Struggle and Wonder

Enlight119

Aging, they say, is not for sissies. The person who coined that statement must have known about the many ways getting older would take its toll. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, our lives change,

We have at least two ways to live through these days that bring aging’s challenges. We can languish under the weight of life, fighting through every day to maintain our elusive youth. Or we can live deeply, embracing the sweetness and the sorrow, and savoring the memories that have brought us to this time in our lives. We can hold on tightly to the “small bagful of stars” that make our every moment a wonder.

Bishop Steven Charleston speaks great wisdom, describing a “place of struggle and wonder.”

We do not have long to linger in this place of struggle and wonder, surrounded by the clamoring throng, or sitting silently beneath the moon. We have only a measure of moments, a small bagful of stars, to spend here among the laughter and sighs, before the days of our counting are complete. Let each one, each day, each moment be lived then, as if it was the only hour creation will ever know, lived in as deeply as love will allow, lived in for all of its sweetness and sorrow. We do not have long to linger, but we have forever to remember.

Struggle and wonder, sweetness and sorrow . . . inextricably joined, woven together to create the tapestry of our lives. And so we grasp the struggle and cling tightly to the wonder. We welcome the sweetness, knowing full well that the sorrow is a necessary emotion of a life well lived.

We have forever to remember the struggle and wonder that swaddled us, abided with us, made its home within us, and fashioned our wondrous lives.

And this is God’s good news for us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face struggles of many kinds,Β because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Β Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Advertisements

Life’s Narrow and Wide Gates

IMG_5244

Life is full of narrow and wide gates, beckoning us to choose which gate to enter. On one hand, the idea of gates — narrow ones and wide ones — is a Biblical idea describing the kind of life a Christian person might choose. On the other hand, narrow and wide gates are simply a part of our life pilgrimage.

The Scripture reference is found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

– Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

The pilgrimage that we call life is, most certainly, a series of challenges we must face. How common it is for us to complain when the gate before us is narrow and the road ahead is rocky. Why do I struggle financially? Why must I endure failing health? Why am I in the middle of a failing relationship? Why did I lose someone I love so deeply?

Didn’t I choose the narrow gate, God? Did I not commit my life to the way that leads to life? Then why? Why the suffering?

God seldom answers us when we ask these questions. We listen constantly for God’s voice and a satisfactory explanation of life’s suffering.

We hear nothing.

Just relentless, ominous silence. It can try one’s faith.

Gratefully, I came across an encouraging quote. Before collapsing on my life’s dusty road, I found a place to lean in the words of Brother Luke Ditewig. Here’s what he said:

After making much fuss about our great accomplishment at having found a narrow and obscure gate and walked through, we’re often surprised at the ordinary challenges of life that follow, again and again. I’m embarrassed by how much I say: β€œWow, this road is hard!” or β€œWhy are we still in the wilderness?” But if you look around right now, you’ll notice divine love in the ordinary stuff of life.

– Brother Luke Ditewig
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

So let us persist, moving forward with even a tiny fistful of faith. And may we look around on the way, passing through the gates we encounter and always noticing the divine love that is ever present in the “ordinary stuff of life.”

Remember Me

Enlight59

Aging brings up many questions about life, the past, the future. I think all of us wonder if we will be remembered. Will our accomplishments live on? Will anyone remember us? Did we change the world in any significant way? Will we leave any kind of legacy?

As always, Bishop Steven Charleston shares wise and wonderful insight.

Not many of us will be remembered for what we have done, though we may have accomplished a lot. Institutions change, communities move on, new faces appear, priorities shift, different challenges present themselves. As important as we once were, we fade into the mist. What remains is not what we have built, but who we have inspired. The lives we touched will go on. The minds we opened, the hearts we cherished, the spirits we set free: it is in relationship that our names are remembered. It is in how well we shared our love that we transcend thoughtless time and live on in ways unchanging.

– Bishop Steven Charleston

When I take stock of my life’s accomplishments, I am pleased with myself and proud of what I have built. But it is so very true, as Bishop Charleston says, that all of us fade into the mist and what we have built falls into decay as new things emerge.

So will we “live on in ways unchanging?” I think we will. I also believe that if we are remembered at all, it will be by the people we have inspired, the lives we have touched, the hearts we have cherished that cherished us in return. And that’s the very best way to be remembered.

“Life for Me Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair”

design

The First Sunday during Lent finds me nursing a tension headache. The week of Fred’s testing caused no small measure of stress. A sense of fear overtook me. My Lenten journey, though, reminds me that this is appropriate, an expected part of life. For the Lenten walk is nothing at all if it does not reflect life’s journey itself . . . filled with times of darkness, fear, grief, uncertainty — all the human emotions that so assail us.

I am reminded of the brilliant poem written by Langston Hughes.

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floorβ€”
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall nowβ€”
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– Langston Hughes

How true it is that “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” But God has walked with me along the way, pouring grace upon grief. Thanks be to God.

Out of the Miry Clay

 

enlight1

The Jordan River, Israel

Sometimes I sink into the mire of my journey. It is if I am walking through thick, deep clay, barely able to take another step. All the prayers and promises I have held on to for so long suddenly do not bring comfort or courage. I feel as if I cannot take another step.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I am immobilized. For just a time, all the faith of my mothers eludes me. I am stuck, fearful, and in search of a word from God that has the power to release me and guide me forward. The promises from the Holy promise maker seem not enough when I am so weary of the journey. I protest and lament, complaining that the way is too hard and long.

When I have nursed despair long enough, I begin surveying what has worked before. I go through message and melody that might hold the power to restore my will. Often, I will recall the words of the hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside.
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

The Prophet Isaiah reaches me with this word of hope.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

– Isaiah 43:2 New International Version (NIV)

And Jeremiah’s conversation with God hits me squarely with a hefty dose of reality.

The Lord answers Jeremiah:
β€œIf you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
 then how can you contend with horses?
 And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
 then how will you do in the swelling of the Jordan?”

– Jeremiah 12:5

God still calls out to each of us with words of hope if we are open to hearing. The miry days will come again, no doubt. No life escapes that. I’m sure I will once again struggle through the mud, but one thing I have learned well comes from the words of the Psalmist.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

– Psalm 40:1-2

Celebrating the Journey

img_4675

We are travelers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

– Richard Gillard (1974) Copyright: Β© 1977 Scripture In Song/Maranatha! Music/ASCAP

This hymn, “The Servant Song,” offers the image of life as a journey. It is a clear call to our interconnectedness as “fellow pilgrims.” It is a portrait of making the journey together, caring each for the other, holding up the light when the darkness becomes overwhelming.

So we are not wandering strangers, but instead brothers and sisters united by our mutual care for one another weathering the storms of every difficult hour. For me, the path has been steep and rocky at times, smooth and pleasant at other times. The brothers and sisters along the way gave me enough grace and courage to keep moving ahead when the journey got the best of me. Bishop Steven Charleston offers a tribute for journey travelers.

Here is the respect you deserve for all that you have done. You have weathered the storms of many difficult hours, kept going when others might have stopped, continued to believe despite all evidence to the contrary. Were you perfect in thought and action? No, of course not, none of us are, but you have tried, more than once, and tried again, admitting mistakes, growing in wisdom, learning the lessons of a life well lived. For all of this, from one other traveler walking the road beside you, you have my respect. I honor you and celebrate what you have accomplished.

Always celebrate the journey you have traveled. Always honor the wisdom you gained, the lessons you learned, the brothers and sisters you found along the way. May God bless you as you journey on.

Transformation: The Spiritual Journey

img_4264

The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you can lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

The life quest of drawing closer to God is best described as a spiritual journey. But it is a journey of our own choosing. We are not forced to take it. God does not coerce us to travel such a path. Each of us must choose it, and in a spirit of prayer embark on an unknown journey.

We cannot predict its path. We can only give ourselves to its gentle turns with confidence that, along the way, we will discover and learn and grow in our faith. It can be transformational. Wendell Berry describes this journey with the words arduous, humbling and joyful, an apt description. Most importantly he describes “arriving at the ground at our own feet” and there learning to be at home. Here’s what he writes:

The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.

– Wendell Berry

Taking the journey leads us home, a place of peace and comfort, a place where we are comfortable in our own skin, a place where our heart meets God’s heart. The journey can bring transformation within us.

The danger is that we can shrink in fear from transformation because we cannot control the process. Giving up control is always a challenge for humans, but refusing the spiritual journey means that we will wander aimlessly, always searching and never finding our deepest spiritual self.

The Determined Journey

image

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

The God of Our Journeys

image

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.