Monday, March 31, 2014

Healing a Divided Heart

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;
   give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
                                                                Psalm 86:11

I was recently reminded of the necessity for an undivided heart. Last weekend, while in slow traffic on the Interstate, I saw a pickup truck with a variety of messages that provided an example of a divided heart. The truck had both a Christian fish emblem and a bumper sticker critical of the President, spelling the word “moron” with his campaign logo replacing each “o.” When we divide our heart in an attempt to keep one foot in  Christian values and the other espousing worldly beliefs we run headlong into Jesus’ teaching that says we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). And with such a divided heart, instead of revering God’s name, we instead make a mockery of it.

When we are so immersed in our culture, it becomes hard to hear the whisper of the Spirit calling us to live lives that become the gospel. I believe that without silence and solitude, it is not possible to have an undivided, focused heart.

Abba Moses, a Desert Father, said, ‘One who avoids others is like a ripe grape. One who stays in company is like a sour grape.’ Without regular times of silence and solitude, where we can really listen to God, we end up parroting the voices of the company we keep, the frequently contentious and distracting voices of our culture. And if that is all we hear, we may not even be aware of how sour we’ve become.

A friend once gave up listening to the radio for Lent. Because he spends much of the day in the car, giving up radio meant a lot of quiet. After Lent, he commented that a radio show he used to enjoy had gotten more harsh and critical. I think that what happened was that the silence made my friend’s heart more tender. The radio show had not changed, but my friend had. Silence has a way of healing the divided heart.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cedar Waxwings

In the fall and again in the spring, cedar waxwings migrate through our area. And every fall and spring, I get excited by the prospect of their visit. I walk looking up when I hear their gentle peeping, craning my neck to find them. They are such elegant, sleek birds, made all the more special because they aren’t permanent residents here.

Yesterday, the space outside my office window was aflutter with them. They flew back and forth from tree to tree, feeding on the abundant holly berries in our church courtyard. In our prayer room down the hall the hollies cover the window and I stood watching for almost half an hour as the cedar waxwings flew in and out of the bushes, feasting on the berries. I thought about the passage from Matthew where Jesus uses the birds as his example of how God provides what we need:

Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? (Matthew 6:25-26)

When you really stop and think about cedar waxwings or any bird, it’s hard not to be amazed. They know what they need to survive and thrive, and, if we don’t mess things up for them, they have food and shelter. Many are decked out in incredible colors and patterns, and if that were not enough, their songs are their praise to the One Who provides for them.

May birds remind us all of God’s abundant love for us and for all creation. May we in turn thank God by trusting God and by caring for all that God has made and entrusted to us. And may we rest in God’s provision, taking a cue from cedar waxwings to feast on the life God has given to us.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Feeding on Silence

I am discovering that, more than food, I need silence. This was especially apparent to me on a recent silent retreat. While only away for two nights, my soul was nourished in a way that simply does not happen in my normal rhythm of life, even with a regular habit of daily silence.

“Need” may seem like a strong word, but it is deliberately chosen. I know that such times of retreat are needed for my life, for my spirit to grow inside me and become my whole life, filling in every crack and crevice and pushing out anything that claims to be other than my spiritual life.

Thomas Merton says, in Thoughts in Solitude, “The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”

Silence is for me, and I believe for all of us, necessary for that spiritual life to be lived. Silence helps us to strip away those false gods that compete for our attention, that demand we live noisy, scattered, complicated lives so we will feel we are really “worth” something. In silence, I have come to know that the only thing, the only thing that can satisfy my desire for worth is God’s love for me. In silence, I can hear God call me Beloved.

Silence, paradoxically, has moved me from certainty about many things religious, to uncertainty about much of what I hear other Christians shout with great certainty. Silence, though, has made me certain about what I believe is the one thing needful: to know I am a loved and forgiven child of God.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Perfect Prison

I grew up with a father who abhorred mistakes. His pastor put it nicely at his memorial service by saying my dad set the bar high. He was unwilling ever to admit when he was wrong and expected people to measure up.

Measuring was one way he sought to achieve perfection. My husband, Jim, and I still chuckle at Dad’s irritation when his carefully measured milk usage was thrown awry by our “careless” pouring of milk on our cereal. When I began making yogurt from scratch, which uses a half-gallon of milk, Jim started teasing me about the “milk count,” because of my hesitation to use milk for other purposes. A gallon of milk neatly made two batches of yogurt. My dad’s obsession with milk measurement had become mine as well.

With the comings and goings of family during the holidays, I gave up that obsession and discovered how limiting it really was. When I was no longer trying to make things come out perfectly, I discovered I could fix a cup of hot chocolate or enjoy chai tea with milk that didn’t have to be so carefully monitored.

Before you dismiss this post as just the exposé of a dysfunctional family, I invite you to consider what in your life is holding you prisoner to perfection. Lent is a good time to reflect on that question. Where are you trying to measure up so hard that you cannot be free to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate (figuratively or literally)?

Perfection is a prison that prevents us from living a full life. If you don’t believe you are imprisoned by it, consider how much effort you put into making a good showing in some area of your life. How is that effort robbing you of the joy and freedom to simply be yourself? Are you creating a prison for others by expecting perfection from them?

Jesus offers us grace, grace to break the bars of perfection’s prison. Grace doesn’t make sense, cannot be measured and thrives in imperfection. To admit our need for such grace is to recognize that we are not perfect and it’s okay that we aren’t! May we accept that grace this Lent both for ourselves and for others.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Approaching Lent Realistically

I am about Lent like some folks are about Christmas. I begin thinking about it weeks in advance, gathering and considering various ideas for what I may give up or take on as a discipline during the weeks leading up to Easter. The discipline of laying aside or taking on offers a constant reminder that Jesus laid aside his divinity and took on the cross and causes me to worship more honestly during Lent.

I approach Lent with expectancy, for I know that if I am faithful and have the right attitude about my Lenten discipline, I will have the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Christ, and possibly make a permanent behavior change that removes an obstacle to intimacy with God.

Last year was likely one of the most difficult seasons of Lent for me in recent years. I committed to several different practices, thinking I had “progressed” in my growth sufficiently to “succeed” with a larger commitment. Even though I was faithful outwardly, my attitude was horrible! I complained almost daily. I provided a new example for Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2: If I give up many things for Lent, but have not love, I am just a whiny complainer that no one wants to be around.

Looking back, I realize that I had an inflated view of myself. Last year’s Lent showed me how feeble and weak I really am. I began Lent with all the bluster of Peter when he said he would never desert Jesus and ended up feeling more like Peter when the cock crowed and he realized his failure to be faithful.

Psalm 103:14 says:
For he knows how weak we are;
                     he remembers we are only dust.

God knows I am weak. The question is: will I recognize and accept my weakness? For when I truly recognize my weakness, what Jesus did as a fully human being takes on greater significance. This year, I come to Lent a bit more humble than last year. I hope that I will remain faithful in my discipline, but more than that, I hope I will practice my discipline with humility and gratitude and love.