Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Improving our Vision


People of prayer are, in the final analysis, people who are able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah.  –Henri Nouwen

 I am not there yet. I can see the Messiah in the faces of the oppressed. I can see it in the faces of families seeking asylum. I can see it in the faces of those who struggle between following orders and following conscience, knowing that following orders brings stability of paycheck—even though it is at the expense of their own well-being—while following conscience may lead to poverty.

Sometimes I see the Messiah’s face in people so consumed by fear that they hurt others directly or indirectly. This fear can take many forms: fear of those who are different, fear of losing some of one’s possessions, fear of change, even fear of God. When I can see their fear, I can find a measure of compassion for them, even when their fear causes them to reject, label, judge and demean others. It at least helps me to understand what motivates their hurtful behavior. It is still very hard for me to see the Messiah in such people. The only way I can even glimpse it is by looking at their fear.

I want to be a person of prayer, and yet this struggle to see the Messiah in others continues to challenge me. It reminds me that the faith journey is, in fact, a journey, and often a difficult one.  It also reminds me that prayer is more than simply talking to God. It is opening myself up to be changed by God. Prayer is the willingness to be pliable and changeable. Prayer is the willingness to have my beliefs challenged.

When I engage in prayer as listening to God in silence and solitude, my seeing changes. Unlike our physical lives, where vision often declines with age, the spiritual life offers us the invitation to improve our vision as we grow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Touching His Wound


“Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
                                                                John 20:27

Let me draw my life from your life,
as I feel the beating of your heart
under my trembling fingers.
So close to you, your breath on my skin.
You, source of my life.
You, source of my love.
Let me draw my life from your life.
Let me never doubt your presence in me,
your love for me,
your Spirit’s power moving me.
I put my hand under your heart.
I put my whole trust, my whole life, in you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What Easter Means to Me . . . Now


I awoke on Sunday filled with excitement. Easter had arrived! It was time to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and the startling truth that love overcomes all, and I do mean all.

It’s not a story new to me, or to others. So why the excitement? What makes Easter different for me now?
This is my favorite icon. It is known as the Harrowing of Hades and depicts Jesus standing on the gates of hell. He’s pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs.

This icon reminds me of something many churches have edited out of the Apostles’ Creed: Jesus descended into hell.

Several years ago, my life broke apart. I had become aware of cracks, but then one day came, and everything was suddenly very different. Only a couple of days later, I was at a conference and one of the speakers, Elaine Heath, talked about this icon and what it represents—that Jesus goes into hell and pulls us out of it. She said that this is the good news many need to hear because many are living in hell. Jesus comes into our worst circumstances and does not let go of us.

For me, this was news I needed to hear. It took some time for me to get completely out of the hell in which I found myself, but never did I feel abandoned there. Through the darkest days I knew the grasp of Jesus’ hand in mine. Though I walked through wilderness, experienced betrayal, false accusation and the pain of desertion by people I loved dearly, I knew Christ’s presence with me.

Over time I was pulled out of death and decay into new life. I experienced Easter. It has changed what Easter means to me. Before my own resurrection, Easter was a promise of something to come at the end of earthly life. But now I know it is more than that, not because someone told me but because I have lived it.

No matter what anyone tells you, no matter the shame and guilt others may try to shovel onto you as dirt is shoveled over a casket, you are not abandoned by Jesus. The one who knew betrayal and false accusation is the one who has gone into hell—for you. He holds your hand as he stands on the gates of hell and he will not let go. Easter is the proof that Christ’s love overcomes all.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

An Imperfect Lent


I struggle with perfectionism. My childhood environment likely contributed to this tendency. Because I used to teach time management and spoke of the dangers of perfectionism, I hadn’t recognized it in myself until I was first introduced to the Enneagram. When I read about Enneagram type One, I realized I could not deny this part of who I am.

A social media post circulating just prior to Lent motivated me to practice a Lenten discipline of letting go of perfectionism. What I am realizing is just how subtle and insidious the demon of perfectionism acts in my life. I catch myself more often than I would have expected beating myself up for failing to do something I feel I ought to do.

Shoulds and oughts are the love language of the perfectionism demon! Grace is the antidote to combat the negative self-talk of should and oughts. Holding my successes and failures with equal grace is the discipline I am seeking to cultivate. The patience I extend to others who fail I also need to extend to myself.

I don’t expect to arrive at Easter Sunday perfectionism-free. The tendency is deep within me. However, as Enneagram literature tells me, the gift of being a One is the desire to improve the world. Improving the world means improving myself, and improving myself means allowing myself to fail with grace and without shame.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Circles


I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
                                                --Rainer Maria Rilke

We do live our lives in circles. The temptation is to think that our lives are linear, but like a drop that falls into a pond and radiates outward, our lives radiate outward around us. We have a circle of influence, be it large or small.

Whether our circle is widening largely depends on the openness of our heart. I know people whose generosity and openness draws people to them. Such people are a joy to be around. They radiate love to others and though they may not even be aware of it, their circle is wide because their hearts are wide. They believe in goodness and see it present around them. As they age, their lives and hearts grow more expansive. Their humility and wisdom keeps fearfulness far from them. They have nothing to prove, protect or defend, so they can love freely, without worrying about what is “right” or “wrong.”

I also know people who live life close to the vest, not exposing themselves to risk, not revealing their vulnerabilities, not trusting the goodness of others. These people do not live in widening circles. On the contrary, their circle is small and grows smaller over time. They do not readily invite people in because they are unwilling to relinquish control and are unwilling to admit or expose their vulnerabilities. They are worried about what others think of them and concerned with presenting a particular image to the world. They may know a lot, but they do not grow wise because ego, not humility, is the driving force in their lives.

The irony is that those who seek to be people of influence are not as influential as those whose energy is focused on loving others. What we attempt to gain by force seldom works out the way we want it to. Grace and love cannot be forced. Yet when they flow freely through a person, there is no stronger attractant.

Our world needs people of humility, grace and openness. These traits are cultivated over a lifetime as we relinquish the need for control and give ourselves to love. Silence and solitude are the soil in which grace and openness grow. A daily practice of centering prayer can open one’s heart more fully over time.

Will you begin to practice a regular, daily time of silence? More than anything else, it may be what saves our world.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Making New Traditions at Christmas


Christmas is a season during which we often place great weight on tradition. We reenact, year after year, things we’ve done previously, elements of past Christmases that hold memory and meaning for us. Though we may balk at tradition at other times, we hold on to Christmas traditions with great zealousness.

Yet there are times when those traditions are no longer available to us. Children grow up, family members die, divorce happens, people move, etc. When these things happen, we grieve the loss of traditions. We may bemoan that things are not what they have been. We lose the patterns of holidays that are as comfortable and familiar as well-worn shoes.

We can become angry, blame those whose changes have wrought changes to our traditions, or simply let ourselves become depressed and despairing. When tempted to embrace an unhealthy emotion, maybe it is good to consider the first Christmas and the chaos it caused to all who were a part of it. An unmarried young woman, pregnant, a betrothed who sticks with her at the risk to his own reputation, a birth away from home and the difficult journey preceding it—there really was nothing very peaceful and calm about that first Christmas!

This year I am thinking of ways to create new traditions around this season.  The inspiration for this came from my Christmas tree. The Christmas I was separated from my spouse, I almost didn’t get a tree. Not knowing whether the separation would be temporary or permanent, the practical side of me thought not to, but I realized that having a tree could provide an emotional lift in a chaotic and stressful holiday season. To appease my practicality, I purchased a $15 prelit tabletop tree and a $1 package of small star ornaments for it. I tied a small gold ribbon at the top and placed my presents for family and friends around it.

This is my third Christmas with my little tree. While in Portland Oregon with friends, I found small wooden bird ornaments that fit both my tree and my personality (I love birds). Another friend brought me some small shiny balls to add to my tree. Decorating it this year was something I looked forward to, because it represented people and memories that I cherish.

My tree is inspiring me to consider how I might make more new traditions for the Christmas season. I want to embrace that things may be as chaotic as they were the first Christmas, and yet also imagine ways to create traditions that will be touchstones in the sometimes messy circumstances that are indicative of “real life.”

Whether your holiday season is chaotic or calm, I pray you can be patient, loving and centered in God’s peace, not just at this time of year but always. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Upheaval


Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
                                                                Luke 1:46-55



Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, does more than hint at the upheaval that her son’s coming brings. Her prophetic word is clear. The coming of God in human form will reverse the usual order of things. The hungry will be fed. The lowly will be lifted. The powerful are stripped of their influence. The rich are sent away empty.

If you only read this text once a year during Advent, you might simply enjoy its poetic quality and miss the power of the words themselves. Mary’s song is regularly recited as part of Vespers, the evening prayer service of the daily office. This daily reading of this text allows the words to sink into us, and, in our affluent culture, may cause us to wonder if we truly welcome this change of affairs.

Mary has much to teach us beyond her prophecy. Mary shows us that our power and influence are less important than our availability. Loretta Ross-Gotta says: God asks us to give away everything of ourselves. The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions. The wise men had their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Paul and Peter had their preaching. Mary offered only space, love, belief. What is it that delivers Christ into the world—preaching, art, writing, scholarship, social justice? Those are all gifts well worth sharing. But preachers lose their charisma, scholarship grows pedantic, social justice alone cannot save us. In the end, when all other human gifts have met their inevitable limitation, it is . . . the bold virgin with a heart in love with God who makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ who then delivers us.

Mary’s prophecy is an invitation to us who are rich and powerful in comparison to the rest of the world. Mary encourages us to no longer rely on our influence or wealth, but to empty ourselves, give ourselves away, die to ourselves, and instead offer space and love to Christ who becomes our food, our wealth, our strength.

We cannot deliver ourselves. Our possessions, our influence, even the good works we do—none of these can deliver us. When we truly believe that God, who made us and loves us, will deliver us, we can sing with Mary, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”