Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Prayer

Creative and constantly crafting God,
In the beginning, Your first act and song was to separate light and dark.
In the beginning, Your first move was to define and distinguish a rhythm to the day.
In the beginning, Your wisdom call all creation to find the daily beat of the rising of the sun to the going down of the same.

In our lives, we have sought to control light and dark.
In our lives, we want our own rhythm to be the one we dance.
In our lives, we want to define and distinguish where and when the light pours in.

Remind us again and anew, O God, of the wisdom that comes from morning and midnight.
Let us lean into and learn that You are there every hour with a truth we need.
When the lights are on we can feel at ease and also see more clearly our brokenness.
When the night settles in we can find rest and also wrestle with all that is unresolved.
Day and night offer moments we need.
Day and night are both gifts.

So be with us in these moments.
Drench our day with Your love.
Immerse our night with Your grace.
Surround us every second with a sacred stirring that connects us to the truth that this day, this whole day, every hour ~ minute ~ and second is the day You have made.  May we rejoice and be glad in it.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Word Wednesday

First, thank you for continuing to read, especially after the Music Monday.

Second, in the midst of the struggle, our nature/normal intuition is to seek out the light.  We don't always want to learn to walk in the darkness.  Because of Thomas Edison, we rarely need to.  Every room in my house has the ability for light to flood into any room with the simple flick of a switch.  I don't need to build a fire at night.  I don't need to have a ready supply of candles.  Light is right there all the time.

My mind unconsciously applies value to this reality.  I often think, light is good and dark is not so great.  Yet, night is great for sleeping.  Night is great for seeing the stars.  Night is necessary to really see the way the flames of a fire dance.  Night is helpful for cooling down.  Night is necessary for all of life to slow down.  For example, we know that the grass outside takes in energy from the sun all day, processing that after sunset, to inch its way taller.  You also take the energy from the day and need time to process not just be a human doing, but live into a human being.

The one time we stop, cease, or at least slow down lest we stub our toe on something we can't see is night.

I invite you to think of an experience of light and dark.  When was there a holy moment for each.  For me, I think about campfires at night or sleeping out under the stars.  Some of the most profoundly powerful moments are both light and dark dancing together.

I need both moments of being alert and awake as well as to exist in a space where I have a different pace.  To be sure, we know at night creepy crawly things come we can have a heightened sense fear.  But, we also know that our circadian rhythm needs to stop processing and being productive.

How might you embrace the light of this day?
How might you slow down when the light sets at the end of the day?
How might both offer a trace of God's grace for you?

May God's peace and presence surround you every second this day.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Music Mondays

Continuing to let the melody and music of Les Mis guide us, I invite you to listen to the above recording of, "At the End of the Day".

While the tune is catchy, if you listen to the lyrics, it is certainly not one of the most up-lifting songs you will ever hear.  Lean into the opening words:  At the end of the day you're another day older; And that's all you can say for the life of the poor; It's a struggle, it's a war

I am sure your first reaction is, "Um thanks for this, Wes...I think I'll go watch the news which will be more inspiring than this."  But stay with me for just a moment.  What I find profoundly powerful is how these words are an honest lament.

Life can be a struggle, especially for those who are pushed to the fringes of our society.  Life is not easy for the most vulnerable.  Often, those of us who have a cushion or bubble around us, don't see that. 
Life can be a struggle for those whose economic status is a bit better.  The struggle of making good decisions because we know that one illness or one crisis can send us into a tailspin.
Life can be a struggle for those who are a bit higher on the ladder too, especially if the person feels responsible for others.  To be sure, money can insulate you from the struggle of others.  But, we should be careful with stereotypes of anyone.  There are bosses who don't want to lay off workers or toss and turn at night trying to think of creative ways to keep their businesses thriving in these strange days.  There are people who want to help.

To lament is not just for one sector of society, but for us all.  We have can feel the stress and strain of daily living.  Which leads me to a second point, that our shared suffering, even as a common experience, rarely brings us today.  Look no further than the current COVID-19 crisis.  To be sure, it is hard to find unity in social distancing and self-isolation.  But, even so, the polarization that has been growing now feels like a gap the size of the Grand Canyon.  We divide ourselves into camps, circle the wagons, and proclaim that our group has the right way.  We do not let our shared suffering, the fact that we all are worried about our health, our finances, and our future connect us.

We don't even talk about it!

What if, rather than asking, how are you doing...our greeting in these days would be from the great theologian Rudy Sales, "where does it hurt?"  I know that would be odd, but it would be more honest than me saying, "Fine," through clinched teeth and a tightened jaw.

Where does it hurt for you right now?
Where does the ritual of lament, of being honest that life is a struggle help open you?
Where might we begin to find traces of God's grace in the most unlikely place ~ not only in the joy but in the truth that at the end of the day, we wonder where we are going?

May such questions invoke and immerse you in a promise that God is there in the valley as well as in the mountain top moments of life.  And may God surround you now more than ever.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Prayer Friday

Prodigal God who welcomes us with open arms,
You invite us to choose life that isn't some mathematical equation but a mystery.
You do not keep a balance sheet where our good deeds have to weigh more than our bad ones.
You continually embrace us as the Father did of the prodigal in Luke's gospel.

We confess this is not the way of the world.
We are more accustom to eye-for-eye and what goes around comes around.
We prefer our ways of justice to Your's, O God.

So we name aloud a person we struggle to forgive.

A family member
A friend

We name that person not because it will magically make everything better,
But because the person is a beloved child of Yours.
We name the person so that we see him or her as a person.
Fully human with all the frailty and fumbles; broken and blessedness
That stares back at us when we look in the mirror.

The power of speaking the person's name can awaken us in this time of prayer.
We entrust that person to You.
You ask for You, O God, to move over the brokenness between us.
We know that like Humpty Dumpty not everything can be easily repaired and put back together.
Yet, we know that we need a power greater than our own to find another way.

Surround us - both myself and the other.
Sustain us - both myself and the other.
Saturate us - both myself and the other.

And may our souls feel just a millimeter lighter in this moment promising us what a trace of Your grace can do.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Word Wednesday

In the opening minutes of the musical version of Les Mis, we see the juxtaposition of eye-for-eye justice in Javert and the forgiveness of the Bishop.  This will be a unfolding theme throughout the musical.
Who offers forgiveness?
Who clings with a tight fist to legalism?
And more importantly, why?

Forgiveness so often is portrayed as a one and done act.  In some ways you could see the Bishop as simply forgiving Valjean for stealing.  But for me, forgiveness is a continual process.  Forgiveness can be one step forward, three frustrating steps back.  Forgiveness doesn't even start with the other person, it starts with me processing the pain ~ anger and hurt and harm.  While I try to not get caught in either/or thinking, in some ways the choice is between the pathway of forgiveness or holding a grudge.  The choice is between letting go of my claim that I was right and the other person was wrong OR seeing the that I may not fully understand what motivates the other person's actions ~ because so often why I do/say something can be a mystery to me.

I start with where I am.  I name and notice the anger, what is fueling my frustration.  I name and notice the sharp shards of shatteredness.  And I decide whether I am going to keep holding those and in turn keep wounding myself...or put them aside so the hurt can heal.  To be sure, putting something aside doesn't mean that everything is peachy.  It doesn't mean that the other person is off the hook and we can act as if nothing happened.  But, as many wise people have said that when we keep rekindling the flame of anger it is like you drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.  Often times we are so angry with someone and that person doesn't have a clue we are mad.  Or we give the person a piece of our mind, the relationship breaks down, you stop talking, and yet feeding the flame of our anger we replay countless conversations in our minds about why the other person is wrong.  Only the other person isn't there.  Why exactly does that help? 

I have had moments of holding onto anger and pushing down pain and feeling so frustrated; but not ever walking down the path of forgiveness.  Having traveling the way of holding the grudge, I can tell you that, for me, it didn't end well.  The other person passed away and there was never any reconciliation.  Even after the person died, I was still left carrying a grudge for several years.  Until I was on a retreat and during the silence of a Sunday morning tears fell from my eyes.  I was tired.  Tired of carrying the grudge.  Tired of replaying the hurt and the wound that would not heal.  Tired of being that way.  So, I sought another way.  It wasn't magical.  The pain didn't disappear overnight.  But over time the grudge grew smaller, less heavy.  It took a lot of work and occasionally still does.  But moment by moment, I released my righteous claim for the claim of grace to work in my life.

What does forgiveness mean to you?
When was a time you forgave someone?
Is there someone right now you are so angry with but doesn't seem to be helping?

May you find more than a trace of God's grace in holding this word of forgiveness that makes a difference in the days to come.  Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Music Mondays

One of my favorite stories of all time is Les Miserables.  If you have never seen the musical, read the book, watched one of the many movie adaptations; I encourage you to dive into this narrative of what grace and love looks like when the world is less than perfect.  The above will take you to YouTube where you can listen to the Broadway soundtrack, which leaves out some of the transitional songs ~ many of which are important to understanding story.  But, if you have some experience with the various versions of Les Mes, the above will awaken your memory.

If you are unfamiliar with the story line, you may want to watch the PBS version of the musical live on stage by clicking below...warning it is over 2 hours...but will be helpful and in my humble opinion well worth your time.

This story seeks to deal with questions like, what happens when life is unfair?  How do we live in the midst of suffering, stress, and strain?  Sound familiar?

In the opening we meet Valjean who was arrested for stealing bread and has served 19 years in prison.  5 years because he stole the bread, 14 because he tried to escape.  Valjean is the central character who must try to figure out how to live his life in the mist of brokenness and when things don't go your way.  Again, sound familiar?  In the opening we also meet Javert, the head guard, who will be obsessed with Valjean throughout the musical.

If you click on the second video, I invite you to watch the first 10 minutes, where around minute 6, you meet the Bishop who welcomes Valjean in with the gospel good news of hospitality and forgiveness. I invite you to listen to the music and words a few times through the Bishop's song (ending around 9:20 minute mark of the second video).

Enter the story.
Let it sing to your soul.
And let's begin to find ways to explore the traces of God's grace of Les Mes in these days.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Prayer Friday

God of moments when the sun is shining,
God of days when the rain won't stop.
God of times when our souls surge with life and smiles sit on our faces,
God of heartbreak and ache that won't feel like they will ever stop.
God of every single second, we open our hearts to You in this moment.

We know that You are here in this place.
We trust that with You there is quite enough strength and power and grace.
We long for You to illuminate our lives and stir our souls.

We give thanks for the moments that have led us this far.
For childhood memories ~ carefree and joy-filled.
For the yesterdays that strangely warm our hearts.
For stories we can share with each other.

We give thanks for those honest, heartfelt times we went astray.
Times we knew the truth of the prodigal son who sat in the mud with pigs.
Times we wondered, "Can it get any worse than this?",
Only to have that rhetorical question answered not in the way we wanted.

For the past, for this present moment, for the unknowable future,
We open our hearts to Your wisdom...truth...grace...and love.
Be with us this day and through this time.

All this we pray in the name of the One who promised Your presence and invited us to abide with thee, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Word Wednesdays

On Monday...I invited you into a moment of nostalgia, reminiscing and reliving your life like watching the old reel-to-reel movies.
And amid the moments that bring smiles to our face, most of us have moments of disappointments and shattered dreams.  Most of us don't start our stories by saying, "Well, I was born awesome and I have just gotten better every day."  And those who do, I don't find very interesting.  The traces of grace in my life don't always come when the lights are on and laughter is easy.  The traces of grace are the threads that refuse to snap, keep holding me, even when all my resources are gone.

Amid the kickball stories of summers ago...are moments of brokenness.

These include moments of individual brokenness ~ I say something bonehead that hurts another, I do something less than those moments of exhaustion or frustration or when I have processed the pain of an experience so I pass it along to the next available person.

These include moments of communal brokenness ~ the ways this current COVID crisis is exposing the cracks in health care, government, unemployment.  In the midst of crisis is when our truest character often is shown...because our usual pace of life is thrown off. 

To be sure, most of us would rather not deal with our shadow side.  We tend to see brokenness only for its negativity.  Yet, more and more I hold onto the truth that someone once said, "No one learns anything meaningful after the age of 30 by doing it right."  The brokenness can actually be a breaking open to new possibilities and new life, if we are willing to be vulnerable.

I have sensed that within me in the last few weeks.  There is the pull between, "Just keep on, keeping on ~ cling to the ways I've always done things ~ just tweak here and there."  And moments when I realize what I called, "Normal" will not be a state I return.  To live in the messiness of that unknowness and less-than-perfectness...which is at the heart of the Easter faith.

In the days after Easter, Jesus didn't give the disciples a 5 year plan.  Jesus didn't leave them with a building.  They were trying to process their confusion and concerns about whether they were up to being the bearers of good news.  We are trying to pray our confusion and concerns about whether we are up to the challenge of still proclaiming that God is here, even in the midst of brokenness ~ heart ache. 

Today, I invite you to name and notice the places where there is sit with that word in your own life...even with all of its uncomfortable-ness.  I believe that there are traces of grace to be found especially in times when we don't have everything put together and life has gone off the rails.  It is still called Easter...this season of our life right now.

Grace and peace to you now more than ever.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Music Mondays

I am fan of singer songwriters whose lyrics evoke images...and John McCutcheon "Water From Another Time" does that in spades.  I love the line about the quilt his grandmother made of scraps and then he waltzes in his dreams.  The deeper power of this song is that it can awaken YOUR memories.

I didn't grow up on a farm...but the words remind me of summer nights in Cedar Rapids, IA.  When the lightening bugs briefly illuminating before your very eyes only to quickly extinguish...when winter days were a distant memory...when all the neighborhood kids gathered in our backyard for a rousing game of kickball.
I still remember that first base was the post on the patio.
Second base was the lilac bush.
Third base was the metal clothes line poll.
Home was our cement sidewalk from the backdoor of the there was NO sliding safe at home.

I still remember the garden my parents planted outback...and ironically the corn that never grew there.  I mean...this was Iowa...I thought corn just magically grew in everyone's back yard ~ turns out there is a bit more to it.

I still remember playing hide and seek on other nights.

I still remember Mary who lived next door.  To my young eyes, she was old...looking back probably in her 80s...but she was a grandmother to all the kids in the neighborhood.  She had a formal living room to receive callers...and the best chocolate chip cookies served with ice cold milk at her metal kitchen table with red vinyl chairs.

I still remember...

I could go on...but the point isn't my stories...or John's images...but yours!

Take some time today to reflect on the summer memories that still linger in your minds.  Write them down...send or share them with someone...and may you find more than a trace of God's grace in that sharing.

Blessings ~~

Friday, May 8, 2020

Prayer Friday

How do you craft a prayer?
Is it only with words?

Maybe a prayer can pour forth from a paint brush,
Colored pencils,
Chalk on the street that will wash away with the next rain.

Maybe prayer can be brought to life with scissors,
Colored papers,
Various shapes of many sizes that are pieced together.

Maybe prayer is silence, sitting still to listen.
God's first language,
Before the song of creation began, God was and God still is.

Maybe prayer is noticing and naming what you see,
The good and bad and ugly that is part of this thing called, "Life".

Maybe prayer is more than what we can categorize or compartmentalize,
A constant reaching,
As a deer longs for water, so the Psalmist sings, so does our heart.

How would you define prayer?
How is it with your soul?
And what prayer might God be singing to you today?

May these words invoke for you more than a trace of God's grace in these May days.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Word Wednesday


That part of our mind that questions what is real.  The part of our gut that raises it's hand when certainty commands all the spotlight.  The moments we realize that truth that, "If you are always the smartest one in the room, you are in the wrong rooms."


So often we have been taught and told that faith and doubt are opposites or even in opposition.  You can only have one, like when you had to choose what flavor sucker you got from the doctor.  But maybe doubt and faith need not be adversarial but advisory to each other.  Doubt can be questioning.  The root of questioning is, "Quest".  Our questions take us somewhere.  Our doubts invite us to go some place.


But often we think that the road trip doubt wants us to travel can't lead anywhere good.  Or we think that we have to cling to faith with our fist so tight that our knuckles turn white.  Faith isn't a possession, faith is often a journey.  Faith is like a flowing river.  Faith, like doubt, wants to take us somewhere.  One of my favorite book titles that I read in seminary was, "Faith is a verb."  You don't have faith, faith has you.  Faith guide us.  Faith is the one who whispers in your ear, "Let's go." 


So, maybe you are now thinking of faith as the good GPS and doubt as the devil you have to listen to the good angel on your shoulder.  But, I believe such dualistic thinking is hazardous.  Doubt can take us good can sometimes lead us to say things that cause a lot of hurt.  For example, I have heard people say to someone who has had a loved one die, "Well, God needed another angel."  Now, if that is your perspective, that is your perspective.  But when we shove our stuff onto others we can wound them in ways you may never know.


That reminder that I am not as smart as I think I am.  I make plenty of boneheaded mistakes everyday to have enough evidence to convict me in any court of my less-than-brilliance.  Doubt becomes the brake that says, "Let's pray on this."  Doubt can be the reminder that God doesn't always agree with my opinions.  Doubt is the fuel that feed my faith more than certainty.

What doubts have you tried to push down?
What ways have you distanced yourself from doubt?
How might doubt actually be a way to encounter a trace of God's grace in these days?

Many blessings ~~

Monday, May 4, 2020

Music Mondays

Today, I invite you to open your heart and life right now to Carrie Newcomer singing, "Sanctuary".  I encourage you to listen to the inspiration for the song.  She talks about how sanctuaries are those safe spaces and places where we go when heartbroken and our souls ache.  Sanctuaries are more than the physical location of worship with pews and hymnals.  Rather, there are "altars in the world" to borrow the title of Barbara Brown Taylor's book.

As you listen, I want you to ponder prayerfully two questions:
1. Where and from what do you need sanctuary right now?  Perhaps as the pandemic and self quarantine continues?  Perhaps from relationships that are more broken than Humpty Dumpty?  Perhaps from trying to inhabit your own skin?

2.  Where and how might you find sanctuary right now?  Is there an altar in home in these days?  A sacred site you can go to daily as our church's are not holding weekly worship? 

Listen...lean in...and let God's spirit move through this music.

For me, I need sanctuary from always trying to push myself.  As a Type-A personality, who bases how life is going on how many items I accomplish, maybe this time is trying to teach and tell me there are other ways to measure a day.  As someone who has a deep desire to be needed and necessary, what happens when people stop calling or visits are impossible and the normal routine won't be returning anytime soon?  The point of sanctuary is not that we have all the answer immediately.  It takes time for us to discover and uncover God's presence ~ remember God's people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness.

I continue to find ways to establish sacred space in my home and am finding that to be a good practice.  Again, it is a slooooow process.  A candle here.  Some flowers there.  And trying to considered what is needed rather than what can be conveniently and quickly shipped from Amazon.  I have a friend who says that she has a magic chair in her house and that if she doesn't sit in that chair it will start flying around the room and it is impossible to get the chair back on the ground.  I hope you hear the humor in that.  I hope you have a chair, a space where you can sit to breathe and be.  I pray there is a sanctuary for you in these days of God working through this messy time.

And may there be more than a trace of God's grace as you listen to Carrie sing this beautiful song again.

Many blessings ~~

Friday, May 1, 2020

Prayer Friday

Please pray with me...

God whose first language is silence,
We come to You after a month of staying home,
Social isolation and distancing,
Separated from those who love,
And unable to offer hugs.

God whose promise meets us in all times and places,
We know You heard Your people's cry in Egypt.
We know that You responded to Hannah's prayer in the temple.
We know that Your love could not be contained so crept into the world in a stable, of all places.
Meet us this day, once again surrounded by these same four walls.

God, whose truth can never be fully explored or exhausted,
Help us remain open when frustration starts to set in.
Help us keep reaching out when we are tired of phone calls or the technology doesn't work.
Help us be creative in times when we feel isolated, even alone.
Meet us this day as we move into the month of May.

We are aware now, more than ever,
That we are not in control or in charge or that all our clinging can't stop the coronavirus.
So, hear the prayers that pour forth from our hearts.
For health care workers...
For those still unemployed and afraid of how to pay their bills...
For the homeless...
Those in prison...
The least, lost, and lonely who are always the most vulnerable...
And our own vulnerability that we could not sweep neatly under the rugs of our souls...
Or hide from in the busyness of our days.

You, O God, are the One who sings to us.
You, O God, are the One who causes hope to stir even when all the evidence objects.
You, O God, weave threads, traces, of grace into our lives.
May we stay awake and aware that You are with us here and now.
For that is always enough.


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 ...