“Always Stay Humble and Kind”

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Even the earth’s creatures find ways to get along. Refusing to follow the lovely example of the giraffe and the butterfly, we seem to be having a big problem with getting along. Now we have to admit that the giraffe and the butterfly could not be more different from each other, but somehow the butterfly lands safely on the giraffe’s snout. It’s a reminder of the image we have loved for so long — the lion lying down with the lamb — a symbol of peaceful times.

We do not typically have that kind of peaceful relationship with those who are not like us, and in these days, we do not enjoy peaceful times. It’s nothing new, really, but we are infinitely aware that our country is polarized along partisan lines. Neither side trusts the other. Respect for one another is flagging. Kindness is in short supply. 

But this is not a commentary on current politics. Instead, I want to talk about being humble and kind to one another. One of my favorite singers, Tim McGraw, sings the song “Humble and Kind,” a gentle, sweet song written by Lori McKenna. The song’s simple lyrics remind me that kindness still exists.

Hold the door, say please, say thank you;
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie;
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind.

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you,
When the work you put in is realized,
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind.

Go to church ’cause your momma says to,
Visit grandpa every chance that you can,
It won’t be a waste of time,
Always stay humble and kind.

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going.
Don’t forget turn back around,
Help the next one in line,
Always stay humble and kind.

I have to ask myself what I must change about my life in order to be more humble and kind. What must happen within me to enable me to offer unconditional grace to others? I almost feel ashamed that I need to ask myself such questions, but the truth is that any person can be socialized by her environment. If I constantly watch on my television the cynical, disrespectful actions of one person towards another, that exposure might well affect the way I relate to others. I’m sad to admit that the toxic political environment we live in has definitely harmed my relationship with several friends. and I find that unacceptable. 

Where was my sense of loyalty to my friends? Was there no way to maintain respectful relationships and friendships? Could I not have offered grace to my friends? Didn’t my friends mean more to me than my ideology?

I have wrestled with such questions for months. I have concluded a few realities: that I did not have the power to change the toxicity of my environment; that I could not control the emotions and actions of my friends; that I could not force communication with friends who stood steadfastly, even stubbornly, on their own beliefs.

What I could have done was pray more, spend more contemplative time with God and focus on the respectful and kind relationships I can see all around me. In short, I could have immersed myself in all things good, in the peaceful beauty of God’s creation and in the miraculous movement of the universe to unite all things in love.

I did not do that, but after months of experiencing all manner of rancor, I think it’s time for me to find in myself transformative grace through spiritual immersion, the kind of spiritual contemplation that changes everything. And by the way, I have it on good authority that always being humble and kind can be spiritually transforming. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

 

 

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt 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

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Awakenings

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In God we live and move and have our being.    Acts 17:28

In years past, I would often hear talk of spiritual awakening. From pulpits around the world, there were proclamations of real and true spiritual awakening. But spiritual awakening never seemed to happen in my church. Yet some group somewhere in the world, or even some person, was always having one. To my great disappointment, I didn’t seem to be able to. I prayed. I studied the Bible. I listened to sacred music. I studied spiritual awakenings in history. I went to church a lot. I looked for a sunrise in my soul. I longed for the dawn to break in on my life with the brilliance of the rising sun.

But my spiritual awakening never came. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting to happen so that I would know I had experienced a spiritual awakening. Would it fall upon me? Would it happen inside me? Would it be grand and glorious or quiet and holy? I really wasn’t as naive a Christian as it seems, but spiritual awakening was truly a religious mystery to me. And then I stumbled upon a very weird offer on the internet.

Click here to get your free MP3. In the first time in over 4 years, it [the spiritual awakening] is happening again (it’s even bigger this time around) and you can participate in this (click here now!) special quantum energy experiment too. Registration for this experiment includes a complimentary MP3 gift, called the Bliss Bath™ that is designed to start dissolving low vibrations (like worry, fear, and doubt) and start unblocking miracles in your life in just 7 minutes! This gift could open the doorway to miraculous shifts in your life and bathe you in the same energy of the quantum field.

Who knew that a real spiritual awakening could happen after just 7 short minutes of watching a video of low vibrations! I read more and learned that 4 years ago, experts carried out what they claimed to be “one of the largest global spiritual awakening experiments in the world.” Their experiment included a faculty of teachers, healers, scientists, inventors, and energy healing pioneers. They used ‘quantum energy’ on tens of thousands of people and included breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises to heighten the volunteer’s awareness; both spiritually and physically. After several weeks of daily consciousness work, thousands of people reported many ‘common’ and often ‘strange’ signs of a personal spiritual awakening! 

An astonishing 94.2% of them claimed that their lives had been made better. In fact, respondents reported a wide variety of effects, from turning on psychic powers to even “feeling surrounded by miracles.” And then the respondents compiled a list of the top ten positive outcomes they experienced:

  1. You have increased empathy and intuition.
  2. You feel drawn to nature.
  3. You have an aversion to negative people or behaviors.
  4. You desire a united community.
  5. You believe that all life is sacred.
  6. Your consciousness feels renewed.
  7. You begin living in “The Moment.“
  8. Your inner peace is increased
  9. Compassion and positivity surges through you.
  10. You feel enhanced authenticity.

Enough of that! Far too much information on something that actually happens in secret, in the soul, in sacred moments spent alone with God. That’s about the best description I know of “spiritual awakening.” Truth is, in those days I was searching for something real, an anointing from God, a transfiguration. I wanted my life to be transformed.

In the years since my first quest for spiritual awakening, I have learned some important things. One is that spiritual awakenings have come to me many times, in moments of glorious splendor and in moments of gentle transformation I hardly noticed. The important part is not striving for a personal awakening; the important part is waiting for it expectantly and desiring it deeply.

“Contemplative Monk,” a group focusing on intentional spirituality, offers a Facebook community that encourages one another on a spiritual journey toward a more contemplative life. The group posts daily thoughts designed to help create spiritual focus. Interestingly, today Contemplative Monk offered a piece entitled “Twelve Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening.” They are infinitely instructive, so I include them here:

1. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
2. Frequent attacks of smiling.
3. Feelings of being connected with other and nature.
4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
5. Acting spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy every moment.
7. A loss of ability to worry
8. A loss of interest in conflict.
9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
10. A lost of interest in judging others.
11. A loss of interest in judging self.
12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.

When I look at these twelve symptoms, I can’t help but measure myself by each one. I find that I am profoundly grateful when I discover that I have even one of these symptoms, that I notice even a small inching towards smiling or enjoying every moment or finding myself free of worry. I know so much more about spiritual awakening than I did in years past because I know I have experienced it many times in ways big and small. What I have learned most assuredly about spiritual awakening is that it comes from God as a gift of grace to God’s children.

I recall the time in Scripture when the Apostle Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and instructed the Athenians on the true meaning of spiritual awakening as opposed to religious idolatry.

I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being” . . .

— Acts 17:22-28 (NRSV)

Therein lies the secret, the mystery of a spiritual awakening so real and true in us that we can say “in God we live and move and have our being.”

May God make it so.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt 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

“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

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

 

Lingering in God’s Presence

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Himalayan blue poppies in the rain, Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand, India

The beauty of God’s creation often takes my breath away. This image did that. When I first saw it, I stared at for quite a long time. You might say it stopped me in my tracks, slowed me down for a moment, caused me to wonder. That’s not a bad thing, slowing me down. It does not happen easily.

So what does it mean to slow down and linger, to linger in God’s presence? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the very brief story of Anna.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

What strikes me about Anna is that “she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” She lingered in God’s presence. Perhaps God honored her devotion by allowing her to see the Christ child.

And then there’s this small snippet of Joshua’s story:

 . . . When Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11 NKJV)

Joshua lingered in the tabernacle even when Moses, his mentor, left it. Perhaps it changed him. Perhaps because of his devotion in lingering in God’s presence, it was Joshua, and not Moses, who received the honor of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Of course, we are not certain about any of that. Certainly we do not linger in God’s presence in hopes of receiving some reward or honor. At the same time, developing the spiritual discipline of abiding — lingering — in God’s presence brings its own reward.

What are your ways of spending time in God’s presence? Reading scripture? Writing scripture in a prayer journal? Yoga? Walking a labyrinth? Praying? Journaling? Taking in the beauty of nature? Creating a place of silence? The ways of spiritual discipline are endless.

One thing is certain: lingering in God’s presence does not just happen. We enter that sacred space and linger there only if we commit ourselves to do it. Not in a legalistic manner that is more religious than spiritual, but in ways that slowly open us up to craving that time with God, needing it more than we need to “accomplish” our never-ending daily tasks.

When we reach that place, we might discover that lingering in God’s presence is life-giving. We might suddenly realize that we are lingering in God’s presence easily and often, that it has become a part of life.

So how in the world did a blue flower get me here?

I’m not sure, but I think it is because God can be found everywhere, in any moment, in any space, in every stillness, in silence and music and birdsong, in whatever we hear and feel, through anything our eyes can see — even a blue flower covered with dew.

And in that space, we are transformed.

Amen.

“Me!”

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When I was younger, my primary life goal was to make people like me. It was something of an obsession, and it caused great harm to my spirit. For you see, I thought I had to be everyone else’s image of me. So “me” became changeable and malleable in the hands of a variety of other people. In my mind, they just had to like me.

The conundrum of life: how to accept that not everyone will like me. Maybe even most people won’t like me. So here’s the sad, but inevitable result: “me” became someone I didn’t even know. I lost myself in the impossible quest to be accepted and liked.

Then came the metamorphosis. It happened around age 47. I think what started it may have been reading the book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

My sisters in cyberspace, you should read that book. The thing that nearly frightened me enough to make me put the book away is the descriptor after the main title. So here’s the title of the book, in all of its feminist fullness: The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.

Well, when I read part of the book’s description — the “journey from the Christian tradition” part — it scared me to death! I had no intention at all to journey away from my Christian tradition.

I read the book anyway, and it changed my life and launched me into a journey I could never have envisioned. Sue Monk Kidd led me on an incredible, circuitous journey through fear, anger, healing, and eventually, awakening and transformation. Of course, I could never see myself turning away from my deep connection to what Kidd described as “the deep song of Christianity,” But I did discard the voices that kept me in my place, and kept me quiet, for so many years of my life.

When those discouraging, disparaging voices were silenced, I heard my own voice, finally. With clarity, my voice declared “me,” exactly the woman I was meant to be, precisely the woman God was calling to ministry. By embracing my full humanity and my spirituality — that looked very different than my religiosity had looked — I found myself.

“Me” was awakened, out in the open, in the middle of God’s world and smack dab in the center of God’s will. Oh my! Now no one would like me! When my words spoke Gospel truth, people didn’t like me. When I tenaciously followed God’s call to ordination, people didn’t like me. When I dared to preach (from a real pulpit) lots of people didn’t like me. When I worked as an advocate for women and children harmed by violence … well, no one at all liked me then because I refused to back down.

I like this quote from Denzel Washington:

“Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”

There it is! The real, unadulterated truth! So as my spirit continued to irritate everyone’s demons, I was finally living my life as “me!” And that, my sisters, was a good place to be.

I hope you are in your own “good place.”

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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 frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness at the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website, please visit 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

Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop

909AB186-15E1-4DA7-9027-5FC7B28578BDChrist-followers will always know ascent and descent, knowing and not-knowing. I can recall so many spiritual retreats that ended too soon, leaving me with a reluctance to go back into ordinary time. I wanted to stay in the place where God’s Spirit was moving within me. But every single time, I had to go home, leaving the mountaintop of my transformative spiritual experience.

In the Scriptures, two companion pieces tell of a “God experience.” Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Moses is on Mount Sinai, God is somehow manifest in thick darkness. “You saw no shape on that day at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:15) Moses “sees” and “hears” to some degree, yet YHWH does not allow Moses to see God’s “glory” or “face.” The most that Moses can see is, humorously, YHWH’s backside. God placed Moses in a cleft in the rock and covered him until He had passed by. Moses would not see his face.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

— Exodus 33:14-23 NIV

In the parallel story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-9), there is first dazzling light. Yet a cloud soon overshadows the whole scene. Richard Rohr explains that “the epiphany is both light and darkness, knowability and unknowability, disclosure and non-disclosure.”

After the astounding experience on the mountain, Jesus deliberately walks with the disciples back down the mountain, onto the plain and desert of everyday life. Richard Rohr says that Jesus wanted to move the disciples “out of this enlightening, but also dangerously ego-inflating experience.”

We know that, always, we must return to the ordinary. We must come down from our mountaintops and walk on the rough road where life happens. We must experience the path’s twists and turns that take us through green pastures as well as through valleys of death’s shadow. That is the life we must live. Our Christian faith does not allow for permanent ascents. Mountaintop experiences for us are times of strength-gathering that make the rough roads bearable.

Jesus tells the disciples who witnessed his glorious transfiguration, “Don’t talk about it!” (Matthew 17:9). Because Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence is important. Silence is necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious. Silence helps us remember how we felt on the “mountaintop.” And remembering helps us walk on, facing wherever life’s journey takes us with faith, confidence and perseverance. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Beauty. Serenity. And a Spark of the Divine

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Loon Park on Arkansas’ Lake Maumelle. Photography by Steven Nawojczyk. Entitled “Beauty. Serenity.”

In the middle of the natural beauty of Arkansas, my friend took a photograph and entitled it “Beauty. Serenity.” It prompted me to ponder that for a few moments.

Beauty. Serenity.

I wondered what in my life brings beauty and serenity to me and to those around me. The questions trickled through my mind slowly as I tried to place qualitative and quantitative strictures on beauty and serenity. (As if one could really quantify the whole of what beauty is or see pure serenity through a human lens.) My quest to try to interpret beauty and serenity went on into the night and into the rise of a new day. Still I could not nail it down. It is as elusive as a butterfly in flight, defying explanation.

As for beauty, it seems to be something I can see, something I can look at and see what lies beneath shapes and colors and texture and form. It is when something I see takes on life, and in it, I see a spark of the Divine.

To truly see beauty, I must intentionally expose myself to it and to its full potential. The blossom of a flower. The trees in a verdant forest. The ocean waves moving gently upon the shore. The sparkle of a flowing stream. The majesty of a range of mountains and the vibrant green of a valley.

In each of these visual images, I might very well see a spark of the Divine. But I must first look, and see, and linger before such beauty long enough to see its depth. I must look into a blossom and into the leaves of a forest. I must gaze upon the glory of a mountaintop and walk slowly through a valley of green. I must sit at the edge of the sea and watch the waves greet the shore.

And then there’s serenity, the state of being that always seems to escape me. Serenity is the peaceful sense of calm that envelops a person’s soul and spirit. But I must first allow it, embrace it, and welcome it. When I can do that — and I readily admit that I seldom can — the spark of the Divine I will see most clearly is the light of the spark within myself. I love the wonderfully positive affirmation written by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.

We have in us a divine spark that you can see. It’s a Light that shines in the human being. It’s our direct access to truth, our direct access to God. The purpose of all the spiritual practices that exist are to awaken that spark, to give it life, to give it energy, so that it can transform you. 

God, I would be transformed. Awaken that spark within me, so that its light will become a part of my very soul, Enliven in me the spark that brings transformation to every part of me that yearns for your Divine impulse.

The spark of the Divine is beauty and serenity all at once. It is in the moments that stop us in our tracks that we can truly see the beauty around us and within us.

It is in those unforgettable moments of life’s splendor, when we allow serenity to fully embrace us in gentle arms of peace, that we finally know deep rest.

It is when beauty and serenity link arms to surround us that we can truly know the spark of the Divine within. I recognize that spark, ever so often, in just a handful of my best moments. Even for that seldom-experienced grace, I am most thankful. 

So I wish for you the same kind of grace, that you might see beauty, know serenity, and visualize, within yourself, the spark of the Divine. The blessing I leave with you is best expressed by the 14th Century Persian poet, Hafiz.

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

 

 

 

 

 

Transformation, Pursuits and Productions

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A Recolor page that brought me fond memories of my beloved Uganda

My mind needs rest and renewal. My soul needs trasformation. My heart needs peace and serenity.

The problem is that not many activities relax me. Being the wretched Type A personality that I am, I turn every pursuit into a production. A dear friend has a saying that she uses when a task morphs into more than it should have been. “That was a production!” she would say, and we all knew what she meant — a project got way out of hand!

Such is my life. Compulsive. Driven. Perfectionist. All words that have often been used to describe me. I have to work on it diligently, this need for serenity and the renewal of my mind. Reading Scripture leads to writing a sermon, an opinion piece, or a blog post. Praying leads to a plethora of things I feel I must do. Swinging in the sunshine leads to working in flower beds that need tending.

My first waking thought is always about what project I will do or what meal I will cook. That decision influences my day. When I have decided what I will do, I’m off. I’m all in to get it done.

My greatest need is to find my way to peacefulness and serenity, to experience a renewal of my mind, to learn to be quiet and still so that in the stillness, I might find God in new ways. And I might even find myself in new ways and learn some things about the depth of my “self” snd the longings of my soul.

It is my soul, of course, that craves the serenity. I work on it often — deep breathing, brief praying at many times during the day, singing hymns (to myself) as I fall asleep at night. All of it helps. None of it makes a permanent difference.

Interestingly, I have found a pursuit that does not lead to a production. It is a computer app called Recolor, which is simply for coloring on devices like the IPad. Each day, Recolor adds two or more pages for coloring with your finger or a stylus. I have found nothing that relaxes me more than getting lost on a coloring page. As of today, I have colored 1,062 pages and have received 66 thousand “likes.”

One might observe that this pursuit is not at all a spiritual practice, not a contemplative activity, and is pretty much a waste of time. The thing is, it really is a spiritual practice for me because I am learning how to waste time. I needed to find a way to immerse myself into a creative activity that did not consume me. I needed an activity that would clear and renew my mind. As the Scripture urges, I need to be transformed by the renewal of my mind.

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

So I will continue coloring to clear my mind and slow me down. And I will keep working on the renewal of my very busy mind. Who knows? Someday I might find myself transformed.

 

The Truth Is

3F006831-75A4-4D11-AABD-DDA91B9AF938The truth is I never expected to have an illness with the ominous descriptor “end stage.” I never saw it coming, but after a very brief, sudden and inexplicable illness, I was diagnosed in 2014 with end stage kidney disease. I was put on dialysis immediately and spent the rest of that year struggling and suffering.

The truth is I lost myself that year. For a time, I lost the ability to walk, think, name my colors, write my name. I lost my ministry and my ability to engage in the work I so loved. I ended up on seven and a half hours of dialysis daily.

The truth is that those many days, most of them spent in the hospital, may well have been sent to me as a call to awaken from my predictable existence. It was as if an inner, divine grace was demanding my spiritual growth. The truth is I was plunged deeply into a state of being filled with questions and voices I did not really want to hear. If all of this was a message from God, it was the message that all of my illusions, realities and identities were about to spill over the sides of my life, forcing me to stand still in the chaos.

The truth is that apart from this level of life upheaval, I would have lived on as usual, comfortable in the life I had built for myself. But in the middle of those long nights in the hospital, I asked God if this was a new summons to me, an urgent summons that called for my transformation.

I have trouble describing that time of my life. I have struggled for the words to express what was going on in me. Then I found a brilliant description written by one of my favorite authors. This is how she described a similar season in her life.

For months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit . . . I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.

– From When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd

Bingo! Whatever my year of illness was about, I knew it was about “the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.” The truth is that is exactly what occurred in me. The new self was about to show itself. It was on the verge of emerging and morphing so that “who I am” became someone I hardly recognized. My family commented often that I had become very quiet, that I seldom spoke (very unlike the person they knew).

The truth is I really was quiet, even silent at times. But I see now that it was all about this season in my life, my time to listen to God, to listen to my deepest self, to hear those “orphaned voices” that had been silent for a lifetime. Would this be a transformative experience for me?

The truth is I did not want to be so sick. I did not want to feel that bone-deep fatigue. I did not want to be tethered to a dialysis machine for so many hours every single day. I did not want to lose my ministry. I did not want to lose the self I was so comfortable with. I did not want to lose my gregarious personality, becoming quiet, introspective and silent. I did not want to live this season of life.

The truth is I did not want to build a cocoon around my life and wait, wait, and wait, and wait some more for my new life to emerge. And I did not want to give thanks to a God who employed such a severe means of transformation for me.

But the real truth is that I found this tiny scripture passage to be completely and mercifully true.

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Power of a Whisper

IMG_5727Speak your mind. Don’t be afraid. Don’t whisper in the deep.

These words, composed by Ray Phiri, the South African guitarist and anti-apartheid bandleader who played behind Paul Simon on “Graceland,” opened my mind and heart to a stark reality— that hate hovers ominously all around. That hate’s power can dessimate all that is right and just and good in the world. That hate can be conquered only by a courageous people willing to speak truth and love whatever the cost.

Ray Phiri died last week at age 70, but in this seventy years, his controversial ideas made an impact. His song,”Whispers in the Deep” was banned from broadcast on the South African government-controlled radio station, SABC, when it was released in 1986.

Stand up! Wake up!
Call me angry, call me mad.
A soul that whispers in the deep.
I’m inspired.
But I can’t understand hate.

I imagine that is exactly where we find ourselves, unable to understand hate. We see enough of it, to be sure. We hear about it every day. We know about the dry, brittle bones that remain when a person experiences enough hate.

Hate is war. It is hunger and poverty. It is racism and homophobia and xenophobia. It is violence and abuse. It is unbridled anger. It is injustice in many forms, injustice that shatters lives and leaves dust and ashes in its wake.

Standing amidst hate is not unlike standing in a personal hell. Hate, whether around us or within us, has the power to crush the soul. And yet, always present with us is a protective God who can deliver us from hate’s destruction.

For me, it is true that I do not always know that God is nearby. I seldom see God as my personal vanquishing superhero that destroys the power of hate. Rather, the God I know is much more like the God in the story of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

As the story goes, Elijah clings to a cave while God unleashes natural forces far beyond anything Elijah has ever seen or heard. But even in the midst of the tempest, Elijah realizes that something is terribly wrong. The text tells us three times that God is nowhere to be found. But the text also insists that God is passing by.

Elijah looked for God in the great whirlwind, in the shattering earthquake, in the blazing fire. But Elijah did not experience God’s presence in any of those mighty and supernatural happenings. Elijah experienced God in the sound of a light whisper. Biblical translators have often called it “the still, small voice.”

The question I ask myself is whether or not I will gather enough strength from God’s tentative presence with me to wake up, to stand up against hate. As in Ray Phiri’s compelling lyric, I do not understand hate. He warns against whispering in the deep, probably a warning against being too quiet in a world that needs to hear confident voices. But it seems to me that even a whisper can be full of power. A persevering whisper can vanquish hate. A persistent whisper can transform the world.

May God make it so.