April 24, 2016

Refreshed by Recounting

We are continuing to explore ways, old and new, to refresh our souls during the 50 days of the Easter season. So far we’ve looked at immersing yourself in the greatest Story ever told and taking time to have some fun.
Sometimes when you are worn out and everything feels dull, dry, and hopeless; it helps to consider all the blessings we actually have. The Bible has many reminders that this is a good thing. Psalm 103:2 says we should “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…” In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages us to give "thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20). Later we are encouraged to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Even popular culture tells us to "count your blessings, instead of counting sheep". (White Christmas, 1954)

Many writers suggest that we start ‘gratitude journals’ where on a regular basis we write down things we are thankful for. You can even find online lists of prompts for these journals, such as what food, or sound, or memory, or book are you grateful for today? These can be helpful if you are stumped about what to be thankful for. However, they rarely ask you to really consider the gifts, and beauty, and love that God surrounds us with daily. That is truly something to be grateful for.
As we become more and more aware of the wonderful things around us, we might just be less aware of the frustrations and troubles in our livesPsalm 105:1 tells us to “give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” That seems to imply that we are not just supposed to list our blessings, but that we are supposed to share them with one another.
What if, instead of just writing down things we are grateful for, we shared one thing each day that we thank God for. Maybe you can call or text or email a friend with your positive thought in order to share it. Perhaps you want to post it to Facebook for the whole world to see. Maybe you want to act on your gratitude by writing a note to a family member or co-worker, or pick up a box of donuts to share. Use your imagination and be creative in ways to share your blessings.
There is an old hymn, with a really catchy tune, that might make you decide that counting, and re-counting, your blessings is a good thing. The chorus says “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” You can hear the song, or just read the words below
Count Your Blessings  
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
    And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold.
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your Lord on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
We'll continue to consider ways to be refreshed for the next couple of weeks. What are some ways you are refreshed, renewed, restored in your relationship with God? 

April 17, 2016

Refreshed by Fun

During this Eastertide season between Easter and Pentecost, we are looking at how to refresh our souls, which may feel tired after the bustle of the day-to-day, and the preparations for Easter, and the upcoming end of school, too.
I am a grown up. In fact, some might say I’m ‘over the hill’. Gray hairs attest to a life lived for several decades. Along with those years comes the tendency to play less. There doesn’t seem to be time to do fun things anymore. After all, there are emails to answer, events to plan, blogs to write, work to get done… There’s a recent video making the rounds on Facebook saying we should ‘be more dog’. It shows a cat who decides to have more fun in life and play like a dog! (It’s actually an ad by a British cell phone company, but it is still cute.) 

What did you used to do to have fun? Did you play basketball in the street? Maybe you sat on the floor and played with dolls for hours. Was it great fun to ride your bike down a hill without peddling, or go to the zoo? I liked to read, and I also used to like to bake, and ride a horse, and walk in the woods. It can be easy to think we can find entertainment online or on the TV. That shuts us away from a whole world of fun. And FUN recharges our batteries!
We are never really too old to have fun. Perhaps we cannot ride a bike anymore due to physical constraints, but we can find something else that gives us the same enjoyment. Maybe just taking time to get outside and quit looking at the four walls of our office or house would be a start. Perhaps sitting down with one of the new coloring books for grown-ups would be a much needed break. It could be that you could mentor a child by taking them to the zoo or the park and show them the world that is real and not virtual.
I recently read a chapter in When God Whispers your Name by Max Lucado. He possets that Jesus went to the Marriage in Cana to have fun! Lucado suggests that as Christians we just maybe have become too concerned with ‘appearances’ to enjoy having fun. Maybe, as he notes, we need to learn to be children again. “Flirt. Giggle. Dip your cookie in your milk. Take a nap. Say you’re sorry if you hurt someone. Chase a butterfly. Be a child again. Loosen up. Don’t you have some people to hug, rocks to skip, or lips to kiss?...”
Did you ever stop to think that maybe Jesus liked children because they knew how to have fun? I watch my 5-year old granddaughter playing. She is in her own world of make-believe. I am reminded of the many years I spent in my own made up worlds. I could be anything I wanted. As we grow up, we put aside those ‘childish things’. However, I can imagine Jesus playing tag with the children who came to him, or accepting a little girl’s doll to hold.

Are there places to go and fun to do that you haven’t thought of recently? Now is the time to reconnect with Jesus who went to weddings for fun, attended parties with others who enjoyed a good time (even though they were characterized as wine-bibbers and sinners-Matthew 11:19), and welcomed children. Maybe we need to ‘be more dog’ just to have some more fun in life! Jesus had fun and so can we. 

April 10, 2016

Refreshed by Story

We are embarking on a journey in an ‘Easter’ way of life. Easter morning marks a new year, a new beginning. Just like January 1 marks the start of the secular calendar and Advent 1 marks the beginning of the Church Year. The empty tomb, as it says in Acts, ‘turned the world upside down’. And it changes our life if we let it.
In order to start off a new year, we might need to rest up from the busy-ness of the weeks leading up to that new year. Before January 1, there is all the Christmas rush and excitement, leaving some of us exhausted by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. Similarly, the bustle of getting ready for Easter, all the lovely, meaningful services of Holy Week, and the day itself can leave us feeling a bit tired and let down in the days called the Great 50 Days of Easter (the time in the church year between Easter and Pentecost). There can be a feeling of let-down.
We want to be joyful and celebrate, but we can find ourselves running on empty. Our soul’s batteries need to recharge and our gas tanks need refilled. How can we do that? One way is to let the great Story of Easter itself sink into our heart and imagination. Which is your favorite Easter appearance? Is it Mary Magdalene at the tomb? Is it on the Road to Emmaus? Do you connect with Thomas as he asks for a sign?
Take this favorite episode and really explore it. Give yourself the gift of plenty of time. Read it in more than one translation. Read it aloud. Search for art that represents the scene. 
Imagine yourself in the scene. If you want to consider the appearance to Thomas…Are you Thomas, are you the others in the room, or maybe you are a time traveling observer? What thoughts and feelings do you have as you participate in the scene and hear Jesus say ‘put your hand here, and be not faithless but believe’?
Sit quietly with the story, and read it again. Let the truth of the Risen Christ permeate your soul. Offer a prayer that pulls together all your experiences.
Let God be present in the Bible story, let God be present in your story. After sitting with your favorite Easter appearance story, consider how Jesus has appeared to you recently, or in the past year, or in the dim and distant past. Was it the smile of a friend, an unexpected affirmation, the answer to a prayer…?? Recollect that time in your life. How did it feel to have Jesus present actively in your life? Do you take time to recognize God every day and invite Jesus to ‘come in’, as the disciples did on the Road to Emmaus? They were amazed when they recognized Jesus. You and I might also be amazed at how often and how close Jesus is in our lives.

Jesus wants to be present and refresh our hearts every day. This Eastertide is the perfect time to intentionally allow God to be present. Seeing Jesus in the day-to-day will refuel our engines and recharge our batteries. 
Next time we'll look at another way to be refreshed during this Eastertide. 

April 3, 2016

Easter's Special Grace

When the women visited the tomb on the first Easter morning, they didn’t expect anything more than grief. They were prepared to anoint the dead body of their beloved Teacher and Friend. Instead, they were met by the Risen Lord. Their lives were transformed.
If we take seriously our Easter experience, we too can be surprised and transformed into a new way of living. We can be ‘Easter people’ living into a life filled with grace, even while we are in the midst of the day-to-day living.
Christian mystics through the centuries and Celtic Christianity call us to see that there is Holy in each and every aspect of our lives. For Celtic Christians, the day was imbued with prayer to and interaction with the Trinity. Brother Lawrence is credited with praising God even in the menial kitchen tasks of scraping the pans and washing the dishes. He was able to do that because he understood that God is present and revealed in every second, every action. When we are able to see our day-to-day tasks in that way, we very well could find our lives transformed.
There can be many distractions every day. We may not see the Risen Lord in front of us. Mary did not recognize Jesus at first. She thought he was the gardener. Our own pre-conceived ideas, messages from our past, or from society, may make our vision blurry. I’ve borrowed some topics from other bloggers, and added some of my own thoughts, as tools to help us learn to be aware and see God in all things.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll look at some ways to renew our souls and open our eyes as well as nurturing not just ourselves, but one another. Come along on the journey to ‘recharge’, ‘play’, ‘mentor’, ‘speak’, and many other topics.
One way to start being transformed by prayer like using this Celtic Trinity Blessing from the Carmina Gadelica:

God’s blessing be yours,
and well may it befall you;
Christ’s blessing be yours,
and well be you entreated;
Spirit’s blessing be yours,
and well spend you your lives,
each day that you rise up,
each night that you lie down