Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Word Wednesday


Years ago...when I selected the name of these posts as "Grace Traces"...there were several things that seemed to fit and fall into place.

1. The title rhymes...I really liked that.
2. Grace for me is central as a part of my faith...it is the often invisible and yet always accessible presence of the holy.
3. Without grace...it would be like trying to survive without air or water or chocolate...simply not possible.

Grace is one of those words we can toss and throw around.  Grace is sometimes that extra strength we need when we are depleted or deflated.  Grace is that sensation that can stir from the top of our heads to our pinkie toes...a warmth that wraps around us.  Grace is that moment when goosebumps cause the tiny hairs on our arms to stand on end or that spine tingling feeling that races and runs down our back.

Grace is hard to define because some many of our ordinary words don't seem to measure up.

Grace cannot be quantified.

Yet in stories grace can come from deep within me to you.

Grace is my family sitting at the table laughing at something so foolish that if you all walked into the kitchen you would think us mad.
Grace is the wind that refreshes and renews when I am out walking alone.
Grace is hearing another person's voice who I was just thinking of calling, but she called me first.
Grace is quiet.
Grace can be loud with joy.
Grace can be a treasure to ponder on our own.
Grace can be shared with others extravagantly.

Hold the word, "Grace".
What is evoked for you by that word?



What images?


What experiences?


What color of crayon would you pick up to write the word, "Grace"?  And why?


How might you be open intentionally and prayerfully to the traces of God's grace this day?

May these words and especially questions be a blessing to you this day.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Music Mondays


In the coming weeks, on Mondays, I will offer you music mediation that stirs my soul.

Before playing the above video...breathe and be.

Breathe in to the count of four.
Hold the breathe for a moment.
Now exhale to the count of five or six.

Again, engage that rhythm of breathing.
And one more time trying to exhale all the stress and strain and uncertainty we constantly carry.

Now, as you listen I want you to close your eyes.

What images are awoken in your mind?
What emotions do you sense stirring in your soul?
What colors are evoked by the melody of the music?
If you had to write a story
Or poem
Or painting
Or response to this music...
What would it be?

I see in my imagination myself walking in the wilderness.  I am wandering - which is important because sometimes our walking is intentional...we have somewhere to be and a time to arrive.  But with this music, I am meandering...no where to be and no time to be there.  I see a butterfly sail past, a bird perching on a branch near by, the rustling of a leaf waving at me.  Creation preaching to me that our goodness of which we are created cannot be defined only by what we produce or the items crossed off our to-do list or the balance of our bank account.  As human beings...just being and breathing is to the glory of God.
As I pause...perhaps at a stream or lake...looking at my own reflection, the waters of life that run within us all, I find a peacefulness as the music ends.

Now...let loose your inner muse.
Let loose with words
Or colors
Or poems
Or a response that is evoked from the notes that are sinking down into your soul.

And may this be more than just a trace of God's grace and may God's love be with you now more than ever.
Amen.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Words We Are Living With ~ Loneliness


The words just keep getting better, don't they?

I am honestly impressed that you even opened this blog post...and that you are still reading.  I mean seriously, how could loneliness ever be a good spiritual practice?  We are social creatures who have been away from each other for too many days.  For those who live alone, the pain of loneliness can be palpable and even damaging to health.  Even if you have people around you, loneliness can still sit within you when you are in a room with others.

Loneliness, like waiting and silence, can invite us into something deeper.

You are crafted and created in God's image...but when do you spend time with that truth in a deep diving way?  Really only when we are forced to.  To be lonely, doesn't acknowledge that within us is so much that needs our attention.  To be lonely means that there is space to let the interior out into the light of day.

You can do this by writing,
Drawing (color your feelings or just randomly make shapes)
Singing (after all no one is listening)
Walking
Sitting
Looking - remember how in Advent we talked about gazing not glimpsing?
Smell
Leaning into this moment
And so much more.

The portal to the sacred can sometimes only be entered on our own.  The doorway is narrow, just enough space for you.  And the key that unlocks that door is the space and time to walk through and explore.

I pray this day there will be a moment of loneliness, that invites you into silence, where you wait.  Wait without expectations.
Listen without willing yourself to hear something.
Be alone knowing that God's presence is with you.

May God's abundant and amazing grace be with you now more than.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Words We Are Living With ~ Silence

If waiting is the hardest part...silence has to be a close second.  Let's face it, even if there are no external sounds, our interior chatter (what Buddhist's call, "The Monkey Mind") loves to fill in any space.  The second we sit down without the radio or television as background filler, it is as if our minds say, "Oh, I am so glad you are here...let's ruminate on what your brother/mother/sister/ cousin/ co-worker/volunteer, etc...) said last Tuesday!!"  Or your heart says, "Pardon me, but that pain from the words or actions of another has been sitting here for the last two months and I think we should pay some attention to that."  Or your soul says, "Don't forget about me.  Remember that New Years' resolution to live more peacefully or to pray or to read the Bible...how is that going?"

We can fill to overflowing and flooding any quiet moment without any street noise because the traffic going on within always has more than enough to pay attention.

I do think sometimes God work through those thoughts, heart breaks and soul aches.
I do think we need to pay attention to our interior life.
I do think it isn't all about us.

Entering into silence is about letting God get a word in edgewise.  Mystics say that silence is God's first language...and you thought it was the King James, Queen's English.  It's okay...I did too.

Silence isn't about "getting" anything...it is holy unproductive time.  Just enter the silence letting it absorb you...not so you can solve problems or compose a grocery list or come up with your next blog post.  Silence is the gift of being in the moment fully.

There is so much in every moment...most of which we miss.

To be in silence, that is my invitation for you this day.  Right now.  Five minutes.  Set a timer.  Most meditation folks say you will need a mantra...some word to say when that Monkey Mind starts chattering and clamoring away.

Mantra could be:
Peace
Love
God
Still
Sun
Avocado (although that might make you hungry...so use with care).

The mantra is a touch stone just to remind you to, "Shhhh, breathe and be".  Stop.  Five minutes.  When you are done, you may not have anything to show for it, any great idea, or even like it.  But the point isn't the take away, the point is to be so fully in this moment that your whole self is paying attention.

May you be surrounded by more than a trace of God's grace in this moment.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Words We Are Living With ~ Wait


For over a month now, we have become reacquainted with words we usually try to avoid or keep a safe, social distance from...today's word is, "Wait".

Woven into many of us is a loathe of "waiting".

I always try to find the shortest line (which ironically moves the slooooooowest).
I tap my steering wheel and fidget with the radio at every red light.
At doctor's offices I stare at my phone like a magic portal to another world because God knows I am never going to touch one of the magazines in waiting room again.  Ever.
I sigh.
I fume with frustration.
I think of myself as being too busy (read too important) to wait.

But waiting is a part of life.  Even in a world of instantaneous communication and microwave meals. 

Right now, we are waiting for the all clear sign to flee from our homes knowing that it is now safe to move about our lives again.

I believe there is a spiritual practice of waiting.  We all admit that we are too busy.  Remember before COVID 19 how we all had a litany of things that were clamoring for our time and we'd try to compare (even compete) as to who was busy?

Why did we do that again?

Was life somehow better when we were exhausted?

The slower pace of life has reminded me of the joy of cleaning something in my home.
The slower pace of life has rekindled in me a slower, less frantic (read less stressed out) way of being.
The slower pace of life has given me more time with my family who I always say are #1, but rarely does my calendar preach/proclaim that truth.

Not to say waiting will ever be at the top of my to-do list.  But waiting feels different.

It is now a space to pause, to breathe and to be.
It allows me to feel my feelings.  To acknowledge that I might be anxious as I await a test or frustrated at the lack of compassion or sad at those who have lost their life due to this virus. 

I think about how many years I let illnesses like the flu or surgery rarely stop or slow me down.  Now I wait in that difficult space of knowing that things are going to be different.  I don't have a crystal ball or know the future...any guesses at this point are bound to be a mixture of truth and folly.  But if we can wait...listen...breathe and be...I believe that is how traces of God's grace get a word in edgewise.

May grace and God's love be with you now more than ever. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Easter Reflection take Three


I think I'll soar...

Soar away toward the towering trees.

Soar away trying to touch the blue of the sky.

Soar away to look down at the world from a different view.

Can I soar above the fray of people's cynicism and brokenness?

Can I get away from the dis-ease of people passing along their pain through tweets that stir anger within me?

Can I find another place and space where compassion, rather than political back-patting, is the order of the day?

Can I discover a resurrection place where we welcome each person as formed and fashioned in God's image?

Can I make my home in a resurrection place where the least, lonely, and lost are not seen as lazy but part of God's beloved?

Can I say my mailing address is where creation is honored as God's first testament of truth?

Maybe such a dwelling isn't out there...
But in here.

Maybe where I need to soar isn't up, but down.  Down into the soul, the tomb/womb within, where I might discover and uncover the resurrection address is right here.

Is right now.

In all its butterfly beauty and brokenness.

Right now.

In all its ordinary bird on a car-ness and madness.

Right now in all the belief and disbelief we find ourselves.

For it is in the messiness of our lives that resurrection promise still is rolling back stones toward new life.

Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Easter Reflection take Two


So I am walking around my neighborhood...as you do when the confines of the walls of our house start to close in around you.  When I came across this bird hanging out on my neighbor's car.

I love this photo.

I love it because it is like the bird is saying, "I think I am going to hang out here for awhile."

Or, "Hey, the color of this car really compliments my feathers."

Or, "Hey, Wes, how ya doing?"

Okay, it is a bit odd when the bird start to talk to you, that might be the cabin fever talking.

I love this photo because it is beautifully ordinary.

Birds stop on cars all the time, everyday.  You probably saw this on your walk today.

But did you really see it?

That is part of the Easter mystery.  We don't always see the beautiful ordinary, the sacred in the every day, that everything is spiritual.  Easter was meant to life the veil between the holy and everyday.  That is why Jesus took common bread and cup to symbolize God's grace.  That is why a butterfly tells us something so profound about transformation.  That is why a bird shows us the truth of being, not doing.

Let's face it, there is a lot that isn't in my control.  I can wash my hands every second and still get sick.  I can shut up in my house, never go outside, and still not escape hurt and harm.  There is risk in living.  And it is through being.  It is through stopping our perpetual motion that we can begin to go through some of the doorways of our souls that only we can walk through. 

So, today notice one thing that brings a smile to your face.
Notice one joy that opens your heart.
Notice one moment a surge of new life goes through your soul.

And may that be more than just a trace of God's grace for you.

Grace and love to you now more than ever.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Reflection


A symbol of Easter has often been the butterfly.  This is because within a butterfly's life, creation is preaching and proclaiming the truth of resurrection.  A butterfly begins life as a fuzzy, slow, gravity-bound-to-earth caterpillar.  At some point, woven into the DNA of a caterpillar, there is the urge to transformation.  The caterpillar wraps itself in a cocoon called a chrysalis - I know a science lesson too today!  Inside there is a transformation from caterpillar into a butterfly.  Creation was and still is God's first testament.  In this one corner of creation we can hear the Holy Week story.  Jesus slow walk to Jerusalem, along the way ministering and meeting people where they are.  Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a donkey - which isn't known for its speed...although a donkey would probably beat a turtle in a foot race - it would be close.  It is in the cocoon of Jerusalem the transformation of Jesus into the Christ happens.  Happens as Jesus seeks to teach us about the sacredness of a meal in the Last Supper.  Happens as Jesus prays in the garden - an echo of Genesis 2 where Adam and Eve are in the garden.  Happens as Jesus confronts the powers-that-be not with anger and sword or violence but with a resistance and persistence nevertheless. (There is another blog post in that moment).  Happens even on a cross where one of the criminals gets what Jesus is about and the other is self-centered and only wants to be saved (there is another whole blog post or sermon or something there).  Happens in the chrysalis of a tomb or womb where Jesus is resurrected to new life.

I think about this over the last few weeks where we have been in the womb of our homes more and more.  What has been transformed within you?

I have noticed how much I enjoy hanging out with my family.  Too often in my busyness and calendar of too many meetings, I miss the ordinary joy of the people I love the most.
I have noticed the joy of reading books...again something I push too much to the bottom of my to-do-list.
Talking on the phone, connecting to people.
Posting morning prayers that reach out.
Finding a new grove of ministry.

To be sure, I would never had wanted/wished to undergo this transformation.  My hunch is Jesus didn't want to either.  But there is a trace of God's grace in this moment for each of us that I pray we are paying attention to and open to and willing to let God's presence make all the difference.

Happy Easter Monday everyone.

May grace and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

God's Friday Prayer


It shouldn't be this way!
The One who is grace embodied and broke open his life to share God's love hung on a cross.
It shouldn't be this way!
The One who prayerfully sought to awaken the truth that you are God's beloved left to die.
It shouldn't be this way!
The One who reached out to rich and poor and everyone who crossed his path.

It shouldn't be this way!
Confined and stuck inside and wanting to break out.
It shouldn't be this way!
Wanting to gather with others physically to pray.
It shouldn't be this way!
People hurting and the ripple effects of the coronavirus to be with us for weeks to come.

The ancients had a word for prayers of protest ~ it is lamentation.
Lament.
Letting our hearts break open with honest and raw emotion.

What do you lament today?
Someone you love who died?
Someone you care about who is hurting?
Your own difficulties not be resolved but revolving continually in your soul?

What do you lament today?
An economy that continually finances the wealthy on the backs of the poor?
Hoarding and clinging to resources?
Treating the earth like we can just throw it way for another planet to live on?
The words we say to each other that hurt and harm and are only for political point scoring?

I lament a world where people would rather puff up their chests and prove they are so smart than admit we are all stumbling.
I lament a world where people are quick to share opinions and then defend their words as if it was more precious than relationships.
I lament generations that have built walls of criticism against each other.
I lament churches that act too much like businesses.
I lament broken relationships in my family.
I lament ways I have acted that were not feed and fueled by love.
At the cross today I realize again, it shouldn't have been that way.

At the cross today, I pray for a trace of grace that helps me realize, it doesn't have to be this way.

Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Holy Wednesday Prayer


The crowds are all gone now.
Not only the ones who sang or whispered or however they said, "Hosannas".
The crowds from sporting events, art openings, symphonies, and even churches.
The crowds that would hustle and bustle down the street, talking into phones, and check emails.
The crowds that gathered in cafes over dry toast to discuss the latest news.
The crowds of even two or three that felt safe.

The crowds were gone by Wednesday of Holy Week.

Oh, they were still in Jerusalem.  Hurrying to prepare for Passover.
Buying goods so they could hunker down in homes with family to tell the story of God's liberating love.
Shouting greetings and acting like this was just another Passover.

But for Jesus, the crowds were all gone.  No longer listening to his teachings.
No longer following him around.
No longer waiting to see when he might call from a rebellion.

Sure, his disciples ~ his friends ~ were still there.
But soon they would no longer hang around either.
One would betray.
One would deny.
The rest would desert him.

Alone.
Isolated.
Leaning on a rock, praying for a cup to pass by.
A prayer that echoed the "Hosannas" from Sunday.
Only now, Jesus prayed for God to save him.

What to make of that prayer?
It is heartfelt, honest, raw to be sure.
It is echoed in our own prayers.
But it is disruptive, especially if we have an image of Jesus constantly in control.

In the gardens of life were we all dwell, we all pray for ways to know we are not alone.
In the gardens of life, not with manicured roses, but with painful thorns that wound.
In the gardens of life, were, like Adam and Eve, we long for knowledge just as much as we crave intimacy with God.

Alone.
Isolated.
Leaning on a rock, praying for a return to what we once called, "Life" even with all it's blessed imperfections.

The prayer of Palm Sunday...the prayer Jesus prayed as he pressed into the stone cold rock in the garden...the prayer we still pray is,
"God help us for we cannot help ourselves."

May you and I find discover ways God surrounds us even as pain/difficulties/illness persists in these days.
Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday Prayer


"Hosanna," the crowds sang and shouted while waving branches.
"Hosannas," that echoed off the stone walls of the gate into Jerusalem.
"Hosanna," as people stomped passionately into the dusty ground.
"Hosanna," which means, "Save us."

Where do you need saving this day?

It is a difficult question for a culture that idolizes the rugged individual.
The John Waynes of the world.
The self-made person - as if that was biologically ~ socially ~ spiritually possible.
A culture that has adopted Burger King's motto, "Have it your way" as our deepest truth.

Me?  Need saving?  Nope.  I am just fine.

Only I am not.
I see my wounds and wants reflected in the mirror each morning.
I see the pain unprocessed passed along in comments that hurt, harm others.
I feel the dis-ease within me, even as I sweep it under the rug of my soul.

Me?  Need saving?  Nope (whispered uncertainly).

I'll just stand here and wave my palm thinking, acting like everything is fine.
I'll cling to that branch as I cling to controlling my life.
I'll sing sweetly to surf over the pain that awaits in the coming days.

Me?  Need saving?

Okay, maybe.  Maybe I do need help.
I'll admit my anxiety over the last few weeks.
I'll confess that the meditations I do may not be settling my soul.
I'll accept that gnawing call to look a little deeper.

Me?

Maybe the crowd that Palm Sunday didn't shout or sing.
Maybe the "Hosanna," save me, was more like the prayers we've uttered as we've watched the news

Save us, O God, from a spreading illness.
Save us, O God, from a broken, polarized political system that widens.
Save us, O God, from the ways we race around so we feel needed and necessary.
Save us, O God, from ourselves.

"Hosanna," said in the solitude of our homes.
"Hosannas," that echoed off honestly off the walls of our souls.
"Hosanna," as my heart breaks open to the God's presence..
"Hosanna," O God.  "Hosanna."

Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2020

It's Lent


In the last post, I asked about a theme song for your life.  I am not sure I could decide on just one.  That would be like trying to pick my favorite flavor of ice cream.  I mean, let's face it, most ice cream is good ice cream.

But there is something about Phillip Wesley's music that moves my soul...especially since we share a name in common!

As you listen to this beautiful piece of music...slow read this poem by Susan Palo Cherwin.

St. Therese certainly knew the dark night of the soul; St. John of the Cross, Jonah in the belly of the whale, the Israelites in captivity,

And most likely every person has known the dark night of the soul.

That rocky place of such sadness; or grief; or fear that it is almost death.

That place where the air is too heavy for speech, too thick almost for breath.

In this deepening spiral of becoming, down and down and deeper down in the belly of the whale.

We may want to lay aside our harps, we may want to shake a fist at God.  Why me?

Why now!  The dark night of the soul is not reserved for some elite group of mystics and saints or for God’s chosen people.

It is a part of every life journey.  It is spiraled into often more than once in a lifetime.

And Christ says to us, “Do not be defeated.  Do not be dismayed.  I am here.”

And together we will return.  Together we will walk into the Light.

May the music and words together offer you more than a trace of God's grace in these days.

With many blessings ~~ 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It's Lent






Okay...this is a bit of musical whiplash from the last post to today.  But I love how diverse the guitar can sound.  Sometimes I can get caught in a rut - whether I am talking about my writing or thinking.  I am posting these two diverse pieces featuring the same instrument to remind us all that there are many different sounds that can be expressed in and through us.

I don't always need to write the same way...but can explore new words and ways. But sometimes my reluctance to leave the rut can be based both on my own expectations and others expectations.  I can get trapped in a system where I get good feedback based on what I am doing...why risk trying something else. After all, we learned the cliche, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Why leave what is working?

There are good reasons to stay in a place that is comfortable.

But there are also good reasons to continue to try new ways of expression and experiences.  If we only played the guitar fast and furious as the last post, we may never hear some of the more soothing ways of the above video.  If we only stay stuck in one way of being, we might never fully experience all the ways we are crafted/created in God's image.

Your life is a guitar.

How you play the strings of your days is a choice.  If we keep strumming the same chords, we might find that familiar...but we might never hear how different chords played at different tempos can create beautiful melodies never heard before.

Is your soul right now a bit frantic and frenzied?  Or soothed?  Or somewhere in-between?

If you had to choose a theme song for your life right now, what might that be?  And more importantly, why?

I pray you will continue to find ways to be open to the One who is still composing your life and mine in beautiful ways.

Many 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 ...