Friday, August 31, 2018

Poem prayer


Fully realizing that the last two posts were definitely NOT swimming in the shallow end of life.

I thought I would share the above photo of clouds for a walk I took the other night.

Cloud, in the flat land of Florida, become our mountains.

Clouds are what we can think of when the psalmist says, "I lift mine eyes onto the hills".

I love the way the light is streaming out behind the clouds.

What do you see in that photo?

What words, hymns, music, smells does this picture awaken within you?

There is something ethereal about this photo for me that becomes a photo poem and visual prayer.

It was a trace of God's grace in my life on that day.

I pray it would be for you today.

Blessings ~~ 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Stories in the Small Spaces of Scripture


Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

Next verse...same as the first.
Anger begets anger begets anger.
It starts to fed and fuel our whole lives.

Now, to be clear, if we glance ahead a bit, to hearing the dream, it isn't exactly like Joseph's dream is going to endear his brothers to him.  But I want to sit here for just a second to shine a light how on how it is so difficult to break out of the cycle of frustration with certain people in our lives.

You know how it is.  Someone says something that hurts...someone does something wounds...someone causes you such heartbreak that it aches.  Yes, I am talking about that person!  And you try to move past it...then they do, say, act in such a way that the scar (which isn't completely healed yet) is jarred.  And you try to move past that...the person does it again! 

But I also know at some point I can get so caught up that I only see the person as a problem and stop seeing the person as a child of God.  I can start to be so convinced the person is not worthy of love that I say things like, "Just look at that person....over there...breathing!  Taking up valuable oxygen that I could use."  When we see someone as no longer worthy of our love, that is the moment the person becomes expendable.

And here is the harder part for me...there are moments when I have done something that hurt a person that initiated the above vicious cycle.  I have been the one who is breathing and taking valuable oxygen.  I am not only the one who righteous anger...but the source/fuel of someone else's righteous anger.

Ouch.

Or, to put that another way, I am not always the hero in the story.  Sometimes I am the villain.  When I realize that...when I realize that sometimes my sharing/words/blog post/mere presence is causing someone else pain...it awakens something deep within.  One of my favorite quotes is that, "We want compassion for ourselves and justice for everyone else."  And while a quote like that can awaken our best defenses or justification...there is a truth in that.  My missteps and mistakes can be misunderstood or misconstrued...someone else...do I give that person such a benefit?  I get to be 3 dimensional with complexity...but can tend to turn others into a 2D character in my story.

Again...just to sit with this.  Not with guilt...not with defensiveness...not with a kind of interrogating bright light shining and blinding you.  But with just a soft light that you can just be in that moment and maybe even notice a trace...hint...scent...taste of grace on the tip of your tongue.  Maybe that is why we take a small pinch of bread and sip of juice...and we often do so at a communion table alongside people in the church who we don't always agree with or get along with.  The table preaches a sermon my words never could.

To sit with that...knowing God is there with us even in the brokenness with a love we need every day.  May that be true for you this day and for countless days to come.

Blessings

Monday, August 27, 2018

Stories in the Small Spaces of Scripture


But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

When we last left Joseph...in the span of three verses we were introduced to Jacob's family, met Jacob's seventeen-year-old son, Joseph, learned they were shepherds by trade, learned that Joseph had apparently witnessed his brothers doing something so heinous that it necessitated a "bad" report (although we are left to image what exactly prompted the "bad" report), and that as a reward or thank you gift or just because Jacob loved Joseph soooooooo much, Jacob gave Joseph a coat.

Whew.

That was four!! verses.  I remember growing up I watched soap operas with my grandmother, that would have been enough material to last two season!  Clearly the Biblical Story teller doesn't know how to stretch out a scene for all it is worth.  Because, in the end, those four verses are really just a set up for what is coming next.  And the verse above is the turning point.  The point after which the musical score would turn to a minor key with the brothers glaring their icy glares in the direction of Joseph, who I image naively dancing, prancing, walking around in his new coat like he is a fashion model on the runway all whist singing, "I feel pretty...oh so pretty...I feel pretty, witty, and smart."
You see, that is how you stretch out a Biblical scene worthy of a soap opera!

There is, of course, deep, deep heartbreak found in the words above.  The animosity and anger radiates off your screen still thousand of years later.  The words, "hated him," are harsh and hard to read.  And, like so much of the Bible, I don't have to have attended the Jacob family reunion to know there is truth in these words. 

We live in a time when of such division and tension that has caused families now to be unable to talk peaceably to each other.  We have blocked each other on Facebook, stop following one another on Instamgram, we cannot believe our brother or sister would watch that newscast (which we all know is "fake news"), we are so hurting and upset and carry around unprocessed pain.  We know the tension that must have hung in the air at the family meals in Jacob's house, because we felt that at Thanksgiving last year.  We know words spoken quickly and hurt that won't heal, because things have been said in our families over the course of time that have left deep woundedness.  We know Joseph and his brothers...because we all have families.

When you read the above paragraph, my hunch is that there was a family member who flitted through your mind.  When have you worn the sandals of Joseph's brothers, unable to speak "peaceably" to someone?  And, yes, I do realize that there are lots of good reasons to not speak "peaceably" to someone.  Please know, I am not about to say, "You need to take the high road".  I am not trying in any way to smear guilt on a difficult situation.

But I know that when our pain is confined to the cobweb filled corners...
When we try to push down those relationships...
When we just put on a happy face and try to be Midwestern nice and live in denial...

In all those moments we can feel trapped with no good options.  Part of what I find so fascinating about Scripture is that these stories are our stories.  These painful moments keep happening in our lives thousands of years later.  True, today it is much more likely that politics or ethics or beliefs are the topics to cause the riff in our relationships rather than a coat, I think we can see that the coat is a metaphor. 

I ask you to hold the person; family member; friend in prayer today.  Not try to race toward forgiveness, because when we are too quick to forgive as something we have to do that can feel like cheap grace...or forced grace...or half-hearted grace...which is to say, not grace at all.  To just hold that person in prayer.  Say the person's name, perhaps without your teeth clinched or your shoulders tightening. 

I don't think Joseph's brothers could look at him or say his name.  Their anger became the fuel that fed their lives and that is happening all around us today.

To speak a name.
To sit with the difficult.
To invite God in...not with guilt...but simply to be with you.

May there be MORE than a trace of God's grace in that for you this day.

Blessings ~~

Friday, August 24, 2018

Prayer Poem



The other day a glass measuring cup dropped and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Carefully I sought to pick up the shiny slivers.
Starting first with the biggest until all that was left were the tiny ones that blended into the floor,
Visible only when the light caught them just so.

The broken moments of life can cut like sharp shards of glass.
Some moments are easily seen, visible, and well known.
Words someone said...the bad reports.
The hurts and harms that have our fingerprints all over them
because we are continually handling them.
Relationships erupted ended.
Physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental pain we have faced.
Jealousy that that person got that...
Coat,
Promotion,
Prestige,
Privilege,
Power.

What is politics and our current culture than an exercise in unprocessed pain?
Racism,
Sexism,
Blame,
Money,
Jobs,
Those people who are not like us?

We don't have to have been in Joseph's family to know the truth of this story.
We have our own experiences and encounters that teach and tell us this story in a different key.
In the small spaces of this story, we find our story.
In the small spaces of this story, we find a deeper truth from which we may want to shield our eyes.

We have been taught to measure our lives by
Success;
Stories where we win;
Shining moments.

Perhaps all we have been told is as broken as that cup on my kitchen floor and we are now just trying to pick up the pieces.

Help us, O God.
Stoop down with us, O God.
Remind us to be careful and mindful, O God.
Mend and superglue the brokenness, O God, with Your love.
For the fragility of life is the shattered measuring cups of lives.

Amen.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stories in the Small Spaces of Scripture


Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.

A father gives a gift of a special coat to his favorite child. 

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. 

Your brother who always got the bigger piece of cake.
Your sister who got the new clothes for school and all you got was hand-me-downs.

The new car.
A later curfew.
More visits during college.
Nicer wedding or baby shower.

Theodore Roosevelt was right, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

And yet, what is the malady that ales so many of us in contemporary culture if not comparing our lives to others.  It is no longer just the Jones next door with the car or vacations.  It is our friends on Facebook.  It is that picture or post on Instagram.  It is daily moment we all have the fear of missing out (FOMO).  After all, we know life is short.  And if we don't get ours while the getting is good, we lose.

Why do we see life as a balance sheet?

Why does someone else's joy immediate mean that there must be less joy now in the world for us?

We treat everything as an exhaustible resource that if someone else has, that automatically means we do not.

You don't have to have been standing there with the brothers that day in the desert to know this story is true.  We all know the sandy taste of jealousy on the tip of our tongue.  We are surrounded by people who gold plate their broken lives so as to appear better.  We are surrounded by people who spend money on the car as if it is proof that they are not the same smuck like the rest of us.  In a culture that not only compares but where consumption is really where we are told our identity, we stuff our life with stuff.

Why did Joe get that coat...was it because of the "bad report" we reflected on in the last post?
Why did Joe get that coat...was it just a gift of a dad on the edge of getting older?
Why do we want that coat...is it to make us feel special and set apart? 

Let's say again, the Bible is an adult book written for adults.  When we relegate these stories to the stuff of Sunday School, we miss the profound power they have for our very lives.

Be honest about the jealousy you feel....don't try to hide it underneath words, "Good from them," said through clinched teeth.
Be honest about the jealousy you feel...because it is only in expressing that we can take away some of dysfunctional the fuel that is feeding deep within us all. 
Be honest about the jealousy...not because God demands, rather because God delights when we are finding ways to seek our hidden wholeness and nothing can shadow our wholeness more than jealousy.

Be honest and may there be more than a trace of God's grace in that moment.

Blessings ~~

Monday, August 20, 2018

Stories in the Small Spaces of Scripture


 Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 

Tattletale
Snitch
Nark
Weasel

The words flooded the tent where Joseph's brothers congregated.  The words floated around with the frustration that their brother had ratted them out.  The air was heavy with anger as steam poured from his brothers' noses, difficult to know if it was because of the cold night air or the feeling of being betrayed or both.

It really wasn't that bad the brothers tried to rationalize and reason as they walked around the tent unable to sit down with the restlessness of irritation. 

After all what was it really that they had done? 

Let the flock of sheep fend for themselves for awhile while they snuck away to some fun? 

Or was it that they were making fun and mocking their father behind his back?  We all do that, they had concluded.

Or was it planning and plotting what life would be like without dear old dad, when they were finally running the show?  It was just idle chatter to pass the time. 

What was the bad report?

Was it something more devious?  Was it something more worthy of a Nora Roberts' romance novel where Joe's brothers were meeting up with women of questionable morals out there in the wilderness? 
Was it something frivolous? 
Was it a one-off, something that Joseph had just witnessed on that one, small, tiny occasion and blew out of proportion?

Of course the real question underneath all of this was, How could he do this?

When someone hurts and harms us unexpectedly.  When the wounds someone's words inflict cut deeper than any weapon.  Sure we might have all chanted out on the school playground, "Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," but soon enough we all learn the lie hiding in the small spaces of those words.  Words hurt us more than we can ever say.  Especially words that fall from the lips of those we think are on our side.  Friends who said they had our back.  People who pledged their allegiance through thick and thin...suddenly the hallow emptiness of that oath rings out in our heart.

You don't have to have been in the tent that night with the brothers to know this story is true.

You have that friend.
You have that coworker.
You have that story.

You have that family member.

How could she do this?  How could he say that?

Bad reports, we know those.  We have felt the heavy weight of being called out on something we perhaps wanted to keep hidden.  It isn't just those childhood stories of being the one who broke mother's favorite lamp and swept it under the rug.  The Bible, C.S. Lewis said, is an adult book for adults.  We see this around us today.  People pointing fingers proclaiming, "They are the problem.  Its all their faults."  We wake up every morning to the "bad reports" plastered across CNN's website, which doesn't even tell us all the "bad reports" because we are so caught up in the latest tweets that we miss people in other parts of our world who are really hurting.  "Bad reports," we know those personally when we look at relationships that once thrived and are now non-existent.  We know that pain that can cause tears to get caught in the back of our throats before they can well up in our eyes.

"Bad reports" don't stop when we graduate and stop being given grade.  They can follow us into our work life and now go by the name, "Performance review".  "Bad reports" don't seem to ever retire when we leave work.  They keep coming when someone tells us she had cancer or the friend says he is moving away. 

Perhaps it is less about what Joseph said and more about those "bad reports" you are still carrying with you.  After all, as Richard Rohr says, "Pain that is not processed is passed along."  Is there some report that it is time for you to send through the shredder?

Is there some report you need to stop clinging to so tightly because your knuckles are turning white?

Is there some report you have let define and confine you, which you need to break free from?

Name it.

Shout it.

Release it.

For we believe there is One who saw both Joseph's brothers and sees us as more than any one report.

And there is more than a trace of God's grace in that.

Blessings and peace ~~

Friday, August 17, 2018

Poem, Prayer, Praise



I know you saw this one coming...

Clearly if I shared a poem four days ago...

Talked about prayer two days ago...

That would leave the word, "Praise" for today.

Often times this brings to mind images of people with their hand in the air.  If that image works for you, I encourage you to hold onto it. 

For others, "Praise" can feel like a shirt that is too tight. 

"Praise" can feel forced.

"Praise" can even feel like something we "ought" to do...which would seem to run counter to the very definition.

For "Praise" to be praise...there is a spontaneity as the sacred surges in your soul.  You cannot contain yourself...you have to make a joyful noise.  You have to let the spirit escape from you in some way.  One of the reasons why I don't mind applause in worship is because it is a way to express joy in worship.  It often comes from such a deep place that we have to share in some way.  Other traditions make use of an, "Amen," which means, "May it be."  In other words, may it be that this joy I feel surging within continues to sustain me.

So, how would you define or describe praise.

Praise can be a photo...


Praise can be laughing with someone...

Praise can be sitting still...

Praise can be listening to this video...which gives me goosebumps....


Praise can be...

I hope you will fill in the blank and find more than a trace of God's grace.

With great hope and many blessings ~~   

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Poem, Prayer, Praise


What comes to your mind when you hear the word, "Prayer"?  Perhaps bowing your head?  Perhaps some pastor droning on and on...because let's face it...the person already had a sermon...isn't that enough?  Perhaps it is uncertainty or confusion.

Who taught you to prayer?
Was it formal or informally watching your grandmother read scripture silently with a peaceful gaze in her eyes?

Prayer is as diverse and unique as our fingerprint.  I could no more describe all the multitude of ways to prayer even if I posted another 500 blogs on this topic.  Prayer is dynamic and does something to us.  Prayer invites us to enter into a relationship with God...a dialogue...an unending conversation.  Notice that if Prayer is about a connection to you and God...at some point you need to hush and let God get a word in edge wise.

So how is your prayer life right now?

Mine ebbs and flows.  There are moments I take time for a few days to silence my soul steeped in the sacred.  Then there are days when I rush and race around essentially saying to God, "Just try to keep up, would you?"  While I know the quote from Martin Luther, "I am so busy today, I must pray twice as much!"  I don't live that wisdom very well.  The external to-do list over-shadows the internal call to connect.

Where have you felt the sacred as close as your next breath?

For me, it is usually outside in creation.  I am considering exploring this more during my sabbatical next summer...so stay tuned. 

For me, it is in worship on Sunday morning.

For me, it is sitting still for a few moments so my soul can breathe.

For me, it is staying open to the many ways God is moving...paying attention.

For me, it is being honest about places where I sense happiness as well as times of difficulty (see the poem from the last post).

How would you describe prayer?
What words leap from your heart?
What definitions leave you wanting because sometimes when focusing on a tough topic, we need to start with what it is not to open us to our own insights/ideas about what it is.

I pray today you will prayerfully ponder these words...not because they are great...but because connecting with the One who is our source/ground of being can often open us to more than a trace of God's grace.

With great hope and many blessings ~~

Monday, August 13, 2018

Poem, Prayer, Praise


This poem has been sitting in my soul since I first read it...

“Some Say You’re Lucky” by George Orr

“Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.”

There is a parable in this poem.  It takes our conventional, common sense, cliche that suffering is always bad...and turns it on its head.  If I never struggle, I miss an important part of the human condition.  If I never come across the sharp shards of life, I miss something that tethers me to other featherless bipeds who walk this earth. 

After all, who wants to go see a movie or read a book where there is no plot twists or where our hero or shero doesn't face obstacles.  Would we watch someone who sails through life?  Would we be compelled by a story that essentially said, "Everything is awesome" (which if The Lego Movie taught us anything it is that rarely is everything awesome.)

Richard Rohr reminds us that often what brings us closer to God is either great love or great struggle.  Anne Lamont says our most heartfelt and honest prayers are, "Thank you!" and "Help!!"  Unfortunately, we are sometimes better at the "Help" prayer than the "Thank you!" prayer.

The tears in life can open us to something we might never had experienced.  I remember when I am hanging on by a thread that is coming unraveled and there are insights from that place and space that won't occur anywhere else.

To be sure...I would much, much rather to learn lessons in moments of laughter/grace.  But I also know when I am faced with my own facility and vulnerability there is truth in that space that cannot be manufactured or made up.  It is in those moments where love is born, because you start to realize who stands with you when the chips are down.  You realize whose love can help you take one more step when you are tired, weak and worn.  You realize God's grace is not abstract but comes from people who hold your hand and don't try to explain or rationalize away the pain.

Is there a place right now where lift feels torn?
Some place where God as a seamstress is slowing stitching you back together, one pull of the thread at a time?
Is there any truth you have encountered here that previously was obscured?

I cannot say that all suffering teaches us something.  Nor should we seek out pain.  But when difficulty and struggle arrive unannounced on our doorstep for a visit, perhaps sitting in that moment can offer us more than a trace of God's grace.

With great hope and many blessings ~~ 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ecclesiastes take nine


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The seventh couplet is a struggle.  Is there ever a time to hate or for war?  Scholars suggest that actually this couplet breaks the mold because it should really read, "A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for peace and a time for war."  This would keep the rhythm of couplet where there is a word of unity and then a word of dissonance...a word of hope followed by a word where hope has faded.  But rather than reading, "a time for peace and a time for war," the Wisdom writer reverses this.  Perhaps because so often those times of hate lead quickly to a time of war...and a time of war struggles to find that time for peace.

Many authors today suggest that what is so troubling about today is how quickly we de-humanize the other person who holds a different opinion.  Once we de-humanize someone it is easier to disregard him or her.  I recently heard someone say, that if all we do is tolerate a person that is the lowest bar and leaves the least impact.  If I tolerate you, when you are no longer here, it really doesn't change me very much.  To love someone...to seek your shalom/well-being/peace is the challenge of faith.  To love our enemies....to seek the shalom/well-being/peace of those who we disagree with is the Jesus way.  To be sure, the church doesn't always get this right.  We are quick to seek the shalom/well-being and peace of people who believe like us/vote like us/march in the same protests as us, especially because we can define the other side as "other". 

The question for me concerning an action or word is, does this bring more love and peace into the world?  Or does it bring more hate and war/violence/division?  Brian McLaren has talked about how many of the human kingdoms we build are based on the false promise that everything will be better when we are in power...rather than God's kingdom, which we pray for every Sunday, where everyone can find space/place.  We can pour much of our energy into our kingdoms rather than God's.

This final couplet challenges us to see the ways we do bring about more hate and peace than we would ever claim out loud.  Recently I was in a worship service where during the prayer of confession we considered the ways we are like Herod, using our power to hurt rather than heal.  The ways we discount people, especially people who are prejudice or don't hold same values.  The ways we cling to a narrative of might makes right rather than a realm where the differences can be held in tension.  The symphony of human life needs more than the violin voice I might add.  And the symphony would not be as rich without the cello, even as the sound is drastically different.

I pray you will let this passage continue to sit and simmer in your soul.  Go back and re-read the entire passage.

What new insights did you glean over the last ten posts?
Where do you still struggle or push back on the passage?
What questions linger?

And how can we give thanks for what has been rather than point out was wasn't?

May there be more than a trace of grace in such prayerful pondering for you!!

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Ecclesiastes take eight


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The sixth couplet is one that I find to be helpful in so many ways.  There is a time to be distant and a time to be close...a time to speak and a time to keep silence.  We need time alone and time with others.  We need time to talk and times to refrain - or listen.  This couplet reminds me again that Ecclesiastes isn't trying to say or suggest that one of these is good and the other bad.  It isn't about either/or thinking, but one that can see the good, the bad in all of these moments.

Sometimes being apart can be a blessing...hence the cliche, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."  And there is truth to that.  Right now, my kids are at grandma/grandpa's house.  I miss their energy and presence.  I find myself focusing on the ways they bring me joy rather than how they leave dirty clothes on the floor.  Being apart can also hurt us, especially when we don't know when we might reconnect.

Likewise, bringing things together (sew) isn't always what we should seek.  This is true certainly in times of abuse, but also when we need space to process pain.  To rush or race into bringing things together can sometimes be done haphazard, with the connecting thread hastily woven and uneven.  I think back to my home economics class and my first attempts at sewing.  It was not a gift of mine.  No matter what I could not get the sewing machine to sew a straight line to save myself.  It was jagged and zigzagged all over the place!  The pillow I made was not a circle, but some mis-shaped hybrid of a circle, square, and rhombus all thrown together.  Sure mom said she loved it, but then tucked it away in a "special" place.  I think in a world where we microwave and immediately tweet our lives...where instant gratification is the cultural norm... we struggle with the slow work of the Spirit.

Equally, in a world where we feel like we have to react to everything, keeping silence can be counter-cultural and even revolutionary.  To be still...let God get a word in edgewise...or just breathe and be.  Those invitations are what our souls long for and rarely find. 

What do you need to let go of right now?  Is it a tangible item or a relationship that is causing more harm than help?

What do you need to bring together?  How can you slowly sew the thread in prayerful ways to bring one piece of your life with another?

Where do you need to speak?  And where would it be better to be quiet?

I pray as you let those questions simmer in your life, there will be more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Ecclesiastes take seven


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Living in Florida means that I see many people face the reality of the fifth couplet.  I witness how people are initially excited to shed their winter gear for the warmth and sun.  I see how they settle into the Florida life there is a sense of relief to be done with the snow and a sense of grief at friendships from up north that will now consist of emails exchanged or Facebook posts liked or the week long visit in January.  The initial euphoria of the move to the Sunshine state, one that as Ecclesiastes states was, "sought"...mixed with the loss, perhaps not foresaw, but now as real as the humidity in August.

One of my favorite quotes is that a single, "Yes" contains a thousand, "Nos".  I can say, "Yes" to an opportunity, but it will mean I won't be able to do something else.  And sometimes that reality means that we can get stuck in analysis paralysis.  Because the options all have their appeal, we don't want to say, "No" to any of them.  There can be the very real "Fear of missing out" (FOMO) on something.  What would happen if you set an intention to be joyful for what is rather than what was not?  Or as my daughter said at the end of our last vacation, "Don't be sad it's over, be happy that it happened."  Wise words worthy of Ecclesiastes to be sure.

The second part of the couplet is equally as powerful in the place where I am.  Daily I see folks needing to downsize or move into care facilities.  They go from a two bedroom to a one bedroom to a shared room.  Each move means letting go of things.  I am convinced that this is not about clinging to possesses, but because so many of those items have the fingerprints of those who love who are no longer with us.  Or because the act of touching the tactile thing can transport us back to a meaningful moment.  To us it may look like a half used candle but to someone else it was on the table at a fifty anniversary.  To us it may look like a shirt, but to the one letting go, it was what they worn the last time she saw her spouse.  Sometimes the church can sound so harsh that we should only cling to God and we can let everything else go.  But God gave us communion ~ tactile bread and juice ~ because grace is something we need to touch not just talk about.  Part of the reason why it is difficult to let things go is that we tend to rush in the transition rather than slow down.  We tend to do this work alone rather than with others who can hear our story about the candle and shirt.  I don't have some magical answer, but I do think that if we invited someone to help us in times of moving to smaller space...if we shared the story of the candle or shirt or ticket stub...we would know that the story of love now lived in another, which might help us let go a bit easier. 

I pray that if you are in the midst of losing or letting go...you would seek out others who can walk that valley alongside you.  And I pray even more than there would be more than a trace of grace in that experience for you both.

Blessings ~~

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ecclesiastes take six


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

I find the fourth couplet to be one of the most helpful and insightful.  Gather stones and getting rid of them...embracing and not embracing.  Or as Hamlet said, "To be or not to be, that is the question." 

Stones for me are a metaphor of all the stuff I carry around my life.  I carry around events/experiences/encounters.  I carry around emotions.  I carry around a desire for God.  I carry around the past moments, I have not processed.  I carry around fictional future moments that I have created/crafted and may not ever really happen.  I carry around the present moment.  All this makes me think of my kids backpacks.  When they leave for school every morning the backpack holds binders and pencils and lunches and homework and water bottles and umbrellas.  Chiropractors might see future clients!  I see a parable for life.  I may not carry a real backpack but there is an equal amount of stress and strain in my shoulders. 

Sometimes we need to set/throw stones aside.  This is what we do when we process the pain of the past.  I am no longer going to let the anger/hurt/frustration of what someone said or did fuel and feed my life.  I set/throw stones aside when I refuse to be afraid of the future.  Or as Liz Gilbert said, "I will not let fear pick the radio station in the car ride of life."  This is what I do when I stop rehashing old arguments or replaying the brokenness.  Because the more we carry what was, the less we are able to see what is.  There is, the wisdom writer says, a time to carry this. 

I think about my mom's passing.  It was a very difficult time, fraught with emotions for a variety of reasons.  On top of it, we were in the process of moving.  To say, there was stress is an understatement.  It wasn't until a retreat almost three years later that I full grieved and came to terms with the anger/hurt I felt.  Sitting among the trees, thinking back to all that had happened, the tears began to fall.  A few at first, then the dam of holding back burst open.  Chronos time gets wrapped up in the three years...kairos time says that it was a holy moment that was waiting for the opportunity.  And, it isn't as though, everything is now chocolate rivers and pony rides.  There is still grief, but the waves are a bit smaller and I have found ways to anticipate their ebb and flow. 

Seasons of life that happen simultaneously within and around us...seasons of life that invite us to sense the fullness and richness.  Seasons of life that are always more than any words can capture or contain or delineate or divide or compartmentalize and categorize. 

What stones are you carrying?

What needs to be set aside?

What calls forth as needed and necessary as you continue life's journey?

May these questions, and especially the responses you listen to from your own heart/life, offer you more than a trace of God's grace today.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ecclesiastes take five


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The wisdom writer certainly starts off big, with major moments.  Birth/life ~ taking life/sustaining life.  I find the third couplet the opportunity to dig deeper.  We cry and we laugh.  We grieve and we dance.  And again, sometimes not only separately, but simultaneously.  I think of celebrations of life I lead where there is both laughter and tears...where there are moments my soul is heavy and other times light as a feather. 

As we move deeper into where the wisdom writer is inviting us...we realize that in chronos since we separate time...in a kairos time there is an expansive embrace that everything can belong.  I think about it this way ~ when my kids were born there was new life...there was an un-containable joy...there was the peacefulness of holding a baby.  And...and there were things that ceased to be ~ which is to say those things died.  On a basic level, a good night's sleep went out the window... and I wonder perhaps never to return.  No longer could my wife and I just drop everything and go out to dinner.  We had to get a babysitter.   No longer could we just think ourselves...the same could be said of weddings...we go from being a one to a two.  It is no longer just about "Me, Myself, and I"....or at least not if the marriage is going to last long.   

Or I think about how sometimes I break something down to build it up.  I deconstruct to get down to the raw building blocks and start over again.  The cliche is always that as one door closes, another opens.  While that is not always true, the door closing can still cause us to turn another direction and see another way we were not looking when focusing on the door!  It is a both/and moment.

Which brings us back to crying/laughing...grieving/dancing.  In the most honest sense to grieve is a sacred dance.  To cry/laugh is a cathartic release out of the soul.  We need both and I believe there is more than a trace of God's grace in both. 

I invite you to reflect back on the both/and moments of life.  With every new job/house/relationship something begins while another ends.  As someone once said, "Every yes...holds a thousand nos".  I hold onto this truth.  I celebrate the yes...and know that in the kairos of time the no was a holy decision too.  I pray such reflection helps you in the midst of such a time as this.

Blessings ~~