Just to Be Alive

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Another day to be alive! It’s a day without the need to prove anything or to accomplish anything. It will be enough just to be, to enjoy the brilliant sunlight, the warmth of the day, the colors of the autumn trees. It can be a day to refresh and renew. If we let it.

Bishop Steven Charleston writes, ” Make doing nothing a value.” Here are the rest of his wise words.

Turn your light within that you may shine that much more brightly for others. Do not neglect the care you give to yourself, the time you need to rest and be renewed. No hamster wheel of expectations is as important as minding your health: body, mind and spirit. Draw in the hours around you, making space for doing those things that help you the most. Give a priority to having fun. Make doing nothing a value. The best of our lives is rarely spent at the grindstone. Allow yourself the space to be, to think, to dream, to wander. Discover again how good it feels just to be alive.

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Washing the Spirit Clean

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It is a worthy intention, to wash my spirit clean. How freeing it would be to move all the messy stuff from my soul and to feel cleansed. The Psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

How do I even begin? A good start would be prayer, contemplation, reading prayers in Scripture, walking in the forest, making some time for silence. For me, singing hymns cleanses my soul and nurtures my heart. The writing of John Muir also suggests a path to soul cleansing. John Muir, also known as “John of the Mountains”, was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. Millions of people have read his letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada of California. These are his words.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

Keep close to Nature’s heart . . . break clear away once in awhile..climb a mountain..spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

― John Muir, The Mountains of California

It’s a continuous effort, washing the spirit clean. It’s a necessary spiritual discipline. It opens us up to a life renewed and refreshed.

Our Stories

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Stories move through our lives, especially when we are willing to tell them. There is great power in the telling. Telling our stories makes us better and stronger. It helps us create our lasting history. It allows us to open ourselves to others.

C.S. Song writes about stories in his book, In the Beginning Were Stories not Texts. He writes, “Stories are conceived within the womb of dreams and developed and nurtured within it . . . If the story is good . . . it will be told from one generation to another.”

Happy stories and sad stories weave through our lives and are a part of making us who we are. Then when we tell them, we share who we are with others. We risk being authentic, being known. We give to the hearer the gift of genuinely knowing us. Telling our stories is the seed of true friendships and relationships.

Out of our dreams emerge our stories, stories that must be told and retold. The telling is a gift we give to our children and their children. It is a precious gift, and the only way to give it is to open up our hearts to let our dreams go forth in words.

So I urge you to open up your life and tell your stories. You will be stronger for it. Generations will be blessed by it.

The Determined Journey

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Train tracks are mesmerizing. They suggest a journey, but a journey that is firmly determined. The tracks ensure that.

In a some ways, our own journeys are determined. And that takes the fear away. We follow the tracks and move toward a destination. Mandy Hale describes the journey like this.

Dance. Smile. Giggle. Marvel. TRUST. HOPE. LOVE. WISH. BELIEVE. Most of all, enjoy every moment of the journey, and appreciate where you are at this moment instead of always focusing on how far you have to go.

― Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

It’s simple, really. With God as our companion, our journey is focused, determined. We know where we are going. We are confident of our destination. We are comforted as we move forward, knowing that God guides our way.

In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them.

– Proverbs 16:9

We Shall Overcome

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Listen.

Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.

Listen.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round,
Turn me ’round, turn me ’round.
Ain’t gonna let nobody, turn me ’round.
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’,
Marchin’ on to freedom land.

Listen.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day.
Deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome some day.

It was the music of the people, the music of the day. I was around fourteen years old, and I vividly remember the day in 1963 when the Alabama National Guard surrounded my school. I remember my fear of having to walk through their clasped arms. I remember the one, lone student — Richard — who integrated the school that day. I wondered all year as I saw him walk the halls alone if anyone ever spoke to him even once.

So what is the music of this day? It’s still a time of fear and division. We have battles to fight. Yes, racism is still one of them. So is misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, violence, terrorism, criminal justice inequality, human trafficking . . . and the list goes on.

But we can overcome, even in these troubling days. We don’t clasp hands and march together much these days. We don’t embrace one cause and walk together as one very much. But what is most troubling is that we have no music.

I pray that together we will target the wrongs of our day and walk together towards freedom, lifting our voices in one powerful crescendo, singing the songs that give us courage and determination. We shall overcome someday.

Listen. Can you hear the music?

Love Rising

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Bishop Steven Charleston uses the wonderful phrase “love rising” and writes that “love is rising all around us” It’s a comforting thought that love can rise around us and in us to push out fear and grief and anger and malice. I have a notion that for that to happen in us, we must allow it. We must be open to letting go of all the negative stuff within us and allow the love to rise.

It’s possible, to be sure. We have heard the profound, but simple, Scripture “perfect love casts out fear.” And it always gives us hope for better days and for a kinder, more loving heart.

I leave you today with the words of Bishop Charleston.

Love is rising all around us, if we open the eyes of the spirit to see, rising all around, from so many who have not given up, from so many who hope and who believe, the witness of quiet hearts, the faithful family from every creed and culture, every tradition and community, rising up, pushing back fear, overcoming suspicion, finding new answers, trying new ideas, turning love into action, letting it rise up from broken cities and troubled towns, letting it rise up for all of us, not for the few, but for all of us, love, rising up all around, rising up in you and in me and in all of us.

May love rise up in you and around you this day.

How Should We Live?

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I am moved by hymns and often make their words a part of my prayers. This hymn, “When the Church of Jesus,” has long been one of my favorites. It challenges us to live in the world as a people of compassion and caring.

When the Church of Jesus
Shuts its outer door,
Lest the roar of traffic
Drown the voice of prayer:
May our prayers, Lord, make us
Ten times more aware
That the world we banish
Is our Christian care.

If our hearts are lifted
Where devotion soars
High above this hungry
Suffering world of ours:
Lest our hymns should drug us
To forget its needs,
Forge our Christian worship
Into Christian deeds.

Lest the gifts we offer,
Money, talents, time,
Serve to salve our conscience
To our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us
By the way you give;
Teach us, dying Savior,
How true Christians live.

Fred Pratt Green, 1969

How should we live our lives? In what ways does Christ compel us to service? Does the life of Christ inspire us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?

As the hymn says, “Lord, reprove, inspire us.” May it be so.

Reborn

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All of us are enduring this season of our presidential campaign with a level of angst. Psychologist have written about the stress that we are experiencing. Some people are turning off their televisions in an attempt to escape the divisive language and incessant negative dialogue.

One thing is clear to me: this is a time for prayer, prayer that our nation will find its way to serenity, calmness and unity. I would like to share with you such a prayer, actually the text of the hymn, “O God of Every Time and Place.”

The words describe a people with “downcast eyes, tight, sullen and afraid.” Yet the hymn moves toward hope for divine rebirth.

O God of every time and place,
Prevail among us too;
Within the city that we love,
Its promise to renew,
Our people move with downcast eyes,
Tight, sullen and afraid;
Surprise us with Thy joy divine,
For we would be remade.

Grant us, O God, who labor here
Within this throbbing maze,
A forward-looking, saving hope
To galvanize our days.
Let Christ, who loved Jerusalem,
And wept its sins to mourn,
Make just our laws and pure our hearts;
So shall we be reborn.

Ernest T. Campbell, 1971

I am confident that, as a people, we will get beyond these days. I am confident that our democracy will continue to shine throughout the world as a beacon of hope. I am confident that, when all the harsh, harmful words have faded away, we will be reborn.

I am confident because of the God who gives us strength, resilience and abiding grace.

The Indwelling Christ

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I am thinking today about the second stanza of the great hymn, “All Praise to Thee.” The words remind us of the life and work of Jesus.

Thou camest to us in lowliness of thought;
By Thee the outcast and the poor were sought;
And by The death was God’s salvation wrought;
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Do we seek the outcast and the poor? Do we continue the work of Christ as we walk each day in a broken world? Do we show Christ’s compassion to every person? Do we do these things by the way we live our lives?

I have for many years considered thoughtfully these words written by Joseph Clower in his book, The Church in the Thought of Jesus. Though he speaks of the Church and her ministry, I also hear his words as a compelling personal call to live my life as a follower of Christ in the world.

If the indwelling Christ is not confined, then the Church’s eyes flow with His tears, her heart moved with His compassion, her hands are coarsened with His labor, her feet are wearied with his walking among all people.

May this be said of us.

Think on These Things

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I browsed Facebook this morning as I often do. I seriously considered closing my account. Harsh words were sent my way. Presidential candidates appeared on every other post, Supporters touted their candidate while often discrediting and disrespecting those who disagreed with them. Supporters even threatened violence. Poll watchers vowed to be ominously present to intimidate voters. Some people even predicted literal bloodshed after the election. And then there were missing children, reports of sexual assaults, abused animals . . . I could go on and on.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends. I enjoy hearing about their lives. But these days, I cannot get beyond the negativity. It makes me want to close my eyes, to disengage completely.

I think the lesson here for me is to take care of my soul and to withdraw from all activities and people who harm my spirit and my heart. It’s not bad advice, to seek those things that uplift us and give us life and to avoid all that sucks the life out of us.

I have always been an engaged person, so the answer for me is not to disengage. But it is to be selective and to focus on the things that nurture my soul. Engaged but not absorbed.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

– Philippians 4:8