Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speak, For Your Servant is Listening!

Hear the Word of God from 1 Samuel 3:1-10!

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

The Word of God for the People of God!

Yes, I know! This particular passage is not in today's lectionary and I do not even know if it is in the lectionary at all during Lent but it is in my experience of Lent as it seems God has been awakening me every night between 2:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. and, to be honest, I have no idea why. I have responded each time to the awakening -- to the calling -- and have stayed in my bed trying to be available to whatever it is God wants from me. It is not my habit to take this time, i.e. to simply fill it with my words, as I have come to understand that it is my time to listen. And listen I have... to not avail -- unless holding a few dear ones before God trusting that he will do what he will do and waiting to see if God would tell me what his desire for these two particular people would be, is something... but nothing!

So, last night (or shall I say early -- very early! this morning!) instead of staying in bed as has been the case for the past week, I sensed that perhaps God simply wanted me to keep vigil -- to have a night watch. I quietly climbed out of our bed so as not to disturb my dear sleeping husband and made my way to our couch, which happens to be the place -- my sacred place, if you will -- where I typically have my intentional times of prayer, of keeping company with God. Beside the couch is a basket where I keep my favorite Bible, my journal and two of my favorite books -- Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill (I shared Psalm 27 out of this book in my last post!) and Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr.

As I opened the book Seven Sacred Pauses, I noticed that it opened to a dog-eared page in the first section of the book where Macrina describes what the Vigil is all about. As I glanced at the page, my eyes saw why I had earlier dog-eared that page -- there was a quote there to which I had been particularly drawn. It is a quote regarding the power of personal vigils from Marcy Heidish's book A Candle at Midnight, "Whether your vigil-keeping is centered around chronic illness, depression, personal crisis, national disaster, or simply the heart's yearning for a deepening relationship with God, self and others, vigilance is a spiritual discipline and a special kind of prayer." And then Macrina ends this section of the book with the following sentence, "May you learn to live with a vigilant heart."

It was then that I decided to let my eyes wander the previous pages to see if I could find how Macrina defines a vigil. I found two that I'd like to share:

When I rise in the middle of the night, my prayer is simply one of waiting in silence, waiting in darkness, listening with love. It is a prayer of surrender. In my night watch I do not ordinarily use words. My prayer is a prayer of intent. I make my intention and I wait. I become a deep yearning. The silence and the darkness are healing. My prayer is now a prayer of trust. I keep vigil with the mystery.
There is a difference between waiting and keeping vigil. Anxious, fretful, impatient waiting is nothing more than waiting. Waiting with purpose, patience, hope, and love is vigilant waiting. Would that all of our waiting could be a vigil--a watch in the night or in the day hours. So by all means, find a way to make your vigils sacred. Learn the art of holy waiting. Whether you choose, on occasion, to get up in the middle of night, or whether you make an effort to turn your everyday moments of waiting in sacred vigils rather than impatient pacing, you will be blessed through this spiritual practice.
So I closed the book for a few moments and just waited until I sensed it was time to begin the sacred pause -- the vigil. I picked up the book again and found the Night Watch pause and here's what followed. I have written my thoughts -- my silent prayer of my heart, if you will, in italics.

                                   Prayer Guide

My soul yearns for you, O God.
  Indeed! You know that!
I keep vigil with you through the night.
  I am listening, Lord!

Sacred Song
In this sacred darkness I sit in silence.
Open this moment, I trust in the darkness.
Waiting in trust, growing in trust.
Waiting and trusting the sacred darkness.
I surrender.
   waiting in trust... growing in trust... that is what you
   are doing... and asking that I surrender?
I surrender.
I surrender.
   Yes, Lord, you know I'm tired of this place -- this place
   of uncertainty -- of waiting! I will re-frame this waiting
   to a time of keeping vigil -- to vigilant waiting...

Contemporary Psalm
Antiphon:  My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Ps. 119:148)

O Sentinel of the night skies,
Attendant of my soul's deep yearning.
Drawn into the night silence,
I keep vigil with eternal questions.
   You alone know my soul's deep yearning, as you've
   placed it there in my soul. I trust it is you who has
  drawn me into this vigil.

All through the night watch
I seek you without words.
Listening to the sound of silence,
I lean into the song of darkness
with infinite patience I wait for you.
   Infinite patience? Is that what is birthed into the soul
   who seeks you without words in the night watch?

Keeping vigil with eternal questions,
I do not look for answers; it is enough
to wait in the darkness of love's yearning.
My soul is my night light; I am not afraid.
   Hmmm... to learn to not look for answers but to simply
   wait -- to keep company with Love; in this space, I am
   not afraid!

Antiphon:  My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Ps. 119:148)

Biblical Psalm (Psalm 63 -- From Praying the Psalms)
O Love, You are my Beloved, and
          I long for You,
   my soul thirsts for You;
All that is within me thirsts,
   as in a dry and barren land
          with no water.

So I have called out to You in
          my heart,
   sensing your power and glory.
Because your wondrous Love is
          Life in me,
     my lips will praise You.
I would radiate your Love as long
          as I live,
   becoming a blessings to others
         in gratitude to You.

My soul feasts as with a
         magnificent banquet,
   and my mouth praises You with
         joyful lips,
When I ponder on your kindness, and
   meditate on You throughout
         the night;
For You have been my salvation,
   and in the shadows of your wings
         I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You,
   your love upholds me.
The fears that seem to separate me
          from You
   shall be transformed and
As they are faced, each fear
          is diminished;
   they shall be gone as in a dream
          when I Awaken.
And my soul shall rejoice in the
   All who open their hearts to Love
         will live in peace and joy!
     While I may not experience in my vigil the healing
     I desire, or receive the clarity for which my soul
     yearns, something will happen as I Awake -- as I live
     out my days practicing my faith -- practicing the
     presence of God! I have opened my heart to Love
    I have peace & joy!

                                    Prayer of the Hour

The Angel of Night
     Summoned from sleep
     in the heart of night
     my name is called
     and, like Samuel,
     I rise from my bed
     seeking the caller.

     Summoned from sleep
     I am drawn into
     the beating heart
     of the One
     who called me.

     The angel of the night
     lights a candle in my soul
     inviting me to listen
     to the wordless song
     of Divine Union.

     Deep healing.
     Deep listening.
     Deep waiting.
     Deep watching
     All of these become
     a part of my night watch.

     In the heart of the night
     you prepare me to be
     your deep healing
     for all who watch
     through the night
     of their fears.  (by Macrina Wiederkehr)
        O Angel of the Night! Let it be so!

I then crawled back into bed and, after having slept for a few hours and being awakened by the alarm, I dragged myself to my spot on the couch, opened my laptop to find the daily lectionary which I gratefully receive via email. Today's gospel lesson is from John Chapter 5 where Jesus asks the man who has been waiting for years by the pool, "Do you want to be made well?" No, Jesus is asking me (and you!), "Do you want to be made well?" My response, "Yes, Lord! I'm thinking this rut isn't quite as comfortable as I had originally thought!"

What about you? Is God calling you in the night -- awakening you from your sleep for you to keep vigil or keep company with him? Do you have a deep yearning in your soul -- one for which only God can do something about? Finally, my friends, is Jesus asking you, "Do you want to be made well?" If so, what will be your response? You may, like me, find yourself keeping vigil as God can do miraculous healing within our souls in the dark of the night if we will but surrender!

Grace and Peace to you, my dear friends!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whom (or what?) Shall I Fear?

A week ago I decided that I would load my book, my beach chair, a few towels, sunscreen and my favorite visor into my Jeep Liberty (whose name happens to be Libby!) and drive forty-five minutes out to Perdido Key. I sensed that I needed to go to Perdido Key, which was very odd because for the past several years I had been going to Pensacola Beach. I have learned that it is best to trust my "senses" as they are usually nudgings from God and so I went with my sense and headed to Perdido Key.

I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive upon arriving as I expected something to happen -- to sort of have a "God moment". I quickly got over the apprehension as the beauty and majesty of Perdido Key has a way of settling and calming me no matter my circumstances. Since it is early in spring and the Key was not at all crowded, I found a perfect spot right on the edge of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico to set up my beach chair and begin reading. It seemed as though it were just me, my book and God.

After enjoying a few precious hours reading most of the book, I decided it was time to head home. As I was walking up the boardwalk toward the parking lot and Libby -- remember that's my Jeep's name -- it hit me -- this remembering. I stopped in my tracks (thankfully no one was around) and I remembered, I mean really remembered as though all those years had not passed, how I spent almost every Saturday morning that beautiful spring many years ago trying to heal from a divorce. I was barely twenty years old and had already been married and divorced. It was such a painful reality. I remembered how I needed the beach, this special place to heal me, to console me, to be my refuge... and it was. My faith was still rather young then (although I had been practicing it for many years already), and I apparently had not learned, or maybe didn't want to learn, to let God be my refuge and my shelter in a storm. 

Anyway, back to that moment on the boardwalk. It was in that moment that I remembered -- I recalled in its entirety all the pain and suffering I've experienced -- my original wound and those that naturally followed because of it -- and there held in the shelter of Love's Heart, I felt again all those feelings, and I didn't stuff any of them. Held safe and secure in Love's heart, I was okay.

I recalled Psalm 27, particularly Nan Merrill's paraphrase of Psalm 27 found in her book Psalms for Praying -- An Invitation to Wholeness. I will share it with you:

Love is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Love is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
When fears assail me, rising up to accuse me, each one in turn shall be seen in Love's light. Though a multitude of demons rise up within me, my heart shall not fear. Though doubts and gult do battle, yet I shall remain confident.
One thing have I asked of Love, that I shall ever seek: that I might dwell in the Heart of Love all the days of my life, to behold the Beauty of my Beloved, and to know Love's Plan.
For I shall hide in Love's heart in the day of trouble, as in a tent in the desert, away from the noise of my fears. And I shall rise above my struggles, my pain, shouting blessings of gratitude in Love's Heart. And singing melodies of praise to my Beloved.
Hear, O my Beloved, when I cry aloud, be gracious and answer me! You have said, "Seek my face." My heart responds, "Your face, my Beloved, do I seek; hide not your face from me."
Do not turn from me, You who have been my refuge. Enfold me in your strong arms, O Blessed One. Though my father and mother may not understand me, You, my Beloved, know me and love me.
Teach me to be love, as You are Love; lead me through each fear; hold my hand as I walk through valleys of illusion each day, that I may know your Peace.
I believe that I shall know the Realm of Heaven, of Love, here on Earth!
Call upon the Beloved, be strong and trust in the heart's courage. Trust in the power of Love; the Beloved's unconditional and everlasting love for you.
Walter Brueggemann in his book Spirituality of the Psalms basically says that the Psalms if read as a whole -- if taken in as a whole -- lead worshippers from orientation to disorientation to new orientation and that this process isn't a one time thing. It seems that Lent for me is likely going to be captured in Walter Brueggemann's process of orientation, disorientation and new orientation -- my deep healing being one new orientation and my immersion into the Psalms being another one. I am convinced, though, that God has much more work to do within my soul because an original wound like the one I suffered as a very young child has many faucets and I think I've seen only just a few. 

I (orientation) will remain wide open and available to whatever God brings me for the remainder of this season of Lent (disorientation) in anticipation a glorious Resurrection celebration (new orientation)! While I wait, though, I will offer God my gratitude for the healing he has worked out in my soul. It has been a long time coming.

Grace & Peace to you, my friends, as we journey through Lent towards the marvelous Light and Love that is our Beloved!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It seems I cannot escape the Parable of the Prodigal during the season of Lent. I felt a certain nudge from my Beloved to share the following prayer center I wrote last year on the Parable of the Prodigal. It beacons me to consider two very good questions:

  1. Do I know that I know that I know that I am God's dearly beloved? 
  2. Will I, with God's gracious help, love as the Beloved loves?

The prayer center is appropriately named "Beloved".


Light a Candle.

Read Luke 15:11-32:

Now read the following verse:
Then the Father said to him [to me, to you], "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." Luke 15:31

Let me confess that I have been dwelling on this parable for quite some time (a few years, in fact!). God has a way of doing that to me – having me encounter certain stories of the faith to grow me, to show me something about Him and about myself. After praying through this story and just sitting with it, a few things come to mind.
First, this story reminds me that faith is a journey – a process – and each person’s journey is unique. Each one of the Father’s sons took a different path to the Father’s heart and, indeed, are even at different stages or places along that path or journey.
Second, the Father desires for all of his sons to make that journey to his heart – into his loving arms – and lovingly waits, rather impatiently even!, for his children to come home. The Father never demands that his children come home – it seems to be a matter of choice. And, third there’s a question this story seems to ask, "Do you know you are my Beloved?" It seems to me that the eldest son in this story stayed at home doing what he thought the Father wanted him to do, making good choices and being the responsible eldest son, somehow trying to make his way to the Father’s heart by doing good. The younger son, on the other hand, had to first break his Father’s heart, squander his inheritance, realize his "lostness", and then decide to go home to the Father. Neither son realized or knew that he was his Father’s Beloved and both seemed to feel they had to earn being the Beloved. The eldest son tried to earn his "Beloved-ness" by always making good choices, by being "good" and doing what was expected. The younger son didn’t seem to understand that he had always been the Beloved – that there was nothing he could do, not even leaving home and squandering his inheritance, that could change the fact that he was his Father’s Beloved. The Father met each of his Beloved Sons right where they were in their journey home to his heart and his love for each Beloved Son was constant. In other words, the Father gives the gift of being Beloved to his sons unconditionally – it is always there whether or not his Beloved Sons choose to accept it and live their lives from that perspective. For me, I am so grateful that the practice of our faith is a journey – a journey to the heart of God. I am, gratefully, finally able to claim who I am, "I am Donell, God’s Beloved!" I can relate to both of the Father’s Sons in this story. Okay, what about the Father? What am I to learn from the Father in this story? I cannot overlook the fact that I am very drawn to the Father character in this story. Can it be because I lack the capacity to love as the Father loves? Surely God is not calling me to love as the Father loves? I’m not capable of that of love, especially on my own. That kind of love just isn’t humanly possible. Or is it?

Answer the following questions:
  1. Do you know you are God’s Beloved?
  2. Do you live your life from that perspective – from knowing that you are God’s Beloved?
  3. If so, does knowing you are God’s Beloved change the way you relate to God and others?
  4. What question is God raising within you as you "prayerfully read" this story and how will you respond to that question?
Consider writing a letter, a written prayer so to speak, expressing what you have learned about yourself and your relationship with God through this story, and maybe even including in your letter your responses to the questions above.

 Loving God, your love for your Sons and Daughters is so deep and such a very precious gift. I cannot love others as you have called me to love without your help. So, help me, Loving God, to love others as the Father loves his Beloved Sons and Daughters. Help me to trust that "all that is yours is mine" and that I am your beloved.

Extinguish the Candle. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Holy Partners, Seriously?!

Sometimes God has a way of smacking me in the face with scripture and he did just that this morning! Today's epistle lesson is from Hebrews, Chapter 3, and there's a phrase in verse one that smacked me and that has been with me all day long -- I cannot stop meditating on it. I have found that I am, like Mary, pondering it in my heart. Here's the phrase "holy partners in a heavenly calling". Once I recovered a bit from the smack, I did what a wise man told me to do when struck (he failed to mention being smacked!) by a word or phrase, "look at the words preceding what struck you." I did just that and was yet again, smacked! The words preceding "holy partners in a heavenly calling" were "therefore, brothers and sisters". Okay, that means you and me!

And, if that those smacks were not good enough, here's another. On my morning walk these questions kept bubbling up, "Why Lent? Why is it necessary, really?" These questions bubbled up before I read the lectionary this morning and I simply cannot help but wonder if God isn't trying to tell me that he gives us a yearly season to get cleaned up because it is his desire to make us holy and not just for holiness' sake but so that we can respond to the heavenly call he has placed within each one of us!

And so, my friends, this has sort of left me speechless today and in a deep stating of pondering all things in my heart. There really is so much in my soul that needs the light of God (some holes in need of darning).

Before I sign off, I will share that so far I have been diligent about practicing the prayer of examen that I posted earlier in the week. Yes, it really does seem that God is doing some darning of my soul! I think the day is getting long and I still have not practiced the prayer of examen that I committed to God (and to you all) to "do" for Lent so I will close with this -- May the peace of Christ be with you all as you partner with God to become holy partners in your heavenly calling!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Cross & Love

In my mid-day pause and since we are in the season of Lent, I thought it appropriate to meditate upon the cross. I get that the cross was once associated with the gruesome death of our Lord and Savior. While that is indeed true, I would like to suggest that it is also something else -- an icon, a window through which we are drawn to God, and it demonstrates profoundly our experience of Lent and the reality of Easter -- that being God's chesed, his loving-kindness and steadfast love.

Through Christ's death and resurrection we are powerfully reminded that for those who follow Christ, the way to abundant life is through death -- Christ's death and our dying to ourselves. It is the paradox of our faith, isn't it, that death precedes new life. In our faith, though, this paradox, this mystery, only points to Love and Grace that can only be given by God. So, yes, during the season of Lent I intentionally open myself up and allow God to touch, to heal all my brokenness -- to mend or darn my soul, to die to myself -- because it is through the life, death and resurrection of Christ that God not only proves to me that I'm never alone in this journey towards full and complete union with God but he also proves to me the depth of his love. So, the cross for me is an icon, a symbol of God's chesed.

During the season of Lent I typically use a Catholic cross (one with Christ crucified on it) for meditation. Yes, I see Christ's gruesome death (I cannot help but see it!) but Christ's resurrection made what was gruesome something beautiful -- Love overcame the gruesomeness! And, it is then I'm reminded that God can do the same for me -- take my wretched soul and make it beautiful!

So, when I meditate upon the cross I am overcome with the awe, wonder and beauty that is Love! My friends, what do you see when you meditate upon cross?

Grace & Peace to you, my friends!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prayer of Examen -- One of My Lenten Disciplines (Hopefully?!)

I usually think of the season of Lent as a time in the church year when we are doing some spring cleaning of sorts within our hearts and souls so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior on Easter Sunday with "clean hands and a pure heart." Psalm 24:3-4. I know that you might be asking, "How does one do that -- get clean hands and a pure heart?" I believe I may have stumbled upon one way to accomplish just that -- the Prayer of Examen, and it is this practice that I am undertaking as one of the things that I do, rather than give up, during the season of Lent. It is my hope that I will become more intentional about practicing the prayer of examen on a daily basis.

Before we get to the "how to" of the prayer of examen, I'd like to share with a little bit about what the practice is all about. The prayer of examen is in no way meant to be a threatening process with intention towards confession and repentance (although you may well find yourself doing that...) but rather a loving process with intention towards growing deeper spiritually and learning to recognize and receive the assistance of the Holy Spirit. In (or shall I say within?) the prayer of examen we are attempting to become more aware of God's presence and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Several years ago, I found this prayer of examen, written by Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church. I appreciate its beauty, its simplicity and its four movements of presence, gratitude, review and response. I will confess that I've adapted it a bit for ease of use.

Practicing the Prayer of Examen
This prayer of examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions (presence, gratitude, review and response), to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.

Thoughts on getting started:
  • A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely the most conducive for reflecting.
  • Do not rush through the experience -- as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions than others.
  • It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer.
  • Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give the same, together striving to be an ever-faithful "community of solitudes" (A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer)
Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God's presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God's presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a single phrase during this time, like "Be still and know that I am God" [Psalm 46v10]. It's important to begin this practice in a calm and centered state. There are many days when you'll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Don't rush past this portion. Take the necessary time to wait and find comfort in God's presence.

The following scripture passage might be your prayer: 
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
  1. Take some time and focus on the nearness of God.
  2. Open yourself to his presence.
"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is, "Thank you," wrote Meister Eckhart, "that would suffice." As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God. If you're using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God's generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God's goodness, and be thankful.

The following Scripture might be your prayer as you begin:
Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. [Ephesians 1v3]
  1. Over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful? What makes you feel thankful?
  2. Express your gratitude to God.
Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. "Where did time go?!" we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God's activity in our lives.

Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you've been in and to notice details.

You might begin with the following prayer:
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
  1. When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God's action in your life? When were you resisting?
  2. What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you've remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward (repentance). Allow your observations to guide your responses.

You might begin with the following prayer:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd, equip you with everything good for going his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Hebrews 13v20-21]
  1. Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
  2. What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
God's peace be yours.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Barreness and Emmanuel (God is with us)?

My pastor has suggested that we join him in reading through the gospel of Luke as our Lenten discipline -- as the one thing we might do for God during Lent. So, yesterday I read the first chapter of Luke and was struck by two words -- two words that upon first thought had no connection whatsoever and that's precisely what made me meditate upon them all the more -- barrenness and Emmanuel. After meditating upon them, I came to the conclusion that they were more connected that what I originally thought. Mighty acts of God always follow when a biblical writer proclaims a woman is barren. When we hear the word barren in scripture we should hear that to mean more than the fact that the woman's womb is without child but also to mean that a spiritual desolation or dryness exists for the people of God at that time. In this first chapter of Luke, that's exactly what God's children were experiencing. God's prophets had been silent in regards to the coming messiah and his people had become spiritually barren because God had been silent for so long. I would certainly understand if God's people at the time had sort of given up hope that the messiah would ever come, especially considering that God had been silent for about 400 years. Anytime we give up on hope we are without a doubt spiritually dry or barren. Anyway, back to the story today -- And then God tells us that Elizabeth was barren. Like I said earlier, I've learned to pay attention when that word comes into play within the scriptures because God is going to do something really big next and that's precisely the case in our story today. God tells Zachariah that his wife will bear a child, a son and his name shall be John. Pretty miraculous considering that Elizabeth is well past child-rearing age. You would think that would be big but apparently it's not big enough because right after that we hear that another woman's womb (Mary) holds God himself, Emmanuel, which means God is with us! As I put these two words together, barrenness and Emmanuel, especially in light of the season of Lent, there seems to be this lingering question within me, "As I wait for the celebration of the resurrection and allow God to deal with the barrenness within my soul (the sin within my soul that only he can mend or darn), can I sense God's very presence with me, even though this work that he is doing is painful and quite difficult?" The grace of this season for me is that God's presence is in no way limited by my experience of his presence -- he is Emmanuel! I must simply trust that he is present because that's the truth of the gospel, my friends! Still, I must admit my barrenness and I must let God act -- submit my soul to him to do the work only he can do! I pray that you will the do the same!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Darning -- Something's Just Not Right!

I find myself in the very beginning of the season of Lent and I'm at a bit of a loss because I didn't get to experience the imposition of ashes and hear those words, "Ashes to ashes dust to dust; repent and believe the gospel." I also missed the solemn message always preached at Ash Wednesday services reminding me that I am human and that God did something pretty amazing through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, but the message doesn't end there. It ends only after being reminded that in order to fully experience resurrection joy on Easter morning, I might want to spend the next several weeks doing some spring cleaning, of sorts, within my soul.

I've been thinking about this and about how this Lenten season didn't get off on the right foot for me, especially as I've been going about the daily activities that make up my life and it struck me while I was darning (you know, mending by hand certain articles of clothing) that Lent is sort of like darning. Just as I was closing up tiny holes with a needle and thread so that these beloved articles of clothing would be like new and could still be enjoyed, so God closes up the holes in my heart, in my soul (those holes being anything that separates me from God) so that I might be like new and can more fully enjoy my relationship with God. But there's a catch! I have to be intentional and seek the darning, the mending. I have make my holes available to God for him to be able to darn them.

I'm grateful that God, in his mercy, found a way for me to hear an Ash Wednesday message even if he had to use a simple chore like darning to do so! I think I'll let God do some darning! What about you?