December 24, 2017

Journey to Bethlehem: At the Manger

On December 24, there are celebrations of all kinds in Christian churches around the world. From the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem itself to tiny congregations of only a few people, the birth of Jesus is celebrated with the words from Luke. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Over the past 3 weeks, we’ve journeyed with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth, along the Jordan River Valley to Bethlehem. It has been a time to look at what we bring to the journey and what we might be better off leaving behind. The road of life is never as smooth as we might wish. In fact, it is often more like a labyrinth with twists and turns rather than a straight path.

Last week, we paused to be with Mary and Joseph as they arrived in the bustle of Bethlehem and looked for a place to stay. Now, we come to the manger and sit in awe of God’s gift of Love. As Ann Voskamp wrote on Dec. 18 “Christ doesn’t reveal the outcome of what we face, but He reveals to us His Face. This is the gift of Christmas that flickers in the pitch black…Advent means that we meet whatever comes to us — with this brazen belief that it is Love that Comes Down…[Do we prepare for Christmas] by readying the heart to receive the gift of every moment — no matter what the moment unexpectedly holds — as a gift of His love?...No matter the barrenness you feel, you can always have as much Jesus as you want.”

We’ve journeyed with Mary and Joseph and maybe considered our life’s labyrinth this Advent. The truth we believe and live is “the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son. (John 1:14 New Living Translation)

Now we come to the manger to welcome the Holy Child. What is your response to the ‘love come down at Christmas’? What do you bring to the manger?

As Christina Rossetti wrote in her famous poem My Gift:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,--
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart
Perhaps in 2018 we'll give more of our heart to Christ Incarnate in the world around us and in the people we meet. Perhaps in that way we can give a glimpse to the hurting world that 'Love HAS come down'. 
A new series starts in 2018. See you then.

December 17, 2017

Advent Journey to Bethlehem: Arrival

We’ve walked with Mary and Joseph as they packed for their journey to Bethlehem in compliance with the ‘decree that all should be registered’. We’ve looked at what we might pack, spiritually for Advent. Last week, we pondered their journey and how it was not an easy trip, nor is our life’s road always smooth and straight.

Now we arrive, with the couple, in Bethlehem. It is a small town. There are not many public places to stay. Even the private homes are full to bursting because of the influx of travelers for the census. No wonder Joseph is found wandering from door to door in the Hispanic tradition of Las Posadas. That is a time-honored retelling of the story of the Holy Family’s arrival in Bethlehem and finding ‘no room in the inn’. As we hear the story, we may think of ‘inns’ in the modern way of a motel. That is not at all what Mary and Joseph would have found. At best, there would be a place to bed down in the lower part of a home where the animals would also be. At worst, it would be a fenced-in, but open to the elements, area again milling with animals and other people. Hardly the place to go into labor or deliver a child.

In fact, the offer of a stable, or more likely a cave where animals sheltered was probably very welcome. With our modern sensibilities, we think we wouldn’t want to bed down in a barn. In fact, a barn would have been a warm and cozy place. It would have been sheltered and dry. Probably there was straw on the floor, or straw could be laid on the floor to make a softer bed.
Getting to your destination is always a mixture of relief and bustle. There is unloading the car and getting settled into your room. Whether the couple found shelter with a distant family member (as in my book Mary, My Love) or in a stranger’s spare cave, Joseph would have needed to tend to the donkey and see that Mary was comfortable.

We don’t know if Mary was actually in labor upon their arrival, or if that came a bit later. Certainly walking 100 miles, or riding on a donkey, could be enough to hurry labor pains along if she was close to delivering. Of course, tradition says that she was imminently giving birth when the couple arrived in Bethlehem. That is why they couldn’t just bed down in the open caravan yard.

Luke tells us it was “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” So we can interpret the timing as we choose. Even if Mary was not yet in labor, she would be especially grateful to stop moving. Walking 100 miles when you are ‘heavy with child’ would be tiring for anyone, even a strong young woman.

Sit quietly and re-read the Luke account. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

In the Lexio Divino tradition of Bible meditation, it is suggested that a passage be read at least 2 or 3 times, pausing to think about it each time. Using a different translation can sometimes open new thoughts on a familiar passage. The internet makes it easy to find different translations.

Then, try to put yourself in the sandals of Mary or Joseph as they arrive in Bethlehem. Normally it is not a quiet town, but now, it is very busy. There are people and animals everywhere. Imagine the noise-the shouting and pushing. Can you hear the bleating of the sheep and the snorts of assorted camels? Dogs everywhere are on high alert and barking at the multitudes in the homes and streets.

Inhale some of the odors in Bethlehem. Do you smell various animals and smoke from cooking fires, the scent of food, mixed with the rising dust from feet trampling along the street? Is that a tantalizing hint of spice?

What do you feel as you walk down the street, strangers in an unfamiliar place? Can you even get someone’s attention to ask directions? And when you do find your way to someplace that may have lodging, you are told “no room”. How do you feel when you hear that there is no place for your wife to rest?

In the enactment of this scene during the annual Las Posadas in Hispanic communities, esp. in the Southwestern US and Mexico, the couple stop at many homes along the street, always hearing the same refrain. Often it is played out over several evenings with a different home being visited each night. At last, the couple find refuge and a cradle for the Child to be born.

As you contemplate the citation from Luke, enter into the relief of the pair as they finally do find a place to stay. Sit with Mary and Joseph as they settle in to their temporary home.  At last they can stop walking, unpack the donkey, and rest. Even if Mary was not yet in labor, she would be especially grateful to stop moving. Walking 100 miles when you are ‘heavy with child’ would be tiring for anyone, even a strong young woman.
Take time this week to sit and wait for the coming of the Christ Child. There was a thought-provoking prayer/poem Kimbely Knowle-Zeller on Episcopal Cafe on December 12 that you may want to read. She reminds us that even though we may get tired of waiting, “this waiting is just the beginning/A beginning of love coming down”. 

December 10, 2017

Advent Journey to Bethlehem: On the Road

This Advent we are going along with Mary and Joseph on their Journey to Bethlehem. Last week we looked at what they might have packed, and what spiritual things we might pack for an Advent journey. Did you decide that there were things you really needed to take along and others that you could do without? For me, I’m trying a day without internet as part of the journey.

This week, we’ll look at the journey itself. According to the experts, there are a couple of possible routes, both of which make a trek from Nazareth through the Valley of Jezreel, down to the Jordan. Some scholars suggest that the couple crossed the Jordan and continued on the eastern side, crossing back at Jericho. Others insist that they stayed on the west side of the Jordan down to Jericho before turning southwest toward Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Of course, if you look at a map, the most direct route would be straight south from Nazareth. However, that road would have gone through Samaria and most Jews avoided traveling in Samaria.
In any case, the trip was about 100 miles on foot, and/or on donkey. This means it would have been from 8-10 days of walking. It is very likely that the pair traveled with a caravan since it was unsafe to be on the roads alone. With so many people traveling to their home towns it was probably easy to find someone to go with. Even in a caravan it would have been a difficult journey for a pregnant woman.

Amy Grant sings Mary’s Song that highlights Mary’s confusion and longing on her journey. “I have traveled many moonless nights/Cold and weary with a babe inside/And I wonder what I've done/Holy Father you have come/And chosen me now/To carry your son.” The song continues as she sings, “I am frightened by the load I bear/In a world as cold as stone/Must I walk this path alone/Be with me now”

Like Mary we are Christ-bearers in a ‘world as cold as stone’. As we travel through Advent this year, we may also find that it’s not an easy trip. The holidays can bring up old memories that may not be hurtful or sad. The 4-week trek can seem very long when all around people are acting joyful and carefree. We can be under pressure to pretend that we are cheerful, too.

St. Paul notes that the Christian journey itself is not always easy. He says, “I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not.” (2 Corinthians 11:26).

It is OK to not conform to the secular, hectic pace of the season. It is fine to seek reflective time to deal with your feelings, whether they are happy or not. Are you on a difficult journey this Advent? Can you find someone to walk with you on your Advent trip?

Sometimes it helps to have a friend to talk to and share the feelings with. Jesus promises that “when 2 or 3 are gathered together” that God is there. (Matthew 18:20) Meet with a trusted friend and invite Jesus into the conversation.

Like Mary we can come to realize that we are not alone. As Amy Grant sings, it is the “Breath of heaven” with us always. With Mary (and Amy) we can pray, “Hold me together/Be forever near me/Lighten my darkness/Pour over me your holiness/For you are holy/Breath of heaven”

Whether your Advent road is smooth or rocky this year, remember it is just part of the total journey of your life that is full of twists and turns. I was recently reminded that our faith journey, in fact, is much more like a labyrinth with it’s twists and U-turns, than a straight road from birth to death. Through it all, we are called to bear Christ to the world that is dark and longing. 
Take time to pause and consider where you are on your journey, and enjoy the trip. Next week, we’ll look at what might have happened when the travelers reached their destination.

December 3, 2017

Advent Journey to Bethlehem: What to Pack

Today is the first day of the Season of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. It is a time of new beginnings, because it is the Church’s New Year. Advent is a time to pause, if only briefly, amid all the secular preparations and be amazed that the Holy God loves us so much that God became incarnate (was made human) to reconcile us to relationship.

This Advent, I invite you to come with Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem and explore what parallels there could be to our own Advent journey.

We know the story of Mary and Joseph’s travels from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The Gospel account is pretty sparse in details. What did everyone think when they heard of the census? I can guess that there was a lot of grumbling and likely even some cursing about the government wanting to count the conquered people. Very likely there was a prayer for Messiah to come. The Messiah as envisioned by the people would overthrow Rome and restore Israel, as had happened under the Maccabees a couple centuries earlier.

On an individual level, though, there was preparation. Because you had to return to your family home, Luke tells us, “Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” There were many routes the family could have taken, and we’ll look at that next week. This week, we are looking at the preparations for the journey.

What do you do when you are getting ready for a trip? Are you one who plans out every detail and packs what is needed for rain or shine? Or are you more laid back and just toss in a few changes of clothing and underwear and hope for the best on the adventure?

Let’s think about what Mary and Joseph might have packed for a journey of about 100 miles (about 10 days). They had the additional planning for the likelihood of her child being born while they were away from Nazareth. We don’t know if they needed to arrange for someone to care for any animals they might have owned. Possibly they owned a sheep or 2 or a goat for milk. They might have had a dog around the house and a cat in the wood shop to keep down the mice. These weren’t the pampered pets we now have. They would have been much more self-sufficient, especially the cat.

Tradition says that they owned a donkey and that Mary rode that animal at least part of the way to Bethlehem. A donkey can carry about 100 pounds for a distance. If Mary rode, there wasn’t much opportunity to pile the packs on the animal, too, so Joseph would have needed to carry their supplies himself. An average man can carry 50-60 pounds, so the couple would need to keep that in mind as they packed. Let’s imagine that they could only take as much as can be put in a suitcase without paying extra weight charges at the airport.

For the trip, they needed something to keep them clothed. It is likely that they didn’t own very many changes of clothes, so it was not as onerous a task as it is when we decide to pack for a trip. Perhaps a clean tunic and a heavy outer robe that would also serve as a blanket would be all the extra items needed.

Perhaps they carried along mats of some sort to sleep on at night, so they wouldn’t have to lay directly on the ground. Maybe Joseph even included the supplies for some kind of small tent to protect Mary from the nightly elements.

Food for the trip was a necessity as there were not convenient McDonald’s along the route to grab a snack. Nor were there handy WalMarts to stop at to pick up supplies left behind. They could shop or trade in village markets when they passed through, if they had the coins or items to barter with.

Joseph probably took at least a few of his tools so that he might earn some money or food by doing odd jobs along the way.

The couple would have taken some swaddling cloths and blankets for the soon-to-arrive baby. However, they wouldn’t have been laden with all the paraphernalia and gadgets that we think are essential for infants.

What do their preparations for the trip tell us about our preparations for this Advent journey?

What kind of clothing do we need for our journey through Advent? Do we need food or shelter? Are their tools we might need or special items that we should take along?

Isaiah 61:10 tells us what kind of clothing God has prepared for us. “…He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” That’s pretty fancy clothing for a trip. However, this isn’t just any trip. We are going to meet the King of Kings, our Bridegroom, the Son of the Living God! We don’t have to worry about what to wear because God’s love already has us covered.

What about tools? Let’s look at Ephesians 6:13-17 for some things we can add to our outfit and carry as tools. “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Our journey may be to the Wedding Banquet, but it is not always an easy trek. Therefore, we need to be prepared with truth, righteousness, and peace. Most of all we have the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit for protection.

Do we need to pack food for our Advent journey? Food is a huge part of the secular celebrations of the season. What spiritual food should we pack? In Isaiah 25:6 we hear, “The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.” Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51) And of course, we have the Eucharist to feed us as instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper.
In Exodus, the Israelites complained that they didn’t have food, and God sent manna for them. It was a food they simply had to gather and consume. We are offered a similar feast on our Advent journey. God will provide the food we need for the journey, if we are open to accepting it. If we take time to be on this journey, we will find that we are fed, and clothed, and led.
Do you have ideas of other things you would pack for this Advent journey with Mary and Joseph? 

Next time, we’ll consider the actual road trip that Mary and Joseph embarked on. 

November 26, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: in Thanks

Many gathered this past Thursday, and throughout the weekend, to give thanks and to remember blessings of family and friends. Thanksgiving is one of the cornerstones of our interaction with God, and a way to find Holy Ground. 
In our celebrations, may we remember those less fortunate. As Br. Allen notes, “God does not need our prayers in order to call others to ministry, but I believe that God wants our prayers so that we may be aware of the needs of the Church and the world - and be aware of the role of every one of us to help guide, nurture, and encourage those whom we know who are responding to God’s call.” (Br. David Allen, Society of St. John, Evangelist)

May your prayers help you be aware of God’s Holy Ground within and around you.

Next week is the beginning of Advent, when we look toward and prepare for the birth of Jesus and the celebration of Christmas.

November 19, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Love

As we near the end of this series of meditation of Finding Holy Ground, we’ve arrived at the source of where Holy Ground is deeply rooted. Love is the soil of all Holy Ground. All that we experience of Holy Ground through our senses, our interactions with one another, in our work and our rest begins in love.

It is God’s love for us that is the core of all Holy Ground. The Holy Ground of Creation was based in the Love that desired beauty, life, and companionship. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said ‘remove your sandals because you are standing on Holy Ground’, it was God’s love for the enslaved Hebrews that sparked the bush. Seeing or tasting or hearing God’s Holy Ground in the world around us is our response to God’s love for us. Life itself is the Holy Ground where God’s love meets us.

We do live in a broken world that only dimly perceives that Holy Ground and that Love. We are called to be the hands and feet and lips of God’s Love to the world. Teresa of Avila notes “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he works compassion on this world...”

I am reminded that when Naaman the Syrian was healed of his leprosy, he asked to take some of the dirt of Israel back to Syria so he could be reminded of Who is truly God. “Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt-offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:17) We carry and spread the Holy Ground around us each day, too.

In I Corinthians 13, Paul explains Love. He says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

As we go through our daily lives, we are challenged and sometimes respond in unloving ways. It is easy to respond to criticism with anger; to demands with stubbornness; to hatred with more hate. Love is not the easy path to take. It requires ‘turning the other cheek’, as Jesus counselled in Matthew 5:39 and following. He advises, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…”

Love is, as Paul says, “patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

The truth, despite all the media coverage of rage and hate and killing, is that Love has triumphed. As Ann Voskamp noted on November 6, “Never forget it: That serpent is crushed on the ground and Jesus is on the throne.” 
What can you and I do today and tomorrow and the next day to bring more of God’s Holy Ground and Love into our world? We can start by bringing just a bit more into the places we are and with the people we relate to. Like Naaman, we carry the Holy Ground with us. It may not be easy, but with God’s help, we can spread some Holy Ground around us.

November 12, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Rest

Last week we considered how to discover Holy Ground in the busy-ness of our work-a-day lives. This time, we’re contemplating finding Holy Ground in Rest and Relaxation. This is a category I have difficulty with. I am much more comfortable getting things done, than in sitting and doing nothing.

Jesus commends the practice though. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’" (Mark 6:31)

Jesus himself went away for quiet, when the crowds became too crushing. “But the news about Jesus spread all the more, and great crowds came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

It is often very easy to think we are too busy to take time off. The world won’t stop spinning if we take a day or 2 of rest. In My Fair Lady, Eliza sings “There'll be spring every year without you/England still will be here without you/There'll be fruit on the tree/And a shore by the sea/There'll be crumpets and tea without you.” She is, of course talking to Professor Harry Higgins. However, it is a reminder that we could all use sometimes. God tells us, “Without your pulling it the tide comes in/Without your twirling it, the Earth can spin/Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by”.

My spiritual director has advised me to take a retreat, in order to refill the cup of my soul, so I can continue in the various work and ministry I do. She is reminding me that I’m not irreplaceable in any of my roles. The assorted tasks will get done (or not) just as well with me there or away. After all, “without much ado we can/All muddle through without you.”

The One we cannot do without is the One who too often gets ignored or pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Next weekend, I’ll be at a retreat focusing on Sabbath. It won’t be totally without work for me, as I’m the coordinator. Still, I hope to find some quiet for myself somewhere in the midst of it all.
Is it time to find a Sabbath time for yourself? Is it time to step away from some of what you do in order to get a drink from the well of life? Is it time to put God at the top of your to-do list?

November 5, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Work

Over this series we’ve been contemplating how to identify Holy Ground in all sorts of ways. We pondered how our senses help us find that Holy Ground. We looked at the Holy Ground within ourselves and those around us. Have you been able to look for, and see, Holy Ground more readily over the past couple of months?

Many of us spend much of our time involved in work of some sort. Do you find it difficult to think of the daily work as Holy Ground? It is easy to get so involved in doing or finishing a project that we don’t take time to look for God’s presence in what we are doing. We can also compartmentalize our lives into ‘work for money’ and ‘work for God’. The Theology of Work Project focuses on pointing out the truth that everything we do in life is ‘work for God’. It may be sweeping a floor or running a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Everything we do, as we live, is part of bringing the Kingdom of God into existence

Some days we do it better than others. I don’t know about you, but often I get focused on the task at hand and can easily resent an interruption in the form of a phone call or someone coming into the office. I have to remind myself that as Br. David Vryhof of the Society of St. John, Evangelist says, “Interruptions are not always obstacles; sometimes they are opportunities. If we fail to recognize them, we will miss the experiences of grace that are hidden in them.” There is a good chance that God is showing up in the form of that person on the other end of the phone or standing in front of you, disguised as a coworker or visitor.

When I do take time for what is happening around me, I discover that I generally have enough time to finish my work, even with the ‘interruptions’. I also realize that I have been enriched and even blessed by the people I interact with. When I stop and refocus and remind myself that each thing I do is a Kingdom action, even mundane tasks do feel more fulfilling.

It might be self-affirming to check off all the items on the daily to-do list, but it is much more important to be present to the opportunity to welcome God. Henri Nouwen (In the Name of Jesus, 1989) suggests that we need to be “people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word and to taste fully God's infinite goodness.” We can only do that when we are open to the interruptions to our plans.

It is gratifying to get a lot of work done and be recognized as a ‘good’ or ‘dedicated’ worker. Again, it is the Brothers at the Society of St. John, Evangelist who remind us, “We should not seek external reward for service to God and to others because we could easily be distracted from the true reward. The greater satisfaction, the greater gratification, the greater reward is God. God promised to be with us always; God promised to abide in us as we abide in God.” (Br. Mark Brown)

This week, I’m going to try to be more aware of God’s interruptions to my daily routine. As Mrs. Brown Sparrow says, in one of my all-time favorite children’s stories, The Contented Little Pussycat, “There are so many things to trouble a body.” I would add, there are many, many things to keep us busy. The Contented Little Pussycat responds, after much thought, that he is contented because he ‘never worries about what might happen tomorrow’ or what happened yesterday. To be contented, this wise kitten lives in the Now.

Since ‘now’ is all we really have, we would be well advised to follow his advice and live this second and then the next. There’s a Christian song by Steven Curtis Chapman that says all we have is ‘right now’, and we should live The Next 5 Minutes like it’s our ‘last 5 minutes’ .

Being aware of God in and through us in 5 minutes segments might be a start to discovering that we are on God’s Holy Ground even in the middle of our ‘working’ life. What might you do this week to live in the present, the now, and take living 5 minutes at a time? 

October 29, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In Self-Denial

Last week, we tackled the difficult idea of finding Holy Ground in one another, esp. those we don’t really like or agree with, or perhaps even hate or fear. Did you have any luck in looking for Christ in someone you typically have trouble dealing with? It calls for a bit of dying to self to do that, doesn’t it?

With All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) just around the corner, it is a good time to ponder how exactly we can find Holy Ground in death and loss. Whether that is physical death of a loved one, death of a dream or hope, or just ‘dying to self’ it can be a holy time.

The ancient Celts, whose practices gave birth to the celebration of Halloween, believed that this season of the year was a ‘thin time’. It is a time when the veil between the living and dead is pulled aside and the dead can return to their homes. Other cultures have similar practices. The Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations are based on the idea that the dead need fed and nurtured at this time of year. Chinese families also leave food offerings for their dead relatives. All these practices recognize that the past, and esp. our ancestors, have an impact on our lives now.

In the Disney movie Mulan, the Ancestors awaken when Mulan takes her father’s place as a warrior. She is willing to put herself at risk to save her father’s life. It is only in letting go of the cultural restrictions that Mulan becomes who she really is. It is not as a woman dressed as a man, but as a woman, that she ultimately saves China and the Emperor from the invading Huns.

Perhaps our forbearers, both familial and in the faith, can help us find the way to Holy Ground, when the veil is thin. Recognition of the thin space between preserving our life as status quo and denying ourselves for the greater good is Holy Ground.

In Luke 9: 23-25, Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

It is not easy to follow this teaching. There is so much in the world that encourages us to put ourselves first. This product or that one will make you beautiful or popular or rich or even famous. Jesus’ followers are told to live in exactly the opposite way. To ‘deny themselves’ and love one another. That will almost certainly lead to being counter-cultural. Denying our desires and wants in order to honor the Holy Ground in someone else is not easy. Maybe it’s simply letting someone merge in traffic when you are in a hurry, or allowing another person to get the closer parking space at Walmart. Or it could be standing up for the rights of the homeless, the poor, the sick, the abused and thereby becoming one of ‘those’ radical activists.
Take a few minutes to think about the impact of the faith, or lack of faith, in your family tree. How has Holy Ground been nurtured in your by family or friends throughout your life? Can you recognize times when your family or friends did ‘deny themselves’ so that you could prosper? What one thing can you do this week to ‘deny yourself’?

October 22, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In Others

Last week we paused to consider the idea that we are God’s Holy Ground, and God’s co-workers. We each bear fruit in and for the Kingdom. The hypothesis would be: If I am God’s Holy Ground: then every other person on the planet is also God’s Holy Ground.

That can be difficult to believe when there is so much hatred and violence. There are wars and shootings, there is pain and suffering, there is loss and death. How can the person or people who cause the death and suffering be God’s Holy Ground? It’s easy to see that someone like Mother Teresa is Holy Ground. It is harder to identify Holy Ground in a drug addict or terrorist.

However, isn’t that exactly what we are called to do? Called to see God’s flame in each and everyone we meet? Called to notice the Holy Ground in the lost and frightened? Called to recognize that God is present in those we’d prefer to categorize as ‘other’ or ‘different’ or ‘bad’ or…all the other titles we can give one another?

On Oct. 15 in her Episcopal Café Speaking to the Soul post, Linda McMillan quoted Anne Lamott, “You can safely assume you‘ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” McMillan goes on to note, “A lot of times our actions and our talking have an edge, an undercurrent of hostility, to borrow a phrase.” She is talking mainly about social media interactions that are mean-spirited. However, it has become the norm in many face-to-face conversations to have just the slightest edge when talking about some topics, or to be snide or sharp about this or that person. Perhaps it’s a co-worker, or a politician, or another public figure, we do what my mother used to call ‘damn with a word’. We don’t necessarily even say anything, but the sigh, the rolled eyes, the slight sneer all say volumes.

McMillan reminds us, “another danger is to become so angry that we forget the real answer to that question my friend posed. Who do they think they are? I know who they are. They are beloved children of God; complicated, and reviled, but also loved. I don’t like it, but there’s no getting around it. It is neither just nor wise to judge a person’s life based on the worst things they’ve ever done. I want to be judged on the best, kindest, noblest things I’ve ever done, after all, how about you?”

In the Epistle from last Sunday, Paul says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:2-9)

Paul urges the community at Philippi to be like-minded, not mean-spirited. He encourages them to think about GOOD things-honorable, just, pure things, rather than focusing on the negatives of circumstances or of one another.

How can we see God’s face in everyone? How do we respond to the question of ‘Who do they think they are?’ Can we possibly look for the good in those we would rather categorize?

Linda McMillan concludes her meditation, “When you feel the hostility rise, and the blanket of being right enfolds you, ask yourself this? What kind of person am I becoming? Who will I be when this is all over? Then go out and actually be the kind of change you want to see in the world: Do a kindness for someone who needs it, or for yourself! You probably need it! Let some joy enter the world by letting it enter your own life. Laugh, and dance, and sing as if the kingdom of God had already come, because it has!”

Perhaps this week you can find something uplifting to post on Facebook instead of responding to a negative comment. Perhaps, instead of entering into conversations demeaning another of God’s beloved ones, you can find something positive to say. Look for the Holy Ground in each and every person you meet, talk about, or see on TV. It won’t be easy, but it might take just a touch of the anger out of the cosmos and replace it with something beautiful. It might replace hatred with Holy Ground

McMillan adds a PS to her meditation. She says, “And I will keep looking for [the image of God] in you, in my students, in my boss in whom it is also fairly dim… You get the idea. Our sacred pledge in baptism is to seek and serve Christ in every person. If you don’t even seek Christ, you can’t serve Christ. So, keep looking. Even if you never find any image of God in another person, don’t let it be because you weren’t looking.”

October 15, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In You

Since the beginning of September, we’ve been looking for God-for Holy Ground in our 5 senses. To really find the Holy Ground of God, we’ve had to slow down and pause. We’ve tried to really look, smell, taste, hear, and touch things that we often take for granted. As we pause to experience the things around us, we can come closer to finding Holy Ground in ourselves.

Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John Evangelist notes, “For us to take in the promise of Jesus’ presence, we need to be really present to life. Now. If you’ve been living your life at such a pace that you’ve forgotten what now even looks like, try doing one thing at a time. Start small; start now. Try just drinking a cup of coffee. Don’t be on the phone; no newspaper; no conversation. Just drink coffee.”

We can be so busy that we lose sight of who we are and, more importantly, Whose we are. We cannot be aware of the Holy Ground around and in us when we are multi-tasking. There are lots of things that distract us from taking time for ourselves. There’s the text to answer, the Facebook to update, the phone call to make, the meeting to attend… Sometimes it seems like we are running from ourselves-or from God.

Tim Yee writes meditations for the site Life for Leaders . On October 1, he referred to God’s response to Samuel about the choice of David as the next king for Israel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7b). He goes on to say, “We can fall into the trap of defining our value based on external criteria demanded by others and even ourselves…we each must know that the Lord is looking at our hearts—our inner-lives of being God’s children called to join God in his kingdom expansion on this earth.”

God looks at the heart and God loves each of us. God wants to work through and with us in all that we do. We are God’s Holy Ground. We are co-workers in the vineyard. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus says. (John 15:5) We are to remain in relationship with God in order to bear fruit and be fertile, as well as holy, ground. Jesus continues, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” (John 15:15-16)

Laurie Gudim in the Speaking to the Soul meditation at Episcopal Café on October 12 says, “I had a dream once in which God leaned close, smelling my hair, much as I used to bury my nose in the hair of my children when they sat on my lap, to catch and treasure that unique scent that was such a part of them…” She says, “I dare an open moment, an expectant silence. I dare to believe that I matter, that God has many things that God would say to me. I dare to believe that God yearns to say them.”

What might God desire to say to you? Can you imagine yourself in God’s arms? Do you hear God say ‘you are beloved’, ‘you are my child, my daughter, my son’, ‘you are mine, I chose you’?
Listen to God and make a list of the affirmations God is trying to say to you. Set aside the busy-ness and just listen. You may be surprised at the Holy Ground you will find!

October 8, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Touch

Were you more aware of the smells around you last week? Have you been more conscious of seeing and hearing God in all things? There is Holy Ground all around if we can just let ourselves experience it. As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”  (Altar in the World)

And so, we come to the fifth of our senses: the sense of touch. Have you ever stopped to think about how many things you touch each day? We touch the alarm clock when it goes off. We touch the sheets and toothbrush. We touch the coffee pot and cup. We touch the keyboard and the cell phone. We touch the hand of a friend or spouse. We touch the fruit in our lunch. The list is endless. How many times are you really aware of what you are touching? Do you take time to feel the texture of the skin of the orange, or wrap your hands around the warmth of the cup of tea? Do you pause to caress the cheek of your child or feel the smooth fur of your pet?
In times of crisis, the touch of a hand can be just as important, or even more important than words. Reaching out to touch and hold someone who is ill, or grieving, or sad is a powerful way to give comfort, and to be the hand of God. Touch brings Holy Ground to that moment

For me, I’m afraid that usually it’s more a cursory touch and much more often it’s really absent-minded. I don’t necessarily feel the steering wheel in my hands or the warm water when I’m washing dishes. My mind is somewhere else entirely. Brother Lawrence (1614-91) is famous for his words recorded in Practicing the Presence of God. Despite being assigned to washing dishes in the kitchen, he took time to really find God in the work. He touched God in the dishes and noted, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

There is a well-known song (Holy Ground) that reminds us

This is holy ground

We're standing on holy ground
For the Lord is present
And where He is is holy
This is holy ground
We're standing on holy ground
For the Lord is present
And where He is is holy

These are holy hands
He's given us holy hands
He works through these hands

And so these hands are holy
These are holy hands
He's given us holy hands
He works through these hands
And so these hands are holy

These are holy lips
He's given us holy lips
He speaks through these lips
And so these lips are holy
These are holy lips
He's given us holy lips
He speaks through these lips
And so these lips are holy

(1982 Universal Music - Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.), Birdwing Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

We may think that we don’t have the time, or the concentration necessary to realize that we touch God every time we use our hands. I wonder if we did pause to really touch a few things, if we’d find ourselves touching the hand of God. The well known image from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel can be a reminder that God touched Adam and touches us. It is that touch that gives life! Why don’t you try this week holding and really touching something, or someone? Feel the smoothness or roughness. 

We find the Holy Ground of God in all our senses, as we’ve been discovering over the past few weeks. Next time, we’ll move on into finding the Holy Ground in ourselves and others.

October 1, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Smell

In our exploration of finding Holy Ground through our 5 senses, we’ve come to the sense of smell. We started this series the beginning of September and have looked at finding Holy Ground in sight, hearing, and tasting.
There are a lot of odors in the world. Some are lovely, like a rose. Others make us grimace, like the smell of a skunk or garbage. Sometimes when you walk or drive past a restaurant you can smell the burgers or spicy food or cakes that are being prepared. The smell invites you to come in and try something. Smell can also repel us if we get too close to someone who hasn’t had a bath in a long time or who has bad breath.

Depending on where you live, sitting outside and inhaling the scents in the air can be refreshing or not. If you have fragrant flowers in your yard, you’ll experience their lovely smell. There is a cereal factory in my city and we always hope they are baking when we drive past because it’s such a yummy and delicious smell. Living near a chemical factory or freeway will bring you different odors when you breathe deeply. When we have forest fires nearby, you can smell the acrid odor that even leaves a taste in your mouth.

We all know what it means when someone says, ‘he’s a stinker’. It’s not that the person physically smells. Rather it’s his actions that are unsavory. Or someone can ‘come out smelling like a rose’. Again, it’s not the physical, but the moral aroma that is referred to.

The Old Testament has many references to the sweet smell of sacrifice, and how that pleases God. In the New Testament, we are encouraged to “and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.” (Ephesians 5:2) In Second Corinthians the people of God are compared to that beautiful scent. Paul says, “thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Saint Paul tells us we are supposed to be a ‘fragrant sacrificial offering to God’ in all that we do. We are called to be the ‘fragrance from life to life’. We are to live so that our lives provide good ‘smells’ to one another. Perhaps Paul was thinking about the difference between walking past an oven baking bread, and walking past the local refuse pile. The bread is good for food and life. The dump is full of decaying things. How can our lives be like the sweet smell of something delicious? In what way are you and I the ‘aroma of God’? We do this by ‘knowing him’ and letting our lives point to God instead of ourselves. Matt Redman’s song Heart of Worship is an offering of self to God’s service.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come

Longin' just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm comin' back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
It's all about You, Jesu
As Redman says, “It’s all about You…Jesus”. That is where we find Holy Ground in being a fragrant offering to one another. 

September 24, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Taste

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve started looking for Holy Ground in the most basic of places-our 5 senses. We looked at the world around us to find Holy Ground with our sight. We listened to the sounds of God in the world to discover the same Holy Ground through our ears. Today, we consider how we might find Holy Ground in our tasting.

Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” How do we taste the goodness of the Lord? Certainly, there are many ways. Today we are contemplating the Holy Ground found in the actual sense of taste.

Scientifically, there are 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (or savory). We detect these via the bumps on our tongue that are called papillae. These aren’t the actual taste buds, though (I always thought they were). Each of the papillae has hundreds of taste buds AND each of the taste buds has 50-100 taste receptor cells! Isn’t that amazing? There are also taste buds on the roof, sides and back of the mouth and even in your throat! The various types of taste developed to help our bodies identify good vs. bad foods. For instance, sweet signals something good for giving you energy; while bitter tells your body ‘this could be poison’.

It’s not just the molecules in the food that creates taste, though. Our senses of smell and even touch (or the way food feels in the mouth) contribute to how it tastes. And chefs will tell you that the sense of sight is involved too. A lovely presentation is tastier than a monotone or scrambled together plate.

How can we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’? Take time to savor your favorite food, without the distraction of TV or reading or other multi-tasking. Let your tongue and other senses really taste the ice cream or corn on the cob or steak. What tastes do you detect? Often there is more than one taste in an item. Isn’t it amazing that God developed our sense of taste so that we could enjoy all sorts of foods in all sorts of ways? We can remember God is good as we taste the food God provides. 

We can ‘taste’ and find Holy Ground in our lives, too. There are times in life that could be considered sweet or sour or even bitter. Also, there are things in our life that add salt and savor to living. Jot down one time in your life that could be categorized as like one of the tastes. Maybe your graduation was a sweet time, or perhaps it was sour because you didn’t make the top 10 in your class. Was there some vacation that still brings memories that are so good that you want to continue to savor them? Probably there is a sad time in your life that still leaves an almost tangible bitter taste in your mouth.

Yet through it all, God’s love is present. The Psalm says, “blessed is the one who takes refuge (or trusts) in him.” The New Living Translation exclaims, “Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” We taste the love of God in our sense of taste, but even more in the blessings and joys of God’s love through all the ‘tastes’ of our lives

September 17, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Hearing

Last week we looked for Holy Ground in really seeing things. Were you able to take a few minutes to sit and really look at a leaf or your hand? Were you surprised? When I studied my own hand, I was awed by the lines and veins. I was astonished to consider all the various things that hand had done. There were the mundane things like cleaning and cooking, but also the loving caresses and the hands held in prayer.

This week, let’s consider another of the 5 senses. Take time to hear the sound of Holy Ground. Have you ever wondered if Moses heard anything while at the burning bush? Was there crackling and popping like in most fires, or was it intense silence? Did Moses hear wind blowing and the sheep he left behind? What can we hear when we listen for God present on Holy Ground?

Not all of us are blessed with hearing. In the Gospel of Mark, we learn how Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute. Some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and hardly able to speak, and they begged Jesus to place His hand on him. So Jesus took him aside privately, away from the crowd, and put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”) And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7: 32-34)

Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears, which is typically something we do when we don’t want to hear. Yet Jesus’ touch opens the man’s hearing and gives him speech. Hearing and speaking go with each other. Those who are deaf from birth have a hard time learning to talk because they have never heard the sounds. If you go deaf later in life, you retain the memory of sound.
Science tells us that sound is created by waves moving through the air. Most of us cannot feel those waves, except with our eardrums. Sometimes you can get a sense of feeling them if you are at a loud concert or next to a car with the music playing really loud. Then you CAN actually feel the sound.

This year on America’s Got Talent, there is a young singer who became deaf later in life and is able to sing again by feeling the musical vibrations. Then her muscle memory could create the sounds that she can no longer actually hear. She is hearing through feeling and is sensing the Holy Ground through her entire body. We might in fact envy her that ability because very often we don’t listen to what’s around us.

Sit outside in the early morning or late evening to just listen to the sounds. Some are natural and soothing like birds calling or the breeze through the trees. Others may be more jarring like the neighbor’s dog barking or sirens in the distance. Close your eyes and let the sounds wash over you. Feel the Holy Ground swelling and ebbing in the noises you hear. Is that baby in the distance crying for joy or anger? Perhaps the dog is barking because it is lonely, or because the neighborhood tomcat just walked across the street. Do you wonder what the birds might be saying to each other as they twitter and coo? What is God saying to you in the wind and other sounds?

You might imagine the sounds of things you don’t really hear-like the tea in your cup. Is the steam giggling as it evaporates into the air? Does the tea bag sigh with delight sinking into the spa of hot water to steep? Or do seeds underground moan like a woman in labor as they split open to let the seedling out? And does that seedling grunt while working up through the soil?
What do you hear God saying to you in the sounds you hear? Is God saying ‘take off your shoes for this is Holy Ground?’ To what does God need to open your ears?

September 10, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Seeing

Today we start a new series about “Finding Holy Ground”. I recently re-read the Barbara Brown Taylor book An Altar in the World. It was a good reminder that God is found in all things and places. I’ll be referring to her and to others in this series that will take us to Advent. Our journey to finding Holy Ground starts with reflecting on how God is found very close to us-in our senses. I invite you to come along and take time to find Holy Ground.

In the September 4 meditation, Ben Brown noted, “Moses had packed a bag for watching his father-in-law’s flock, but he was unprepared to encounter God through a burning bush. Life is dynamic, and sometimes we’ll encounter God in surprising places” He asks, “will we recognize the holy ground and take off our sandals?” As Taylor notes, when we become aware of all the Holy Ground, we have to be prepared to be surprised.

I invite you to encounter the Holy Ground through our senses. Today we start with sight, which many of us take for granted. Even if, like me, you wear glasses, you probably can see if you are reading this blog. Admittedly I wouldn’t be able to read it without my glasses, but thanks to modern medicine, the blurriness of astigmatism is correctable so that I can indeed see to read.

In the Gospels, Jesus heals more than one person of blindness. One instance is found in Mark 8:23-25. We hear, “So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then He spit on the man’s eyes and placed His hands on him. “Can you see anything?” He asked. The man looked up and said, “I can see the people, but they look like trees walking around.” Once again Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes, and when he opened them his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly

Unlike many healings, this time the healing seems to be only partial at first. The man says, “I see the people, but they look like trees”. Certainly, that’s rather what happens to me when I’m not wearing my glasses. I can see shapes, but they are pretty indistinct.

I think that happens more often than we realize, because we don’t pay attention to what we are seeing. We are only seeing shapes not the reality of the people and things around us. We are not seeing God, and Holy Ground, in what we are looking at.

A few months ago, I came across an exercise for seeing more clearly. The author suggested taking a leaf or something else and really studying it for several minutes. Look at the veins and cells of the leaf, marvel at the delicacy of the feather, contemplate the tree branch until you are amazed at the complexity of the parts. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests doing something similar with your own hand. Study your veins, look at the lines or spots or scars. Think about all the places that hand has been and all it has done in your life.

I would encourage you to take time, as much as you need, but more than just a couple of minutes, to do one of these things. Find something in nature, or your own hand, and let yourself look deeply into it. Let God show you the Holy Ground in the object.

Then, take it a step further, the next time you are driving or walking or scanning through Facebook, take time to really see what is going on. Look at the faces you pass or the ones on the posts. Are they stressed, or happy, or afraid? See with the eyes of your heart and try to get past the odd, blurry ‘tree’ shapes that are safe, but which don’t tell us much. Look into the heart and really see the Holy Ground there.

The same September 4 post had this prayer to help us focus, “God of surprises, help me to notice you in the midst of my mundane activities. Prepare me for the holy ground I’ll encounter today. Amen”

September 3, 2017

Labor Day

Labor Day was an outgrowth of labor organizations at the end of the 19th century. On Tuesday, September 5, 1882 a local event was sponsored by the Central Labor Union of New York City. The picture is of the parade in NYC in 1882. Two years later, the first Monday of September was set as the holiday when more unions started celebrating a “workingman’s holiday.” Gradually cities and then states accepted the practice. Twelve years later, on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September a legal holiday.

Now, the long weekend is more of a ‘last hurrah’ of summer festivities, with trips to the lake or camping. Some places still have parades or other recognition events to celebrate the important role ‘blue collar’ workers play in the life and livelihood of our nation. For most of us though, it’s the last long weekend before all the busy fall activities move into full swing. Most schools are already in session and the after school sports or other extra curricular activities are also starting. Places like the Cathedral, where I work, start fall programs and the busy rush up to the season of Advent.

It is easy to get caught up in getting everything done. Sometimes, maybe even often, we end up falling into a daily routine to get everything completed. The routine becomes numbing and we act on autopilot and don’t really experience each day.

Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says. “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:29-30) When we are working in our own strength, life can be heavy and discouraging. However, when we are yoked with our Lord, the load is more than halved. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he says. Finding God in the routines of our day-to-day life is not always easy, but it is essential to our physical and spiritual health.

Much of this post was copied from my 2010 post. Despite all the changes in the world over the past 7 years, it is still important to take time as the meditation suggests: 
"I close my eyes and breathe, inviting peace.
I open my heart and breathe, inviting love.
My soul rejoices, knowing God is with me"
In fact, in the seeming turmoil of day-to-day life and news, perhaps it is even more important to remember to breathe, and to 'come unto me' as Jesus invites. Ask Jesus to bring peace and love and joy. I hope you'll take time this Labor Day weekend to just take a deep breath. 

August 27, 2017

Lord's Prayer: Amen

Here we are at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. The final word in this, and nearly every other prayer is ‘Amen’. It simply means “Let it be”. We ask God that all that we have mentioned in the prayer be accomplished. Just as Mary of Nazareth said to Gabriel “Let it be according to your word” (Luke 1:38), we offer our petitions to God asking that they be done.

Recently I saw a special on the Beatles. Many will remember their song Let it Be. Although they always insisted that the ‘Mother Mary’ was not the Virgin, many hearers still hear her words in the lyrics. Whether the group meant to refer to Mary of Nazareth, or not, the words are a fitting end to our study of the Lord’s Prayer. They summarize the requests made in the prayer, and offer them up ‘Let it be’.

In light of a world where people are still at odds with each other, just as they were in the 1960’s, we might indeed echo “And when the broken-hearted people/Living in the world agree/There will be an answer/Let it be”.

Enter the Presence: Read Mary’s encounter with Gabriel in Luke 1. Put yourself in her sandals and say “Let it be according to your word”.

Are there things in your life where God is calling you to step out in faith like Mary? Can you open your hands and heart to say, “Let it be”?

Stand In Awe: It can be hard to say ‘Amen’ to some things that God asks of us. Consider the lives of some of those chosen by God, who didn’t have an easy time. Almost anyone in the Bible will fit that description. There is a saying that "God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies those he calls". Read through the list in this image and remember that God empowers each of us to do what we are called to do. Are you willing to ‘let it be’?

Involve your Heart: Read through the words of the Beatle’s song.  

When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom/Let it be

And in my hour of darkness/She is standing right in front of me/Speaking words of wisdom/Let it be

And when the broken-hearted people/Living in the world agree/There will be an answer/Let it be

For though they may be parted there is/Still a chance that they will see/There will be an answer/Let it be

And when the night is cloudy/There is still a light that shines on me/Shine until tomorrow/Let it be

I wake up to the sound of music/Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom/Let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be/Whisper words of wisdom/Let it be

Do a ZenTangle of the word ‘Amen’. Include things you are called to do.

Write a song or poem expressing your love for God and new understanding of the Lord’s Prayer*