Every Common Bush Afire with God

Blackberry bush in Autummn by Ellen Tully

Blackberry bush in Autumn by Ellen Tully

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This is the season when nature paints its trees with vibrant color. And it seems that every common bush really is on fire with God. The poet described it well. She also described humankind well, portraying us as persons who hardly take notice of the beauty around us in the autumn season.

This year, I want to notice. I want to take in the brilliance as if it were the last autumn I will ever experience. I want to see the vivid color and feel the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet. I want to smell the chill in the air, and marvel at the blue in the sky. I want to watch the leaves fall, blown about by a soft wind. I want to see the God in every bush.

And I want to make sure that my shoes are off in homage to the sacred beauty of God’s world.

I don’t need to spend any time plucking blackberries.

Beside Still Waters

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“He leads me beside still waters.”

So writes the Psalmist, and reminds us of the importance of stillness, lying down and taking rest, being about those acts that restore our souls. In a world of constant chaos, I find it extremely important to restore my soul. If you are aware of all that goes on every day in our world – violence, war, anger, abuse – you also know how important it is to restore your soul.

And then there is also the challenge of personal traumas like illness, relationship problems, financial difficulties. The challenges we face every day can sometimes be powerful enough to bring us to our knees . . . which is, by the way, where we need to be.

Prayer is important. Being quiet in God’s presence is important. Waiting for God beside still waters restores our souls and empowers us to go on another day.

I have a challenge ahead of me that brings with it certain concerns. As I am being evaluated for a possible kidney transplant, I am reminded of my vulnerability, of the physical weakness I endured throughout 2014, of the risks involved in major surgery. I am in a state of worry and confusion about it, a confusion that stays with me until I head for still waters.

I do know one thing most certainly: that physical health absolutely requires that my soul be restored beside the still waters of faith . . .

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of shadows, I will not fear, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.Β  (Psalm 23, paraphrased)

Planting in Faith, Waiting with Patience

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I have a clear memory of a childhood pot garden. I remember putting soil in plastic cups, placing one seed in each cup, watering the seeds and placing them in our school window. Waiting for the sprouts to appear seemed to take forever.

I was impatient and very curious about what the seeds were doing. I watered every day, looking for any tiny sign of a sprout. There was nothing! Just a cup full of dirt, lightly watered, sitting there!

I began to have serious doubts, in spite of the fact that my teacher was so upbeat, so sure we would see sprouts, so convinced that we would all have little seedlings by spring.

I think she did not properly prepare us for the wait. At the time when I expected to see strong, little green seedlings, I saw nothing. And I was discouraged, to say the least.

Habakkuk 2:3 speaks of waiting with these words: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

Faith requires patience in all things. It often requires waiting for that which we long for to come to pass. It requires knowing what we have planted in faith, and believing that it willΒ eventually grow.

I know that one of the most trying prayers for me has been prayers for my child. In faith, hope and expectation, I have prayed without ceasing that he would transition into a successful, happy adult. I prayed the same prayer for years. For years, I saw no sign of new growth. I have never given up.

So I waited and waited for these sprouts. One day, I reached my limit and dug my finger into the soil to find one of the seeds. I found one, and then I quickly stuck the seed back in the dirt before the teacher could see me. I pushed it down under the dirt much deeper than it was planted before.

Days passed, and eventually spouts appeared in every cup. The one I dug up took the longest and was the smallest of them all.

The lessons from this story?
Faith requires patience.
What you plant will grow in its own time.
Leave things alone.
And in the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.”

With All My Heart, I Will Pray

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If you listen to the daily news, you can quickly become saturated with stories of violence, violence of all kinds. It disturbs the soul, and yet we listen, with a deep longingΒ that there will be a way to stop it.

The ravages of war . . . Gun violence . . . Children harming other children . . . Adults beating children . . . A man using physical violence against his spouse . . . The sex trafficking of children . . . The stories are too much to hear.

Psalm 122 offers a heartening word against violence:

I rejoiced when I heard them announce,
β€œThe time of warfare is past.
No more will brother hate brother
or violence have its way.
No more will they drown out God’s silence
and shut their hearts to his song.”

Pray for peace in the cities
and harmony among the races.
May peace come to live on our streets
and justice within our walls.
With all my heart I will pray
that peace comes to live among us.
For the sake of all earth’s people,
I will do my utmost for peace.

(Source: The Psalms (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Let us pray for peace with all our hearts.

Standing on Mountains

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Life is not always a mountaintop experience. Circumstances can take us to a low place emotionally. When I am low, I often listen to the words of this moving song:

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary,
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be.
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence;
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders.
You raise me up to more than I can be.

There is no life, no life without its hunger.
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly.
But then you come, and I am filled with wonder.
Sometimes I think I glimpse eternity.

There are times when my soul is weary. Not just tired, but deep-down weary. Life sometimes brings us the kind of trials that have the power to bring us down. For some, it is illness. Others go through relationship struggles or financial challenges. Still others grieve the loss of a loved one. These are not usually short-term losses. Instead, they bring suffering for a season, often a very long season. Losing someone you love, for instance, brings on a lengthy grieving process, and many people mourn this kind of loss for years.

The song mentions being still and waiting in the silence. It is there that God comes to us with healing and a renewed spirit. The waiting is the hardest part for some of us. We desire instant fixes that move us past the pain quickly. But it just does not happen that way.

God allows mourning to be a process, and in the middle of that process, we grow and change, and eventually, are able to find joy and peace again. The song tells of being able to stand on mountains and walk on stormy seas, to be strong again and to become “more than I can be.” Those are miracles of grace that come from God alone.

I invite you to listen to this song’ “You Raise Me Up” on YouTube at the following link: Β https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Yfwlj0gba_k

Bad Girls

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Girls raised in the South can sometimes become obsessed with being “good girls.” Often we Southern girls take gentility to a new level, being polite at all costs. It’s how we were taught. The trouble is that we sometimes harm ourselves in deference to the needs of others. It’s our way.

Feminism is a negative word to many people. But it can be a positive word when referring to becoming self-actualized, self-confident, and self-assured within ourselves as women. The Bible, in fact, even honored one “bad girl.”

Consider the prostitute we know as Rahab, who ended up playing an important role in God’s grand design. Her story tells us that two of Joshua’s spies ended up at her house. She provided a safe house for them. And the Bible says that Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho. Β (Joshua 6:25)

Bad girl or not, God’s generous mercy and boundless grace spared her life, as well as β€œher father’s household” (ASV) and β€œall who belonged to her” (NRSV). The people that she loved, God loved and protected.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so concerned with being “good girls” in the eyes of the world that tends to prefer “submissive girls” over bold, brave women who know how to live life with grace-filled confidence.

Was the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with her alabaster jar of perfume at Simon’s house a bad girl because she had been a prostitute?

Do you see this woman? Jesus asked. (Luke 7:44)

Simon saw only a prostitute. Jesus saw her past, and he also saw her in the moment. He described how she had just honored him, then he made this grace-filled announcement: Β Her sins, which are many, are forgiven. Β  (Luke 7:47 ASV). Jesus didn’t see her as a bad girl.

How about Abigail, who loaded up a feast and went to meet David, hoping that her actions would calm David so that he would spare her family from death? David agreed to spare the family for Abigail’s sake. (1 Samuel 25) Was she a bad girl who didn’t know her place?

I believe that God is pleased when women stand tall with strength and courage, taking control over their lives, protecting their loved ones, living out their personal faith, and creating their own relationship with their Creator. The world might well call us “bad girls,” but God calls us women of faith.

Blessed Quietness

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The house is quiet. My spirit is quiet. My soul is silent. It’s not a bad state to find myself in. It’s a state of content, without a hint of worry or concern. It is a good Sabbath condition in which to find myself.

I am grateful for these times of quietness, because it is in these times that I am able to fully worship God from the depths of my being. There are no interruptions to my prayers and I am here, alone with a God who truly cares for me.

1 Peter 3:4 describes the “hidden person of the heart.”

. . . but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

I do not always experience a gentle and quiet spirit, but today is one of the times when I am experiencing gentleness and quietness. It makes room for God to be here near me. And that is a good thing for my soul.

The very old gospel hymn “Blessed Quietness,” which was written in 1897, comes to mind this morning.

Blessèd quietness, holy quietness,
What assurance in my soul!
On the stormy sea, He speaks peace to me,
How the billows cease to roll!

Random Thoughts

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I would love to take a long, thoughtful, meditative walk in a misty forest.

I like the bird that visits the bird feeder outside my kitchen window, and I like watching him spread his wings to go.

I am lucky to have a tree framing our front porch, and I’m waiting for its leaves to turn to their vibrant yellow

I miss my grandchildren every day, and think of their beautiful smiles.

I miss Little Rock, where I lived for over 33 years.

God does not always meet me when I try to pray.

Praying can be lonely for me, sitting alone with my thoughts and my deepest heart desires.

The jazz music on my Pandora calms my soul, and I marvel at the talent that makes the music.

I love the warmth of the sunshine, but I hate it when the weather gets too hot.

I want to bake a German Chocolate cake and smell the memories of cakes gone by.

God is a mystery to me, in a sacred kind of way.

I miss my church in Arkansas.

I miss having my piano.

I’m afraid at the thought of having a kidney transplant.

I miss my best friends in Arkansas.

I wish I could see my son for a long, meaningful visit. The meaningful part is hard.

You don’t censor random thoughts. You just have them.

I love being near my brother, my sister-in-law and my cousins.

I am longing to see the leaves of the trees change their colors, creating a scene with “every common bush afire with God.”

There are hidden treasures in my heart. If only I could get in touch with them . . .

I wish my prayer time would always bring me to awe. It doesn’t. Not always.

I wish my random thoughts were more profound.

No one really cares about my random thoughts, but writing them down caresses my soul because I am honest with myself.

God as a Mystery

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It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. -Kallistos Ware

As is my habit, I awaken early every morning before Fred is up, even before the sun is up. It is my intent to spend that early morning time drawing closer to God. I read the Bible, I listen to hymns, I read what others have written about relationship with God. And yet, at times I feel empty, devoid of any divine experience.

Sometimes it’s all just mundane reading. On some days, I may as well be meditating on the postman or the bug man. It’s not supposed to be that way, I know, but I am often filled with questions about how to draw close to God in a meaningful way. And then I ran across the quotation written by Kallistos Ware.

Becoming progressively aware of the mystery of God, as he puts it, seems to be my sticking point. When he says that “God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder,” I am taken aback by the truth. It’s not about my reading and studying. It’s not about the knowledge I acquire about the Bible and other readings. It’s about discovering God anew every day in my spirit, not so much in my head. It’s about contemplating the mystery of God and allowing that contemplation to change me from within.

Perhaps it is more about sunrises than about scripture passages. Perhaps it is more about nature’s beauty than about philosophers’ writings. Perhaps it is more about my soul than about my brain. Perhaps it is not so much about my knowledge about God, but more about God as a mystery. Perhaps it is not so much about God as a divine friend, but more about God as the object of my wonder.

I think I’m on to something, maybe something life changing.