Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Stirring in my Heart Part Two

Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things. Frederick Buechner 

Buechner invites us to see art not merely as something aesthetic, but as a prayer.  So, what helps stir your soul?  Is it words written on a page in the form of story/poetry?  Is it a painting that invites you to pause, see one moment forever frozen around a frame?  Is it music where one note leads to another creating a melody?

Is there a reason why that speaks and sings to you?

I love words.  I find encountering and engaging ideas awakens new insights within me.  I find music to communicate emotions that words cannot always convey.  If find art captures me with the truth that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Today, I invite you to accept Buechner's invitation.  Read...listen to music...go to a museum.

Stop - let your whole attention be in that moment.

Look - not only with your eyes, but all your senses.  What do you taste when you are reading a good book?  What do you smell when looking at a painting?

Listen - what stirs within your heart?

May there be more than a trace of God's grace in this for you today.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Stirring in my Heart


Embracing our brokenness creates a need for mercy. . . . I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears. Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t want to kill the broken among us who have killed others. Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused, the neglected, and the traumatized. . . . We could no longer take pride in mass incarceration, in executing people, in our deliberate indifference to the most vulnerable.  Bryan Stevenson

Owning our weaknesses is not something we are taught in school or in our work life.  We are taught instead to deflect/defend/dismiss/discredit.  We are taught to blame others.  We are taught to point fingers and say, "They are the problem."

This is not unique to the 21st Century.  When a fire destroyed much of Rome in 64 C.E., Nero blamed Christians for causing it...even though there are some historians who suggest that Nero might have been responsible.  When Christianity became the state-endorsed religion under Constantine, our ancestors blamed our Jewish brothers and sisters for crucifying Jesus.  In the US, we continually blame the latest waves of immigrants for the problems (some may even remember the signs that would read, "No Irish Need Apply" that hung outside shops years ago).  Today, our two political parties blame each other for the slightest mistake.   The cycle is replayed and repeated.

Partly because we don't admit/accept our own brokenness.

We are playing a zero sum game where I need to get ahead by any means necessary and if I don't than you may end up with the nicer car/job/fame/fortune.

Yet, is that really what we are able in this world?

Am I really just my bank account balance?  Or what kind of phone I have?  Or what I hold onto as my opinion?

Am I something more? 

If we saw ourselves as both blessed and broken; we might be able to see others that way too.  If we quit trying to make ourselves look better by putting another person down, we might start to live a different way.  To get out of the dualistic mind of winners and losers is not only faithful from many different religious perspectives, it is actually what can connect us in our shared humanity.

May you and I have more than a trace of God's grace to let these words stir in our hearts and soak in our souls in these days.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Prayer


Every morning when we open our eyes
God invites us to notice the blessings that ties...
Us to the sacred stirring
And relationships all around whirling
Slow down from too much gawking and blurring.

We need to be open to all that is around
To want we can see as well as sounds
To name what can help us feel ground-ed
There is so much within and around to astound.

Do we really see, sense, taste, touch or feel?
Or are we distracted, caught up in what others call, "Real",
Or use our energy to push down the pain rather than heal.
God's grace here and now is not concealed but revealed.

So, this day, is an invitation to me and you
The hours before us like a canvass brand-new,
Just like a flower last night a few centimeters grew,
So can we find more than a trace of God's grace which is true.

May God's presence surround, sustain, strengthen, and embrace you this and every day.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Invitations take two


As I have been thinking about invitations, regardless of the occasion, there is a process that is often followed.  It starts with getting ready.  This could involve shopping for a gift or writing a card.  The day comes for the party, you get dressed up, and head there.  The party is humming with activity and conversations...maybe some music and dancing.  Finally, there is the after-glow...which can sometimes last for awhile. 

I was at a party a few weeks ago, and the next time I saw the person in whose honor it was given, the smile was just as broad and bright as it was that night.  Some couples I've married seem to never let go of that honeymoon love dancing in their eyes. 

Yet, every day is an invitation for us to set our intention.  Yet, I was certainly never taught how to do this.  I thought that everyday was pretty much the same.  Get up, eat, work, eat, work some more, go to a meeting, eat one more time, go to bed...the cycle starts over again.  But that seems to be a colorless way of living.  What if instead, every day was a canvass you were invited to paint upon?  Is there something coming up tomorrow that you are excited about?  Or perhaps dreading?  Or even indifferent?  What if some of the practices of preparing for a party were brought into every day.  No, you don't need a Hallmark card for Thursday...unless that sets your soul stirring.  But, what if, as you breathe and pause to start the day, you set your mind to seeing the ordinary sacredness of Thursday.  What if you would pick out a shirt that reflects your prayer for Thursday.  Maybe your prayer is to be bold...wear RED.  Or to be calm then wear a nice blue or soothing gray.  What if you selected a song of the day as music for your intention?  What if, when you got home, you spent just a few moments reflecting and reviewing where there was more than a trace of God's grace.

Part of the reason we love parties is they get us out of the rut and routine.  And yet, woven into every day can be moments of grace and an openness to joy.  So, I invite you to do just that right now.  Look over your calendar for tomorrow.

What kind of prayerful intention do you want to set for the day? 
What kind of music might help set the tone?
What kind of clothing can already show and shine the way you long to go?

This might seem silly on some level.  But honestly, we need rituals that re-enforce what our souls long to express.  There can come a day when you can wear a brown robe everyday and still feel more joy than can be contained.  There can come a day when even in silence you hear angels singing.  But for most of us, we need a few ways to assist us and aid our hearts. 

My prayer is that somewhere in this post is an invitation that sets your soul singing...it might come from words I wrote...or even better if it is in the small spaces between words and paragraphs.  May there be more than a trace of God's grace noticed and celebrated on that glorious day called, Thursday!

Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Invitations



Recently, we've received a few invitations to parties and celebrations for graduations and anniversaries and birthdays.  In such a moments we are marking milestones and transitions from one stage of life to another.  High school to college.  We celebrate significant birthdays.  Perhaps you've made those rounds too over the last few weeks.  Sitting in chairs while balancing a paper plate of a sandwich, potato salad and cake.  Or maybe it was a fancy dinner for a special occasion.  Perhaps there was a ceremony involved or a formal speech given. 

At the same time, there are invitations to notice the sacred of mundane and ordinary.  God's presence is with us not only in times that Hallmark makes a card for you to buy, but also in the beauty of a Tuesday.  I ran across these invitations in an email from Richard Rohr this last week.  I found these four particularly helpful invitations:


1. In a situation that seems boring or mundane—like waiting in line or at a stoplight—pay closer attention to your surroundings, using all your senses. You might even strike up a conversation with the stranger next to you.

2. Spend some time working hard on something you’re passionate about, be that practicing an instrument, studying a complex issue, or pushing yourself just a bit harder in a workout. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn.

3. Seek out and get to know people who are quite different from you (in age, interests, field of work, socio-economic status, culture, or religion). Listen a lot and share honestly from your own life experience (avoid abstract ideas or giving advice).

4. Recall a belief you’ve held about the world or God that has changed over time. What information or experiences altered that belief? Bring to mind another belief you hold now and question your assumptions, playing “devil’s advocate” for a while.

Here is my invitation...over the next four days try one out each day.  Tomorrow, I will try the paying attention while at the stoplight or story.  Tuesday, I am going to try to explore how to learn from mistakes - which while not the easiest way to learn can be the most effective.  Wednesday, I will reach out to someone who holds a different perspective and listen more than I speak.  Thursday, I will look back over ways that I have changed...and am still very much a work in progress. 

The beauty of these invitations is that they can be repeated and replayed for the next several weeks.  And would be even better if practiced several times over the come months.  For example, at the stop light you might start by noticing people...then the ways the trees are swaying...eventually you might even see a blade of grass.  Suddenly, in that moment, you realize the truth of Martin Luther who wrote, "If only I could understand a grain of wheat, I'd die of wonder."  There is too much beauty woven into the world that we miss the blur of daily living.  While, me noticing one single blade of grass doesn't necessarily a milestone make, it is a holy moment.  Finally, all the above take time to work on us, especially reaching out to people who have a different perspective.  This will involve a thousand small steps forward and back...sometimes more back than we'd like.  Or examining the ways we have changed our ideas can help us appreciate that just as my understandings have shifted so too they will continue to do the same.  I am not sure what I would do if I had to listen to a sermon I gave ten years ago....or even ten weeks ago.

I pray at least one of these invitations will immerse you in more than a trace of God's goodness and grace.

Blessings ~~

Friday, June 8, 2018

Prayer from the Small Space


God in the small spaces of our lives,
Keep writing new stories.
In the margins make room for new voices.
In-between words;
In-between the distance between our
head
heart
soul
Travel, traverse that distance, now we pray, O God, with a creative wisdom we all need.

We are in awe that all You need is a small space to awaken Your new ways.
We are in awe that all You need is thirty seconds of silence for us to stop.
Really stop.
All our to-do lists;
And monologues;
And litanies of what we want You to do.
So that You might get a word in edgewise.
Or even just sit with us in silence, in the word beyond words.
In the small space.

This is where we long to meet You.
This is where You promise to meet us.
May that small space be now as our eyes scan these words.
May that small space linger as we click over to check the weather; the news; social media.
Always realizing that it might not be in what we are reading,
But what is hidden in plain sight of the margin where You are.

Beckon
Encourage
Invite
Nudge
Guide our

Being there to pause in more than a trace of Your grace this day.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Story from a Small Space ~ Galatians part two


Paul kept on pacing, words flowed fast from his lips, and he saw the scribe's hand fly across the parchment as the scribe tried to keep up.  As Paul's expressed his disappointment and dismay at what he had heard, how the Galatians listened to another preacher who said all the Gentiles in the congregation had to get circumcised if they really wanted to follow Jesus.  What is it about the human condition that wrestles so much with unconditional grace?  Sure the cliches are as old as time that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Certainly living in Roman society where the Caesar demanded unwavering allegiance or the consequences were deadly.  Yet, Paul suddenly realized that the Galatians were not that different from him.  He had once lived a life where he thought in either/or categories.  You were either Jewish or you were not, plain and simple.  And then these people who had a teacher named Jesus, started showing up at synagogues, claiming that Jesus was God's son.  You had to be careful with that kind of talk, because Son of God was Caesar's claim to fame and anyone who tried to take that title would be seen as competition or political adversary to dealt with swiftly and quickly.  Slowly Paul's anger receded a bit after the initial flurry.  Slowly Paul saw a bit of himself in the Galatians.  He, too, had experienced a state of confusion, his life taking an unexpected, unwelcome, interrupting exit ramp. 

No sooner had that thought appeared in his mind, Paul story started to fall from his lips.  He had his life turned upside down and inside out.  Paul had been in momentary states of confusion, and some would say it was his permanent residence.  Paul had gone from seeing a violent stoning of a follower of Jesus named, "Stephen", to feel that hot hatred toward, "those people" grow, to even letting that rage fuel and feed his own life.  He had hunted and hurt followers of Jesus, only to one day be struck blind by his own anger.  It had taken time to process that moment.  He had taken years away to reflect on the experience and continue to listen for God.  It wasn't the instantaneous moment some might make it out to be.  As a wise person would say, "Of course, we think our opinions are right.  Otherwise, we would get new opinions."  And when you are in that messy middle letting go of one way and the next, new way feels like a shirt two sizes too small, it is more than uncomfortable.  No wonder people cling, white knuckle, their lives.  No wonder people justify hatred of others, because it is easier when, "they" are the problem.  That song is on repeat constantly in the human condition.  But Paul also came to see a freedom in Christ.  Not just believing in Jesus like some kind of magic pill that solves all that ales you.  Rather, being in Christ, the faith of Jesus actually is what makes all the difference.  Jesus' way is more than just information to be mentally processed or rules that had to be followed to get a ticket to God's grace.  Jesus' way is grace upon grace. 

Suddenly Paul realized that it wasn't just the circumcision that bothered him so much.  Be circumcised or don't.  The point was God's grace can never be earned.  The Galatians had stumbled into that land where we cease to let God's love be unceasing and instead we start to control.  We start to act like God is waiting around all day for us to do something....God is always doing something in our lives.  The point is, do we notice? 

Paul didn't for years.  Maybe if he shared a bit of his story, the Galatians might hear their own story.

Pause...
What are those regrets that we carry like rocks around in the backpacks of life?  Moments, we so wish we had a rewind button to go back?  Is there a way, like Paul, to re-frame the brokenness not as something to be explained away, but to shine a light on the cobweb corner? 

May that light be one not of judgement or drenched with guilt, but with more than a trace of God's grace.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Story from the Small Space ~ Galatians


Prelude ~ Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia is one of the most passionate prose in all of Scripture.  At one point, Paul calls them, "foolish"...showing us once again Paul really knew how to win friends and influence people.  Often when we read a book like Galatians we feel disconnected or distant from these words.  This is due, in part, to the fact that we are reading someone else's mail.  We stepping into a conversation midstream, like you might at a cocktail party.  No wonder we can feel flummoxed as there is no one to explain what is going on here.  We know that Paul established either one or a few house churches there.  We know that Paul was nursed back to health by the Galatians, (4:13-16).  So there is a sense of intimacy and interconnection here.  Paul is writing out of care to people he believes are going the wrong way, which we will explore in this small space story.  Perhaps one way to hear this letter is like a parent standing at the window watching a child play in the front yard with a ball.  When the ball rolls out into the street, the child goes to retrieve it, but the parent sees that a car is coming, starts to scream/yell.  In Galatians, we overhear the last part, the passionate plea to pay attention and we might think, "Good Lord, Paul, chilax a little."  But Paul senses danger.

Paul paced back and forth with frustration fuming.  His feet pounded the foot to the beat of his pounding heart, you could see the tiny vein in his neck pulsing.  His face was flush with anger.  His eyes wild with a dangerous cocktail of outrage, disbelief, denial, and determination to right the wrong.  For several minutes all he did was mumble and mutter to himself and to the few standing close by all they could overhear were tidbits like, "After all I did...."  "How could they do this...."  And the hardest question that leaves any of our lips, "Why..."  Each time Paul's words would trail off and the sentence would be left incomplete, because his own thoughts were incomplete.  Inside of Paul his heart, mind, and soul all wrestled like caged animals.  Maybe he should go to Galatia...he felt like he had enough energy to run there.  Maybe he should just ignore it...after all he had problems of his own with the Roman empire right now.  Maybe he should send Timothy with a message.

As the tension swirled in the air and internally within Paul, eventually he decided to once again to write to them.  Maybe hearing from him would help the Galatians get back in the groove of the Gospel as Paul had preached and taught them.  Yet, if Paul tried to write physically, he knew he would press the ink feather so hard it would break through the parchment.  He asked someone standing there to be a scribe.  Paul forced himself to follow the custom of letters.  But soon as he opened his lips, he could not contain or confine the emotions stirring within his body.  Soon as he offered words about grace and peace, he knew what was expected next was to give thanks for his friendship and relationship with the Galatians.  But before he could say those words, he heard instant, "I am astonished and appalled that you've abandoned the faith so quickly."  And like a dog loose from its lease, that one sentence opened the flood gates.  One sentence full of pain to be processed, even as he recognized it was being passed along to people he cared about.

Why is it that those close to us can hurt and harm us, sometimes seemingly so easily?  Perhaps it is because of the nearness.  Their heavy words crash down quicker and don't have distance to be slowed down.  Perhaps it is because we expect more of them than we do the stranger or causal friend.  Perhaps it is because to be in relationship is to be vulnerable; to care is to open yourself; which is a feeling of being exposed.

For better or worse, Paul felt the hurt pulsating in his words.

Pause right here with Paul and me.

Where is there wounded-ness in a relationship right now?  Maybe with a close friend or family member or even yourself?  The hurt/harm that is self-inflicted can cut the deepest.  Name the source of one you would say, "I am astonished by what you did/said/acted..."
What was that moment?  Can you describe it like a color commentator would on TV? 
Paul gives us permission to say, "That hurt," to people we care about.  And to be sure, perhaps the Galatians wrote Paul back with an equal expression of dismay and disappointment.

Sit for just a moment, silently, with the broken shard...be careful as the edges of what you are holding are as shape as glass.

Is there any trace of God's grace in this for you?

Please pray with me: God take this messy moment, take this brokenness, and move in our midst with a creativity that might lead to reconciliation.  Amen. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Breathing


In the beginning,
when you and I were fashioned and formed.
When the cells rapidly multiplied and soft tissue took shape.
When life shifted by the second,
we were held in a womb.

When we slow down,
focusing on our breathing,
we return to that place and space where we are held,
in the womb of God's presence.

It isn't about monologues or dialogues or always having mountain top experiences.
As the saint once said, "In prayer, I listen for God...and God listens back."
Or another saint once said, "Silence is the first language of God."
Only it isn't silence.
There is the soft sound of breathing.
In and out.

And like Moses before the burning bush,
The name, "Yahweh" sounds like an inhale and exhale.
God breathing on Moses out of the flames.
That is the promise
And the possibility
Of every single breath.

May we sense a trace of God's grace as we slow down...and just breathe.