Advent, peace, Prince of Peace

A Contemplative Advent ~ Peace


In this second week of Advent, I am searching for peace. I feel a little like the prophet Jeremiah who said, ”They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:1)

Indeed, how difficult it is to embody a sense of peace when we look around us only to see yet another school shooting, yet another Covid variant (Omicron), yet another tragic example of police brutality, yet another child abused . . . and more, one after another un-peaceful thing in our world. Yet, one of our lectionary texts for this week seems to promise that peace can be within reach.

Through the tender mercy of our God,
the Dayspring from on high has visited 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 NKJV

But on this day, in the middle of Advent’s week of peace, I wonder how I might find even a bit of God’s promised peace. Peace remains elusive to me as I look around me at a world of chaos, discontent, oppression, unrelenting pandemic, fear, uncertainty and all manner of disturbance. ”I need peace of mind!” the people cry. If I have ears to hear their cry, and my own, I must own the reality that I need peace of mind, too. But I also need peace of the soul. I need deep down peace to make its way to where my emotions live.

Isn’t it true that Advent Peace is about soul transformation—the kind of transformation that stops with the decorating, baking, shopping and all things frenzy? Isn’t it true that instead of Christmas frenzy, all of us yearn for Advent peace?

And so I stop and close my eyes.
I breathe slowly and deeply.
Again. Again. Again.
I breathe deeply and, as I slowly exhale, I feel my heart beating slower.
I feel my arms relaxing
and my muscles releasing the tightness they always hold on to.

I rest in arms of grace and listen for Spirit breeze that calms me.
I contemplate what’s in my heart
and wait silently to hear my soul’s whisper.

Does deep breathing allow the Spirit of Peace to envelop me with her tranquility? Do those few quiet moments take me to that place inside me where all is calm? It seems so, at least for a while. Interspersing my frenzied life with brief moments of contemplation makes all the difference in the world for me. I do sense Advent peace in those moments. Or is it that I reached down deeply enough into my soul and found the peace that was already there? Either way, I still held on to a few moments of peace.

If you and I are able to find that place of peace, we can then pass it on to others who need it and even to the chaotic world around us. During this week of Advent peace, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see dozens of random acts of peace? Whether that’s raking a neighbor’s yard, or taking a meal to a family with a new baby, or doing a home repair for an elderly couple, or sending a card, might we seek out someone who could use a little more peace in their lives?

When we reach out to other souls with random acts of peace, we give human form to the Peace of Christ. Christ clothes us in His humanity. We are His continuing incarnation in the world. These thoughts are described beautifully by Joseph B. Clower in his book, ”The Church in the Thought of Jesus.”

If the indwelling Christ is not confined,
then our eyes flow with His tears,
our hearts are moved with His compassion,
our hands are coarsened with His labor,
our feet are wearied with His walking among all people.

(Slightly paraphrased)

Now, take a slow, deep breath. Let it out. Take another breath. Contemplate the Prince of Peace and how much He wants peace for your life. Breathe deeply. Let it out. 

Now keep breathing, and find something peaceful to do today for another person who needs peace as much as you do—a random act of peace. Amen.


I invite you to spend a few moments of contemplation by listening to this video, Dona Nobis Pacem— Grant Us Peace.

Advent, Angels, Hope, Jesus, Prince of Peace, Shepherds, The Incarnation of Christ

A Contemplative Advent ~ Hope

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2:15-16  NIV


I am searching this Advent season for hope—hope that’s a tiny bit brighter, hope that lifts up my eyes to see more than I have seen before, hope that stirs in my heart, even for a moment. I feel the words of this hymn, ”I come in half-belief.” It’s not the most promising mood to bring to Advent, but it’s all I’ve got. The reasons don’t matter. They are myriad, as perhaps your reasons for hesitatingly approaching Advent.

The truth is that many of us have experienced struggles in the past year. The truth is that our country has seemed unbalanced, troubled, confused. It is also true that suffering has made its way into villages and cities and hamlets all over the world. I feel the strain. It affects my soul and troubles my spirit, so I longing for a gentle sign of hope to make its home in my heart.

My contemplation led me today to the hymn I share with you for your own reflection as we approach Advent’s first Sunday. I hope you will ponder the text and listen to the video of the choral arrangement. I am moved by this hymn every time I hear or sing it. The words invite me to the manger, the place where there is room and welcome always and forever. Even as hope eludes me, the eternal truth still stirs my soul: How could I forget how Love was born, and burned its way into my heart—unasked, unforced, unearned, to die, to live, and not alone for me. For all the world, the Hope of the world!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 NIV

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel’s word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

In that unlikely place I find him as they said:
Sweet newborn Babe, how frail!  And in a manger bed:
A still, small voice to cry one day for me,
A still, small voice to cry one day for me.

How should I not have known Isaiah would be there,
His prophecies fulfilled?  With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me,
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.

Can I, will I forget how Love was born, and burned
It’s way into my heart—unasked, unforced, unearned,
To die, to live, and not alone for me,
To die, to live, and not alone for me?

Dr. Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008) 

Where Shepherds Lately Knelt” arranged by Craig Courtney | BYU Men’s Chorus
featuring Laurence Lowe, French horn

Advocate, All Shall Be Well, Courage, God's presence, God’s promises, Heart, Holy Spirit, Wellspring of life

Guarding My Heart

Proverbs 4:23

With all the chaos blowing about in the world—the swirling debris of discord, fear, hate, division, tumult all around us—we cannot help but try to drill down to the solid place of our foundation. When we shake in the chaos, swaying from side to side until we fear we may by pushed over, our soul speaks up to come to our aid. It’s simple really, to find our sure foundation, the solid rock of who we are and what we must do to stay upright—that means healthy in body, mind and spirit.

I think some of you are pray-ers and others sing until you feel safely grounded. Some of you meditate and others of you read Holy Scripture. Some write poetry or create art. Whatever you might do in your times of unsteadiness, remember that you do not have to repair everything in your life or turn yourself into a person of incomparable strength and courage. I know what you’re thinking! That these are terrifying evil days that require unparalleled faith and perseverance. True enough! I remember the terrifying parts every time I watch the news. And more than once in the past several years, I have thought of this text:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV)

That’s the way I learned that verse of scripture, but others have translated it differently, maybe better. The New International Reader’s Version perhaps speaks to us more simply and directly, and with the bold promise that we could be able to stand up to any evil day, any evil person.

So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing. —Ephesians 6:13 (NIRV)

I concur that I will still be standing, whatever comes. Too many things in my life have knocked me to the ground, and every time I have gotten up on my feet to try to live another day. I suspect you have had the same experience.We were able to stand, not because we had built up incomparable strength, but because Spirit was strength in us, beside us, before and behind us. You see, that was God’s plan all along. ”I will not leave you comfortless,” said Jesus, carrying out the precise plan of the Creator God. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever … the Spirit of truth.” (From John 14)

Just one more bit of wisdom for evil days! I have a notion that you and I do many things to protect ourselves from evil or chaos or betrayal or difficulty . … the list goes on and on. Every remedy helps a little. Every act of self-help or self-care helps a little. Some of it helps a lot. In my experience, everything I do to maintain my equilibrium and keep myself safe from chaos helps. But there is one word of advice that has stayed with me through the years, and it is this:

Above all else, guard your heart. For from it flows the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23

That admonishment from Proverbs 4 is translated in many different ways—guard your heard with all diligence; with all vigilance; with utmost care; with all watchfulness; guard your heart above all else. I think we get the message clearly. And so I leave you with this blessing .…


As you journey through all manner of evil chaos,
May you walk the road without fear,

Knowing the deep peace of God’s grace,
With the shadow of Christ walking ahead of you,
With the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in your soul,
With
your resolve firmly set to guard your heart with all watchfulness,
So that you will know beyond any doubt

that from your heart flows the wellspring of life. Amen

Contemplation, Faith, Joy, Music, Singing, Theology

Where Is Our Joy?

Graphic by Kathy Manis Findleyo

After about five years of co-teaching my Sunday School class, known as the Voices Class, I have had an insight, a rather critical insight. Teaching this class, in particular, has been a gift for me and possibly for the other class members. We have bonded in important and meaningful ways. Most importantly, we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and most definitely, we weep with our sisters who have found themselves weeping along the journey. (Romans 12:15)

And what a journey it has been for our class. We began with a lovely Lenten study titled, “Praying with Your Pen,” which took us into the wonderful world of contemplative writing. Such a spiritual disciple leads into all manner of emotional and spiritual discovery, not all of which is positive. The study was emotionally and spiritually taxing at times, while being life-giving for us all.

We then studied a three-month series of biblical women who faced various hardships and later revisited that study for an additional seven weeks. As we followed the journeys of these biblical women, we found kindred spirits and grace for our own journeys. But the lives of the biblical women were harsh, harsh enough to bring up in us an examination of the harshness we have encountered. So this study was a difficult one as well.

Other Lenten and Advent studies through the years kept us in a contemplative, and often melancholy, space where we learned so much about ourselves, our faith and our relationship with God and with each other. We followed Christ Sophia for a while, as we considered the feminine nature of God, and as we followed her, we uncovered spiritual layers in us that have long been touched by Spirit Wisdom.

All of our studies along the way took us to tender places within, places where spiritual maturity occurs and faith deepens. A deepened faith, it seems, was especially important as we entered the pandemic that separated us from each other, at least physically. We adapted valiantly and immediately, and our class continued via virtual Zoom meetings. The meetings, that regularly lasted two hours or more, seemed to ensure our sanity as we navigated pandemic lifestyles that we certainly did not choose. Suddenly, the day to day living became harder, school more complicated, safety measures all-encompassing, family isolation straining. Figuring out this new way to live became draining beyond belief.

That, too, we navigated together, holding one another in the light, learning to find church in uncommon places and keeping each other gathered close, covered in the love each of us brought to our circle. Gathering close to each other was critically important as we lost friends, church members and close family members to this pandemic. Apart from the pandemic tragedies we watched, our class was brought low by other illness and deaths of persons close to us.

So a few weeks ago, my soul cried out, “Enough!” Then I asked myself, ”Where is our joy?” We’ve got the ‘weep with those who weep’ part, God. Can we just move on to the ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice’ part?”

Where is our joy? That’s the part of faith I cannot discern, because right now, it’s just too far away. Still, I asked myself the question.

And I answered myself immediately.
It’s in our hymns! Our joy is in our singing.


So the Voices Class started a new study titled,

Singing Theology: Hymns & the Formation of Faith
Our Worship, Hymnody and Theology

A delightful study it has been for us, as we explore how hymns express the theology of a particular Christian community or tradition. Searching deeply into one hymn each week, we have asked: how does the hymn’s theology shape and form our faith, our belief, our mission and our action? “As the church sings, so she believes,” writes Beth Bowers. We had discovered in this new study an informative, important—and fun—exploration of song!

Hymns We Have Studied Each Week . . .





Here is our joy, in the hymns we sing — in their rhythms and their melodies, their thoughts and words. Hymns express our faith, our longing, our petition, our awe, our need, our regret, our grief, our testimony, our theology, our conviction and the deepest joy of our hearts. May it always be so!

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth´s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

Songwriters: Eithne Ni Bhraonain / Nicky Ryan / Roma Ryan

Courage, Emerging new, Guilt, I am enough!, Internal conflict, Introspection, life, Light, Psalm 139, Re-claiming self, Sacred Worth, Self Awareness, Self-understanding, Women

When Light Runs Wild

There are days! Don’t you have those troublesome days when feeling good about yourself seems impossible? I am guessing we all have those days, because there are just too darn many things about ourselves we don’t feel very good about. What are those things? you might ask.

“I missed that deadline.”
“I was too irritable with the kids.”
“I hate my hair.”
“I have gained far too much weight.”
“I have made a mess of my life.”

The list of what we don’t like, or even what we loathe, about ourselves can be a long one, and when we ponder such a list for very long, we can develop a skewed image of ourselves. Fortunately, many of us have been able to see that the person we really are can be measured on many levels, far more important levels than, say, appearance.
Maturity helps, and aging has a way of putting all that negative ”stuff” about me in a box that I keep locked. And the key, well, I threw that key in a river!

What’s left is definitely a healthier perspective that allows me to look at myself in different ways and to make kinder conclusions. I have learned over decades that my image of myself is important, that I have to see my self with accepting eyes and that self-deprecating thoughts have the power to bring me to the edge of despondency.

. . . aging has a way of putting all that negative “stuff” about me in a box that I keep locked. And the key, well, I threw that key in a river!

kmf


Still those days come, bringing me a boatload of reasons to detest myself. There is a certain season of life in which self-flagellation is downright dangerous, wielding power over your life in very destructive ways. You’ll likely know it when you have reached that season of life — you know, the season when you can actually go out without make-up, wear a blouse two days in a row, love yourself for the whole person you are and wearing black support stockings in public, having convinced yourself that they really are stylish!

I don’t know about you, but I have to admit that I do have just a tad of trouble wearing support hose in public. That tells me that I need help, that I do not adequately value myself as a rule, that I still believe that my appearance defines me and that I need a shove to get to the point of loving who I am.

I don’t know about you, but I have to admit that I do have just a tad of trouble wearing support hose in public. That tells me that I need help, that I do not adequately value myself as a rule, that I still believe that my appearance defines me and that I need a shove to get to the point of loving who I am.



There is no better place to seek help with that than in the words of the psalmist in the 139th Psalm that say so much about how God created us and how God knows us inside and out. The Psalm tells us that we are ”fearfully and wonderfully made.” (v.14)

And then there are the inspiring words of artist and writer morgan harper nichols that so inspire me towards love, courage, audacity and the Light that runs wild within me, the Light that shines through my darkness and never goes out.

and  perhaps 
what  made  her  beautiful 

was  not  her  appearance
or  what  she  achieved
but  in  her love

and in  her  courage,
and  her  audacity
to  believe 
no matter

the darkness
around her,
Light  ran  wild
within  her,
and  that  was  the  way
she  came  alive, 
and  it  showed  up

in  everything.
— morgan harper nichols

May you have the strength to navigate those days when darkness threatens your light. May you love yourself and dig deep for the courage and audacity that frees you and lets the Light run wild within you!

Aging, All Shall Be Well, Art, Faith, God's Faithfulness, Grace, Lastingness

Lastingness

Aging — the beauty of petals as they age


My cousins visited this weekend for the first time in months, a needed visit for all of us. We laughed and played and enjoyed one another. We talked a lot, too, into the wee hours. We talked about sweet memories, of course, remembering so many good and fun times. We talked about old boyfriends and childhood disagreements and family idiosyncrasies.

I think we talked most about aging and the physical and emotional changes it brings. We lamented it, of course, and wished it away. We cursed it just a bit, and tried in vain to find ways around it. In the end, we agreed that we can’t get around it, but just have to go through it. Right through the middle of it until the pathway ends.

Right smack dab in the middle of dialogue about age spots, edema, muscle pain and a plethora of bodily ills, we stopped, suddenly realizing that there must be more to the aging process than physical symptoms. Where is life’s meaning when we draw nearer to life’s end? How do we grow old held by the same grace that held us when we were children, young adults, middle aged?

I came across an intriguing word this morning in an NPR article. The word is Lastingness What an astounding word to ponder. Perhaps we should consider lastingness instead of aging. Various creative artists are the subjects of Nicholas Delbanco’s latest book, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age. Delbanco examines artists who either maintained or advanced their work past the age of 70 — from Claude Monet, to Giuseppe Verdi, to Georgia O’Keeffe. Because I am an artist, I was captivated by the idea of lastingness, especially when Delbanco told the story of Monet’s later years.

Delbanco writes that French impressionist Claude Monet — who painted well into his 80s, even after his vision was clouded by cataracts — created some of his most well-known works in the last decades of his life. After a long career as a renowned and financially successful artist, Monet retreated to the beloved gardens of his home in Giverny, 20 miles outside of Paris. His gardens became his artistic obsession. It was Monet’s failing eyesight that posed the greatest threat to his work. “He became more or less legally blind as we would describe it now,” Delbanco says. “So Monet compensated for, or focused on, the visible world in very different ways in his older age.” The works Monet created in his last years at Giverny are regarded as masterpieces.

In the last decades of his life, French impressionist painter Claude Monet focused much of his work on the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. He continued painting well into his 80s, even after his vision had been clouded by cataracts.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Monet’s exquisite impressionist paintings eventually ended because of his cataracts. The poet Lisel Mueller has captured Monet’s cataract story brilliantly, in “Monet Refuses the Operation.” As of 1919, the Monet was urged to have the cataracts attended to; in 1923 he had operations on his right eye, and glasses improved his eyesight — but only briefly, fitfully, and he had trouble distinguishing color. Mueller’s poem begins:

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being . . .

I don’t know exactly what “lastingness” means, but I think it might mean seeing haloes glowing around street lights or the ”vision of gas lamps as angels.” I’m pretty sure it means learning to look at life as softened and blurred, banishing life’s sharp edges. Perhaps “lastingness” means that my writing or my art will have a lasting impact on the world. Maybe it means that I will pass on my wisdom to my grandchildren. Or that the child I helped recover from long-term sexual abuse will find happiness in her life. Perhaps “lastingness” means that my faith in God will carry me to the grace that is the end of life. That kind of “lastingness” brings a kind of peace to my aging, a grace that assures me that aging is much more than painful joints and aching muscles. “Lastingness” is holier than physical afflictions and I think it blurs and softens them until they are tolerable.

When I cannot find the right words, I can always count on Bishop Steven Charleston to write them.

I see more clearly, now that I am aging. Not with my eyesight, but with my soul. I see the fine detail of what I missed in younger years. I see the place of faith and forgiveness in my story. I see the possibilities of life in ways I never imagined. I was not blind in my youth, but my vision was limited to only a few seasons of seeing. Now I am an old man standing on a hill. I see more clearly. The universe stretches above me in infinite glory and the Earth spreads her shawl to wrap me in creation. Open the eyes of your spirit. Look out in wonder. See the fullness of the life you have received. See the promise of love walking in beauty before you.

Bishop Charleston’s words might just be the very best description of ”lastingness.” Maybe “lastingness” means that because I am aging, I now see not only with my eyesight, but with my soul. Maybe it means that now I can clearly see the fullness of the life I have received and the promise of lasting grace holding me close.


Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you.

— Isaiah 46:4 —

#RevGalBlogPals, Diane Strickland, God’s Mercy, Grace, mercy, peace, Spirit, Spirit wind, Suffering

“Undo Me With Your Grace”

I’m not sure I know what it feels like to have God “undo me with grace,” but I have learned how it feels to need more grace, to long for Spirit breezes to gently blow around me with winds of grace. I need grace for enduring illness, grace for being separated from my son and his family, especially my five grandchildren. I need grace when I’m angry or disappointed or heartbroken. I need grace when I feel like giving up and giving in. I need God’s grace — the grace of the Spirit — to help me live in this season of my life.

I read a provocative prayer today. It kind of grabbed at my heart, asking me what exactly is in my heart right now. It asked me what I’m struggling with. The brilliant writer of prayers, Diane Strickland, writes again and again in her prayer the words, ”Undo my life with your grace,” leaving me asking myself what might happen if God decided to undo my life, even through God would likely be merciful enough to undo my life with grace.

The truth is that those words so grabbed me that my prayer was, ”God, I think I need to let you undo my life.” Maybe I feel the need to re-do my life with string of second chances. Maybe I need forgiveness for regrets, release from memories of pain. Whatever it means to have one’s life undone by God, my heart responded, with longing, to this prayer.

O, my Creator,

In the injustice of my country I caught a glimpse of the bottom of the iceberg this week. I saw how my life lived above the waterline rests on wrong assumptions of privilege, great and small and many. I am cold inside. I don’t want to be cold inside.

Undo my life with your grace. Pick out the seams sewn by fear and mend the tears made by violence. Patch the holes that were always there from the start because I don’t know much about the rest of the world or how life works for others you love just as much as you love me.

Undo me with your grace. Shake out the fabric of me. Unfold and fold me anew. Reveal your image in there somewhere and surprise me with what You make of me when mercy prevails and justice leads and love accompanies us.

Undo me with your grace. I’ve lived a long time now, long enough to know there’s more to be if I can lay down what has mattered more than it needed to, and take up what I’ve barely used at all.

I don’t feel there’s so much wrong with me that we must start over. I feel there’s more of me somewhere that fits better for now and will make room for later. Release more gospel into my life and from my life. Warm me up again. Humble me with wisdom and truth and promise and hold me together with those same gifts.

Undo me with your grace. Just a little bit more today, Spirit. Just a little more.

“Undo me with your grace. Just a little bit more today, Spirit. Just a little more.”

As I reflected on those words, my thoughts ended up with this conclusion. I don’t need grace to extricate me or liberate me from all that is difficult, heartbreaking and oppressive about my life. But I definitely need Spirit wind to live my life.

I don’t need grace to rescue me. But I do need Spirit-grace that moves in my life with me, giving me life-saving and healing grace for each moment. I need Spirit because I have known her holy presence with me and I have learned to experience the wonder of being moved by wind wild and calm, her breeze blowing around me with both tender comfort and empowering promise.

With that kind of sacred promise, I can live into my life, not shrink from it or fear it. I can move into my life, whatever it brings, with Spirit’s blessing. That’s how she impels me to honor the grace I have received — by giving it away. Her winds have impelled me for many years to minister to God’s people, and I do not intend to stop now. My call from God was for life, not meant to expire when I retired or when my health failed.

I know that God gives grace for waning health and I have it on good authority that God gives “more grace when burdens grow greater.”* When I consider the grace that has so filled my life, I think of the story of Annie Johnson Flint who wrote the text of the hymn, ”He Giveth More Grace.”

Annie Johnson Flint, born in 1866, was an inspiration to all who knew her. This is just a tiny bit of her story. The fullness of Annie Johnson Flint’s story includes a life-long string of losses and difficulties. By the time she was six years old, she had lost her mother and father to illnesses and was adopted by a family named Flint. She loved poetry and dreamed of being a composer and concert pianist. After graduating from high school, Annie went on to become an elementary school teacher, but in her second year was afflicted with arthritis that steadily and quickly worsened. She lost her ability to walk, but she became a prolific writer of poems and hymn texts.

The many stories written about her stories tell how later in life she was unable to open her hands and could no longer write, yet continued to compose her on a typewriter using her knuckles. And that “she sought healing, but in the end she was thoroughly convinced that God intended to glory Himself through her, in her weak earthen vessel.”

The words of the hymn text she wrote, ”He Giveth More Grace,” reflect the many disheartening moments she experienced throughout her life. She died at the age of 66, leaving as her legacy so many faith-strengthening words, including these:

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that your need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father, both you and your load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

I have loved this hymn for years in spite of its masculine language. It moves me and uplifts me. It always reminds me of the infinite grace I have known in my life. I hope you will listen to this hymn as a part of your contemplative time.

“He Giveth More Grace” performed by The Celebrant Singers.
From their album, “Still Standing.”

*Diane Strickland is in her 33rd year as an ordained minister now serving in The United Church of Canada as retired clergy. She is a Certified Community and Workplace Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist-Therapist, and Critical Incident Responder, author and creator of trauma informed resources.

Activism, Advocate, Asylum, Black Lives Matter, Caged children, Child trafficking, Committment, Community activism, Compassion, Courage, Creativity, Discrimination, Human trafficking, Immigrant detention, Immigration, Injustice, Justice, Let the oppressed go free, Oppression, Racial injustice, Racism, Social justice

“Let The Oppressed Go Free”

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s work on a sculpture depicting modern-day trafficking in humans titled “Let the Oppressed Go Free” — a commentary on how slavery, via human trafficking, continues today. Schmalz laments that the modern-day travesty of forced labor, including for sex, is often ignored, not unlike slavery of the past.

Do you wonder sometimes where God is while people are being oppressed? I mean all kinds of oppression — racial injustice, human trafficking, violence and abuse, prison injustice, sexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism. The list can go on and on, all the way down to specific stories about specific oppressed individuals. At that level, the down to earth level where we see a living person suffering, is the heartrending place. It’s the place where we find ourselves face to face and up-close with someone pouring out their story. It’s the place where we learn to talk less and listen more. It is for us an experience of holy listening with just one person.

Have you ever been in that kind of space listening to just one person? Have you ever been with a person suffering oppression who is freely sharing a heartbreaking story with you? I know that this kind of face to face encounter can be intimidating, even frightening. It can be beyond frustrating to listen to someone when you’re pretty sure you can’t do much to help.

There are at least two options for those of us who have a deep desire or calling to liberate those who are oppressed. We can offer what we have, even when we do not have a way to fix things. What do we have? Our presence, our emotional and spiritual support, our ability to advocate, housing assistance, financial assistance, employment assistance, safe shelter, understanding, constancy, presence, presence, presence . . .

The other option is to rail against a God who makes pronouncements about caring for oppressed people, yet seemingly does nothing to liberate them. This may not be our best option. Scripture reveals that God has a way of dealing with complaining people, and it is almost never a positive experience for the complainer. Moses comes to mind, and Miriam, and Job.

Poor, pitiful Job had a rough go of it and he wanted God to do some explaining and answer some questions. After all, he was a devout and faithful man, so why would God allow him to suffer so many losses? Right after Job is schooled by his three “friends” on several theological matters, including that he should never question God, God appears to Job out of a whirlwind. It was probably grand entrance, and then God basically says to him, ”I’ll ask the questions, buddy!”

Here’s a snippet of the long exchange between God and Job.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.

“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

— Job 38:1; 4-7 (NIV)


Job was oppressed. God was aware of it. God seemed unconcerned for too long, but there actually is a redeeming conclusion for Job. As the story goes in the last chapter of Job, God restored Job’s fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All of Job’s brothers and sisters, and everyone else he knew, went to his house for Sunday dinner and they consoled him for all the trouble he had been through. Then each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. It worked out!

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture, ‘Monument of Oppression’ depicts hands emerging desperately from behind bars.

“I can’t think of one single nation of the world that did not practise slavery, including among Indigenous people,” the sculptor says.

(Photo by Handout)


What does Job’s story say to us? What does it teach us about oppression? In my mind, in order to confront oppression and free persons from every yoke on a societal scale, we must first be aware that systemic oppression exists. It is stark reality! It darkens our world! Right now, approximately 40 million people are trapped in slavery in the world. One in four of these is a child. This shame that pervades and plagues the planet does not seem to disturb people very much. Unfortunately, it is in some people’s best interest to maintain the oppressive systems that benefit them, that is fill their pockets with wealth (which is the primary reason for trafficking human beings, for instance).

Systems of oppression are very large, very complex and very powerful. Ending oppression is way too big for us to tackle alone. After sincerely asking the all-powerful God to help us bring down these all-powerful oppressive systems, we can add our hands and feet to the holy project. Contact senators, representatives, governors, mayors. Urge them, persist with them to use their position to help break down injustice. Know what you’re talking about when you contact them by reading about the work the many of anti-oppression organizations that exist. Join in their work. Look for those resources at this link.

“Angels Unawares” by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz portrays the saga of Migrants and Refugees. Among the 140 faces in the sculpture are Africans, Vietnamese, a Cherokee, Jews, Irish immigrants, and Syrians. The Holy Family is also included in the sculpture. St. Joseph can be identified by his toolbox.

Finally, we must open our eyes to the people in our own communities who need our compassion, our concern, our caring presence and our advocacy on their behalf. It takes some creativity, some committment and compassion, a lot of courage and a covenant with our God of justice to change an unjust world. The outcome might just look something like what the prophet Isaiah described:

Is this not the fast that I choose:
To release the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the ropes of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?

Is it not to break your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him . . .

Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will spring up quickly;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am. . .’

10 And if you offer yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the need of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.

11 And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

12 Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairers of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

— Isaiah 58 (NASB)


I don’t know about you, but I want to be among the ”repairers of the breach.” I don’t want to live in a situation where I “hope for light, but there is darkness.” (Isaiah 59:9) Instead, let me find myself looking far beyond the world’s darkness, looking to the Creator who demands justice, looking upward to claim the promise, ” . . . satisfy the need of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday . . . And your light will break forth like the dawn.”

May it be so for all of us.

A way in the wilderness, Alone, Bewilderment, Comfort, Dry seasons of life, Exclusion, Exhaustion, Hope

A Door of Hope

How often we find ourselves wandering in what feels like wilderness. We wander, and then wander some more, in barren places — in parched, dusty and dry deserts of the soul. We wander in aimless travel that moves us from one nowhere to another. The truth is that we have been nowhere and we’re going nowhere.

It’s a long, hard way, this wilderness wandering. I have found myself there at times. You probably know the desert, too. Like the people of Israel, we don’t much like wilderness wanderings. Remember their laments and complaints?

The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.
They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt
that you brought us to the desert to die?
What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Exodus 14:10-12 (NIV)

Other Biblical passages speak more favorably about walking in a desert wilderness and about finding there comfort and hope. One of my favorite passages is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.

The Lord said, “Therefore, I will now persuade Israel,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
Hosea 2:14-23 (NRSV)

Finding ourselves wandering in a parched and barren desert can cause us to feel, not only exhaustion, but also exclusion. How bewildering it is when we are excluded, left alone to wander and feeling that no one is near, no one hears our laments, no one cares. My hope for you this day is that, whenever you have to wander in the wilderness, you will find on your way a friend beside you and at the end of your path, a door of hope.

I leave you with these words, a benediction spoken by a dear friend.