This month I’m compelled to pause in prayerful reflection. I dedicate my sincere wishes for speedy restoration to those affected by the 2017 Hurricane season. My heart goes out to lives lost, both physically and metaphorically in recent weeks. The ruin and desolation is... beyond what one imagines. We bow our heads in prayer, wonder why and how, and offer helping hands in whatever ways possible.
I did a little reading on hurricanes. Hurricane season starts in June and runs through November. The height of the season occurs in September, with September 11th noted as the “climatological peak” of activity. I found that date rather interesting. Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same sort of event, usually distinguished by location. These storms are pre-named. Depending upon the ocean area, there are several sets of names - a set for each area and each year, sorted in alphabetic order (most do not include Q & U; the Atlantic avoids Y & Z as well). When a storm is notable, usually due to wreckage and loss of life, the name may be retired. Hurricanes typically develop over warm water. Due to circulating winds, they often leave behind what’s called a cold wake. Ocean temperature drops significantly (as low cold water mixes with warm water above). When a hurricane reaches land, it leaves a “cold wake” of destruction in its path instead.
Hurricanes are categorized in classes one through five based upon wind speed, five indicating the harshest of storms. Category one storms include sustained winds over 74 mph; category five wind gales exceed 156 mph. Personally, I experienced a category four event, witnessing and emoting through preparations, the event, and its aftermath. Hurricanes include torrential rains and swirling gusts of wind and pressure. Some of us may relate through experiences of inner turmoil, knowing the swirling feelings of great loss and despair, and the analogous drowning of hope.
As we know, Texas is recovering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, while Florida braces for Irma. While we may feel helpless, many offer prayers, others financial support, while some are able to join recovery teams that travel on site. To all these I offer gratitude.
In the wake of loss that I’ve witnessed, I pray with vigor that new life and growth may eventually be born. We’ve heard the expression, “The calm before the storm.” I advocate an expression for “The aftereffects of opportunity and optimism.” Once the skies clear, we witness people coming together in their only commonality - humanity. People. People full of compassion, determination, hope, and goodwill.
As distributors of god’s peace and grace, put your gifts to the service of one another. The one who speaks is to deliver God’s message; those who serve, do so with God’s strength.
- 1 Peter 4:10-11
Unfortunately, (or some could argue, fortunately), this is often when we are at our best - as we support one another after a crisis. Divisions of race, creed, gender, class, geography, political affiliation, etc. simply disappear. Brothers and sisters united in a silent vow to rise above the devastation. We may not be able to control the weather, but we can make a difference in the way we handle the reconstruction of affected lives. We all react after tragedy: whether by offering resources, learning to value the small stuff in life, appreciating those close to us, or perhaps growing into acceptance and understanding of others (stubborn loved ones, insensitive friends, grouchy neighbors, annoying coworkers, even the frenzied, pushy stranger on the highway). Hardship, chaos, catastrophe… they leave their marks on land, across communities and in hearts.
Yesterday, someone alluded to signs for the end of time. Given [certain] current states of affair, I too have wondered, surmising that I’d not be surprised if such was forthcoming. Not just for obvious reasons of recent environmental and political debates, but for the lack of respect toward our fellow human beings. For example, while walking through a close-doored stairwell, I stopped and waited for three young men headed that way. I held the door and smiled at each as they passed. With heads down, avoiding eye contact, not one of them uttered a hello, offered a smile or remembered to say, thank you. I wasn’t annoyed for myself; I was sad for them. Did they even notice another person’s presence? I ponder… and fear our youngsters grow in soil of individualism, lacking old-fashioned principles of kindness, attentiveness, camaraderie, and polite manners… Nevertheless, we press forward...
God finds ways to move us past disaster. We resurrect wiser to value life, love, and charity. May we all find fresh, new ways to appreciate our lives, our talents, and our potential. May we find joy in everyday events. Let us live in the present, focusing less on hurtful pasts or with anxieties about uncertain futures. After all, we can worry and prepare, believing we’ve got “it” under control and then… Who in Texas only weeks ago imagined their life as they find it today?
Let us hug and smile and share and hold doors and be the best we can be - right now. Let us put forth goodness and kindness into the universe with positive karmas and bright auras. Maybe there is hope for us yet!
Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience... forgiving one another… And over all these put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace dwell in your hearts... be thankful…
- Colossians 3:12-15
Have you ever admired a sunflower? Just last week, I passed some during an evening stroll. Symbolizing adoration (notice they face the heavens), loyalty (sustained by a deep and complex root system) and longevity (tallest on record is over 30 feet high), they have a “happy” quality about them. Don’t you think? Rich in vitamins, sunflowers provide nutrients for skin and hair as well as a healthy diet. Their cheerful energy, history, growth process, and nutritional value are fascinating. For example, the sunflower plant contains menthol (apparently more even than peppermint). Huh!
Almost an ancient species (sources date them back as far as 3000 BC), sunflowers originated in North America (near present New Mexico). Native Americans grew them for food, medicine and dye. Around 1500 AD Spanish explorers brought the plant to Europe. Interestingly, Russia influenced their commercialism after catching the attention of Tsar Peter the Great who brought the plant to Russia. Sunflowers became popular when their oil was one of very few not banned by the Russian Orthodox Church during lent.
They’re certainly majestic; so big and bold. Yet, they are humble too. As a sunflower grows it looks to the sun, moving its center to follow the sun’s path across the sky from east to west, as if knowing and following the source of light, energy, and nutrition. The seemingly smiling flower faces the sky as if to praise its Creator, soak in the warm rays, and feast off the sun as literal nourishment for growth. I can’t help but notice how it does not choose its own path, run from, or attempt to hide from source energy. Instead it accepts what it was conceived to be; it’s only purpose to glorify its maker and beautify our world.
Humans tend to run from our Creator/God. At times we even fear Him. Although we believe ourselves to be good, we are both quite aware of and insecure in our own weakness. Without realizing, we often “lower” our faces in shame or denial; perhaps we work hard to justify our actions. After all, human life is complex! We have rules, relationships, and responsibilities. It’s not easy to go with the flow; accept who and what we are or all circumstances that come our way. We’d rather affect, control and direct our own path. We forget how simple the glory of creation can be. Why? What if we were able to be more open to going with the flow? Hmmmm….
What if instead, we put that effort into pausing and listening? Might we understand better whispers of insight, guidance, and above all, love? Being open to [any] new direction is not always comfortable. Most of the time, we don’t find life simple. We find the stirring God’s values into our own confusing and chaotic. Overall, we are good people who do good, who obey the law, who are kind, generous, and caring. Yet we pick and choose when, where, who, and how we carry out such.
For me, I plan to be more attentive and work to more directly follow the rays of the sun and whispers of the wind. It may mean choosing to let go some control, but by following source energy more completely, we give a true gift of love and faith. In doing so, I/we may be able to live more simply--or at least without as much chaos and complexity.
So for this month, let’s consider: when we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit urging us to turn toward Himself, to come to a different place or altered way of being, can we raise our faces and follow with a glow of delight? What if we could mimic the simplicity of the sunflower with less resistance... even some of the time?
“If you give God the right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you.
God’s experiments always succeed.”
- Oswald Chambers
For I know the plans I have for you; plans for good and not disaster, to give you a
future of hope.
- Jeremiah 29:11
Listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life.
...It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
Yes, in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home.
- Isaiah 55: 2-3,11-12
Let your light shine, so others may see your good and glorify the Father
- Matthew 5:16
“I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
NO FOLLOWER OF MINE SHALL EVER WALK IN DARKNESS;
NO, HE SHALL POSSESS THE LIGHT OF LIFE.”
- John 8:12
As we move through our longest days of the year, I thought this might be a good theme for reflection.
JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. Christ brings us “light.” And light is good, right? We often speak about light in terms of goodness. Here are some adjectives that come to mind when I think of light: bright, sunny, fresh, clean, happy, cheerful, colorful, inviting. While in light, we see better, most plants grow more heartily, life is often more vibrant and active; a definite thriving occurs in the light. Personally, I have more energy in summer which may be due to the longer hours of daylight. Therefore, I believe that Jesus being a source of light makes a lot of sense.
NO FOLLOWER OF MINE WILL WALK IN DARKNESS. We often equate darkness to hardship, trouble, a bleak outlook, even “evil.” Many children are afraid of the dark. Most of us choose to sleep when our part of the world is dark. Here are some adjectives that come to mind when I think of darkness: dull, gloomy, foreboding, mysterious, dangerous, bleak, scary, brooding, dismal. I admire night owls and night-shift workers who are better conditioned to function in the dark than myself.
Still, darkness is a part of life. Not only a considerable portion of every twenty-four hours, darkness is also a part of our experiences. In reality, we all encounter sunny, easy, fun, special, wonderful times, as well as depressing, hard, despairing, chaotic, hurtful times. Everyone experiences their share of both sides of life’s light and dark metaphorically good and bad fortune.
The good news is that after darkness, light always follows! Day breaks with a rising sun to greet us after each cycle of night. Understanding this pattern, we move through night; we also struggle through challenges. Knowing this rhythm, we persevere; it’s why we help and encourage one another to hold on… Yes, after the darkness, we find the light. You may hear the expression “see the light at the end of the tunnel” related to all kinds of striving such as:
We find ourselves in dark situations. Yet we have hope. Why? How? How can we have hope that happiness will return after serious heartache or struggle? Why do we hold onto any kind of faith in such endeavors? Because the cycle is inherent and intrinsic. Somewhere inside we know the light will come. We await the dawn with souls eagerly yearning for peace, love, and joy to return.
As I ponder, I consider another idea about nighttime and darkness. Darkness isn’t completely bad. I feel cool, welcomed breezes after sunset on a summer’s evening. I see bright stars twinkling through velvety blackness on a clear night. I smell the campfires of my memories which includes friends, laughter, and guitar strumming. Then, as our conversation fades, I hear a peaceful “quiet” filled with the cadence of cicadas behind cracks and snaps as flames lick the burning logs.
Now you’re thinking that ruins my whole metaphor, right? I say, let’s ponder further, a bit more deeply…
In our dark times (our times of struggle and turmoil) what often happens? Well, in mine, I find strength I didn’t know I had, faith I may have doubted, love I may have missed, and lots of support I wasn’t aware existed. I witness friends and family pull together, make time to assist, cover our backs, or lend a hand. I recognize the angels around me and sense the Spirit’s love and wisdom shining as it guides me through a particular darkness. Yes, points of light exist, even in darkness--just as those gold stars hanging in the black sky or the orange embers glowing among charred firewood. I may find myself in darkness; it may be lousy or annoying or horrible. But I can still find tiny bits of good to carry me through until dawn pours over the horizon.
HE SHALL POSSESS THE LIGHT OF LIFE. Those who choose to follow Christ will possess light--His light. His light will live inside us. We will and do thrive on the steady glow of His sustaining love. This same light of life brings us hope and continually shepherds us out of darkness.
May you often find Jesus’ light shining in your life. May you enjoy July, summer, and long days of light in the atmosphere, as well as in work and family, and in your own attitudes and hearts!
June 11, 2017 is Trinity Sunday. I have prepared a special June article based on the Trinity.
Before beginning I want to state that the concept of the Trinity is curious and mystifying. Honestly I don’t believe we need to fully comprehend it in order for it to positively influence us. Despite leaving room for faith and respect for obscurity, I present these thoughts.
Most Christians are taught that the Trinity is “God in three persons,” which “co-exist” and are “equal.” Three parts of a single essence, being as one.
Hmmm…. Yup, that’s about what I was taught. And when growing up, I’d react with an, “OK,” then perhaps ponder a moment, and move on. I accepted the concept as something I simply needed to “believe.” Well, let’s see if we can find just a bit more clarity, starting with this fantastic metaphor.
I recently read a book as part of my spiritual certification program called, The Way to Spiritual Direction, written by Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs Hermit. These authors relay an analogy, apparently from St. Augustine, whose interpretation of the trinity is the best I have come across. I was able to relate to and applaud this idea which I am pleased to share with you.
The Father and Son proceed one from another just as in a flame. When we picture a flame we note that it generates light. One cannot have a flame without light; they coexist. The intimate communion of Father and Son, abiding in one another can be understood in visualizing such a flame. The metaphor continues to describe how the Father and Son, bound in love and unable to exist without one another, produce the Spirit. The Spirit ripples forth from them as would warmth from the flame. Although distinct, the heat is a product of and coexists with the flame and it’s light.
What do you think?
I found this incredibly helpful for my own comprehension. Sometimes the mysteries we trust in faith are not necessarily made stronger through understanding, yet grasping a relatable point can enhance our connection to it. This I can see… a flame, a single essence, shining and producing warmth in an intimate communion.
Another important concept to note when discussing the Trinity is how the three parts are joined. We believe they are united through a loving connection, or relationship. Just as in The Bricks and Sticks of Life, I advocate relationships are the foundations upon which we build our lives. They bring an intangible dimension to living where deeper meaning is derived. We are created to love: God, others and ourselves.
I venture to suppose that we all have a unique relationship to each element of God in the Trinity. Perhaps some of us see God as Father, nurturing and providing for our needs. Others may understand Him best as Creator and source energy. Still others may see God as distant, envisioning and old, bearded man who watches people on earth from beyond the clouds or stars in a faraway heaven. Christ we identify as God’s son. He came to the world to experience full humanity in an attempt to reach us on our own terms and to know our human feelings, weaknesses, hurts, and vulnerabilities. Some might see Jesus as a caring friend or an older brother, perhaps one who makes sacrifices to take care of His younger, often less wise, siblings. Some know Him as a prophet; others as a great teacher. The Holy Spirit is often distinguished as the gift God bestowed after Jesus returned “home.” In my perspective, the Spirit stays with us, surrounds us, and guides us at all times. For me, the Spirit is the grace which inspires and tugs at our heartstrings, reminding us to pray or be charitable or act with kindness (living out God’s love to both He and others). Not far off but still difficult to grasp, we might picture the Holy Spirit as a dove or a ghost, a shadow or a mystical molecule of air, floating on breezes.
Not only may we each envision parts of the Trinity differently, we may individually feel closer to any one of God’s identities. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter which we prefer or relate to best. As long as we believe... and love...
Another interesting take on Trinity on has to do with building. In construction the triangle is one of the sturdier support alternatives. Not the absolute mightiest, but definitely a more hardy, reliable option. Triangles are tough and durable -- one of the reasons why roof trusses are made using triangular shapes. The threesome’s strength lies in each side’s relationship to the others. Alone, one section is weak. The value is found in coming together into a single unit. The three sections need one another for support; all three are equally vital. No one side can fail when relying on the other two. The triangle is an uncomplicated structure. As a single, whole entity created through relationship, in unity the trio makes one complete object which has power and purpose.
Finally, I’d like to mention another trinity many of us live by. That is the three elements of faith, hope and love. They often work together encouraging us to be the best person we can be. In truth that works for my intention here too. We believe, we hope and we love -- three aspects which support one another, fortifying the core of our lives.
I conclude by wishing you a wonderful week, filled with hope and joy, and perhaps with a teeny bit of deeper closeness with God in His three aspects.
By the way, if you haven’t yet seen or read The Shack, by William Young, I recommend checking it out. Not only does it incorporate the Trinity, it offers explanation on several Christian mysteries: God’s love, simplicity, communion, pain, forgiveness, relationships, etc.… You may not agree with every pronouncement, but I found several valuable messages in this enlightening Trinity-based story.
First, a very happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all our Moms! Motherhood is a career founded in selfless, ceaseless, love; fulfilled not without patience and God’s grace.
I’d like to focus on another spring theme this month:
Is that something you’re able to accomplish to the extent you desire? I seem to have grand intentions, but often fall short of my lofty goals. What is it that makes us cling to “things?” The past few weeks, I’ve looked around and thought, “what if life were simpler? More stuff means more to manage and care for. How would it feel to live in one of those tiny houses? Or perhaps, a studio cottage on a quiet lake shore?” Seriously!
I recognize, intellectually and emotionally, that the things which bring me the greatest happiness aren’t on shelves or in closets. Instead, they are the living things in my home: family members, furry four-legged companions, and the rose bush that desperately tries to bloom despite all odds. (My black thumb, the pesky beetles, hungry deer, and burrowing chipmunks have all doomed it to a meager existence.)
Let’s pause for a moment to think about the gadgets we fancy and the objects we desire to get, have, achieve, acquire, or be known for… yes, all those “things” …
I’d like to reference the parable of the Prodigal son with a different vision. Ponder how, at one time or other, most of us are tempted to turn away from home, from caring parents, and seek what we believe is more rewarding or entertaining out there somewhere across this vast planet. We crave experiences and possessions. Often, eventually (timing is different for each individual) we find the same answer: there is nothing better “out there”. We begin to seek a more simple, settled, and familial existence.
So, what lasts? What is worthwhile in the end? Does that list include the baubles and trinkets that surround us? Further consider, as the prodigal son: what inheritance do we desire? A financial award that may pass onto us, or the love, values, and wisdom we receive from our parents, guardians, and mentors?
Let’s continue to wonder... what if we were to let go of more belongings? There is something to be said for clean, fresh air -- both outdoors and inside the space we occupy. Theologians proclaim that sin causes us to move away from God; we have little argument there. However, they go on to suggest that the devil tempts us to covet more things; hmm… is that true too? Perhaps. The evil one calls to our unconscious like mythological sirens, luring us toward the mirage of wealth through possession. Like with the prodigal son, we leave our familiar home, setting out to conquer the world, attain abundance, and procure “stuff” we can claim as our own. These prophets further attest that we eventually discover most things are empty. The joy they bring just doesn’t last; it can’t. They’re not what our soul truly needs. The good feelings these things provide are indeed temporary. We are left wanting the next thing (the bigger house, nicer car, better job, etc.)
I can think of several movies and songs with messages that proclaim true riches by contrasting long-lasting happiness of princes versus paupers. These stories remind us that true treasure is not found in possessions, but rather in love, memories, and a richness of purpose.
One of the more fun examples I can offer comes from a recently viewed sitcom called “Last Man Standing.” In this episode, one of three sisters was having a garage sale. She enlisted the help of her younger sister who is more able to “let go” of things - aka - old junk. The young sister wonderfully rid the yard of the family’s old, no-longer-needed possessions, until a person handed her a teddy bear. The young sister was horrified that her older sister would discard the bear she’d given her as comfort during a challenging time in her life, along with great love and meaning. The older sister couldn’t recall the bear, but once she deciphered what her younger sister was upset about, she opened her wallet. Pulling out a tattered scrap of what remained from the note delivered with that same teddy bear, she read it with tears in her eyes. The bear itself hadn’t held meaning for her. It was the sentiment she kept emotionally in her heart and the small physical expression she’d kept in her wallet. The memory, not the thing is what had counted.
Like with the prodigal son, once the illusion wears off, we find ourselves alone and empty, even spiritually hungry. What happens then? Well in many ways, we look to return home, to the Father -- our Father. Maybe we return to place our trust in Him, allowing Him to guide us according to His plan. When we surrender earthly attachments, He rejoices! He embraces us, welcoming us with deep and true love. He celebrates our life with Him. Relieved too, our joy overflows in the peace, freedom and lightness that trusting God can bring. With our desires focused on what really matters, we find happiness that lasts. Unlike the acquisition of stuff, where pleasure eventually fades, in giving up clutter we discover new things, which bring deeper, enduring gratification.
So let those of us who need to, learn to let go and be free of all that junk! Free to have more space, fresher air, and less desire for attachments that leave us empty and longing for more.
Peace be with each of you today and all through the year.
The Parable of the Lost Son. Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began…
What a glorious holiday. As our Lenten time of somber reflections come to a close, we celebrate. We rejoice in the light of the resurrection on Easter morning!
It might be good for our own spirits, to remember after each period of darkness or suffering in our lives, despite all our unavoidable failings, that a kind-of resurrection can indeed follow. I know you’ve been inundated during Lent and Holy week with the readings of Jesus’ passion. Therefore, although those readings are invaluable, meaningful, and vital to the season, I have selected some less common verses for our monthly musings. Hopefully they will still represent the glorious theme of our most precious holiday.
Consider these short snippets from Psalm 51:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness
In your great tenderness, purify me with hyssop
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
Hide Your face from my sins,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
I’d like to share some of what I experience in those words. My ear catches on: tenderness, clean, joy, renew, spirit... These highlights for me God’s unconditional, unending, tender love, which gently washes our beings, forgives our sins, refreshes our souls, and brings us joy. As I ponder the verses, I see the image of a waterfall. The water is clean and refreshing; it falls from a hillside filled with green, healthy, vegetation into a small tranquil pool. The shoreline is filled with smooth pebbles. The scene is most welcoming.
Easter is the perfect time to celebrate a renewal and cleansing of spirit. I also take note that we celebrate it annually. Aside from treats and fellowship with family and friends, could there be another meaningful reason to repeat the themes of Easter? Certainly. Think about enjoying a good hot shower, or a warm soak in the tub. Do you come out feeling lighter, refreshed, a bit renewed? Well, I do. I also realize that as I move through the hours of my day which may include exercise, gardening, cooking, dog-playing, etc. I re-collect dirt and grime along the way. Similar to our physical nature, our emotional and spiritual sides experience that same phenomenon. We have times where we are fresh, renewed, optimistic and joyful; others where we are tempted to show aggression, or be angry, unkind, to judge, push, or be selfish. Just as we consider how traveling down the path of life can cause dust to collect upon our skin, so too can our flaws and wounds muddy-up our spiritual souls now and again. Isn’t it wonderful to know that we can refresh our spirits just as often and as purely as we can our physical selves?
Imagine each time we visit the Lord in prayer - our own symbolic cleansing pool - how the gentle waterfall of His kindness loosens the soot of our failings; we exit dripping and all that unhealthy grime falls away. Yes, each day, we’re able to clean our bodies, minds, and hearts. This imagery can help us know that when we trip over imperfection, we can get back up, rinse, shake ourselves off, and move forward. We can once again feel refreshed and renewed. I am grateful for Easter as one of the times when I am able to celebrate this marvelous kind of cleansing.
Here are snippets from Isaiah 60:
Shine, for your light has come,
the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds, the peoples,
Upon you the LORD will dawn,
and over you his glory will be seen.
No longer forsaken and hated,
I will make you the pride of the ages,
a joy from generation to generation.
And you shall know that I, the LORD, am your savior.
No longer shall violence be heard of in your land,
The LORD will be your light forever
When I think about Easter (aside from bunnies and tulips) I think about the word glory and I see it as shining light. The imagery in these words is filled with yellow glow, dawn, and bright sunshine. I picture the empty tomb and know death is no longer victor. For me this translate into faith like this: when we trust God and find strength, we can let go fear, pain, or despair, even for just a little while. Each time, each year, perhaps the understanding of Jesus’ triumph can remain with us a bit longer and become more deeply embedded in our hearts. Without the threat of evil we could be free; we are free in Him. Although Jesus is the only one to fully achieve freedom from death, from fear, and from other human conditions, our faith can raise us up with Him. Through His example, we are able to love one another and our Father more openly, completely, genuinely, with more joy, and yes, light. I treasure this annual reminder of our ability to rise into the light. This particular time of year has long been difficult for our family. And, I know that many of us too often experience darkness: adversity, insult, hardship, loss, and disappointment. Still, on Easter, we can focus on the hope that always remains present, even in the air we breathe. We know that through His love and the guidance of His Spirit, we keep faith alive. That is the secret to rising above -- from the ground to the sky, from darkness into light. Whatever imagery we chose, let one word stand out in our heart: HOPE.
Here are snippets from Romans 12:
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
For in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: in prophecy, in ministering, in teaching...
Let love be sincere; hold on to what is good; be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Delight in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
Live at peace with all.
One again I highlight keywords. At Easter, God proves His unceasing love and devotion through the sacrifice of His son; He gives us a part of Himself. He leaves us with Jesus’ teachings, His true word, His bond, and His Holy Spirit. There has never been a greater contract with a more perfect guarantee. The more I pray and attempt to focus on discerning God’s will, the more I find tranquility, despite the chaos of the world around me. For even at death’s door, Jesus asked His Father’s forgiveness upon humanity. Even as He suffered, He loved without hesitation or end. Just as we read above, we know we can conquer the evils of this world, using our unique gifts accompanied by His grace. With our eyes focused on the words of sincerity, fervency and transformation, we feel His covenant written in our hearts. Here I see the imagery of the Lamb of God, representing his promise of peace. We are all part of Him, part of the one Body that seeks life. It may have taken the greatest sacrifice possible, but we have been joined together in His resurrection. We remember how Jesus did it God’s way. He didn’t allow His own ideas or desires to sway Him. He was the perfect example. In doing so, He breaks through the barrier walls around the garden of Eden, erected so long ago. Our savior has opened a grand archway into Heaven. We can rejoice, leaning on our faith that we too may one day walk through that same gateway into heavenly peace and love.
I wish you a happy, healthy, blessed Easter. May you know a clean, renewed spirit, keep hope in your heart, and grow in faith of His promise.
It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Do you wonder about this expression? Most often it’s used to signify weather patterns. Have you ever noticed how the lion/lamb phenomenon seems to parallel our spirits as well? Looking more deeply, I find changes that accompany warmer temperatures often coincide with changes in our minds, hearts, and attitudes. We survive through a usually bleak, gray, cold February. Forgotten is the excitement we once felt as the first snowflake drifted to the ground or as we prepared for holiday gatherings, hot cocoa, winter sports, and snuggling under a warm blanket. By the end of February, our hearts long for renewal. And March is often our transition.
Add Lent, which usually begins in February, into the mix. Ugh. The whole notion of giving something up. Giving up? Who are they kidding? Don’t I “give up” every day? When will it be my turn to “get?”
Right? Have you ever felt this way? I am not sure I know many people who look forward to obligated fasting and guilt-based, self-imposed sacrifice.
However, Lent is not about “me.” Nor is it solely about the object I choose to give up. What I elect to forgo is not meant as deprivation; it’s goal is self-discipline. The idea is to get a taste of what it’s like to give for the sake of someone else. A small insight into what Jesus did for each and every one of us. He certainly gave the ultimate gift – His life as ransom for our own. We may also consider how new Lenten trends include not merely giving up our favorite drink or dessert, but of doing more – doing something extra. Perhaps adding prayer time or an additional mass to our weekly routine, visiting a nursing home, or spending a day helping a friend despite our plans to finally catch up on our own overdue chores. Perhaps it’s something internal like being more patient, giving up gossip, or avoiding quick and harsh judgement of others. These actions are not for the sake of suffering, as much as they are for the sake of bettering ourselves, our relationships, and our connection to God. These actions help us grow.
And with growth in mind, we return to the notion of transition. March indeed comes in like a lion and out like a lamb in more ways than just the weather. It does so in the spirit within our hearts, the trust in our faith, the joy inside our souls, the depth of our breath. Like birth itself, transition to new life can be cataclysmic. Even being reborn out of winter can sometimes feel like coming out of a hardship or loss…We pray for spring, for sunshine, for energy, for growth… we pray for a resurrection.
Let’s revisit for a moment the lion and the lamb. The lion typically represents qualities of strength, confidence, and leadership. Attributes of a lamb often include innocence, gentleness, purity, and sacrifice. Both have biblical references; both at times symbolically representing Christ. We easily identify with Jesus as both king and sacrifice, strong and gentle. Therefore, we may ponder the paradox. Is it possible to be both mighty and weak, or to be a gentle yet powerful leader? Of course. For example, I can think of several venues where I feel confident along with others where I feel inexperienced and timid. We are well aware of Jesus as a gentle teacher and at the same time, a strong, faithful leader. We feel His brotherhood and deep desire to love us. Yet we also recognize His expectation that we love our brothers and sisters just as reverently. We understand both God’s might and mercy.
Many human elements exist despite, and many times in, the tension between these two sets of characteristics. I believe this tension is the catalyst for transition; and in these transitions we discover what would ordinarily pass us by unnoticed.
Would we appreciate love if we never missed it? Would we perceive kindness if we’d never experienced struggle? Would we recognize the warmth of the sun if we never felt the cold? Would we know the meaning of sacrifice if we’d never witnessed fortune? Hmmm... Transition. Perhaps the changing weather patterns are good, healthy companion for the changing seasons within our being.
As we muddle through the darkest days, coldest, even the most empty days, possibly with a taste of sadness or desperation, we cannot help it: we long for hope. We consider the new life that comes with spring, and contemplate how appropriately timed is the season of Lent. We start with deprivation and ashes, only to be born anew with resurrected hope and hyacinth!
I reflect upon how fully I experience this again and again. When lucky, each time leads me to a closer relationship with God, a fresh insight, a renewed wisdom, and the means to carry on better and brighter than before.
The transition from winter to spring offers me optimism and anticipation. The paradox of two seemingly opposite symbols teaches me valuable life lessons:
When thinking about what we’re doing for Lent, let us look for action that will lead us closer to God. As humans we find many distractions that pull us away from Him. All He desires is for us to love: to love Him, ourselves, and others. Lent is a good time to reassess our values. As we move toward longer hours of daylight and warmer temperatures, it is a perfect opportunity to find an activity that brings us closer to truth and light. As we move out of the gray, cold skies, we may focus less on our dependencies or ambitions, and focus more on doing things that make us feel good about human essence. We use the life, the talents, skills, and even struggles we’ve been given, to make a difference in our family, community, country, or world.
Ask yourselves these questions:
Am I focused on my own suffering or my own success so much that I don’t notice what is most important?
Am I interested in deepening my relationship with my family members or friends?
Do I bring God into my daily routine? Do I recognize when He’s watching over me, and when He’s challenging me to grow?
For further reading, consider these references:
One of the finest symbolic representations of Christ as a lion [which I have come across] is in Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis’ portrayal of Aslan is simple and profound – yet another tension of seemingly opposite meanings that when come together produce exquisite corollaries. I’ve recently reread two of the stories, and each time cried at the beautiful portrayal of love, sacrifice, courage, brotherhood, and mentorship. If you enjoy a bit of fairytale woven with Christian undertones, I highly recommend several in the series.
Ah, February, the month of red and pink, chocolate and roses, kisses and cards… The month where we celebrate St. Valentine and… love.
What is love? Kindness, understanding, respect, integrity… I can name many virtues that show love. But what is love? Don’t you find it hard to define with mere words? Well, perhaps not so much hard, as we’d each choose different words to describe it. Whole love includes many aspects. Some see it as caring, others generosity, perhaps attraction, or fidelity, maybe some would say care and concern. The online dictionary says, “an intense feeling of deep affection.” I find that a pretty good summary. Still, I’m not sure words alone can capture love’s true essence. It may take a page, or maybe, two..
Finding that special someone is one of life’s greatest blessings. Most of us can agree: love brings us joy. Often when we’re loved, we feel warm, safe, and happy. Those intangible feelings that we find challenging to verbally pinpoint are better known through experience. And love comes in many shapes and sizes.
Here are some examples of different types of love:
As we work to define love, perhaps we can describe how it’s expressed. Evidence of what love is might be seen every day in the actions of parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and neighbors. We witness couples holding hands on a stroll around the block; families spending time together at the park, cooking, doing homework and playing games; moms offering hugs or leaving a happy note in a lunchbox; sisters listening about the latest breakup or loaning a favorite sweater; brothers standing by each other in a dispute or encouraging the younger one play quarterback in the neighborhood football game; friends sharing laughter at their favorite ice cream shop or driving out to rescue us when our cars break down; individuals generously donating to causes; groups rallying, walking, or polar-plunging to raise funds to help an organization in need; our offering forgiveness to others, or ourselves when we, too, make a mistake; our counting on God when we’re more prone to doubt… Yes, we do certainly understand and witness true love in our lives all the time.
From scripture we hear again and again, love is giving; a selfless giving of oneself to another.
Consider the legend of the pelican: a mother pelican will strike her own breast to feed her young in times of famine, proving she would sacrifice herself for them. I recently saw a magnificent painting depicting this Christian theme (thank you Fr. Jason). More ancient legends describe how a parental (often father) pelican might strike its young, killing them. The mother will then sacrifice herself, covering the young in her blood for three days which brings them back to life. The pelican has long since been a symbol of Christ’s own sacrifice--His flesh and blood is consumed in the Eucharist; His sacrificial dying to save us; in the piercing of His side, His blood pours out over us; His resurrection from death in three days. These legends are referenced in many writings from St. Thomas Aquinas to Shakespeare. …Fascinating. *
There are many more examples of one sacrificing for another out of deep love. These illustrate the more extreme forms of love. Yet, love is also present every day, with all people, in ordinary events. There are three typical ways we can show love through simple giving: financially or by sharing things of value, giving our time, and giving personal energy and prayers. Each of us have different resources available to us, but we all have a great capacity to give and therefore, to love. Let us not ignore that we may love through modest actions like holding open a door, smiling at someone, or praying for them. Let us also never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, through our expressing kindness toward another human being; I’ve seen a smile change a life.
Naturally, we may find it easier to love those we know and care about. At least in most cases, it takes less effort to love family and friends whom we like and with whom we get along. It’s not quite so easy to love strangers, ourselves, the person who annoys, frustrates, or downright hurts us, and the person who takes advantage of us, puts us down, lets us down, or disrespects us. Is loving these others possible?
Like an action, love is a way of being, and, a way of living. If one of our goals is to live a life of greater loving, here are some ways in which we can show more love toward more types people every day:
You may discover how a pattern of such giving (and loving) often lead to rewards not just for the recipients, but for the giver as well. You may find more tranquility and a happier spirit.
Finally, remember the love of God is pure, unconditional, and everlasting. It is beyond even the most wonderful, joyful love we’ve been blessed to see at times in our own lives. There is nothing else behind or in front of God’s love; there is nothing it means or does other than to just be love. And it’s given freely to each of us every day!
No matter how you spend February 14th, I hope you feel precious and valued, warm and cozy as if snuggled in a soft blanket in front of a fireplace. May you always know the warm embrace of God’s amazing love.
Here are some love-ly stories I recommend all based on LOVE:
Love is exciting – I recommend the novel – Yankee Stranger
Love is forgiving and accepting - I recommend the book - For One More Day
Love is universal - I recommend the song - Really not that Different
Love is in everyday - I recommend the novel - The Wedding
Love is lasting - I recommend the song - Love Remains
Love is mysterious and transcendent - I recommend a movie - many, but my favorite is Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Love Letter
Love is unexpected and surprising - I recommend the play - Beauty and the Beast
Biblical references on LOVE:
John 15:12 This is my commandment: LOVE one another as I LOVE you.
Ephesians 4:2 ...With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through LOVE...
1John 3:18 My little children, let us not LOVE in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
1John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us LOVE one another, because LOVE is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God... God is LOVE.
1Corinthians 16:14 Your every act should be done with LOVE.
1 John 4:16 And we have come to know and believe the LOVE that God has for us. God is LOVE; whoever abides in LOVE abides in God, and God in him.
1 Peter 4:8-10 And above all things have fervent LOVE for one another… Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
Jeremiah 31: 3 With age-old LOVE I have loved you
Ephesians, Chapter 5:1-2 So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in LOVE, as Christ loved us ...
1John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we LOVE one another, God abides in us, and His LOVE is perfected in us.
1 John 4:17 In this way, LOVE has been perfected among us… for in this we are just like Him.
1Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this [LOVE] you were called...
Romans 5:8 But God proves his LOVE for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Psalm 36:5 Your LOVE, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
John 15:13 No one has greater LOVE than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Colossians 1:5 Faith and LOVE spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven...
Psalm 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His LOVE...
Romans 5:5 ... because the LOVE of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
1Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, LOVE is kind. It is not jealous, [LOVE] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...
1Corinthians 13:13 So faith, hope, LOVE remain, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE.
WELCOME TO 2017
A new day; a new month; a new year. How marvelous it is when we get an opportunity to begin again. How often we look at life and wish for a do-over. With a fresh perspective, the new year can be an occasion for second chances, updated resolutions and new hope.
In preparing this month’s newsletter, I considered a strange analogy. Snakes! I’m not that fond of snakes, however their behavior fits our January emphasis rather well. Inspiration comes from many places. I’m going to fan the flame of this spark and see where it takes us, despite my dislike toward these creatures, especially up close!
As you may know, snakes shed their old skin. They do so as they grow in size. Their external coats do not stretch. Literally outgrowing this outer shell, a snake's body regenerates as a new skin forms beneath the surface. Often a swim in a nearby lake will help advance the shedding (shedding works best in moist environments). This shedding also provides a health advantage as in this process, snakes rid themselves of external parasites. Leaving a thin hollow image behind, the snake is born into its new self.
The growing snake is a good metaphor for this month’s musing. Like a snake, with a new year, we can expand into a new beginning. First, for the snake, the shedding is a form of growth. This imagery is quite fitting. As we experience life each day, we learn, we mature, and we grow. It’s a natural process to grow physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. I ponder my recent past and recognize this growth. I learn from mistakes; I will not leave the sour cream out of my coffee cake recipe again--that particular improvisation did not have a good result. I’ve grown spiritually with more regular prayers. Being exposed to a few new scripture verses has proven a deeper relating to bible readings than I had and had not previously known. I even grow stronger from disappointments. Nope, I’m not going to get that vacation; I found other ways to enjoy relaxing family time. I have grown in wisdom. Taking time to ponder and consider the larger picture has helped me be more understanding and accepting, for example with our country’s campaigning this year. A lot of ideas flew through media venues; with an attitude of acceptance, I look forward to a positive future. I encourage you to think about the past year, and the ways in which you’ve grown. Give thanks for the experiences (big, small, joyous, and painful) for the ways in which each has helped you grow closer to God, your family, friends, and as an individual.
Second, in the process of shedding, the snake loses parasitic life forms that may have attached themselves to it since it’s last molt. What unhealthy habits will you leave behind as you begin this new year? What junk will you remove? Might it be trash, or perhaps an attitude that holds you back? Perhaps fear, laziness, envy, or pride? There are many parasites that prevent us from growing into a best version of ourselves. We strive to become stronger, more aware, perhaps more kind and generous, or more tolerant and understanding. We long to grow wiser and freer from the challenges in life that stunt our potential. Sometimes ridding our minds and hearts of perceptions and mindsets we’ve grown out of opens us up to new joys, peace and hope.
Next we consider a good swim--a washing, cleansing practice that both refreshes and sloths off old dead layers. I can’t help but notice the parallel to baptism. For many of us, baptism means a purification. Consider these ideas:
Another good word for the meaning behind a baptism: regeneration--just like the skin on our snake. As the snake swims to loosen his no-longer appropriate outer layer, he is cleansed; dirt and debris wash away. Climbing ashore, he is ready to shed, ready for a fresh start, born again into the next phase of his life.
Although we leave our figurative old skin behind, we recognize the way in which it served us while we existed in that stage. Thinking back over the last year, I find accomplishments, successes, hardships, failures, joyous moments, disappointments and milestones. Each one is important. As I examine the most memorable with an open mind, I discover purpose and notate the way in which each has brought me forward. Each represents an event of learning and growth into the revitalized person I’ll become in this new year. Remember we are the same “snake” in our core. As we grow and “shed,” we simply become a newer, larger, more mature version of our same spirit. Our essence remains; in fact, our essence may even be seen as becoming more and more like our real selves. As we mature, we learn to shed those false pretenses we use to manipulate our surroundings. These masks act like a security blanket. We often use different ones in different stages of our growth. Anyone hear Billy Joel’s The Stranger playing in the background? Shedding our less appropriate outer shells, we uncover the valuable soul beneath. The stronger and wiser we become, the less we fear and the more able we are to show our true self.
May we value this time of renewal. As we declare our New Year resolutions, may we recognize our growth, shed our dead, false, old skins, and shine brightly with strength and hope for an even better year of love and devotion to what is good ahead.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it… forgetting what lies behind but reaching forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.
Advent: One of my favorite seasons… Yay!
Advent is a special time of waiting, preparing, expecting, and hoping. It’s a wonderful season. I must admit, my husband claims to enjoy the week prior to any grand event (vacation, our wedding, special holidays, etc.) almost more than the event itself. He knows how to savor the spirit of anticipation. I’ve always admired that about him. For Christians, advent is the supreme time of anticipation; advent brings with it some of the most wonderful feelings and attitudes shared by humankind.
Expectations are healthy; preparing is wise. Filling our hearts with positive energy lifts our spirits so we find ourselves in better moods, having more upbeat energy, and conveying more optimistic outlooks. This looking forward with open, eager hearts brings us joy and satisfaction. Reflecting upon the coming of Christ is one of our most gratifying blessings. Jesus’ humanity profusely demonstrates the ultimate in love. I often speak about the love I receive from my dogs - it’s unconditional. How much greater and deeper is God’s unconditional love? The coming of Christ, the selfless gift of His life as given to us proves this beyond measure. How precious! Not just in advent, but every day, may we revel in the glorious feelings of being cherished by our Father in heaven.
We also remember Jesus’s words, “We know not when the hour will come.” Being prepared is good; yet it is more constructive to do so without rigidity. We plan best with an open mind. Because as we know, despite all preparations we can never be totally sure of anything (other than that life is finite, which is a different movement forward and a topic for another newsletter). We make arrangements for where we are heading, aware that destiny may have other ideas for us. Therefore we remain ready with both plans and the ability to adapt when or if necessary.
Here is an example: My family recently had a unique and intensely challenging day where many, many, things went wrong: health issues, fears, anxieties, getting lost, vehicles breaking down, house systems failing… all in the same 24 hours. I felt at my wits’ end. After one additional setback while desperate to prepare for a rough road including sudden surgery, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I can make all the plans and preparations for this impending event I want, but I still have to be ready for “life” (i.e. hassles, challenges, hardships, surprises, unpleasant happenings). Moreover, as I took a deep breath, I realized that one of the problems that same day (suddenly being without water) led me to comfort. Sure it was horrible. Yes, I panicked. Of course I felt desolation. But, in one quiet moment the next morning, I realized something. After a day that would take an entire page to explain (and so I won’t elaborate further), our neighbor came to our aid, offering jugs of water and listening. She lended a shoulder and then, she hugged me. I needed that. The water system failure led me to her. It wasn’t a disaster; it was a gift -- like an angel sent to hold my hand. I could see it clearly once the storm had started to settle.
I believe I was reminded of this simple idea: We look forward to good times; we look for lessons in others.
As I attempt to articulate all these thoughts into a sensible theme, I come up with the following: Life is most healthy when based on a tri-fold perspective. Becoming too enmeshed on any one side of the triangle bogs us down. We lose our joy and forget our purpose. When our viewpoint is skewed, it often leaves us feeling lonely, perhaps even hopeless. Grasping a more equal hold between the sides is a good way to move into and remain in a better place.
The three perspectives come from our past, present, and future:
While we relish in the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of Christ, may we also understand that each day in our life is a sort-of advent as well. We can rejoice in trusting His love, mercy, compassion, and His desire for us to seek Him through simple actions of loving one another. Love is giving, and Christmas represents the ultimate giving -- of God to humanity. Giving of oneself is intimidating sometimes, but rewarding beyond measure. I pray we hold the spirit of giving in our hearts now and perhaps all year long.
Knowing His words are encouraging us to be ready at all times, my wish for each of you is that the spirit of Christmas, with its peace, hope, harmony, and joy can remain with you a little bit longer each year, until it lives in your heart all twelve months. If this special spirit that blossoms in ourselves and others this time of year can shine a light when the unexpected happens; if we can recognize Jesus in others who reach out to us during those times, imagine what a wonderful life that might bring! Wouldn't it be magnificent if the brilliant attitude of advent’s anticipation could remain and sustain us?
God Bless and Merry Christmas!
Lillian Corrigan uses writing to learn, inspire and encourage both others and herself. No stranger to devastating, life-altering hardship and loss, she's begun working as a motivational author.