Most of us need inspiration to endure the mundane parts of life. We need to see things not only as they are in physical form, but also to see things as holy and sacred. We need to see things as a part of God’s creation given to us to fill our lives with beauty. In some ways, a tree is not just a tree, it is a little piece of nature’s grace.
When I was a young child, my life was filled with the fear of family violence. My home was not a safe place for me. So I would seek refuge under a huge magnolia tree in our yard. I honestly believed that the tree sheltered me and kept me hidden from danger. So I grew up with a strong affinity for trees. I have always had a kind of relationship with trees, and under their sheltering canopy, I found protection from harm.
Yes, it was a childhood fantasy. When I grew up, I learned that a tree cannot really protect me. But I did carry with me some emotions about trees from my childhood, and I consider trees to be my personal sacred spaces. It works for me in all sorts of ways. Actual living trees, of course, are the strongest comforters. But I look at photographs of trees. I enjoy art that pictures trees. And I love drawing and painting them.
Perhaps it seems like a quirky thing. But for me it’s more like an inspiration, nature’s grace for my difficult days
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In this life, with all that threatens us, we need healing, forgiveness, hope, light. We need the holy. We need the Spirit of God. I share with you today a moving prayer by Bishop Steven Charleston.
Let the healing come, to every heart, to every mind and body, to every life that needs it.
Let the forgiveness come, the release from what is past, the freedom of what is new.
Let the hope come, to every person, to every family, that longs for an answer.
Let the light come, to every fearful corner, to every place of worry, to all the spaces that separate our souls.
Let the holy come, the simple pure love that heals and forgives, restores hope and enlightens our path.
Let the Spirit come, to do what we cannot do, to make whole all that is broken.
A longing heart searches for God. A longing heart yearns for communion with God. It is during difficult times when that is most important, during those times when we find ourselves disconsolate. I have had some of those times in my life, times when I languished in suffering. I spent a full year under the ravages of end stage kidney failure and the serious infections that accompanied it.
I temporarily lost my ability to write, to feed myself, even to recognize friends and loved ones. Those were my times of longing for God. Those were times of looking beyond this earth to truly experience Gods love, care and grace. I can report, without hesitation, that God was fully present during those hard days.
I spent fifty-eight lonely days in the hospital, much of the time hoping for visitors to show up to comfort me. I was not alone, but I was lonely. I became truly grateful for the nurses and the other professionals that cared for me. I was glad to see the people who cleaned my room and brought my meals. I remember the nurses who made sure I had sugar-free midnight snacks.
But it was God that gave me the comfort I so longed for. As a person of faith, I should not be surprised at that. But after a series of losses, even persons of faith search high and low for God’s presence. I had a longing heart.
That was a bad year, but a year filled with grace from a loving and faithful God. God’s love that reaches to the heavens reached out to me. God’s faithfulness that reaches to the skies reached out to me when I needed it the most.
“Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”(Psalm 57:8-10).
What color is silence? I contemplated that thought as I searched for an image for today’s blog post. Some say “silence is golden,” but I chose a purple image because, in its stillness, it spoke to me of silence. There is nothing going on in the image. It’s just still and luminous, making no noise at all . . . silent.
Gunilla Norris writes these words about silence:
In our present culture silence is something like an endangered species . . . We need it badly. Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to our selves. It locates us. Without that return we can go so far away from our true natures that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves. We live blindly and act thoughtlessly. We endanger the delicate balance which sustains our lives, our communities and our planet. Can we remember our power as persons? Can we remind ourselves and others that, nurtured in silence, our awareness can lead us back to integrity and meaning? Each of us has and is a holy capability.
I have trouble with silence, often filling it with music. The truth is that I can hear God better in complete silence interrupted only by the sounds of nature. God may speak to me through the sound of a gentle breeze, the chirping of a finch, the music of a gentle rain, the crash of waves upon the shore. God may speak to me best of all when I am hearing nothing, during those times when God’s words reach directly into the depths of my soul.
It changes me. It restores me. It even makes me long for more silence. Gunilla Morris also says that each one of us “has and is a holy capability.” I embrace the holy capability within me in times of silence.
Where does one find hope? It is not just a superficial emotion that can be summoned on demand. Hope does not necessarily come to us when we urgently call for it. Hope is more like a state of being that dwells in the depths of the spirit. When all is lost in your life, you cannot find hope in activities. If you have lost a loved one, you cannot find hope in “getting beyond” your grief. If you have lost your health, you can not find hope in remedies, medical procedures and medications.
“Hope is found in the depths,” Paul Tillich teaches. These are his words of counsel:
If you find hope in the ground of history, you are united with the great prophets who were able to look into the depth of their times, who tried to escape it because they could not stand the horror of their visions, and who yet had the strength to look to an even deeper level and there to discover hope.
We sometimes find ourselves at the “depth of our times.” We sometimes try to escape the horror of what is happening to us. From those low and dark places, it takes strength to look into a deeper level. But that is where we must look if we want to discover hope, the kind of hope that is a healing balm for every life circumstance. We may find comfort, solace, consolation in many places, but hope is found only in the depths.
Kenyan Coast at Eventide by Melody Harrell
The shoreline opens itself up for the gentle waves at eventide. It’s a tranquil scene that refreshes the soul in ways I can hardly understand. I like to go to the seashore, in my mind at least, just to see and smell and hear the surf as it comes and goes. It brightens my spirit and refreshes me when I most need it.
I spent two weeks on the Kenyan shore many years ago and learned to love the Indian Ocean. Monkeys played in our front yard, frolicked in the trees, and added to the delight of the scenery.
I love to watch the African sun light the ocean in magical ways, as only the African sun can do. There is nothing like it anywhere else I have visited. I will always have fond memories of our time in Africa.
Memories are wonderful for the soul. They can transport us back to places we loved and remind us of people we cherished. L.M. Montgomery wrote that “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
That is so true. And so I hold tightly to my good memories and vow that each day I live, I will make new ones.
Art by Jennifer Lommers
The world is meant to be celebrated. Not that one would get that message during this political season when many of the candidates vehemently insist the the country is going to hell in a hand basket unless we elect them. They believe they can swoop in and save the day. They believe that our situation in this country is abysmal.
But there is another story circulating in America, and I like it much better. 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin got to fulfill her dream of visiting the White House and meeting President Obama and the First Lady. And they danced! A visit filled with joy and dreams come true! An opportunity to be celebrated!
Virginia McLaurin beamed as she spoke, “I thought I would never live to get in the White House. And I tell you, I am so happy. A black president! A black wife! And I’m here to celebrate black history. Yeah, that’s what I’m here for.”
So I’m for healing the world through joy, as Terry Tempest Williams writes:
Once upon a time,
When women were birds,
There was the simple understanding
That to sing at dawn
And to sing at dusk
Was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
That the world is meant to be celebrated.
Lent can be a journey taken in the darkness. Yet, there is a sense about Lent that is so beautiful, so full of gentle light and new life possibilities. In some ways, Lent can be a new start for us, a chance to start all over with more wisdom and resolve. There is newness of life in Lent when we spend these forty days mindfully. There are new beginnings in Lent if we take the Lenten journey with hope and courage. Although Lent can be a time of darkness, a time of trying to open our eyes yet not being able to see our way ahead, it is a worthwhile journey. Each step on this journey can be one of taking a careful step at a time into a darkened place, yet knowing that the light will pierce the darkness.
In that kind of darkness, it does take courage to change things about our lives. It takes a desire to become all we can be and to move toward new beginnings resolutely. Giving up something for Lent is the popular thing to do. But it’s more life-changing to embrace something during Lent, to find ways to become more fully alive. Joan Chittister expresses a wonderful way to take the Lenten Journey.
Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live life anew.