Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the category “Spirit”

Press On!

Athlete running road silhouette

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 3:13-14

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in the past. We humans all too often step into the quicksand of old ways of doing things and outdated thinking. Why? I’m sure there are a host of logical (and illogical) reasons, but the illusion of security seems to be one of the bigger quagmires into which we oh so willingly step. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard words like these: “Why should we change? We’ve been doing it this way since 1961? Oh, that’ll never work; our folks don’t like change. It’s too (fill in the blank with whatever rationalization comes to mind) to change.” The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. By blanketing ourselves with the vestiges of our sentimentalized or glorified pasts, we avoid stepping out into an uncertain and rapidly evolving future. Looking backward prevents us from seeing the things ahead that make us uncomfortable and that challenge our notions of how things ought to be. In short, and I’ll make a bold claim here, we open ourselves to the insidious nature of sin whenever we dig in our heels and circle our wagons.

People running in city marathon..

Take a look at this week’s gospel lesson (John 12:1-8). Jesus is dining at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In less than a week, Jesus’ life and ministry will take a turn that changes both history and humankind forever, yet right now life is going on as usual. Life as usual, that is, until Mary steps out of the circle of acceptable community behavior and chooses to anoint Jesus’ feet with a pound of expensive perfume. Judas Iscariot just can’t stand the act he sees taking place before his eyes. How dare she “waste” something of so much value! What a prodigal show of devotion, this anointing. Jesus reminds Judas of the bigger picture, a picture he cannot fathom in the present moment.

Yes, fear stifles us and prevents us from moving forward in ministry and mission, from following the one who holds the cosmos in his hands. Succumbing to the “what ifs” keeps us bound and blinded to new possibility. This is not what God intends for God’s people. God desires good for us, but we must keep pressing on in faith and listening for the voice of the Spirit’s guiding. We must quiet our own hearts and minds and stifle our angry, fearful voices to even begin to discern God’s will for our lives individually, our congregations corporately, and the church universally. Listen to the words of the Lord as recorded through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things,/or consider the things of old./I am about to do a new thing;/now it springs forth, do you not perceive it (Isaiah 43:18-19)?

Finish Line, Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Sky, Clouds and Sunburst.

Our God does new and wonderful things through ordinary people like you and me and calls us to look forward into kairos (divine) time. Yes, it is a step of immense faith, but do we really have any other palatable option? All of our fearful clinging to the past will get us nowhere but the future anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to press forward with purpose rather than cling to a pitiful illusion? We are all of us invited to join the great parade of the faithful who trust God enough to follow into the future, press on in the light of Christ, and sing good news with the psalmist:

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Note: This reflection originally appeared on the Stewardship of Life Website in 2010.

Photo Credits: © Warren Goldswain – Fotolia.com, © Chee-Onn Leong – Fotolia.com, and © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com.

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Midweek Prayer (in the spirit of Taize’)

It’s a wet, snowy winter-into-spring kind of day in south-central Pennsylvania. We woke to about four inches of sloppy snow (much more on the mountains). It was supposed to be much worse, so schools, churches, and businesses opted to close in advance of the storm. If you’re looking for a meditative mid-week prayer option, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what the congregation I serve would have been doing tonight, had we not canceled all activities. Peace, blessing, and reflective quiet. (Note: I apologize for any ads that show up with the songs. You might try opening the hymns in separate windows to cue when you are ready.)

Lenten Midweek Prayer in the Spirit of Taize’

(Light candles)

Song: “The Lord is my Light”

Psalm 39

1I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

2I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse,

3my heart became hot within me. While I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:

4“Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

5You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Selah

6Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.

7“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

8Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool.

9I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.

10Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

11“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath. Selah

12“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears.

13Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.”

Reading from Scripture

Luke 13:18-21

18He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Song: “In God Alone”

Silence

Allow ample time to still your heart in silence and wait for the Lord. We usually allow 7-10 minutes in our worship.

Song: “Lord, Hear my Prayer”

Intercessions

As we continue our Lenten sojourn may we remember those who travel. Keep them safe. Guide them to their destinations. Give them hope and bread for the journey. Lead them beside your still waters and give calm to their weary souls.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who have no place to call their own, no pillow on which to rest their weary heads, no money to buy their bread. Open not only our hearts and minds, but our hands and resources to share with those who have greater need.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember those who are ill, who live with chronic conditions, who are oppressed, and who mourn. We name them now in our hearts or on our lips. (Name those for whom you pray.) Surround them with your love and care. Heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, and walk with the dying and grieving. Show us the way to provide care and comfort.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

As we continue our Lenten sojourn, we remember families, communities, nations, and leaders. Guide and direct those who lead to be gentle, wise, and prudent. Let your Holy Spirit surround them and enfold them so that they may be good and just in their servant leadership.

Lord, we ask your blessing.

We lift our petitions, our hope, and our dreams to you, O gracious Creator. Enliven and sustain us, giving us strength for the journey ahead. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom,

the power and the glory are yours.

Now and for ever.

Amen.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, open the eyes of my heart to see your world afresh. Let me never be blind to injustice, to meanness, and to pain. Enable me to be fully present to you and to all your people in each moment of each precious day. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Let me be the hands, feet, eyes, and presence of Christ to others. Equip me. Stir me. Discomfort me. But, always, always, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.

Song: “Jesus, Remember Me”

Until we meet again, go in peace to  love and serve the Lord.

Note: Scripture readings (NRSV) are taken from the ELCA Daily Lectionary. The Lord’s Prayer is the modern ecumenical translation. The prayers are my own–now yours to share. Blessings!

Cobbled Hearts

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2:12-13

I have a favorite pair of winter boots. My cousin gave them to me for Christmas almost a decade ago, and they’re wonderful, waterproof and classics from L. L. Bean. They have spent considerable time in various cobbler shops in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, and each time I retrieve them, I am rewarded with good fitting, attractive footwear for a fraction of the cost of replacing them. I take them in, scuffed and sad with broken down heels, and pick them up shiny and fresh and ready to go. It’s a good use of resources in the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” spirit of thrift and frugality. When I first slip my renewed footwear back on, I am reminded of how God renews us.

The passage above, taken from the Ash Wednesday lectionary, always moves me. The entire lesson, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, is a call for communal lament and a reminder that no matter how we mess up, God is faithful and just. God is always there to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and tattered lives, to make of us something new and beautiful in spite of our bruises and cracks.

But what God looks for is not the outward shows of religiosity but the lament of a broken and contrite heart. The Creator of the Universe is good at fixing what we break, even (or maybe especially) when that which is broken is our own self.

We humans are good at messing up, at hurting one another, and at causing others pain. We do it knowingly and we do it unwittingly. We hurt with our careless words, our thoughtless consumption, and our selfish fears and vitriol. We curve inward upon ourselves as the Apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

Augustine of Hippo described this tendency as “Incurvatus in se” or the notion of living life inwardly for self rather than outwardly for God and others. Martin Luther took this concept further in his Lectures on Romans, saying

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. (Luther’s Works, Volume 25)

While we try to patch together our broken hearts with the duct tape, chewing gum, and spit of this world and all its empty promises, going on as if nothing at all is wrong with us, God invites us to bring the broken pieces of our deepest hurts, our dreams denied, and our shattered faith. Nothing is beyond fixing in the master crafter’s hands.

We will never be perfect–at least not in this life–but when we rend our hearts and return the pieces to God we will be repaired, refitted, and made new. Even with cracks, crazing, and chips we are better versions of ourselves in the hands of the Divine One.

This Lent, instead of trying to hold your hurting life together on your own, instead of facing the world with the lie of a brave face and an independent, untouchable spirit, return your rent, spent, and damaged self to your Creator and be renewed.

Thanksliving Activity

Find something in your house that you’ve been meaning to repair but have instead shoved deeper into a cabinet or closet. Pull it out, examine it, and figure out a way to fix it. If you can’t fix it yourself, take it to someone who can. Give that item a second chance at a worthwhile life and reflect on how God does the same thing with you–over and over again.

Photos by CarbonNYC, flicktone, and SanFranAnnie. Thanks!

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Hungry

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

How Then Shall We Live?

As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is one of my heroes because she not only talked a good talk; she lived a life of love, compassion, and mercy. Her faith was forged through her own trials and pain, a reality that also led her down a path to help others. Day was a truly amazing woman and a faithful witness to the gospel. You can read more of her story here.

When I read the above quote today, I was reminded again that each day we wake to answer the question “how shall I live this day?” Our western culture affords us myriad choices and opportunities. Most all who read this reflection are blessed to have enough to eat, living quarters that are dry, warm, clean, and spacious, more than enough clothes and possessions, and transportation. Yet still many of us wonder about purpose, direction, and meaning.

Do we live for ourselves, or do we live for one another? Are we only here to live for the day (Carpe Diem) and what we can amass, or are we here to live in community and share? Are we entitled to however much we can get, or do we use only what we need and share the rest with those who have need? How then shall we live?

I cannot answer that for anyone but myself. What I am learning in life is that how I answer that question really does matter and that my needs are pretty simple. People matter; stuff does not. Relationships last; possessions come and go. We come into life empty-handed, and we go out the very same way.

How will you live today?

Photos by Jagz Mario and christiantimeless. Thanks!

 

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

Thankful for Failure

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

I once heard someone say that a mistake is really only a mistake if you fail to learn from it. That means mistakes and failures can be some of our best teachers, our most important investments in time and energy. The lessons we learn from what doesn’t work well can be life-changing and affirming in the long run.

How we handle failure and what we make of our mistakes makes all the difference. That’s why I like Johnny Cash’s observation about failure. Lay that failure down and walk on it; use it as a bridge to a better tomorrow and a brighter future. Take from the experience what you can use to build a stronger foundation, to try a new approach, and to blaze a new trail.

Take from the experience only that which will prevent you from making the same mistake again. Most of all, don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying again, from moving on, and from taking calculated risks in the future. Believe that you are created for a purpose and never, ever give living into that reality.

Be thankful for failure. It may be that today’s mistake or disappointment will you into tomorrow’s opportunity and success.

Here’s a wonderful short video about famous “failures” from bluefishtv.com. Enjoy!

Photo by rockinred1969. Thanks!

The Power of Blessing

The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and cherish you.

May God shield you on every steep,

May Christ aid you on every path,

May Spirit fill you on every slope,

On hill and on plain.

May the king shield you in the valleys,

May Christ aid you on the mountains,

May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,

In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain, valley and plain.

— from the Carmina Gadelica (484–577)*

There is real power in blessing one another, and it’s a  power we too often fail to harness. In a world that can weary and batter the soul, a blessing offered in love and truth restores and revives the spirit.

A colleague in ministry posted on Facebook how her young daughter came to her after a particularly difficult day and offered her a blessing. This intuitive child understood the power of blessing her mother, a simple yet profound act that this mother and pastor will ponder in her heart for years to come even though her daughter may remember it only from her mother’s recounting of the story.

When was the last time you offered someone a blessing? When was the last time you received one from someone other than a pastor, priest, or rabbi?

The world would be a far better place if we would reclaim the art of blessing one another. Blessing transcends the boundaries and forges connections. Whether you actively practice a life of faith or whether you simply believe in the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, try adding one simple blessing a day, even if it is only one whispered under your breath–a silent wish that someone will have a good day, a good life, and all good things. Bless the one who cuts you off in traffic. Bless the emergency responders when you hear the fire alarm or see the flashing lights. Bless your life’s partner and your children. Bless your parents. Bless. Bless. Bless. You cannot go wrong wishing good on another.

*From Wikipedia: The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910. (Thanks to Daniel Clendenin of Journey with Jesus for posting this lovely poem/blessing!)

Photos by Bless_Pictures and Evelyn Giggles. Thanks!

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