With Hearts Wide Open

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There is nothing as harmful as a closed heart. So many things can close a heart . . . A loved one’s death, a ruined relationship, a loss of career and livelihood. When tragedies occur, they hurt so badly that the heart can close itself off from the pain. The problem is that a heart closed to pain may also be closed to love, joy and hope.

It can become a faith crisis for anyone. It can become chronic and it can last for years. The question is always how can we keep our hearts open when it is holding such deep pain? The answer is difficult to find. The answer can elude us.

But there are some obvious remedies. It is possible to open our hearts to the messages of Scripture, to the comforting strains of sacred hymns, to comforting words from those who care for us, to holy moments of contemplation and prayer.

Andrea Keh writes this:

To live with an open heart is to remember that the essence of our true self is love. We must forgive, heal and feel the depths of our emotions before we have the space to connect deeper and higher. This open heart space is where we reflect divine love and light for each other!

So let us greet this new day with hearts wide open, honoring the past, but savoring the future.

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The God of Our Journeys

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Life is very much like a journey. As our days pass, we travel a path that leads us through valleys and mountains, forests and meadows, roads that present obstacles that hinder us. Many people have said life is not an easy road.

It’s not so much like a journey on planes, trains and automobiles. Its more like a soul journey, walking on pathways, steep and narrow, sometimes clear and sometimes ridden with obstacles. Sometimes smooth, often rocky. So we travel with the prayer that God will be walking with us.

God’s presence makes this journey possible. Through every darkened starry night, when the light of dawn appears, over bridges, across deep valleys and rocky ridges, God is close by. In times of war and times of peace, in days of sorrow and suffering, during times of great happiness, God is with us on this journey.

When the psalmist asks where he might go to be outside God’s presence, he declares:

Suppose I had wings
like the dawning day
and flew across the ocean.
Even then your powerful arm
would guide and protect me.

(Psalm 139:9-10, CEV)

Thanks be to the God of our journeys.

Morning by Morning

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“Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

What a beautiful thought from the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The hymn, one of my favorites, is filled with comforting images that describe the faithfulness of God. The words were written in 1923 by Thomas Obediah Chisholm, and the hymn continues to bless to this day.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a long night of fearfulness. In the early hours of the morning, I found myself still wide awake. Unable to sleep, my mind turned to concerns and worries that I could not shake. From out of nowhere, this hymn came to mind and I began singing silently in the night. A sense of comfort and protection swept over me, and I was again reminded of the deep comfort that this hymn brings. These words stilled my soul and sustained me until the light of morning.

β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness!” β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath providedβ€”
β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

How true is the thought, “morning by morning new mercies I see.” I am moved by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston who writes of the new beginning of every first light, how we are set free by the new light on more mornings than we can count. These are his words.

Here is the hand of morning, coming so quietly to part the curtain, letting in the first light, welcoming the wide-eyed day into the sleepy corners of our lives. A new beginning is the miracle that awaits each one of us. We are the people of new beginnings, each one of us, brought here by more mornings than we can count, fresh chances from an older life, a turn of events, a change of mind, an unexpected friend, how many different mornings have we seen? You and I are made of morning, set free by the new light, forever being welcomed into a life that is just beginning.

Life does bring dark nights, times that challenge our hearts and assault our spirits. But there is great comfort in knowing that the morning dawns, every time, bringing new hope and fresh beginnings. God is faithful to be present with us in the deep watches of hard nights. God also is the creator of new mornings and new mercies.

 

Wilderness Wanderings

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Do you ever feel that you are wandering aimlessly through a wilderness? There have been times when I could describe my life as wilderness wanderings . . . no direction, no sense of how to get past the desert, no way to escape. It is not a pleasant state of being. But it is not uncommon.

Generally wilderness wanderings follow the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, a crisis in a career. When a person simply doesn’t see a clear path, the wandering begins. It can feel endless and lonely. It can raise fear and cause deep uncertainty.

While we may not be delivered from it right away, we can find comfort through it. Our faith can sustain us and remind us that God never leaves us or forsakes us. Many Biblical passages bring comfort and hope. One of my favorites is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.

The Lord said, β€œTherefore, 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)

On Lovingkindness

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Too often we use words of Scripture to prove a point. It can be a bad practice. Yet at times there are words that seem to speak clearly to our times. Such is this passage from the Book of Leviticus that is a clear call for lovingkindness.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV)

This is what I hear clearly in this passage. The Lord is our God. And God commands us to treat foreign-born citizens with respect and love. It is as simple as that.

Juxtapose that command with the many voices calling for mass deportations, dividing immigrant families, and refusing to offer welcome to refugees fleeing from danger in their homeland. How can those who profess that they are people of faith advocate for unwelcoming national policy?

I cannot answer that question. I do not understand. What I do understand is this:

– 8.4 million Syrian children, inside and outside the country, are in need of humanitarian aid, and millions have borne witness to unrelenting violence from the brutal conflict that began more than five years ago.

– 2.6 million Syrian children are no longer in school and more than 2.5 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries or on the run in search of safety, helping to fuel a global migrant crisis.

– Syria is now the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people and refugees. Many children have spent several bitter winters living in makeshift shelters without adequate protection from the cold.Β (unicefusa.org)

On the brighter side the U.S. accepted more than 2,300 Syrian refugees in June of 2016 alone, sending the fiscal year total soaring past the 5,000 mark and putting the government on track to surpass President Obama’s goal of 10,000 by the end of September. (washingtontimes.com)

May God fill our hearts with compassion and lovingkindness. May our nation become a welcoming place of refuge. May we love others as we love ourselves.

I Am Enough

 

 

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Oh, the curse that taught us we have to be perfect! Many of us spent too many precious years of our lives striving for perfection, oblivious to the fact that perfection is simply not possible. What was it that made so many of us try to overcompensate and to convince ourselves that perfectionism is a quality?

Very late in life, I learned to embrace the phrase, “I am enough!” When I embraced that, I found freedom in my life. I found release from my own expectations. I found that I was liberated from an all-consuming desire to have the approval and admiration of other people.

It is, of course, worthwhile to teach our children to always strive to be the best they can be and to dream expansive dreams. But it is just as important to teach them, “You are enough just the way you are.”

Here’s what I see as I look back on my life: Everything did not have to be perfect. Every project did not have to be flawless. Every sermon did not have to be profound. The house did not have to be impeccably decorated and spotless. My child did not have to excel in all things. I did not have to give everyone the impression that I could not fail.

One does not walk into the forest and accuse the trees of being off-center. Nor do they visit the shore and call the waves imperfect. So why do we look at ourselves this way?

– Tao Te Ching

A blessing of older age is the honest belief — finally — that I am enough!

A Courageous Heart

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From the top of Mount Nebo in Arkansas

Sometimes things don’t work out as we hope they will. We have plans covered by faith, and we work hard to make our plans come to fruition. We have goals that we strive to achieve. We have dreams that we hope for. But dreams can be lost, and we are forced to dream new dreams and move forward.

The story of Moses tells how he led his people through the wilderness in hopes of reaching the land promised by God. Moses wandered the desert with a courageous heart. Along the way, he encountered all manner of experiences, the parting of the Red Sea, receiving the Ten Commandments, his experience with a bush that burned. Moses was honored by being appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.

But in spite of God’s anointing, Moses never went into the land of promise. This is what happened to Moses on Mount Nebo.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, β€œThis is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, β€˜I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4

It is true that Moses died without experiencing the promise, but oh, the miracles he saw along the journey! The lesson for us is to truly experience the sacred moments of our journeys, to savor the holy happenings, to take in the miracles that God shows us.

May God grant us eyes to see burning bushes and a heart courageous enough to cross Red Seas.

Dear President Obama

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Dear President Obama,

Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan.

Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won’t bring toys and doesn’t have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine’s lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn’t let anyone touch it.

Thank you very much! I can’t wait for you to come!

Alex

6 years old

Last month, like people around the world, Alex was moved by the heartbreaking images of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old boy in Aleppo, Syria, sitting in an ambulance, in shock as he tried to wipe the blood from his hands.

In his letter, Alex told President Obama that he wanted Omran to come live with him and his family. He wanted to share his bike, and teach him how to ride. He said his little sister would collect butterflies for him. “We can all play together,” he wrote. “We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”

Those are the words of a six-year-old boy — a young child who has not learned to be cynical or suspicious or fearful of other people because of where they come from, how they look, or how they pray.

We’ll be waiting with flags, flowers and balloons.

With these words, we adults learn an important lesson from a six year old. Can we become as compassionate and welcoming to those who need a place to call home? Can we look at other humans as our brothers and sisters? Can we play together and work together to create a better world?

Can we?

Without a Song

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What a life is ours! Doesn’t anybody in the world anymore want to get up in the middle of the night and sing?

Mary Oliver, Upstream

The truth is that singing is good for you. For thousands of years, in all cultures, in all parts of the world, people have been singing.

Singing is in our genes and in human nature. All types of singing have positive psychological effects. The act of singing releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel good” chemicals.

The urge to sing – and to hear others sing – is in all of us. Singing – like laughter, play, sunshine, countryside and exercise – helps underpin and maintain our well-being and happiness.

You don’t even have to be good at it!

“Without a Song” is a popular song with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu, published in 1929. The song holds a great message.
Without a song the day would never end.
Without a song the road would never bend.
When things go wrong a man ain’t got a friend,
Without a song.

That field of corn would never see a plow.
That field of corn would be deserted now.
A man is born but he’s no good no how,
Without a song.

I got my trouble and woe but, sure as I know, the Jordan will roll;
And I’ll get along as long as a song is strong in my soul.

I’ll never know what makes the rain to fall.
I’ll never know what makes that grass so tall.
I only know there ain’t no love at all
Without a song.

Enjoy your day. Try a little singing.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

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May you enjoy abundant blessings on this first day of Fall. This season always reminds me of homecomings, making me nostalgic about friends and family far away.

As I think of my friends and family today, scattered across the world, I am compelled to offer a prayer for each one. I long to offer God’s blessing to my grandchildren, to my far away family, to my dear friends. So across the miles, I ask God’s blessing to brighten your day.

One of the most moving blessings in all of scripture is found in the book of Numbers. This I send to you today.
The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

I invite you to listen to the moving anthem, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” by John Rutter at this link.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PO17DIeI7Ec