This year February 14 brings both Lent and Valentines. What could be more opposite? Valentine’s Day often includes rhyming poems, heartfelt cards, generous professions of love, scrumptious chocolates, bright flowers, special “date nights,” and a bit of splurging - physically, romantically, even financially. On the other hand, or more like way down on the other end of the spectrum, Lent begins. Lent arrives chock full of fasting, giving up, and avoiding certain luxuries. It’s a time to concentrate on a need for repentance and receive (or witness others receiving) ash - black, dirty, and dismal.
It should be “illegal” to have both celebrations share a single day! Right? Of course, those who know me are thinking… here it comes… Well you’re right... I beg to differ...
A dear friend recently told me they were looking forward to the season of Lent. The comment took me by surprise. As we continued to visit, realized what they meant. For them, Lent isn’t about sacrifice and longing for chocolate on Easter. It’s not about giving up things they enjoy. Instead, it’s a time to slow down, pause, and reflect. Far from the hurriedness, business, and demands of winter holidays (wonderful as they are) Lent is stuck in the humdrum pre-spring cold, gray, rain, and overall “blah” - sandwiched right between “after the fun of winter” and “before the promise of spring.” For many of us there’s less to do… no decorating, preparing of feasts, no planting, summer picnics or sports. Some of us even feel “down in the dumps” around the end of February from a lack of bright days and joyous activities, right? I know I’ve felt so…
In that case, I agree. I believe there is a time for every season and purpose under heaven. With that conviction in mind, I consider... Lent is a time to re-focus, re-adjust, and re-ground - forty full days to pause and ponder. I envision a bowling lane after two less accurate throws, half the pins down, half standing, split and scattered. What happens when I hit that reset button? Ah, a clean alley with a tidy set of pins, ready for the next move. Resets are important!
In Lent I reflect on the life of Jesus. I remember His teachings, suffering, miracles, lessons, compassion, and agony. I find deeper value year after year. Where did He and all He represents originate? What was it all for? LOVE; love pure and simple. It all has meaning. Lent is not about deprivation - especially deprivation for the sake of suffering. That which I choose to “give up” is not a denial I perform with remorse. Instead I forgo that which keeps me from a healthy, serene, positive place. As I mature (well, enter another decade), I discover how deeper spirituality and moving closer to God in no way means exclusion or deprivation - ever. Although it may include challenge, it still means embracing life and love; it means growth, understanding, compassion, and fresh goals - what I dare call, “honing in on the holy” or “being showered with grace.”
Grace surrounds us. Every day. However, the busier we get, the more anxious, impatient, stressed.... the more we focus on how each person, aspect, and situation prevents us from getting what we think we want or where we think we should be going. As we step back, slow down, listen, and reflect, we tend to find more meaning, more depth, greater truth, and a freeing peace.
If I’m able to welcome Lent as a way to examine and rediscover my relationship with the Creator, what better day to begin than the “day of love?” God is ultimate and infinite love; all He does, desires, and sends us is love - in hundreds of different forms and venues... Maybe this year I will relish the Lenten season to contemplate life, the loving graces I receive, and how the Trinity is truly a part of it. Love is the root of all that is good - of hope, faith, sharing, compassion, peace, joy - yup, all goodness.
Looking at it that way, I’m happy to re-ground and re-plant myself deep in the dirt of Lent and Love!
One of the scribes who heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
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.
And a personal favorite:
As God’s chosen, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…. And over all these put on love, that is the unity that binds the rest. Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts. And be thankful.
Aww! Can I have a do-over?” Have you ever said this? I have - especially in my younger days during a game of miniature golf. I wanted to erase the shot as if it hadn’t happened and just retake it. But there was a flaw in my thinking. Life doesn’t give us do-overs. Nope. What we get is the ability to try again. Instead of pretending the first attempt never occurred, we take what we learned (like: the ball needed to go a little to the left) and we try to accomplish our goal again. Repetition is how we improve, just as practice in any sport.
It is important we live in the present. But if history teaches us anything, it’s to learn from the past. 2017 [and years prior] are gone... over... history. We may feel joy or nostalgia, or both. Yet either way a new day and a new year has dawned. Some of the things we experience may be repetitious on the surface, but underneath, it is, or at least can be, a whole new experience.
For example, in addition to the sports metaphor, consider this: As the season of Ordinary Time begins again what happens as we repeat our liturgical year? I find it’s like re-reading a book or re-watching a movie. We tend to notice things which escaped our attention the first time. [I always do!] Perhaps we find new insight, or uncover the meaning of something we may not have fully grasped the first time. In other words, we go deeper - our awareness and understanding fuller. So as I hear familiar readings, I don’t sense “the same old thing,” rather I find a fresh perspective and a clear message.
I ponder as the sun rises and sets in these January days, I don’t have resolutions quite so much anymore. As Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”* Therefore to protect my sanity (and that of those around me), I am not going to vow to clean the basement or go on a strict diet. I am however going to look toward hope. Yes I have hope: for example, I hope to increase my life in ministry as I expand studies in this spiritual director intern program. I’m also engaging in ways to grow - over declaring another finite goal (like lose 10 pounds or give up chocolate - yeah, right?! But I can cut back and feel good about it.)
In addition, I have hope for: less complexity in exchange for greater appreciation of simple, less junk traded for openness, less rushing swapped for peaceful savoring, less reacting for better understanding and compassion, less worry/anxiety for improved health in so many ways, and less meaningless activity as a gift of time for prayerful reflection and listening. Seems like I’m setting my sights on reduction or “less-ness.” Well sometimes less is more. I’m confident including more serenity both inside and around me will allow God’s gentleness, compassion, and love to permeate and maybe even work through me. I take delight in the idea of radiating His presence through inspiring writing and speaking to convey my deep faith-filled attitude and optimistic trust in His grace.
Yes. So… I decline the old do-over. I’ll rather learn from all that practice and continue with vigor. What do you think? Let’s move forward, not back! Let’s not do the same thing, let’s do it a bit better - maybe slower, or with more quiet, but definitely with healthy energy. I’m full of hope that I can take my prior attempts, my mistakes, my losses and failures, scoop them up, pile them high, stand on them, and reach higher still.
I am creating new heavens and a new earth;
The former things shall not come to mind.
Shout for joy and be glad forever in what I am creating.
Indeed, I create joy and people will delight.
A fresh heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.
* The authenticity of this quote is often questioned, however most still attribute it to Einstein. https://www.quora.com/Did-Einstein-really-define-insanity-as-doing-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again-and-expecting-different-results
We’ve heard the story of the Nativity many times. But have we ever paused to seriously ponder over it? Picture the scene… imagine these two young parents and how they might have felt. Was Mary worried? Tired? Scared? Might she have been calm, confident, and filled with trust in God? What about Joseph - was he more concerned or confident?
I consider the place and what surrounded this sacred event. I envision an old brown wooden barn filled with hay, stalls for animals which likely included: cattle, sheep, goats, perhaps another donkey. I assume Joseph’s donkey was there too. I smell a woodsy scent from the hay and wood materials.
What about temperature? Was it cold or damp? How cold? Did someone make a fire in an old barrel or perhaps on the ground outside the open doors that warmed the night air. For a few moments, I hear… nothing… silence… no music, no loud voices, no cash registers, no car horns, not even ringing bells or children playing… just… peace…
This holy family is surrounded by exactly what God wanted for them - nothing - or “no-things”. No things except these three aspects:
First, nature: the hay, the wood, the animals, the trees, the wide, clear sky, the shining star above. How simple and how beautiful! Jesus did not come to the world with, through, or in anything but simplicity and humility. He arrived without fanfare, fancy ceremony, not even with traditional comforts. Yet how eloquent!
Second, people. They didn’t have things, but they did have each other. Even if they were afraid, having very little certainty as to what was or would happen, they cared for one another. I wonder, was a handmaid present? I think likely, yes. What about others? Did other travelers find no lodging and wander out to that same barn? I’d never envisioned other people, but... perhaps. If others joined Mary and Joseph, did their hearts rejoice in the baby’s delivery? Was the family huddled in a stall or did anyone else witness in awe? Did they help find those swaddling cloths? Was Jesus passed from one to another to be held and warmed, admired and shared like the gift that He is?
Third, love. The final aspect I’m certain was present over any other thing is love. They must have been enveloped in an atmosphere of… pure love. Love between each other and love from heaven. After all, the angels ensured this couple was cared for. Mary and Joseph were guided to where they were supposed to be safely and securely. The angels directed the wise men, gathered the shepherds, and must have provided necessities (water, food, shelter). Those angels led them both into and out of Bethlehem unharmed.
During the holiday season, I always seem to have at least one week of panic - feeling hurried, overwhelmed, and flustered. I have list after list of all the things I need to get or accomplish, in addition to regular work and chores: buying gifts, wrapping presents, creating and addressing cards, obtaining all ingredients for cooking, baking, the many decorations... The pressure and worry bring me to a place of un-health, or at least less joy. I forget, for a few days, the key - it’s all about love - love given by our Father, love shared in family meals and traditions, and love felt simply through our interactions with one another.
In light of that first Christmas, I breathe... deep. I remind myself, simple is not only adequate, it is exquisite. I remember that night, the only decorations were glistening trees, twinkling stars and glowing hearts (hearts I envision filled with faith, peace, joy, and hope). I look at my lists and all the things around me - in the house, in the yard, in the town, in the office… there are a lot of things. Perhaps they are not so necessary. Only these were needed that first noel, that most holy night: God’s creation, each other, and love.
I’ve been hearing a lot about gifts and giving lately. Whether it be in class, in prayer, regarding recent disasters, or the approaching Christmas season, the concept of gifts and giving is all around me.
Although difficult to take time out of my hectic schedule, today I pause to ponder: what I am thankful for and what am I giving (i.e. contributing to the good of society)? Many things come to mind.
I am thankful for my family, my dogs, my home, the invitation to more author events, and ability to facilitate a retreat on rebuilding. I’m grateful for my faith, my friends, good books, my favorite bulky sweatshirt and indeed that warm wood stove (yes, I’m noticing the cold weather). I’m thankful for the view from the back deck, our holiday traditions and our simple routines that make us smile.
Being thankful is an emotion that brings joy and peace. Remembering to be grateful is the challenge. Often we focus on getting to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, cleaning the house, making lunches, fixing the leaky sink… and a hundred other time-consuming, energy-guzzling, life-required duties. They pop up, one after the other. If we wait until we’re finished to take a moment to stop, see, and enjoy the good, we will miss a whole lot of it. Our Creator gives us countless good things through the people and events in our daily existence. It’s nice to pause, not just for the sake of saying, “thank you,” but to feel gratitude; actually pay attention to and savor these everyday gifts. Increasing my awareness of such certainly produces an overall effect of happiness and serenity.
When I consider what I give, I may for a moment take pride in having recently supported causes for hurricane relief and cancer research. Then I start to wonder... that’s not enough. I need to make time to get back to the retirement home and visit some elderly friends. I need to impart a bit of tolerance to a few, and forgiveness to another. I can’t help but recall Matthew 25:34-40. Come... you gave food when I was hungry, visited me when I was ill, clothed and welcomed me… when… whenever you do so for the least of my brethren...
I recognize giving means more than carefully chosen presents to loved ones, and more still than donating money or possessions to a few in need. Contributing also includes sharing time, energy, spirit and prayers. When a friend is hurt or upset, I want to offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and perhaps some advice or assistance. I don’t want to quickly suggest, “It’ll be fine,” as I dash away to my next obligation. When a relative complains about their next “big issue,” I question myself; did I give them enough time and attention? It’s not always easy. When a coworker undermines me or someone I care about, I consider the many ways I can react; do I offer a prayer asking God to care for them?
I tend to watch my favorite home improvement shows while in the kitchen, where I spend a good deal of time. Recently, a couple was asked what they wanted most in a renovation. They looked at one another. The grandmother of a healthy brood (maybe twenty) said, “I just want space and time with my family.” She cared nothing for the things in the home, just a place to enjoy being with others. “Wow,” I thought, “Good answer; no fancy fixtures, custom cabinets, or marble mantles.”
As I conclude, I’ll promise to once again make a point to notice the small and wonderful gifts in my life; I’ll also make a conscious effort to share more of all that I have to give. I sincerely know that when I am more frequently focused on what we shall call, “both sides of gifts and giving,” I feel better, stronger, more content, fulfilled and whole.
Here are a few highlights from an adorable article on animal giving1:
Dolphins as well as cats give gifts to humans. Cats, both wild and domestic, offer dead prey in order to teach their young (or in the case of pets, their master) how to hunt and therefore acquire food.
Dolphins appear to offer what they consider very valuable resources, let’s say delicacies, like eel and tuna, to humans. In one well documented case, to the biologists in Australia who were studying them.2 Sharing outside a species is quite rare. Those dolphins never cease to amaze me!
Bonobos noted in the article share fruits and food not just in mating practice, as do many animals, but they share to others outside their own group with “stranger” bonobos.
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then they will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
- Matthew 25:34-40
How do you feel about Autumn?
Do you see Fall as a beautiful expression of nature, arrayed in all its splendor? Do you breathe deep the crisp air and admire the colorful trees? Do you relish the scent of pumpkin and ginger, take delight in the sound of swirling leaves, and feel energized from the chill on the wind? Or do you hate the allergies that accompany dried vegetation? Do you dislike that blustery, damp, cold atmosphere, the dying, dirty, disheveled leaves, and loss of summer flowers and crops?
We’ve all heard analogies which liken the seasons to human life. For example: Life starts as a sort of spring. We are born, fresh, new, and vibrant. Even now as we ponder, we envision adorable bunnies and chicks; add in babies and puppies (sorry, as a pet lover, I couldn’t help adding puppies) and our scene is set. Next, our effervescent, lively, animated days of youth and young adulthood almost sparkle as we bask in the summer sun: active, alive, with more plans and dreams than can barely fit inside a lifetime. Sure, we’ll see a thunderstorm now and then, but for the most part we remain a bit in awe of the accompanying lightning while we await the sun’s return, still believing we are near invincible.
Then what happens? We “mature.” We certainly notice life, let’s say, adjusting. I definitely creak a bit when I get up. I need reading glasses - still hard to comprehend. I can’t move as quickly, nor remember why I just climbed the stairs. Like the maple leaf, I feel each breath of wind more fully. What marks this stage? What emotions now rule? Do we fear or regret reaching our Fall? A few years ago, I dreaded seeing my age’s “number” rise. Who wants to let go of strong health and boundless energy? Dare I assume, very few, if any. However, I’ve learned to welcome every number, considering each a milestone in my journey. I may wrinkle, as do those leaves; my energy may slow or reduce, as does the length of daylight. I may face issues of withering, fading, and aging as I weather more driven storms with nary a rainbow in sight. Yet, I slowly realize… with age comes wisdom and a better sense of what life is all about. I understand the value in tranquility and serenity (peace and contentment over minor, but unexpectedly significant things, places, and events). I know better what love (in its many forms) means, much more fully, and maybe even understand the value in virtues like patience, humility, and true justice. In our, or at least my, youth, I was unaware of the depth in some of these precious ideas and treasures. I am thankful to have come through life transitions, challenges, and tests of will. Gratitude and optimism have grown in me; I believe thanks to all that has come before.
Therefore, I witness the beauty and astonishing colors; I breathe the crisp air. I anticipate pumpkin pies and the warm, orange glow from the wood stove. I can’t leave out campfires and s’mores under a star-filled sky. Suddenly, I confess an appreciation of my own autumn as something to savor, despite traces of brown spots and gray hairs.
Today as I witness the glory of this fall day, I declare: Autumn is gorgeous. Fall possesses its own sophisticated look and feel. It shines in brilliant majesty…. And, so too, do we!
Regardless of stage of life, may we stand tall and savor each and every day as the gift it is.
“Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” said Piglet
“Suppose it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
- Winnie the Pooh, A Blustery Day.
He fills your days with good things, so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
- Psalm 103:5
For they [My words] are life to those who find them, bringing health to one’s whole being.
With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.
- Proverbs 4:22-23
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…
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.