Saturday, November 30, 2019

Rounding out week one



The world is awash and alive with the fingerprints of God.
But in our rushing and racing, the holy becomes a blur.
Such was true of the day two thousand years ago, when God entered the world in the oddest place: a stable.
The world was caught up in jumping to Caesar's plan for a census.
The world was in a tizzy and minds were dizzy.  The world was out of focus and fuzzy.
You had to hurry to get where you were going.
Don't be late.
Don't forget that piece of paper we need.
Wait!! Did I tie up the goat before we left home?
Too much gawking, too much squawking, and too much of too much.

How much have we really changed?
How far are we really from the crowds crammed into dirt roads of that little town of Bethlehem?

Most of them didn't see the stars.
Most of them didn't follow the shepherds to the stable.
Most of them were too wrapped up in all that was happening to look outside their tunnel vision.
Most didn't saunter or prayerfully ponder.
Most of those in Bethlehem didn't notice and name that God was entering the world.
God entering our world in a vulnerable way.
God entering our world in a smelly stable.
God entering our world born to two unwed parents which placed Mary and Joseph outside of all that was classified or considered "Holy" and "Righteous".

More to the point, all the above is absurd and even unimaginable, which is perhaps one reason why we return to this familiar road each year.

All the above is too much for our mental computer systems to comprehend completely.

The possibility and potential that the interruption of God in our world was a disruption to Caesar's plot and plan both in those days and in these days still.  God still disrupting and interrupting the powerful Caesars today.

God still calling us to take the detour.
God still beckoning us to step inside the straw of the stable.
God softly singing to us to gaze not just take a quick glance.
God making room for you and me to stand beside Mary prayerfully pondering as a practice today and for the year to come.

That is the invitation.
This is the journey.

Awake.
Aware.
Alert.

The world is still alive with the traces of God's grace here and now.

Let's start on our Advent Adventure this year.
Blessings ~~

Friday, November 29, 2019

Visio Divina Take Three




Part of my invitation to you this Advent is not just to ponder prayerfully the images for a few moments, but to continue to focus and frame as you move around your daily life.  I hope you might enter the photo, stand in the center, move to the fringe and fray of the picture, and try to see what is beyond the edge.  What do you smell, hear, taste, or feel touching you on your skin?  Let this practice linger in your life.

Perhaps one way you can move from Visio Divina into the rest of your day is each day after reading the devotional, you might go on a contemplative walk.  The purpose of the walk is not just to hit 10,000 steps on your Fitbit, although when I do, I really like the fireworks on the screen.  The purpose of a contemplative walk is to engage the living color of the world around us.  The purpose of a contemplative walk is to move from one still photograph to a moving picture of our world spinning at 1000 miles per hour.

There is nowhere to "get to".
Just walk.
Just breathe and be.
Just focus and frame each step from the sole of your foot to the soul stirring and whirling within you and around you.

In a season of gift giving, taking time for Visio Divina and a contemplative walk is the gift of doing nothing other than being with God's gift of this present moment.

I love what John Muir once said, “I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. [B]ack in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”*  Sauntering is seeing what shimmers around us, savoring what stirs in us.  Sauntering is a way of moving slowly, perhaps as Joseph and Mary sauntered their way to Bethlehem.

So often our prayer life can be just another item on our to-do list before we get to the real work of the day.  When we focus and frame, we realize the real work of life is discovering the divine is intertwined and interwoven into every moment.  The invitation of you in the days unfolding is that the grace of God is no longer just a trace, but truly part of everything and everyone.  I pray you are ready to go saunter with the sacred.

Blessings ~~



Thursday, November 28, 2019

Visio Divina Take Two




I know.  It really looks like the same picture from yesterday, and you are starting to wonder if every day is going to be an abstract photo and if you should keep going with this devotional?!?

Part of this reaction comes out of the world today.  When three hundred hours of new content are uploaded every minute; when there are millions of results and websites for every single Google search; when we swim in a swirl of information and images, we sometimes gloss over anything that seems too familiar or strikes us as boring.

We continually long for what is different and distinctive.
We are constantly scanning and searching for the "New and Improved" promise.

So, why would I share two very similar photos back-to-back?  I do this because Advent is a season of staying awake, alert, aware of the world and Advent is a time of waiting.  Sometimes waiting means living with the same, well-known, even boring, parts of life.

Sometimes we hope for something new and instead we get leftovers.  Sometimes our hearts are so tuned toward moving on that we don't ever return/revisit what we've already seen or been.

As a matter of fact, we toss and throw around the cliché, "Been there, done that" as a suitable defense for why should ignore such a practice of going back to what we have already seen, encountered, experienced.  Our default might be that returning to something that was “Meh” at best cannot, will not ever, be helpful.  The world is big, why return to another photo of swirls on a tree that looks strikingly similar to what we already saw?

Here is the deeper point I am trying to make.

Advent is a familiar road to Bethlehem, well-worn with the footprints of our grandparents, parents and even our own set of tracks from this time last year.  Advent's destination, a stable, is the same as last year and the year before that and before that.  The creche scene hasn't change.  I mean sure, you can put your Luke Skywalker action figure there, write a funny blog post about it. But when we arrive at the threshold of Christmas Eve, the reading will be from Luke, the carols will be the ones you have heard for as many years as you can remember, and we will all hold a candle in our hands just like years prior.

Yet.

In the midst of the familiar and well-known, goosebumps still race, run up and down my arms as if I am experiencing the sacredness for the first-time.
In the midst of singing the line I know so well, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight" still stirs my soul still stir.

I am not saying either the photo from yesterday or today is destined to become a classic, or that people will demand reprints of both paying thousands of dollars for the original.

This is not gonna happen.

But on the way to Bethlehem this year, amid the familiar, mundane, and even boring...perhaps that is the place where Visio Divina (gazing deeply rather than glancing) can awaken us to the holy fingerprints of God around us and within us.

Consider this quote from the Upper Room Website, "Visio Divina or sacred seeing is a way of seeing the world with the eyes of the heart, which is the place of receptivity and openness, rather than with the mind, which is often the place of grasping and planning."

Or remember the Richard Rohr quote about beholding is also be-helding - being held by the image.

As I be-held this image above in a deeper way, I start to see the colorful grain of the manger where Jesus was laid.  Perhaps the grains of the wood are a metaphor for the years of my life which have color, shape, and texture.  To keep gazing, especially when I think I have exhausted all that can be seen, I might discover a holy hum coming from the photo I missed the first twenty times I glanced, even tried to gaze prayerfully, upon the scene.

It is in a lingering, savory space where I believe there is always a trace of God's grace to be encountered and be embraced by. 

Maybe both the photo from today and yesterday are inviting you to take a second look, just as the season of Advent will as we embark to Bethlehem this year.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Introducing Visio Divina





I love this photo I took.  I used the creative settings on the camera.  I am sure some folks could tell me what was happening internally in my camera with the lens, filters, and the speed of the shutter opening and closing.

I think it looks cool.

I like the way the reds, oranges, greens, and browns dance together.

As you look at the photo, what do you see?
After you exhaust all you can notice and name, dive deeper to ask, why are you seeing those images?
And even better if you can talk with someone else who answered those two questions on his or her own.

I see hints of blue dancing in some places.
I see swirls and spots.
I see the colors on a canvas that might be like daily life.

Each day, we paint on the canvas called, "Our life".  Rarely is the canvas completely blank.  There are smudges, shapes, and swirls from days gone by.  We try to keep adding paint here or there.  Sometimes we add beautiful strokes to the painting of our life, sometimes the strokes we add are abstract, and other times cover up something by mistake.

The prayer practice of pondering, gazing rather than glancing is not something new.  It is ancient and is called, Visio Divina.  That is just theological speak for, "divine seeing."  This isn't about trying to sort out what the sacred is seeing.  This isn't a quiz the holy is inviting us to see if we can pass.  It is about seeing the sacred within and around the picture as well as opening ourselves up to hear our own insights.  Again, what we see is only half the invitation, the second part being why do we see that part of the photo? In Visio Divina, we engage our eyes to look in new ways.

Maybe you have heard of Lectio Divina, where you slowly and repeatedly read a passage of scripture.  Visio Divina is similar in slowing us down.  Rather than chewing on words, we try to taste and be-held by what we are seeing before us.  Further, this prayer practice is good for Advent, which is a season when we are called to be awake, alert, and aware of what is happening around us (even in the most peculiar places like a stable).

Each day in Advent, I will post a photo I took while on Sabbatical for you to ponder prayerfully.

Each day the prayer practice will be the same.

1. First, slow down your breathing.  I find it helpful to breathe in to the count of three and exhale to the count of six, seven, or even eleven.  There is good science and research behind how such an easy practice can calm you down, center you, and clear your mind.  It is a good prayer practice not only for reading this devotional, but for life!  This is especially true when out shopping in the coming days.  Or when you are going to that Christmas party thrown by that person you barely know; you are wondering if you have to bring a gift; after all you don't want to be called, "The Grinch"; and Sally said she was bringing a gift but that is because she has all those left over candles she had to buy from her child's fundraiser this fall; and all you have is that fruitcake your aunt just sent you....and...and...

Breathe.

In...one....two....three.
Out....four...five...six...seven...eight...nine.

Again.
And again.
And again.

You may even want to close your eyes as you breathe in and out.

Sometimes I breathe in the words, "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer."
And on the exhale try to push out the stress and strain of my jaw/shoulders.

Breathe.

Again.
And again.
And again.

Once you've centered, calmed, and put out of your mind the endless to-do lists, the prayer practice of Visio Divina goes like this as described on the Upper Room Website:
Look at the image and let your eyes stay with the very first thing that you see. Keep your attention on that one part of the image that first catches your eye. Try to keep your eyes from wandering to other parts of the picture. Breathe deeply and let yourself gaze at that part of the image for a minute or so.
Now, let your eyes gaze at the whole image. Take your time and look at every part of the photograph. See it all. Reflect on the image for a minute or so.
Consider the following questions:
What emotions does this image evoke in you?
What does the image stir up in you, bring forth in you?
Does this image lead you into an attitude of prayer? If so, let these prayers take form in you. Write them down if you desire.
Maybe even go back to the photo above and try this out for a few moments.

I encourage you to have a prayer journal so you can list what you are seeing initially and as you keep returning to survey/study the details.  There may be a story from your life that connects to the photo.  By no means do you have to answer all the questions every day.  Some days, some photos might evoke responses to certain questions, but other questions don't seem to apply.  We sit with the questions for a while as we gaze (not just glance) at the photo, letting each question sink deep into our soul.

My deep prayer is that this practice might open your full self to the beauty and brokenness of the world around us in such a time as this.  My deeper prayer is that we might discover, encounter, and be-held by more than a trace of God's grace each day this season of Advent.

Blessings ~~

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Focusing and Framing take Three


Beholding happens when you stop trying to ‘hold’ and allow yourself to ‘be held’ by another.  You are enchanted by something outside yourself, beyond yourself.  Behelding is perhaps more accurate. --Richard Rohr

What do you see in this photo???

An ordinary lighthouse.
A white structure reaching toward the sky.
A beacon to lost ships trying to navigate the world.
A tiny window near the top reminding you of how much you loved the story of Rapunzel as a child.
The need for symmetrical structure to support, which is true both for buildings and for our lives.
The brilliant blue sky with clouds dancing around.

Let's go deeper than our initial list.  What else do you see???
The symmetry of the structure reminds me of how I long for order to my life.
The white cross that is formed on the far side of the structure near the bottom of the photo begins to emerge the longer I look at the photo.
The way different shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles, straight lines) all meet playfully and beautifully blend together show me the blessings of the world around us.

When we start to ponder prayerfully the world, when we gaze rather than glance, we start with the simple, straight-forward question, what do you see?  We begin with our first reactions, but we stick and stay with the list trying to add more and more.  We dig deeper, looking around for smaller details that are part of the photo too.  Part of the beauty of the prayer practice we will engage this Advent is that a photo really is worth more than a thousand words, but when do we stop to rest and reflect on what we are seeing and sensing in the constantly moving scenes of our lives?

And once we have completed the lists of the immediate and more intimate details, we can then ask the deep diving question, why do I see what I see?  The why question helps engage our imagination.  Maybe, instead of a lighthouse, we start to see in this photo a story about a child who lived in this structure and secretly knew that the lighthouse was a rocket.  The child was torn between being a beacon to the lost ships sailing in the bay and going to explore the other frontier of space.  The child lived knowing that the work of shining a light in the storminess of life was important, yet she felt the tension of staying stationary on the ground rather than going on a great, grand adventure in the sea of stars.  The seas of stars that seemed to be calling out her name daily, hourly, and every single second.

It is not that our first thought of, "What a pretty lighthouse," was incorrect.  It is that too often we stay stuck on that first thought, rather than seeing where it leads.  We don’t always follow the rabbit hole where there is a story waiting just beneath the surface of our first impressions.  When we stay on the surface, we don’t always connect what is happening outside to our story inside.  Your story of when you visited a lighthouse, craned your neck skyward to take in the tall structure, willed yourself up the flights of stairs to stand at the top looking down, and around the world from a new perspective.


Stay with me because I climbed all three hundred stairs to the top of this lighthouse (in Boca Grande Florida if you'd like to visit).  And at the very top of that structure, staring down, I took this photo:




Sorry if that gave you vertigo!

Two photos.
Taken the same day.
Within twenty minutes of each other.

Now what do you see?
Trees.
People who look smaller than ants.
Sidewalks.
Street.
Just a small part of the structure supporting me standing on top (which is a deeper truth because I only see a small part of the structure that supports me - or a trace of God's grace as I call it).
Small dots of plants or trees that were taller when I was standing on the ground.
The way creation and the work of human hands are put together.

Now, which photo and perspective is right? Or asked another way, which list of what we are seeing, and sensing is true?

This is what we do so often in the world.  We take our perspective, our photo of the world and superimpose it on everyone else.
We project.
We passionately defend that our photo of the world is right.
We won't listen to anyone else who is at the bottom looking up, because they should climb the stairs.  Never mind the lighthouse was in no way accessible to any one in a wheelchair!

Suddenly, we start to sense how vitally important focusing and framing is in our world today, how needed and necessary this practice might be for such a time as this.  My point is not for you at the end of this devotional to say, "Thanks, Wes, for the cute diversion and sharing a few photos.  Now, we are going to get back to what really matters, makes a difference."

We are caught in an endless cycle of focusing and framing then declaring and defending that our perspective and points of view are the correct course for everyone to travel.

The trace of God’s grace is allowing both photos above to sing to our souls.  Advent is about letting new perspectives enter, engage, and enlarge our frame!  This is my prayer in the days to follow.  This is my deepest conviction as I set out on the journey with you in the season of Advent.

But before we do, I want to share tomorrow a few more words about the ancient prayer practice we are up to in these Advent days.  For now, keep gazing and prayerfully pondering the frames of the world around and within you this day.

Blessings ~~

Monday, November 25, 2019

Framing and Focusing take Two




So here we are, on the second day of trying to gaze and prayerfully ponder the world as it is spinning and streaming past us.  As we engage this practice, it is good to realize that even with our hearts flung wide open, there will always be moments we miss.  Consider this, you could look at a picture a thousand times (after all the cliché goes that a photo is worth a thousand words) and still see something new every time.  You can visit a place over and over again, but still be surprised by something you didn't notice previously.  It may be because the space shifted or something new stirred within you.  It may be because you had always thought trees or flowers or birds to be a bit boring, but then an experience awakens you to the beauty of that part of creation.  Suddenly, everywhere you go there is a robin swooping into the scene.  Once you have seen anew and afresh, you cannot un-see.
Which brings me to this important truth:
We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are. 
The prayer practice of gazing at the world is not only so we might see the world differently, but also because we might gain new insights into ourselves.
Like a camera capturing a photo, we all have filters on the lens of our eyes.
Like the glasses on my face, there are things I can see clearly.  And there are places where the world becomes blurry because I've reached the edge of the lens.
Author Erwin McManus writes in The Artists Soul, "We are all interpreters.  We are translators of meaning, and everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and experience is processed through our previous experiences and perceptions.  We don’t see people for who they are; we see them through the filer of everyone we’ve ever known."
Ever had a moment you gaze at someone and a sensation stirs within you like you’ve seen this stranger before?  There are times when I feel a strong shiver of déjà vu down my spine.  It might be because of the way the light is reflecting off the person's face he looks just like my uncle.  Or sometimes we long so deeply for something, we will ourselves through the strength of our mind to see the world that way.  We often call this, "Wearing rose colored glasses".  But the truth is, none of us have perfect vision for seeing the world.  All our glasses are smudged with what has happened to us in the days, weeks, months, and years before.  All of us perceive and receive the world through our experiences, encounters, and events called, “Our life”.  We filter through our beliefs, often clinging to what conforms to our understandings and setting aside that which challenges our worldview.
If, for example, we have been taught and told that people who are not in the same economic-social class as us are "lazy", we might miss people standing at the bus stop at 4 am to go to their first of two or three jobs to make ends meet.
If, for example, we have been taught and told that something is wrong, we might not be willing to listen to a story of someone who felt like she had no other choice.
There is not enough Windex that will completely clear away the cloudy mirror with which we see the world (see 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul prophetically talks about seeing in the mirror dimly).  We don't need to deny or defend that our framing and focusing has flaws, we need to acknowledge and accept, perhaps prayerfully learning something new about ourselves and others.
We do this by intentionally being open so that we can listen and learn.
When I put a frame and focus around the world to perceive, prayerfully ponder, and process, I am called to share what I am seeing.  I also need to listen and learn from what you are seeing, sensing, and prayerfully pondering.  Both are important.
Great insights and ideas come not only from within us, but between us when we are willing to let someone else's interpretation give voice to a truth we may have missed.  Great insights and ideas come not only from within us, but between us as our lives inter-act, inter-connect, forever reshaping the synapses of your mind.  You are who you are because of the way your mind and life have been fashioned/formed from the past.  At the same time, we are (to quote Kristen Bell) our own best science experiments.  We can re-form how, what, and the way we receive the world.  One way we can do this is when we stop glancing, skimming the surface, racing or running from one image to the next; and instead gaze, dive deep, and prayerful ponder one single image for several minutes.
In the coming days, I will offer you images to help begin to frame and focus.  While I realize staring at the screen of photos can be an isolated and individualistic activity, the power of the invitation comes when we do this communally and find connections to others.
Connections to others, not because we can all agree what was beautiful.  When we talk, it is not to debate why the photo posted in two weeks was so much better than the ones shared during the first week.  We don’t need to rate or rank my amateur photography or writing skills.  What I am offering is a toy from the toybox that I pray will help you connect to others.  To engage not only with what is being invoked in you but also hear what others are seeing.  When we give voice to what we see as beautiful and why, such sharing can enlarge and engage us.  When we perceive and receive what another is thinking, feeling, and experiencing; such sharing can cause our hearts, like the Grinch who stole Christmas, to grow three sizes in a few seconds.
Perhaps those moments might lead us to more than a trace of God's grace in these days.
Grace and peace ~

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Framing and Focusing Take One




We swim in a sea of images today. 
Consider that...
It is estimated we spend ten hours each day staring at screens; whether it is our smartphones, computers, or television sets.
Or three hundred hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute each day.  That means, just now while you are reading these words, three hundred hours of new videos were posted.  Suddenly, I feel so behind.
Or 269 billion emails are sent every day.  But I am pretty sure that estimate is low because I get that many from Amazon just in the morning.
Or Nielsen reports that the average person spends seventy-seven days each year watching television.
It is tempting to go Google all the information above to verify the truthfulness for yourself.  Go ahead, I'll wait while you do your research because I've got a few videos on YouTube to watch.
It is no wonder there are moments when the saturated synapses of our brains feel like they are crying out or short circuiting from overload.
Now consider this, of the countless pixels we stare at each day, what really sticks and stays with us?  If you close your eyes right now, what images from the past few days start to play back mentally in your imagination?   Maybe it is a lunch you shared with a friend recently.  Can you still see what she was wearing?  Perhaps you can smell the onions from your meal or taste the tart dressing dancing on the lettuce greens on your salad.
Now let's go one step further, in the video replay in your mind, can you still see a picture of what your waiter or waitress looked like?  Can you see his/her name badge?  Do you smell what your friend had for lunch?  Or recall the couple who were sitting a few tables away from you?  You know the one who was swirling his straw in his iced tea while his companion stared at her smartphone checking emails while they waited for their food.
The world is alive and in living color, but we miss so much of it in the blur of our everyday living.
I don't say this to cause guilt to rain down on you, or to have you hang your head, or even become defensive.  Perhaps, you are thinking, that I am suggesting we should all stop staring at our mobile devices (which would be highly ironic since I am posting this to my blog).  Your mind starts to gather evidence that the world is better today because of our screens.  We can access needed information in the blink of an eye or navigate to our destination without getting lost. After all, remember when you had to...gulp...call someone on the phone!  Remember when you called home because you wanted to know if you needed a gallon of milk, no one was home and you had to leave a message!  Just think about how many gallons of milk were needlessly purchased because we did not have instant and immediate text messaging!
I get it.
I am not trying to suggest or say we should all toss and throw out our screens, move to Montana, and live off the gird.
It snows in Montana and it's cold there right now.
Rather, what I am trying to suggest is that in a world where living color is constantly and continually unfolding before our very eyes, perhaps we could benefit from a practice of paying attention.  We might want to open our eyes, not just to glance but to gaze, not just to peak but to peer and even ponder, and to slow down so we might savor what we are perceiving.
The invitation this Advent is to frame and focus.
Framing is lingering on what we are seeing.  Framing can be a faithful prayer practice, especially in our world today.  We also need to acknowledge that when we frame something, there is always the danger that on the edge of the frame there is something that might be missed ~ or someone might be left out.  We need intentionally to notice not only what is in the center, but what is on the fringe, the fray, and just out of sight.
The invitation in the coming 39 days is to put a frame and focus on your life, especially during Advent.  This season is about preparing our hearts to welcome the One who is life.  We welcome the One who came to show us life.  We welcome the One who helps us frame and focus on God's presence woven into every scene around us and within us.
But for today, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, I want to encourage you to begin practicing this prayerful way of being.  When you move about the world can you notice, gaze, linger with new eyes to see beneath what is on the surface?  Will you try to slow down just a bit, view what you are seeing with a soft focus, or pay attention to where you are looking, especially attending to what is on the periphery?  Will you take a few moments when shopping to sit down, not only to watch the people with your eyes, but also with your imaginations?  You might ask yourself, "What is his story?  The one with a huge smile on his face holding the bulging box containing the new toy?" Or, "What is her story?  The one with slouching shoulders and longing dancing in her eyes?"
You might even dare talk to the person!
To put a frame and focus on life in the coming days is one way we can prepare for Christ's birth.  Christ came into our world in the flesh, in a body, to experience and encounter all that is around us.  He came seeing and receiving those who had been placed not just in the center, but also on the fringe and even pushed out of the frame completely!  Christ came and still comes into our world today.
The sacred shows up disguised as your life.
May you and I be open to seeing and sensing the traces of grace that are dancing all around us in such a time as this.
Grace and peace ~~

Friday, November 22, 2019

On the Edge of Advent take Three



A prayer for the days ahead...

On the edge and eve of beginning to walk toward Bethlehem, we pause to breathe and be in the presence of the One who goes by the name, Emmanuel, God with us and for us.

Holy One, born in a barn, a most peculiar place;
Move in the ordinary Tuesdays and odd Saturdays of our lives.
Open our ears to hear Your holy song in the wind sailing through trees;
In the sun sneaking and peaking through rain clouds;
In the moments we focus and frame our whole lives to You.

Holy One, born in a barn as a tiny baby, vulnerable ~ fragile ~ fierce with love;
Let that be born in us in the days to come.
Open our hearts to the beauty and brokenness within and around us.
Remind us, like a piece of glass, that we can sometimes be broken whole.
Infuse and inspire with us a love to practice Your words rather than read from the script of the world.

Holy One, born in a barn, witnessed by shepherds and foreigners from afar,
Open us to sense the traces of Your grace,
Invite us to stand in the straw,
Compel and convict us to not criticize the guest list who followed angels and a star,
But to be side-by-side with people who reflect Your creativity in diverse ways.

Holy One, born in a barn, go beside us as we travel the days ahead.
Stir within us the mystery of this time of year.
Enable us to taste on the tips of our tongues the sweet, sacredness of Advent.
So that a month from now, on a silent and holy night, we might sense fully Your presence.
So that a month from now, we will know fully and be fully embraced by the promise of...
Emmanuel.

Amen. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On the Edge of Advent take Two


Life can sometimes move at a dizzying, frantic, frenzied pace.  We see ourselves through the lens of accomplishment and achievements.  We judge ourselves by things we can cross, check-off, and move from our "to-do" to our "to-done" list. 

To slow down.

To breathe.

To be.

We are not taught or told such practices are not just good for us, such moments are needed and necessary.  It is a lesson I learned (and keep re-learning) each day on my sabbatical.  Some of the most meaningful moments happened serendipitous.  Some of what my camera and I conspired to capture together in a single frame was not even on my radar before I found myself on that holy ground.  In the coming weeks you will see and hear stories about sensing God on the beach ~ which is not usually a place I go to encounter the holy.  Or sensing God on a crisp, chilly, rainy day in Alaska ~ when this Florida adopter was bundled up in multiple layers.  Or encountering traces of grace when a butterfly landed for the blink of an eye as the photo above shows.

What all of this reminds me is to stay in the present moment.  This is not easy.  We get wrapped up in carrying the past with us.  Like stones, we carry grudges or ruminate on what someone said or try to solve a problem someone just told us.  We get concerned about the future.  We come up with mathematical formulas to solve.  Like, if this happens, then I will do that, and then I bet so-and-so will do that, and I will totally do this ~ and be the hero!

The present moment of a butterfly briefly landing before sailing off in the current of the winds cannot be observed fully when clouded by the past or future.

The present moment is full of traces of God's grace.  Or to quote W.B. Yeats, "The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  Let these words guide us as we enter the season of preparing anew/afresh for Christ's birth. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

On the Edge of Advent





Beginning next week, November 24th I will launch a daily Advent devotional that will take us through the dwindling days of 2019 in to the dawning of 2020.  This devotional was crafted and created while I was on Sabbatical last summer.  It is based on the prayer practice of Visio Divina (more about that next week).  It is an invitation on a journey.  To travel with me both through the weeks of my Sabbatical, but also toward a little town of Bethlehem, where God was let loose in the world in a new way.

The series is based on forty photos I took through my travels.  Forty photos that I pray help you invite you to see new truths yourself and your connection to others/the world.  Almost all the photos are nature-themed.  I believe being out in creations helps us uncover and discover the invisible ties to all things.  Out in creation we uncover truths our ancestors have known for centuries but as modernization has moved us less away from living with the land, we have forgotten.  We uncover that we have soil in our souls.  We uncover that the star dust is both above us and inside us.  We uncover that we are constantly changing.

In when we reflect on both where we have been, where we are, and where we are growing; we discover new insights/ideas.  We discover that like a tree, we are adding millimeters of growth silently/slowly every year.  We discover the ways we are inter-connected and inter-twined with what is around us.  

As Richard Rohr recently wrote in his devotional, "Science is finding that the world is an integrated whole rather than separated parts. We are all holons, which are simultaneously a whole and yet a part of a larger whole." 

My prayer is that the devotional each day is that the photo, your prayer time, and the reflection will help you journey to Bethlehem this year.  More than that, my deepest prayer is that these reflections will be more than a trace of God's grace in your life.



Friday, November 15, 2019

Jonah Final Poem Prayer




Gracious God, for moments I feel compelled and call to go in directions unexplained and to places off-limits...
Let the story of Jonah continue to rummage and roam around my life.
When I prefer to push others away, treating them as people like Nineveh,
Call me back to the beloved-ness of every person.
When I drag my feet and give half-hearted effort,
Remind me that You can even work in and through that.
When I want to puff up my chest and prove I am in charge, control,
Nudge me back toward the mystery of star-dust in my soul and seas surging within my body.
When I am tempted to run away, flee for the places where the grass promises to be greener ~ and a peacock for everyone ~
Let the wisdom of not everything that glistens/glimmers is gold convict my heart.

Grant that I would have the courage to look at those who vote differently, see the world differently, act in ways that are foreign or talk in languages I may never understand (even if I am speaking English).
And may I see Your belovedness there, dancing the eyes of the other.
Grant I would would stop the practice of "othering" and saying "those people" and pushing to the fringe people who reflect Your fingerprints.
And may I see Your belovedness there, dancing in the eyes of the other.
Grant me a willingness to be about the world in ways that help to heal, rather than divide.
Grant me a prayerful-ness to be in the world that helps to bridge, rather than widen the gap.
Grant me a hopefulness to be in this moment, rather than wanting to escape to somewhere exotic.

May these words to more than dance across a screen.  Let them sing and settle into me.  Let them sing and stir through me.  Let them be more than a trace of Your grace in these days.

Amen ~~ 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jonah take Seven



I imagine Jonah, shoulders slouched, kicking the sand at his feet, grumbling and gripping, “Silly God.  Nineveh, Nineveh, Nineveh.  Can’t believe I am here with these people.  I might be here, but I don’t have to like it.  Look at the guy over there, just standing there breathing in and out, spreading carbon dioxide everywhere.”  I can say that, because I have been there.  At a gathering I didn’t want to attend.  At a meeting where someone keeps adding unhelpful ideas that is only serving to make the meeting longer.  At some place and among some people who don’t seem like they belong to my tribe.  So I imagine Jonah sulking like my kids used to do when we would drag them out shopping.  Nineveh is so large it took three days to walk across.  Jonah goes one day, not even a third of the way into the city.  He is not at the corner of Main Street and 1st Ave, if anything he is barely out of the suburbs.  He stands there, clears his throat, and preaches, the worst sermon ever.  "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  Eight words.  Just to compare, you have just read two hundred words from me in this post.  Eight words.  I think he did it with all the enthusiasm and inflection of when we ask our kids how school was and get a monotone, exasperated, “Fine,” in response.

Jonah doesn’t want to be there.  Maybe, the part about Nineveh being overthrown was a bit more energetic.  After all, Nineveh as the enemy. It was the largest city in the Assyrian Empire.  And the funniest part of this farce of a fairy-tale like story is that this eight-word sermon works.  You would think I would learn that and write shorter blog posts. The people of Nineveh put on sack clothes, the animals put on sack clothes.  Like Oprah on her holiday give away, "And you get a sack cloth and you get a sack cloth."  Part of what I take away from this story is that God can work even with our half-heart efforts.  We have those moments when we pour all our energy into something or someone and it still goes off the rails.  Then, I throw a few minutes at some event, and it soars higher like a kite on a windy day.  The beautiful truths of Jonah are not only that we are not as in charge as we like to believe, but also that life isn’t only up to us.  There are forces that are beyond our control.  This is not always easy to admit in a culture that preaches that you should pull yourself up by your own boot straps and be the master of your own destiny, Jonah caution us, not so fast. The movement of God can cause us to go places that we cannot reasonably or rationally explain.  The swirling spirit of God prompts us toward people who our friends might question.  And while I am grateful God has let off the whales at the means to get us to go to such places and people, I am convinced that God still nudges us beyond our comfort zones.

So, where is that in these dwindling days of 2019 for you?  Where are you feeling compelled or called to go for no great reason other than we know that everyone is a beloved child of God and that there is no where we can go where God is not?  In particular, the challenging message of Jonah in such a time as this is that Jesus did not just come up with praying for our enemies out of thin air.  This was woven into the faith from the very beginning.  There is no "other" regardless of political, social, economic, racial and orientation boundaries.  We have drawn and defended those lines, like Jonah.  Suddenly, we all feel a bit like Jonah saying, “But I don’t wanna.”  In a world that craves courageous people to be civil.  In a world that thirsts for people who don’t tweet or post judgmental words.  In a world that is hungry for another way, Jonah provides that path.  If, and only if, we are willing to be swallowed by a different way of being in the world today.  May you and I find that sort of conviction and courage in such a time as this.  And may it offer us and the world more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Monday, November 11, 2019

Jonah take Six




With a population of three and half trillion fish swimming and swooshing around the seas and almost thirty-three thousand different, diverse species, there is a beautiful mystery just beneath the surface of the water.  Scientists suggest that as much at 95 percent of our oceans are unexplored and unknown.  The final frontier may not only be amid vastness of stars and galaxies over our heads but also to dive deep into the waters that wash on our sandy beaches, touching and tickling our toes.  The mystery of water is not only outside of us, our bodies are sixty percent water, our brains are seventy percent water, it is a wonder I am even able to write and not some puddle on the floor. I have stood out at Siesta Beach, wading in the water, and been mystified that there may have been a droplet of water I am swimming in that at some point touched the distant shores of Japan.  Because water is constantly being recycled, a droplet of water right outside the window may have been around centuries ago.  Some of the water we splash and swim in was here on earth when Jonah took the electric eel express to Nineveh.  Until that big fish dropped off and deposited him like someone at an old fashion watermelon seed spitting contest.  There is an image you won’t get out of your mind for a few days.  Jonah finds himself washed up on the shores on the outskirts of the city where he did not want to be.

This metaphor resonates and reverberates in our lives.  We could go around today and each share a moment we mumbled and uttered the words, “How in the world did I end up here?”  It could be an actual location, it might relate to a medical condition or a spiritual location.  It can certainly happen in our relationships, when our words cause us to take an unexpected exit ramp or our actions create tension with someone we love.  The apostle Paul was right that we do the very thing we don’t want to do.  To say that I make bonehead decisions implies that I was actually thinking.  Usually, my mind is trying to suggest or even shout, “For all that holy don’t say that!”  But too late.  The words have fallen from my lips.  To which, in response, my brains frustratingly fumes, “That’s it.  I am out here.”  My brain heads to Tarishish where there is gold, silver, and peacocks, who probably listen better than I do.  Back to our hero, covered in fish drool, probably not smelling the best, in that place, Nineveh, where he never wanted to be, ever.  We are told that Nineveh is a large city, it would have taken three days to walk across.  Remember, cities were fortified and had guards, gatekeepers who would watch to see who was coming and going.  Jonah walks up the gate, and says to the guard, what exactly?  Here is someone who just spent three days in the belly of a fish, someone who maybe who is mumbling under his breath to himself, fuming with frustration, and you just let waltz in?

Pause with me for a just a moment to prayerfully ponder where are you right now where you'd rather not be? 

For me, I am dealing with insurance after someone rear-ended my car ~ I'd rather not be there.
Or trying to address an air conditioner that has failed at church ~ I'd rather not be there.
Or waiting for the rain to quit so I can go take a walk.

There are lots of places where we are right now that we would rather not be.  To name those and claim those is one way to process the pain rather than pass it along.

May the continued far-fetched and farce-like moments of Jonah's story, help you notice traces of God's grace in your story.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Jonah take Five



In the last post we ended with letting this truth sit and sing to our souls:

Prayer is less about what we do, rather how we do it.

The more Jonah's prayer sits and sings and settles into my soul, I start to realize that it really isn't about him.  Whether his prayer came from his heart or was an attempt to get out of the pickle of a situation in which he found himself, the deeper (even harder) point is that I can find myself in the belly of the whale.  I can feel like I am swallowed by a situation.  I can feel gulped by a grouper of trying to do it my way.  I can find myself in a fishy situation and unsure of what to do or where to turn. 

In the belly of the whale is a place we can find ourselves physically when we face illness; we find ourselves there emotionally grieving someone we love; we find ourselves there spiritually when maybe a prayer practice that always felt full of light and love suddenly feels like you are going through the motions.  The belly can refer to the somersaults your stomach does when having to face that person.  Pause for just a moment to consider where those belly moments have been in your life.

This part of Jonah reminds me of a book by Richard Rohr entitled, Breathing Under Water.  Rohr takes the twelve steps of Alcoholic's Anonymous and lets these steps loose for all of us to benefit.  The first step, if you know about AA is to admit we are powerless.  Jonah certainly realized he was not in constant control and the same can be said for each of us too.  We can’t stop cancer, we can’t cease children dying of hunger, we can’t alone clean up the toxicity that hovers, hangs in the air we breathe.  In those moments, we begin to name and notice our deepest desires and surrender.  I recently read that grief is not giving up it is leaning into the pain.  As you continue to work the remaining 11 steps of AA, you hear the truths that teach, tell us the time has come to put our stones down.  For hands clenching stones can’t freely drum.  And hearts fisting the past can’t freely sing.  Like those in AA, you realize we are all living life one day, one moment at a time. 


To be in the belly of the whale gives us the time and space to lean into, learn from our lives.  To be sure, it may not smell great.  To be sure, there are lots of places we might rather be.  To be sure, we might come out of the experience never touching seafood again.  But, when we find ways to forgive, to release, to let go, to admit we are not as in control or in charge as we like to believe, and to find a new way of living, might be our most honest, heartfelt and sincere prayer we ever uttered offering us more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jonah take Four


Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  Jonah 2:1-3

So, here is what I will never know, how sincere is Jonah's prayer?  Does he really mean these words you just read above?  After all, Mr. Runaway Prophet turned Sleeping Beauty in the bottom of the Boat doesn't exactly have a great track record so far.  The evidence against Jonah is compelling and convincing.  Exhibit A: God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach to God’s people there, but Jonah resists and runs away leaving skid marks in the sand. Exhibit B: Jonah doesn't just go to a yurt the next town over, he heads toward the Las Vegas of Jonah's world, Tarshish.  The place that promised to take all your troubles away with silver and gold and peacocks!  It was exotic and Jonah thought that sounds so much better than going to minister with people he saw as the enemy, as those people, the othering that we still do today.  Exhibit C: Jonah after hoping on the first boat out of dodge promptly goes into the belly of the boat and falls fast asleep.  This doesn't exactly scream of someone with a troubled conscious.  Exhibit D: Even when confront with his faithlessness, Jonah decides it is better to be tossed overboard than repent and return on a path toward Ninevah.


See?

This is not exactly the guy you want to have serving as your spiritual director.  To be sure, I have moments that fall into the category of do as I preach not as I do.  I can flee from God, thinking I am too busy, or even resist going to those people who push all my buttons.  I wonder if Jonah’s prayer, like my prayers, are a bit both and.  Both honest/heartfelt and perhaps some of the words are uttered by Jonah who just wants to get out of the belly of the whale, because it sounds like the worst hotel situation ever.  And you thought that Holiday Inn that you gave a negative review to your travel agent to was bad.  Initially, Jonah might have stubbornly stewed in that whale.  After Jonah has balanced his check book, strolled around every square inch of the stomach, written a few sermons and played countless games of Solitaire.  After those hours, I wonder if his frenzied, fleeing, fear-filled ways were suddenly slowed to the pace of his soul.  I wonder if it is then, and only then, that he actually says, "I wonder if I should try praying?"

And as funny as that is, I think there are too many moments I do exactly the same thing!  I wait until the last moment, when I am hanging by a thin thread, and when all my own resources are exhausted to consult and connect with God.  Rather than the first thing, it becomes the place of last resort.  When I hear Jonah's prayer in the whale, it makes me think of prayer practices that are meaningful for me and wonder why has it been a few weeks since I took my camera out to connect to creation and take pictures of what captures my eyes/ears/heart?  I hear Jonah's prayer and wonder why my busyness has pushed aside reading that fills my soul.  I hear Jonah's prayer and want to take a walk outside rather than just stay inside the belly of the whale known as my office.

What feeds and fuels your soul?

What prayer practices help strengthen and sustain you?

There are so many ways to connect with God.

From playing and singing along with hymns...

To sitting in silence outside...

To taking a walk...

To talking with a friend…

To writing and reading a poem...

To painting or coloring...

To reading...

To even washing dishes can even be prayerful.

Prayer is less about what we do, rather how we do it.  May this truth sit and sing to your soul with more than a trace of God's grace.

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 ...