From My Reading

“On Christmas, God’s eternal life slipped into our world practically unnoticed and set in motion the great concealment of the ages. For three decades, God grew—unhurried and unnoticed. Patiently waiting to unveil His life to the world. Has the humility of His hiddenness registered . . . .  It’s like Tolkien becoming the hobbit or Lewis becoming the lion. The author writes himself into the story. No, it’s more than that. The Creator becomes the creation. . . .  If the Christ-life took decades to develop in our God, then perhaps we can rest as easy as He did. Perhaps we can live unhurried lives. Perhaps we can live content with our unnoticed-ness, our hiddenness, growing in grace, growing in God”  (Jon Bailey, Renovare Weekly Digest, December 22, 2017).

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“For me, this wondrous universe cannot be an incoherent and accidental cosmos, nor can it be grounded in evil, although I admit that this intellectual leap and bias toward beauty is still an act of faith and trust. I further believe that a free and loving God desires our participation in co-creation. The Great Work is ours too” (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation for February 25, 2017).

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In the modern West as well as in the ancient East, there is an undercurrent of fear, much of it fueled by neurotic or manipulative religion that results in the apprehension of God as the enemy . . . . There are many things to be afraid of in this world and many persons who endanger our security, but God is not one of them.  That is why we need to develop an Abrahamic imagination. Abraham stands out as a person who rose above all in the commonplace terror of his times and lived as God’s friend. Abraham knew that God was his friend.  He lived in an atmosphere charged with divine goodness . . . . He was called the friend of God because he experienced God accurately and truly.  He lived as God’s friend. He responded as God’s friend.  He believed that God was on his side, and he lived like it” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 11).

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My spiritual father, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), was a master of making room for the new and letting go of that which was tired or empty. He was ready for absolute newness from God and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not tired, and so he was never tired. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young.

Both Jesus and Francis were “conservatives” in the true sense of the term: they conserved what was worth conserving—the core, the transformative life of the Gospel—and did not let accidentals get in the way. They then ended up looking quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous to the status quo. This is the biblical pattern, from Abraham to Moses, to Jeremiah, Job, John the Baptist, Mary, and Joseph” (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation, December 25, 2017).

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The Wonder of Solitude

Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concen- trated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to” (By Henri Nouwen published by the Henri Nouwen Society).

According to Psychology Today, solitude is “a state of being alone without being lonely.” According to Henri Nouwen, solitude requires boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude means creating a space where “God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged.” Solitude and silence are often linked together, perhaps because we imagine that solitude means being quiet. Silence often requires solitude, but solitude doesn’t require silence – sometimes melodic background music or rippling water can set the stage for aloneness without being lonely. However we parse the concept of solitude, I think we can all agree that solitude is a lost art.

We all know the major reason why solitude – being alone – is rare. We seem to feel a constant need for connection with people in this era. If being with people physically isn’t possible, ubiquitous phones beckon us with calls, apps like Facebook, texts, instagrams, and  e-mails. Constant contact is the dream for many of us, even though it often turns into our worst nightmare. And we still resist the discipline and wonder of being solitary!

I think that the practice of and comfort in solitude is necessary for living in harmony. As someone who glories in solitude, I often wonder why people fear it.  Personalities differ, I know; some people are anxious when they aren’t around people. But perhaps it’s more than that. Do we not understand the value of being alone with our thoughts? Would we rather be distracted from those thoughts than face them?  Does it seem like more fun to be social than to be alone? Do we mistake solitude for loneliness? Is is too hard to set the boundaries that Nouwen recommends because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of other people? Are we so attuned to the importance of  helping others that being alone seems selfish? Do we scoff at the thought that God might want to commune with us? Do we undervalue the concept that when we are in harmony with ourselves – a reward of solitude –  harmony with others flows more easily? 

I often try to picture the scenes described in the Gospels. One of my favorite scenes is Jesus alone on a hillside filled with wildflowers or gently waving grass. His body is relaxed; his face is serene. He is breathing deeply and slowly, taking in the beauty around him. He has just escaped the admiring crowds. When he leaves the hillside, he will again face his questioning disciples. The mantle of his enormous responsibility will be easier to bear because of his time alone, and the wisdom he shares will be deeper because of his reflections in this quiet space. If Jesus needed solitude, why do we so easily shrug it off? 

Solitude is an acquired pleasure. And as Jonathan Bailey says, “If it [solitude] doesn’t make it into our schedules it will never move into our souls.” In 2018, creating time for solitude seems to be even more necessary than ever. 

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Praying with 2 Corinthians 9: 6-11

praying with BibleUse the questions below the verses of  2 Corinthians 9: 6-11 (CEB) to help you focus on the gifts you have received, your attitude toward giving, and the gifts you can give. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pray so that you can make an honest assessment of your beliefs about giving and your giving habits. You may want to make notes in a journal for future reference. You may also want to discuss your thoughts about giving with your family – especially your children.

2 Corinthians 9: 6-11 (CEB)

(v.6) “What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.”

Am I invested in sowing seeds? Do I sow a “generous amount of seeds?” What kind do I sow? How do I share financial “seeds?” How do I share the seeds of love and compassion? Am I grateful for the seeds that others have  sown that benefit me?  What are those seeds?  Am I so grateful for God’s blessings  that I look for ways to show my gratitude?

(v. 7)  “Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.”

Do I “decide in my heart” what to give?  Do I “decide” what to give based what’s best for my tax return or for social approval?  Do I give a fair share of what I have accumulated?  Why do I hesitate to give? Am I a “cheerful giver?” 

(v. 8) “God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. (v. 9) As it is written, ‘He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; (v. 10) The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness.

Do I truly believe that God will provide me with everything I need?  Have I given without counting the cost – trusting that I will be provided with “more than enough for every kind of good work?”  Would I give more of myself and my finances if I trusted that God would “increase [my] crop?”

(v. 11)  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.

Do I believe that I will be provided for so that I can provide for others?  What do I need to change to implement this promise in my life?  

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Living with Mystery

Mystery, for [the apostle] Paul, is not what is left over after we have done our best to reason things out. It is inherent in the very nature of God and his works” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, (p. 271).

My favorite genre in fiction (and on TV) is mysteries: police procedurals, courtroom dramas, or just plain “who done it” stories. The fun, of course, is not only keeping up with various plot lines, but also trying to solve the mystery along with, or better yet, before the main character does. What is not fun is when I finish  the book and don’t “get” the solution or feel as if it just doesn’t fit. I also am frustrated if some details are left hanging, perhaps because a sequel is planned.  

I think that our human desire to know how and why everything all works out is the reason we struggle with seeing God described as mysterious, or, heaven forbid, “mystical.”  Most of our doubts about God and how God works in the world come about because we don’t have all the details, and we NEED to understand everything before we will believe it. For example, the conflict between creationism and the theory of evolution is not just about interpreting the Bible literally; it is a failure of imagination. Richard Rohr helps us see the unnecessary battle between these two camps when he asks an imaginative question: “What if God creates things that continue to create themselves?”  

The truth in the Peterson quote at the beginning of this post is stunning; he illuminates a major fallacy in our concept of faith. We don’t want to accept that we can’t understand everything about God. Peterson says that our faith should start, not end, with the idea that God is beyond our comprehension. Then, perhaps, we might not be so afraid of the mystery that surrounds God. We need to learn how to live comfortably with the fact (as Adam and Eve could not) that we will never know everything that God knows, nor will we ever be able to understand why some things happen, or how God works in his kingdom. Admitting that we do not know or understand does not equal doubting. It means we accept our limitations and  trust our Creator.

An old but lovely metaphor for abiding in faith reminds us that if we look at a quilt in progress, we can see a beautiful pattern emerging. But if we turn it upside down, we see all the stitches and all the mistakes that happened in the creating of that quilt. We need to remember that life looks and feels like the underside of a quilt. We can imagine the beauty, but sometimes we only see the problems we can’t solve and the issues we don’t under- stand. Our hope lies in the mystery of a God who somehow sees that both sides are beautiful. Until then we must try not to make sense of every stitch or every unknown. We can rather live in the faith that God, the Quilt-maker, in all his mysterious creativity, is crafting something lovely.  

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Living In Harmony – With Creation, Part 2; Guest Blogger, Carol McGeehan

The world is spinning – seemingly out of control. Divergence not diversity is the theme. Lies trump truth. Pain and hurt, shame and guilt abound. Vile comments, pictures, and behaviors sear our souls. Violence and human misery cause our hearts to despair. How can we live in these times? What can we do to share the mind of Christ in 2018? The word that floated into my mind as I pondered how to live faithfully in today’s world is HARMONY. In this post, guest blogger Carol McGeehan shares the importance and benefits of living in harmony with God’s creation.

In Genesis we  read  that “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that is in them.” And we learn that God declared his Creation good. Creation was God’s first incarnation and revelation. The natural world reveals God’s goodness and beauty, his intelligence, and extravagant love. God has been sustaining his Creation ever since He said, “Let there be light.”

When God made humans, he entrusted us to tend his Garden. We are part of and also caretakers of Creation in partnership with our Creator. What an awesome privilege and responsibility we have been given! All creatures are interconnected in this sacred web of life. We all need clean air and water and healthy food to survive, so whenever we misuse or harm any part of creation, we harm ourselves. When in our greed we pollute our air and water,destroy the forests, deplete earth’s resources, and drive species into extinction, we destroy the intricate balance of nature and create chaos where God created harmony. We need to respect nature and live in harmony within the interdependent circle of life in order to survive and thrive now and in future generations. 

 As nature sustains our bodies, we also need its healing power to nourish our souls. In this age of hurry and worry, we find peace and renewal in the silence of the woods, the splendor of sunsets, the songs of birds, the waves on the beach, or the majesty of a mountain. Nature’s beauty stuns our senses and stirs our souls to sing  praise to our Creator. My favorite hymn says, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made…then sings my soul…my God how great thou art”. Our souls long for harmony with God, each other, and Creation. We long to go back to Eden.

I long to go back to Eden, where all is pure and holy,

where God walks his Garden in sacred harmony

with man and nature and every creature in his Creation,

and the Tree of Life stands tall

beside the River of Living Water, as before Adam’s fall.

When God brings rebirth to Heaven and Earth in a new tomorrow

there will be no more tears or fears, no sin or sorrow.

All Creation will be one with the Creator, his Spirit and his Son.

Then the world is remade whole,

and all will be well with my soul. 

When God brings rebirth to Heaven and Earth in a new tomorrow,
there will be no more tears or fears, no sin or sorrow.
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How Would Jesus Live My Life?

“How would Jesus live your life, with your personality, with your talents, with your life experiences, within your life context, if he were you?” This question is posed by spiritual formation giant Dallas Willard  in his classic book, The Divine Conspiracy. 

I was stunned by this simple twist of the spiritual formation directive to “become like Jesus” on which I have based my life for decades. I have been reflecting on it ever since. How would Jesus live my life as a 75-year-old mother and grandmother married to a proud African-American, with two de-  grees, retired from jobs in education, volunteer man- agement, and spiritual  formation, currently on the edge of formal church life,  living with cancer and diabetes on a limited, fixed income?  How would he look at the world through my eyes? Here is how  I imagine he would live life with me this week: 

 ♥  He cries with me at the horror of war so proudly played by proxy nations in the cities of Syria. He yearns to take the wounded children, the grieving parents, the exhausted and ill-equipped doctors and rescue workers in his arms and arms and give them rest. 

♥  He looks with holy fire at the white washed sepulchers in some American Church leadership roles who speak in Biblical terms about moral purity with seemingly no love in their hearts and spare no words to shame their victims.  

♥  He emotionally high-fives the Parkland teens who speak the truth to power with passion and with no stake in the game but sorrow and anger for the loss of their teachers and friends – and their feelings of security.

♥  He dreams of ways to remind President Trump and his allies in the White House and Congress that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and that those who sorrow and are persecuted and mourn and hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice will be blessed.

♥ He quietly prays for President Trump because he, too, houses the image of God. He prays that he will learn that only the love of God can fill the huge hole in his heart. 

♥  He looks with horror at the desecration of the beautiful garden he gave us to live in. He speaks  against the selfishness and scorn  that is ruining his creation.

The fruit of daily imagining how Jesus inhabits our personality, talents, life experiences, and the context of our life is not that we will necessarily learn to do everything Jesus did, but that we will learn “how to do everything [we] do in the manner that he did all that he did”(Dallas Willard).

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As the World Turns

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

A few days ago I heard birds chirping with all their hearts just as the sun was rising – birds and sun, the harbingers of spring. A day later, two birds swooped down to rest on the railing of our balcony far above the piles of snow. It’s time for the changing of the seasons.  The day after the welcome sights and sounds of spring, I read this arresting thought by Louis Lotz, one of my favorite devotional writers.

“Just as seasons change in nature – spring turns to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter – so the seasons of life change.  And the genius of life is knowing what season you’re in, what time it is in your life.  I learned the hard way (which is pretty much how I learn anything) that when the gears of life just don’t seem to turn in harmony, when you are trying to make something happen that clearly doesn’t want to happen, it’s not so much that you are doing something wrong. It’s that the season changed and you didn’t notice.  You’re still trying to plant when it’s time to harvest. You’re mourning when it’s time to dance” (Louis Lotz in “RCA Today,” Winter 2018).

It occurs to me that celebrating the changing of the seasons, both in nature and in our lives, could be a beautiful soul-training exercise. In Holland, Michigan, the changing seasons dictate how we live: we celebrate spring with boulevards of tulips and greening clumps of yellow daffodils; in summer, we relish the sunshine and venture playfully into the warming waters of Lake Michigan; we breathe in the crisp autumn air and glory in the oranges and golds and reds of the leaves; we welcome the lacey snow showers and romp in the drifts. As the seasons change we mourn our losses. Yet we know that the earth will turn again, and we will welcome the next season just as we always have.

Lou Lotz reminds us that our lives are like the changing seasons. As we age out of one season, we are flung into a new one, sometimes with little warning or preparation. Our task is to gracefully mourn what we lose when one season ends and move graciously into the next one, knowing that God is present in every change.

For me (and many of my  friends), one of the problematic changes of seasons has been retirement, moving from a very active life to a life where time is waiting to be filled. Some of us become even busier because it seems that there is so much more time. Also, being steeped in the narratives of our childhoods and our community, we want to (and often do)  stay busy –  because feeling “unproductive” creates guilt and sometimes less appreciation.

Someone my age told me the other day that she felt guilty if she sat down to read a book during the day; she only felt free to read at night. I shared that my mother often asked me when I was a teenager (as she flitted busily around the house), “Don’t you have something better to do than reading?”  I usually answered “No” under my breath as I got up to “make myself busy.”

I have worked hard to banish guilt and to welcome less frenetic activity, less responsibility – and less recognition. I’m more at ease with recognizing that my season of planting is ending and my time to harvest is here. I am learning to joyfully take time into my hands; I’ve even been known to read a book from cover to cover without moving! What a privilege!

Understanding the concept that our season of life “can change without [our] noticing it,” can be the opening of the door to acceptance and appreciation of life as it is now. If we don’t fight against the next season of life, our eyes can be open to how God is still using us, perhaps in subtler ways, to bring about God’s Kingdom one day at a time until we join him in a new season – eternal life on a new earth.

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Being Right!

“I know you won’t agree with me,” she started out, “but I can’t go along with this author’s position.” I listened to her argument for a bit and then said, “You’re right. I don’t agree with you.” She defended her position; I defended mine. She clarified; I re-clarified. Suddenly I thought,”This disagreement is not necess-ary!” I looked around and saw the expressions on the faces of the other class members; most were confused or mildly upset, but one of them was grinning. He and I said the same thing at the same time: “It doesn’t matter who is right!”  With some chagrin, I added, “Maybe this point of difference needs more contemplation.”

As I think about this now, the chagrin is joined by embarrassment. This is a class during which we often talk about being addicted to our own thinking. And I, the teacher, was proving the point! I was trained, subtly and not so subtly, by my parents, my church, and my community that it is important to always be right. Issues have two or more sides and we must be on the right one – even if we destroy relationships by insisting on our correctness.

I have good company. Two of my favorite disciples of Jesus, Peter and Paul, began their lives after his death by insisting that they were right about the next steps. It took a vision from God to convince Peter that he was wrong when he insisted that Gentiles could not be brought into the church.  It took another vision to Paul to halt his rampage of persecution of Christians. Both were convicted by the Holy Spirit – as was I.

As I thought about this seemingly intractable attitude which I have spent decades trying to eliminate, I was reminded of a phone call this week with the company that provides my  diabetic supplies and submits the bill to Medicare. It didn’t take long for that call to turn into “who’s right.”  The customer service representative said, I cannot fulfill your order for supplies because Dr. Smith has not returned some information needed for processing the Medicare bill.  I asked, “Who’s Dr. Smith.

She replied, “Your doctor!”

I said, “My doctor’s name is not Smith.”

She said, “Just a moment.”  I was on hold for a while and then she said,  “Well, it says that Dr. Smith is your doctor.  Is he associated with your doctor’s practice?”

I said, “No! Are you looking at the right account?” There was a brief pause and she said, “What is your last name again?”  I told her. She began apologizing. The issue was not resolved even after that mistake was corrected.  But the interchange gave me new insight into the “I must be right” addiction. Most of the time this behavior is evidence of a stubborn control problem. But sometimes we are right!  And sometimes it’s important to keep pursuing the truth. 

I discovered that day that there is a fine line between needing to be right and wanting to be understood. Perhaps asking these two questions will help conquer my default attitude when my position is challenged:  Am I insisting on my position because it is crucial in this situation that I be understood?  Or does my prideful nature just want to be right?

No matter what our motivation for being right  we have a few choices if we are ready to  give up the title of  “#1 Always Right person.” We can stop talking, put down the gloves, and move into separate corners. Or we can choose to be kind rather than being right – and give way graciously. Or we can learn how to graciously handle difficult conversations. An article in News from Hope College (Volume 19, No. 2) describes the values needed to foster civil conversation, based on the book After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.  Here they are:

  1. Humility to listen – we don’t have all the answers; sometimes we must learn from the insights of others
  2. Hospitality to welcomee – we need to welcome divergent points of view by creating a safe place for expression.
  3. Patience to understand – “patience is the willingness and the fortitude to stay engaged” while listening so that I can understand another’s point of view.
  4. Courage to Challenge  – we must be brave enough to express our convictions even when it may be dangerous or unpopular.
  5. Honesty to speak the truth in love – “honesty fosters an open environment that encourages growth and leads to real progress.”

Practicing these values will help us live in harmony with others and fulfill the commission  that  Jesus gave us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  

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