Those Who Dream: An Advent Journey

 

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Image from “A Sanctified Art” at https://sanctifiedart.org

Before we begin Advent’s journey on November 29th, I think we need start a few days early to create some peace for our souls — enough peace to open ourselves to Advent’s life-giving message. For you see, the Advent journey always has a particular and unique message for each of us. The message weaves through our spirit as Advent days move on, gently sparking tiny lights is us that open us up to beginning again, to dreaming again. Advent nurtures and caresses us until we can dream new dreams.

Since we saw Advent past, we have languished in the chaos of 2020. Held in bondage by a terrible pandemic, lamenting racial unrest and the violence that caused it, watching political rancor and division. This was the year of “I can’t breathe” and also the year when we found that we could not breathe. Nor could we dream, because the future was unknowable — not at all conducive to dreaming.

And yet, there remains this good word — Psalm 126:1:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

What does it look like to live as those who dream? The prophets, the psalmists, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds and the Magi—they were all dreamers. They received, discovered, and responded to God’s dreams for the world. In Advent’s journey, we travel step by step into the mystery and awe of God’s dreams and we pray that they will shape our reality.

Advent is for the dreamers in all of us — those who dream of a deeper connection with God and those who dream of a better world. Advent is for those who dream of comfort and also for those who have given up on their dreams. Advent is for those whose dreams have been crushed and for those who wisely teach us that dreams take soul time. 

In this approaching Advent, perhaps we will dream alongside prophets and angels, Mary and the Magi. Perhaps we will seek and know God’s dreams for our world. 

Will you pray with me?


In this Advent of expectation, God,
draw us nearer to grace,
that our songs of worship
might echo in the hills and valleys of this journey
and also through our lives.

In this Advent of expectation,
grant us a sense of peace and silence and steady calm,
that the hope within our souls
might be the dreams we dream,
the songs we sing, and the melody of our lives.

In this Advent of expectation,
grant us a vision of a shimmering star in the night sky,
that the path we follow
might lead us from a stable
to a glimpse of eternity. Amen.

Those Who Dream Theme Song—PREVIEW VERSION from A Sanctified Art on Vimeo.

NO MORE AIRTIME, MR. TRUMP!

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The time for Donald Trump’s airtime is over! In my life, I have no available airtime for him, and I wish the media would follow my example. I’ve heard enough of his rants and tweets. I’ve heard enough of his incendiary speech. I’ve heard enough of his indiscriminate name-calling. I’ve heard enough of his lying. I’ve heard more than enough of his disrespectful, hate-filled, divisive rhetoric. More than enough!

My soul will no longer give Donald Trump airtime. Why? Because often my responses to hearing him were anger, disgust, self righteousness and even hate. And those emotions darken my soul. Those emotions do not belong in my soul at all, because they have a way of displacing love, compassion, gentleness, peace, hope, light and grace — all the good emotions that God plants in the soul through Spirit breath.

I think of the beloved hymn . . .

Holy Spirit, breathe on me until my heart is clean.
Let sunshine fill my inmost parts with not a cloud between.

Breathe on me, breathe on me, Holy Spirit, breathe on me; 
Take Thou my heart, cleanse every part,
Holy Spirit breathe on me. 

— Words by Edwin Hatch, Music by B.B. McKinney

In these days of harmful politics, racial injustice, coronavirus fear and isolation, I need a Spirit-cleansing of my heart and soul. God has been ready to begin the cleansing for a while now. God has heard my repentant prayers admitting anger and hatred. God has waited patiently for me to embrace the stillness that can begin to heal my soul. 

Stillness! Stillness longing for healing. Stillness whispering words of repentance. Stillness yearning for calm. Stillness seeking peace. Stillness waiting in solitude for the presence of the Healer of the Soul.

I’m going there — to that place of solitude where one can breathe slower, sigh deeper, listen attentively to the whisper of God and the breath of the Spirit. I’m going to solitude’s “luminous warmth” as John O’Donohue’s poem in which he describes the soul as the divine space. 

There is a lantern in the soul, which makes your solitude luminous. 
Solitude need not remain lonely. It can awaken to its luminous warmth. 

The soul redeems and transfigures everything
because the soul is the divine space. 

When you inhabit your solitude fully and experience its outer extremes of isolation and abandonment, you will find that, at its heart, there is neither loneliness nor emptiness but intimacy and shelter.

― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Right now, in the midst of the disheartening mood of the year 2020, I am entering the solitude I desperately need so that I can experience my soul as the divine space it is. 

Politicians, continue your rancor in loud and powerful voice! I will not hear you from my place of solitude, from my soul’s divine space. And as for you, Mr. Trump, I have no further airtime for you. I refuse to sit in front of my television for another minute, anticipating — hoping — that you will finally say or do something appropriate, beneficial, worthwhile, productive, compassionate or kind.

Instead, I will change the channel to more soul-healing television. In fact, I will leave the television altogether and go to a better place, higher ground where peace and silence and reverence and awe can begin the holy work of healing my soul. I am taking a sacred pause from my life that has been so anxious and worried and isolated. I will wait there in that sacred space where my “soul redeems and transfigures everything.” Thanks be to God.

203 PILLS! PLUS WISE AND WONDERFUL WOMEN

 

71C9865D-0EF8-482D-B6E0-CBA6F36196B9Two hundred and three pills!
Twenty-eight injections!
Fourteen inhalations and fourteen nasal sprays!

Every week!

But I am most focused on the 203 pillsevery week! Presumably it takes that many to keep my body from rejecting my kidney and keep me otherwise healthy. 

203 pills! Insignificant when I explore the state of my soul — what lies inside there, what its longings are, what has become of its dreams and, most of all, whether or not I am carefully and gently tending to it. A healthy body is important, of course, but I have been thinking more and more about how to keep my soul healthy. In some ways, that’s harder. And harder to explain.

So rather than launching into a chorus of my own words about how I might care for my soul, I looked to the words of my sisters —  near and far, from the past and the present. There I found the depths of wisdom I needed on this day. So clear and true it is that so many women possess an extraordinary depth of wisdom. Their voices speak their truth, and sometimes ours. Their voices call us to stand taller and to rise higher. They call us to dream and to reach into our souls to find our dreams. These wise and wonderful women invite us to care for our souls. So hear their voices and listen for whispers that give strength to your soul.

Get in touch with and resurrect the free spirit deep inside me. Being one with the spirit allowed me to soar above my everyday reality. I marveled at the beauty of all life and savored the power and possibilities of my imagination.   — Maria Nhambu

Of all the paths you take, follow only those where your heart is wide open, mind enriched and your soul learns to dance.   — Nikki Rowe

A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.   — Maya Angelou

We were willing to explore and be surprised. Willing to trust that there was beauty out there and love and joy. Ready to have our hearts touched and our souls hugged.   — Meara O’Hara

You will never see me surrender, never see me cry, but you will often see me walk away. Turn around and just leave, without looking back.   — Charlotte Eriksson

Big spirits don’t fit in small spaces.Our energy is built for open fields and wide places, room to breathe — room to grow. Room to live authentically and room to roam.   — Nikki Rowe

I am homesick for a place where silence is the only language, love is the only religion, and freedom is not something to be fought for….  — Samiha Totanji

When we discover who we are We will be free   — Mimi Novic

I never said it was easy to find your place in this world, but I’m coming to the conclusion that if you seek to please others, you will forever be changing because you will never be yourself, only fragments of someone you could be. You need to belong to yourself, and let others belong to themselves too. You need to be free.   — Charlotte Eriksson

We have not been abandoned. We have, perhaps, in that leaving been given the gift of ourselves in a new, deeper, and more lasting way.
Macrina Wiederkehr

If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.   — Maya Angelou

I know that no one is my judge. I live according to my own conscience and value discernment which is governed by Holy Spirit. I know my intentions and I walk my path with a clear conscience.   —  Mishi McCoy

The truth is, in order to heal we need to tell our stories and have them witnessed…The story itself becomes a vessel that holds us up, that sustains, that allows us to order our jumbled experiences into meaning. As I told my stories of fear, awakening, struggle, and transformation and had them received, heard, and validated by other women, I found healing.   — Sue Monk Kidd

You can’t put a leash on me. I’m unleashable!   — Tiffany Winfree

All too often we bemoan our imperfections rather than embrace them as part of the process in which we are brought to God. Cherished emptiness gives God space in which to work. We are pure capacity for God. Let us not, then, take our littleness lightly. It is a wonderful grace. It is a gift to receive. At the same time, let us not get trapped in the confines of our littleness, but keep pushing on to claim our greatness. Remind yourself often, “I am pure capacity for God; I can be more.”   ― Macrina Wiederkehr

you got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.   — Sue Monk Kidd

Steal my wild heart, but do not ask me to live under an umbrella when I like being soaked by the rain.   — Jacqueline Simon Gunn

Honeybees depend not only on physical contact with the colony, but also require it’s social companionship and support. Isolate a honeybee from her sisters and she will soon die.   — Sue Monk Kidd

I’ve never been a woman who will settle to fit in, i’d always have rathered find a little world all on my own. If people come they come and if they go they go, but for me staying authentic to my soul’s purpose is all i’ll ever know.  — Nikki Rowe

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.   — Maya Angelou

You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.  — Sue Monk Kidd

Do you want to paint your life using two colors (good and bad) or do you want to paint the best piece of your life with colors beyond your wildest imagination?   — Helen Edwards

There is no place so awake and alive as the edge of becoming. But more than that, birthing the kind of woman who can authentically say, “My soul is my own,” and then embody it in her life, her spirituality, and her community is worth the risk and hardship.   — Sue Monk Kidd

It’s an unquietness I feel deep inside. It’s not about being extraordinary, you see. It’s not about standing out. It’s simply about shedding all that’s false. And believing with everything I have that you can too.   — Jacqueline Simon Gunn

When it’s time to die, go ahead and die, and when it’s time to live, live. Don’t sort-of-maybe live, but live like you’re going all out, like you’re not afraid.
— Sue Monk Kidd

Let your life reflect the faith you have in God. Fear nothing and pray about everything. Be strong, trust God’s word, and trust the process.
— Germany Kent

The cage wasn’t insignificant in the shaping of my wings, stillness is an experience only the deep souls can go. A quiet solitude in the midst of it all. A getting to know yourself once more.   — Nikki Rowe

O God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.   ― Macrina Wiederkehr

You’ve got to trust yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Listen to yourself.You’re the only person who can get you through this now. You’re the only one who can survive your story, the only one who can write your future. All you’ve got to do, when you’re ready, is stand up, {and begin again.}.  — Tessa Shaffer

Journal became a sanctuary where I could pour out in honesty my pain and joy. It recorded my footsteps and helped me understand where I was standing, where I had been, and even where God pointed.   — Sue Monk Kidd

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.   Brené Brown

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!
St. Catherine of Siena

That’s the sacred intent of life, of God — to move us continuously toward growth, toward recovering all that is lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul.  — Sue Monk Kidd

The seasons of my heart change like the seasons of the fields. There are seasons of wonder and hope, seasons of suffering and love, seasons of healing. There are seasons of dying and rising, seasons of faith.
Macrina Wiederkehr

You only need to lose track of who you are, or who you thought you were supposed to be, so that you end up lying flat on the dirt floor basement of your heart. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.   Brené Brown

Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace.  The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.   St. Rose of Lima

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.  — Brené Brown

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again … there is only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.   — Barbara Brown Taylor

Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for he who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother.   St. Clare of Assisi

For these wise women, O God, we give you thanks.
For their words, so full of grace, we are grateful.

For those we call our sisters, we ask your presence — in their days of light and in their dark nights of the soul.

Heal us, God our Mother, and give us grace for the living of these days.
Heal us, God our Father, and give us courage for the living of these days.
Heal us, Jesus, and walk beside us as we heal the world just as you urged us to do.
Heal us, Spirit, and give us your wind and fire — to live, to stand, to persist — to heal the souls of others as we heal our own souls. Amen.

 


599FBE6C-0696-46CC-B8F3-19823066126BThis blog post is dedicated to the memory of my friend, Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, a wise and wonderful woman who left us this year and is now walking among “trees full of angels.”

Prayers of Lament



This morning, I prayed a prayer of lament. Lament was the only prayer in my spirit. It is difficult to express the deep sorrow I felt yesterday when I learned that no charges were brought against the police who shot six bullets into Breonna Taylor’s body.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, Louisville police officers used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who had dreams of a bright career ahead. She and her boyfriend had settled in to watch a movie in her bedroom on that tragic night. Police came to her door and minutes later, she was fatally shot. Her death sparked months of protests in Louisville.

Yesterday, six months after the fatal shooting — six bullets — a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. A grand jury delivered the long-awaited answer about whether the officers would be punished. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Breonna Taylor’s death.

For me, there was only lament. I imagine that for Breonna’s family, there was the deepest kind of lament. For her mother, lament was the only response she could express as she wept uncontrollably. And, even for the protesters who filled the streets, I believe there was lament. 

Theologian Soong-Chan Rah explains in his book, Prophetic Lament, that in the Bible lament is “a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and suffering.” He goes on to say that it is a way to “express indignation and even outrage about the experience of suffering.” Racism has inflicted incalculable suffering on black people throughout the history of the United States, and in such a context, lament is not only understandable but necessary.

Perhaps white Christians and all people of faith have an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn and to help bear the burden that racism has heaped on black people. (Romans 12:15)    — Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise


In the end, many people see only the rage, anger, impatience, violence of the protesters. Can we also see their lament for Breonna, as well as for centuries of racially motivated murder — beatings, burnings, lynchings and murder committed by police officers? 

People of faith — white people of faith — will we try to understand the rage of our black and brown sisters and brothers? Will we join them in righteous anger? Will we mourn with them? Will we lament when lament fills their souls and overflows in cries for justice?

We must, in the name of our God who created every person in God’s own image!

Last night, I heard an interview with Brittany Packnett Cunningham on MSNBC. Her words were eloquent pleas for justice. She spoke about how persistent and all-encompassing racism is in our country and about the murders and the protests and the political rancor that fuels it. She acknowledged racism’s strong, unrelenting hold on this nation, a hold that is virtually impossible to break. And she said something I have said for a long time, “Racism cannot be reformed. It must be transformed.”

To me that means a transformation of the heart and soul that compels each of us to lament, to comfort, to speak truth in government’s halls of power, to stand openly against any form of racial injustice.

May God make it so.

Will you pray this prayer of lament with me?

O God, who heals our brokenness, Receive our cries of lament and teach us how to mourn with those who mourn. Receive even our angry lament and transform our anger into righteous action. Hear the anguish of every mother assaulted by violence against her child. Hear the angry shouts of young people as shouts of frustration, fear and despair. Grant us the courage to persist in shouting out your demand for justice, for as long as it takes. When deepest suffering causes us to lament, grant us Spirit wind and help us soar. If we resist your call for justice, compel us to holy action. May our soul’s lament stir us to transform injustice, in every place, for every person, whenever racism threatens, for this is your will and our holy mission. Amen.

Being Brave in the Mists

Are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of “the real” and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams? 

Walidah Imarisha


I read a wonderful article this morning written by Madisyn Taylor, who wrote about being in a fog. I related immediately, having just taken my immunosuppressant medications that create all manner of “foggy-ness” for me. Tayler defined it as a feeling of being “muddled and unfocused, unsure of which way to turn.” I resonate with that definition, but beyond the physical fogginess of my mind, I experience an occasional fogginess of spirit. Know what I’m talking about? I would guess you do, since all of us fall into a spirit-fog once in a while.

A fog can feel downright eerie. It isn’t straightforward like darkness, yet we may feel like we can’t see where we’re going or where we’ve come from. We feel fear, as real as our fear of the darkness, afraid that if we move, we might run into something hidden in the mists that surround us. If we’re brave enough to move at all, we move slowly, feeling our way and keeping our eyes open for shapes emerging from the eerie haze.

Maybe being brave is what spirit fogginess is about. Spirit-fog is, of course, is a season of involuntary inactivity (perhaps even precipitated by coronavirus isolation). Although you and I much prefer to be able to see where we are going and move unwaveringly in that direction, maybe we can encourage our spirits to see that being in a fog often brings gifts to us — gifts of stillness, of doing absolutely nothing, a respite from forward inertia, a time to gather up our “brave” to move with forward inertia, even moments of finding for our spirits the Spirit of Comfort and Peace. We might find in the mists of fog the sacred pause that our spirit needs — the kind of sacred pause that creates resilience in us, and perseverance, and whatever we need to be brave.

In the fog, we really do need to be brave. When we are hidden in the mist, we may look within and find that the source of our fogginess is inside us — perhaps an emotional issue that needs tending before we can safely move ahead with steady resolve. The fog that engulfs us may simply be teaching us important lessons about how to continue moving forward even if we have been brought to a standstill by circumstances of life.

If we’re brave, we do not have to wait for the fog to lift. If we’re brave enough, we can center ourselves in the haze, wait for guidance and then move — move on into the unknown places on the journey. I have been a long-time fan of the song “Brave” sung by Sara Bareilles, written by Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff. “Brave” is on her 2013 album, “The Blessed Unrest.” The song hits me hard with these words, “sometimes the shadow wins.” I know that to be the hard truth, but I also latch onto the rest of this song’s message: I can be brave! I often think that this section of the lyrics calls out directly to me — calling me, urging me on, encouraging me to “show everyone how big my brave is.”

I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing

Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly
I wanna see you be brave

Spend a few minutes enjoying this Sara Bereilles song and immerse yourself in the thought of how amazingly brave you are.

When Branches Are Flimsy and Songs Cannot Be Sung

I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 
— Matthew 10:41 NRSV

Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.

How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.

I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.

God of the sparrow, sing through us
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. 
Helpless we seek You, God our joy, 
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. 

Jonathan Cook

I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out. 

You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.

When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.

Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her. 

The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV

So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!

Thanks be to God.

Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.

God of the Sparrow

God of the sparrow, sing through us,
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace.
Helpless we seek You, God our joy,
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease.
Alleluia.

God of the sparrow, God of hope,
Tenderly guide us, be our song,
God of affliction, pain and hurt,
Comfort Your children, make us strong.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

God of the sparrow, care for us.
Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief.
Sing us Your music, lift our hearts,
Pour out Your mercy, send relief.

God, like the sparrow, we abide
In Your protection, love and grace.
Just as the sparrow in Your care,

May Your love keep us all our days.

Amen.

Hemmed In!


There are large scale, widespread forces that can trap thousands of people, even millions. Dachau, Katrina, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, natural disasters all over the world and the Coronavirus of 2020. Enormous, catastrophic events can trap people. COVID19 has literally trapped me inside my home. I have to admit, the isolation has taken a toll on my spirit. No visitors! No visits with friends or family. No trips! No haircuts! I have been trapped at some level since my kidney transplant in November. Just at the March milestone that would have allowed me to break the isolation of the transplant, I was even more fully trapped by the infectiousness of this pervasive, unrelenting virus.

Being trapped for so many months has raised up in me feelings of loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, despair, anxiety, even abandonment. And yet, often there is something very good in the center of something very bad. It has been so for me. Yes, I feel trapped in the pervasive power of the coronavirus, but I also sense the arms of God and the embrace of Spirit hemming me in even further. Such a grace-gift it has been to me, as if God has said, “l am hemming you in, and in this space you will hear me clearer and sense me more fully.”

God’s words were truth. Hemmed in, my mind flourished, my heart leapt and my soul entered spaces of calm. I felt enhanced awareness! Even awakening. I saw nature in a different way and basked in the beauty of the rising sun. The sound of the hummingbirds’ trill and the rapid fluttering of their translucent wings were sounds meant just for me. I began to write and paint, to listen more carefully to God’s voice, to allow my spirit to overflow with Holy Spirit. To my hemmed-in call from God, I was compelled to answer, “Here I am, Lord!” When I finally answered God, my hemmed-in place became Holy Ground — a very good place to be that feels more like a holy mystery than a state of being.

Was this pandemic a good thing for me and for millions of people? Absolutely not! But trapped in its dark cloud, God hemmed me in further in ways I am just now beginning to understand. I can say with all honesty that being hemmed in by God has been grace to me.

If I could even begin to choose a favorite Psalm from among the many that inspire me, I would choose Psalm 139. In its weaving of words, there are many passages that are full of comfort. From childhood, I memorized a lot of Scripture and throughout Psalm 139 I memorized several snippets that I often call to mind. One verse that I did not memorize is verse 5: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.

— Psalm 139:1-5 NIV

I deplore the coronavirus and what it has done to so many people. I deplore the ways it was able to trap me, physically and emotionally. But the virus, with all its ominous, far-reaching force could not trap me spiritually. That was God’s work — hemming me in so that my spirit could rise to fresh, new heights of spiritual consciousness. Being hemmed in by our Creator has been grace for me in these days of isolation. It has become a transforming sacred pause. For in my hemmed-in space, the Creator helped me create — from my mind, from my heart, from my soul. Thanks be to God.

I Think I May Have Lost My Music


I think I may have lost my music, and I’m not sure exactly when I lost it, or how. I can probably get away with blaming it on the coronavirus. After all, choirs cannot really sing right now, at least not safely.

The coronavirus has stolen so many things from us all — important things and things that are not so important. For me, one of the stolen things that affects me deeply in my soul is music.

When I hear music, the melodies and rhythms often reach into my soul. Music is my muse. Losing my music is one of my most troubling losses. I know, of course, that I can listen to Pandora or Spotify.  Or I can listen to quality music on National Public Radio and find hundreds of concerts on YouTube.

What I am missing most is being inside my church sanctuary listening to the music of the pipe organ and anthems from our choir. Part of it may well be that I’m missing the people who offer their gift of music every week. Part of it is probably nostalgia when I contemplate the decades I spent singing with choirs and other groups. Part of it is missing my many years as a soloist. Part of it is missing my last ministry position as minister of worship at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Part of it is having to leave my piano when we moved in 2015. Part of it, I am certain, is that I can’t really sing anymore, at least much of the time. After my illness in 2014 and its very long recovery, I lost my voice. This was such a profound loss for my soul.

For some reason, all of this was on my mind this morning when I had a serendipity moment. I received an email with a brief thought for the day. I receive it every day, but today it happened to include a passage of Scripture closely related to my present thoughts. This is what it said:

But now, get me a player of music, and it will come about that while the man is playing, the hand of God will come on me and I will give you the word of God: and they got a player of music, and while the man was playing, the hand of the God was upon him.

— 2 Kings 3:15

Haven’t we all heard someone singing and playing music when we were touched and changed? All creativity and beauty in this life are but a small reflection of the master musician, our Creator. Listen with your heart and be glad.

John Gaudreau

Music can be our soul’s joy or our heart’s expression. Music can lift us from sorrow’s depths and raise us to higher planes of grace. Music can be our most lavish praise to God. Music can open our spirits and create in us expressions of gladness, even in times of trouble. May God make it so. Amen.

Let me end without any more words, just music. “Listen with your heart and be glad” and hear this beautiful anthem, “Through Love to Light” with text written by Richard Watson Gilder, 1844-1909.

Through love to light! O wonderful the way That leads from darkness to the perfect day; From darkness and from sorrow of the night To morning that comes singing o’er the sea! Through love to light! through light, O God, to Thee, Who art the Love of love, th’ eternal Light of light! Amen.

Hope and the Soul’s Struggle

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Struggles abound in this unwelcome COVID19 season we are experiencing. Most of us are touched by this virus in some way. We have struggled with so many life changes. I have watched strugglers of the soul work through the illness, others deal with the suffering and death of a friend or family member, often being unable to be with them at their death. Some parents are struggling with decisions affecting school for their children and teachers fear they will be unable to keep their students (and themselves) safe. Others long to see loved they have not seen in months of social distancing.

My circle of friends and family are feeling short on hope while they experience struggles of the soul. Yet, Herman Melville asserts that “Hope is the struggle of the soul.” I have been wondering what exactly that might mean. Perhaps hope gives us the courage we need to move boldly and full of hope into the place where the soul struggles, moving there with the assurance that the hope that led us there will also lead us to healing.

As I look closer at Melville’s words, I begin to see and understand that hope’s struggle eventually empowers us to break loose from the perishable things we hold on to — our wealth, our home, our “things” like cars, boats, RVs, whatever “things” we cherish. Looking at what this virus could bring, knowing that we are facing real life and death situations, cannot help but move our souls to throw off the things that don’t seem so critical anymore — perishable things we do not need. This thought prompts me to look at two of my favorite passages of Scripture.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors . . .

— 1 Peter 1:18-19 (New International Version)

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:54 (New International Version)

How do we get there? How do we get through the soul struggles that can bring us to our knees?

I don’t think there is a well developed plan or a series of definite steps to take. The path, the plan, will be unique to each struggler. But the soul struggles I have felt throughout my life have taught me to place hope where hope must be: in Comforter Spirit who hovers over me with her sheltering wings; in the Christ who lives in and through me guiding me as a good shepherd and empowering me to walk with courage in his footsteps; in the Eternal God who holds before me, always, my own eternity.

This is what is available to you as well as you lean into hope’s struggle of the soul and break loose from things that are not important as you bear witness to your own eternity.

May God make it so.

As you leave these words and move with hope into your soul struggles,

May the God of hope go with you and fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

— Romans 15:13 (New International Version)

Amen.

I hope you can spend a few minutes in prayer and contemplation as you watch this beautiful, comforting music video, “Still with Thee,” with text written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

How Long?

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How long? How long will we have to feel imprisoned by social distancing? How long will we feel this loneliness? How long must we wear masks? How long until my children can safely visit their grandparents? How long until we’re past the danger of catching this virus? How long until life is normal again?

Most people I know had at least one bad day this week. At least three of us had a bad day on the same day, and I was not comforted to learn that two of my close friends suffered on the very same day that brought me suffering. It seems the longer we travel the journey of these distancing days, the more disheartened we become. We are ready to see our families and friends. We are ready to venture out of our secluded place and walk freely and without worry. We are ready to travel, to worship together in the same place and to celebrate with friends that the danger of Covid19 is over.

But it is not over. Not by a long shot. And what seems to be the second wave of the virus brings a second wave of emotion for us — a deep grief that we simply do not know when, or if, our lives will return to the lives we once enjoyed. Some of us can give our grief a name — sadness, anger, confusion, heartbreak, loneliness — maybe a combination of all of these names, and so many others.

Sadly, some people cannot name their grief. They will not! Instead they lash out in a kind of rage that hurts others. Call it domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, interpersonal violation that causes permanent trauma to the soul and spirit. Call it a tragic situation. It happens, in part, to people who refuse to look at their grief and allow it to turn into rage.

Other people who cannot name their grief turn it inward, deep inside themselves. These are the people who are suffering great emotional harm that can last for a lifetime. We can call it trauma, battle fatigue, post traumatic stress injury, etc. Whatever we call it, the grief that people are experiencing as a result of this pandemic seems to be increasing the probability of a widespread mental health crisis.

The COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health; it is also increasing psychological suffering: grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, uncertainty and fear for the future. Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world.  
— U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

The more we watch our communities relax social distancing, the more we experience a visceral response that speaks to our fear, disappointment and confusion. I asked my Mayo Clinic doctor yesterday via video chat — “When can I get out?” Hoping beyond hope for an answer that meant release, I listened as he gave a thorough scientific, doctor-like explanation. His primary concern, of course, was my physical outcome if  I should be exposed to the virus, but he also spoke about my emotional and social needs. In the end his answer was what I feared it might be: “You must take extreme social distancing precautions, at least until you are one year post transplant.”

That means November for me, provided all goes well with my kidney and with the level of safety in my community. I think my question to my doctor was a common one, “How Long?” Sufferers ask it often. With heartbreaking angst, sufferers in hospital beds ask — “How Long?” — as do persons near death, persons with painful chronic health conditions, persons who wait for mourning to ease, persons who search desperately for work, persons who suffer from unrelenting traumatic stress, persons in a far away place who just long to go home.

“How Long?” is a question of the soul for persons of faith and for persons without faith, for persons who believe in God and for persons who believe there is no God. All persons languish with that question on their lips. People who trust in God have asked the questions in the 13th Psalm for ages, every age with its own sudden catastrophe or its own long, enduring adversity. Every person asks, as did the Psalmist, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
Psalm 13: 1-2  (NIV)

If you have been asking, “How long, O Lord?” during this pandemic, you probably know already that you will not receive easy answers. There simply are no easy answers. The current separations from family and friends are painful. The realities and risks of re-entering life as we once knew it are daunting. The irresponsibility of many people who move about without masks and closer to one another than 6 feet is troubling. The worry we carry about our safety and the safety of those we love is constant. And the heaviness of heart we are feeling is unrelenting.

So yes, you are probably asking God, “How long?”as I am. How in the world do we get to “rejoicing” during such a time as this? In these unprecedented days, it seems much harder to move ourselves all the way through Psalm 13 in order to get to a glorious utterance of praise, a declaration of trust, a rejoicing of heart, and even a song of praise to a God of “unfailing love.” The Psalmist seems to have made it all the way through the questions to a time of rejoicing and singing. 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

— Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV)

So ask your questions honestly. God can take whatever questions you ask. Go ahead and ask God, “How long?” But then allow God to restore your weary spirit, to nourish your soul and to make your heart long for something much greater than answers to your questions. 

That’s what I want to do. Now if I can just muster up enough energy — and enough faith and hope — to do it.

May God make it so. For me and for you. Amen.


For your quiet time today, I invite you to use this meditative video as your prayer.