When the going gets tough

I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.

Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.

The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”

The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?

The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.

It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.

We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?

Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.

It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.

What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.

Waiting with Jesus

As Holy Week draws near, I find myself sitting with Matthew 26:36-53. Jesus has celebrated the passover meal with his disciples and he has gone to the garden to pray. He tells Peter and that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… and he invites  him to stay  and keep watch.

It intrigues me that Jesus needed community in those final moments. He extended the invitation to three of his disciples and friends to companion him during one of the most difficult and intimate times in his life. How were they to companion? By simply being prayerfully present.

He leaves them there to go and plead with God… If it is possible may this cup be taken from me… only to return and find that the Peter and the other have fallen asleep. How is it that they could so easily abandon their Lord and friend at such a crucial time in his life? Jesus’ question to them reflects the same incredulity, “Could you not keep watch with me one hour?”

We may gawk a little at the notion that the disciple were not able to stay awake and pray for Jesus at such a significant moment. Truth be told, for many of us, it is hard to manage  to keep watch for an hour during good and normal times. And yet, it seems that God invites us to keep watch for his presence and prayerful about fresh revelation.

Jesus continues to work among us here on earth inviting us to companion him… sometimes we get to do some really exciting and wonderful things. But other times, more often than not, he invite us to join him by simply being prayerfully present. I am not sure things have changed too much for us over the years… most of us find ourselves sleeping, both literally and figuratively.

How are you keeping watch?

today’s invitation?

As I strained and struggled this morning to glean some thoughtful meditation from my readings and prayer, one small, unsettling invitation came, cease and rest. This is not an easy thing for me being a type A personality… driven to perfection and accomplishing the next great thing life may bring.

As I spent time in centering prayer, I noticed the invitation to the quiet meadows of Psalm 23… a favorite meeting place for me and God… and yet it was so difficult for me to stop this morning… to allow myself to fully absorb the presence and provision of God… to let myself off the hook for a moment and fall into the presence of God.

In some ways it can be like the first time you jump off the diving board as a child… there is usually a parent or trusted person waiting for you in the deep water of the pool… but you are the only one who can trust enough to step off the security of knowing where you are and controlling how you are.

Todays holds many things that need to be done, thoughts of tasks not yet accomplished, ghosts of shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, God invites me to be still and breathe deeply his life giving presence. That is enough.

The Invitation

fall back
into soft green meadows
fresh
with promised spring
let the sun’s warmth
seep
into the cold places
restrained and hidden
from day

let the lungs
expand
with life’s air
pure
clean

breathe deeply
the song
heaven sings
inviting
little me
into
the Creator’s
rest

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

Practicing the Sabbath… yielding for God’s provision

Practicing the Sabbath continues to be a life-giving practice for Harry and I. Admittedly, we have had to make some adjustments along the way. For several weeks now, we needed to change the day of the week due to previously scheduled events on Saturdays. So, we decided to make our Sabbath during this time from Thursday evening at sundown until Friday evening at sundown.

This week was especially difficult for me as I had tasks, sermons, rehearsals and extra services pile up and leave me feeling breathless. Read more

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.

What does it mean to be playful?

As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.

“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.

“We are playing…”

“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more