My Garden in the Sky

One of my projected sorrows when moving last summer from a manufactured home with a lovely yard  to an apartment complex was the loss of my flower gardens. However, that unnecessary anxiety was erased this summer by the beautiful, luxuriant potted plants that fill our balcony. 

They were easy to plant (after I lugged 6 bags of Miracle Gro potting soil and all the plants up the stairs), require no weeding, take 5 minutes to water (if there is no rain), and are colorful reminders of God’s beautiful world.  

My sister has been part of my gardening for  two summers – as I grew too weak to take care of it by myself.  So I was excited to show her my garden in the sky weeks ago after it was just planted and then again a few days ago, now that it has fulfilled its promise to display God’s glory.  Her comment was, “They are happy here!”  

I had to agree. They are happy here. And why not? They have plenty of water, enough food for the growing season, sunlight – and most important, a lot of love!  What else could they want?

I thought about that question throughout this week. Is human happiness that easy to find? The same Creator provides and cares for me. I currently have everything I need to keep my body as healthy as it can be in this season.  I have the Light of the World available to me at all times.  I have the love of family and friends to encourage my growth.  To quote a cliché, I have learned to “bloom where I am planted” just as my petunias, daisies, marigolds, geraniums, delphinium, and begonias have.  We can learn a lot about the grace of God just by looking around us. 

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The Spaces Between

I removed the glass plate from the microwave to wash it. Since I’m still as spatially challenged as I was the last time I washed it, I hoped that I could put it back without asking my husband to explain how to properly fit the three molded triangles on the bottom of the plate onto the floor of the microwave. I looked at the plate and thought, “I have to learn how to do this.”  Then I noticed the spaces in between the triangles.  Maybe I have to concentrate on fitting the spaces properly – not the triangles.  It worked!

And now my  epiphany. How often in our lives do we need to look at the “spaces between” before we take action? In my microwave incident, I needed a change in focus or in orientation. In other cases we may just need to pause and rest in a space to gain new perspective or to choose an action.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was doing when he waited for days to visit Lazarus (John 11). Maybe Paul’s blindness upon seeing the risen Christ became his change in focus (Acts 9: 1-19). Peter’s”space between” was a vision of a sheet being lowered which contained “all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air” along with the Voice that warned him not to call any person “common or unclean” (Acts 10: 9-16). This pause in his life changed his vision of the early church and influenced at the Council of Jerusalem to accept Gentiles into the church – thus opening the Way of Jesus to the entire world (Acts 15).

Here are some  times when we may want to take advantage of the “space between”that may prevent “life-thwarting” behaviors:

  • reading an e-mail and writing a response
  • encountering a reckless driver and responding
  • hearing a juicy, gossipy story and sharing it on Facebook or with friends
  • receiving a compliment and denying it
  • hearing angry words and turning your back or fighting back

And here are times when using the space between may be “life-giving:”

  • waking up and getting up
  • hearing bird songs and walking away
  • moving from this task to the next one
  • hearing a child’s “why” and choosing an answer
  • turning off the light and falling asleep

Concentrating on the “space between” is part of the training of an Apprentice of Jesus. It is more difficult to focus on the potential of a space in time than on a particular activity (simplicity, Bible reading, truth-telling).  However,  this is the blessing of the intentional journey of spiritual formation.  It brings us in contact with parts of our lives we generally ignore.

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Going Deeper – God Sees to It! (Genesis 22: 1 – 14 )

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, we are reminded that God sees to everything in our lives.

GENESIS 22: 1-14 (MSG); GOD SEES TO IT

After all this, God tested Abraham. God said, “Abraham!” “Yes?” answered Abraham. “I’m listening.” He said, “Take your dear son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll point out to you.”

 Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his son Isaac. . . . On the third day he looked up and saw the place in the distance. Abraham told his two young servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you. . . . 

 Isaac said to Abraham his father, “Father?” “Yes, my son.” “We have flint and wood, but where’s the sheep for the burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “Son, God will see to it that there’s a sheep for the burnt offering.” And they kept on walking together.

 They arrived at the place to which God had directed him. Abraham built an altar. He laid out the wood. Then he tied up Isaac and laid him on the wood. Abraham reached out and took the knife to kill his son. Just then an angel of God called to him out of Heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes, I’m listening.”   “Don’t lay a hand on that boy! Don’t touch him! Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”  Abraham looked up. He saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  Abraham named that place God-Yireh (God-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.”

CHEWING

This passage depicts a dramatic event in the history of Abraham and his family.  It is full of “calls and responses,” giving directions given, directions obeyed, questions asked, answers given. The actors in the drama are God, Abraham, Isaac,  two servants  (and a ram caught in the thicket).  Each of these actors has a role to play in the lesson that God wants to teach Abraham. It appears that Abraham follows the direction to sacrifice Isaac without question – although we don’t know what argument may be going on in his heart. When they reach their destination, Abraham tells his young servants to stay put while he and Isaac go worship; they obey. Isaac, too, obediently undertakes this journey with his father, although he does question the concept of a sacrifice without a sheep.

The story has been set for the audience. Now comes the conflict.  Abraham builds an altar, lays out the wood, ties up his son and, puts him on the altar.  Now the audience, you and me, responds. “What are you doing? Are you really going to kill your son?  Are you following the traditions of the religions around you?  God can’t mean for you to sacrifice a child in worship!”

But Abraham raises his knife and prepares to kill his son.  “No!” we shout. And then God intervenes.  “Stop! I see that you are obedient to me, even to the point of sacrificing what you love best to me.”   And then finally Abraham sums up what he has learned from the whole process: “God sees to it.”

Perhaps this a pattern of obedience all Christ-followers can learn from:  

  • God calls us.
  • We listen.
  • God gives us a direction.
  • We take action.
  • Others question us.  We respond in faith.
  • We take more action.
  • God calls again, revising the plan
  • We obey.
  • Looking back, we see that God sees to everything.
  • We live a grateful life.

DIGESTING

♥  Look back in your life.  Can you find an Abraham and Isaac story?  Who were the actors? What was the conflict? How did you resolve it? Looking back, can you understand that God saw to everything during that journey?

♥  Abraham was able to hear God because he was used to listening for and to God. Listening means being quiet and perhaps in solitude.  Carve out spots in the day for doing nothing but sitting still. As Richard Foster says, we need to resign as “CEO of the universe” and trust that God can handle things without us.  Then we can listen to what he how he is using us in his plans.

♥  Try to incorporate the 10 steps in the pattern above in to your daily life.  You may be in different stages in a variety of actions God has called you to. You may find you need way more time for listening and mulling things over in your life than you thought.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“Genesis 22 after all is a story of life coming into a situation of death; a story of redemption; a story of faith in the midst of extreme trauma. It is true that it sometimes is difficult to see God’s provision and goodness in desperate situations when tragedy strikes. Nevertheless, the text calls upon us to look up and see God’s goodness breaking into situations of despair.  The true act of faith on the part of Abraham thus is not the blind faith that often has been the dominant message emerging from this text, but rather the ability to recognize God’s provision in the ordinary, especially in those circumstances when everything appears to be futile” (Juliana Claassens in Working Preacher website, June 26, 2011).

 

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From My Reading

“John, in his wisdom, points out in inspired words, ‘If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things'(I John 3:20.) This is a gentle but salutary rebuke to our assumption that we know better than God! God, on any showing, is infinitely greater in wisdom and love than we are and, unlike us, knows all the factors involved in human behavior.

We are guilty of certain things, and these we must confess with all honesty, and make reparation where possible. But there may be many factors in our lives for which we are not really to blame at all. We did not choose our heredity; we did not choose the bad, indifferent, or excellent way in which we were brought up.

This is naturally not to say that every wrong thing we do, or every fear or rage to which we are subject today, is due entirely to heredity, environment, and upbringing. But it certainly does mean that we are in no position to judge ourselves; we simply must leave that to God, who is our Father and “is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” It is almost as if John is saying, “If God loves us, who are we to be so high and mighty as to refuse to love ourselves?” (J. B.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

“Some things just take time. Skewed perspectives and behaviors developed over years of persuasion and practice rarely change in a moment’s recognition and repentance. Imbedded habits of thinking and acting, the deep grooves in our minds, hearts, and actions, surely can change, but the rhythms of spiritual transformation are most often slow, paced, measured, deliberate” (Chris Hall in Renovare Weekly Digest for June 14, 2017).

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

“Contemplative prayer is like striking a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is resonate to the true pitch, to receive the always-present message. Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance, a capacity for mutuality (see Matthew 7:7-11), which implies a basic humility. We must begin with the knowledge that the Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station, you and me” (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditations for June 30, 2017).

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Ordinary Days

As I woke up slowly that morning, coming out of the fog of some dream or another,  I puzzled over what day it might be.  When I remembered, I thought happily, “Oh, good. It’s just an ordinary day!” And that was such an unusual thought, it got me musing about “ordinary days.”

As a classic introvert (with a husband who is also an introvert), my best ordinary days are spent at home.  They are quiet, well-ordered, full of silence and solitude, and introspection.  Days spent “outside,” filled with errands and appointments and people are draining. My sister, on the other hand, is a true social being, happily and constantly on the move. Her days are filled with exercise, gardening, friends, grandchildren, and volunteering in many different ways; her days at home, while sometimes a welcome relief, are hours waiting to be filled. Our “ordinary days” are quite different!

Since I consider myself an apprentice of Jesus, I began to imagine what an ordinary day for Jesus would be like.  I remembered a description of the life of Jesus by John Baillie in his classic book Diary of Private Prayer. Baillie thanks God for the life of Jesus who lived “on this common earth” and “under these ordinary skies.”  That seems to mean that Jesus lived a life very similar to what ours should be.  

The gospel accounts tell us that Jesus spent his days on earth acting in obedience to the will of his Father and to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  He also used the gifts he was given in ways that revealed God’s glory.  He seems not to have been bothered if a plan for the day was interrupted by someone in need; he was constantly alert to the individuals and crowds who called his name. He had time for young children, for lepers, for tax collectors, for sinful women, and for Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin Council which called for his execution. But he also realized the need to “get away” and spend time alone. He valued his relationships – family, his disciples, and his good friends. Jesus was always primed for a teachable moment, perhaps an indication of his reflective, contemplative nature; he always had a story or a lesson or a message or a warning to share. 

When Jesus walked on this common earth under these ordinary skies, he was fully human. He was neither an introvert nor an extrovert but a blend of all those character traits. His “ordinary” days were days fueled by a strong, gentle love for those around him, evidenced by his sharing himself in whatever way what God inspired him to share. Our ordinary days, whether we are homebodies or are busy in world of people, should be the same. 

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Reclaiming Conversation

This blog holds more than 650 posts, I regularly look back for posts that new followers might have been missed in the early days.  This post, updated to make it more current, was first published on November 19, 2012.  It is still true!

We all need sacred spaces where we keep to ourselves and to the people close to us.” This statement by social scientist and psychologist, Sherry Turkel, on NPR is a lament about our increasing tendency to being always “on” and always “open” on social media.

Dr. Turkel went on to say that we are too busy communicating to think and that we have lost our ability to use our “editorial function.”  That is: we type, we respond, we react before we even think.  We post a thought or give an immediate response as if we have forgotten that before instant messaging, Facebook, and twitter, we had time to gather our thoughts and make judgments about whether they were worth sharing or even safe to share.  As I listened, I stood up and cheered!  Well, not really, but mentally I gave her a high-five.

How did we get to this place?  Why have  silence and solitude become foreign to us?  Why do we have to create a soul-training exercise to make ourselves practice times of quiet and aloneness? Can you imagine anyone taking a two-year sabbatical in the woods alone the way Henry David Thoreau did?  (Or two days, for that matter) Why do we panic to the point of rudeness if we can’t answer a text or an e-mail instantly?

I have seen mothers walking with their children but totally ignoring them because they are engrossed with their cell phones.  Couples and teens in groups sit side by side – texting. People walk into the paths of cars and bang into people and objects because their heads are down and their eyes are on the ground.

What would Jesus say to all of this, I wonder.  What  would the Rabbi who pulled children onto his lap say to parents who don’t even notice their children because they are texting.  What would the Healer, who stopped along the road to ask people what they need, say to us who blissfully ignore all human contact as we walk down a sidewalk.  What would the One who taught us the most about relating to people say to Christ-followers who prefer to communicate through a machine than have a conversation across the table?

Dr. Turkle has these simple suggestions for changing this culture:

1. Regularly declare your e-mail account bankrupt. Create an automatic response to e-mailers letting them know that the long list of emails you now have will be ignored.  Ask  those who  have a continuing relationship with you to  send another e-mail which you will answer it.

2.  Declare mealtimes, times that you are picking up your children from school or events, and trips to the park or a playground “sacred spaces.”  Turn off your phones and computers and speak and listen to your children.

3.  Remember that you are a model for your children.  If you want them to get off their phones and communicate with you, you have to model getting off your phone to communicate with them.  Leave the house without taking your  smart phone, so they can see that you can have a life without it.

4.  Practice driving without the radio on or sitting in the house with the TV, radio, MP3 player, computer, or any  other noise making device turned off. Spend time alone and encourage your children to spend time alone – with their books or toys or art work or pet.

You could even read Sherry Turkle’s  book,  Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, published by Basic Books or watch one of several TED speeches she has given.

_____

Sherry Turkle is the  Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT

 

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Going Back to the Big Bang

I do not have a mind for math or science. I do have an orderly and logical mind, but it is fueled and sparked by the nuances and shades of words, by metaphor and images (visual and written), and by intuition. I am skilled at creating flow charts and processes if they contain words; bar graphs and line graphs prompt me to gear up for battle. Chemistry was a nightmare; I didn’t attempt physics.  Advanced numerical processes and the 1’s and 0’s of computers (no matter how logical) are beyond me.  It was only when I learned about the structure and workings of the brain that I was able to forgive myself for these lapses. I could always say to myself, “My brain doesn’t work that way.”

I tell you all this so that you will understand how mind-boggling it was to read about the James Webb Space Telescope in Time magazine for July 3, 2017.  When the telescope is launched in October, 2018 by NASA (in cooperation with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency) and parks itself in space about 1 million miles away, it will get very close to seeing back to the very beginning of our of our approximately 13.8 billion-year-old universe.  “[It will pick] up signals that have been traveling to us since just 200 million years after the Big Bang, and converting that information to pictures.

An image it delivers of,  say, a brand-new galaxy won’t be the galaxy  as it looks today, but as it looked 13.6 years ago – the cosmic equivalent of live-streaming videos of your newborn across a network that takes, say, 80 years to complete the transmission.  The baby in the video will be an octogenarian by the time your receiver watches the stream.  That time-capsule quality will be true of all the observations Webb makes of stars and nebulae and other structures at the most distant removes of space.

Leave aside the physics and engineering miracle that is the Webb telescope which, of course, is beyond my wildest imagination.  Just think about the fact that it will capture a view of the world of the Big Bang, soon after (relatively speaking) the actual occurrence – an event that happened 13,6 billion years ago.  The Webb telescope will looking further back in space and in time than we have ever seen before.  The science in this story is baffling to me; it deals with the speed of light and the theory of relativity. How any of this is possible, I don’t know.  I just know that it creates a huge sense of awe and wonder in my mind and in my soul.  

This story made me think of Brian Greene, a physicist and mathematician, who was inter- viewed by Krista Tippett on the radio show  On Being on June 1, 2017.  When Ms Tippett asks, “If you think about a mind or an intelligence or even that order behind the universe, then how do you imagine that?” Mr. Greene responds:

The important thing to bear in mind — I think many physicists have this perspective — we don’t envision that there’s some mind behind it all, but we do envision that there are these powerful laws that can do things that you wouldn’t expect them able to do, based upon the most naïve look at the equations. I mean, how could it be that general relativity, the simple equation in quantum mechanics and the standard model of particle physics — if we put that into the mix, over the course of billions of years, can somehow conspire to yield you and me, this complex, cognizant being? How could we really just emerge from the laws of physics acting through evolutionary change?

But that’s the power of the math. So if you want, there is the hidden hand. Call it the hidden hand of God if you want. I would simply call it the hidden hand of the equations. And that gets us from the beginning to here.

I would rather be left with awe and wonder by the world  created by a cosmic God who was/is/will ever be involved in the universe to be revealed by the Webb telescope  than understand all the math perfectly and be left with the “power of  math” and the “hidden hand of equations . . . that gets us from the beginning to here.”

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Going Deeper with God -Staying Out of the Ditch (Isaiah 42: 16)

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 verse, we see the benefits of living in a posture of surrender and allowing God to be our guide.

ISAIAH 42: 16 (MSG) –  STAYING OUT OF THE DITCH

“I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way,
    who can’t see where they’re going.
I’ll be a personal guide to them,
    directing them through unknown country

I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,
    make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.
These are the things I’ll be doing for them—
    sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”  

CHEWING

Imagine driving in a blinding blizzard or a hurricane-force thunderstorm. You can’t see ahead or behind or sideways. You can’t hear anything but ferocious winds. You don’t know where the road is. Your memory tells you that there are ditches on both sides. You are worried that you might drive into a snow bank or  unexpected high water. Even though you have traveled this road before it feels like unknown territory. You are terrified. You are hoping beyond hope that someone will come to direct you through  this unknown country.

The writer of this Scripture passage knows the God who saved his people from their enemies despite their repeated waywardness. He knows the God who gave them all the commandments they needed for emotional and spiritual health, but realized that they had broken every one of them. He knows the God who suffered as his people chose the wrong roads in the furies of life. Most of all he knows that his God is the One who will stick with his people and not leave them for a moment, no matter how far off track they had gone. He wants us to know that when we are hoping beyond hope, God has already been/is here /will be ready to direct you.

What difference would it make in our lives if we could just trust in a God who loves us that much, who is waiting for us to take his proffered hand and walk with him, instead of  into the ditch?

DIGESTING

 Memorize Matt. 6: 34, Jesus antidote to worry and anxiety – something you will find heaps of when you are in unknown territory. Each morning remind yourself that if you respond to life based only on your own experience or wisdom, you will be in trouble. Say this verse every evening. When you wake up in the morning, make a conscious decision to remember that God will not leave you for a minute. Lean on God’s promise to be your guide.

♥   Our world does not believe the words of Isaiah or Matthew. It does not recognize a God who will be our shepherd even “through the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23). Our world says that we are safe if we are on top. It teaches that if someone attempts to topple us from our position, we need to hit them back harder.  Even some people who call themselves Christians rely on the world’s “wisdom” that we will be safer if we can wall out those who are different, that security lies being first, being right, being more powerful.

When you hear language like this, Isaiah would like you to remember that no one is more powerful than God. No one can get us through the unknown country except God.  And perhaps we can be Isaiah’s voice (and God’s) to someone whose fears and terror have blinded them into believing that power will save them.

 MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT ON MATTHEW 6: 34

“We need to trust God as the creator and sustainer of all of life. We need to embrace the mission that God has given us . . . . We need to dwell in the confidence that the kingdom is reaching from the future into the present world and that God promises to bless those who are indwelling that kingdom. This is not to say that each of us will always have all that we want or even what we need; rather, we must see Jesus’ teachings as they were meant to be seen: assuming the reality and availability of provisions, Jesus calls us to strike out and trust God for what we need . . .

A careful reading of our text in the context of Jesus’ own radical itinerant ministry prompts us to think that our full pantries and refrigerators are playing a different game than the one Jesus and his followers played. These are words for radicals about a radical lifestyle of trusting God for the ordinaries of life while devoting oneself unreservedly toward the kingdom mission” (Scot McKnight in Sermon on the Mount Commentary, a volume in  The Story of God Bible Commentary series).

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