Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pines

The pines stand proud,
straight, tall against the sky.
Yet some wear their bark fa├žade
loosely, like too-large shoes,
hiding what’s within, until
wind blows and the bark shell
no longer conceals
decayed souls.

What is false cannot be hidden forever.
Rot will eventually be revealed.
Time and storms will expose
the true nature of things.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beginning

As we age, we may become reluctant to become a beginner. Yet the start of a new year is a good time to begin something new. Two years ago, I began to practice yoga. At 55, I was not as limber as I once was, but I took my clumsy, stiff self to yoga with regularity, and now I can bend in ways I couldn’t bend when I first went to yoga class. I still have much to learn, and am often reminded by yoga instructors to come to my mat with a beginner’s attitude.

This year, I am teaching myself to crochet. With a rainy start to the year, I had a great opportunity to devote some time to beginning this new practice. With clumsy fingers and a lot of patience with myself, I am slowly watching a dishcloth take shape.

New years invite us to new beginnings. Yet every day likewise offers us a fresh start. I am drawn to the early Christian monastics, those abbas and ammas of the desert. And as I think about beginning, I offer you a favorite saying of mine:

Abba Poemen said of Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.

What a refreshing way to approach life. If we make a new beginning every day, we don’t carry the burden of guilt, shame and regret. Because of this, we can focus on God’s direction in our lives, rather than on ourselves—our failures and shortcomings. We accept God’s forgiveness and grace and rise to live and serve afresh each morning. And, at the end of the day, we let the day go, knowing that we begin again tomorrow.

New year’s resolutions are good, but when we fail at them, we often abandon them and fall back into old habits. If, instead, we could see tomorrow as a new beginning, we might come closer to implementing our desired changes.


When we live like Abba Pior, we live with freshness, hope and expectancy. Surely these are some of the childlike qualities that Jesus was thinking about when he taught us to have the faith of a child. Making a new beginning every day invites us to keep the gift of grace always before us. Instead of dwelling obsessively on the past, we can live and grow closer to the true self God created us to be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Advent Musings with Mary's Magnificat - Week 4

Our Place

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.”

In this final week of Advent, as I read Mary’s Song of Praise, what stands out is her awareness of her place in the greater narrative of history. She recalls God’s history of faithfulness “to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” She praises God who “shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.”

She also proclaims her own place in this narrative of God’s faithfulness as she recognizes that “from now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.”

As I write this, traffic around shopping areas is heavy and drivers are tense. Kitchens are busy with folks preparing food for visitors or for gifts to others. People are rushing in search of one more gift, a bag of flour, or scotch tape. Lines are long and tempers are short.

What if we paused to consider our place in the larger story? Along with the outward preparations, how have you prepared inwardly to honor God as God? Do you have something to add to the story of God’s faithfulness from one generation to the next?

I hope you know your place in God’s story and God’s place in your story. I pray we all write the story of God’s continuing faithfulness as faithfully and winsomely as Mary.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Musings with Mary's Magnificat - Week 3

This past Sunday in worship, we sang an Advent hymn that I recognized, by about the end of the second verse, as a rendering of Mary’s Magnificat. The hymn, entitled My Soul Gives Glory to My God, includes this verse:
Love casts the mighty from their thrones,
promotes the insecure,
leaves hungry spirits satisfied,
the rich seem suddenly poor.

Like many hymns, I wonder how much we really tuned in to the words as we sang. We might do fine with the first three lines, but as those who by the world’s standards are rich, do we really want to seem suddenly poor?

When you get into Mary’s song of praise, you suddenly realize that she has gone from praising God for honoring her to praising God for upending the entire social order:

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.

Reading these verses (Luke 1:51-53) gives us an insight into Mary as much more than a docile, delicate teenager. These are the words of a prophet, and like all good prophets, her words are neither gentle nor subtle. They tell of a new way, a way that turns power and possessions toward those who do not have them and away from the ones who perennially hold the world’s purse-strings and power.

These prophetic words remind us that God’s way is not the way our world operates. The wealthy and powerful, the proud and intimidating, are not the ones God honors. It’s the poor, the powerless, the meek and the hungry that God favors. Just read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) if you aren’t convinced, or better yet, look at the life and death of Jesus. He had no place to lay his head; he was killed by the powers that be and instead of retaliating, he chose the humble way of suffering, crucified as a criminal. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Musings with Mary's Magnificat - Week 2

Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”             Luke 1:46-47


Oftentimes a different voice helps us to hear something familiar in a new way. Reading Mary’s song from the Common English Bible presents a phrase that has had an impact on how I see Mary, and gives me new ears to hear her song.

“In the depths of who I am” is how the CEB renders the more familiar phrase “my soul.” The different wording provides a glimpse into who Mary is and why she was chosen. For Mary, praise is not limp, hollow or perfunctory. It is uncontainable and irresistible.

Is that true for us? How has your worship, your praise, been expressed this Advent? Is it irrepressible or is it imperceptible?

What is important about our praise is that it come from the depths of who we are. Expressing our praise will look different for each of us. Some of us are naturally more demonstrative and exuberant. Others of us are naturally quiet. Connecting with our deepest being connects us to God, which then leads us to praise. When I am moved from the depths of my being, praise gets expressed with tears, enthusiastic singing, and an uncontrollable smile.

Rejoicing from the depths of who we are is not confined to an hour in the sanctuary each week. It is a way of living every moment of every day. It is a thanksgiving way of living, being grateful for what is. It is having eyes that see God in all life’s circumstances. It is being aware of God’s presence always.

This Advent, can you rejoice in God from the depths of who you are? I imagine that is a gift God would love to receive!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent Musings with Mary's Magnificat-Week 1

And 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.
                                                Luke 1:46-49


For this season of Advent, I want to spend time reflecting on Mary’s song of praise, that spontaneous utterance she gave upon being greeted and blessed by her cousin Elizabeth as she arrived at Elizabeth’s home.

While her song is appropriate material for reflection at any time, I am especially aware of its significance currently, as hateful words and actions seem to be more prevalent, accepted and even encouraged in our country than I can remember in my lifetime.

Today, I reflect on Mary’s chosenness, on her worth as a woman, her status as the mother of Jesus. Mary is a strong prophetic voice, a person of strong faith. Her song of praise echoes that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and the voices of prophets all through Israel’s history, who knew that the weak, the poor and the least are those whom God lifts up and holds in high esteem.

It disturbs and angers me when women are treated as objects rather than as children of God and worthy of respect and equality of opportunity. I have heard first hand disparaging remarks about the capability of women. Being told “you’re pretty smart for a girl” is not a compliment. Calling women bossy for being in leadership roles, criticizing their appearance, and labelling them as “shrill” when they recognize and speak against discrimination does not recognize the worth and dignity of women.  Strong women have changed the course of history but have seldom been highly regarded in their own time. Contemporaries did not esteem their gifts because they came in a female package.

Mary, as well as her cousin Elizabeth, and a host of other women, remind me that we would not have Christianity and the Church today if not for women. And yet, the Church has had a checkered history in its treatment of women that, sadly, continues even now. Isn’t it appropriate as we prepare for the coming of Christ, to remember that God chose a strong young woman to be the one who would not only give birth to Jesus but who could be trusted with his life until adulthood? A woman whose trust in God enabled her to risk ostracism and judgment to become who God called her to become?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Celebrating What Is

It’s a week where we are reminded to be thankful. Many of us will gather with family or friends to share a meal (or two or three). There will be laughter, stress, tears—a whole gamut of emotions. Maybe we’ll go around the table and ask folks to name something for which they are thankful. The responses will vary, and some will be predictable.

Being grateful is easier sometimes than others. But gratitude should not hinge on the acceptability of our circumstances. Gratitude is a way of being. When we are grateful people we see the world with different eyes. Grateful people still see the pain and suffering in the world and in their own lives. They feel it deeply. They hurt—both for themselves and for others. In fact, because they are grateful people, they can more acutely hold pain and suffering than those who blind themselves to their own hurt or that of others.

Grateful people are faith-filled people. They can hold the pain because they know there’s a bigger picture, a larger scenario than the pain they know. It is those who deny, numb, or ignore pain and suffering who cannot truly be grateful. When you numb yourself to pain, when you pretend it doesn’t exist, you cannot be fully present to great joy and gratitude.

To be truly grateful is to celebrate what is, to live fully in the present moment, whatever it brings, with faith and trust and thanksgiving. It is to recognize that being human means being present for all of life. Habakkuk captures beautifully what it means to celebrate what is:
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18