the inspiration of others

There are moments in our lives when God uses people to inspire us and till up some of the hard soil in order to prepare us for the new growth that he is bringing about. I will never forget attending a recent homecoming event at Eastern Mennonite University and hearing the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award tell her story.

Nadine Brunk, after the prodding of doctors and friends, took an unexpected medical mission trip to Haiti. While there, the suffering of Haitian women during childbirth moved her deeply. Nadine shared a pretty staggering description of truck loads of newborns and mothers that die each week due lack of resources such as prenatal vitamins, medication for worms, antibiotics and training; specifically the training that she had. She was deeply moved with compassion for her Haitian sisters and instead of returning back to the states and settling back into her routine, she dared to ask God the question, what is you invitation to me  with the unique gifts that you have given me in this oppressive situation?

She continued to sit with the enormity of the problem, the intense pain and suffering of the women and their unborn babies. She allowed the unsettledness she experienced to open her more deeply to what God might be calling her to.

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more thoughts on the gift of time

One of the reasons I feel we misunderstand and misuse our time is because we do not view it as a gift. We generally move from day to day with the assumption that there will be another. The consequences? We move from activity to activity, meeting to meeting, shopping spree to movie night, barely able to take it all in. We can easily fall into a sort of stupor where we are kind of sleepwalking through our days, entranced by the ticking of our watches and how our culture defines our day. All the while, we are never fully awakened to the gift at hand, one more day in the presence of God. Read more

Some thoughts on the gift of time

It is always intriguing to me when the various streams from which I am reading all come together in one congruent message. For the past several weeks, I have been reading about the gift of time… each new day… how we receive it… how we perceive it.

It began as I was reading Eat, Pray and Love… the author reminisces about her time spent in Italy and the beautiful way Italians relish each day and especially the sheer beauty of doing nothing, “Bel far niente”. I literally laughed out loud as I read it because having lived there for ten years, I knew exactly what she was describing in her book. At the same time, I saw, perhaps for the first time, the beauty in what I had learned from my Italian brothers and sisters. Read more

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

The spirituality of place…

During his ministry on earth, Jesus would often steal away from the crowds to reconnect with God. I am keenly aware that if Jesus needed this in his ministry, it is a good idea for me also. But it is not just because Jesus did it. I am aware that I can quickly get caught up in the hectic pace of our culture or adopt ideals about my role that don’t come from the One who has called me. If I linger to long in an unhealthy place, it can begin to taint all that I do… even the good things.

Over the years, I have become aware that the mere action of going back to the physical place where I have met God can usher me into  into God’s presence. It is the power of ritual. Ritual is a habit or repetitive action that holds within it the power of memory and transcendence.  This would also be true for our practice of prayer and other actions that can become powerful rituals in our lives.

The beauty of ritual is that whether I feel like it or not… whether things are going well for me or not… returning to the practice itself and going through the motions can bring about spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and a sense of connectedness.

There are many examples of the spirituality of place in the Bible. The children of Israel were experts at marking the sacred places so that they could later return and remember the story. In Genesis, we find Abraham returning back to  the trees of Mamre. They were a sacred place for Abraham.

We too, can have sacred places to return to time and time again. It could be a favorite tree, a painting, a grassy meadow, imagining a psalm or a favorite chair. All of these can become open doorways into the presence of God:

The Chair

it is funny to me
that a chair
has become
a sacred place
a temple
of momentous grace
and love
where the holy one
pierced my deepest parts
with love breath
purging darkness
caked clutter
from the intimate places
that for so long
were
uninhabited

one glance now
unleashes the memory
and ferries me
into Love’s breath
and I breathe
once again
deeply

The spirituality of words…

The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.

It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect  as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.

Writing has become a form of prayer for me:

words
a mere human
invention
clumsily strung together
describing
the mystery
God
unfolding
around me
in me
yet
unleashing the power
of memory
stories
of the Holy One
and
me

“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”

Psalm 71:17-18

Should blogging be added to the list of classic spiritual disciplines?

Recently, I have heard the comment that  perhaps blogging takes away from the pastoral role… that maybe if the pastor spent less time typing away at the computer, they would have more time to… You can imagine all the things one could say to finish the sentence.

For me, as a pastor, blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It is one of the ways that I practice the Presence. Because I don’t have time to do it during the day, I choose to wake up earlier. So, in the wee hours of the morning with coffee in hand, I begin to search my soul for what has inspired me during the week or month. You could even go as far to say that it is a form of an Examen.

Because Harry and I have chosen to blog about our practicing the presence, I do not blog until I have spent time in centering prayer and meditating on scripture. I begin my time with God each morning by naming the persons in my life and in my congregation that are needing healing or guidance from God, then I move to thanksgiving for the persons in my life and congregation who have inspired me or co-labored with me recently.

During this time, I practice noticing in prayer and in reading what inspires me to blog. I find great inspiration and creativity in blogging each day. I also find it personally inspiring to read again and again the things that stirred my soul and drew me into deeper understanding of who I am as a child of God .

One of the practices that I value as a pastor is beginning any meeting or rehearsal with a time of centering ourselves in God’s presence. Before I began my adventures in blogging, I would read from various books and devotionals but now, I use my blog as my own resource for devotionals and prayer times with members of the congregation. I find that it fosters transparency and intimacy between myself and the persons I am working with or leading.

I am convinced that blogging keeps me accountable, keeps me focused on the spirit’s movement and helps me to stay refreshed spiritually. All of these are qualities that foster a healthy spiritual life for persons in ministry or anyone for that matter.

Journaling has long been accepted as a spiritual discipline… perhaps we need to add blogging to the list.

Sometimes, practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes…

Sometimes my practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes along the river looking for living water… let me explain.

In the Exodus account, God gave Moses the power to perform miracles and signs so that the Egyptians would know that He was Lord, the One True God. After turning his staff into a snake, Moses touched the Nile River and turned it into blood along with all of the water in Egypt. Everything in the river died and smelled.

Then, in Exodus 6,  the Egyptians dug holes along the river in search of living water. I am struck by this imagery.  I can imagine the heat and the stench as the Egyptians dig holes into the parched earth with parched souls, hoping to find living water. They were digging beside a gruesome sight of blood and flies which was once their source of life, industry and wealth. Egypt was nothing without its water source, the Nile.

The answer for the Egyptians was simple… acknowledge that the Lord was the one true God and release the children of Israel to worship Him. I think that our answer is also simple… there is a River of Life that runs through each of us… we can tap into it at any time. Too often, we find ourselves right beside the Source of Living water… but because of our own spiritual hardness or the complexities of life… we dig holes along the river longing to quench our spiritual thirst. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Perhaps the practice of inward gazing at the Source of Water within us rather than struggling to dig holes outside of the water source would bring the spiritual refreshment that we long for. This requires practice and patience… seeing through the layers of our humanity to behold the divine that has been birthed, by the grace of God, within us. There is something beautiful to behold within each of us.

A. W.  Tozer writes, ” Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs there is within them a secret communion always going on.”

O, Lord, may I have the grace to slow my frantic digging and gaze upon the One who has taken up residence within me; the River of Life. Amen.

telling a new story…

Yesterday’s sermon on being an inspirational you really struck a chord with me. Harry spoke about the Genesis account of God breathing life into the dust and making humans. God made something out of nothing.

I am reading through the book of Exodus right now so I found myself reflecting on Moses. Moses was an insecure, stuttering, murder whose parents had given him away to be raised by complete strangers. He really didn’t have a great future ahead of him and he certainly wasn’t our stereo typical ideal church leader.

But… God in his mercy and grace chose to inspire Moses. He breathed life into Moses and made someone who seemed destined to be a failure into someone wonderful. God gave Moses everything he needed to be successful! Moses became a selfless leader who led Israel out of destruction, slavery and a dismal story into promised freedom giving all of the children of Israel a chance to tell a better story. There are few leaders that have ever been as great as Moses.

It strikes me that God is in the business of redeeming people and he invites us to practice this as well. Unfortunately, the church seems to fumble with this call, especially the Mennonite Church, which I love dearly. Read more

Are there unnamed gifts in your life?

I remember the many Christmases spent combing through the presents under the tree… trying to see through the wrapping paper. On occasion I would shake them, other times I would venture to loosen the tape on them very carefully to see what was inside.

You have to understand that my mother was a master at wrapping Christmas presents. She would spend hours constructing special boxes and adding jewels and ribbons. They would often have a theme. You could say that her Christmas gifts were works of art. This only fueled my curiosity and made it all the more dangerous and adventuresome. Read more