Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Introduction take one



I invite you to click on the above video...listen...sing along...and enjoy!!


The child-like nostalgia means that Christmas isn't Christmas until I hear the Charlie Brown crowd sing, "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."  Actually, I need the whole glorious cartoon.  Yes, I know it is a bit cheesy, graphics are old school, but when Linus wraps his blanket around his head and recites the Christmas story...if there isn't a tear or a small lump in your throat, I think you need to check your pulse.

For me, Christmas Carols teach and tell us much about this mystery of the season.  They preach the power and possibility.  They invite us into the holiness and awaken the holiness within us.

But Christmas Carols can also just become background music.  We don't often let these words sit, simmer, and sing to us.  So, here is my invitation to you: let's listen with new ears and open hearts.  Over the coming days we are going to circle around Christmas Carols.  Each day in Advent (beginning December 3), I will post a reflection about a Christmas Carol with a video.

I want you to listen/watch the Carol once or twice.  Not the kind of listening where you put it on play and walk away.  The kind of listening where you close your eyes, try to savor and soak in every word.  Ask yourself, "What do I hear?"  Or which word get stuck in your soul?  Or what feelings does the Carol stir?  What does this Carol have to say that can help us prepare for Christmas Day?

These Carols are more than a soundtrack for the season, they are more than just soundbites that we can sing along with, these Carols can help lure us toward/leap into one of the most beautiful scandalous stories ever told: God is with us/God is for us.  This truth is not just then and there in a barn two thousand years ago.  I mean right here and now...where you are...reading this blog.  God isn't distant or distracted...out there somewhere beneath the pale blue night (Ten points for anyone who got this quote from An American Tale...yet another cartoon classic).  God is here.  While I probably say that too much, the point is that I don't think we really live our life with that truth.  We get caught up in the hustle and bustle, not only in December.  To take time to sit, savor, breathe in these words, and be is what I pray diving into and dwelling in these Carols might bring.  Preparation in the days before Christmas has more to do with our hearts than the presents under the tree.  So, I invite you on this journey.  A journey into music that makes a difference and can make us different.  A journey where we can stand in the straw to see God laid away in a manager, while Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, on a Silent Night, Holy Night, for It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.  So Come All Ye Faithful to see this great Joy to the World and to our lives this year.

Grace and peace everyone ~~

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving


Twas two days before Thanksgiving and all through our house
Everything was in turmoil and everyone groused.

With company coming and a big meal to make,
There wasn't enough time or space in the oven to bake!

The tension we felt was more than just about the food,
We knew that this wasn't the appropriate Thanksgiving mood.

We knew in a few days at the table full of steaming platters we'd meet,
And we would all have to utter or mumble a gratitude before we could eat.

The last few days would still simmer and sit,
Was a few sentences of thanks all we would get?

Wasn't this day about so much more than a meal?
Isn't this moment supposed to linger/last part of the deal?

The unanswered questions hung in the air,
Because it wasn't like we didn't care!

We did...we restlessly hungered for a different life...we wanted something more...
But with a turkey to cook, stuffing to make, and people about to knock at the door...

Why does the to do list take precedent and cause such strife?
Because we know how we spend each day is how we make our life.

So, we cling to that Norman Rockwell painting come hell or high water,
Its just sometimes we get the former rather than the later.

Here is my invitation to you reading this blog...
Stop right where you are...even if you're holding a log (seriously rhyming is hard!)

Pause...ponder...pray.
Stop trying to make the perfect day.

For the grace is not found in the potatoes or pumpkin pie...
God's love is bigger, won't be contained...that isn't a lie.

This silly poem is about more than just making you smile...
It's prayer is that we realize life is lived in the meanwhile.

It isn't just a day or meal or a moment...
It is a feeling, a sense of hope's bestowment.

So breathe and be...rest and know.
That who we are, God's beloved, is what I pray will grow.

So, may Thanksgiving do more than fill your belly...
May it remind you of the One whose grace makes you fully.

You are God's beloved and blessed.
Happy Thanksgiving to you...in that may you rest.

Grace and peace everyone....


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday prayer


The cornucopia spilled out with gourds galore...
Pumpkins peaking out from the woven wood....
Squash and apples and sweet potatoes all hanging out in harvest party.

What an eclectic gathering.
What an image of the church.
A place where we come in various shapes and sizes.
Colors and reflections of the Creator.

What a vision for the church too
For the abundance cannot be contained with the woven walls
But spills out in a joyful way,
Scatters about in beautiful random-ness
A holy chaos of creation.

Our lives are a cornucopia we cannot contain.
God's love spills out from us even when we try to control that grace.
God's presence overflows from our souls even if we try to strain to clasp hold.

What would be in your cornucopia if you colored it today?
Would it have family and friends...would it have playful moments that bring you joy?
Does your cornucopia perhaps right now feel a bit lacking and lackluster?
Maybe some kind of pain has stolen the joy
Or someone's words left you feeling depleted, deflated.

Can we share whatever overflowing emotion we carry with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves?
Can we see that the invitation is not to our best-life-ever...but actually to abundant life, which means there is an important difference and distinction. 
Best life ever is defined and described by the world.  It usually means money or followers on Facebook (or your blog).
Best life ever is a goal few of us ever reach even as we keep swiping our credit cards or running after that carrot on the just out of reach string.
But authentic life, abundant life, life full not of riches, but the richness of God.  That is different.

That cornucopia isn't controlled by us, but only our ability to see and receive and respond to what is.
That cornucopia has more than a trace of God's grace...it is God stitching and sewing our bruises and brokenness into something beautifully whole, even with a few holes.

So may the cornucopia of your life this day notice that while all the gourds might not be shiny and smooth, there is still a beauty and wonder in the messiness and less-than-perfectness that fills our daily living.

May grace, gratitude, and practicing the presence of God stir within you on this Sabbath day.

Amen. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gratitude


I tend to write these posts early...then through the magic of the internet...am able to schedule these words to appear when I tell them too. 

So, on the day this post is released I will be driving back after a three day retreat in South Carolina... a new state to me.  The retreat is about facing the changes of life with integrity and authenticity.  I love those two words.  Integrity means a state of being whole.  Authenticity reminds me that while I can't completely control everything, I can control the way I respond.  There is an authorship to my life even if the plot line is shaped by forces outside my own.  Because what people say and do impacts the plot line of my life.  Because events and experiences impact the plot line of my life.  Because when the phone rings...or I have to make a difficult decision...or something doesn't quite follow the map I had in mind...all that and a million tiny moments all make a difference in the plot line of my life.

Trying to live with a wholeness and openness and knowing what I can author and what is being written outside of me...that is a good definition of life.  And I need spaces and places where I can set outside of the ordinary and everyday.  I once heard this called, "Getting to the balcony," where I can see a different perspective and a wider picture than the blurriness of life lived up-close and at a frenzied pace. 

For me the more I can notice and name the traces of God's grace in my daily life...the more life becomes grace-filled.  The more I see a butterfly landing nearby and smile...the more gratitude grows within me.  It is a cycle or ever widening circle.  It is an awareness of holiness.  I know it is a luxury to be able to get away for a few days...one that not everyone has.  But even so, the point is not the retreat...the point is practicing the kind of space and place in daily living.  Retreats are not meant as spiritual filling stations so much as reminders of what I am supposed to be doing every day.  It is like hitting the re-set button in my life or upgrading the operating system to fix the bugs that have crept into my daily life.  I pray that today you might find the space and place to retreat, reframe and refocus your life on God's presence...even if it is just for five minutes.  And may there be more than a trace of God's grace as you drink deeply and dwell in the holy of this day God has made.

Grace and peace ~~~

Monday, November 13, 2017

Gratitude



When I came up with the name for this blog, Grace Traces, underneath that were two formational and foundational ideas within me.  First, I do believe the world is infused and immersed with God. We swim in a sea of the sacred.  This, by the way, is also the first truth we celebrate every year at Christmas ~ God with us and us with God.  God for us and us open to God.  It is a two way street we travel in our lives.  But in the blurriness and busyness we miss the traces of the transformative power of God moving in our midst.  How many of us wake up in the morning already feeling like we are behind or running late?  How many of us on vacation still check our emails?  How many of us spend our children's band/choir concerts staring at the event through a screen rather than simply experiencing that precious, fragile, fleeting moment?   That hand you see in the air is mine. 

That leads me to the second formational and foundational idea...I believe that church should help us practice noticing the presence of the holy.  We practice seeing the holy, the embodied Christ, in each other.  We practice seeing the holy, swirling Spirit in creation.  We practice seeing the very nature of God in every moment.  But wait...your rational, reasonable mind might want to argue...I was just visiting a friend with cancer in the hospital and it doesn't look good, God in that moment?  But wait... your mind is now arguing...I have to go to that family member's house for Thanksgiving.  You know that person who is always coming up with new material to frustrate you.  God in that moment? 

Yes.

But, trying to find God in the difficult is like trying to love your enemies...it takes practice. Most of us start with trying to find God in the stress and strain, in the valley moments ~ when a friend is sick and dying...when our job is on the line...when our messiness of life spirals out of control.  But that is akin to trying to go out and run a marathon the very first time.  It would be like trying to paint a masterpiece the first time you pick up a brush.  Life doesn't work that way...why should our faith. 

Part of my prayerful intention is to practice noticing the traces of God's grace in my life...which brings me to the photo above.  That butterfly greeted me last Monday afternoon when I pulled in the parking lot of the church.  And it actually waiting around while I fumbled for my camera and got a good picture.  It had been a particularly long weekend with a funeral and then All Saints Day, naming people whose love had made a difference and now were in God's embrace.  I was a bit tired, weak and worn.  And then, this butterfly poses for me.  That is a trace of God's grace in my life.  That slowed me down a bit.  Now, please don't hear me suggest that suddenly everything in life was chocolate rivers and pony rides.  It was not.  But moments like this do help me refocus and reframe and remind me of the practice that leads me to life...true life...life where there is more than a trace of God's grace...for every moment is infused with the holy.

Grace and peace ~~

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gratitude


My mind whirled...
Thoughts whisked in and out...
All the tasks and to do lists clamored chaotically,
All crying out in unison, "Pick me, first."

Out of the corner of my eye,
I saw the butterfly land on the leaf.
It flapped its wings fully revealing the beautiful orange.
The delicate design of the Creator's imagination.

Stunned for a few seconds,
Marveled that I might have missed that moment.
I fumbled for my phone to snap the above photo.
And the butterfly, who like me, not known for it's patience
seemed to pause.

As I captured the moment...
Or maybe the moment captured me...
there was the swell, swirling feeling of unmistakable gratitude.
A trace of God's grace in a world that is a blur of busyness and to-do-ness

One photo...hardly going to win me a blue ribbon at the state fair.
One photo...that could have just stayed stuck on my phone never shared.
One photo...that suddenly seems like so much more the more I gaze at it.

For this is in the invitation...
If the world is infused with God's glory,
Why don't I act like it?
If God so loves the world,
Why don't I trust like it?
If this moment is so saturated with the sacred,
Why don't I live like it?

Yes, there is too much brokenness, hurt and harm.
Yes, bigotry and abuse continue to cause sharp shards of life that cut deeply.
Yes...and there is also another truth juxtaposed...
God is here.
And while I may only see a trace...
A fleeting, fragile butterfly that quickly fluttered away...
For that one moment, I realized next to the bad news...there is good news
If I am open to it.

May the both/and traces of God's grace and peace be noticed in your life this day.

Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Good Day Take Three


A good day is one with a hug...
One where a smile sits on my lips...
But not in a way that denies the dangers lurking, lingering around me and the world.

A good day is one where I can cry with someone who needs to cry.
Good and happiness need not always be interchangeable or even compatible.

A good day starts with a cup of coffee, steam slowly rising reminding me of a savory pace.

A good day starts with a walk truly seeing the different shades of green in the palm leaves.

A good day continues with my family.  Doesn't matter where or what...just being together.

A good day means a good lunch.  Maybe a peanut butter sandwich that sticks to the roof of my mouth and takes me back to my youth.

A good day means something fun in the afternoon.  But then as my inner two year old cries out for a nap...I listen!!  I slow down to stop doing and simply be.

Maybe I will even write a silly post for this blog that maybe somehow in someway gets your mind, heart, and soul stirring!!

A good day means a good dinner.  Tonight is pizza and ice cream night at our house...a holy tradition.  That is a good dinner.  Or chilly on a cold day.  Or a hamburger on a hot day.  It really isn't about the food anyway.

A good day means nestling close to the one I said, "forever" to.  It means letting her smell awaken my senses.  It means hearing her voice and feeling her touch.  That is a good day.

A good day...because it doesn't just have to be one.

Grace and peace ~~ 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Good Day Take Two


What is a good day?  That is one of the questions that can haunt me a bit.  The stakes seem high.  When there are so many pushes and pulls in our lives...so many things we would rather not do.  Plus, this feels like some pressure.  So often I can let the demands of others fill my hours rather than my own voice.  But we need a good day we distinguish and define.  And actually, God said this from the beginning when the seventh day was given as one called, "Good".  We need to lean into and live out this invitation of "Good". 

Good, as I said previously, doesn't have to mean awesome or amazing or best ever.  We live in an over hyped world.  If you don't believe me, turn on the television to some sports event and listen to how the person over came great adversity and now sits before you smiling, like life is grand.  The story we hear all around us is success and achieve and don't settle for just "good" enough.  So, let's name and notice our difficulties with this word, "Good".  But let's reclaim and retrieve a sense that "Good" is a holy word.

So...good day for me is one spent with family, where there is laughter and love surrounding me.  It could be hiking around creation or Disney World.  The most important part for me is the togetherness.  But then, after spending the day together, a good day also has space for me to read and write.  Posting to this blog about what I am encountering in what I read and ear is a sacred praxis of thought, action, and reflection.  I encounter, experience, and then try to explain.  This kind of space is holy and good to me.  So there would be a dance of interacting with others and enjoying my introvert time too.  There would be a dance of doing something and sitting/simply being.  There would be a flow to the day where I would be fully awake and aware...not just a blur.  To me, it is less about what I am doing and more about how I am moving in my life ~ that is a good day. 

But I keep prayerfully pondering this great question...and I hope you will too.  I know over the last few days I have felt more than a trace of God's grace and pray you did too.

Blessings ~ ~

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Good Day



I recently heard an interview with Atul Gawande. You can click here to listen to the interview from On Being.  There were several moments that I was drawn into what Dr. Gawande was saying.  First was his reflection on the integration of mind, body, and spirit.  We are not as able to compartmentalize our thoughts or emotions or spiritual life as we like to think we are.  The fact is that an emotion can be physically felt.  So when we grieve, we can feel exhausted in our bodies.  The reverse is true too...joy can give us energy.  What is going on in our head does impact the rest of us.  Pause for a moment to ponder what is going on in your head...your body...your soul. 

At a recent retreat I led, I asked people to draw a stick figure with a crayon; then write down how it was with their head, heart, and soul.  If you had to color your head right now would it be a bright, brilliant yellow or maybe a muted gray?  If you had to color how you feel physically, would you go with a purple or brown...why?  Color is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  For some folks, like me, I love brown!  I am definitely a fall person who sees oranges and muted yellows and browns as being colors that really are about life.  But I realize that for others a brown brings back bad memories of the seventies...where avocado green shag carpet still haunt your dreams.  But part of choosing the color...or letting the color choose you...is to ask why?  Why did I pick up that blue?  Is it because I feel like I have the blue...or because it is a beautiful color?  So, on one level, this practice of coloring your life is about seeing where you naturally gravitate...deeper you ask yourself why? 

So, what color and what is going on in your head?  Your body?  And your soul?   Are the colors congruent or chaotic?  Do they compliment or feel like they are in conflict?  I think sometimes part of the dissonance we feel in life is because our head is in a season of new life or spring while our body just wants to go hibernate in winter.  Listening to...and living out of the seasons of life is a great spiritual practice to live a more wholistic and integrated life.

Second, Dr. Gawande asked, "What is a good day?"  I love this question and the quest, adventure it can take us on.  What would a good day look like, be like, feel like for you?  The more open and honest we can be about this, the better.  This need to be a guilt free zone.  Even if you have a family and feel like a good day is spent curled up with a good book all alone...you have permission to name and claim how you would spend a good day.  One last thought.  Notice, I said, "Good" not "The most awesome, amazing day ever!!'  Let's scale back and simply ask about a good day.

Prayerful ponder this and may there be more than a trace of God's grace as you do.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday prayer


God of days growing darker, earlier...
God of dusk to dawn...
God who promises to never slumber or sleep...
We come to You after a full week.

So many moments still linger in our lives.
Times when laughter ached at our sides.
Times when we felt Your presence.
Times when we felt the hope-filled possibility of peace.

And times when frustration fumed...
Times when the words of another hurt and harmed and we still can stop them from being on repeat, replaying our minds...
Time we want a rewind button to do life over again.

And now this time.
This moment.
This day You have made afresh and anew.
This breath with it's promise that today need not be like yesterday.
We are a new creation...this is the re-creation for You are not finished with us yet.

So move in our midst this day with a tender tenacity and truth.
Move in our midst this day with courage.
Move in our eyes to see Your presence.
Move in our hearts to stay open rather than harden with bitterness.
Move in our soul with a spirit of gentleness we need in such a time as this.

Let us breathe and be.
Breathe and be.
Be.

In You.

Amen.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

For All the Saints


This coming Sunday at the church I serve, we will name those who have passed from this life into the next this last year.  We will light a candle symbolizing the way each person let his/her light shine and warm our lives.  We will speak the name of the person and feel the fingerprints she/he left on our hearts.  Our church will be ablaze, memory, love, and certainly God's presence.  The writer of Hebrews says, "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses."  We don't always see through the mist of our mundane lives the sacred infusion of the saints.  We don't always pay attention to the traces of God's grace in our daily lives.  We end up compartmentalizing spirituality from "the rest of our lives".  But the purpose of the church is to remind us and teach us that there is no separation between Sunday and Monday mornings.  There is no such thing as your spiritual life and daily life.  The two are intertwined and tangled.  The church's call, mission, and ministry is to be about helping us practice noticing and naming God's presence everywhere and inside everyone and so we can say with Richard Rohr, "everything belongs."  Or we could say with Paul, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God...not even that meeting we have coming up today!!"  But God help us try to get through.

A few years ago the words of Hebrews came to life when I visited St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco.  They have painted a mural of saints ~ but not only dead white guys ~ but all the saints whose wisdom and love and light can guide us with God's grace.  On the mural are people like Anne Frank, Bishop Tutu, Dr. King, Ella Fitzgerald, and Martin Luther.  To view the names of the saints, you can click here.  It is powerful to stand in the center of the circular room with the Saints dancing (they are dancing) above you.  It is the room where the church celebrates the Eucharist, communion, each Sunday and they dance before communion too!  Surrounded by saints, not only in church, but in our daily living...that is good news of God's love in these days.

I invite you to not only consider the wise and wonderful leaders of our world...who from their labors rest...but who remind us of courage and faithfulness in struggle ~~ but also consider those in your own life who left fingerprints.  For me, I remember Sue and Frank and Judie and Phil and my mom and many more on this All Saint's Day and leading up to this weekend. I give thanks, I grieve, and I stay open to God's grace not only in the past...but in this present moment.  For as an All Saint's Day Hymn declares,
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
(I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, verse 3)

Amen, Amen, Alleluia and Amen.

Grace and peace ~~