Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Jonah take Two


One of the reasons I think we make Jonah out to be a fishy farce of a story is because if we bring it too close to our hearts, we will see ourselves in Jonah.  I have worn Jonah’s sandals when God calls me to go somewhere I would prefer not to go.  I have pretended to be confused or said, “Sorry, God, bad cell reception in here.  You are breaking up.  I’ll call you back.”  And then never try God back.

To be sure, the Ninevites to whom Jonah was being sent to preach/convert, were those people.  The enemy.  Imagine God calling you to talk to someone who voted for the other candidate.  God calling you to talk to that family member who pushes all your buttons.  God calling you to go to that place where you are all uncomfortable and even a bit scared.  I find myself saying, "Seriously, God, I would love to, but I am super busy right now."

I have worn Jonah’s sandals when I idealize heading somewhere exotic because that what Tarshish still is.  Even when our grandmothers said, "The grass wasn’t greener over there." We all thought, “I’d better check it out, just in case.”  It is not just that we flee, we head toward that which promises to provide us with a place on easy street.  Rarely is life better there and we end up admitting that our grandmothers were right! Finally, when the storms of life start to roar and rage, I like Jonah, tend to give up.  Just make me some fish food.  Come to think of it, I would rather be swallowed by a fish than see my own reflection in this reluctant, rebel prophet of God.

When we are brave to enter this story with hearts wide open, we start to uncover our foible, frail fleeing ways.  Yet, God, named fourteen times in this book of the Bible, continues to journey with us.  When we are lured by a new job or new volunteer opportunity or new committee that will be so much better because we where we are now we reason, has all these humans hanging around.  Yet, God, named fourteen times in this book of the Bible, says all are my beloved children.  When we would rather deny or dismiss God’s call, God persists as a presence in our lives.

Where is your life and Jonah’s life twisted and tangled together?
Is there something or someone you push away, while your heart says, “Perhaps you can reconsider?”  Is there a moment your mind says, “Flee,” while your souls says, “Stay”?
Is there a moment you think, “I am doomed,” only to hear that with God we are able to accomplish immeasurable more than we can imagine?

I invite you to continue to let this Jonah story sink, sing, and settle into your life.  Next week I will post some more about what happens in the belly of whale, or big fish, or whatever it was God had transport Jonah back to where he would prefer not to go.

But for today and in the days to come may you and I both sense traces of God’s grace in moments of laughter as a way to see ourselves fully.  Amen.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Jonah take One


 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me."  But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.  Jonah 1:1-3

If ever there was a story where creation was a vital and vibrant character, it is the book of Jonah.  And the truth is that there are some stories where a single scene is forever etched in memory.

Think of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader dueling it out when Vader says, “I am your father.”

Or Rhett Bulter, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” which I think we all have muttered under our breath at a meeting.

Or Dorothy landing in Oz saying, “Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore,” which still gives me permission to talk to my dog.

So, if I were to ask you, what is the first word that comes into your mind when you hear the name Jonah, you would say…

Whale. 

Never mind that in the book of Jonah the original Hebrew was dag gadol, which really means, big fish.  And let’s not start the debate over whether a whale is really a mammal or a fish?  Never mind that the words big fish appear twice, while God is named fourteen times, the Lord is named 21 times, and even sackcloth gets more mentions at three references. Suffice it to say, there is a direct correlation in our minds that Jonah is to whale as Wes is to writing long blog posts.  And because we so associate the story of Jonah with the fish and just want to get to the good part of this would-be, run away prophet getting gulped by a grouper, we might miss some of the subtle, sly sarcasm that is woven into the opening words above.

We miss for example that Jonah being the son of Amittai, that word means to be faithful.  Jonah was supposed to be the son of faithfulness.  Okay, I get it that isn’t hilarious, laugh until you cry and your side aches kind of Whose on First act of Abbot and Casttello bit, but it is at least a slight chuckle.  Or what about Jonah racing, running in the exact opposite direction of where God sent him?  He heads toward Tarshish, which we know was a wealthy city of silver, gold, apes and peacocks.  Tarshish was to Jonah as Las Vegas is to us today.  Jonah hops on the first boat out of dodge, goes down in the belly of the boat, and promptly falls asleep, because frankly, running from God is exhausting.

So, while Mr. Rip Van Wilkle is soundly snoozing, when a storm starts tossing the boat like the opening scene of Gilligan’s Island.  Jonah, with drool coming out of the side of his mouth, is asleep while the sailors above are tossing and throwing prayers toward their gods and food, supplies, and probably peacocks being transported to Tarshish overboard.   Jonah is in full REM, deep sleep, while the crew are racing around like the disciples do when Jesus was asleep in a storm in the gospels, which maybe this is where the Gospel writers got the idea for that story line?  Again, I know, maybe this is not the funniest things ever, but it causes a smile to cross my face.  Finally, someone goes and wakes up sleeping beauty, tells him that his presence is being requested on deck.  If you read all of chapter one, you would hear the sailors pleading and praying for something or someone to make the storm stop.  Jonah, Mr. faithful, says in a monotone voice - like a teenager appeasing her parents who just asked, "How as school - “Fine, I am a Hebrew and worship the God who made heaven and earth.”  Worst. Testimony. Ever.  Jonah goes on saying, “Well, I could repent to God and go where God asked.  But I would you just rather throw me overboard.”  So, the sailors do.  The storm stops.  Stillness after the howling wind and waves crashing chaotically.  Suddenly the boat goes from being tossed about to and fro to sitting on the surface of the water calm as glass.  And the sailors convert.  They worship God.  The make sacrifices.  Jonah converts a boat-load of sailors without even trying, while if our church gets five new members I do a happy dance.

I ask you hold this story in your heart in these days.  Ask yourself:
~~ Is there someone or something I am running from right now?
~~ Where do I sense the traces of God's grace guiding me?
~~ Is there resistance of going to that place because those people might be there?

And may you find more than a trace of God's grace as this story sings to your life.

Blessings ~~

Friday, October 25, 2019

Prayer for Growth

He pulled out the drive way for the first time on his own.
Alone.
Without us there to point the way.
Without us to push down on our imaginary brake.
Without us by his side.
Like the first step he took before tumbling to the ground.
Like the first day we dropped him at preschool.
When you hand the keys over to your 16-year-old, with his newly-minted, laminated driver's license that the state of Florida says he has earned, something within your soul shifts.
A rite of passage we call it.
A moment I remember how liberating and free I felt years ago when my parents handed me the keys to the blue Ford station wagon and crumpled ten dollar bill for gas.
Yet, there is something more here too.
This isn't just about driving, it is about time slowly slipping, almost silently, away.
You realize that soon, too soon, he will pull out of the drive way not just for a few hours, but for weeks as he heads to college.
You realize that soon, too soon, his socks will stop constantly be left laying around to end up in the dog's mouth.
You realize that soon, too soon, it isn't just that he is growing up...you are too.
But for now, we sit restlessly praying for him to be careful.
But for now, we wait for the text telling us he got there safe.
But for now, we will lay awake until we breathe a sigh of relief hearing the garage door rattle to life.
Now.
This moment.
Holy, broken whole, and knowing that while we don't have a magical remote control that could rewind or pause time, we have the chance to witness the one we once held in our arms growing up before our eyes.
Holy, broken whole, and knowing that suddenly life really does go too quick, which you couldn't have convinced us of during all those late nights walking around the house trying to calm his crying.
Holy, broken whole, and knowing that in this one particular moment there is a universal truth:
We prayerfully seek to do the best we can, where we can, how we can.

Let that prayer offer us more than a trace of grace.
Let that prayer open us to God's presence saturating every moment.
Let that prayer watch over those I love every day.
Happy birthday and congratulations and love to my son who I once held in my arms and now drives away to explore this world.

Amen ~~

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Soul-scape - Breeze


The wind has picked up stirring and swirling and softly cooling my skin.
You notice the breeze more when for summer months and days on end the humidity hangs heavy in the air, like a barrier the breeze has to work and wiggle to get through.
As summer gives way to autumn, the leaves don't change color, as much as they begin to rustle and wave.
They begin to dance with some delight.
Creation as God's first testament is a multi-sensory invitation.
God causes sights that capture and captivate.
God moves through sounds that can alert and activate all part of our brain.
God awakens smells some pleasant (flower)...others not so much (skunks!)
Creature is full of tastes that could overwhelm our 10,000 taste buds.
But the sensation of touch....
       for rain that drenches
       for sun that soaks in, baptizes and sometimes burns
       for wind, breezes that can refresh, fill sails, and causes pollen to get caught up and carried away.

The breeze silently shaping the sands of our souls.
The breeze softly, persistently moving.
The breeze reminding us of the one the early ways God incarnationally came to us.

For God's original way communicating was not through words written in tiny print in a book to be solemnly read,
God's first plotting plan was a garden that could invite us to commune and form community.
That plan is not obsolete,
Rather, it is there all the time.
Rather, it is all around us.
The question is whether we are willing to listen to creation's choir?
The question is are we willing to breathe in creation's aroma?
The question is do we want to taste and see that the Lord is good?
The question is, how might traces of God's grace shape your soul in these autumn days.

Blessings ~

Monday, October 21, 2019

Soul-scape - Patterns of Creation


Streaks of pink stripe the sky against the dark blue backdrop.
While the warm yellow sun slowly and softly and silently sinks.
Hours before the sky, bright and brilliant with blue.
Hours before the sun had shone down with such force to not be ignored.
But that was hours before.

Nature invites us into the paradoxical rhythm of life. 
Nature can be slow, steady, almost unseen in growth like rings of a tree added.
But sometimes nature picks up her pace in the blink of eye.
Blazing sun that relaxes and relents and releases after only a few hours,
Which in the span of time cannot even be measured.

To walk daily is to let creation, God's first testament,
Sing,
     show,
            slow,
                 silently invite you to wonder.
Wonder as you wander out under the sky proclaims the hymn.
Wonder as you wander inspired the Psalmist to compose and poets to create and paints to pick up the brush.
But we seem less concerned with the witness of creation today.
We'd rather check our social media feed.
And in full disclosure...I took the above photo with my iphone.
Ironically guilty.
But I didn't feel the need to immediately post or count the likes.
I let those pink stripes against a dark blue sky preach to my soul the rest of the walk.
I watched as they waved their goodbyes and let the black night sky enter.
I watched...listened...waiting...wondered.
Perhaps there is more than a trace of God's grace if you would do the same this week.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Soul-scape - Prayer


The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations, proclaimed and preached John at the end of Revelation. 
Such a statement causes me to ponder prayerfully, what kind of leaves could heal the nations today?
Would the leaf be green with new growth?
Would the leaf be afire with autumn gold?
Would the leaf offer aloe for the soul, even as that soothing liquid hides behind thorns?
Would the leaf be purple, like the one above, causing our souls to delight and even dance?
I prayerfully commitment myself to constantly looking, searching for such a leaf today.

Then, I stop to wonder if by chance it is our life that brings forth the leaves of healing?
Is what I am saying offering balm to heal the sin-sick soul?
Is what blossoms and blooms new with life or stuck in the past?
Is what I bring forth helping or hurting or somewhere in-between?
Do I join in the dance of delight or do I stay stymied on the sidelines of cynicism?

The leaves are for healing.
Our lives are for healing.

These words are more than a prayer for me, but an invitation to be enlivened and embodied in my life in these days.

I pray these words might awaken traces of God's grace in your life in these days.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Soul-scape - Pathways


Over the last several weeks, we have sought to find ways to be open to creation as a vital and vibrant part of our story and lives.  We have drawn near to elements of earth, water, wind, creatures, and photos that invite us to step into the sacred in the ordinary.

I offer this picture as a reminder that the pathways that shape our souls are sometimes long while others are short, these twin truths happen simultaneously in our lives.  For example, I think about raising my children now in their teens as a long road (with a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs - and that was just Monday!)  Serving a church is a long path filled with companions in faith.  Faithfully facing our aging happens with every birthday candle added to the cake each year.  Then, there are moments that shape our souls which last only a few moments.  I think of trips taken that still linger and have left a lasting impression.  I think of people who I have met and our paths have crossed, intersected just once, but the person still shared/shined her light with me.  Our life is a mixture of long roads we are still trudging and short paths where the past impacts the present. 

Where do you find yourself in the midst of a long journey - physically, spiritually, or emotionally?
Where was one moment this week that has shaped your soul in a short period of time or even a few seconds?

The bridge above is short, just a few steps.  Yet, when I walked across it to stare out at the bay, my soul felt refreshed and renewed and reminded that I am connected to God's creation.  The bridge allowed me to step toward and even feel like I was standing in the midst of the water hearing the waves gently lap against the boards. 

I invite you to step outside.  Close your eyes.  What do you hear?  What do you smell?  What kinds of sensations brush up against your skin?  How might this one single moment shape your soul-scape?  Then gently walk, wander around, soaking in the ways that every moment can open us to bridges connection us to traces of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Monday, October 14, 2019

Soul-scape


I know...its a squirrel.
Wait, don't leave yet to go watch a YouTube video...stay with me for just a moment, because there is a story and a point about the ways our souls are shaped.

I am wandering around a garden in my community with my camera.  This is fast becoming one of my most meaningful prayer practices and the way traces of God's grace surface in my life.  I am off in a secluded, off the paved path, place.  As I am standing in the shade, soaking in the breeze blowing in ways that are refreshing and renewing, I close my eyes and I can hear something rustling.  At first, I think it is just the wind.  But, then, no.  Something seems to be moving amid the shadows, just out of my field of vision.  Slowly and as silently as I can, I start to make my way around the tree.  Then I spotted Mrs. (or Mr...not sure how you tell the difference) Squirrel munching on a nut, having a mid-morning snack, up in the trees, glancing down at me as if to say, "How ya doing?  Care for a nut?  I've got a few spare up here."  Okay, I am not sure that is exactly what the glance of the squirrel was meant to communicate, so please feel free to interpret the stare/glare in your own way.

When I first started practicing prayerful photography, I thought it was all about sight.  As a matter of fact, the first time my wife would point out various sights (like a butterfly) I was missing.that kept fluttering around us.  So, I started putting my energy into scanning the landscape around me, thoughtfully gazing, not just glancing, at the world I was encountering and experiencing.  But more and more, I think hearing is just as important as seeing.  What we hear feeds us and fuels our lives.  Think about how much of what we hear today has the nutritional value of a bowl of surgery cereal.  What we are auditorily receiving and perceiving from the world is often bickering and bitterness, rather than moments of grace and love.  To be sure, pain needs to be process.  To be sure, injustice needs to be named, claimed, and dealt with.  To be sure, there needs to be a place for anger at corruption and cruelty.  Yet, sometimes shouting just adds to the cacophony.  Sometimes yelling just perpetuates more yelling in a vicious cycle.  Non-violence is not only about physically refraining from hurting and harming others, there is a non-violent posture toward ourselves and others relationally that is vital too.

What have you heard today?
Where has there been a trace of grace?
Where do you long to practice a balance of hearing sounds that shape your souls?

At first, I thought it was just a squirrel chomping on a nut.  Turns out, there was more than a trace of God's grace and love in this one moment.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Poem - Prayer



Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget) by Carrie Newcomer

When walking in the woods,
Or on a path,
Or down the street,
In a store,
Or just upstairs,
When you are intent on going,
Wherever it is you are going,
Stop.
Stand still.

Notice how the mind can chatter,
Like purple finches in the trees,
Endlessly clicking and warbling,
Rising and falling and rising again.
Notice all your plans and longings,
All the things you got, but didn’t want,
All you wanted, and didn’t get,
All the circular conversations aimed at changing,
What was already said or unsaid.
Notice all the losses you are carrying,
With as much grace as you can muster.

Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin,
The sounds or what hangs in the silence,
The hard knot in your throat.
Notice all these things and more,
Because there is always more.
Then let your heart open,
Even just a crack,
A dribble or a dam break,
It doesn’t matter.
Because it is in that opening,
You’ll find a clear space
The one you keep finding
And losing
And finding again.

Remember to love it all,
All of it.
Hold hands and high five
With what’s easy and dear,
Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary.
Wrap compassion like a blanket
The kind we place tenderly,
Around other people’s shoulders,
When the disaster is done and the worst is over.
Love it all,
Without looking for any way out,
Not condoning, just allowing,
For it all to just live,
Where it lives.

Love everything that broke your heart open
That changed you forever,
That made you softer,
And helped you understand,
What you could not have understood otherwise.
Love what you’ve endured,
Love what you are still enduring.
Love the purple finches and the sidewalk,
The view from the upstairs window,
The brambles and wild asters,
And the click of the keyboard.

Love all of this
Small and fragile,
Big and beautiful,
Life.

Then take the next step.

August 2019

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Soul-scapes - Sunset


When the sun slowly sinks,
Kneeling,
Kissing the far horizon,
I feel my soul let off the accelerator as if to catch it's breath.

When the sun slips from bold, bright, brilliant in the sky to softly giving way to darkness,
I feel my soul realize there are moments to be brave and moments to sink back.

We have been taught and told that if we have a light, we have to let it shine.
Everywhere.
Everywhere.
Everywhere we go.

Really?
Everywhere? 
Can any of us really do that?  Can we do that when in a hurry or life is a flurry or our souls seem set to worry?
Can any of us really always shine our light, or eventually does our oil run out quicker than the Bridemaids in the parable Jesus told.
Do any of us what to shine a light with that person?  The one who causes anger to burn brightly or pushes all our buttons.

When the sun starts its descent, so our souls are shaped by moments of rest, renewal, even wrestling in the night.  We need deep sleep when dreams dance in our minds.  We need moments of quiet.  We need to sink into an easy chair with a good book rather than ran to the next gala.

The sun shines at day, but moves beyond our view at night.
The sun shines by day, then goes to a far away, foreign place.

The moon light teaches us to embrace our shy soul sides...the sunset remembers us that no one can burn brightly all the time.

May your light shine with grace and may you be surrounded by peace that sustains you in these days.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Soul-scapes - dawn


The stars hung between wispy clouds slowing covering them like a sheet,
And a small sliver of the moon shone through,
While the other three quarters of the lunar circle stood silently in the shadows.

In that pre-dawn moment, gazing at the soon-to-be gone night sky,
I was re-introduced to a part, piece of myself.

Like the moon that Thursday morning, I to have moments when I want to hide most of myself.
The shadows of my life creep and crawl and cover over my light.
Shadows of questions about being good enough.
Shadows of about the thing I said yesterday I now wish I hadn't.
Shadows of vulnerability that seem strange, out-of-place, in a world of power and privilege.

We love the light.
The strength.
The ways we let ourselves shine.
Its in our posts, tweets, and social media feeds of always wanting to "win" as if life was a zero-sum game.

Yet, the shadow-side, the three quarters side, the you - you tend to conceal and contain, that side is of God too.
It isn't either, or...it is always both/and. 
Both my moments of brilliance and boneheadedness. 
Both the light shining, streaming forth and the parts of me I'd rather keep tucked away.

Both are me.
And I thank that sliver of moon the other morning for reminding me.

Blessings ~~

Friday, October 4, 2019

Soul-scape - Prayer


The concentric circles crossed and connected ~ like the web of life that supports us all.
The circles quickly faded ~ like a day we don't want to end.
As new circles appeared ~ the temptation was to compare and contrast.
"I like the previous circles better."
"Oh, they were much more rounder and beautiful-er"
"Oh look, that one is like Mickey Mouse ears."

All around us the world is shaping us.
All around us we interact and insect with the sacred still crafting and creating.
We miss so much.
But even if we tried to slow down and soak in everything, our minds and hearts and souls would be too saturated to take it all in.
If you were able to see everything, smoke might start billowing from your ears as your mind tried to process the beauty and brokenness ~ the ordinary and otherness of the world around us.

So, we do what we can.
We observe the world through the filters of our experiences.
And sometimes even through the lens of our perspective something new manages to wiggle and work into our worldview.
Suddenly our perspective finds its limitations and boundaries.
What then?

Do we dismiss such new information as "fake"?
Do we deny and say, "My eyes are playing tricks on me"?
Do we discount and think, "Well, I for one am not changing my mind".
Do we stick our heads in the sand rather than risk admitting our own bias?

The dangers of living life today is that there are many voices who will tell you that you are right and everyone else is wrong.
The dangers of living life today is we can find lots of support for our safe, personal perspectives.

The brave, bold way of the world is to admit not only that you could be, but probably are, wrong
And right.
And both at the same time.
The brave, bold way of the world is to accept our limitations and still be vulnerable enough to say, "Here I am, send me."
The brave, bold way of the world today is to stop trying to impress or improve or institute our will, rather to know that it is all a divine dance where sometimes we are waltzing with grace and other times stepping on toes and other times tripping to fall flat on our face.

There are traces of grace, concentric circles of God's presence surrounding it all. 
Surround you right now.
And that kind of truth, love, and promise gives us hope.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Soul-scape - Rain


Zero percent.
Not gonna happen.
Impossible and improbable.

That was what the weather channel said were the chances of rain that day when I set out to the store.  But with a cart full of bags the rain fell from the sky.  Not a soft, gentle rain, but one that goes sideways because of the wind that is whipping all around.  Not an inconvenient rain, but one that soaked my shirt and sandals and skin. 

Rain can refresh and renew.
But it can also ruin a perfectly wonderful afternoon picnic.

Rain is necessary and needed for all living things to grow - including us.
But sometimes we just wish that it would wait a few moments...like until my grocery are in the trunk and I am safely inside my car.
Jesus centuries ago said that the rain falls on both the just and unjust (not sure who I was at that moment, but given what I said in response to getting soaked, I am going to lean more toward "unjust")  Rain cannot be controlled or contained.  Sometimes strangely rain can also fall in the front of your house while the back is dry as the dessert in summer.

Rain shapes our souls.  As much as I long for the solar power of the sun to fill me with vitamin D, I also know that the chemicals that are stirred up from the earth after a good rain storm bring a smile to my face too.  I know that rain in Florida is like snow up north ~ an excuse to stay inside with a good book or a movie.  I know that sometimes in our lives what we think will never happen suddenly ends up to be exactly our experience.  We don't go looking for love that night, but end up meeting our future spouse.  We don't go expecting to have a good time at that event, but it ends up being exactly what we needed.  Sometimes when we give something a zero percent chance of making a difference, it is exactly the moment that transforms us the most.

When has this been true for you?
When has the unexpected and unforeseen suddenly become exactly what was needed and necessary?  A blessing you could have never asked for and now don't want to ever give back?

Those rain moments that shape our souls might never have been predicted, but are nevertheless traces of God's grace soaking and saturating us in life giving ways.

Blessings ~~

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 ...