Monday, April 30, 2018

Re-joice Part 1

re·joice  rəˈjois/verb ~ feel or show great joy or delight.

What are you feeling right now?  In this very moment are you sensing the stirring of the sacred or perhaps some sadness or numbness or nothingness?  Our emotions are fickle and fragile.  One moment we can be in the valley...the next whisked away to the mountains....only to encounter or experience something that takes us back to the depth.

Is the point of life to be on a level plateau...never too high or too low?  Weathering what wanders our way?

Is the point of life to ride the roller coaster of letting everything push/pull us one direction or another?

Or is the point something a bit deeper and more complex?

Because maybe joy doesn't come only from outside but also inside us.
Maybe joy is a kind of fuel that feeds of God's grace...but also something if we are alert we can train ourselves to see and sense.

Think of it this way...since 2001 we have been taught that if, "You see something, say something" with respect to suspicious behavior.  What if that was also a way to live our life with joy too.  If I see the tree swaying in the wind...hear the water gently cascading down...the pool ball floating aimlessly on the surface...feel the breeze or hear the laughter.  I am not saying that it is either/or ~ it is both/and.  There is tremendous brokenness and indescribable blessedness in this life.  To be comfortable with the paradox or messy middle of those two twin truths is where I invite you to prayerfully take up residence this week.

Yes...some leader will do something that breaks our hearts this week.
Yes...some person will made headlines hurting someone else.
Yes...some mother will go to work and take care of her kid.
Yes...some family will sit down to dinner, put down their phones...and actually talk to each other.
Yes...someone will fall in love.
Yes...someone will die.
Yes...someone will sit down on a lanai and post to a blog helping us all try to be open to the traces of God's grace.

What do you feel?

Where is the joy...go toward that today.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, April 27, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ Final

We have reached the end...both of the prayer and St. Francis' final thought.  He ends by reminding us that in dying we are born to eternal life.  Which I am sure, your thought might be, "Thanks for that uplifting reminder on this Friday!"

We don't talk about death very much today.  Yet, death is a part of every day.  We don't always see it or name it that way.  But today, I am shedding skin cells that have died.  I am witnessing leaves fall from branches.  I eat food that was harvested from the ground.  I hear stories about grief and loss.  My kids are growing older.  Each day brings grief.  Yet, in the blur of modern day, where we will distract ourselves with our cell phones the second we stand in line, we don't always see the death around us.

Sometimes the deaths are of a relationship or a position.  When we quit a job, there is grief.  When we have to go to the doctor, there is grief because our bodies are not as immortal as we think.  All around us creation and everything within us is a on a constant cycle of death and rebirth.  I am amazed that St. Francis saw something that we are actually blind to.

Yet, we are so disconnected from the cycles of the earth that it is easy to miss this.  I don't harvest my own food.  I can turn on a light when it gets dark.  My air conditioning keeps me cool and comfortable when the summer creation is telling me to slow down.  To listen to the earth is a kind of death of our own ego ~ that we are in constant control and complete charge of everything.  That might be the hardest death of all to face.  The world doesn't revolve around me.  Yet, it is only through journeying in that valley...that I can come out and say, "Thanks be to God."  Thanks be to God that I don't have to be so in control and in charge.  Thanks be to God that I can be one part, a microcosm, of a greater macrocosm.  I long to be part of something bigger than me. 

I pray that in the moments of brokenness and grief we might find some blessedness and goodness.  That we might find ourselves being opened to the love, understanding, and empathy that are fruits of the Spirit.  That we might find ourselves living off a different script than what the world offers.  For it is in such profound and powerful moments we discover God's amazing presence that does make all the difference.

Many blessings ~~

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ take eight

The next set of petitions are ones that I think feed and flow together.  Grant that I may not seek...stay with me on those words.  What do you seek right now?  Some are seeking a cure from an illness.  Some are seeking stability in a world of sinking sand.  Some are not sure and feel restless because of it.

What are you seeking??

I love the scene in Harry Potter where Harry and Dumbledore are standing in front of the Mirror of Erised ~ which is "Desire" spelled backwards.  And when you look into the mirror it will show you your heart's desire.  Harry wants to see his parents who died protecting him.  (Sorry...spoiler alert there).  But Dumbledore sees a pair of warm socks.  I think somewhere between those two desires most of us find ourselves.  We do desire big things ~ peace for the world and equality and justice.  But, we also desire small things ~ food on the table, laughter, and being loved. (Maybe that last one should be categorize in the "Big Things" camp).

What are you seeking??

Not only right now in this moment, but this week?

St. Francis goes on to say, we can point our hearts toward consoling, understanding, and loving others.  Three things...which actually build on each other.  When we console, we have empathy.  Empathy is the doorway to caring.  Empathy is saying that everyone is created in God's image.  If you don't have empathy, there can be no understanding, and where there is no understanding, love struggles to survive.

A quick example.  You are having a bad the flow of empathy like a hose folded in half is being cut off.  So, you hear your spouse's comment through that blockage...which is turn leads to saying something that you eventually apologize for speaking.

These three are not separate, distinctive or different...they are interconnected and interwoven together.  You cannot love without some level of understanding (which is why we talk for hours when we are first dating someone) and without empathy or seeing the humanity of each person we will struggle to understand.  It is a cycle that St. Francis saw centuries ago...yet, we still can't find a way to live fully.

It does take practice and constantly committing to living this way.  So, who is that person right now who seems to have the code to push all your buttons?  That person you are struggling to empathize with and understand and even love?  Can you start by simply saying, "She or he is God's child."  Just let that sit and simmer or awhile.  It might take time, but trust in the slow work of the spirit.  As you do, may the realization that our lives are caught up in a single garment of mutuality (thank you to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for that).  May you sense a grace that grounds you in the garden of God's presence, clearing your vision and helping you hear afresh this day.

Blessings ~~

Monday, April 23, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ take seven

As we have turned and tuned our lives toward this prayer over the last few weeks, we have sought to be open to the Presence of One who is there in all times and places.  One who invites us to be part of the great symphony being composed and conducted by God.  One who leaves us from hate, injury, doubt, despair, and darkness, into a new reality.  Not that everything is amazingly awesome in the new reality (or what we call in the Lord's Prayer, "God's Kingdom).  We know all too well that the part St. Francis asks us to turn from is still part of what is around us and even within us. 

Which is to suggest there is light and darkness...sadness and joy in this very moment.  It is not either/or it is always both/and.  Too often we eschew the prayer practice of crying.  Too often we think Christianity is only about being "Shiny Happy People" all the time.  That if we are jazzed up on Jesus juice life becomes amazing.  Preachers can try to sell us on this kind of consumer Christianity or what is sometimes called, "Prosperity Gospel".  That is, God wants you to be rich and happy.  I believe that God wants us to be whole and holy reflecting God's imprint upon our life.  That means sometimes there is sadness.

After all, there is too much brokenness in the world.  We need to grieve.  There are too many acts of violence and aggression and say nothing about cancer and disease and car accidents.  Life is messy.  We cannot just think our way out of that truth.  But we also don't need to let that be the only voice in our lives.  Just know I have returned from a walk outside.  I felt the rush of refreshing wind against the strong sun.  I saw the puffy clouds sailing across the blue sky like a boat on an ocean. I saw green grass swaying and palm trees waving and God's good creation.

Yet, I also know that God's creation is groaning under the weight of human consumption. There is sadness and we need to live a different way.  And then we see someone throw trash out the window or a corporation polluting and wonder if our small part (like driving an energy efficient car or being a vegetarian is really going to make a difference?)  This is the human condition, to hold these two ideas in creative tension. 

I pray you will reflect on places of sadness and grieve.
I pray you will notice the beauty of God's presence and rejoice.
I pray through both you will sense more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Friday, April 20, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ take six

Hopefully (building on the theme of the last posts) by now you are starting to sense that this prayer is not meant only as a prescription but a description that can work and wiggle into our lives.  We can read this prayer time and time again, like water over a rock, slowly letting it smooth the rough edges of our souls.  We let this prayer turn and tune our lives because the soundtrack of society blares and blasts too much hate/injury/doubt/despair/darkness - and we long for and thirst for another way.  Not that love/pardon/faith/hope/light are opposites, but as a response that might grow within us as a gift of God.

When I arrive at the doorstep of praying to bring light to darkness, I am reminded of the spiritual, "This little light of mine...I'm gonna let it shine."  I am able to let my light shine because the One who is light shines on me in amazing ways.  In Florida, we sometimes joke about being, "Solar powered," because if it is grey/gloomy for too many days (which is to say more than one), you can really start to hear it and see it in others.  Our vitamin D has been so elevated, that we crave it.  Yet, just as I cannot control peace; I cannot control darkness. 

Or another way to say all this is to suggest that the above are seasons and responses.  There are seasons (as Ecclesiastes 3 suggests), but what happens outside doesn't have to be the only voice about what happens inside.  Christ came to show us that even in a time of oppression, violence, hatred, and anger, there were ways we can live which might dance to a different beat of a drummer.  Rome would talk about "Pax Roma" or Roman Peace.  This was a peace only Caesar could bring...but it was a peace of oppression by taxes ~ peace won by a sword ~ peace of conformity or else the crucifix.  Christ came to talk about God's peace as for all, especially the least, lowly, and lost.  Christ came to talk about peace through non-violence.  Peace even in facing death, not as the end, but as a way to life abundant. 

Even in the darkness night, our eyes amazingly can find some light.  Sometimes from one small star above or a small strip of light creeping in through a crack in the door or even from the flashlight on our phone.  Leonard Cohen wrote that, "There is a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in."  The crack is not brokenness...although it is that too.  The crack which we might want to repair or replace that item now because it is broken...might actually be the very location where God's grace gets a word in edgewise. 

So may the moments of darkness we all find in the course of a week also see more than a sliver of light in your life...and may that be more than a trace of grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ take five

We want to plant ourselves in peace.
We long to let love be the fruit that grows from our words.
We long to let pardon be a practice we engage in for the sake of ourselves and the world.
We long to let faith be the verb that feeds and fuels our lives.

Five posts into this prayer, we can start to feel overwhelmed.  This is a lot.  This runs counter to what seems to come naturally and normally to us.  It can feel like "oughts" and "shoulds" that shut down dialogue rather than encounter it.

Or, in short, we might feel some despair.  Again, it is important to say that despair need not be the opposite of hope, but an element of hope.  Hope is not some prize we can tightly cling to or control.  Emily Dickenson was right, "Hope is a thing with feathers."  That phrase means hope is flighty and free and far from our ability to force it to conform or contort to our way.  Hope will visit us, we pray it might even reside within us, but it is not something we can pick up at the grocery store.  Hope enters in unannounced, with serendipitous surprises. 

Part of my concern is that you might be reading all these posts thinking, "Well, I guess I just have to try harder...or do more."  We make faith out to be some prize or trophy.  Instead, faith is active, living, and growing.  Like a plant, we can shape its growth, but cannot force it.  I cannot will my tomato plant to grow faster.  I can water it.  I can tend it.  But it takes time.  So, while there are things I can do, there are also places I need to let God be the gardener ~ tending and teaching me how to be in the world.

Hope comes as a guest.
Hope knocks softly...patiently...persistently.
Hope comes in unexpectedly, unannounced, and will sit quietly.
Hope is around.
But like waves of water;
Like air currents
Like the butterfly that just landed on the flower outside,
I can't control.
I can only receive the trace of grace
Also called, "Hope."


Monday, April 16, 2018

St. Francis Prayer ~ take four

St. Francis is looking to turn and tune our lives toward peace ~ perhaps that is what is at the center of this whole prayer and the petitions that follow (like ripples from a stone dropped in the water) radiate from there. 

He invites us into the Jesus ethic of love - of self; of neighbor; and even of enemy or the one who is sowing seeds of hate.

He invites us into the way of pardon or forgiveness.  After reflecting on this petition of the prayer in the last post, I read this by Ron Rolheiser, "The struggle to forgive is our greatest moral, psychological, and religious challenge.  Most everything in us wants to protest to the call of forgiveness.  When we have been wronged and hurt by people close to us and systemic injustices, everything in us CRIES out.  A thousand emotions rush, run through our whole bodies."  Rolheiser is right...forgiveness impacts our whole bodies from mind (where our thoughts object) to our nervous system and emotions to our hearts which long for justice to our bodies where the stress and strain can sit uneasy upon us. 

Perhaps, we doubt if we can do it, which is where the next line of the prayer knocks on the door.  I do find this prayer very meaningful.  However, in its rhythm, we might hear these words through a lens of dualism.  That is hate as the opposite of love.  But as Rev. William Sloane Coffin said, actually the opposite of love is fear...fear of ourselves and others.  Or that injury is the opposite of forgiveness.  Yet, none of us escape life without scars externally and internally.  Likewise, we might hear and think that doubt is the opposite of faith.  But as Paul Tillich said, "Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a component of it."  Actually, what St. Francis is suggesting is not that we can ever eradicate or eliminate hate or injury or doubt.  These are daily experiences, part of the soil we walk down every day.  And these realities of hate and injury and doubt can either make us bitter or call us to choose another way.  We can either continue to let these realities grow and go unchecked OR we can try to live in God's realm.  Most of the time, this, too, is not an either/or choice but a both/and decision.  We find some peaceful ways to live and other times the chaos of life around us and within us continues to swirl.  We try our best to respond to hate with love, but sometimes say something sarcastic to the person who is throwing shade.  We try our best to forgive but it can be a slow process of being a little less angry each day.  And we can seek to live faithfully, but there are days doubt not only creeps along the shadows, but might call us to dance with doubt. 

It isn't that we can or even should avoid hate...injury...and doubt - but we also need to be careful only letting these realities be the only ones singing to our lives.  In my experience, hate, injury, and doubt don't bring me peace.  But it is in exploring and experiencing these realities - even encountering God there - have been part of the pathway to peace.

So, may the peace of God guide you not only along cool, refreshing, peaceful streams....may you sense more than a trace of God's grace even in those dark, valley when hate, injury, and doubt are the location of our souls.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Prayer St. Francis take three

We want our lives wrapped up in the movement of God...which makes a sound of peace.
We want to point our toes toward love...which the world might never understand.

Next line proclaims that where there is injury, we might sow seeds of pardon.

This is the language of forgiveness.  Like the word, "love" we held up to the light last time, "forgiveness" is equally misunderstood.  We think of forgiveness, conflating it, with forgetting or letting someone off the hook.  Yet, forgiveness is really about not carrying around a grudge more than anything else. 

Stop for a moment, who is that person who just said something to you recently that like a record is stuck on repeat?  Who do you have a whole speech composed in your mind for the next time you see them?  And then...have you ever actually said that stuff?  Or do you, like me, often just push those words down deep and put on a smile saying, "Oh it is sooooooo good to see you," through clinched teeth? 

So often carrying a grudge we do so silently.

So often carrying a grudge we do so alone.

So often carrying a grudge we do so with pain that can only feed on itself.

That is why grudges are so heavy.

Pardon sets down the burden...lays down the stone...says, "I will stop drinking this poison and expect the other person to suffer."

To be sure, forgiveness doesn't mean that suddenly it is all chocolate rivers and pony rides in life.  It is a slow, steady process of releasing the control anger has on us.

So, if we love to show peace to someone else....we pardon to show peace to ourselves! 

Who needs to be pardoned...not because he deserves it...not because she earned it...but because YOU do!  By the way...grace is always unconditional and unceasing...can never be earned or deserved.  Pardon and forgiveness is the flower that grows in the soil of grace.

Take some time today to just let this wash over you...try to plant yourself in this place.

I pray there might be more than a trace of grace that blossoms and blooms in you because of it.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Prayer of St. Francis take two

So, we have asked/prayerfully pondered so far on questions such as...
                         Who/what is the Lord of life...where is your center?
                         How can God move through your life?
                         What kind of sound is your life making?

What I love about this prayer is St. Francis goes on to offer this laundry list of what peace sounds like in our lives.  Peace sounds like where there is hate, we sow love.  Or when someone goes low, we go high.  Or when someone strikes us on the cheek, we turn the other.  As much as our country confesses to follow Christ...we struggle mightily to turn the other cheek.  We justify this by saying, "This isn't how the world works!"  Or, "We would appear weak."  Or, "We shouldn't just stand by silently in the face of abuse."  All of that is true. 

The world does promote might makes right...send in the military...destroy your enemy before they destroy you...never realizing that the more you destroy, the more you create the breeding ground to produce more hate/enemies.  It is a vicious cycle.  We have fought long wars for this very reason. We kill the father, only to create an enemy in the son.  We treat the women as less than in violent ways only to leave force as the only way the daughter can know/respond.  To call it, "vicious" is apropos!  But to sow love plants a new garden in God's creation (which is what Easter-ing our faith is all about!).

Yes, it will appear weak according to worldly values...but not according to God's realm.  God's self-giving love didn't go down swinging, but faced the cross to say, "It is finished."  The "it" isn't life, "it" is all the ways of being in the world that create more violence and pain and suffering.  The cross is to appease an angry God it is to hold up a mirror of what violence will get you.  Namely, more violence.  Namely, more enemies.  Namely, that viciousness we just named above!

Finally, we shouldn't just stand by silently in the face of abuse. But to suggest that love is only some voiceless force is a bad definition.  Love is active.  Love will speak out.  Not by pounding the table or dehumanizing the other.  Love is creative and dynamic and seeks another way.  Love...however... often seeks the harder way.  The way of creating, through and with the still moving presence of God, a place for both us and the one who is against us.  That kind of world still seems a bit fictional by some accounts...but the people who say that are the ones playing a zero sum game and are the very ones saying, "Lets buy some more bombs just in case."

To turn my toes toward peace...means the first step is in love...not toward trolling my enemies with vicious tweets or comments...not toward political point scoring...not toward being successful or even relevant with a thousand blog followers...but loving the ones I encounter everyday.  Good Lord... I will need lots of help with that!

May the God who is peace and comes in peace move and mold your life toward sowing love today.

Blessings ~~

Monday, April 9, 2018

Prayer of St. Francis take one

The above prayer is attributed to St. Francis and is viewed as the saint of animals and ecology.  He is said to have preached an entire sermon to birds, including inviting them to confess.  With Earth Day coming up, the environmental crisis continuing, and our uncertainty about what/how we might respond in ways that will make a difference, the prayer of St. Francis seems a great place to begin in living our Easter-ing faith.

It is easy to rush and race past the first line, "Lord make me an instrument of they peace."  Notice that first off, the prayer is asking, expecting, even inviting God to do something in our lives.  How often do we expect God to show up in the course of the day?  We might say God is everywhere, but we don't always live that way.  There is the old joke about the church and the bar that sat next to each other and had an adversarial relationship.  The church people prayed something would happen to the bar...the bar own scoffed sarcastically in response.  Until one day, when the bar was struck by lightening.  There was a law suit by the bar which time the church pleaded it's innocence for any involvement while the bar owner was adamant that the church be held accountable.  The judge eventually said, "I am not quite sure what exactly to do, but it is clear that the bar owner believes in prayer while the church people do not." 

How many times do we sometimes hold too tightly to the adage, "Pray as if it is all up to God and act as if it is all up to you."  The problem both the joke and adage point out is that we, as humans, want to be completely in charge and control.  The prayer starts off with the old fashion word, "Lord".  To be sure it drips with sexism and is tied to a time of oppression.  Lord is a claim that someone is at the center of your life.  Or as Tillich contended that no one was an atheist, because we all worship something or have something at the center of our lives.  While it might be money or relationship, we all have some part of our life that we prioritize.  Who is "Lord" for you?  Is it your investment broker or the person who organizes your golf league or the clerk at your favorite store or a teacher?

If it starts by acknowledging who is at the center, the second two words of the prayer, "make me" reminds us that we are being molded by forces in our lives.  Nature has an impact on us.  Scientists say that our relationships do influence, leave a lasting impression, on our DNA.  We are who we are because of who/what we love!!

But St. Francis wanted to made, shaped, fashioned and formed into an instrument of peace.  I used to play the trombone...very poorly play the trombone.  The thing about an instrument is that it is designed for one purpose (to be played) and can produce (within a wide, but also limited range) a certain sound.  I could never sound like a clarinet or drum.  Yet, both the clarinet and drum, are also instruments.  Yet, both the clarinet and drum, produce sound.  There are similarities and distinct differences.  The point is that there are MANY ways to be an instrument, but the sound we want to make is one of peace.

How are you letting/opening yourself to God to move/blow through your life sounding the spirit of peace?

May that question sit and simmer in your life this day and offer you more than just a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Eastering Faith

On Sunday, I suggested that rather than a noun, our celebration of Christ's resurrection is better as a verb.  Rather than Easter...perhaps we should think of "Eastering" faith.  A faith that both moves and meditates on God's work among us/in us.  A faith that prays with its legs/hands as well as our hearts in quiet moments.  A faith that celebrates but also knows the concern for those who are crying.  Eastering faith...I believe is summarized well in the Prayer of St. Francis.

Lord, make me a instrument of Your peace.  Peace here is more than an absence of violence, rather an embracing/encompassing shalom - or wholeness/connectedness.  I also love here that this isn't just about what we can will or work we have to do...this is something God does/has done for us.  To make us...mold even...mend us into an instrument of peace. 

What would that instrument look like?
Is it a guitar?
Is it a drill?
Is it something a doctor would us to help/heal us?
Is it something that we would recognize or is God's tool box drastically different from our own?

Because you know peace, you must decide the pathway to that peace...the process God might use to engage us and encourage us.  We need to know the instrument that will be working in our lives.  Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Which to me means I let go of the stuff I hold inside...the anger at that person...the frustration at myself for my role...the pain I leave unprocessed.  All that stuff that wants to congregate in the corner of my soul, like a cobweb.  All that stuff that wants me to just pretend I don't see it there huddled and hanging out together.  All that stuff that is broken and even unwanted.  Because our soul is shy and won't show up just because we invited it to the party of life, we need to ask God to interrupt and intervene in our lives.

Make me...because I cannot make myself forget or heal.
Make me....because I cannot wrap my mind around the process.
Make me...because otherwise I might not even go there.

But make me not in the image of the world, but in Your image O God. 

Where do you long for peace?  May a list.
Where do you long for stillness/shalom in your life/your family/your community/and especially in our world.  Make me...which also sounds like mold me and fill me and use me in ways that do not hurt or harm but bring about God's peace.

Can we live into this prayer this week for the sake of the world God so loves.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Total Praise

On this glorious, grace-filled Easter Sunday, there is a joy that hovers/hangs in the air.  I want to share our choir singing Total Praise from a few weeks ago.  It is a song that moves my heart and speaks deeply to my soul.

May the sacredness of this day sing to your heart as we celebrate God's grace facing even death itself.  As we celebrate that even in a tomb a trace of grace was more than enough to bring life.  As we celebrate brokenness is never the last word.  It is my prayer this day will linger in your life long after the jelly beans are gone...may this day continue to linger even after fireworks light up summer sky in July...may this day sing to your heart after summer vacations and when school resumes...guiding us all the way to the end of this year.  For indeed, every day holds an Easter promise.  Every day holds the possibility of us Eastering our faith, sharing and shining the light of God wherever/whoever we are.

Grace and peace everyone ~~ 

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...