Comfort, Whispers of God

God Whispers


I like to think that God whispers, that God never shouts at me or speaks to me with a harsh, loud voice. I like knowing that when God speaks to me, God will always whisper. Because shouting frightens me and harsh speaking causes me to cover my ears so that I cannot clearly hear what God is saying.

I heard once that, more important than all the loud, big proclamations preachers speak from the pulpit, the people in the church pews truly listen when preachers whisper. That’s when preachers say the most important things, it seems. Or so I’ve been told by people who know that sort of thing.

It turns out I have always known a whispering God, from the very beginning of our relationship. That first whisper of God, and all the others I have heard in my long life, reached my ears as “a still, small voice.” I’m not really sure about this, but God may very well shout once in a while. I have never heard a loud word from God myself. I have heard only whispers, gentle whispers of very important things I needed to hear clearly and surely.

I’m thinking today about the bombings at the airport in Kabul. I’m praying today tor the Americans who are currently trying to flee from Afghanistan, the U.S. military with an impossible task, our Afghan allies who also need to leave quickly and the Afghan people who are hopelessly and helplessly stuck in a country filled with danger. I mourn those who died today and I lament the volatility of the situation that exists there. I can only imagine the chaos, the fear, the sound of the bombs, the screaming and shouting, the loud calls for help. The people surely can’t hear themselves think in such a situation.

Maybe it’s even too loud to pray. Maybe even God cannot be heard over the ear-piercing sounds of a bombed place. I believe that God is present there, hearing prayers and speaking softly to the terrified people with whispers of comfort . . .

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41: 10

In all the noise, the people near the bombings most likely could not hear, not even yelling or shouting. I like to imagine that what they can hear is God whispering to them, whispers of comfort, whispers of peace, whispers of hope. That is the voice of God I have always known, the God who whispers to me when I am still and quiet, waiting to hear God’s holy whisper. But I have also heard God’s whispers in the midst of deafening noise. In those noisy times, I have heard God’s whisper still. God’s voice — the whisper — has talked me through many seasons when fear, pain, grief and other negative things were literally shouting at me from every direction.

I have learned to hear the whisper of God. It is the balm for my soul, the sound that keeps reminding me that all shall be well. I have loved the thoughts of Prathia Hall who was an American leader and activist in the Civil Rights Movement, a womanist theologian and ethicist. She was the key inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and she often found herself immersed in trouble of every sort. These are words she spoke that offer encouragement in frightening times:

“Out there in the brush arbors, the wilderness, and the woods, the God of our ancestors, the God we had known on the other side of the waters met us and whispered words in our ears, and stirred a song in our souls.”
— 
Prathia Hall (Quoted by Courtney Pace in Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall)

I wonder if you could tune your ears to God’s holy whisper. You will hear it when everything around you is quiet and when everything around you is reverberating with noise and clamor, tumult and uproar. I pray that, even in all the turmoil visited upon the people who suffer in Afghanistan this night, they will be able to hear God’s comforting, healing whisper.

May God make it so. Amen.

anxiety, Depression, peace, Spiritual growth, Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs

I feel exasperated sometimes with the constant ups and downs that are a normal part of my life. I would surmise that ups and downs are probably a part of your life, too.

Don’t we have a knack for riding them out on something akin to a roller coaster? I have truly become a master at riding out ups and downs since my kidney transplant, but then I never really wanted a roller coaster life. So much for life plans!

Even with ups and downs, I am comforted when my faith opens up insight I have gained over the years, like not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), not leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and not being anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6-7). Those stay-the-course words should surely be enough to help, shouldn’t they?

Not always! Faith and spiritual maturity and scripture are simply not enough at times to keep me from the despondency of the “downs.” That’s just the way my psyche reacts when I feel down or when a circumstance pushes me down. The trouble is, things that get me down are not always enormously critical things. Even an insignificant down moment can let depression plant itself in my spirit. That just doesn’t work for me, so I need to find a way to even out my roller coaster life and not let everything that happens be a potential for depression.

What do I want? I cannot say it simpler than this: stabilizing peace. It is not an exaggeration to say that since my transplant eighteen months ago, almost nothing has been stable. Immunosuppression medications are constantly being moved up or down; my lab numbers are constantly fluctuating; my emotions are up and down; my energy waxes and wanes; my blood sugar rises and plummets; and, on one day my kidney might be okay, but on another day, I am dealing with kidney rejection. My physical, emotional and spiritual well being rises and falls with each change.

Oh, for some stabilizing peace that stays constant through the ups and downs!

I keep going back, though, to the ultimate words that promise me the kind of constant, stabilizing peace that I so need:

Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. 
Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here.
Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.
With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.
Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus,
God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand.
And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.

Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile
and worthy of praise.

You know the teachings I gave you,
and you know what you heard me say and saw me do.
So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 CEV


I wage war, much of the time, with depression that continues its haunting presence. It is not the debilitating kind of depression that can knock one to the ground to the point of needing medication. It is not the kind of depression that leaves one in tears and prevents any meaningful activity. It is not even the kind of depression that affects one’s life to the point of complete stagnancy. But it is a depression that hurts the heart and leaves the spirit languishing — on some days more than others.

Yet, I am grateful for lessons learned. In my times of depression — through my ups and downs — I have learned a few helpful and hopeful lessons.

These are just a few of them:


  1. I must not fall into the bottomless pit of anticipatory anxiety. The things that fill me with such anxiety and worry rarely even happen.
  2. My spirit is resilient, much stronger than I think it will be.
  3. The bad things that happen to me don’t usually last forever. I can ride them out.
  4. It is not “pie-in-the-sky” fantasy to fall back on the faith that has always sustained me. The truth is that the God who promised to be with me, really has been with me — every time.
  5. My “downs” have always graced me with a fresh view of my soul and spirit, the deep places in me that fall to the dust but still manage to get up and move forward.

I admit I haven’t made peace with my ups and downs. I suspect I will have them as lifelong companions, but I have made peace with the soul of my being. I have discovered that there are some soul-things that I can never really touch unless I have gone as low as I can go. In those times, my emotions are discernible and my spirit is tender. In those times, there is a holy presence that will take my hands and lift me up. Of that, I am confident.

Debasiah Mridha wrote these words that are so true and so full of wisdom, “Life has its ups and downs. When you are up, enjoy the scenery. When you are down, touch the soul of your being and feel the beauty.” 

I would like to be able to leave you with a sparkling, new solution for all of the times you go from up to down. I would like to be able to tell you in your ups, and in your downs, that you will find peace enough to sustain you. I wish I could tell you, even, that your life will be all “ups.” I wish I could believe it for myself. But there are very few things that any of us can count on. I intend to keep holding on tightly to my faith and my belief that God’s Spirit of Wisdom walks beside me. Sits next to me on that terrifying roller coaster!

I also love this thought that I stumbled upon in a most unlikely place. Brent Schlender, in his book entitled, Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, made the most lovely, comforting observation. This is what he wrote: “The sun will set and the sun will rise, and it will shine upon us tomorrow in our grief and our gratitude, and we will continue to live with purpose, memory, passion, and love.” 

May the Holy One make it so. Amen


#MeToo, Activism, Beloved Community, Bondage, Challenge, Change, Community activism, Courage, Discrimination, Freedom, Hate, Holy Spirit, Hope, Injustice, Lament, peace, Racism, Social justice, Spirit wind, Transformation, Transforming Injustice, White supremacy

Removing Yokes of Bondage

“We Sound a Call to Freedom” Hymn text by Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton; http://jannaldredgeclanton.com/changing-church-resource-“we-sound-a-call-to-freedom”-video-2/


Stand fast therefore in the freedom by which Christ has made us free,
and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)

What is it about freedom that scares us? What is it about freedom that causes us to refuse to offer it to everyone? Are we afraid that giving freedom to another person or group of persons will diminish our own freedom? What does freedom really mean to persons who are oppressed and to those who live inside the throes of injustice?

I have written very little lately about justice and accountability, the two words most used to describe Derek Chauvin’s conviction. I can’t help but mark this very moment on the “long arc that bends toward justice.” I feel compelled to call our attention to this week! Actually it’s last week now, but you get the idea. Let’s call it “the week of the verdict.”

The week of the verdict has come full circle from George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 to the conviction of Derick Chauvin almost one year later on April 29, 2021. It was a week we will not forget. It brought up emotions in me and perhaps in most people. Most of what I felt mirrored the emotions I imagine George Floyd’s family feeling — happy, calm, relieved, conflicted, hopeful, determined, vindicated. I also felt sad and helpless because the conviction did not end murders of black and brown brothers and sisters. And I felt joyful and hopeful because perhaps this flashpoint in the long history of racial injustice will help us turn the corner and finally see in our communities the justice we long for.

How can that happen? How can we turn the corner and move away from oppressive systems and oppressive people? How do we do that when just minutes after the verdict and less than ten miles away, 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Ohio? It happened in the shadow of “the week of the verdict.”

Perhaps for us this is the week of the verdict — the week when the verdict will be read on our failure to end the systemic racism in our communities! Isn’t it past time for us to stand up and stand strong and stand determined and woke? My friends, it is time! This moment in the history of injustice may well be the turning point we need to end racism!

I have said this many times: We cannot just reform injustice, we must transform it. The transformation that results in genuine, lasting justice must begin in the soul and in the heart where intentions are formed. I must lament injustice, confess my own complicity in it, repent of the white supremacy within me, own other forms of oppression and commit to the hard work of transforming injustice in my community and in my world. Only then will transformation happen in the systems that oppress people.

Only transformed people can love neighbors as Jesus loved us. My friend and sister blogger never fails to remind me to answer the ultimate question, “How then shall I live?”* She offers this scripture to us today.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

1 John 3:16-17 

She then reminded us that conditions in India are dire and the people languish.

In India, today the virus surges
almost beyond control,

hospitals are choked,
people die in line waiting for a doctor.

How can those of us
rejoicing in vaccination,
cautious travel, new gatherings,
not ask how we can help?

Maren

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

And that is the soul-critical question we must answer. How then shall we live when all around us people suffer every kind of calamity — every kind of violence, disaster, racism, discrimination, dehumanization? Every kind of heartache. How do we, in our suffering world, become the heart, hands and feet of Jesus?

Getting back to the lament of my own heart, that one thing that inspires my passion — transforming the injustice of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of evil exclusion and oppression. Transforming injustice! Setting our faces toward the hope of Beloved Community! This one thing I know, the steps of Jesus would have led him to the “healing” of injustice in any form. On every day he walked on this earth, Jesus would be loving every person who was in need and he would be lamenting every injustice that caused harm.

How can we not lament? How can we not expend ourselves in the hard work of transforming injustice? How can we not care for, and pray for, and love our brothers and sisters who are in need? How can we refuse to work for the freedom of black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny God’s desire for justice and peace?

How can we refuse freedom to black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny them God’s peace?

— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

I do not have the answer for how we might do this. But I do have some convictions about it, especially about racism and white supremacy. One of my convictions is that dismantling racism begins in me, in my soul. And eradicating white supremacy begins when I look seriously at my own white supremacy. For you see, as long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross, I will never acknowledge that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that white person; I am a different white person that would never tolerate racism.

Am I? Am I that different white person? Or are there ways I contribute to an unjust society? Are there ways I fail to seek Beloved Community? Are there thoughts and feelings within me that diminish other persons, persons not like me? Am I complacent about injustice? Am I complicit? Am I reticent? Am I avoiding, looking the other way?

As long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross in someone’s yard, I will never see that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a pick-up truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that kind of white person! Or am I?

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Racial injustice may currently be the most visible form of oppression, but we must remember that many groups of people are oppressed. Many people long for freedom from oppression. Only when we “see” and “hear” all of their voices, will we be on the way to transforming injustice. I don’t know everything about oppression, and I don’t know exactly how to make a difference. I don’t really know how to join hands with my community and set about to transform injustice. I do know that I must begin with my own lament, for only lament can open my eyes to every manner of suffering and oppression.

So meet me on the mountain where we find the strength from God to persevere, and then descend with me to all the places where oppression enslaves people. Come with me to the people, and together, let us remove from them the yoke of bondage and offer them new freedom. And may Spirit Wind surround us with courage. Thanks be to God.


*”How then Shall We Live?” was the inspiring theme of the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering.

VIDEO CREDITS
Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006).

Visual Artists:
David Clanton: “The Magic Begins” and dancing children photos: http://www.davidclanton.com/http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Shannon Kincaid: woman carrying torch paintings:http://www.shannonkincaid.com/

Mirta Toledo: Christ-Sophia painting:  https://www.facebook.com/mirtatoledoarthttp://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/books.php#book3

Chad Clanton: purple irises photo

Instrumentalists:
Keyboard: Ron DiIulio
Percussion: Warren Dewey
Guitar: Danny Hubbard
Bass & Percussion: Jerry Hancock

Music Producer/Arranger:
Ron DiIulio: http://www.silverdollarsounds.com/personality-profiles/ron-diiulioSource

Beloved Community, Community, Love, Martin Luther King, Jr., peace, Stars

THE RADIANT STARS OF LOVE

The year was 1963. I was 14 years old. So it could not have been that I was unaware of what was going on in my city, but more likely that I was sheltered from it. I’m referring to two events: the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and incarcerated in the Birmingham jail; and in that same year — Sunday, September 13 — the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, taking the lives of four little girls as they left their Sunday School class to go into the sanctuary.

It was a white supremacist terrorist bombing, just before 11 o’clock, when instead of rising to begin prayers, the congregation was knocked to the ground. As the bomb exploded under the steps of the church, the congregants sought safety under the pews and shielded each other from falling debris.

Five months earlier, on April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested with SCLC activists Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and other marchers, while thousands of African Americans dressed for Good Friday wondered what in the world the future might hold.

As a child, I would proudly sing a song I learned in school, “Birmingham’s My Home. In the days of 1963, I was not so proud that Birmingham, Alabama was my home. Today, I feel deep shame to admit that even at age 14, I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening. To be sure, I was not yet “woke” in any sense of the word.

While incarcerated, Dr. King wrote a letter. Some of his most eloquent, scorching, but hopeful words were penned during his time in the Birmingham Jail. These words he wrote from there are quite striking to me:

“. . . in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

How is it that we have not yet seen the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” [and sisterhood] “shining over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty?” Why does the struggle for racial justice still play out in the streets of this nation’s cities as the oppressed still cry out against the injustice that continues to hold them in chains?

I will not attempt to answer those unanswerable questions. I will point out the mountains that still stand ominously before us. We cannot move those mountains, it seems, as they loom over us — immense, towering, formidable, oppressive. The rocks, crags and peaks of them looking like peaceful protests by persons crying out for freedom in June, white supremacists violently storming the United States Capitol just 12 days ago, and the terrifying Coronavirus that still threatens after so many months.

How will we see the radiant stars of beloved community, of hope, of peace when we cannot move those mountains? Words cannot move mountains, but words can give us the strength and courage to try. And so I leave you with Dr. King’s words as we honor him on this day:

“Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope.”*

I wish for you radiant stars of love, the sunlight of hope that is new every morning, and the glistening wings of peace to guide your way.


*Dr. King delivered this line during his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. It now appears is one of the most prominently featured quotes on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.

anxiety, Calm, Comfort, Emotions, Fear, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, God’s promises, Grace, grief, Hate, healing, Hope, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Prayer, Preaching, Present moment, Resilience, Sacred Space, Spirit, Violence

What Do You Say to a Broken World?

I once preached a sermon entitled, “What Do You Say to a Broken World?” In this week, after our nation’s Capitol was breached and defiled, I have wondered if ministers who will stand before congregations in two days are asking themselves a similar question: “What will I say on this day to a broken world?”

A friend of mine is preaching this week. I am praying that she will have an extra measure of wisdom, because standing before a congregation while the nation is in chaos is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. My first feeling as I thought about preaching for this Sunday was relief that I was no longer a pastor with such a heavy responsibility, that I did not have to summon the wisdom to speak to a people with heavy hearts who need to hear of healing grace and hope. But my most intense feeling was envy, not hostile envy, but heart envy about my deep desire to speak Gospel Good News to people who need to hear good news. Still I envied my friend and wished that, this Sunday, I could stand before a congregation with wisdom, open my spirit and invite God to speak through me. It is a heavy responsibility and a sacred calling.

Dr. Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, wrote an essay this week entitled “Preaching When It’s Broken.” In the essay he says this:

God bless you, preachers who will address congregations this Sunday . . . Here in the United States, things are broken, most people know they’re broken, and we all need healing and truth.

For many of us, the invasion of the Capitol and the response to it by people we know, love and admire, brings this brokenness to the foreground. Since that terrible, violent day, I have heard dozens of interviews that expressed anger, frustration, contempt, indignation and all manner of raw emotion. I have also heard wise leaders express their resoluteness to lead this nation into healing, unity and hope.

Indeed, the questions about this Sunday’s preaching call us to attention: How do our pastors, our priests, our rabbis, our imams, our bhikkhus and bhikkhunis stand before their congregations offering comfort when our nation is so broken, so angry, so mournful in the face of violent acts? What will they proclaim? What will they preach? What will they pray? What will they sing?

Minneapolis Pastor and Poet, Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson, has given us a grace-gift with this poem entitled, “A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism.”

A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism

There is sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
a rush of power born by inciting fear in others,
a wave of victoryin causing enemies pain.

There is a push to solve the mystery,
to isolate the suspect and
explain the evil simply
to a safe distance from the anomaly.

There is a temptation
to skip the part that feels
near the suffering
that shares the sadness,
that names our shared humanity.

There is a courage
in rejecting the numbing need for data
in favor of finding the helpers,
loving the neighbor,
resisting terror through random acts of connection.

There is a sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
but so is the remedy.

From Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson’s book “Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life.” Used with permission.

So much truth in her words, so much wisdom “for the living of these days.” In her words, I feel all over again the desire of my heart, the impossible dream of standing in a pulpit this Sunday, speaking to a congregation that needs strength in the midst of adversity. I will not stand behind a pulpit this week, but I will pray for those who will stand in that sacred space. I will pray for them, the proclaimers, and I will pray for their hearers across this nation. I will lean on this beautiful prayer written by Reverend Valerie Bridgeman:

May God Strengthen You for Adversity

A blessing for today: 

May God strengthen you for adversity
and companion you in joy.

May God give you the courage of your conviction
and the wisdom to know when to speak and act.

May you know peace.
May you be gifted with deep,true friendship and love. 

May every God-breathed thing
you put your hand to prosper and succeed.

May you have laughter to fortify you
against the disappointments.
May you be brave. 

© Valerie Bridgeman, December 18, 2013

When all is said and done, more important than what the “proclaimer in the pulpit” says is what the hearers hear. For in this time — when violence, riots, terrorism, pandemic and all manner of chaos is so much a part of life — those who listen need to hear a clear message of a God who dwells among us, a Christ who leads us, a Spirit who comforts us under the shadow of her wings. For hearts in these days are heavy, souls are wounded, spirits seek hope. And all the people want to believe that they do not walk alone through their present angst.

I pray that you know that you are not alone, that God’s grace-filled presence is with you and that “in God you live and move and have your being. As some of your poets have said, ‘We are God’s children.’” (Acts 17:28)

I pray that your heart will heal and be filled anew with hope. I pray that the wounds of your soul and spirit will heal and be filled anew with the peace of God. I pray that, when you listen in faith, you will hear the voice of God whispering in your ear, “You do not walk alone.”

I invite you to spend a few moments of meditation hearing the message of this music:

May you see God’s light on the path ahead
when the road you walk is dark.

May you always hear
even in your hour of sorrow
the gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard

May you always remember when the shadows fall–
You do not walk alone.

anxiety, Community, Darkness, Death, Despair, discouragement, healing, Heartbreak, Indecision, journey, Lament, life, Life Journeys, Life pathways, Mystery, Restoration, Sorrow, Spirit, struggle, Tears, Thin Places, Yiayia

That Mysterious and Mystical Reality

EC73BB1C-C3BB-4B52-8D03-279FE90ADEDE
Watercolor art by Kalliope, Holy Ghosts

You might be thinking that both mysterious and mystical are the antithesis of reality. If you are thinking that, you might be wrong. So might I. But in my experience, life itself is a mysterious and mystical reality. That reality fills my spirit with hope in my darkest moments. Dark moments, hours of grief, dark nights of the soul, lamentations of the spirit — all have been part of my life journey. My pathways have often been rough and rocky. My life’s travel has often taken me to disconcerting forks in the road and confusing crossroads. I have known times of despairing and times of uncertainty — reluctance, despondency, angst, heartbreak, fear — “break-out-in-a-sweat times” that forced me into dangerous depths of anguish. For me, taking my own life was not something I could consider. Yet there was that one day — that span of just a few moments — when I was alone, afraid and very far from home.

IMG_5744
Japan’s Aokigahara Suicide Forest

One of the most thoughtful and intriguing movies I have ever experienced is The Sea of Trees. I was captivated by the film that tells the story of a despondent professor. After the death of his wife, he despaired of life and searched for a way to end his. His reflective, angst-filled search led him to Aokigahara, a forest in Japan known also as The Sea of Trees or The Suicide Forest. Aokigahara Forest has been home to over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s. It is called “the perfect place to die” and is the world’s second most popular place for suicide.

Don’t worry. This post is not about suicide. Rather it is about the people who loved us in life and continue to love us in death, those who watch over us in our times of deepest anguish. It is about the mysterious and mystical reality that between us and our loved ones in heaven, there is but a thin separation. Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

To know that my sweet Yiayia (grandmother in Greek) and my Thea Koula might still be protecting me from harm and life disaster is soul-comforting for me. Perhaps the strength and hope I felt as I was chaplain to disheartened hospital patients came from them. Perhaps they sent me the staying power to comfort, protect and advocate for thousands of abused women and children. Maybe the deep grief of losing my brother to cancer was eased by their prayers from heaven.

I often wondered if my mourning of the loss of the life I knew — replaced by daily dialysis — was lightened by their loving presence with me in a horrible time. I wonder, Yiayia, were you watching over me on November 12th when I closed my eyes in the operating room to receive my kidney transplant? I wonder, Thea Koula, did your intercession save my life on those times when my life literally hung in the balance?

This life is not an easy one. No person gets through life unscathed. No one travels a path smooth and straight. Like me, you have more than likely walked on a rough pathway with stones in the road, dangerous curves and life-altering crossroads. Robert Frost wrote eloquently in his poem, The Road Not Taken, about someone standing at a fork in the road pondering a life-altering choice:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth . . .

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear . . .

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

My life is filled with “roads not taken,” some not taken by my choice, others thwarted by chance or fate or maybe even God. It is almost like traveling through a “sea of trees” that hide our view of the way ahead, causing us to lose our way. For my art today, I chose one of my watercolor paintings. A few years ago, I painted this “sea” of leafless trees against an ethereal, melancholy wash of color. Interspersed among the trees are ghost-like figures hovering. Actually I titled the painting Holy Ghosts. The painting was inspired by the words of a friend.

When the dead come to mind, they are like holy ghosts, as real as hope or faith, as tangible as trust and love.  – Ragan Courtney

This painting was never meant to be disconcerting or morbid. It represents just the opposite for me. It represents the souls who hover over me for protection, those with whom I shared love and life. It represents my aunt and my Yiayia and my brother because I am certain they protect me, pray for me, lift me up and cheer me on.

Who knows! Maybe my brother Pete, who died of renal cell carcinoma, hovered above me in a kind of holy kidney disease kinship and protected me when I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease in 2014. Maybe he prayed for me during my transplant surgery in 2019. I can, of course, never know that for sure. The veil between heaven and earth, between the dead and the living, is a mystery we simply do not understand. Our understanding does not reach that far, but what we feel in our spirit does reach that far.

In the end, my spirit senses that between us there is but a thin separation, that the spirits of my loved ones are are connected to mine, especially when I am disconsolate and in despair.

In the comfort of that mysterious and mystical reality, I can heal. I can rest. I can continue my journey of dangers, toils and snares. I can know the amazing grace that comes from sacred connections. I can know peace after sorrow. And so can you.

May God make it so. Amen.

 

Beauty of Nature, Birdsong, Challenge, Comfort, Creation, Inner joy, Music, Skies, Social distancing, Trees

For the Beauty of the Earth

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All the beauty of the world,
the beauty that calls our admiration, our gratitude,
our worthship at the earthly level,
is meant as a set of hints, of conspiratorial whispers,
of clues and suggestions and flickers of light,
all nudging us into believing that behind the beautiful world
is not random chance but the loving God.  

N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth

These days I give over many of my thoughts to the millions of devastated lives that have been besieged by the coronavirus. I cannot stop the tears at times when I hear people tell their stories on news reports or when I see the ugliness of images around the world — people suffering, people in hunger, people grieving and languishing as the lives they once knew are snatched away from them. My one solace is a gift from a friend who is a lover of nature. She graces me every time we communicate with the many ways she has learned to find peace in the beauty of the world.

This morning, a cool wind was blowing as the sun warmed my face. I was warmed not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. All was quiet, except the wind, the flutter of hummingbird wings, the gentle tinkling of the wind chimes and the birdsong that I could hear all around me. I looked up into my favorite tree with its background of a perfect, cloudless bright blue sky. I could not help but notice the leaves in the tree, moving in the wind and presenting a shimmering display showing off hundreds of shades of green.

It carried me away, even if just for a few minutes, and I found myself embracing the beauty of the earth and the God who created it. I found a smidgen of comfort, peace and the kind of inner joy that is beyond any sorrow I might feel. Instead of being swallowed by the ugliness of the television news, I was blessed by delighting in the freshness and the beauty of the world around me.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  — Genesis 1:28-31

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created through him and for him.  — Collosians 1:16

In this present moment in time, I cannot help but see the finger of God in all of creation. I cannot help but offer praise to God through the words of the hymn we often sing, For the Beauty of the Earth.

For beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

Text: Folliott Sandford Pierpoint; Music: William Chatterton Dix (1864)

I invite you to listen to the video below. For just a few moments, pay attention to this lovely hymn of praise, perhaps as part of your meditation time.

Bewilderment, Confusion, Fear, peace, Understanding

In Bewilderment: Peace

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Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley

As we celebrate Eastertide with the death of Jesus behind us and his resurrection still in our hearts, the stories that led up to Easter remain in our memories. One of those stories tells of Jesus comforting his disciples. They were bewildered, confused, wanting to know what would happen next.

I can identify with those emotions as this time of distancing grows longer and the spread of the coronavirus continues to threaten. What will happen next? I don’t know about you, but I want an answer to that question. Like the disciples discussing their lives with Jesus in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, if an answer does come to us, we probably won’t quite understand it.

First Thomas has a pressing question for Jesus. “We don’t know where you are going,” Lord, “so how can we know the way?” The answer from Jesus wasn’t very clear or understandable to Thomas.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
— John 14:6-7

Then Philip takes a shot at it, telling Jesus to show them the Father. That would be enough for them to feel comfortable about what was going on around them. But the answer Jesus offered did not clear up the conundrum very much.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?     — John 14:9-10

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Hands on their faces, the disciples seem bewildered and confused, even fearful.

Finally, Judas (not Judas Iscariot) asked Jesus why he would show himself to them and not to the world. Again, Jesus answered with what might have seemed like a platitude that did not provide much understanding at all.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
— John 14:23-24

We should remember that this entire conversation began with words of comfort from Jesus to his friends. He told them that day, as he tells us in this day, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” As they began to end this time with Jesus, the disciples still did not fully understand. But finally Jesus speaks to them with a very clear and grace-filled word of comfort.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    — John 14:25-27

In the end, that’s all we have that can guide us through uncertainty, confusion and fear. What Jesus left to his disciples, and what Jesus leaves to us, is something simple and pure: PEACE. 

I am not fully certain how this peace really works. I know only that sensing it in my soul is a miracle — every time. When my heart is troubled — PEACE. When I am confused and afraid — PEACE.

And that’s enough!

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

anxiety, “God’s Will”, Comfort, Faith, Fear, God’s promises, Isolation, Loneliness, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Quarantine, Questions, Social distancing, Suffering, Troubles, Unfaith

Peace, Pandemic and Love

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What a time in the story of our lives! In my lifetime, I have never been personally affected by a pandemic. I have lived a little over seventy years without having this troubling and potentially deadly experience. My prayer is that once the pandemic of year 2020 has run its course, we will not have to live through another one for at least seventy years.

In the past few days, I have heard from students lamenting the loss of their senior year. I have commiserated with friends who feared for their elderly parents, especially those in nursing homes. I listened recently to a discussion about how we could possibly keep incarcerated persons safe from this virus. I have listened to friends and family express deeply held fears about how the virus might affect them and their families. I have heard almost daily from my adult son (an unprecedented number of calls in such a short time) who is worried about his parents and about his wife and their new baby to be born in early April. I have heard from friends my age who are quarantined at home fearing for their health. I have communicated with post transplant patients like me expressing their most intense fear because of their suppressed immune systems. As a recent transplant recipient myself, I completely understand their angst of being on immunosuppressant medications. Like them, I know I have no immune system right now.

There is no doubt that all over the world people are frightened. People of faith, however, know that faith is stronger than fear, God is stronger than despair and love is stronger than death. Of course, even though we might have great faith, we must admit that we don’t know what God will do or how God can protect us. That is not unfaith; it is the reality of our humanity. Oh, we can take the easy way out and proclaim words like, “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” But doesn’t the past suffering and pain of your life convince you that those words are not your reality?

One of my former seminary professors taught and preached often about the experience of Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Dr. Frank Tupper’s answer to the question about how a loving God could allow Christ’s suffering went something like this: “because before the foundation of the world God had chosen the way of self-limitation.”

Dr. Tupper also said some things that some people might consider blasphemy: 

I do not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world. Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world. God chose not to be a ‘do anything, anytime, anywhere’ kind of God. In every specific historical context with its possibilities and limitations, God always does the most God can do.

In my mind, and through the crucible of my life, I believe that God wanted authentic and honest relationships with humankind that affirm both divine love and human freedom. God built that kind of relationship with me when, through every life storm, every time of despair, every disappointment, every fear, every loss — and through my life-threatening illness — God did not change any circumstance of my suffering, but God promised me a love that would not let me go, ever.

In these days, God is not stopping the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic. God is not stilling our current storm. God is not taking away our very real fear. God is not telling us, “Go on out to that social gathering, I am in control.” Instead God has promised us peace through the words of Jesus recorded in John 16:33:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world.

I pray that you will find peace in these troubling days and that your faith will be even a little stronger than your fear. I pray that you will not experience economic hardship and that you will have all you need. I pray that illness will spare you and those you love. I pray that your children will thrive even though their schools are closed. I pray that you will find ways to worship God even if the doors of your church are shuttered. Most of all, I pray that you will feel God’s love as a love that will never let you go.

The words of one of my favorite hymns express these thoughts so well:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro’ the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.

— Author: George Matheson, 1842-1906

Perhaps you would like to spend a few moments of quiet meditation listening to this beautiful hymn arrangement.

Advent, Angels, Belief, Bethlehem’s Star, Call, Christ’s Birth, Discernment, Here I am, Lord., Hope, Joy, Kneeling Places, Love, Memories, peace, Reflection, Stars

“In Search of Our Kneeling Places”

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The Tenth Day of Advent.
December 11, 2019

IN SEARCH OF OUR KNEELING PLACES

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing the the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.

— Ann Weems

The words of Ann Weems this morning seem to call us to Bethlehem. Perhaps the call intends for us to remember more clearly the birth of the Christ Child, the incarnation of God. Perhaps this call wants us to focus more fully on what this Child’s birth really means for us. Perhaps the call wants us to find our kneeling places, those places that enable us to open ourselves to God’s presence in us, God’s call to us.

When, in your own kneeling place, have you responded to a call from God? Was it a call that would change your life? Was it a call that you could only answer by saying, “Here am I. Send me.”

Among all the meanings of Advent is a call to watch, to wait, to worship, to be full of expectation, to rejoice in the birth of the Christ Child and to offer our lives to God. Advent is a call to find our kneeling places.

So I am thinking today about the many ways God has called me through the years. Some of those calls became divine appointments for me. Some were hard calls, risky and frightening. Some were calls that I answered with an immediate “Yes!” There were calls that summoned me to find my kneeling places. One specific call is the one that emerged from my most impassioned, fervent kneeling place. It was the call that asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

To respond “yes” to that call required extended time spent at my kneeling place. To respond “yes” to that call would alter the course of my life. Looking back, I can see that saying “yes” to that call call brought me life’s deepest sorrows and matchless joys. That call from God was to be transformative for me, transcending whatever I had imagined. I vividly remember that call, and from my kneeling place, I answered, “Here I am, Lord.”

“Here I am,Lord!” Those words from my heart would bring a plethora of emotions in the months that followed — through times of testing, disparagement, condemnation, criticism, disappointment, struggle, and eventually, peace. Thinking back to my ordination service brings a host of special memories: my friends and family gathered for the holy service; the church family that laid hands of blessing on me; my husband and my best friend singing words I remember to this day.

Here I am, Lord.
Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.

I have made the stars of night.
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

I, the lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame,
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them,
Whom shall I send?

— Songwriters: Anna Laura Page / Daniel L. Schutte; Based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3

If you like, take a few minutes to view the video of this song, reflecting on the words and their meaning for you.

 

And so it was, from my kneeling place, I answered God’s call: “Here I am, Lord!”

The season of Advent calls us in a voice just as compelling to find our kneeling places . . .
to focus on Advent’s promises of hope, peace, joy and love,
to wait in anticipation for the birth of our Savior,
to lift our eyes and sing with the angels, “Hallelujah!”

Amen.