Monday, September 30, 2019
Perhaps puddles are not the most inspirational part of creation. Maybe not something that you think of as hums with the holy. Maybe you see puddles as an annoyance and something to be avoided. Maybe once a person driving crashed into a puddle that splashed and soaked you when walking down the street. Maybe you had to leap over a puddle hoping to land on your feet so that your shoes didn't get saturated.
These remnants of rain are more than something we have step around.
Puddles have a beauty and can shape our souls.
I took the above photo in the parking lot of the church. I love that in the puddle you can see the cracks in the driveway as well as the reflection of a nearby tree. I love that the translucent puddle would soon evaporate in less than an hour later be back up in tiny, unseen atoms floating in the air. I find it fascinating to slow down and see what the puddle has to say, because it is fleeting and fading and doesn't have forever to teach and tell us its truths.
The puddle seemed to say, that in our lives have cracks...our lives reflect the living parts of the world around us...parts of our lives that seem so permanent may eventually vanish barely leaving a trace. This puddle seemed to say, slow down, don't race, run past, rather listen. See the small golden leaf floating on the right side of frame like the parts of color in our lives.
Perhaps we have missed the beauty of puddles and how they can shape our souls. Like the above puddle I do reflect parts of the living world around me. Not just trees, but people I interact with or blades of grass or flowers or even things made by human hands like buildings or bridges or sidewalks I wander down. Like the puddle there are cracks in my life, things that I wish were not there but can also absorb some of the hurts. And sometimes things that I think will be around forever vanish as quickly as a puddle on a warm summer Florida day.
How might puddles shape your souls?
What do you see or sense when you look at the above photo?
What do you reflect right now?
Or where are there cracks in your life?
Or a leaf floating past?
In prayerfully pondering those questions, may you sense more than a trace of God's grace.
Friday, September 27, 2019
The clouds hovered and hung above swimming across the blue sky.
The rocks constantly covered with waves of water crashing down.
I stood my feet sinking into the sand letting the foamy water barely touch the tips of my toes.
Water above in the clouds with their .02 percent of water.
Water washing the rocks slowly shaping them over the centuries.
Water before me with a 100 percent wet ocean extending for miles.
Water to give life.
Water to renew...restore...refresh.
Water that awakens the deep within me to connect to the deep of the oceans before us.
Water does more than hydrate,
It teaches and tells us something valuable about ourselves.
We move, swim, around our lives.
We crash down sometimes in reacting to others who have pushed our buttons.
We barely are seen by someone else we pass quickly by.
Water is not only within us, it is us.
It is the way everything in our world works,
So may the baptismal waters wash over reminding you who and whose you are.
May the waters cause you to remember that in times of stormy surges, wrestling, God is still there.
May there be moments when you discover the calming seas that shape your soul in life giving ways.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2
The seas, water, at the beginning in Genesis were described as sloshing and chaotically churning. The waters, seas, at the beginning of creation collaborated with God to bring forth all that is seen and unseen.
The waters, seas, at the beginning of our Bible never are completely conquered, erased or eradicated but continue to flow.
The stream of creative and chaotic waters flow through all Scripture. Our Bible is soaked and saturated with holy waters.
This is true, as we saw a few days ago, with Jacob wrestling God, Noah's Ark, Moses parting waters of the Red Sea, Joshua parting the Jordan, Psalm 23, when the writer of Ecclesiastes says, "Everything is mist," which means everything is fleeting and fading. Now in Revelation, near the very end, there is water again that nourishes and nurtures the trees (again an echo of Genesis) that are for the healing of the nations.
Water as healing.
60 percent of your body is water.
71 percent of the earth is water.
When two hydrogen atoms say to a water molecule, "Hey, wanna hang out?" This chemistry is a basic building block of our lives and world.
While most of us can survive without food for a few weeks, if you don't drink water after a few days your life will cease to be.
Water flows through you.
Water, even as it is seen in the beginning as creatively chaotically collaborating with God, at the end there is God making use of water to heal everything.
E.E. Cummings wrote, "For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea".
In that is our baptismal promise. We remember when water touches our toes or washes around our knees or we dunk our whole body into the sea coming up gasping for air and dripping/drenched from head to toe. Water helps us find ourselves.
Water can also be a place of release. Letting go.
Ever set a bottle loose in the sea?
Ever find a shell on the beach that calls out your name?
Ever sink your feet into the sandy soil around the water or the muddy banks to remember that you and I are created, crafted from the combination of clay and water?
What do you need to lose in a good way right now?
What do you need to release?
A sense of perfection.
A calendar that has to be constantly full to say, "You are important".
A relationship that is wounding your soul.
A task that is causing you to be hurt rather than healed.
Everyone of us, every day, there is something we need to release in order to be healed.
We need to let go of clinging and white knuckling life so we can open our hands for the leaves of the trees that are for the healing of the nations and for us.
What do you need to let go of?
Write it down.
Take a gulp of water.
Maybe head down to the water to release to the sea where the creative God still meets us in the chaos of our lives with healing and hope in these days.
Monday, September 23, 2019
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. Genesis 32:22-24
By the banks of the sea, as the water lapped at the shore, Jacob encountered the holy as he wrestled/struggled with the sacred. At this point in Jacob's story he and his family are wandering in the wilderness, the wildness of life. He has fled from every home he had ever known.
Pause with me here...where is that a truth of your soul-scape?
When in your life have you felt spiritually or physically homeless?
When have you felt like you wander as you wonder which way to go? This can happen when in-between a job or when a relationship ends or when you are about to begin a new school year.
Throughout these posts we are paying attention to how creation is an important character in scripture. That the trees or seas or dust or mountains are not just background scenery, but are playing a vital and vibrant role in the story. However we do not always pay attention. It is significant to me that this wrestling match takes place by the sea, water. From Genesis 1, water is a symbol of both chaos and calm, but creativity and life crashing down in waves. Water is able to hold in tension the paradoxical strangeness and wonder of life. Water sometimes is soothing, think here of the words from the 23rd psalm where God leads you to still, quiet, calm, centering water. But at other times water awakens fear think here of Noah’s Ark or when Jesus was snoozing in the back of the boat while 10 foot waves came crashing down drenching the disciples.
Water as a character in scripture plays an important role. What we hear in this passage of Jacob wrestling by the sea opens us to the sense of the sacred struggle. The sacred struggle with ourselves, our own blessings and brokenness. The sacred struggle with others, whose words have left wounds or those who know how to push all our buttons to get a reaction out of us. The sacred struggle with the earth that continually cries as the Amazon rain forest burns and plastic pollutes our waters and trash piles up higher and higher. To struggle by the sea, where is that a truth in your life right now? Where do you feel like Jacob? In a world that wants to deny the realities of getting older, doesn’t ever want to talk about death, keeps propping up a sense that science can solve everything. In a world where we have not yet really come to terms with the fact that we are living longer lives and where fears around finances and health and relationships can cause our souls to shift, stir, and wrestle. Where is your story and Jacob’s story mirroring each other?
Wrestling in the wilderness, encountering the wildness of life, Jacob’s soul is shaped by this encounter. After tossing and turning all night, as dawn is about to break over the horizon, the holy asks to be released, but Jacob, always looking for an angle says, “Not until you bless me.” Jacob the hustler, the trickster, the one who always wants to look like a winner. By the sea, the angel asks for his name. In my ear, to my heart, deep in my soul, I see that scene, like this: after struggling all night, after wrestling with the ghosts inside and outside of himself, exhausted from a life that where he has always run away from. I see the sacred and Jacob locked in a grip, and when asked for his name, I see Jacob release his grasp, the way he has white knuckled his life. I see his shoulders drop, even droop, I see him look right at the sacred and in a voice barely above a whisper he says, “Jacob.” My name is Jacob. Can you hear him softly say his name as if his whole life is flashing before his eyes and he sees his own life in a new way?
In the early morning shadows of a few beams of light peaking over, Jacob names and claims his brokenness. Jacob acknowledges that his need for control and to be in charge, that he has constantly struggled. I am Jacob. By the sea, it is almost a baptismal moment. Jacob not only embodies his name, but embraces it. Then, the holy blesses him and gives him a new name (Israel) which means, striving and struggling with God. Faith, from the beginning has always had room for our dancing with doubt. Faith, the soul scapes of our lives, have been shaped by waters that are calm and choppy. Faith is about us acknowledging our created in God’s image selves have both light and shadows, have both moments we shine and times we struggle. The blessing comes not in spite of that work, but through it. It is my prayer, that this story will sing to your life this day. In those seaside moments where you encounter the holy both in moments of calm watching the waves and when those wave chaotically churn and crash down. In the seaside moments of this week, you will hear and feel God’s blessing infusing and inspiring you in such a time as this.
Friday, September 20, 2019
When the sun sets and the crickets begin their nightly serenade;
When the stars trillions of miles away start their soft twinkle;
When the memories of my small-child-self reappear to my adult awareness;
I take my place among those who have known the awesome mystery of night.
Night when child-less Abraham heard a promise of descendants more numerous than stars.
Night when Jacob saw angels and also wrestled with God.
Night when in the hustle and bustle of a little town of Bethlehem couldn't stop long enough for God's grand entry.
Night when Jesus would gather with his closest friends.
Night has always been a holy time.
Night has always been a vulnerable time.
Night is when bumps can make you jump.
Night is when a soft sound suddenly seems too loud.
Night is when our imagination spins with wild abandon.
Night is the threshold between the daylight where illusions of our command and control give way to the truth that we are not the center of the world.
Galaxies keeps expanding and evolving.
New thresholds always pushing further away.
We stand on earth proclaiming importance to a universe that is singing another song if only we would listen.
There is a trace of God's grace in the night if only we would be still.
There is a trace of God's love in the night if only we would be willing to let darkness bless us.
There is a trace of Gods peace and hope in the night that can only be found there.
May those truths visit you tonight and for a thousand nights to come.
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
I have stood beneath towering red wood trees in the west and next to snow-covered pine trees in the winter and raked maple leaves in the fall and witnessed the tiny buds of spring when the frost subsides and now see how the variations of green happen in the subtle shifts of seasons of Florida.
The trees have taught me more than I could say.
Redwoods taught me about my own smallness in life and when these trees have been around for over 500 years, suddenly saying, "This is taking forever," sounds rather shallow.
Snowy trees taught me how to shoulder some of the burdens of life that can weigh on us.
Raking leaves teaches patience as you no sooner get them in a pile than a breeze blows scattering them across the lawn again.
Noticing the shifts of green in Florida helps me know that traces of God's grace are not always neon lights flashing. Often God moves in soft and tender ways we might miss.
The amazing part is once you start noticing what trees can teach and tell us...suddenly other parts of creation start to chime in with truths we need to hear as well.
When the grass tickles my toes and bring a smile to my face, I know what joy means.
When sand wraps around my feet softly cushioning each step as waves crash down nearby, I know what peace means.
When birds sing even as clouds congregate overhead, I know what hope means.
And when the warmth of sun baptizes my skin, I know what love means.
Creation continually calls out to us, but when we are disconnected from our surroundings, we are really disconnected from something deep within ourselves.
So, go, stand outside. Listen to plops of rain that can nourish the earth and refresh the world around.
Go and stand beneath the shade of a tree and study the patterns of sunlight through the leaves.
Go and be in the early morning before the dawn as the stars give way to the sun.
Creation sings out the glory and traces of God's grace...may you and I listen and be absorbed by what is around us...awakening truths within us.
Monday, September 16, 2019
There is an understanding that the soil beneath the soles of our feet shapes our very souls. The oxygen atoms you breathed as a child wove their way into your DNA. That where you have been impacts who you are today. Our story has been influenced by our geography. The places you have called, "home" are more than an address you filled out so your Amazon package would arrive at the correct place. Like a turtle, we carry our home with us, but perhaps not in such a visible way.
I have lived in the Midwest where the wonderful contradiction of Minnesota nice and Iowa stubbornness shaped who I am today. I lived in the Northeast weathering nor-easters that dropped a foot of a snow faster than you could shove and I quickly ran out of places to put it. I have dug up rocks the size of loaves of bread when trying to plant a garden. I have lived in Wisconsin, a state that celebrates all things dairy. Now, the sandy soil of Florida is continuing to shape my life whether it is weathering hurricanes knocking on your door, humidity that hangs in the air thicker than the cool whip my grandma put on jell-o, or tasting the salt on the tip of my tongue.
How have you been formed and fashioned by the places you have lived?
In what ways have your previous addresses still part of the truth of where your heart/mind/soul reside?
I know that part of who I am is because of where I have been. But it is about more than a love of all things deep fried on a stick at a fair that is part of my childhood. It is about more than being in a place where some of the earliest settlers of our country first put down roots. It is about more than a state that named its baseball team, "The Brewers" or a state that produces some of the wacky-est news stories! It can be difficult to determine how the various soils in my soul have all culminated. Like trying to separate dirt, I don't see all the distinctive ways the places I've lived have molded me.
I do know that growing up in Iowa taught me hard work, stick-with-it-ness. I know that going to seminary in Minnesota where I met my wife shaped both my relationships and profession. I know that my first church in New Hampshire helped me begin to sort out how to live into my calling, my second church encouraged my growth, and now my third church continues to bless me as I live out being a pastor in such a time as this.
The places we have been linger in our lives. How have you been shaped by where you have called, "home"? In what ways do you still carry where you have been to where you are today?
As you ponder those questions, may you sense more than a trace of God's grace.
Friday, September 13, 2019
As the cloud reached down to touch the top of the trees,
Or billowed up like a plume of smoke from the earth,
I sat rapt in amazement.
I am used to clouds sailing across the blue sky above my head.
I am used to big clouds and small clouds that seem far away.
But one reaching down?
One that if I started chasing it with the dream of touching the pillow-y softness?
I wonder what would have happened if I did race and run off in search of this cloud?
Would have I discovered the place where the sky and earth met in this cloud?
Could I have entered this cloud the way the airplanes do countless times each day?
Could I have touched the pink hues of the sun on the edge of the cloud?
Could I have heard the silence of being surrounded by cool vapor of a cloud?
Suddenly what once seemed to distant came down to earth.
What once seemed far away was remarkably close.
Beckoning, calling, asking for us to pay attention.
Is this not what the dance with the divine is all about?
Is this not what church should be?
The place where our lives find an interaction and intersection with what too often seems out of reach?
When the landscape around us etches the soul-scape within us,
that is where prayers are formed by more than a trace of God's grace.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
The invitation to pay attention to the creation around us can help us be more aware of the creation within us. That what happens outside impacts and influences what is going on inside us.
A few friends and I joke about being "solar powered". If I don't see the sun for a few days I turn into grumpy dwarf quickly. We could talk about this on a chemical level of my body needing vitamin D or we could talk about this on a psychological level of how the weather impacts our moods. But I also think there is a soul level here. The warm of the sun causes my soul to dance. The rainy days of life give my soul a chance to slow down, sit, and be. I need both.
Creation is a character in our stories. For too long we have assumed it was a minor character - supporting actress/actor at best playing a bit role. Creation was there for our enjoyment, creation as a means to an end to put a smile on our face or inspire a sonnet. But what if creation was necessary for its own sake and plays an important role in our human evolution?
Again, physically we need the oxygen that the trees produce. We need the medicine harvested from plants. We cannot manufacture or make in a lab everything we need to sustain our life. Some of what helps keep us whole is beyond our ability to create.
Creation's value is intrinsic for its own sake.
Such a view isn't always accepted by everyone. There are folks who will only see what is around us through the lens of the bottom line or what can be marketable and profitable. There are folks who see what is around us through the lens of how to control it. There are folks who see creation as a distraction.
But for me, I realize how much I need to interact with the world which is alive with more sounds than I can hear, more sights that I can comprehend, more colors than in a box of crayons, more smells than my nose can perceptive, more experiences than one life time will be able to contain.
Julie Andrews was right, the hills are alive with the sound of music.
But are we listening? Are we letting loose to sing along? Are we joining the chorus or are our actions shaking our fists as if to shout, "For pete's sake, cut that out!"?
Again, I encourage you to go outside letting the sights, sounds, smells, and whole of the world sing to your soul. How have you been interacting with creation this week? Did a rain storm refresh your soul or cause frustration? Did the sun warm your skin or cause a sunburn? Did the wind gently cool your skin or blow off your hat sending you racing after it?
Part of not idealizing or romanticizing creation is that we are honest about our reactions and responses to what is around us. We start with what is in our hearts, listening. We continue to interact with what is happening around us to get a sense of what is going on within us.
I pray as we continue this prayer practice there will be more than a trace of God's grace.
Monday, September 9, 2019
In what ways does the world around us impact us?
I am not just talking about the news, texts, tweets, and the thousands of commercials we encounter everyday.
I am talking about the landscape right outside your window.
The towering tree I see with branches waving at me.
The blades of grass I can hear slowly growing.
The yellow flowers dancing with the green leaves of plants.
Our backyards are alive with thousands of species of life that we may barely pay any attention to.
Sometimes it has less to do with what we see, rather how we see.
Do I see the tree and the cooling shade it casts or the cost each year to keep it trimmed or the sticks it sheds in every storm?
Do I see the grass or the chore of mowing?
Do I see the flowers or the weeds that have sprung up next to it needing to be pulled?
Part of our world today is that nature has become something we think we need to constantly control. We have turned nature from something we interact with into something that interrupts us with inconvenient rain when we wanted sun. One definition of Sabbath are those moments we stop interfering with nature and instead interact with it. Accept creation on its own terms, listen to the sounds, take in the sights and smells. Recently I heard Gordon Hempton call creation a “solar-powered jukebox.” Hempton goes out and records nature. The sound of a stream, the extreme quiet inside a volcano, the birds chirp. We are slowly losing places where creation can be heard above the din of human activity and industry.
In fact now we have coined the term, "Nature Deficient Disorder" for the fact that we have become so separated from the earth of which we were formed and fashioned so that it is negatively impacting our souls.
You see what is around us shapes what is within us.
The landscape can shape your soul-scape.
But in order for this to happen, we need to recapture the fascination with creation. We need to not idealize or romanticize creation. There are risks that happen when we step outside our air conditioned habitats. It can be as minor as bug bites that have flared up on my skin sending me to the doctor for medicine to creatures that when provoked can cause significant harm to storms that damage property and take lives.
Creation is like all living things both beautiful and can cause brokenness.
Creation like humans can help or even heal but also hurt and harm us in significant ways.
Life interacting with life that is the invitation.
So step outside.
Take a deep breath.
Let your eyes survey the landscape.
Let your nose take in the vast variety of aromas.
Let your ears hear nature's jukebox.
Let your skin feel the air - humid or crisp.
Let your soul sense a connection to creation.
May there be more than a trace of God's grace in that moment.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Holy One who for six days sang creation into being.
Still crafting God, who continues to call forth life within us and around us.
We offer to you the work of our hands.
Whether we paint, make pottery, write words, balance spreed sheets, hold onto someone who needs to know he is not alone;
May our hands be guided by Your hands.
We offer to you the work of our minds.
Whether we solve problems, listen deeply seeking understanding, dream dreams, lead meetings, participate fully;
May our minds seek and be stirred by Your mind.
We offer to you the work of our hearts.
Whether we delight in seeing patterns, coming up with poems, making connections, caring for all of creation;
May our hearts be in tune with the song You sing to all creation.
We offer to you our whole lives.
From the top of heads to the tips of our toes,
We long to be caught up in the symphony of life.
When we are out of tune or off beat,
Help bring us back noticing the traces of Your grace swirling around us.
When we struggle to find the rhythm,
Help bring us back to the heartbeat that is Your holy drum in each of us.
When we long for more,
Open us to where You would have us go.
When we are confused,
Grant us clarity for the next step.
Bless us to be a blessing.
Let the traces of Your grace be felt and shared deeply with us, through us, and for the sake of the world you so love!
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
In the last post, I invited you to reflect a bit on work and to include many different definitions of work.
Work as something we sometimes get paid to do...sometimes not.
Work as including both what we do with our hands, but more so with our hearts, heads, and whole self.
Work can be weeding a garden.
Work can be listening to a friend.
Work can be attending a rally.
Work can be in a classroom, board room, building something, or dreaming new dreams.
It is unfortunate that we have so classified and categorized work into a narrow place of what we get a pay check to do. When the only lens we use to think about work is economic, we get to a limited place. When we expend to include other moments in our life, we start to enter the place of "vocation". Vocation has as one of it's roots, "voice". Vocation is that place were our voice sings in harmony with the world and others. Vocation are the moments we take our part in the concert of the creation. We are a part, a piece. We are never the whole. So, vocation connects us to a fabric. Vocation is relational.
In our vocation, just like our jobs, there can be tension. Even when we are singing out with full voice, we can still feel strain and stress because we are dealing with others.
Sometimes we can present vocation or finding your purpose as a idyllic place. Just find what you are called to do and it will be chocolate rivers and pony rides. Not so much.
Even living out our deepest calling and being our fullest self, we will encounter others who are trying to do the same and there can be tension, even conflict.
I invite you to consider places where you felt your life singing out with gusto.
I invite you to consider times you felt most alive.
I invite you to also acknowledge even in the midst of that amazing moments, how it might not have been perfect.
In that messy middle moment, I believe there is more than a trace of God's grace.
Monday, September 2, 2019
On this Labor Day, I invite you to remember your first job. Can you rewind and remember what you did or how excited you felt when you received your first official paycheck? Or when you discovered that there is this thing called, "FICA" who decides to take some of the paycheck!
My first official job was in the dish room at a local restaurant. More specially, I was assigned to pull the steaming hot plates and cups off the conveyor belt of the dishwasher. I also got to scrub big pots and pans that had caked on food. Eventually, though, my hard work paid off and I was promoted to mopping floors. Looking back, it really seems like more of a lateral move.
I can also remember my very first interview for a pastoral job, which went spectacularly awful. It was textbook on what not to do ~ unless your goal was to not actually get the job. I thought I had all the right answers to the questions.
For example, what do you consider your weakest trait?
Answer, I work too hard and I care too much.
Or what is a good starting salary?
Answer, I just love working for the Lord.
What would be your favorite part of the job?
Answer, Um what would you like for my favorite part to be?
I failed and fell so flat on my face, I believe my nose has been forever changed.
The work of our hands is important and is part of our identity.
Work can bring meaning into our lives.
Sometimes we receive a paycheck for the work that gives us purpose and joy, sometimes we don't.
Work might be something we profit from in a way that will never add one dollar to our bank account. Work might be that moment when our soul says, "Yes, this is why I was here."
Work can shift and change over the years.
What brings me the most joy right now, sometimes part of my job and sometimes is volunteer.
I pray on this Labor Day, you will prayerfully ponder an expansive definition of "work".
I pray you might give thanks for places where you find a smile crossing your face and your soul say, "Yes".
I pray there will be more than a trace of grace in your life this day and week.
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