September 27, 2015

Rushing Water-Cleansing Spirit

This month we have been looking at nature as a metaphor for God’s presence. God’s love is obvious in the diversity of mountains, in the new life sprouting on seemingly barren cliffs, and in the grace that is like water seeping through rocks.
In both Colorado and at Christ in the Desert Monastery rushing water played an important part in my thoughts. When I went to Durango, CO, I wondered how bad the remnants of the toxic spill would be and was pleasantly surprised that the river was cleaning itself, or being cleaned by the rushing water. At the monastery, the powerfully running river itself was a reminder of the ever moving power of God.
In early August, a mistake by an EPA crew released millions of gallons of toxic orange mine waste into the Animas River from an abandoned gold mine. Two weeks later, when my husband and I were in the area, you could still see the orange stained rocks and there was orange water still in the eddies along the sides of the river. However, the actual movement of the water had flushed most of the orange waste down the river.

To me that was an image for the work of the Spirit of God moving to wash out the toxic influences in our lives, when we allow God in. It doesn’t matter what bad habits, actions, or influences we’ve been harboring and cultivating. When we say ‘here I am’ to God, the Spirit of the Living God will begin to transform our lives and souls until we are clean.  Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
It doesn’t matter how ‘bad’ we have been. God’s promise is sure. “None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.” (Ezekiel 33:16) God’s Spirit washes and renews us, just like the Animas River is being cleaned and renewed by the action of the water flowing downstream.
The Chama River runs right through Christ in the Desert Monastery. I always make time to walk down to sit by the river when I am there. Near the river it is green and lush, exactly the opposite of the limestone cliffs towering over the valley. When we stay close to the river of the Spirit, we’ll find that we, too, are as Hildegard of Bingen says ‘greening’. God's Spirit brings blessing and revives our wilting souls. This quote from a meditation reminds us that God is with us in everything:
Being in partnership with God is no lonely calling, because we can trust God to hear our anger, our fatigue, our sadness. We can trust God to help us carry our heaviest struggles. And we can trust God to provide for us in surprising ways. 
I invite you to consider what the rivers are in your life that refresh you. 
Is it Bible reading? Is it prayer? Is it sitting quietly and letting God sit with you? Is being with family and friends where you find God’s Spirit? Or do you feel closest to God when you are serving others?
Hildegard says we are lush and green because of our relationship with God, whatever form that takes. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of Hildegard’s words.

September 20, 2015

Rock and Water

At the beginning of September, I told about my visit to the Old 100 Gold Mine in Silverton, CO. The dripping of water through the ‘solid’ granite struck me as a metaphor for the way God’s grace can seep into our hearts.
I have been to Carlsbad Caverns a couple of times. The beauty of the formations inside that mountain are very different from the man-made tunnels at Silverton. The limestone strata that formed Carlsbad is very different from the granite of the Rocky Mountains. Through both types of rock, water seeps.
There was enough ground water coming out of the granite at the mine that it had a drainage trench running out of it. The guide noted that during mine operations (long ceased) that drainage served as a sewer as well as drainage for mine waste and the water that seeped in. Now, he said, it is probably safe to drink. (I doubt I’d have tried it even if offered!).
At Carlsbad, the water is full of dissolved minerals. The cave itself was hollowed out be water over many eons of eating away at the soluble rock. Now, water seeping through the rocky minerals that remain is re-deposited on the floor and ceiling of the caves form the stalactites and stalagmites.
Consider the 2 underground environments as metaphors for our hearts and lives. We can live with hearts of stone and let very little of God’s grace soak through and even less run out except after drilling and blasting makes a way. Or we can have hearts opened by the Living Water so that grace and love can seep in to form beautiful things.
In our day to day lives we encounter influences, news, problems, and conflicts that might seep into our hearts as pollution. Over time, if we aren’t careful, these things can clog our open hearts and stop the flow of God’s grace. We may need to do some drilling to allow those thing out of our hearts. How do we let the bad things run out of our hearts and keep the good Grace in to nourish our hearts?
The answer is restated over and over in scripture. In Deuteronomy 4:29, the people of Israel are reminded, “seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
God promises to replace our heart of stone. In Ezekiel 11:19, we hear, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh”. Later on, Ezekiel repeats God’s promise, Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
This week, I’m going to take some time to consider how ‘stony’ my heart is and offer to God the chance of opening it with God’s grace so that I may be have a heart of flesh that is available. When I encounter things that might pollute my heart, I’m going to try and offer them to God to wash out. I know God is faithful and will hear my requests.

September 13, 2015

Finding God when you Look Around

I was a participant in a vestry retreat at the end of August. We spent time at the monastery of Christ in the Desert. It’s a beautiful location, reached by a 13 mile gravel road, which can be treacherous if wet. This year it was fine and even fairly smooth. Those of us who had traveled the road before noted that we made ‘good time’ and were actually able to do up to 20 or even 25 MPH along the road. Once at the monastery there is no cell phone service, so you are out of touch for the duration. The Chama River runs right past the monastery and usually there is wildlife to be heard and sometimes seen. It is a serene and beautiful spot. It is easy to see why the monastery founders chose that location.
I arrived early to set up snacks and make preparations for the retreat. After a walk down to the Chama River that runs through and past the monastery on its way to join the Rio Grande, I returned to the guest house. Sitting on the deck, my thoughts focused on the limestone cliffs towering over the valley.
Your first impression might be that they are rather barren and impossibly steep cliffs. Then you start looking more closely. Steep yes, with piles of rocks that have fallen from the sides cluttering up the bottom of the cliffs. However, there is also a lot of life. Pine trees sprout up from cracks and grow tall. Small shrubs cluster here and there along the face of the cliff, wherever there is the slightest bit of dirt or level ground. Along the ridge line, a line of trees can be seen, which outlines it.
The more you stare at the cliff side, the more you see. Shadows turn out to be cracks, an abutment is really a tumble of huge stones, various shades of green highlight different trees and bushes, the jutting rock at the top of the cliff might look like a face in profile. It is easy to imagine how early humans would see their gods in the created world around them.
The Holy One who made all things is also very present in the cliffs and canyons where the river has tumbled for millennia. (Likely another reason the monks chose the location.) How can trees grow on the seemingly barren limestone walls? They grow because a tiny bit of dirt and a seed blew into a crack. It nestled there until the proper amount of moisture and sunlight brought forth life. And that life flourished.
In my own life there are what feel like barren cliffs. Things from the past that have left scars. However, sometimes I find myself pausing to sit with God and bravely stare at those scarred cliffs. Instead of barrenness, I see that there is new growth here and there. A seed of new life has found its way into the niche and grows there. Hidden and mostly unnoticed, nourished by prayer and study, the seed sprouts and starts to grow. Then suddenly, one day you realize the cliff is alive with abundant life!
We happened to be there during a full moon.  It was partially hidden behind clouds for the early part of the evening, which gave it a luminescent beauty. This got me thinking about the ways we often ignore God’s work which is right in front of us. We are too busy running to get our ‘important’ daily things done, and we neglect pausing to just see what God is doing. Then we pause and look around. 
Like the moon behind the clouds, God is always there, waiting to shine light on our lives. We just need to be willing to wait in the silence for the clouds to move away. The light pours down, illuminating the new life even on the scarred cliffs of the past.

I drew a picture of the cliff at the monastery to remind me that life and growth can sprout anywhere. From the scars of my past, things like books and curriculum have sprouted.

What might be growing in the, seemingly, desolate places in your hear? 
What action of God could you see if you took time to pause and look around?

September 6, 2015

Mountain Theology

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I took a long weekend and drove to Durango, CO. What was meant to be a nice refreshing weekend, and it was, also gave me some thoughts about faith and God’s call.
After we arrived, we rode the chair lift at the Durango Mountain/Purgatory Ski Resort. It takes you up to the top of one of the ski runs and from there you can wander around the trails, or just ride back down. Sitting in the chair lift with nothing but a bar between me and a long drop didn’t worry me. I just sat back and enjoyed the scenery, thinking about all the little animal eyes that were probably watching.
At the top, we found a nature trail and went along it for a ways. The mountains all around and the wild flowers were beautiful. The 10,000 ft. elevation did slow us down just a bit, but it gave us a chance to really look around. The bursting life was everywhere, baby pine trees near the path and on a fallen log, moss or lichen sending up pillars (no doubt full of spores).
I was reminded of the diversity and infinity of God’s creation and how we can take it for granted. Riding back down the chair lift at a level with the tops of the tall pines made me feel both insignificant and part of the entirety of creation.
Another adventure was the tour of the Old 100 Gold Mine at Silverton, CO. My father worked as a mining engineer when I was in grade school, so I had a little knowledge of what a mine is and does. However, I had never been inside a mine. What surprised me was the dampness of the tunnels. You wouldn’t think solid granite could drip, but it does. Limestone, like at Carlsbad Caverns, is more porous and so having that be drippy in spots wasn’t as surprising. And, of course, at Carlsbad you expect drips since that is how the formations were formed. In the gold mine, there were not stalactites or stalagmites because the minerals aren’t water soluble, but there was water seeping in and through and dripping from the ceiling and even running out the trench beside the track.
What sort of theological thoughts did that inspire, you ask? It made me consider how God’s grace seeps into even the hardest of hearts, but you won’t know it’s there until the heart is open and you find that living water.
Speaking of water, the Animas River runs from above Silverton through Durango and on toward the Grand Canyon. As most people know, there was a nasty spill of old mine waste into the Animas a month or so ago. It dyed the water a yucky orange and added dangerous chemicals to the water. In most places the water is now running clear, but along the edges and in eddies the water is still orange and you can see the orange line along the river rocks. However, the very fact that most of the water is running clear gave me another theological thought.
The rushing water, and the rushing Spirit of God, are both cleansing agents. The water washes the pollutants out and the Spirit washes our souls. We have to be careful, though, of the eddies that retain the pollutants and sin in our lives.
Over all, the weekend was not just restful, it gave me some thought provoking things to ponder and questions to consider.
What part of God’s action in my life am I missing because I don’t take time to look around?
Has it been God’s grace or the world’s influence that seeped into my heart?

How can I be open to allowing the Spirit to flow through my soul, cleansing and renewing?