Monday, August 14, 2017

Stones

“And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones.”          Matthew 3:9


It is often tempting
to rely on
the faith of others,
past experiences of awe,
rote practices now devoid of meaning.
But these are stones.
Too heavy to carry far,
they are designed
to make, to mark a path
forward. They are not
sitting stones
but rather
stepping stones
on the journey of spiritual growth.

“Move on, move on”
they say.
“Find new stones. Your life,
like a garden path, is a
collection of such stones,
of Ebenezers on which
to tread.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Place to Thrive

Recently, I confided to a friend my struggle with a basil plant. It had been trimmed and used for a number of months, and was pretty bare of leaves, and those it had were small. I had purchased a new, full basil plant because the existing one wasn’t able to contribute much to my kitchen, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw the old one in the trash. Early one morning, I took the plant outside and dumped the pot at the base of one of the trees along my street at the entrance to the building where I live. I made sure it was right side up and figured it would get rain and sun and have a chance to survive there.
 
For several weeks I watched it as I went in and out of my building. It began to perk up and put out new leaves. One day I noticed that someone had transplanted it to a planter outside the door of my building. It had been seen and loved and cared for. Now it is green and healthy, and I am glad that I placed it where I did and that someone else realized its potential and gave it a chance to thrive.

Psalm 40 reminds me of this plant:

I waited patiently upon the Lord;
   he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
   he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
   Many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.

Our lives at times are similar to that basil plant. Sometimes we find ourselves in places where life is hard, where the gifts we have to offer are not wanted or valued. Like the Psalmist, we may be in the desolate pit. I know I’ve been there, in that place of wilderness, of mire and clay, questioning my life, my worth, my gifts. God came and lifted me, in the form of community, friends who reminded me that I matter. Transplanted into a different environment, an environment of love and nurture, we can thrive. May we be those who help life to thrive, and when others are in places where they feel withered and worn, may we see and love and care for them.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Forty

Forty. It’s one of those biblical numbers. Forty years of wilderness wandering led by Moses. Forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Forty days from Jesus’ resurrection until his ascension. And others.

This forty wasn’t biblical, though. It was a forty I could hardly believe. Forty years since I graduated high school. At first, I thought the math was wrong. Surely we were getting ahead of ourselves! But then I did my own math and realized that it was really true that I graduated forty years ago, class of ’77.

I almost didn’t go to the reunion. I hadn’t seen anyone from my graduating class since our 20 year reunion, except for one classmate that I ran into at a book signing several years ago. I was friends with just a few on Facebook, but since I no longer live in my hometown, and had not attended one of the feeder elementary schools for my high school (which deepened relationships among many of my classmates) I was ambivalent about attending. Plus, I’d come out of the hardest couple of years in my life just a few months earlier. I wasn’t sure I was up to the conversation in such a large group that I hadn’t connected with in so very many years.

But I went. And I’m glad that I did. One of the unexpected gifts of the wilderness journey I went through and have come out of has been reflecting on who I am and where I’ve come from. Not necessarily where I geographically came from, but a looking back at my life, and deeply looking within, both with the aim of helping me to know myself more fully, and at the same time, know God more fully and how God has been present with me in the various seasons of my life. I’ve learned a lot, though there is still much more to learn.

I learned a little more this past weekend as I joined some of my classmates for the reunion. I was reminded of how our group shares a common geography. We all lived in a not too big area of East Point, Georgia. We were solidly middle class, for the most part. No country club memberships, no cotillion, no multi-week summer camps (at least I wasn’t aware of any of these among my classmates). I’m not criticizing any of these, and my children were the beneficiaries of some of these in the city I live in now, but it was not a part of my growing up years, nor that of the classmates I spent the most time with.

Maybe because of what we shared, I felt a bond with those who gathered, even the ones I had not been close to in high school, even the ones I didn’t get a chance to talk to at the reunion. As I drove the hour-plus drive home afterward, I reflected on my history. I’ll do more of that over the coming days and weeks. And I won’t let twenty years pass before I reconnect with the classmate-community that shaped my teenage years and influenced my life in many ways.

One of the elements missing from most of my adult life was that connection to high school and college friends. When I journeyed a difficult path I came to a greater appreciation of my friends. Friends were my lifeline when life’s circumstances seemed overwhelming. Gathering with my classmates, celebrating where we came from and where we are now, I know my web of relationships has grown. I look forward to deepening the friendships I renewed this weekend. I certainly claim the truth of Proverbs 18:24: There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bath

Another reflection arising from a slow, deliberate reading through 1 John.


God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.   ---1 John 4:16b


I want to remain in the refreshing
bath of your love
until I feel it work all the way
through me—stickiness
of hurt soaked into the
softness of mercy, ache
of suffering soothed and transformed
into the replenishing
balm of wisdom. I emerge,
shriveled fingers and toes, from your
healing water
carrying with me
the cleansing grace
of your love.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Freedom From Fear

For our soul sits in God in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God in endless love.    ---Julian of Norwich

To read the writings of Julian of Norwich is to read of the depths of God’s love for us. It’s hard to come away from her work without a sense of peace that dispels fear and anxiety about our relationship with God.

While we don’t know Julian’s real name (the name we have for her is the name of the church in which she lived as an anchoress—St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England), her recording of a series of visions given her by God is powerful because it provides us with an image of God as loving and merciful.

Consider the quote I’ve shared above. If you spend time reflecting on this, really allowing it to sink into your mind and heart, it is hard to not be filled with a sense of peace and an assurance of God’s presence and love for us. Words from one of John’s epistles come to mind: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18).

We can grow to a more mature faith in God when we move beyond fear of punishment and can allow our souls to simply rest in God, knowing that God loves us abundantly and endlessly. When we are not afraid, we become open to know that God IS love because we fall headlong into the endless love God has for us.

I encourage you to take some time this and reflect on Julian’s quote. Maybe copy it and put it somewhere that you will see during the day. It is a gift to your soul to find rest in God. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Like You

We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is.
                                                                                                         1 John 3:2b

You, whom I so love,
   I want to be like you.
   I want to do what you do,
   love what you love,
   give like you give.
Like a child watches a parent
to copy what the parent does,
I want to copy you, but I am clunky,
your shoes too big for me,
your clothes hang loose on me,
your hat covers my eyes.
I smell your smells in these clothes.
I imagine myself filling them.
I see your smile. I see
your love for me, for my childlike
effort to follow you as faithfully
as I know how. Let me grow and know
you more deeply. Help me become
more like you.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Freedom

I am becoming,
uncurling like a fern frond.
It isn’t easy to become
who you were created to be.
Rocks get in the way and you have
to be patient until something
(or someone) moves them
or until you become sure enough
of your destiny that you have the
strength to push them aside
or maybe both happen at once.
But then, ah then,
you stretch out your leaves—
free!