick (see below for full text or here for a video). The hymn is triumphant praise to the One who is in control of all things. Fosdick starts out by calling on the God of Grace and God of Glory to pour out power on the People of God and bring the Church (which is the people-the Body of Christ) to true and ‘glorious flower’.
Fosdick’s hymn starts in the right place-by asking God to work in us. The fact is that we cannot by ourselves become holy or even good. Indeed such efforts can have the opposite effect. “If I, self-consciously, try to make myself good, I am unwittingly separating myself from those I love and would serve…I learned that if I was what I had considered selfish, that is, if I took reasonable care of my own needs, we had a smoothly running household,” say Madeline L’Engle. We try so hard to be perfect and good that sometimes we cannot see the Holy spark within us, and fall into the trap of thinking we aren’t any good.

So we try to make ourselves over into what the world (or the church) says we should be. Too often that comes at the cost of relationships and even our soul. Rohr states, “it is precisely my ego self that has to die, my need to be right, to be in control, to be superior…the longer you gaze [on the Crucified One], the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sins of others.”
Fosdick’s hymn reminds us of the “hosts of evil ‘round us [who] scorn Thy Christ”. Those hosts might just include our own need to control and work out our own salvation. When we are working in our own power to be ‘good enough’ for God, we live in the “fears that long have bound us”. Instead God would “free our hearts to faith and praise.” This doesn't happen overnight. In looking at Jacob's life in the Bible and in L'Engle's book (A Stone for a Pillow) you can see that transformation was a life long process filled with lots of errors. AND GOD STILL LOVED HIM! God loved Jacob enough to make him the patriarch of Israel-father of the 12 tribes!

The start to this process, for many of us, is learning to love and forgive ourselves. L’Engle insightfully remarks, “[the] most difficult of all is learning to bless ourselves…[to] accept ourselves as blessed-not perfect, not virtuous, not sinless-just blessed.” Both L’Engle and Rohr know that we have to forgive ourselves before we can really love ourselves or anyone else. Rohr notes, “Forgiveness is probably the only human action that demands three new ‘seeings’ at the same time: I must see God in the other, I must access God in myself, and I must see God in a new way that is larger than ‘an Enforcer’.” Because God is Love not Judgment, we must shift our paradigm to see ourselves as we are seen: in and through the lens of God’s Love.
Too often we find it difficult to release the aim of making ourselves holy because we fear the retribution of the angry God if we fail. Fosdick calls on the God of Grace and Glory to “bend our pride to Thy control. Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul.” The problem is that we really, deep down, like ourselves the way we are. Yes, we admit to having some faults and know we could be ‘better’. However, we don’t really want to get rid of the image we have created of our identity.

Rohr compares the paradigm shift to the “Passover commemoration [where] we have an image of the death of something good, innocent, and even loved”. He says we are called to put to death “what I deem necessary to my identity; it is what I cannot live without. It is these seemingly essential and good things-when let go of-that break us through into much deeper levels of life.”
Not an easy thing-letting go of the identity I carefully have built up. It is only in looking to the Cross and living Fosdick’s refrain “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage…” that we can start to change. Slowly we see, with Rohr that the Cross is “not an image of the death of the bad self but, in fact, the self that feels essential, right, and necessary-but isn’t necessary at all.”

The final verse of the hymn calls on God to “save us from weak resignation…let the search for Thy salvation be our glory evermore.” When we let the God of Grace and God of Glory live and rule our lives we will be able to live with our “feet on lofty places…armored with all Christ-like graces in the fight to set men free.” It is in the letting go of our image of being in control and in charge that we find true freedom and forgiveness. Then we learn that what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said is true. “God loves you! And God’s love is so great, God loves your enemies, too.”
It is not easy to live a life of openness to God’s love. That Love demands a response. L’Engle emphasizes the paradox “our faith is a faith of vulnerability and hope not a faith of suspicion and hate”. We are called to enter into a life of openness and vulnerability instead of insisting on our own way. Then we can with Fosdick live as  Serving Thee Whom we adore.”

Rohr says God’s love calls for relinquishment of those things in life and esp. those things in ourselves that we think we cannot live without. What might God be calling you to give to God? L’Engle says we must learn to see ourselves as “blessed”-not perfect, just blessed. Do you really believe that you are blessed? Fosdick’s hymn says we need to lean on the God of Grace and Glory “lest we miss Thy Kingdom’s goal”. Can you trust God enough to let God be in charge?

 God of Grace and God of Glory, Harry E. Fosdick, 1930  
God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.
Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore

October 13, 2013

Forensic God or Loving God

For the next few weeks, join me in considering thoughts from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. I read both recently and was moved by the similarities of thought even though the two writers are very different.

These two works offer insight into how we too often view of God as judgmental (forensic, to use L’Engle’s metaphor) rather than Grace-ful and Loving. L’Engle explores the story of Jacob in her book. She says that in many places church culture has shifted to a view of God Who seeks to punish and keeps lists of what we do wrong. If we really read the Old and New Testament we will find a God of love Who cares for and forgives even someone like Jacob who lies, cheats, steals, etc. When we image God as the One who tallies good and evil on a scale, Rohr says, “We end up making God very small and draw the Godhead into our own ego-driven need for retribution, judicial resolution and punishment…exactly what Jesus came to undo.”
Rohr’s work asks us to revisit the Cross because, he says, too often we do not see the Cross as the “revelation of a mystery” but rather as a “substitutionary tragedy”. We humans have “always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil…usually by sacrificial systems…[and] we think it is our job to destroy the evil element.” We find it too easy to point fingers at others instead of accepting our own role in whatever problems arise.

In the ultimate paradox and overturning of our systems, “Jesus took away the sin of the world, by exposing it first of all as different than we imagined, and letting us know that our pattern of ignorant killing, attacking and blaming is in fact history’s primary illusion…he shared with us a Great Participative Love, which would make it possible for us not to hate at all.” Our response to that Love needs to be seeing God in life. God loves us not matter how incompletely and imperfectly we accomplish that.

L'Engle says, “If our worship of God means anything at all, it must be voluntary, not coerced.” God gives us the choice to see and respond. Jacob, you may recall, finds himself fleeing from his brother’s (well deserved) wrath and discovers God, perhaps for the first real time at Luz. He does not encounter God who chastises him for his deceit and failures. He finds “the Lord is in this place…this is the Gate of Heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17) L’Engle notes, “Wherever I call upon my Maker is always God’s house”. Of course, we have free will to see or not the glory around us.  Jacob, in fact, even though he is awed, bargains with God. “IF God will be with me, and will keep me…THEN the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
Rohr quotes Duns Scotus who states, “God’s redemptive action…[is] God’s perfect and utterly free initiative of love…God is in charge of history, not us and surely not our sinfulness.” Rohr insists “Jesus Christ is both the medium and the message…Jesus is pure gift, grace and glory!” Unlike Jacob, Jesus (God in human form) is the true image of God. According to Rohr, those gazing upon the ‘Crucified One’ with “contemplative eyes are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggressivity, and victimhood.”

Our sacrificial, forensic metaphors and images limit how we are able to come to God. They are built from our own desire for control and power. Throughout history, we have chosen to seek power rather than healing which comes from 'gazing upon the Crucified One'. Rohr notes, “enslavement and exodus is the great Jewish lens through which history is read…the pattern of down and up, loss and renewal, enslavement and liberation, exile and return, transformation through darkness and suffering has become quite clear in the Hebrew scriptures.” We don't like the enslavement, exile, loss parts of the cycle and try to control our lives to prevent that, even if it means trampling over others in the process.
However, the real image of God is “Jesus on the cross [who] identifies with the human problem…He refuses to stand above or outside the human dilemma…instead becomes the scapegoat personified.” Scotus says, “Jesus was not ‘necessary’ to solve any problem whatsoever-he was no mopping-up exercise after the fact-but a pure and gracious declaration of the primordial truth, from the very beginning which was called the doctrine of ‘the primacy of Christ’.”

When we are able to turn and see God in the ups and downs, then we can respond differently than when we are trying to earn approval from a God who is all about judgment. L’Engle quotes Thomas Traherne who says “It is by your love that you enjoy all His delights, and are delightful to Him.” When we respond in love to God, we enter into His joy and that is the goal of all living and all worship. Later she notes that “The image of God within us is love.” Not only is the image within us love, but also we are to be that image to the world.
Take a moment or more to consider how you view God? As the Judge who takes notes of every wrong action to hold up at the final judgment or as God on the Cross holding out arms of all embracing Love? Is God in every place, for you, so that all is the Gateway to Heaven or only in selected places and times, when you are ‘perfect’ and ‘all is well with the world’? What difference do the two images of God make?

Next time we will consider the God of Grace and God of Glory based on L'Engle and Rohr's thoughts.

October 6, 2013

St. Francis

Before we delve into Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow, let’s take one last look at Change and how it can impact not just a single person, but a culture and succeeding generations. October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. His story is one of pretty astonishing transformation to the work of God.

He started life as a rather ordinary son of a rich cloth merchant in Assisi. This meant he lived very privileged life by the standards of the day, with plenty of food on the table, rich clothing, and festive friends. After going off to war in 1201, he was imprisoned. Upon release, he returned to Assisi only to enlist in 1205 in the Count of Brienne’s army. He left the army not long afterward and returned to Assisi, a changed man.
Francis began praying for enlightenment, and to his parents chagrin, ministered to lepers and made a pilgrimage to Rome where he joined beggars. About this time, he had the famous vision of Christ in the chapel of San Damiano. The Lord told him, “Francis, go and repair My house, which, as you see, is falling into ruins.” Thinking this mean the physical chapel, he sold some of his father’s cloth goods (without permission). This action led his father to bring him before the Bishop of Assisi for judgment. It was then that Francis publically renounced his father and family, by removing everything his father had given him, including the clothes he was wearing.

Francis then took up the life of a beggar and penitent in the Assisi area and began working to restore several chapels. In 1209, he heard a sermon on Matthew 10:9. This inspired Francis to take up the life of an itinerant preacher. His actions gained him followers. This group formed a community, ministering to the ill and wandering the mountain communities of Umbria in Italy. Later in 1209, Francis sought permission to found the Order by travelling to Rome. Eventually he gained an audience with Pope Innocent III who finally granted his permission to Francis. The Franciscan Order was born in 1210.
The Order grew quickly. Francis’ preaching focused on the goodness and beauty of all that God made, and the need for redemption, as well as the duty of all to praise God and to be stewards of all creation. He is credited with calling various aspects of creation Brother and Sister, such as Brother Son, Sister Moon, Brother Poverty, Sister birds, etc. Francis was the first person to use a Nativity to tell the story of the Birth of Jesus. He used live people and animals to illustrate the story. This was such a hit, that is continues to this day.

My favorite legend involves Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. The wolf was terrifying the townsfolk, so Francis went to talk to it. When he found the animal, he commanded the creature to come to him. He said, “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you...But Brother Wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people." After this, the wolf no longer harassed the people and flocks. Of course we often see Francis portrayed with birds on his hands and shoulders because of his affinity for the creatures of God. This image is from the website and noted as on the Grounds of our Lady of Victory Convent, Lemont, IL.
Francis was not looking to be changed, but he was open to the call of God and as a result he changed the vision of God for the people of his area and beyond by the preaching of peace and brotherhood for all creation.

It is worth considering how we can be open to God call and how a change in our outlook and living might make an impact on our family, friends, community and beyond.