Thin Places

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I am thinking today about thin places, those moments when the veil between heaven and earth seems very thin, sacred moments that emerge from a spiritual practice or a deep conversation that pierces the soul. A thin place can be sharednwith another seeker, and, in fact, finding a thin place might be even more meaningful in the presence of a friend.

It seems that “thin place” is a term that was used for millennia to describe a place in time where the space between heaven and earth grows thin, a moment in time where the sacred and the secular seem to meet. In thin places, the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent, or the Infinite.

“Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

John Pavlovitz describes it like this:

Religious people have often talked about the thin places; those moments when the wall between humanity and divinity is like onion-skin. 

It seems that a thin place is a holy moment. It is a sacred moment, even without a hymn or a prayer or a pew or a minister. It a place of “God with us.”

Thin places can transform us or unmask us. Thin places are often sacred sites or buildings — like a temple or a mosque, like a shrine or a monastery, like a cathedral or an old country church. But thin places do not have to be sacred buildings or holy sites. A forest or a flowing stream can be a thin place. A thin place might be found on a mountaintop or in a verdant valley or even in your back yard.

Thin places don’t always have to be special places or “holy” times. We can experience thin places anywhere and every day.

And that’s what we need to do. In a world so filled with threatening events and people that frighten us, we need to rest in thin places where we might just find that we are in a place where the space between humanity and divinity is ever so delicate, thin enough to envelop us in the comfort of God’s grace.

Let’s stop “life” for a moment and rest in a thin place. Meet me there.

A Safe and Gentle Presence

D10C41D6-4875-479D-B4BC-40762C72FD3CIf you know me well, you will know that I have a love affair with trees. I always have, ever since I was a little girl playing among the protruding, gnarly roots of the enormous, beautiful magnolia tree in our yard. I would stay there for hours sometimes, finding under the tree’s canopy my own personal and private hiding place. Though it was ill advised, the tree endured carvings in its trunk without complaining even once. That tree had multiple carved hearts, each with an arrow and the names of boyfriends that came and went.

Today I was reminded how much I love trees when I received a mailing from the Arbor Day Foundation asking me to complete a survey, which I promptly did. As a token of appreciation for completing the survey, the Arbor Day Foundation will send me a calendar, a tree book and ten free trees.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, dreaming of having ten new trees in my yard, but of course, knowing that the free trees they send me will be five inches tall. No matter. I’ll plant them and nurse them and hope for the best.

I was also prompted by the Arbor Day Foundation to wonder about state trees. Fred and I tried to guess a few, but eventually resorted to Wikipedia for a list. Interesting list, ranging from common trees like the ubiquitous pine all the way to more exotic-sounding trees like Utah’s Quaking Aspen, Pennsylvania’s Eastern Hemlock and Arizona’s Blue Palo Verde.

23E0BDA9-6047-4A1B-AE2A-131CC85D8385Now that you’ve had a lesson on state trees that you did not ask for, I will tell you what’s up with me and trees. The lifelong connection happened when I was just a little girl. I lived with an abusive father who made my home a very unsafe place. Other forms of violence were prevalent as well: shouting and abusive language, threats of physical harm and a violent uncle that came with a gun and broke into our house by smashing the glass in our front door.

I was a child of fear, constant fear, and so I found hiding places under our trees, two huge magnolias, an even taller pecan tree, and even under the branches of Miss Martha Tebshereny’s plum tree. An occasional plum was a bonus!

Here’s the best truth: that it is incredibly powerful that out of a troubled childhood, I brought happy memories. I brought with me into my adult years images of safety; moments of playfulness; an appreciation of nature’s beauty; the taste of fresh figs, plums and pecans; a lovely collection of magnolia cones; the treasure of memories and an abiding love of trees.

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She wept a river of tears
holy water, sent to soften the sharp edges of sorrow
a gentle hollowing out, carving new chambers in her heart
a hallowed vessel . . . 
Kate Mullane Robertson

There was healing under the weeping branches of those trees. There was hope. I think it was Holy Ground.

That’s something for which I am very grateful. I am grateful to a loving and compassionate God, who, I am quite sure, met me a few times under one of those childhood trees. God, who knows how important it is to protect children,  and graced me with a safe and gentle presence. Because of that, I made it out of a home filled with violence to a better, safer world.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

The Great Silence

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I struggle with the life of contemplation I most desire. I long to stand on the Holy Ground of God’s presence. And yet, I often fail in my attempts to enter that spiritual space. My mind is filled with thoughts, words, concerns, plans, worries. And with so active a mind, I am hard pressed to meditate on the divine presence of God. I simple cannot seem to find a way to enter the great silence that enables me to hear the whisper of God I so desperately need to hear.

In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr spoke of “the great silence” as he described the prayer of the contemplative. This is his thought:

The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above.

As always, he nailed it, describing the kind of waiting in silence we must do if we are to encounter an omnipresent God. Certain ways of being can move us more fully into the great silence. 

The beauty of nature, the sound of a gentle breeze, the patter of a soft rain can lead us on the contemplative path. Intentional prayer, journaling, experiencing the healing of music, walking the sacred path on a labyrinth — all of these can encourage us into a more contemplative life.

Most of all, we need the longing, our deepest soul desire, to encounter God. The Psalmist expressed such a longing.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God . . .

— Psalm 42:1-2 (NRSV)

Come Now, Spirit of Power!

 

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Come now Spirit of power.
Come now quickly and seize this moment.
Come Spirit from all four sacred directions,
from every color and culture,
come and use this sorrowful moment for good.

Very often, the prayers of Bishop Steven Charleston become a part of my meditation time. His prayers have a way of calming my heart, comforting my spirit and inspiring me to greater works. His words are expressive and full of energy. He paints pictures of things as they are and things as they should be.

In response to the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, Bishop Charleston speaks of the deep divisions in our nation and the old wounds that have been opened. Indeed. He is right. But then he calls us to better things, to a time for love that has the power to heal.

So let us pray this prayer today, in this moment, as we long for healing.

Come now Spirit of power, come now quickly and seize this moment. The conscience of our nation teeters on the edge of change. Old wounds between us have opened. Deep divisions have been revealed. We are stunned by the cost of our own behavior. 

Now is the time. Now is an historic opportunity for love. 

Pull prejudice from us like a poison. 

Draw out the fear that breeds our racism. 

Open our eyes to behold our common humanity. 

Silence the justifications and the denials before they begin and keep our eyes fixed firmly on the prize, not on the politics. 

Come Spirit from all four sacred directions, from every color and culture, come and use this sorrowful moment for good. Heal our racism now.

May God make it so.  Amen.

 

Art: “Four Sacred Directions” by Drea Jensen, 2002

God Our Father, God Our Mother

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For those of us who experienced a traumatic childhood because of abuse by a father, the thought of God as our Mother is comforting. Such an image of God feels approachable, as God’s gentle hands reach out to us and we place our hands in Hers. Perhaps that makes no sense to some, but for the rest of us, we see any father image as threatening and frightening. In some ways, we need the mothering aspects of God.

I have been reading a fascinating book, Womanist Midrash, by Wilda Gafney. Womanist Midrash is an in-depth and creative exploration of the well- and lesser-known women of the Hebrew Scriptures. Using her own translations, Gafney offers a midrashic interpretation of the biblical text that is rooted in the African American preaching tradition to tell the stories of a variety of female characters, many of whom are often overlooked and nameless. 

I am fascinated by her writing and have used it as a resource for teaching my Sunday School class which focuses on the stories of Biblical women, women who often remain nameless, women who inspire us, women who live through horrific violence, women whose stories mirror our stories. From these women — Rahab, Shiphrah and Puah, Jephthah’s Daughter, Deborah, Huldah, so many women whose stories enrich our faith — we have heard the voice of God and have experienced God in new ways.

Today, I share a lovely passage from Womanist Midrash:

She, the Spirit of God , She-who-is-also-God, at the dawn of creation fluttered over the nest of her creation as He, the more familiar expression of divinity, created all. They, Two-in-One, are the first articulations, self-articulations of God in the Scriptures. God is female and male, and when God gets around to creating creatures in the divine image, they will be male and female, as God is. Feminine language for God occurs in the text repeatedly. This means that feminists and womanists advocating for inclusive and explicitly feminine God-language are not changing but restoring the text and could be considered biblical literalists.   (Wilda Gafney, Womanist Midrash, page 20)

May we find the Divine Feminine in our lives. May God continue to open our hearts to new images of the Divine. May we experience the care and nurture of God our Father and God our Mother.

 

 

 

Taking Back Our World

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Let’s take back our world! Let us join hands and, in the power of community and holy resolve, reclaim our world from white supremacists, racists and violent actors that threaten our people.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children, British journalist Dan Hodges wrote that the gun control debate in the U.S. was over. This is what he wrote: “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

And then we let 2,193 shootings happen. 

The shootings that occurred this week offend us in a very deep place. You see, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace. We are the people of God who know that thoughts and prayers and compassionate sentiments won’t end this kind of terroristic hate.  

The El Paso shooter told law enforcement that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible. His manifesto, which he posted on the 8chan online community  included details about himself, his weapons and his motivation. He described the El Paso attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and proclaimed that he was defending his country from “cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

Most certainly, these words from an obvious white supremacist should offend every follower of God. His evil intent is also an offense to God. In response to such evil, perhaps we will raise our voices continually and persistently, without becoming weary. Perhaps we will resolve to take back our world, proclaiming God’s word in the darkness of evil just as the prophets did. Like them, perhaps we will persist tirelessly and with a holy resolve, for as long as it takes to end the evil that arises from racism and white supremacy. 

Perhaps our prophetic action will mirror that of the writer of Lamentations who wrote, “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

May God so embolden us.

Just a Fun Distraction

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Just a note that might bring a mild distraction for your day, hopefully a meaningful and fun distraction.

A blogging colleague of mine, Dr. Eric Perry, PhD, posted the above graphic on his Facebook page. He said that it has had over 40k shares with 10k+ comments and that it reached 6 million people! Wow!

Since so many people responded to it so well, I thought I should share it with you.

Identify the first four words you see in the graphic above.

Mine were, in this order:

Power
Strength
Miracle
Breakthrough

I really need all of those in my life right now, so I chose to receive it as a message — a harbinger — a sign of things to come for me.

So use your four words in any way that makes sense for you. Or not at all!

For those of us who playfully read fortune cookie messages, this might be fun. Enjoy!

 

Faith and Friends

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In this frenetic and fractured world, we can use all the comfort and assurance we can get. We want to know that everything’s going to be alright. We want to know that we will be alright. And we want to know that the people we love will be alright. Yet, these are things we cannot know, not really.

While we cannot have knowledge, we can have faith. Scripture offers us so many promises of care and protection:

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
(2 Corinthians 4:9)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; she will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“The Lord will keep you from all harm; she will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)

“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)

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.” ( Psalm 56:8)

What a gift that we have faith and friends! I never minimize the care and comfort I receive from my friends, the many ways they offer blessings on my life. Sometimes a kind word from a friend far away brings me deep comfort just when I need it most. Sometimes a phone call from a friend, just to check on me, feels like the warmth of the sun. Sometimes one of my doctors will know exactly what to say to ease my concerns. And so often one of my dialysis nurses hones in on a worry that’s just underneath the surface and helps me bring it to the light that begins a healing process. Caring friends — and family — are most definitely grace gifts from God.

The truth is that we do not have to bear our burdens alone. Faith gives us the awareness of a God who cares and comforts. The promises of Scripture are not merely words on a page. They are messages of hope that we can hold onto when  nights are long and frightening.

So faith brings us hope and comfort from a caring God who knows what is in our hearts. And life’s journey brings us friends willing to walk with us. It is not unusual for a friend to know intuitively when I really need to hear a comforting word. When that happens, our conversation often results in tears, probably tears that I had held back in an effort to “be strong.” My friends show me, in so many ways, that I don’t have to be strong and that I can just “be.” When we talk, I feel that lump in my throat that is both an awareness of a hurt I’ve been holding onto and a response of gratitude for a friend who truly cares.

Thanks be to God for faith and friends.

A Prophetic Voice

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There was never a time when God’s people needed a prophetic voice more than in these days. We keep hearing the phrase, “children locked up in cages,” and we continually feel righteous anger rising up within us. At the same time, we nurse a sense of hopelessness that holds us captive. 

We ask, what has happened that has created the environment in which we now live? How do we respond to this toxic environmental of racial division, harsh words and name-calling? Why is there such a blindness to gun violence? Wh is white supremacy now acceptable? When did we stop caring about the lives of immigrant families who flee for safe haven to our country? How did it happen that hate and meanness has all but replaced love and kindness?

As we watch these things happen, we recognize that voices of reason give silent ascent to the evils of the day as our leaders fail to stand for the values we hold dear. Where is their courage? Where is their ability to lead and govern? Where is their willingness to speak truth and champion change? Why are self-proclaimed people of faith giving permission for words and acts of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and just plain out hate?

And as for us — the people of faith who see the ills of our world so clearly — where is our prophetic voice, and when and where will we use it? Yes, we may be feeling the kind of hopelessness that breeds apathy and inaction. That feeling is normal when evil looms large over us and when the wrongs and the injustices we observe far outweigh what is right and just. We are understandably overwhelmed with all that is happening in these challenging days:

The president is escalating his racist attacks against everyone from women of color in Congress to the people of Baltimore.

Attorney General William Barr is bringing back the federal death penalty.

The Trump administration wants to ban new asylum requests and new refugees, closing America’s doors to families fleeing violence and seeking a safe place of refuge.

And almost constantly, Trump’s allies on the religious right, people who call themselves Christians, continue cheering him on, constantly twisting the Gospel to help re-elect him.

It is no accident that these actions came at us all at once. The president and his allies think that if he does enough hateful things all at once, they can overwhelm and silence us. What they cannot seem to understand is that, as God’s people and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are not listening to their message of fear and hatred. Instead, we hear the voice of God proclaiming a call for justice, mercy and compassion. We are listening to Christ’s message of hope and love, and that is our clarion call to act.

Of course, there are so many things we cannot make happen, so many wrongs we cannot right. Many of the remedies for the evil that assails us are out of our hands. Yet, we must not feel disempowered. Though we may feel that we have no recourse and that there is simply nothing we can do to create real change, we must remember that our voices hold a certain power, the power of the Spirit of God. Words are powerful tools. There is deep wisdom in the quotation, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” 

As for me, I pray that God will grant me a prophetic voice, and that with boldness, courage and perseverance, I will use my voice . . . 

To speak truth to power through constant letters, phone calls and messages to members of Congress and to the President. 

To confront those who maintain silent ascent to the evils happening at our Southern border. 

To challenge a president who speaks ill of people, who demonizes his enemies, who acts with blatant disregard for humanity and who ignores the suffering of the migrant families he has abused.

And to speak with deep compassion and caring to all who suffer injustice, oppression and harm.

Finally, I pray for my brothers and sisters of faith, that God will grant a prophetic voice, and that with that voice, you are able to speak God’s message of Good News with courage, boldness and perseverance. 

At times, words find their most powerful expression in music. To that end, I have included the following hymn text, which is actually a prayer. Please use it with my permission in any way that is empowering to you.

 

God, Give Us a Prophetic Voice

God, give us a prophetic voice that speaks of harm and pain;
A voice that claims injustice wrong, that calls the hurt by name.
God, give us a courageous voice that speaks against all wrong;
A voice that sees when harm is done and sings oppression’s song.

Our Mother God, we seek your grace to offer words of life,
To reach our hands toward hurting hearts who live in endless strife.
We ask for courage to persist when violence owns the day,
When children live in fear and want, protect them, God, we pray.

Empower us for good, we pray, that justice may increase;   
Ennoble us to speak your Word that pain may find release;
Give us a voice to speak your truth in places of despair;
Grant wisdom, God, and make us bold with courage, is our prayer.

God, give us now compassion’s voice that we might offer peace;
A voice that comforts through the night, that bids the darkness cease.
God, help us find our voice again when silence words erase,
When evil overtakes the words of righteousness and grace. 

Words: Kathy Manis Findley, 2019
Hymn Tune: Kingsfold
Meter: 8.6.8.6.
Source: English Traditional; English Country Songs, 1893
Copyright: Public Domain

 

 

Something Unexpected!

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Photo by Steven Nawojczyk 

Every once in a while, something unexpected shows up. It may be a nice surprise that lightens a burden, like receiving a kind note or getting a phone call from a friend. It may be a sudden light that breaks the darkness we’re experiencing or a melody that lifts our spirits. It may be a little beauty in the middle of an ugly place. It may be a touch of color in a patch of gray. 

That’s what struck me about the photo at the beginning of this post. The creative photographer, my friend Steven Nawojczyk, must have noticed something bright and beautiful in the middle of a bramble of deep green foliage. It was unexpected — the brilliant, white flowers that bloomed there. No one planted them in that thick brush. They just appeared. Unexpected!

But we know all too well that an unexpected event is not always a good one. The surprises that break into our lives sometimes harm and hurt. My family experienced it this week: a nasty fall on Sunday that resulted in my very sprained, swollen and bruised knee; my cousin falling a few days later and injuring both legs; my son dealing with serious illness; my husband Fred spending all of last night in the ER.

Unexpected! And not-so-good unexpected!

So sometimes the thought of not-so-good unexpected can create fear in us. Of course, we know that our finest plans sometimes fall through. Our projects implode. Our dreams meet the toughest resistance.

Doesn’t it seem as if our “plans” are lightning rods for the unexpected? When our plans crumble underneath us, we sometimes question the very faith that has always, always sustained us.

Now there is no Biblical text for every life occasion, and picking out a text to prove a point or to make us feel better is not the best way to approach the Bible. And yet, our sacred Scripture does speak to the unexpected happenings of life. This time, it’s the wise prophet Jeremiah who offers the word of hope.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 — Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version 

A hope and a future! What more do we need? For me, white flowers unexpectedly blooming in the bushes and brambles will just about do it.

Thanks be to God.