Sunday, November 29, 2009


Our American world has entered into the pre-Christmas frenzy.  How dreary it is!  I find I have less tolerance for all the music and decorations and shopping - even though I must admit that I do my share!.  All this when most of the folks who practice this frenzy aren't really interested in what the real excitement is all about.  Meister Eckhart, an early fourteenth century mystic wrote, "This is the fullness of time, when the Son of God is begotten in you."  This is a time of spiritual waiting, preparation,and expectation for that birth of God within. 

In his Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly writes about the light within that “presses to birth.” He would say that every person is created with that light within. It is not something we create ourselves, but something that exists in the human soul because it is human. We are simply created in the image of God, which means that there is a light within each of us. The light is the image of God, the Christ presence that is part of being human, the spark of Spirit consciousness that makes us alive. The human condition is such that just as each of us has a heart and an intellect and a soul, there is a spark of the divine that makes us what we are.

This light is a compelling human attribute. It persistently cries out to be fueled and fanned. This presence of God within us is active and demanding. “Pay attention to me!” it says. “Feed me, let me breath, keep me burning!” This is how the spiritual life begins. God takes the initiative: first creating the Christ light within each of us and then loudly, persistently compelling us to nurture it. It is God’s initiative that plants the light within us. Like a child in the womb, the light then demands to be fed. Almost in spite of ourselves, the light persists. It will be born! If we think we have the power to extinguish is, we are proud indeed. If we say that we have no goodness or light within ourselves, we have claimed that we are more powerful than God, that we have the ability to change God’s creative intent. We must simply get out of the way and not block God’s creative power.

Suppose the light within you is a roaring fire. Is this to your credit? Have you done anything to grow the flame? Do you have the power to keep this flame burning or to extinguish it? No! This is entirely God’s grace. This is entirely God’s act. This is entirely God’s gift and intent. We can only be overwhelmed with gratitude and awe. God has done a great thing within each of us and we can but humbly acknowledge that we are vessels and recipients. God’s pursuit of us is beyond our control, understanding, and opinion. Sometimes we are overwhelmingly immersed by this pursuit. We stand outside ourselves and fall into ecstasy – the flame has engulfed us. For a moment we step beyond time. Then we emerge from ecstasy with a sense of awe and gratitude. In the fleeting moments of consolation, life is deeply transformed and God’s power to make us whole has left us stunned and amazed. It is in this moment that we deeply know the connection between praise and thanksgiving. One cannot exist without the other. We are so overwhelmed with gratitude that we can only bend the knee of our hearts and fall down in utter and complete praise. There is no other possible response.

But why is it that some have roaring flames within them and some have sickly flickers of light that can barely be seen or felt? Is not God’s desire that we should each one burn with the longing for God’s presence? Certainly, it is. But at the same time, God loves us so much that we are given a choice. Love and desire is not love and desire if it is not chosen. Our responsibility, then, is simply to choose. What else must we do to stoke the flame then to choose for it to live. God rejoices in that choice and feeds the flame with love. As we are captured by the flame, we feed it with the meager fuel of cooperation, co-creation, and intention. Our participation is one of receiving and providing a womb for that life that presses to birth within us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Our driveway is about 76 feet long. For where we live, that’s not very long. Its not steep compared to most of the driveways of our neighbors and it has a place for turning around so you don’t have to back out of it. One winter evening, in the middle of one of those famous Colorado mountain blizzards, my husband was late getting home. After anxiously waiting for him, I was relieved to see him finally and safely turn in the driveway. We were sitting down for a late dinner, when a good size truck – about the size of a small moving truck – pulled into our driveway. “Dino-Tec” is said on the side, with a cartoon dinosaur character. Someone was having a plumbing emergency and had had to call this poor man out in the blizzard. The driver parked and came running through the snow up to our front door to ask about our address. “No,” we said, “the house you are looking for is across the street” (that neighbor has a driveway that has three switchbacks, very long and steep!). Well, he had to back that truck up into the turn around and pull out on to the street and it took the poor guy forty five minutes! He was slipping and sliding all over the place. We watched helplessly. Had we been able to push him with our four wheel drive, we would have been glad to, but the truck was way too big. By the time he was finally out onto the road, we had a driveway covered with three inches of packed snow and slush that froze up over night and was then covered with drifts of fresh snow. Of course the plow had gone by and added insult to injury by creating a pile of packed snow and ice across the driveway entrance. Not only was it quite a chore to clear the driveway enough to get out, but it took weeks for the sun to work on the mess and melt it all away. The only thing that finally cleared our driveway was the arrival of spring.

Sometimes I find my behavior to be like that Dino-Tec truck. If I engage in closed mindedness, gossip, or aggression, I am packing down that ice into a tenacious and frozen mess - for myself and for others. My soul becomes iced over and it is impossible to get beneath the surface. Sometimes that ice can be made up of the hurts of life, or pride, or a lack of humility. If you have chronic anger or addiction in your life, you may find your soul covered with a layer of hardness that is dangerous, slippery, and cold. There are so many ways that we pack down that ice or allow others to close us up within ourselves. Sometimes it happens all at once. Sometimes it happens slowly over time. The real you is unavailable and covered over. We do it to ourselves and we do it to each other.

At times like this, our only hope is the coming of spring; the warm temperatures and lengthening days when the sun can do its work.  Here is the presence of God bringing healing and wholeness to our wounded beings. When those spring time days come into our lives, we have an opportunity to help with the melting of those things that cover us over. Perhaps we must start with the will and the desire. Then we must submit to some truthful self examination, some life changes, prayer, and right actions. It is hard work to get beneath that hardened surface and it may take a long time and many setbacks.  God never gives up!  When we can finally melt all that ice off of our souls, good maintenance sure makes life easier. For good maintenance perhaps we can invite more of that warm sun by cutting away those shrubs or trees that block out the light and warmth. Good maintenance may require lots of shoveling, perhaps a few applications of salt. I think most of us know those things in our lives that keep us inaccessible and covered in ice, and we probably know pretty well what is needed to melt it away.

Spring in our souls is a time of warmth and light. It is a lengthening of the day. We are all called to let in that warmth and light and let the ice on our souls melt away. Even as we enter into this season of long nights and winter cold, may we find plenty of warmth and light within.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

People and Baggage

I just got back from a week out of town. In the great airport adventure I found it very interesting to observe the behavior of people at the passenger pick-up area. Being the Friday before Thanksgiving, the airport was very crowded, so needless to say, the passenger pick-up area was stop and go traffic! Cars waited in line for quite a while to enter the area and then cruised as slowly as possible down the lane looking for people. Some drivers were on cell phones, some blocked traffic, some honked, and others hurried to load up baggage and people. A couple of people dared to park and wait in their cars, but it wasn't long before the police woman knocked on their windows and told them to move on. They reluctantly pulled away from the curb and started the great merry-go-round again. A big van pulled in and six attractive young women loaded up - the bridesmaids had arrived! People shouted greetings to each other across the lanes and dashed through the slowly moving cars. There were hurried hugs and introductory inquiries. Generally, the passenger pick up area seemed to be a pretty happy place. Loved ones and friends were together again. Lots of people and baggage, people and baggage.

As we go through life, it seems that we are often on that merry-go-round of passenger pick up picking up people and baggage. I suppose that sometimes this is good and sometimes it isn't. We drive through life picking up new relationship along the way. Those relationships might be pretty good, or they might be pretty bad, but sometimes it takes a while to know. Sometimes we don't do such a good job discerning what kind of people are best for our lives. Sometimes we pick up the worst kind of people. We can easily be fooled. Sometimes people change. We may be surprised to find that our spouse has started to drink too much or becomes abusive. We may not realize that a new friend is in the relationship only because they want something inappropriate. We might discover that a trusted visitor in our home is stealing from us. When we pick up the wrong people, our lives can be dramatically changed. If we knew better, when we picked up the wrong person we would drive right around to that passenger drop off area. Unfortunately, we usually have to suffer a bit before we get it. It takes practice to be discerning about people. It also takes practice to let go of our denial or blind spots. I don't suppose we should expect to get it right all the time no matter how much practice we have, but we can always do better.

Baggage is much the same. We pick up much baggage along the way. Here and there someone directs mean criticism at us or hurts us. We can't let it bounce off so we carry it around. We are deceived or fooled and we tuck that away in a corner of our minds determined that we won't trust again. Someone hurts us without even knowing it or intending it, but we are angry and can’t let it go. Some things we have been carrying around for so long, we don't even know they are there. We might even carry around other people's baggage! Our burdens become needlessly heavy and slow us down. Our baggage keeps us from seeing clearly and making sound choices. Excess baggage can dramatically affect our lives.

I suppose we can help ourselves if we pay attention and be intentional. If we have an intention to seek out certain types of folks for our relationships, we are more likely to find those people. If we have an intention to care for ourselves by finding good and positive influences in our lives, we are more likely to have success. If we are on the lookout for our tendencies to be over sensitive or to carry other people's stuff, we can head it off. If we are determined to open our eyes and learn from our past mistakes, the odds are much improved that it will happen. With intention, we are going to pay attention. The relationships we choose don't just happen. The baggage we lug around doesn't just happen to be loaded onto us. We choose it. It is important to be able to say, "This is mine," or "This is not mine." We may need some help to figure it out and unload what doesn't belong to us, but we can do it. It is within our power and ability. I like to travel light through life. It requires that I am discerning, paying attention, and being intentional.

Enter the passenger pick up area with caution! Carelessness can lead to needless burdens!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


My husband and I live in a house that was built in the '80s. Although it is generally in fine shape, there are some decorating challenges still hanging around here and there that someday I will get to. One of the projects I have been working on slowly but surely is getting the popcorn texture off the ceilings. I have been doing this one room at a time with long breaks in between rooms. I think that is all I could take. This has got to be one of the messiest jobs in home improvement that I have ever done. It is slow and uncomfortable work. The first thing you have to do is get everything out of the room. Anything left in the room will be hopelessly covered and infiltrated with grimy white dust. If you want to save the floor covering, you have to put a protective cover on it. Then the drudgery begins. Every inch of the ceiling must be sprayed with water to loosen the texture, and then scraped. Lots of times, since you are scraping over your head, the dust and texture falls on you – in your mouth, nose, and eyes. It helps to have protective glasses and a mask. Fortunately, the moisture cuts down on the dust in the air, but it is still bad. Once you've gotten all the stuff scraped off, the cleanup is a challenge. Hopefully you were able to contain the dust in one room, but if not, you will be cleaning it up all over the house for days. The room itself takes several sweepings and a few vacuumings. When you return your attention to the ceiling, you notice that underneath all that texture, the drywall was not properly finished. Although most of the seams have been taped and spackled, there are still plenty of nails that have not been covered. There is also a residue of the texture that needs to be sanded off. And there are those unavoidable gashes from the scraping and various other imperfections. If you want a smooth ceiling, little patches of drywall paste need to be applied and sanded. I discovered that if you sand the drywall patches before they get too dry and hard, it is much easier to get them smooth. This process itself takes a few days. Since you have to take regular breaks from holding your arms up over your head, you can only do so much sanding in any given session. There's also the patch, dry, sand cycle that requires waiting for the drywall paste to dry. Often, any single patched spot takes more than one coat of paste. It is pretty tedious and requires plenty of patience. Well, when you finally have all those patches done and all the texture sanded off and your ceiling is smooth, you put on a coat of primer. Primer can be quite revealing. Suddenly, there are more spots that need attention. So you get out that drywall paste and patch a few more spots. You're getting closer. After priming over the new patches, the painting begins. Two coats are best for a smooth, consistent finish. For a while, you wonder if it was worth it. But then you forget about how awful it was to do this job, you are glad it's done, and you plan which room will be next!

Do you suppose God feels the same way about removing the popcorn from our souls? We have all those old textures in our lives where cobwebs and dust build up over the years, looking very dingy and worn. Perhaps we have gotten in the habit of being anxious or worried. Maybe we have some old relationship issues we have never dealt with. Time seems to dull the ache to the point where we forget that we have an ache. We don't notice how bad we feel until we actually do feel better and then we are surprised that we put up with it. These things are not the major issues that are obvious for everyone to see, but are perhaps noticed by those folks who hang around a lot. They are the things that nag at the back of our minds that we try to ignore.

But God sees the value in beginning the cleanup project. Furniture is moved out of our spiritual space so that it won't be covered with grime. To do this, perhaps we go on retreat or begin a new prayer routine to declutter our spirit so that the work can begin. The scraping can be painful. That layer of popcorn has had its protective properties. The previously unexposed places have the light of day staring at them. We might call this part of the job repentance or confession or reconciliation. Having all those old habits and persistent sins rubbed out and scraped away leaves us uncertain of how to behave. But we trust God and submit even though this in between place is vulnerable and uncertain. God has to sweep up and vacuum several times because the grime that comes from all that scraping has spread all over the place. We didn't realize what a mess we were causing and we may need to make a few amends as well. Then the patching up and sanding are like a deep soul scrubbing - this can be painful. But finally, the blemishes of our souls are removed and healed and we begin the rebuilding process. The whole thing takes plenty of time and patience. The result is a smooth, clean surface that is prepared for primer and paint – a corner of our soul that is ready to nurture the Christ light. We may not think it is a remarkable thing of beauty, but God certainly does… and then God is thinking about which room will be next!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vacuuming with Sunglasses

Several years ago I was chatting with a friend of mine. This friend had taken her two sons, ages eight and ten, to see a Christian rock concert the night before. We were talking about the concert when the eight year old said dreamily, "Mom, after that concert, I feel like my soul was just vacuumed!" It was an odd way of saying it, but I think we all knew exactly what he meant! I suppose there have been those times in my life when I have felt completely clean, as if all the sin and evil and error have been sucked right out of me; not because of anything I had done, but entirely because God had acted powerfully in that moment. Those times don't seem to endure, but they do feel good, like a fresh start in life. From there on, you want to do better, to be a better person, to keep the soul clean and sparkling. But it doesn't take long for that first stain to ruin everything, and all the old habits and shabbiness seep back in. At least, that's the way it has been for me.

As I was vacuuming under my piano the other day, I recalled my friend's eight year old and his experience of the concert. I also thought about another odd vacuuming experience from a few years back. Once when we were having trouble keeping the cleaning staff at the church, we had a temp employee filling in. He was there to clean the church for Sunday services and one of his duties was to vacuum the area rugs in the sanctuary. I happened to walk through as he was vacuuming, and I noticed he had sunglasses on! The first thing I thought was that he wanted to hide that he was high or had partied too much the night before. Who knows? It was rather amusing, but we made sure that this particular worker was not invited back. Since he couldn't possibly see the dirt and dust through those glasses, it is hard to imagine that the quality of his cleaning was very good.

So who is running the vacuum cleaner in your soul? I suppose we all try to vacuum out those soul corners from time to time. Maybe we vacuum when we are reminded of our short comings and transgressions. Perhaps we vacuum when we find ourselves in the presence of a person with integrity. Maybe we only vacuum when we get caught with dirt on our souls, and then it's really not vacuuming at all, it's only pretending in order to look good. When we vacuum, do we keep those sunglasses on? Sometimes I suppose I really don't want to know what the dusty corners of my soul look like. If I can't see the dirt, is it really there? Nobody else can see it, right?!

Would I dare to put the vacuum in the hands of someone else? That would have to be someone I deeply trusted to love me even though those soul corners are truly a mess. There are a few of those people in my life - the ones who know me a little too well for my own comfort, and deep down, I know I need those people. But I must admit I wouldn't want too many of those folks in my life. That would require way too much vulnerability. No thanks. I'll run that vacuum myself most of the time.

And then there's God. God has a deluxe, heavy duty, industrial strength, super-sized vacuum cleaner. Watch out for that One... the dust in the corners of the soul doesn't stand a chance. Let God in with that vacuum, and you'll be spick and span in no time. We would not only look clean, but we would feel clean and smell clean. We would have a fresh start, a clean slate, a new life.

It sounds to me like having your soul vacuumed at a rock concert might be the way to go. With a little entertainment to go with the cleaning, it might be less conscious and less painful. That's where the sun glasses come in. We really don't want to see the dirt - and a little entertainment to make the medicine go down does make it easier. That probably works well for self aware eight year olds. Well, I don't know about you, but it's a long time since I was eight years old, and I choose adult consciousness when it comes to the spiritual journey. When the journey requires that those dusty corners be vacuumed, I'd rather take off the sunglasses and get the place as clean as I can. Better yet, invite God with that deluxe, heavy duty, industrial strength, super-sized vacuum cleaner to do the job, and life is truly made new.