Pricked

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In years past I remember hearing, in sermon and scripture, a rather provocative phrase that always got my attention. As a child, I was mesmerized whenever someone would speak about “the heart being pricked” and I was pretty sure I did not want any heart pricking to happen to me.

Grabbing hold of a prickly stem always results in immediately letting it go and coming up with another plan. God may well be using the pricks of uncomfortable instances in our lives to change our direction. He did this in Paul’s life, as the unsaved, but religious, man traveled on the Damascus road:

And he said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.

— Acts 9:5 (paraphrased)

We also read in Acts about being pricked in the heart happening when the Holy Spirit was poured out from heaven. Just as Jesus had promised His disciples, the Holy Spirit came in a mighty way on Pentecost Sunday, and Acts 2 tells us that many wondrous things happened that day. One of the great wonders of that day is described like this:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?”

— Acts 2:36-37 (paraphrased)

And in Psalm 73:

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant.

—Psalm 73:21-22 (ESV)

There you have it: two examples of the disconcerting messages I heard about heart and soul pricking. Obviously, I had no idea what it all meant, so I was safe and content in my ignorance. I did not intend to put myself anywhere near a heart-pricking situation. So all was well in my spiritual world.

Until I got a few years on me, and a few pricking life experiences.

“Putting away childish things” as the years passed resulted in maturity in my understanding and in my spirituality. I would know many times over the pricking of the heart, even the pricking of my soul. It was never comfortable, never welcomed, but it was a necessary part of living.

Hard times, sickness, failures, broken relationships, aggravating situations, disasters, loss of many kinds: all pricking events that change one’s life, turn a life around really. I experienced most all of them, and in those experiences, I learned what comes after the pricking.

I was reminded this morning of the life of St. Francis as told by the Dominican friar, Augustine Thompson from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. He writes this:

[His] encounter with lepers would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. . . . Wherever the leprosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. . . . It was a dramatic personal reorientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. As Francis showed mercy to these outcasts, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, not as refuse to be fled from in horror, his perceptions changed. What before was ugly and repulsive now caused him delight and joy, not only spiritually, but also viscerally and physically.

Francis’s aesthetic sense, so central to his personality, had been transformed, even inverted. [He] sensed himself, by God’s grace and no power of his own, remade into a different man. Just as suddenly, the sins which had been tormenting him seemed to melt away, and Francis experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. Not long after this encounter, later accounts tell us, perhaps in allegory, that Francis was walking down a road and met one of these same lepers. He embraced the man in his arms and kissed him. Francis’s spiritual nightmare was over; he had found peace.

In the pricks we experience, we may well find peace. We may experience inner healing, a spiritual rebirth, a transformation of life. In any event, we will become immersed in a transformative dance through which we find ourselves being made new. God invites us to such a dance, many times through pricks of the heart and soul, but always covered in the grace of forgiveness and restoration.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant.

—Psalm 73:21-22 (ESV)

Let’s not stop there. Let’s read the next part of the Psalm, which does not end with the heart being pricked. Instead it ends like this:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

—Psalm 73:23-26 (ESV)

Thanks be to God for the pricks and afterwards, the transformation. Amen. 

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

Stay Awhile!

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I am a lover of trees — all trees. I religiously follow the life cycle of the only tree in my yard. It’s a Chinese Tallow tree and every botanist calls it a nuisance tree, an invasive species that should be controlled. I find the tree fascinating, even mesmerizing, as it changes.

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Not only do the heart-shaped, bright green leaves turn yellow, orange, purple and red in autumn, but the tree produces seeds that start out green, turn brown-black and then white. The changing colors call my attention to my constant life changes and, in a way, bring the comfort of knowing that we really do survive life changes.

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The tree captures my spirit every year as autumn approaches. In a way, I meditate on my tallow tree. I watch its changes. I feel the raindrops of its sticky sap that drips on me when I’m under it. I listen to the birdsong that echoes among its boughs. I even hear my tree whisper to me sometimes when the breeze blows through it in just the right way. The tree can call me to introspection. It can inspire me on days when inspiration is beyond my grasp and unfaith threatens. On those days, the inspiration that stirs in me is peace. It is prayer.

I have to admit, though, that I walk past my tree dozens of times a day without notice, taking its shade for granted and completely unaware of its enchanting beauty. Therein lies the human dilemma of dispassionate inattention, our failure to notice or to take in nature’s extravagance. It is when a tree is just a tree. It is when we miss the spiritual experience that creation offers us as gift. 

B5263037-5BBB-4505-AF52-1DC541DB2290There is no better expression I could share than Mary Oliver’s poem, When I Am Among Trees.

When I am among the trees, 
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines, 
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment, 
and never hurry through the world 
but walk slowly, and bow often. 

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

1EBD15F8-1BF9-468E-9543-51C89F27DCCAOh, to claim our place in the world, to go easy, to embody the message of the trees: “It’s simple!” And then to remember that the changing seed pod, as its life cycle moves around, is really a portrait of rebirth.

On my way to the car dozens of times a week, might I take notice as I pass my tree, never hurrying, walking slowly and bowing often. Might I see more and hear more and feel more, recalling Mary Oliver’s words:

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

Rebirth

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I love the simple beauty of a lotus blossom. Since the lotus is often associated with yoga (a practice I avoid with every fiber of my being), I have never really considered the lotus and its intriguing life cycle. But lately I have been curious about the story of the lotus, which has long been considered one of the most sacred flowers. I wondered what it is about this mysterious bloom makes it so enrapturing and symbolic to so many people and cultures.

I think the answer is that the life cycle of the lotus is unlike any other flower. With its roots buried in mud, the lotus submerges every night into murky river water and miraculously re-blooms the next morning without any muddy residue on its petals.

The general consensus among ancient texts that the lotus symbolizes spiritual enlightenment and rebirth. Over centuries and across cultures, the lotus stunned people with its ability to dip into the grime and revive itself unscathed—an incredible daily cycle of life, death, and a sudden immaculate rebirth that can only be described as spiritual. In fact, the lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.

The lotus flower’s daily resurrection is certainly interesting and symbolic of revival, transformation and new life. But even more interesting is the flower’s stubborn will to live. A lotus seed can withstand thousands of years without water, able to germinate over two centuries later.

The lotus also blooms in the most unlikely of places such as the mud of murky river water in Australia or Southern Asia. Not only does it find sanctuary in the muck, but due to the waxy protection layer on its petals, its beauty is unaffected when it re-blooms each morning. It continues to resurrect itself, coming back just as beautiful as it was last seen. With such refusal to accept defeat, it’s almost impossible not to associate the lotus flower with unwavering faith, more specifically the faith within ourselves. 

My serendipitous lotus research did what my research often does: It prompted me to re-examine my faith. I can readily identify times when I had to wade through the murky, muddy waters that life sometimes brings. And although it seemed impossible to re-emerge from the mud clean and renewed, I did, every time, because of a God who understands both the murk and the rebirth.

It’s all about faith, after all is said and done. Once again God’s creation gives us a stunning example of experiencing thick, murky, dark life experiences; going under into the thickest mud when you no longer have the strength to stay above water; and miraculously emerging again — clean, new, reborn. We can learn a valuable lesson about determination, defiance and perseverance from the determined, defiant lotus seed that can survive over centuries. It hints to me about God’s “long game” for my life that simply shouts “hope” not just in my present circumstance, but in a future I can not begin to envision. God envisions it, though — a year from now, two years, my future, the years God has already numbered for me and the mystery we name “eternity.”

Thanks be to God for my eternity and for a faith that is reborn again and again and again by grace.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

The End Just Might Not Be the End!

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Pastel art “Resurrection Morning” by James R. C. Martin

“What do you know about Holy Week? You’re Baptist!”

It’s a common question for those who do not understand that Baptists are of many and varied sorts. And some of us Baptists do indeed walk through Holy Week with our soon-to-be crucified Savior. It is a holy walk that I would not want to miss. To miss it, to rush past it without reflection, is to miss the full glory of Christ’s resurrection and our own.

My dear friend, Guy Sayles, writes of the need to “lean in” to the passion of Holy Week.

I have leaned-in to the dramas, paradoxes, betrayals, denials, love, grace, losses and gains which characterize the wild, careening journey from Palm Sunday to Easter. The stories and events of these days reveal so much about the human condition and the divine character.

As for me, I will listen intently this week to the laments of Jesus. I will keep vigil as he prays in Gethsemane. I will try to understand the betrayal he endured. I will witness his arrest. I will cringe at the abuse inflicted upon him. I will hear his cries from the cross asking why God had forsaken him. I will watch him take his last breath. And I will understand all over again that his suffering was for me and for us all.

I will understand all over again that the Christian life is filled with little deaths and big ones, deaths that knock us to our knees, deaths that are a part of living. I will understand all over again that a Christian’s suffering and angst, that most assuredly comes to us, is the necessary preparation for our resurrection. All over again, as I have done for so many Easters, I will understand and celebrate the miracle of my own resurrection, giving thanks to our God of rebirth.

Again, I share Holy Week thoughts written by Guy Sayles.

I’ve particularly come to resonate with the silence of Holy Saturday, a silence in which the shocked grief of disillusionment and death mingle with the wonderment and anticipation that the end might not be the end. Many of our days are like this shadowy Saturday: we’re in-between the worst and the best, the bitterest last and the brightest first. Because of Easter, Saturday bends toward life and hope, and so do our lives.  We sense a shepherd in the shadows and glimmers of light in the darkness.

I hope that each of you will journey through these Holy Week days and experience both the bitterness and the brightness. Most assuredly, the message of Resurrection Sunday is about new life and hope, rebirth and resurrection, the glorious reality that the end just might not be the end. Thanks be to God.