Living in Darkness

For me, 2017 has been a year of heaviness and darkness. I am not depressed or guilt-ridden; I just  feel the weight of the world’s chaos and pain. Perhaps I have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with a greater sense of compassion in my later years. Perhaps I have been tempted by the Evil One to accept the tornado of forces he has unleashed and to give up on expecting calm days and blue skies. This convergence of emotions plus a deeper grip on the reality of sin has resulted in my overwhelming recognition of the power of the darkness.

In  his Daily Meditation on September 5, 2017 Richard Rohr says:

“Darkness is a good and necessary teacher. It is not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” in our belly, and only eventually becomes sweet as honey (see Ezekiel 2:9-10; 3:1-3).

I suspect that most people over fifty would agree that “darkness” can be a teacher.  I wonder, however, how many of us  try to avoid, deny, run away from, or explain away the darkness rather than settling back into it and letting it teach us. How can the darkness teach us?

Theologians and philosophers have written thousands of words about this. I take my cue from  Eugene Peterson, pastor and poet, who wrote an entire book on the phrase “eat this book” from the passage in Ezekiel quoted by Rohr. This metaphor for absorbing the words of scripture into our lives gives me some help in allowing darkness to teach me.

When we eat, we consciously open our mouths and take in the food. Then we chew it. Then our systems take over, process what we need, and provide for the elimination of what we don’t need. So how do we accept, chew, process, and eliminate the darkness of “lamentation, wailing and moaning?”  First we take it in. We do not try to make it go away. We do not try to fix it (unless this is chronic depression); we live through it. We open our souls to the reality of the darkness without blaming God for causing it. We “chew” on the darkness and “swallow” it.

Secondly, we allow the Holy Spirit to help us digest what we are learning.  We trust that in time with the Spirit’s  guidance we will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. We affirm (or re-affirm) that on earth we must live in the midst of suffering, walk through darkness and uncertainty, and become comfortable with mystery. We trust the grace and faithfulness of God to be with us in times of light and dark.

Richard Rohr has also written that “there is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective “‘dark night'” (Daily Meditation for September 11). Perhaps we can use this “dark night” to challenge our preconceptions, false narratives, and contradictions and recreate our journeys as individuals and as a society.

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Somebody Prayed for us Today – by a Guest Blogger

This post was written by a guest blogger who prefers to remain anonymous.

Somebody prayed for us today. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, I’d been feeling  that I was caught in stormy weather that abated at times, but that I could never quite get out of the rain. Calling 911 in the middle of the night for an ambulance for my husband was a first for us and triggered fear for his health and our future.  As the EMT’s packed him up and drove the ambulance out of the driveway, I was left tagging along behind feeling a complete loss of control. This second trip into the ER in just over 2 days’ time had pushed me to the edge.

Returning home after that sleepless night, I was feeling weary of caregiving, and weary of trying to give advice without being heard. Mentally I was drained and physically exhausted. Spiritually, I was asking God to give me strength and patience.  But often in crisis, there were no loud nor quiet answers, neither was there a sense of peace.  Instead, I found myself looking despairingly in the rear view mirror over the past few months and counting up energy-draining situations. Unfortunately, I had fallen recently and that resulted in pain that had compromised my ability to tend to the routines of all the household and outdoor chores: cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, and outdoor chores that my husband had not been able to do because of recent surgery.  No one had taken over those tasks, nor tended to my needs emotionally or physically.  Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Sometimes when things overwhelm, sitting down with a friend or picking up the phone to tell “your story” brings new perspective and seems to lighten the load.  But I was not in a space to pick up the phone. I was stewing, and told myself it was OK to not be a happy camper for a little while.

And then the phone rang, and somebody prayed.   I wish I could say that hearing that “all things work together for good” felt like a balm for my soul or that I was given new hope and encouragement from the words being prayer that I should love Jesus more through these struggles. But the call did  none of that. In the space I was in, it felt more like a sting with a bit of shame and guilt thrown in.

I’m grateful someone took the time to call and offer prayer.  But the balm that I needed came when several friends called and listened to my story.  These friends had experienced similar struggles, and accepted as normal the fatigue, weariness and emptiness I was feeling. There was nothing any of them offered that I needed except for listening, and that was enough to envelope my hurting heart with love.

My own mind has re-centered on the only source of hope and help that we have, and my prayers of gratitude have since replaced my hollow sighs.

This experience has been a good reminder.  As I reach out to others, most likely quoting scripture or speaking easy platitudes will not be helpful.  I must commit to hearing their stories first.  Perhaps just listening, listening to understand without judgment, perhaps just that is enough.

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Going Deeper – Do Something Significant (John 15: 5)

In Eat this Book, Eugene El Shaddi bannersPeterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage, Jesus reminds us that we can do significant work for him if we recognize that he is the vine and we are the branches.   

JOHN 15: 5 (MSG) – DO SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.

CHEW

Recently, I came across notes I had taken long ago in a class on the book Experiencing God –  Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King. I chased down the workbook I had completed years ago and looked through it. On the first page I found this summary: “The Master never consults the servant as to what he is to do. The Master takes the initiative.  He sets the pace and lets you know what he is doing so you can join in.” This is a different perspective than the one we often have when we think about God’s will.  The model many of us has been taught about doing God’s will is:   

  • God tells me what I am supposed to do.
  • God sends me off to do it.
  • I try to do it.
  • I call on God when I need him.

This view of God’s will puts us in the position of trying to discern and then obey the exact path God is putting before us. An extreme version of this is a story I heard from a friend about a college student she knew. This student was, for all intents and purposes, paralyzed by trying to figure out if God was calling her to be a missionary in China or in India.  She desperately did not want to make the wrong choice and make God angry for not doing his will – so she chose to do neither. She didn’t see that the idea of becoming a missionary was enough direction for her to follow. If we follow the model above, following God’s will is all about us.

Blackaby’s version of finding the will of God is much different.  He says:

  • God reveals a vision of what he is about do in the world to me.
  • I grow into the plan through prayer and discernment.
  • I step out in faith before I even understand the details or the end goal.
  • God and I create a synergy of creative ideas and actions which enables God’s plan come to fruition.

This view of God’s will is all about God.  He is creatively at work in his people and his people respond by participating in his plan.

All the heroes of Scripture were ordinary people. It was their relationship with God that made them extraordinarily effective. We, too, were created to do something significant with God.  In order to find that something, we just need to concentrate on our relationship with the Trinity – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. John 15 identifies our relationships with God and Jesus through this metaphor: God is the Vine Grower; Jesus is the Vine; we are the branches. (Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the rain, the sunlight, and the soil.) When we are joined in an “intimate and organic” relationship with God, manifesting his will in our world, the harvest will surely be “abundant.”

DIGEST

♥  Think about your Biblical heroes –  perhaps Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Ruth, Mary, Peter, Paul.  Which model of discerning God’s will did they follow?  How do their stories influence you?

♥  Do you want to do something significant for God? It is likely that God sharing a vision of what he wants to do in your family, your neighborhood, your church, your town.  Open your mind and your heart during times of silence and reflection. Listen to God’s ideas. Step out in faith and then stay connected to the Vine.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We bear fruit not by squeezing it out of ourselves but because we are extensions of the vine, pruned by the gardener-God who wants us to be fruitful and to be drawn into the unity of the Father and Son. God’s love, presence, and pruning are gifts. But we do choose the abiding place of our soul. If we want to bear Jesus’ fruit, then we choose to abide in him, which we will learn in John 15:9 means to abide in his love (by Meda Stamper, (Working Preacher Website, May 3, 2015). 

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This Little Light of Mine – part 3

During the Vietnam War, peace activist A.J. Muste (1885-1967), stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle – sometimes alone.  A reporter interviewed him one evening as he stood there in the rain. “Mr. Muste,” the reporter said, “do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” A. J. responded, “Oh, I don’t do this to change the country, I do this so the country won’t change me.”  I decided to think of ways to light a candle of hope in 2017 and invite others to join me. If you have an idea about lighting a candle, please share it in the comment section below.

 “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth” (NIV).

This “little light of mine” post is inspired by Psalm 46:10. It is about being still.  I’m learning that being still can be a way of “lighting” and re-lighting your candle in the darkness.  Here are some ideas I’ve been tossing around.

If you are a political junkie like me, put down the burden of protecting the world for a while each day and let God rule.  Stop yelling at the TV (turn it off, if you can’t) and be still. Stop obsessing about the disasters that will happen if this President continues his course. Remember that God is staying God’s course as well. The arc of history is in our favor because the Creator of history is our God.

Choose to be still for five minutes several times a day.  Just step outside of the chaos and refresh yourself. Look for animals in the fluffy clouds.  Listen to some inspiring music.  Eat some fresh fruit. Read a poem or a  Psalm or a chapter in  a meaningful memoir.

Make a pact with yourself that you won’t argue with friends or relatives on the other side of any issue.  State your case in simple direct sentences. Listen to the other side. And then just stop.  You can’t change a mind that doesn’t want to change. 

Be a little more introspective.  In his memoir, Unexpected Destinations, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson says, “My fascination is how one’s interior journey shapes and molds the exterior events that constitute one’s history.” During your stillness before God, contemplate how you arrived at your spiritual and political beliefs. Think about how your inward journey inspires your outward journey.  Is the way you live life in harmony with the values you hold about life? 

Pledge that the thoughts you share with others will first be filtered through the Holy Spirit’s sieve. Determine that the thoughts you share will enlighten and add value to the conversation. Follow the old Trappist saying, “Speak only when it improves the silence.”  If you do this, you will find that being still before God is much easier

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Who Made That?

This blog now contains more than 670 posts.  Here is a post from September 2012  that you may have missed.

A little girl and her grandmother were cuddled together in a rocking chair reading a book when a loud crash of thunder got their attention.  The little girl got up and ran to the window.  “Grandma,” she called, “Come here, quick!”

The grandmother got up slowly and walked to the window. Following her granddaughter’s pointing finger, she saw rainbow stripes against a patch of blue sky. Her granddaughter looked up at her and said, “Grandma, who made that?”

I envy that child. Like most children, her world is still full of awe and wonder.  Sometimes I walk through my world day after day without really seeing – until a clap of thunder wakes me up.

In moments when I am practicing the art of paying attention, I am filled with wonder when a baby smiles back at me.  When a choir and orchestra fill a sanctuary with glorious music. When sunlight slants through a forest. When birds serenade each other at sunrise. When a perfect sentence ends a mesmerizing book. When a dancer gracefully floats across the stage. When children giggle. When aromas of a Thanksgiving meal waft through a  warm kitchen. When frost traces a delicate filigree across my window pane.

Living in wonder trains our souls for worship. In fact, Abraham Joshua Heschel (the author of the story of the girl and her grandmother) says that without wonder there is no worship. Start walking through your world with your eyes and ears and heart wide open.  Look past routine and humdrum and gaze at the holiness of ordinary moments. Live intentionally in wonder and worship – and praise our God who fills our world with beauty and delightful surprises in unexpected places.

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Praying with Psalm 16

Use the questions below the verses of Psalm 16 to help you focus on your commitment and intimate relationship to a wise and loving God. These verses are from Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of Psalm 16 in The Message; they may strike you as bold, even brash.Their freshness may help your see your relationship with God in a new light.

Keep me safe, O God,  I’ve run for dear life to you.

I say to God, “Be my Lord! Without you, nothing makes sense.’

  •  Bring to memory a time you have “run for dear life” to God.   How did God make you    feel safe?
  •  Can you honestly say to God, “Without you, nothing makes sense?”  What about  your  relationship with God helps you make sense of life?  Thank God for that relationship.

And these God-chosen lives all around – what splendid friends they make!

  • Think of the splendid friends you have made among God’s chosen lives.  Thank God for them one by one.  As you mention their names, what thoughts come to mind?  How have they shown their friendship to you?  What can you do to show your friendship to them?

Don’t just go shopping for a god.  Gods are not for sale.

I swear I’ll never treat god-names like brand names

  • What does it mean to go shopping for a god?  Have you ever acted as if God is for sale?What did you offer God for his services?
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind when you have treated something or someone like a god? (Money, a person you respected, a religious tradition?  Were you disappointed when they didn’t treat you well in return? Ask God for forgiveness for creating idols to worship.

My choice is you, God, first and only.  And know I find I’m your choice.

You set me up with a house and yard, and then you made me your heir.

  • Can you honestly say that God is your first and only choice? Do you celebrate the fact that God chose you or do you take it for granted.  
  • What does it mean to be God’s heir?

I’m happy from the inside out,  and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed

You’ve canceled my ticket to hell – that’s not my destination.

  • Do you feel happy from the inside out?  How do you express that? Do other people see that joy in you?
  • Do you feel “firmly formed?”  If not, how can you change that?
  • Do you understand that you live in the kingdom of God and that no matter what happens you are safe?  What’s it like to know that your destination is living in that kingdom eternally?

Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face.

Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right way.

  • Think back to a time when you strayed off “the life path” – away from God’s shining face? How did that come about?  How did you find your way back? Share that experience with someone who is lost.
  • Do you feel as if God is walking  hand in hand with you?  Describe what that is like and thank God for that blessing. Share that experience with someone who does not feel that intimacy.
  • What are you doing to stay on the “right way?” Share that experience with someone who is flirting with choosing the “wrong” way.
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This Little Light of Mine – Part 2

During the Vietnam War, peace activist A.J. Muste (1885-1967), stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle – sometimes alone.  A reporter interviewed him one evening as he stood there in the rain. “Mr. Muste,” the reporter said, “do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” A.J. responded, “Oh, I don’t do this to change the country, I do this so the country won’t change me.”  I decided to think of ways to light a candle of hope in 2017 and invited others to join me. The posts below are contributions by Carol McGeehan and Jean Schreur. If you have an idea for the “This Little Light of Mine” series, you can write it in the comment section below.

“Years ago I read about a program  in a Latin American country to help fight its high rates of illiteracy and poverty. It was called “Each One Teach One and was developed by Dr., Frank Laubach in the Philippines. The idea was for each citizen to teach one other person to read. It was very successful in raising the number of people who could read and could find employment. This was in a very poor country which was able to raise literacy rates and living standards through the power of its citizens helping each other.

It’s all about the power of one. We each have different gifts and talents we can share with people. If we all do just one thing, we can make a big difference. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little.Together we can do so much.” And Mother Teresa said, ‘If you cannot feed 1000,then feed just one’.

So as the song goes,’Take your candle and go light the world.'”  (By Carol McGeehan)

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“I have the privilege of tutoring students who are learning English as a second or third language. When they tell me what country they are from and when they came to this country, I shake their hand or give them a hug and tell them how glad I am that they came. Most have come by way of sadness, war, waiting, refugee camps, and of course they leave behind family members and their country.

It has been thrilling to attend citizenship ceremonies of some of the students. Recently I attended a ceremony of one student. She and her husband and three daughters all became citizens. They were among a group of seventy-five other people from thirty-four countries all becoming new citizens.

This summer I tutored just one student. He told me he has come to the U.S “to change his life.” Leaving behind family and a teaching job, he came seeking a way to escape poverty, go to school here and, eventually, go back to his country of origin.

I may be holding a candle in some of their darkness, but have found that my world is so much brighter because they are in my life.”  (By Jean  A. Schreur)

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Content – Guest Post by Sally Hoekstra

Many thanks to my friend Sally for sharing this story!

My journey into yoga began this past winter when a friend and his wife invited me to attend a yoga class focusing on grief and yoga.  I was experiencing grief over the death of my mother and had always wanted to try yoga, so I gathered up my courage to go somewhere new and do something new.  (I do NOT like going to new places and have a hard time starting new things.) But I went on a cold Saturday afternoon in February. The space was beautiful; the warmth and openness and vulnerability were also beautiful.  And thus began my path into yoga.  

I’m still such a beginner, but I try and it takes my mind off from everything except the struggle of hanging in a downward dog pose or a pigeon pose or a warrior pose.  I’m most grateful for the child pose where I could be all day. But, the benefits physically and emotionally are worth it all.  

One Saturday, our instructor asked us to find a mantra for ourselves as we began the class. She prompted us to try “I am ……… “ and then whatever we were feeling.  It was strange, but the word that came to me was “content”. So I said the mantra “I am content” and wondered what kind of crazy business I was thinking when I was really far from content.  My heart was still breaking over the loss of my mom; my work days were still stressful; the time I was spending with my children and grandchildren and dad was overwhelming.  Yet, the word that came was “content”.  As long as I could allow myself to not be anything more, I was content.

I shared this strange word with a friend who reminded me of the wisdom of the ending of the Serenity Prayer, which we had studied together.

Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,

Trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

These words showed me that “content” was really an okay word to describe how I was feeling.  

I recently began reading the book Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. One of the main character’s name is “Katie Kontent.” At one point in the book, she shares that the pronunciation is Kon-Tent’, not Kon’-Tent.  I had to chuckle as I wondered what the odds were that I would be reading a book whose character had a name the same as the word I had so recently chosen to cling to.  

And then it hit me.  I am con-tent’, but I am not con’-tent.  I am not what fills my life, even if it’s good.  And I am not what is in my being, especially if it’s not good.  I am not what people think of me or who I do or don’t impress.  I am not con’tent, I am con-tent’.  I am trying to be peaceful and walk life quietly and faithfully and to take care of myself and those God has in my life at this moment.  I’m not sure people understand me anymore as I’m really not the same person I used to be – before I learned about becoming an Apprentice of Jesus;  before I became a grandma; before I lost my mom.  But that is okay, for that is con’tent.  My soul is content’.

When I go to yoga and we breathe (while twisted into pretzels and dogs and cobras), I can breathe and say “I am content.” For that is what I am. 

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