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sacrificeshoes2003

It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

Sabbath and Gratitude

As I reflect on what it means to cultivate gratitude and a generous heart as a spiritual practice, I am reminded of the importance of keeping the Sabbath. I found this blog I wrote a few years back that really captures my thoughts about this integral connection. It was a good reminder and I wanted to share it with you.

I have recently noticed that the more I practice keeping the Sabbath, the more I experience gratitude for the things that I have. Why, you may ask? I think, in part, it is due to the slowing down long enough to notice what I have;  long enough to take in the smallest things like a double rainbow that stretches across the sky after a thunderstorm, a flock of geese flying over my head in perfect formation, the hydrangea vine that bloomed for the first time since I moved into my current house, the sound of teenage guys laughing in the basement, the funny way my cat looks at me when he wants me to rub his tummy…

I have also noticed that when life is busy and I am unable to keep the Sabbath, I quickly become  unsettled. This unsettledness leads to a sense of loss, emptiness and longing. It soon moves to an unconscious striving to do,  fill, acquire, or accomplish something that will ultimately make me feel better. Missing the Sabbath drives me toward a kind of vortex that  sucks me into another way of being and drives me further and further away from a place of deep spiritual satisfaction. It literally sucks all of the resources and creative energy out of me and as each day and week passes, I find it harder and harder to slow down. I find myself feeling less and less fulfilled and consequently, less grateful and less generous.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day apart in silence and reflection at a local retreat center. As I sat in one of my favorite chairs to pray, I noticed that a painting was propped up on the floor in the corner facing me. I was captivated instantly… it seemed like a watercolor of a remote Italian village… along the sea. you could see its reflection in the background… but in the foreground, there was a little boat tied to a rock in a little cove surrounded by white flowers… gardenias I imagined at the time. I found myself reminiscing of our years spent in Sicily and soon became aware of a longing, an aching, even, to return.

Was I ever really cognizant of what I had in those beautiful years there? Had I taken the time to savor the beauty of the people, the land and the food? My mind was soon interrupted by the daunting thought of now… My scripture reading for that morning had been Psalm 16… Verse 6 reads “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance”. The invitation? Take it all in and receive God’s blessings that are all around, even the blessing of memory… savor the now.

Sabbath is a time of savoring what has been given; rejoicing in what God has provided. It changes things.

the longing

oh how I would love
to sit
in a boat
skimming smooth water
anchored
among fragrant flowers

to breathe
warm salt air
with hints of gardenia

to see the village behind me
that pauses
sleepily
for a moment
in the reflection
of quiet waters

to be rocked
gently
in the presence
of day

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below

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

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