The Cross in the Garden

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Although I have a very small yard, I do have a tiny garden beside my tiny front porch. This morning the jasmine in the garden is in full bloom filling the air with sweet jasmine perfume. The tiny water feature is making gentle water sounds that relax and heal, as rippling water tends to do. A bird is splashing around in the birdbath, the flowers are blooming, and the ferns are swaying in Macon’s gentle breeze. A large iron Celtic cross leans on the tallow tree, always reminding me where my faith comes from.

Now there is an issue with the iron cross in the garden. It falls over all the time. No matter how deep I place it in the soil, it falls over. Being an ardent tree lover, I refuse to nail the cross to the tallow tree. So it continues to fall over and I continue to prop it up.

Perhaps, as a symbol of faith, it’s appropriate that the cross falls over. My faith falls over all the time, and just as I continually prop up the cross in my garden, the Creator props my faith back up every time it falls.

I think of the Psalms where we read so many words of God’s help and protection as in Psalm 118.

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:13-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 
Like the cross in the garden, I might fall over a time or two on my journey. That’s okay, because I know a God who props me up, holds me up, lifts me up, raises me up!

Thanks be to God.

Together Through Lent

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Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley. The watercolor — “Together” — represents the spiritual covenants we share with one another, bonds that strengthen our faith. 

I have always thought of Lent as a spiritual journey we take alone, a solitary season of introspection and self-reflection during which we contemplate our own spiritual well-being and our relationship with God. For me, Lent has always been alone work. But what if it wasn’t? Suppose I experienced Lent with my community — the close community of people with whom I share my spiritual life.

I cannot help but recall the story of Jephthah’s daughter as told in Judges 11. When she faces a terrible crisis that will result in her death at the hands of her father, she makes only one request of her father. “Do what you must do, only grant me this one request: Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my sisters.”

So she will take this journey up into the hills with her sisters — to mourn, to reflect, to pray. She will not make this journey alone. She makes the journey with the sisters who surrounded her in life and now in death. They climb up into the hills together.

Lent’s forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. He was there alone, and most often the Lenten journey is a time for reflecting alone. But I think that perhaps there is spiritual benefit in making a Lenten journey together, in community, joining together through invisible rhythms of friendship and caring.

As I make my Lenten journey this year, in my mind I will take my community with me. There into my alone places where God comforts me in my contemplative moments, in my repentance and in my penitence, I will be more mindful this Lent of my spiritual circle of friends. I will make a covenant with them in my mind and heart. I will send them positive thoughts as they make their Lenten journey and I will pray for them intentionally and faithfully.

It will be a together Lent, inspired by the sisters who went into the hills with Jephthah’s daughter where they spent a season of grief in community, together.

I hope that, together, we might embrace a sense of community as one of our Lenten spiritual disciplines, that we might journey together for these forty days, praying for one another, seeking together the serenity, the reflection and the transformation of Lent.

In that spirit of prayer, I leave with you this beautiful prayer written by Rabbi Naomi Levy:

The rabbi in me would like to offer a prayer for you.
I pray you will learn to see you life as a meaningful story.
I pray you will learn to listen to your soul’s insistent yearning.
I pray you will learn to believe you can transform your life.
I pray you will learn to live and shine inside your imperfect life
and find meaning and joy right where you are.
Most of all I pray you will uncover a great miracle: your extra-ordinary life.

— From Hope Will Find You by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Tending to Yourself through Lent

5C466354-43F2-463A-9C04-1ACD2A85CE01Do you ever just get tired of tending to yourself? I suppose that’s not a relevant question for a general audience. It is, however, a very relevant question for those of us who are aging and/or have chronic illnesses.

I am in those categories: aging and ill. My life changed, as many of you know, in 2014 when I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease. That means my choice was dialysis for the rest of my life, a kidney transplant, or the unmentionable alternative which, very honestly, is death. I am told that without either dialysis or transplant, a person would be looking at two weeks.

So I tend to myself with all the medications, the medical appointments, the processes, the prevention measures — every day. Sometimes it feels like all day. Without a husband who is an indispensable care partner, I would be sunk. To be honest, my needs require both of us to be constantly attentive, and it is exhausting.

Still, I tend to myself, and I do sometimes get tired of having to. But I tend to myself largely without complaint and with unspeakable joy for the grace of being alive, of enjoying my family, my grandchildren, my creative pursuits and my “one wild and precious life” as poet Mary Oliver would call it.

Tending to myself is not just being sure to address my physical health needs. It is even more important to me to tend to my spiritual well-being. One of the things that means for me is choosing a spiritual path for my Lenten journey. I have just one day to choose. Today is Ash Wednesday, an important day for penitents. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return” is Ash Wednesday’s message. And then we must begin our Lenten spiritual path.

I have to be honest by admitting that I have not yet chosen my path. It won’t be giving up chocolate. It won’t be as much giving as it will be receiving grace on the journey. So as I have contemplated what I will do, I have gathered some resources that I will share here.

I hope you will tend to yourself through your Lenten journey, and I pray that Lent’s forty days will find you walking your sacred path. Breathe deeply. Reflect on your life. Pay attention to your heart. Attend to your soul. Count your gifts. Speak your prayers. Consider Christ’s journey to the cross. Listen for God’s whisper. Receive the grace that comes to you.

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
— Ecclesiastes 3:20

A FEW RESOURCES YOU MIGHT USE DURING LENT:

  • First of all, I would like to share with you the joy of walking a labyrinth or using a finger labyrinth during the days of Lent. 9889AA3B-16BB-4F9F-9B56-D883A74A49AE

You might find a labyrinth near you in a church, a park or at a spiritual retreat center. You can search at the labyrinth locator website listed below. You may also invest some creative time by making a finger labyrinth like the one pictured. Instructions  are at a link below.

Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger and the grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives.    — The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

Walking the labyrinth clears the mind and gives insight into the spiritual journey. It is a form of walking meditation that can enhance and deepen awareness of God. Labyrinth prayer is a contemplative spiritual discipline on a simple marked path. It is based on the ancient practice of pilgrimage. 

On a pilgrimage, a pilgrim intentionally (1) leaves the world, journeying away from the noise and distractions of life, (2) eventually arrives and rests with Christ, and (3) returns home to live more deeply in God’s presence.

The labyrinth invites us to release, receive and return. Walking the labyrinth is not a newfangled technique to jumpstart your spiritual life. It is a slow, quiet, meditative practice that has historically attended to the desire to make a journey toward God. Laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, the labyrinth has been used by pilgrims for centuries.

When you experience the labyrinth, you must give yourself to the path, leaving behind the noise and hurry of life. Just as you would pack simply for a pilgrimage, you offer your load to God as you begin your prayer journey. You move slowly toward the center and toward God. 

At times you are close to the center. Further along the path, you may be farther from the center. This represents the reality of the spiritual journey. As you walk the labyrinth, you can see the center, but you can’t see how exactly you will get there, Sometimes you find you are making surprising turns that seem to take you farther away, not closer. However, if you stay on the path, you will get to the center. Then, you will follow the path from the center and move “into the world” to do justice and love mercy. Labyrinths can be a walking meditation, a spiritual practice or simply an opportunity to calm the mind and enjoy peace, quiet and reflection. 

For resources on the labyrinth, visit https://www.gracecathedral.org/our-labyrinths/

To find labyrinths, visit The Labyrinth Society’s website: https://labyrinthlocator.com

For instructions on making a finger labyrinth, visit https://heatherplett.com/2015/01/make-finger-labyrinth-also-piece-art/

  • Living Well Through Lent 2019:
    Practicing Forgiveness with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind

    Living Compass offers a daily email devotional throughout Lent. You will receive forty-seven daily emails, one for each day of Lent, plus Easter. The emails will begin on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019. If at any point you no longer want to receive the emails, you can unsubscribe at any time.  https://www.livingcompass.org/lent”>https://www.livingcompass.org/lent</
  • And my personal favorite, LIFT EVERY VOICE

PrintLift Every Voice is a Lenten resource from 2016 that is still relevant in 2019. It addresses America’s original sin of racism through the lens of Ignatian spirituality and includes daily readings. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, voices from throughout the Ignatian network will lament racial injustice in our communities and reflect on how the Gospel calls us to repent, pray, and act in solidarity with those affected by an enduring legacy of systemic and personal racial discrimination. https://ignatiansolidarity.net/lent-2016/

Hallelujah!

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Those of us who are Jesus people should take note that there are only two days left for “Hallelujahs!” Ash Wednesday is upon us, and that marks two significant things: first, Jesus begins his journey to his crucifixion; and second, we, if we choose to, will join Christ’s journey by traveling our own spiritual journey through the forty days of Lent.

Each of us finds his or her own spiritual path through these Lenten days. Some might enter into a time of self-reflection. Others want to realign their lives to a clearer focus toward God. Some choose to give up things while also taking on life-giving practices. Still others focus on repentance, and others intend to rid themselves of distractions and selfish desires. Some of us just need to take these Lenten days to breathe, slow down, contemplate life, listen for God’s whisper.

How we spend our Lenten days may include prayer, fasting, meditation, Bible reading, taking focused labyrinth walks, service to others, reading poetry, and many other disciplines that can draw us closer to God. 

In two days, some of us might choose one of these Lenten disciplines. But until then, we can fill our hearts with hallelujahs as we contemplate the many life graces we have received. So today, I want to proclaim “hallelujah!” for a caring and loving husband . . .

for a family that is present for me when I need them, 

for a place to live that is more than just a house, 

for a church family that is community for me, 

for my medical care team who take such good care of me, 

for friends from afar who make the effort to continue to build our friendship in spite of the many miles that separate us, 

for friends nearby who listen and love and care, and then listen some more. 

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah for all of that. And Hallelujah for a good and graceful God who gives us life and breath!

Hallelujah!

So I invite you to shout out a few hallelujahs for all the graces of your life. And after the hallelujahs, may you take your journey through a Holy Lent, and on the journey, find quiet joys and a peaceful path. Amen.

 

 

I invite you to listen to a beautiful arrangement of Michael Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by Pentatonix here:

What’s Underneath?

A07A5421-F042-40D4-A143-32391BBC79FBToday, a friend’s blog posed a provocative question. It was provocative enough to stop me in my tracks. Likely, I was right in the middle of a tirade of complaints when this question challenged me. This was the question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?” *

The question presented a plethora of thoughts for me. It opened up that place underneath just for a second. But then I quickly moved back to the complaints. I have many. Or at least I believe I have many reasons to complain. But I’m realizing that complaints are surface things. They live outside of us and do not always reflect the inner emotions we are truly feeling.

A complaint develops easily and blurts out what’s on the surface of our lives. It flows easily off the tongue and falls upon any willing listener. The empathy we receive from that willing listener keeps the complaints alive. If someone listens to us and responds with caring about our complaint, it is then cemented. We have given it life, perhaps life beyond what it deserves.

This brings us back to the probing question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?”

If gratefulness for the obvious graces that we have received replaced the urge to complain, we would be surprised at the result. If, instead of lodging a complaint, we spent some time exploring what lives “underneath,” we might well gain true insight into our emotional state. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves what’s underneath the complaint we speak out loud? Is it true that our complaint rises from a deep place inside of us but hides the emotion there?

If my complaint, for instance, is that I am overworked, perhaps underneath is the constant feeling that I’m being taken advantage of. If my complaint is that I have to endure an illness, perhaps the feeling underneath is that I fear suffering, even death. If I am terrified of death, perhaps I am not certain I left a good and lasting legacy. If I’m languishing in retirement, perhaps the emotion “underneath” is that, now that I am not “ministering,” I am questioning my self-worth.

You might be asking why this is important. It is important because whatever lives inside of us holds the power to harm us physically, emotionally and spiritually. What could we do instead of complaining? 

  • We might begin with silence that moves us a bit towards serenity.
  • Next, we will practice mindfulness that helps center us.
  • We woukd do well to contemplate gratitude for the graces of life. 
  • Then we should pray for insight, comfort and healing, not only praying for what we need from God, but also listening for God, abiding for a while in God’s presence.
  • Then we must take time for what might be the most important practice of all: introspection and self-reflection.

One of the primary goals of introspection is to better comprehend our inward life and to learn to focus it towards fulfillment of self. To go there is to invite vulnerability, healthy vulnerability that softens the hard places inside me that are wounded. Then we need to pull up from our inner resources just a little bit of courage.

When all is said and done, each of us is given a critical choice: do we complain about all that is not right? Or does courage enable us to look underneath our complaints and discover what our true emotions are?

For myself, I have to ponder these questions: What am I grieving? What have I lost? What do I fear? Underneath my whining and complaining (which I am very apt to do) I will find a gift, a treasure that is my very soul and spirit, and the emotions that abide there.

And as a bonus, I will have found a better way to live my “one wild and precious life.” **

* From A Network of Grateful Living

** From a poem by Mary Oliver. 

Find the Stillness

25BC8CF9-6462-4461-A6AE-1746BCFC9B73“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” Words from the Psalmist.

Sometimes we have to get out of the fray for a few minutes. We have to turn off the political rancor, close our eyes to the evil in the world, forget for just a moment that children have been taken from their parents at the southern border, shut out the images of refugee mothers with their children traveling miles to get to safe refuge, and finally, find the stillness that gives us strength.

Sometimes we have to leave the difficult stuff behind as we enter into a sacred place of communion with God. It is God, after all, who calls us to help those in need. So in the silence, God might just tell us how to do that.

How long has it been since you spent time in a quiet and calm place? Since you lingered in a place of holy, sacred beauty? Since you waited in silence hoping to know the healing that comes with stillness?

I must confess that I do not often calm my soul. Instead, I keep myself busy with life things. I get worked up over various injustices and, before I know it, I have spent hours signing petitions, writing my representatives in Congress, or composing opinion articles. But I never stop long enough to hear from God and, in listening, to discover how I should respond to the needs I see.

“I have calmed and quieted my soul,” the Psalmist tells us. And the Psalmist also instructs us to find the stillness: “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

It is such a brief thought, a simple injunction, and yet a part of Scripture that has been quoted again and again to instruct those of us who need to find stllness in our lives.

So what is it that we do that keeps us so busy? What is it that so thoroughly prevents us from stilling our souls? Have we determined that the busyness is worth the effort we give it? God calls us to acts of compassion and justice. God might also be calling us to stillness. 

One of my favorite hymns is Be Still, My Soul.* The author of this hymn, Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, was born in Germany in 1697. Very little is known of her life though some hymnologists suggest that she may have become a Lutheran nun. Her hymn text appears at the time of German pietism, a movement led by Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705.) Although Spener was not a hymn writer himself, he inspired a revival in German hymnody characterized by faithfulness to Scripture, personal experience, and deep emotional expression. Katharina von Schlegel is thought to be the leading female hymn writer of this period.

To reach us, the hymn must, of course, be understandable in our own language, so it comes to us through a translation by Jane Borthwick (1813-1897), a member of the Free Church of Scotland.

Here are the moving words of the hymn:

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Author: Catharine Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, 1752 – ?
Translated by: Jane Borthwick, 1855
Composer: Jean Sibelius, b. 1865, arr.
Tune: “Finlandia”

 

In the stillness, we find God’s comfort, presence, faithfulness, grace. And with that, we are able to go into a world of need with resolve, commitment, compassion and mission. The world waits for us. The people frightened and oppressed wait for us. The stillness prepares us for the task.

May God make it so. Amen.

*During your quiet time, you may wish to listen to the hymn, Be Still My Soul. You may do so at this link:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cHNT6G9ZKik

A Mother’s Emotions

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What a holiday whirlwind! I survived it, but I did go through the predictable path of cooking and baking, wrapping packages and decorating, entertaining family and friends, and leaving a heavy dusting of glitter behind . . . all through the house!

I managed to work in the slightest bit of contemplation, reflection and drawing nearer to the God-child in the stable. I managed to reflect on the young girl who would give birth to the Messiah, to think about her emotions throughout her most miraculous ordeal. I thought of her joy, her surprise, her confusion, her sense of wonder, her fear — emotions that began after an angel appeared to her.

I contemplated the angels all around — Mary’s angel and Joseph’s, Zachariah‘s angel, the angels that comforted the shepherds. I wondered how the angel visits must have seemed, especially to Joseph who communed with an angel multiple times.

Most of all, though, I related to the mother Mary, and the things she discovered along the way about being a mother to this particular child. It’s appropriate, I think, to reflect on the mother’s emotions, to compare them with my own mother emotions. 

To miss my son who lives hundreds of miles away. 

To long to see my grandchildren opening their Christmas gifts. 

To think about all the joy, and all the pain, of being a mother.

And from that contemplative activity, to learn and grow, to gain a fresh understanding about mothering, and to learn what mothering has to do with faith.

When all is said and done — with Christmas wrappings in the trash and glitter all vacuumed up — I recall the wise words of Meister Eckhart about mothering:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born.”