Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “grace”

Giving in Spite of…

Votive Candles

One of the things we so often hear about the church is that people today don’t need it. For a lot of folks what the church seems to offer just isn’t relevant.

Millennials are pretty clear about this. Recently I heard several young adults who fall into this age-descriptive category say things along these lines: “I don’t need the church to be a good person.” “Why should I go hang out in a building and sit, stand, kneel, sit stand, sit, stand” and sing songs that I hate?” “When I went, it seemed like people were just going through the motions.” “I can give and make a difference without doing it through an institution; in fact, I’d rather give directly to a cause.”

For those of us who are engaged in vocational church work, and for Christians who cherish their faith communities and traditional North American way of being Christ’s body, this can be pretty tough to hear. What we value, what we treasure, our traditions and rituals, and our ideas and images of the sacred, just don’t always cut it any more. Our wineskins (to use one of Jesus’ images) are getting pretty old and brittle.

Instead of becoming defensive and trying to shift the blame onto those outside of our circles, why not embrace the reality that a few things may have to give (or perhaps even more than a few!) in order for the body to get moving again? Christ is the same today as yesterday and tomorrow. The old, old ancient story is true. It’s just the packaging and the marketing that are looking raggedy and worn around the edges.

Christ will keep on loving and giving in spite of these facts. Christ will continue to pour himself out in word, in wine and bread, and in the faces of the hungry, the lost, ,and the marginalized. Christ will continue to be present. No matter what we choose to do or not do the gift goes on. This is very good news!

Now about change and relevance; well, we’ll save that for another day. Thanks be to God.

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Knock, knock. Who’s There?

GHOURI ! CC

Me. Yep. I’m still here. I’m still grateful. And I’m still enjoying a life filled with adventures in thanksliving. Like a lot of you, sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions. For me this has been a season of pure busy-ness. Everything has been up in the air–from our calls to our home to our family being spread all over the place. We’re gradually getting life sorted out and put back into some semblance of order, a little bit more each day. But even amidst the craziness, it’s been good, and there have been small moments of grace and gratitude to celebrate every day.

Funny thing is that if you’re constantly on the look for moments of thankfulness and always turning toward generosity, the world presents you with some pretty amazing moments of grace and light. Whether it’s coffee with a good friend, shedding a tear with some faithful Christians  as they gather to close their congregation, gathering with a fine group of women colleagues in ministry, or spending a quiet night with the one I love–each day brings something to appreciate, to savor, and to treasure. Even the painful moments have their little bits of light and beauty when glimpsed through the proper lens.

Today I’m catching my breath. I’m celebrating Sabbath. I’m watching, waiting, observing the moments and treasuring each precious one. In a few hours the busy, crazy week’s schedule will resume. But for now…

…for now there is rest. And it is good. Blessings to you this day. May you experience at least one shining moment to savor.

Photo: GHOURI !, Creative Commons

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!

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!

Light

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

Read: Luke 1:68-79

Ponder:

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

Reflect:

When I lived in North Dakota, one of my favorite things to do on a crisp, clear winter night was to bundle up, go outside, and gaze into the star-spangled sky. Out on the rural prairie, without the interference of city lights and traffic noise, one gets a real sense of the enormity of the cosmos and the handiwork of the Creator. One also gets a very real picture of just how small and insignificant a single human can appear in the scale of the universe.

Yet, we do not have to feel insignificant because scripture reminds us that God knows the very number of hairs on our head. We are wonderfully and fearfully made and deeply loved. Even in the darkest hour of night, we rest assured that dawn will break, bringing new light and renewed hope. Jesus is coming again to bring light that the darkness cannot overcome. Yes, the stars are lovely to look upon, but it is the light of Christ that shows us the way to real life that never ends.

Thanks-Living:

Make time to go outside and look at the stars. Tonight you might even have the opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor Shower in all its glory. Give thanks to the Creator of the universe for the majesty and glory that seem to expand before your eyes.

Today also marks the commemoration of St. Lucy, a young Sicilian Christian martyr who lived during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. While we do not have much knowledge about her life, we believe she had decided to devote her life completely to God and give her possessions to the poor.  Her feast day is particularly important in Norway and Sweden, where the oldest girl in the house dons a crown of candles and serves saffron buns  to her family early on this particular morning. For more information click here. For a recipe for St. Lucy’s Buns or Lussekatter, click here.

Photos by Tydence and Henrik Kettunen. Thanks!

Signs

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  — Luke 21:25-26

Read: Luke 21:25-36

Ponder:

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” — Bill McKibben

Reflect:

A quick glance at global news headlines can be a terrifying thing. Headlines announce war, murder, destruction, natural disaster, hunger, poverty, and abuses of all kinds in a macabre parade of words and images. It’s enough to put one into flight mode–at least metaphorically.

One way some folks cope with this onslaught of devastation is to ignore it by running to other activities, passions, and pleasures. The problems seem so big, so bad, and so complicated that it’s easier to ignore them. Thank about it: after the horror of 9/11 we were encouraged to shop, to get on with life as usual and keep the economic machine running smoothly.

Luke’s gospel tells us something completely different. Instead of fleeing, falling, and fearing, we are to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28b). We are to look and listen for the footsteps of God’s redemption in our world.

The season of Advent provides the space and opportunity to slow down, give our “running shoes” a rest, and listen in prayer, worship, and daily life for the signs of divine action in the world. The signs are there. They are hopeful. And  they are very, very real! Dear friends, look for these signs of real life abundant and overflowing with mercy, love, and grace. Be still and encounter God.

Thanks-living:

Take a “news fast” today. Avoid encountering news on television, radio, and website. Instead, play some music that inspires you. Take a walk outside if weather permits. Bake some bread or sweets and fill your home with the fragrance of love’s creative action. Share your baked goods with family and friends. Choose an inspiring film to watch–or a comedy if you’re in need of a laugh. Most importantly, light a candle and pray for the wisdom to work for peace and watch for God-signs in the world. Blessings on your day.

Like Dave Brubeck? Remember him this week by listening to “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Check out David Anderson’s article about Brubeck, who died December 5 at the age of 92, here.

Photo by kt Ann. Thanks!

The Open Door

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. — Psalm 25:10

Read: Psalm 25-6-10

Ponder:

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. ” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reflect:

During the frenzied pace of these December days, remember that God’s love for you is steadfast. The Hebrew word in this psalm is chesed, and its meaning is so much deeper than our English translations convey. Chesed is a concept rooted in covenant language, in the understanding that God will not let God’s people go. That is good news for all of us, especially in a the world that seems to chew folks up and spit them out.

We are created to be in relationship with God,and the hole at the center of our being that we so often try to fill with all manner of stuff and nonsense can only be satisfied when we trust and dwell in God’s chesed. The psalmist understands this need, this spiritual thirst that can only be slaked when we align our wills, our hearts, and our actions with God’s intent for us.

It’s a funny thing how we humans lock ourselves in prisons of our own frivolous construction, putting up barriers between the One who loves us beyond measure. Even as we desire God, we push against the bonds of this great love. Even though we build the cell, lock the door, and throw away the key of freedom, we are still dependent upon the mercy and chesed of the LORD.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is coming again to set us free. In the birth of Jesus we recall and experience how intimately we are loved by the Creator. God cares so much about every fiber of our being and each molecule of creation that the WORD put on flesh and lived with us. God comes again to open the door to our hearts.

That’s not the end. The good news doesn’t stop there. God writes on our heart, placing deep within us the teachings and instructions that lead to abundant life. The LORD again and again shatters barriers and breaks down walls.

Don’t let the frenzy of this season lock the doors of your heart and fog the windows of your soul. God’s steadfast love is here to wrap you in love,  mercy, beauty and light–a veritable patchwork of grace. Breathe in. Open your eyes and hold out your hands. God is near. The door is open.

Thanks-Living:

Today take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about anything that threatens to separate you from living fully in the LORD’s chesed. Are you too frazzled, too busy, too stressed to be attentive to your covenant relationship with God? Resolve during this Advent time of preparation to remove one barrier so that the manger of your heart is ready to receive God again at Christmas.

Photo by jgurbisz. Thanks!

Gratefully Astonished

Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful. — Mary Oliver

I came across this quote when reading a blog post by Brandon Hook yesterday. Brandon was fortunate enough to attend an event where both Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, two of my favorite poets, spoke. (Lucky you, Brandon!)

Brandon’s reflection and Mary Oliver’s words reminded me of how grateful I am for those precious and brief instances when time seems to pause and a flickering window of awareness opens before me. You’ve no doubt experienced similar moments. It might be that instant when you hear the song of birds overpowering the roar of traffic. Maybe such moments come in the silence of freshly falling snow, when the world is still and peaceful, blanketed in hope. Perhaps such bliss fills your heart while watching the delight of children at play, noticing that for them time has little meaning. Children live fully and joyously in the present moment until we teach them otherwise.

The most recent awakening to life came this week when we lost power during Superstorm Sandy. We were lucky; our electric was only off for 24 hours, while others in our area were looking at up to a week of outage. We had a camp stove, oil lamps, a french press for coffee, and a big industrial eight-burner gas stove at our disposal right next door. It was a minor inconvenience, for we were safe and comfortable. But I was astonished by the silence and by the ceasing of constant waves of information streaming in via the Internet and radio.

There was no hum of refrigerator or clank and whistle of the radiator pipes. Traffic noise outside our front windows was nonexistent. Our cell phones were powered off to conserve battery life. The only sound was the natural noise of a relentless wind as the western edge of the hurricane passed over us. In the eye of the storm all was quiet, and I was astonished afresh at how much is lost in the hustle, bustle, and frenzied scurrying of our modern life.

We played Scrabble by lamp light. We slept late under think blankets. We relished the hot coffee that was a result of the combined effort of camp stove and press. We cooked a big meal to use up what would spoil in the refrigerator, inviting friends to join us. Mostly we gave thanks for the many gifts we take for granted, and we prayed for those upon whom Sandy visited stunning devastation.

Not all is beautiful, but there are hints of beauty to be found in all of life. I continue to be astonished at the beauty of so many people helping one another, of neighbors reaching out to neighbors, of strangers helping strangers, and of emergency responders doing their work with dignity and strength. Countless moments of grace and light are everywhere.

We must, you and I, pay attention. We must treasure this lovely, fragile creation and one another. We must be astonished by the small glints of beauty and kindness, the nanoseconds of hope and grace that fill our days. And, oh how we must learn to be grateful for it all! Give thanks for those who tell and point the way–for the poets and prophets and the everyday saints. May it be so. May this beautiful life be so.

Photos by sblezard, david_shankbone, and Paul Lowry. Thanks!

 

The Dark Places

When I was a little girl, I was terribly afraid of the dark. I used to beg my parents to leave the hall light on outside my bedroom so that a shaft of light would fall across my bed from the partially open door. With the door ajar, I could also hear the reassuring sounds of their voices in conversation with each other along with the muffled prattle of the television. The light, the voices, and the mounds of stuffed animals arranged about me like some furry moat kept the darkness at bay until light from the window would signal a new day. All was well.

Tonight was the darkest night of the liturgical church calendar. We gathered for a community Good Friday service just as many other believers did in congregations around the world. The passion story was read in its entirety from John’s gospel. We sang the 22nd psalm. We journeyed through the Stations of the Cross as imaged by Food for the Poor, an ecumenical non-profit serving the marginalized in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we left our sorrows, hurts, sins, and pain at the foot of the cross. With strains of “Ah, Holy Jesus” echoing in our ears, we went silently into the night.

Yet amidst this dark night and the reality that our human brokenness would be party to the suffering and death of an innocent man, indeed of countless precious lives, the light of love is not extinguished. For even in the darkest recesses of our hearts, the love of God finds a way to shine, to seek, and to illumine us in mercy and grace.

Yes, we still have to walk into the dark places. We must open our eyes and look unflinchingly at the stench of sin and death. We must be willing to be changed by what we see. But we are not alone. The one who conquered death and darkness for all eternity journeys with us. The dark cannot quench His light.

Thanks be to God.

Photo by Glasgowamateur used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

The Big Gift of Little “i”

“It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your ‘I’ is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary ‘I.’ No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.”   – Richard Rohr

What’s the difference between “I” and “i”? The answer pure and simple is the love of the Creator for all of creation. Once we accept that we are beloved children of the One who created everything from the chaos of nothing, then we are free to begin to really live. Instead of worrying about acquiring, possessing, and positioning, we are free to expand our horizons, interact with others, and celebrate every day.

The need to define oneself as a big “I”  is transformed into the gift of the little “i”–the you (or me) that is not consumed by self, not curved inward toward want and desire. The big “I” seeks to always become bigger. The little “i” constantly finds ways to give part oneself away. The funny thing is this: in the giving of self, one receives more than enough to be filled and fulfilled. In acknowledging the love and acceptance of God, there is no need to constantly try to fill oneself with the praise and acceptance of others. All are equal in the sight of the Maker. Ordinary  becomes extraordinary when the Spirit of God is allowed room to move and breathe in us. Small becomes enough.

The apostle Paul writing to the believers at Philippi said “. . . for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me ( Phil. 4:11b-13 NRSV).

Living as a little “i” is indeed a big gift that keeps on giving. It’s a gift that improves with age and experience, and it’s a gift that comes to us wrapped in grace. Open your big gift and start living small today. i promise you’ll live life larger in the end.

Peace and blessing to you and yours!

PS: For more information on Fr. Richard Rohr, click the link on his name to be connected to his website.

Photo by mRio used under Creative Commons License. This images shows a cornea transplant from an organ donor that gave new sight to the recipient–just one small example of the big gift of little “i”.

 

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