Saturday, June 5, 2010

Geranium People

In the fall of each year as the cold nights begin to set in, I move the plants off my deck into the area where they winter over. In my basement, I have sliding glass doors that we rarely use. The morning sun shines in and plants thrive in the generous sunlight. I cover the carpet in front of the door with a waterproof mat and arrange about a dozen plants for their winter stay. As the months go by, the plants grow unchecked. For various reasons, a few don’t make it. This year, I had a couple of geraniums that were just about dead. They were my biggest ones from the summer before and I had had them for several years. Because they had been so big, I had a hard time moving them in and out as the nights grew colder. These two had been left out one night too many and the poor things had frozen almost down to the dirt. By the time they had been moved in for the winter, all their leaves were dead and it didn’t take them long to dry up and get crunchy. Even so, I kept on watering them, trusting that those roots under the soil were still alive. Eventually, a few leaves began to peek out from beneath the dried out dead leftovers.

Every year come spring, it takes me a while to untangle all those wild, overgrown plants, prune them, and clean out the dead leaves. As I plant my garden and move things out onto my deck, I have several plants that need extra care. These pathetic plants are usually down to their last legs – a few scraggly leaves and bare branches. For some reason, they have done quite poorly over the winter or perhaps they have suffered some sort of trauma. Those two geraniums were my prime examples of pathetic plants this year. I pulled off all the dead leaves and cut away the dried out stems being careful to preserve what was still alive. By the time I was done with them, they were practically bare.

I suppose most folks would simply throw away such miserable plants but I view them as a challenge. It’s possible that they could one day return to their former glory. I know that they have healthy and large root systems. Why not give them a chance and see what happens? So I moved them into the intensive care unit on my deck. In the ICU, plants get plenty of sunlight, fertilizer, water, and pruning as necessary. Although those geraniums are pretty sorry looking right now, I remember what they used to look like and how they used to bloom year round. As the summer progresses, I hope to see them revive and thrive.

We have all known people in our lives that were like those geraniums. Perhaps they have suffered trauma or neglect and their spirits are dying. Maybe they have seemed lifeless for a long time. There is life somewhere - they are still walking around - but there are no flowers. Maybe they are just tired. There are many reasons for folks to be like my geraniums, and like those geraniums, they need some extra care. Maybe they even need to be in spiritual intensive care. Maybe there is something I can do to help. I take care of those plants, how about taking a bit of care for those who need a little extra? I can imagine what is needed: some sunlight, cool water, a listening heart, a few hugs, lunch, a glass of wine and some laughter, a friend. Those are things I can do. My geranium friends may never recover to their former glory, but it’s possible that they could revive and thrive.

We can’t make each others’ lives and make someone else blossom, but we can help. If I can do it for my plants, the least I can do is to do it for my neighbor. With God’s help, let me be one who nurtures the geranium people in my life.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tomato Plants All Over the Place

For the past couple of years as spring has come, I have purchased a couple of tomato plants. Where I live, the growing season is short and there are many perils to plants, such as deer, elk, squirrels, and other critters. Because of these adverse conditions, I don’t try anything ambitious – the odds of success are just too poor. Someday I would love to have a greenhouse and really go to town with veggies and flowers, but that will have to be down the road. For the moment, a couple of tomato plants are about right. Although I am pretty new at trying to grow vegetables and I make plenty of mistakes, I always begin the year with great hope. I enjoy that presence of possibility.

Last fall, I visited some friends who had some tomato plants on their balcony. They were covered with tomatoes! Some of them were beautifully ripe and looked like they would fall off the vine into your hand. Others were green. They seemed crowded on their stems, as if they were competing for the best place to hang. I was envious. Compared to my pathetic tomato plants, these were spectacular. I had one little tomato on my plants. It was about the size of a golf ball. I didn’t really expect to get any tomatoes for all my effort and optimism.  I had to admit that I had been more optimistic than my minimal effort deserved.

But now I had seen what success looked like. So this year, I begin again with even greater hopes. Armed with a little more knowledge, the determination to pay attention, a goal in mind, and the time to devote to my tomatoes, I have purchased a grape tomato plant and a regular tomato plant. I got them at a reputable greenhouse and bought ones that were slightly bigger than I had bought before. The grape tomato plant even had one tiny tomato already growing on it. I bought them earlier this year and put them in a sunny window so I could have a longer growing season. I even put them out on warm days and brought them back in at night to help them toughen up. Now they sit on my deck. They get plenty of sun but not too much. They get watered and fertilized regularly. I already have a golf ball sized tomato on my regular plant! No telling what could happen!

So many things in life are like tomato plants. Possibilities are abundant. With a bit of care and attention, needs are met, conditions are optimal, and growth comes. When critters attack, the caretaker becomes the protector. Eventually, fruit happens. It is a basic life experience. We have all participated in it in some way or another. We have all been nurtured or nurtured another or both.

Sometimes, though, we neglect the need for nurture. We are like beginners trying to grow tomatoes. We may neglect nurturing because we lack knowledge or hope or tools or vision. We may see no need for fruit. We may be forgetful or lazy. We not have been enlightened to possibility. Even so, we often expect fruit in the absence of nurture. It seems silly, now, that I expected to grow tomatoes when I knew nothing about it and didn’t pay much attention.

Without nurture, there is no fruit. With self, soul, and relationships a little nurture goes far toward bearing fruit. I don’t think it’s difficult, it just takes some attention and desire. When I look at my life, I look at the fruit that comes and then I can see what I am nurturing and what I am neglecting. Sometimes I am surprised, sometimes delighted, and sometimes disappointed. There are truly many different varieties of tomato plants in my life. Some do better than others. It’s up to me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have always understood the value of taking sabbatical time be it daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. I have had a regular practice of some sort of Sabbath all my adult life. My last four month sabbatical was one of the most fruitful times of my life. Even though I worked hard, it was a time of rest and re-creation and was a lot of fun. I enjoyed everything about it.

But there is one Sabbath that few people, it seems, ever have an opportunity to experience. I feel very fortunate to be in the middle of it now – it is the experience of a jubilee Sabbath. The Old Testament promotes the concept of the jubilee. The jubilee happens every fiftieth year. Every seventh year, the Hebrews observed a Sabbath year.  The jubilee, being the year that followed seven times seven Sabbath years or every fiftieth year, was an extra full year of sacred rest consecrated to God. In the jubilee year (as in the Sabbath year), debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and fields were left fallow. Social justice was renewed. Participants celebrated the presence of God and rested from mundane work.

At the age of fifty, almost fifty-one, I am celebrating just such a year of rest from mundane work. I suppose I should be freeing my slaves, forgiving any debts owed to me, and leaving my fields fallow, but given the realities of our time and culture, I have had to be creative about doing those things in different ways. For a long time, I was a slave to my job. I sacrificed a lot to it. I suppose I do feel like I have been set free from that. The debts I have worked on forgiving have been emotional ones. The fallow feilds have been areas where rest was needed.

Since I have had the privilege of not having to earn a living this year, I have found this to be a time of great creativity. Rather than focusing on performing in a job and all the stresses that go along with that, I have been able to focus on my creative energy and have followed where that has led me. It has been a wonderful experience!  I know the time will come when I will return to my work, but it will be with a jubilee perspective. I don’t fully understand what that means yet, but I suspect I will have a different sense of self and a different way of balancing my life. I have had the time to rediscover things about myself that have been buried under the stresses of my job. I suspect I will be much more creative and empowered when I do start back to some formal sort of work. I am looking forward to it!

The fields that have put food on my table for so many years have been fallow this year. My energy, creativity, empathy, and spirit are a few of those fields. My experience of fallow has not been unproductive but it has been wild and free. I would think that a fallow field might be like that. Something will always grow in a field, even a fallow or uncultivated one, but it may be untamed and unpredictable. After all, God is at work in those fields, perhaps in unexpected and delightful ways. The fruit is yet to be borne. I have no doubt that it will be abundant.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Body at Prayer

One of the interesting things about the word meditation is that is has the same Latin root as the word medical. Both of these words share the root med, which means “to look after” or “to think about.” It is not difficult to understand why these two words sprang from a single idea. The mind-body connection used to be commonly accepted, but over the centuries, it seems the connection has been blurred or even lost. Meditation is now generally considered an activity of the mind and heart. A simple definition of meditation is to center one’s thoughts on God. We see this meaning as the word is used in the Bible, such as in Psalm 63:6, which says, “When I think of you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches.”
Meditation is a simple thing and there is nothing mysterious about it. Its purpose is to heighten our awareness of God. Distraction seems to be the most frequent obstacle when we try to establish a practice of meditation. It is a discipline and takes time and intention. Although it is a simple thing to do, it is not easy. It requires a commitment of will, time, practice, and persistence.

Those who practice meditation have experienced benefits for the body. Perhaps we see this mostly in the reduction of stress and the many positive effects this in itself has on the body. But even more, the practice of body prayer is an experience that benefits the soul. For me, the practice of Yoga has demonstrated the reciprocal benefit for body and soul in ways that are deeper and fuller than any of my previous experience of body prayer, and I have tried many. There are so many ways to practice body prayer and these are a few that I have enjoyed:

• Probably the most simple and basic form of body prayer is found in liturgical worship. In liturgical worship, we generally stand to praise, kneel in penitence, and sit to contemplate. In some situations, we prostrate our bodies when we want to symbolize rebirth, such as in ordination. We process, bow, and gesture in meaningful ways. The movement and posture of the body expresses what is going on in the spirit. The body and soul move in unity.

• If you have had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth, you know what it is like to have the body convey the soul to the center. I have always found walking the labyrinth to be a great way to open up new reflections and awarenesses of the spiritual journey and the twists and turns that bring us to God.

• Hiking is always a prayerful experience for me. Whenever I am out in the wilderness of God’s creation, usually with friends, I am continually amazed and awed at the exquisite beauty of my surroundings. My heart is always lifted in praise at the infinite variety and uniqueness of different places. The physical activity is refreshing to body and soul.

• The practice of stillness is a great discipline. My most fruitful times of this quiet meditation or centering prayer take place on my prayer bench. On the prayer bench, my body is positioned for deep breathing in a very comfortable way. The prayer bench is a great tool for this discipline. Prayer beads are helpful here, also.
• Laughter is a wonderful form of prayer that is great for the body. I must admit that when I go out for a glass of wine with my friends, we are often the loudest table in the whole restaurant. Every now and then we get looks. We don’t intend to disturb anyone, but sometimes I’m afraid we do. I treasure these times or laughter with friends, family, and colleagues. I am intentional about making time and space for laughter in my life.

• One way that I practice body prayer is at the piano. Playing the piano is such a physical experience and involves every muscle in the body. When the whole body is concentrated on making beauty through music, it is an experience of deep spiritual and creative activity. The mind, body, and soul are focused on one thing. This is some of the deepest spiritual work that I do in my prayer practice.

• Yoga is my newest practice of body prayer. I know that as this practice deepens, new discoveries and insights will come. This is one more powerful opportunity to deeply integrate body and soul with intention. I am excited to see the fruit that will come of it.

There are many different ways that we practice meditation and body prayer. Everyone can examine his or her own life and reflect on the various ways that they practice body prayer. There are always many different methods to explore and new things to try. Each new exploration is a discovery of the wealth and variety of God’s grace.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Forgiveness in the News

Last week, it was reported in the news that the Vatican forgave the Beatles.  More accurately, I understand that the Vatican forgave one of them for saying they were more popular than Jesus.  I had to roll my eyes.  Who knows what the facts really are, but somewhere in this news story, the reality of forgiveness is lost.  I suspect there is more to the story than we read in the papers, but as it stands, this one sure makes the Vatican look ridiculous.

Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves; it is not necessarily for the sake of the offender.  If we forgive for the sake of the offender, we have a distorted view of what forgiveness truly is.  If we are practiced in the process of forgiveness, we know that forgiveness is something we do to free ourselves. It is unrealistic to expect that our act of forgiveness will have any affect at all on the offender. If we are forgiving someone with the expectation that they will change, we must admit that our forgiveness has become an attempt to manipulate the other person. That manipulation may be an effort to accuse someone whom we think needs to confess and repent, or it may be an attempt to shame someone into changing their behavior. Pronouncing our forgiveness when it has not sought is really our effort to change the other person. It is much more difficult and honest to gently approach the other about the offense while holding the possibility that we have misunderstood or that the offense was unknown or unintended. We all know how effective it is in relationships to try to change someone else! You would think we would learn…!

In some situations, life-giving forgiveness is something we may do for ourselves. We may not be able to reconcile a relationship if the other is not willing, but we can hold an offender accountable. We hold others accountable by not excusing bad behavior and by setting good boundaries. We don’t have to hang around someone who continually causes us pain. We can communicate honestly and openly and let the other person choose how to respond. We can examine our choices in the relationship and choose what is most healthy and wholesome for ourselves and for the other. It is not healthy and wholesome for either party to permit the other to continue abuse, neglect, dishonesty, or any other destructive behavior. If we love each other enough, we will hold each other accountable. It is the only hope for healing and wholeness in relationships.

There can be a fine line between holding someone accountable and trying to manipulate someone. I think we must examine our motives carefully. While pronouncing unsolicited forgiveness is manipulative, giving appropriate feedback in an appropriate way can be the beginning of reconciliation and wholeness. It can be difficult to discern our own motives when we feel the need to engage an offender. Two questions I think we can ask ourselves when we are faced with these sorts of situations are, “How can I best love the other?” and “What do I hope to accomplish?” Although motives are never pure things, our own self-awareness of our motives can inform how we approach another person. We may have a lot of our own work to do before we are able to truly reconcile a relationship.

I wonder if the folks at the Vatican thought about how best to love the Beatles or asked themselves about what they hoped to accomplish by forgiving them.  If they had given this a little more thought all along, perhaps things would have been different.  Seems to me like the Vatican has more important issues to be dealing with anyway.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Discipline of Hospitality

Hospitality is something we practice in our hearts and reflect in our homes. The spiritual discipline of hospitality is not one that is mentioned as often as others, but I think it is a critical one. We practice hospitality in our spirits and are transformed by the presence of our spiritual Guest. Out of that spiritual discipline, we practice hospitality to others and offer an opportunity for transformation for ourselves and for those we invite into our lives.

Hospitality is about welcoming. In Scripture, we encounter many metaphors that describe how God welcomes and invites us. God creates places for us to be in communion (the banquet table, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…,” “by the side of your altars, O God,” the temple, etc.). Likewise, we human beings are commanded to create a place for God to dwell in our midst. God commands the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness to create a tent and the arc so that God can travel through the wilderness with the people. God commands Solomon to build the temple and then after the exile gives instructions for it to be restored. Every sanctuary built by human hands is a place where God is invited to dwell with us. We make places where we can meet and be with God.

We also create places within ourselves where we can welcome God. Welcoming God into our lives may be an obvious effort that we make when we enter into an intentional relationship with God, but it is not always that straightforward or simple. We might tell ourselves that we want God to be present, but when we actually experience that presence, we find ourselves convicted, frightened, overwhelmed, or confused. We may invite our Guest and then forget about the invitation or get distracted. Perhaps we don’t know how to create that space within us where God can be at rest. Creating that place is something that we must learn and practice. With practice and discipline, we get better at it. We begin to live together. As we get to know God better, we learn what kind of place will make God feel at home and welcome. Over time, we ourselves and God as well, become more familiar dwelling within each other. We learn such things as God’s desire that this dwelling place within us be furnished with love, truth, beauty, joy, faith, and hope. With practice, our efforts at furnishing this dwelling according to God’s wishes improve.

Hospitality to God, which is part of the interior spiritual journey, is paralleled in our outward expression. We can develop hospitable hearts towards others. Each of us has different relational practices that we feel are particularly important and welcoming. For me, having a heart of hospitality towards others means that I pay attention to developing certain relationships and put some time and effort into them. I like to make regular time to be with friends, so I gather with a group of friends over a glass of wine every Wednesday afternoon. I have another group of friends that I get together with for short trips a couple of times a year. I visit with my parents every Tuesday for a few hours. I reserve every Sunday just for my husband. We invite our children for dinner from time to time and speak with them regularly. I think that hospitable relationships require our attention: they don’t just happen. I also try my best to be generous and nonjudgmental in my relationships. After all, we are, every one of us, basically in the same boat. I’m not any better than anyone else and no one else is better than me – or worse for that matter. We’re all in this life situation together. I do my best to speak the truth in love (that’s hard to do!) and clear up any misunderstandings as quickly as possible. These are just a few things that I think are important to having healthy, hospitable relationships. I try to arrange my life and relationships with these things in mind.

Our physical dwelling places reflect our attitudes and disciplines around hospitality and relationships. Look around your home with guests in mind. (The following examples are all great metaphors for spiritual hospitality as well) Is there an area where they can be graciously welcomed when they visit? Is the house number easy to see from the road and well lit? Are pets well behaved? Is there enough seating and is it arranged for comfortable conversation? Are there any obstacles that might make your home difficult for visitors? Is your home tidy and orderly? There are many aspects of a home that either say “Welcome,” or “Stay away,” and it is helpful to aware of what they are. For example, my “front door” is on the side of our house, which some people find confusing, so we put out some subtle indicators to help first time visitors find the door. The house number is very visible on the front edge of the house that leads to the door. There is extra lighting on the door side of the house. The deck wraps around the house and leads to the door and the entrance to the deck points in that direction. The area of the deck on the front of the house in the direction opposite the door is marked off during the summer time with a canopy and sitting area. Even though we have sliding glass doors that are on the front of the house and immediately obvious, visitors seem to pick up on the cues and find our “front door” with no problem. I also like to provide a sense of hospitality by paying attention to details: for example, having cut flowers around the house, lighting candles, or providing a simple snack. These things are easy to do and make your guests feel at home.

One of my favorite offerings of hospitality is “Dinner on the Deck.” When a friend or family member receives an invitation for dinner on the deck at our home, I hope they feel like it is a special invitation. During the summer, when the Denver area is wilting in ninety degree temperatures, our mountain evenings are cool and beautiful. We have a large wrap around deck and it is very pleasant to relax in the quiet, surrounded by woods and wildlife. My husband and I prepare a special meal. We have appetizers and wine on the deck in the informal seating area. On the other wing of the deck, we have brought out a table and our upholstered dining room chairs. We have a white table cloth, crystal, china, and silver, cloth napkins, candles, and wild flowers from the yard for a centerpiece. We dine on the deck as the sun goes down. If it gets cool enough, we may have dessert sitting in front of the chiminea with a fire. What a pleasure it is to entertain and provide a pleasurable experience for everyone. It’s the details that make is special.

How we provide hospitality to those we love is a reflection of how we provide hospitality to God in our spirits, and how we provide hospitality to God within is the foundation for that outward hospitality. The conversation between these two actions, both inward and outward, can be informative and enlightening. You never know what you may discover about your interior living space by having a look at your exterior space.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tombs for the Lliving

From the upper room of Maundy Thursday, we move to the Good Friday tomb. Here we are left. It is a place of silence and death. God does not speak. We must simply wait. There has been a promise and that is our hope. We wait.

When we don’t forgive, we are stuck in a similar kind of tomb. Our unforgiving relationship is dead and silent. It seems that God does not speak because all we can hear is our own anger and hurt. In this tomb we may not even know the hope of the promise that forgiveness offers. A relationship is dead or dying. We have withheld life as we withhold life-giving forgiveness. But in our stubbornness, it is our own life that is really being lost. Our lack of forgiveness only destroys our selves.

Our own life is lost in another way, too. We pray often that God will “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we forgive others, God forgives us. When we withhold that forgiveness, we withhold God’s forgiveness from ourselves. In our inability to forgive, we don’t see how the other deserves or has earned our forgiveness. If we think it is a matter of the offender deserving or earning our forgiveness, then we must be truthful with ourselves and admit that we can neither deserve nor earn God’s forgiveness and we must change our thinking about deserving and earning. If we withhold our forgiveness because the offender has not asked for forgiveness, we have deceived ourselves again for we just want to punish and humiliate the offender by making them ask us. God doesn’t wish to punish or humiliate us. If we say to ourselves that we refuse to forgive because the offender continues to offend, then we have to examine our enabling and get out of the situation. We make many excuses for withholding our forgiveness, but the fact is, there really is no excuse for not forgiving each other. If we think we have found a good reason, then we need to examine things more closely and see what we are really up to. Whatever it is, in some way, it probably keeps us from accepting God’s forgiveness as well as giving us a reason to hold on to our own lack of forgiveness. We have trapped ourselves in dead and dying relationships. We have put roadblocks between ourselves and God’s desire to forgive us. We leave ourselves in the tomb and keep God out.

The source of our Good Friday hope is to let God into the place of death. If we can manage to open our unforgiving hearts to God, then we can begin to see a path forward. We can begin to learn how to forgive. We can let go of death, even if it is the only thing we know. We may have been in the tomb of unforgiveness for so long that it has become comfortable and familiar. We have grown used to the cold and darkness. Today, we are invited to start letting in the life that hope and love bring. It is a threshold. It is a beginning.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Maundy

Today we are about dwelling in the upper room. We can recreate the upper room in our hearts. To we do this, we honor the mandate that Jesus gave us, the new commandment: that we “love one another as I have loved you.” There is nothing new about the love part of that commandment. It is the “as I have loved you” part that makes it a new commandment and so much more challenging. The examples that Jesus gives us today are beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Jesus washes our feet (even Judas’, who is about to betray him) and he dies for us. He gives everything for that love.

In the upper room, Jesus commands that we let him wash our feet, but we respond much like Peter. We could never let Jesus perform such a menial task for us! It is so personal and intimate. We are embarrassed. But Jesus insists. We must let him and others wash our feet. We become vulnerable, powerless, needy, and dependent. We feel both grateful and humble. Somehow, we are exposed.

In the upper room, we join in a meal. We are about breaking bread, community, and sharing. This is no ordinary meal. It points beyond to another meal, the extraordinary meal where bread and wine are blessed and broken in remembrance of Christ. It is a meal that creates community, it is a sharing in the depths of life. It is receiving the real presence of Christ.

The forgiveness journey moves us to dwell in the upper room. We find ourselves with dirty feet and we are powerless to wash them ourselves. We depend on others. We are vulnerable and embarrassed to have such dirty feet. Our dirt is exposed and in the washing we experience great intimacy. We are grateful and humble to be washed clean. Then we join with our brothers and sisters in the great meal. Through it we are made one with God and with each other. Our lives are entwined together in the common presence of Christ. Together, we are brought “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” The upper room is a place of holy making.

Holy making is our calling in life. We are called to go out into the world, in union with Christ, and wash the feet of others as well as have our own feet washed, to go out and make an ordinary meal an occasion for fellowship with God, to go out and reveal our hearts to God and reveal the heart of God to others, to go out and make the ordinary, extraordinary.

Monday, March 29, 2010


The Passover story is a familiar one. Each year those who observe Passover relive the story by stepping outside of time and entering into the experiences of the Hebrews as they prepared for their wilderness journey. They spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to signal the angel of death to pass over their homes. They eat their Passover meal ready to flee from the Egyptians. They prepare to move from the bondage of slavery to the promised land, from death into new life. They wait to be reborn.

In this great week, we wait to be reborn with the Hebrews. As Jesus says to us, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we observe the Passover in the same way. We step beyond time and join the Hebrews in preparation and expectation of the journey. The blood of the Lamb signals the angel of death to pass over us. We eat with our shoes on and our supplies ready for the journey. We are anxious to flee from sin and bondage. We look forward to the promised land.

As we recreate the Passover journey, we dwell in the assurance that we have become a new creation. As the angel passes over us, we are no longer under the curse of death. We have been forgiven and freed. We have been made whole. We have been graced with the Holy Spirit. Our forgiveness from God is complete and perfect. We stand before God with our sins wiped away and our souls washed clean. We are the ones whose robes are washed white in the blood of the lamb. We are forgiven.

Now it is our turn to create “passovers” for others. We have had our Passover from God, but our lives of full of situations where passover is needful. As we have been forgiven so we must forgive. We can join with others in the journey that brings promise and fulfillment to our relationships. We can wipe away sins by forgiving them and building trust once again. We can bring grace and fullness to relationships that have long been neglected or avoided. We can experience the freedom that comes with the forgiveness we receive from others and offer that forgiveness to others that can open the door to freedom. Through the gift of life-giving forgiveness, relationships that were once dead can be born again. Lives can be changed and healed. The Passover of God brings with it an invitation to the promised land. The passovers we offer to each other contain the same invitation to the freedom of a new land. It is time to enter into it.


Palm Sunday presents us with two very different stories in Jesus’ life: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the way of the cross. We see Jesus as the King and Messiah joining the people in triumph. For this journey, he has made careful, deliberate preparations. The crowds are welcoming the one who brings justice, cares for the poor, and heals the sick. He is the great teacher and man of authority they have waited for. This event foreshadows the triumph of the resurrection and points us toward the kingdom of heaven, and as we look beyond the event itself, we see the Kingdom of God, peace, perfection, and joy. This portrait of the King reflects the glory of God.

The second story gives us a different portrait of Jesus. He is a man who expresses doubt as he prays that God will “remove this cup.” At times he is alone, abandoned by friends, and betrayed. He is innocently condemned in a sham trial, stripped, mocked, crucified, and forsaken even by God. On Palm Sunday, this is where we are left. If we can look beyond this portrait also, we see the cross as the central saving act, a sacrifice of obedience, a giving of all for the salvation of all.

These two contrasting portraits capture an infinite moment in time, a great paradox. They point to each other and fulfill each other. There is an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom. The cross leads and points to glory. We celebrate and we grieve. These two portraits tell us about who Jesus is and who we are. Perhaps we even see ourselves as a dim reflection of Christ, dying to self in order to be raised up.

If you have ever spent much time with people who are dying, you may have experienced them in a liminal place – a place of in-between, a threshold. We see Jesus in two liminal places, triumphal entry and the tomb. These are the liminal thresholds that move toward resurrection and new life.

We experience many thresholds in life, but I think the spiritual ones can be the most challenging. Thresholds can be difficult places to be, they are uncertain and unknown. In Jesus, we see the threshold of triumphal entry to death and then we are left in the tomb waiting for death to lead to resurrection. We can look at the tomb in two ways: as a place where we are bound up where it is cold and dark, or as a place of waiting, anticipation, and expectation. The tomb is a place that is still, and quiet. There is tension. It is a threshold. We are invited to that place this week.
Why be in this place? Perhaps we are to learn what keeps us there or holds us back. Perhaps we are to look for what is coming. The tomb can be a place that leads to healing, holiness, and wholeness, a going toward something and leaving behind of something. But one thing about thresholds is that we can’t stay in them. By definition it is a transitional place. If we simply stood in a threshold, it would become a place of frustration, lack of fulfillment, and eventually boredom. We could still see what we have left behind and it remains a part of us. We would see the potential for life but not yet experience that life. It would be an empty place. We might as well just do the work and move on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Soul at Home

Homes and souls have a lot in common. Many of the things we do around and to our homes are similar to things we do around and to our souls as well. Our homes can be a place of refuge or turmoil; the same for our spiritual homes. Often we have the same attitudes about our souls as we do about our homes. I have sometimes noticed how when my home is a bit chaotic and out of order, my spirit feels restless and out of sorts. When my spirit is feeling tired and worn out, I tend to notice the tired and worn out aspects of my dwelling space. When I am surrounded by beauty and order, my spirit is uplifted. The interior castle and exterior castle are connected.

One of the things we do around our homes is to clean them from time to time. We all have our routines: daily picking up, weekly cleaning, occasional cleaning, spring cleaning. Once in a while we clean out those refrigerators and rearrange the closets. Every now and then, we gather up all the extraneous stuff we have collected and take it to a charity drop off. We put out the trash and send away the recycling. If we don’t do these things fairly regularly, we can get overwhelmed by garbage and can even get depressed. It is not so different with our souls. There’s the daily picking up in our prayer routine, the weekly cleaning at Sunday worship, the occasional spiritual quagmires that need attention from time to time, and then the major spring cleaning that happens during Lent especially. In confession and repentance, we put out the trash. We might offer the spiritual books that we no longer want or tidbits of wisdom to others who might find them useful. It is important to keep up with our soul cleaning or we may become overwhelmed or depressed.

It seems that there is always something that needs to be maintained or overhauled or redone around the house. When I look at that list, every one of the jobs is a great metaphor for interior maintenance. Right now, my list consists of putting tile at the entrances to my home to replace the worn wooden floors, redoing the main floor bathroom, refinishing a piece of furniture, painting a room, organizing my basement, putting in the spring garden and putting out the deck plants and furniture, replacing the gutters, repairing the furnace, and getting the chimney swept. There is always so much to do! Any one of these jobs is an opportunity to reflect on the maintenance of my soul. Take the piece of furniture I need to refinish: as I disassemble the piece, sand off the old finish, smooth out the dings in the wood, sand again, apply the layers of finish, and reassemble, I can reflect on similar actions in my soul. There’s that comfortable, well used, piece of furniture in my soul, perhaps it is my practice of listening, for example. It has been a useful and faithful habit for many years. I haven’t thought about it much, just went along using it; time to have a look at that habit again and give it a bit of a polishing. Might even be a good idea to disassemble it, strip it down, fill in the dings, give it a new coat of finish and put it back together again. It may look and function just the same, but it has had some good attention and is renewed. Gardening in the spring is a great time to reflect on where I need renewal in my life. Replacing the gutters is an opportunity to reflect on how well I let storms roll off my back. Painting a room makes me think about the places in my soul that need a little freshening up. Redoing a bathroom has many opportunities for reflection. Just think about what it means to replace a toilet! You see, maintaining our homes provides a great opportunity for soul work. And just like our homes, there is always more to do around the soul.

Many of these jobs I like to do myself. It is amazing what you can do if you teach yourself, especially if you have the help of a friend or partner. Nothing that needs doing around the house is really a great mystery of very difficult. Mostly, it just takes practice. In the first house we ever bought, my husband and I found that the bathrooms all had plastic tiles rather than ceramic. We decided to go ahead and retile, but we certainly could not afford to hire someone to do it. The tile itself is not all that expensive, but the labor is. So we decided to teach ourselves how to do it. Those early tile jobs turned out a bit rough, but they were great learning experiences. Over the years, we have gotten much better at it. Although our tile jobs don’t look like the pros, we are pretty satisfied with the work. It can be challenging and take time, but it makes it possible to afford to tile when we want to. Recently, I learned how to put up wallboard and smooth out the seams. It may look difficult, but it really isn’t. That first job looks a bit rough, but it is in a place that most people won’t see. I have confidence that the next wallboard installation job I do will be pretty good. When you do it yourself, start simple, learn from your mistakes, and don’t expect perfection. When the job is difficult or needs to be of professional quality, hire someone. I always hire someone if the job is risky, too, like it requires climbing around on the roof or something like that. The same rules can apply to our soul work. Much of it we do ourselves. That’s good, and over time, we get better at it. Sometimes, though, the work is risky or requires a professional. One of our spiritual challenges is to know the difference and get help when we need it.

Homes and souls require maintenance and remodeling from time to time. They require regular attention, rearranging, and renewal. There is always something that needs doing around the house and around the soul.

This reflection is from our Going Home online retreat, which will be offered in April.  For more information about our Going Home retreat, visit

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God is with us. Are we with God?

In his writings, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a seventeenth century French monk, describes the practice of the presence of God. By keeping our hearts and minds attentive to the presence of God, we find ourselves prayerfully engaging in life and aware of God’s presence with us in all things. Life is transformed as we enter into this spiritual discipline.

There are a few challenges that consistently turn up for those who work toward practicing the presence of God. Perhaps it is helpful to know that these are age old obstacles – old enough for Brother Lawrence to mention them and then some. Brother Lawrence is totally real when it comes to admitting that the practice of the presence of God is not for the faint hearted. As he writes about the obstacles that face every practitioner, you get the sense that he has experienced all the same challenges and understands how difficult it is to be disciplined and consistent. Brother Lawrence describes many obvious and some not-so-obvious challenges, and for the most part, his answer to the problem seems to be, “Get on with it.” He doesn’t give us a chance to bemoan our problems, but rather takes the stance that there is nothing new about our complaints and we need to simply get on with business. It seems that we have all been there before.

One of the common obstacles is pride. At some point in our spiritual journey, we all have to deal with the issue of pride. We are prideful when we think we don’t need God. This is perhaps one of the first manifestations of pride. Even a two-year-old doesn’t seem to need parents and wants to do it him/herself! In our pride we don’t think we need God for anything. We will depend on ourselves. We will stubbornly take care of our own problems. We don’t need anybody! We are all like that sometimes. Somewhere along the line, this falsehood is eventually proven wrong. When tragedy strikes our lives, we find that we would rather not do it ourselves and that we would rather have someone with us as we walk through our brokenness. Somewhere along the line, the question of God comes up, even if the only question seems to be grounded in anger and the “why” of how this tragedy could have happened. We discover that we need others and that we need God. We are also prideful when we think we are irredeemable. If we say that we are beyond God’s redeeming power, not good enough to be loved, not worthy of God’s attention, we have claimed that we are more powerful than God and know better than God. This can be a deceptive trap hiding our pride or arrogance.

Our thoughts can be another obstacle to our practice of the presence of God. We are easily distracted or our thoughts simply wander about. We lack persistence. First of all, we must reject any thought, word, or action that is contrary to our practice and our communion with God. Anything that distracts or breaks us away from communion with God must be turned away. Then we must remember our practice again. Resolve once again to persist. But then we forget our practice again. After a while, we even forget our resolve to be persistent! Before you know it, we have gone through a day and hardly remembered our practice. After all, we have been busy! Or perhaps we get lazy. We think, “I’ll try again later, after I have finished what I am doing.” Or we are bored with our practice or feel like a failure. There are so many reasons why we give up! Brother Lawrence would simply advise that we get on with it. Every time we remember that we have let go of our practice of the presence of God, we simply are to return to it. There need not be any recriminations or laments. No matter how often we need to bring ourselves back to our practice, we just come back and begin again. Even after we have practiced for years and years, we will still find that we must bring ourselves back to our discipline when we forget it or put it down. If we can manage to begin again for as long as necessary, we will eventually find ourselves needing to do that less and less.

Spiritual dryness is another obstacle to our practice of the presence of God. All of us go through times when we feel far from God or perhaps it seems that God is absent. It can be very painful to have known consolations and then to have them stop. Or sometimes we feel that our prayers are empty or meaningless. We may feel like we just can’t pray at all. We may feel very far from God and alone. I have not known any spiritually attentive person who hasn’t had this experience of the journey to some degree. Often, this is a time of transition. It may mean that we are transitioning from one prayer discipline to something new. This may simply be the new normal and we are challenged to see or sense God in a new way (or not sense God at all). There are many different things that happen in these dry times – certainly, one of those things is that our faith is tested. In the complete and utter darkness, we question our faith. But somehow, when we emerge from the darkness, or sense it differently, we find our faith stronger than ever. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and even though we may not have known it at the time, God was with us and we emerged stronger for the journey. In the midst of this experience, how is it that we practice the presence of God? It is in these times that our persistence is most important. The presence of God may be changing in nature, but we still practice it. The nature of our turning to God may be changing, but we still turn to God. We may feel like there is no response to our turning to God, but we take this opportunity to grow in faith and trust that God is responding whether or not we can sense it. The challenges we face at times like these are the greatest we may ever encounter, but they are also the greatest opportunities for growth.

There are many other various challenges and obstacles we face in our practice of the presence of God, but most of them seem to fall into the categories we have discussed today. In our various trials, Brother Lawrence recalls us again and again to one critical response: just keep on keeping on. Persistence in the face of many different trials is one important key to success. Our obstacles are the same obstacles that practitioners have always encountered, and the simple cure is unchanged. There is nothing complicated or mysterious about it. Simply start again. As we start again, and then start again and then start again, we can trust that our efforts will be transformative in our lives.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Forgiving Ourselves

C.S. Lewis said, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

One of the prerequisites for the ability to extend life-giving forgiveness to others is that we experience ourselves as forgivable. I have known plenty of people who claim that they are beyond forgiveness. As C.S. Lewis says, they have set themselves up as a higher tribunal than God. This claim of being beyond forgiveness is an example of false humility which is really pride. I think we need to learn how to accept forgiveness from God and when we have learned this lesson, we can begin to forgive ourselves. We confess, repent, and accept the forgiveness of God and others and find ourselves reconciled not only to God and others, but to ourselves as well. One thing we eventually learn is that we are just like everyone else, both unworthy of such great love in our sinfulness and worthy of such great love because we are created for it. It’s just who we are. When we begin to know this, we begin learn to forgive ourselves. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others.

When we say that we may never be able to forgive ourselves for causing some great harm, what we really mean is that we may never get over the guilt we feel. We may be right – we may always hold on to that guilt. But we don’t need to and in fact, we need not to. It can be a long, slow process and may take years. But there is a process, and just as we must forgive others, we must forgive ourselves. We confess what we have done, we repent and change our behavior, and we accept forgiveness from ourselves.

Suppose someone else commits the same transgression that you have committed and find unforgiveable in yourself. It may seem easier to forgive the other person for that same transgression than it is to forgive yourself. But then, we proclaim that there is no unforgivable sin. (I have always interpreted Jesus teaching that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin as meaning that when we reject God, we reject forgiveness and remain unforgiven because we have disallowed it, not because it is not extended to us). But then it seems, that the same rule of no unforgivable sin does not apply to ourselves (our pride again!). We may acknowledge the forgiveness of another and still refuse the forgiveness offered to ourselves. The truth is then that we don’t really believe the other transgressor is forgiven either. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others. It’s just the way it is.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pray For Your Enemies

Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies. I suppose many of us have done that, but it is not an easy thing to do with true and generous love in our hearts.  Our dilemma may not be whether or not we pray for them, but how we pray for them. If we are praying that they will change, than I think we have misunderstood what Jesus is asking of us. If you know someone who considers you an enemy, how would you feel about their prayer that you change? It is hard to pray for our enemies when even the thought of them makes our hearts agitated. But we are truly blessed with the task of holding others in prayer, even our enemies. Thomas Kelly, in his Testament of Devotion describes a way of holding others in prayer as an “interior act and attitude,” as “inward, wordless prayer.” We all provide this for others and we all need this special holding. I trust that there are those who hold me before God; how wonderful it is to know that I am held this way.

This is different than what we often experience as intercessory prayer. In intercessory prayer, we hold others in the light of God’s love with a particular need such as healing or empowerment. Many folks have lists of people for whom they pray, some of whom they may not even know personally. Our prayer chains diligently work to surround us in prayer, or cover us with prayer. We are even guarded or protected in prayer. I am very thankful for all those prayers and I have prayed for people many times with such ideas in mind. The power of this kind of prayer is well documented. But to be held wordlessly, without ceasing, with no agenda, in the presence of God by someone that knows me and loves me fills me with a sense of wonder and amazement. What do you think God will do? Here I am, held up to God’s attention, simply there for God to love. God knows what is needful better than even I myself know. I rest in God’s embrace not only because God embraces me, but also because someone else holds me there.

We do this for each other, even or perhaps especially our enemies. Just as someone does it for me, I do it for those whom God has given to me for this special purpose. That includes my enemies. I think it is much easier to pray for my enemies this way – the agenda is not up to me. I can still be angry or upset with my enemy and trust that God knows what is needful (which may have more to do with me than with my enemy!). We hold others before God just as we are held before God. What a stunning and beautiful reality.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Tis the Season

Mark Twain said, “When you get to heaven, leave your dog outside. Heaven works on favor, not merit. If heaven worked on merit, your dog would get in and you wouldn’t.” I always remember this quote when we get to Ash Wednesday. When we come to Ash Wednesday and begin this long Lenten journey, it is good to remember that God’s love for us and desire to be with us is not something we earn, but something that simply is, no matter what. With all of our brokenness, we are certainly creatures that can only approach God because of God’s loving favor towards us. We come to God with all of who we are: broken, weak, fearful, in need of life-giving forgiveness. Our journey to God is a journey of healing, wholeness, and holiness. Not only must we know where we fall short of God’s desire for us, but we must know what it means to be holy. We must know where we are headed if we ever wish to arrive.

God created us to be holy people. We are all in need of being restored to that person that God created us to be. Restoration means healing and to be healed means that we must know what is broken. Only then can we cooperate with God in the process of being made whole. So the journey of healing, wholeness, and holiness begins with self examination and self awareness. Our self examination can encompass body, mind, and spirit. We can even have an intention for examination of the unconscious, an ancient and powerful discipline. So we begin with a dose of self awareness. Ouch! We hold ourselves in the light of God’s love and have nothing to say for ourselves. We are who we are. We have made a mess of things. We have fallen away. We have made ashes out of God’s love. We have managed to cause death in the midst of the gift of life.

The honest work of self awareness and self examination is not easy. We rely on others to hold up a mirror so that we can look at ourselves. It requires some compassionate observation of ourselves. Let us simply see who we are. Let us see ourselves without judgment, without condemnation. Let us simply seek out the light of God’s love and stand in it. All is seen. All is known. It is a lonely place.

But then, perhaps we are not so alone as we thought. Every one of us stands alone before God. Every one of us stands in the presence of God as an individual. But what a great paradox – we all stand alone before God together: each of us a unique being and yet in the identical predicament, each of us a distinct creature and yet having much in common with the other. We all know what it is like to be broken. We all know the need to be healed.

So we need both life-giving forgiveness and to forgive. It is the nature of life as human beings. We experience the grace that comes when we find ourselves forgiven by God and others. We offer that experience to others. It is not an easy thing to forgive. It requires the best of us and calls us into places of wisdom and love. Life-giving forgiveness is a practice that grows over time. Hopefully we get better and better both at forgiving and being forgiven. These next few weeks, we will be intentional about seeing how life-giving forgiveness is a part of our life’s journey. May we find ourselves immersed in healing, wholeness, and holiness.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Life is a Rodeo Parade

There is a town close to where I live that has an annual rodeo parade. The rodeo parade includes a variety of quaint floats, antique cars, homemade costumes, and banners. Local businesses advertise their services and philanthropic organizations promote their causes. The fire truck, with sirens blasting, is always included. One year even the garbage truck proudly drove in the parade. But perhaps the predominant attraction is all the different kinds of livestock on display; various types of horses, alpacas, and llamas.  In this little town, the parade route goes down main street where spectators scramble for candy that is thrown into the “crowd” (there were more folks in the parade than in the crowd!). There’s plenty of whooping and hollering along the way. It is quite the excitement.

One year, as a member of one of the philanthropic organizations, I marched in the parade. Our permit number was ninety-two out of ninety-four, which meant that we were close to the end of the parade. The honor of bringing up the rear certainly added a dimension to my parade experience that was unexpected. All along the way, we were dodging piles of manure in different stages of being flattened by various tires. The pungent horse urine was bad enough but I think it was the llamas that smelled the worst in the summer heat. It was so bad that the organizers of the event took no time cleaning up the mess. The group that followed number ninety-four was the clean-up crew with a water truck and hoses and various kinds of shovels, brooms and scrubbers. I should have known when I saw them that my light weight sneakers would not be up to the task of this parade. Heavy boots were in order. I learned a valuable lesson that day: never march at the end of a rodeo parade!

But I suppose life is like a rodeo parade sometimes. If we end up at the back of the line, we need heavy boots to slog through all the crap. If we march close the beginning, we leave a mess for others to deal with. If we are somewhere in the middle, we get a mixed experience. We all find ourselves at different places in the parade at different times in our lives. But perhaps the real place of honor is at the rear of the procession. It is the clean-up crew that provides the most lowly and valuable service. Now that’s the place to be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nothing Matters; Everything Matters

This life presents us with many difficulties and obstacles. As spiritual persons, not only are we deeply aware of the presence and nature of God, self, and others, but we also see deeply the suffering around us. In his book A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly presents us with the paradox, “Nothing matters; everything matters.” The spiritual masters often make such observations. I believe that it is in these paradoxes that we find the fullness of truth. God is present in the midst of the tension. But what are we to make of it: Nothing matters; everything matters? First of all, nothing matters because we dwell within God. We are time blinded and world blinded as well. To become wholly obedient to God, we keep our eyes on the presence of God and see nothing else. Nothing else is important because we are blinded to all in our attention to God. In the light of God, nothing else matters. But then, of course, everything matters. God counts every hair on our heads; even a sparrow is found in God’s attention. The full scope of creation is precious and worthy of redemption. Nothing matters; everything matters. We live in both places. In this paradox, we can say that suffering doesn’t matter and that it does matter. Will we even notice suffering when we are transfixed on the presence of God? But then, with God, we grieve the suffering and evil in the world and ultimately work for the triumph of good. Someday, suffering will be obliterated, but not in this earthly life.

We are neither to seek out suffering for ourselves nor work to remove it. We can only prepare ourselves for the suffering that will come. Some live under the illusion that they can find security through money or armies or the correct diet or isolation. Even though we all know this kind of security to be ultimately unreliable, we still tend to bank on it. We are called to trust only in God. And we know by example, that God will not remove suffering – God will walk through it with us and redeem it. If we build our spiritual house on the rock of the light within, when the suffering comes, and it will come, we will find that we pass through it accompanied by the great strength of God. We are called to acknowledge suffering and work to make it holy. If we approach suffering with our sanctuary state of mind, the holy making is inevitable. Holy making of suffering means that some measure of redemption comes from it. As Kelly states, through suffering, the heart is stretched and enlarged. At some level, suffering becomes a gift.

Another gift of obedience to God is the gift of simplicity. When Kelly talks about simplicity, he is talking about the kind of simplicity that comes after complexity: after one has struggled through difficulties and complications, only to find that simple is better. This simplicity is the simplicity of trust and singleness of heart. It rests in the assurance that one has experienced the sorrows and suffering and survived and only because God has made it possible. It comes after what Kelly calls the adolescent stage of “religious busyness.” I think religious busyness can be external or internal. Sometimes we get very busy volunteering for this and that, even when we yearn to say no more often than not. Or sometimes we have raging internal debates about the correct road to take. After this internal busyness, when a person is focused and determined to do the right thing, then the debate and struggle is already over. The question is resolved. It doesn’t have to get complicated. It reminds me of the last time I was on jury duty. In the matter of this particular case, it seemed clear what was right: parents should not neglect or beat their children – very obvious. But by the time the lawyers got done arguing the case, nothing seemed certain. The waters were greatly muddied. What had seemed clear and obvious was complicated by technicalities and suspect arguments. For a bit, I was confused, but it didn’t take me long to go back to what I knew in my heart was right and wrong. It really was not that complicated no matter what the lawyers said. This is the simplicity that is beyond complexity. Most of life really isn’t that complicated, and when we try to make it so, maybe we’re trying to explain away our sin. At least I think that is true for me. The spiritual journey is like this. We may go through stages where nothing seems certain and we are confused about which way to turn. When it gets like this, I always look for what I am afraid of, because, deep down, I think I really do know which way to turn to move closer to God.

Kelly says that this simplicity is such a deep trust in God that one “walks with a smile into the dark.” This comes out of that great center of the soul, the focus and singleness of heart that results from the roaring flame of the light within. Life becomes guided by love alone. The simplified life need only strive to love. There is really nothing complicated about it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Forgiving God

Forgiveness is a process that begins within. As with confession and repentance, the heart must be changed for true transformation to take place. Sometimes we struggle to make our actions start us on the path of forgiveness, and that can help, but it is only when the heart is truly transformed that life-giving forgiveness happens.

Transformation of the heart begins with God. As in so many other aspects of our spiritual growth, we learn and grow only because God has loved us first and we are responding to that love. As we grow in our relationship with God, our relationships with self and others grow as well. We thrive on God’s grace. As we experience God’s forgiveness, we have the process of forgiveness modeled for us. As we live out the fruit of being transformed by being forgiven, we realize the power of forgiveness and the value of extending it. Everything we know about life-giving forgiveness we know because we have received it from God. The grace of God’s forgiveness flows through us into our relationships and our world. It is a powerful process. Our experience of God’s grace and love is a strong foundation upon which to build a practice of life-giving forgiveness. Without this foundation, our attempts at forgiveness will be distorted.

Somewhere along this journey of learning to forgive, many experience the need to forgive God. The other day, I spoke with a young man-only eleven years old- whose father was dying. He spoke of the feeling he had that God was far away. He wanted to know why God would let his father die. He struggled to reconcile his life situation with what he had been taught about God and God’s love. Every one of us must confront this same dilemma of evil at some time in life. Perhaps our exploration of this question invites us into moments of both grief and anger. If we are honest with ourselves, mustn’t we admit that God is the Creator and the buck stops there? There really is no good explanation for why there is evil in our world. We are left with our feelings and our wonderings, not sure if we dare to blame God. I think that before we can begin to praise God for the glory of creation, we must forgive God for the ugliness in creation. It’s OK to be angry with God: God can take it. We beat God’s chest and scream our pain and hurt. God simply embraces us in love. We are forgiven for needing to forgive God. God knows our struggle to understand and knows how impossible it is for us human beings to truly grasp the nature of creation. Perhaps God accepts our forgiveness and forgives us as we offer it. The question of evil loses its grasp on us and our hurt and anger is eased. And in the process we have learned something about life-giving forgiveness. Now we are truly ready to begin the practice of forgiveness.

For more on life-giving forgiveness, go to and sign up for our Life-giving Forgiveness online retreat beginning Feb. 17th.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Self-pity Salve

Every now and then a good bout of self-pity is quite satisfying. This is not particularly grown up, but true – at least for me. Right now, I am sitting in a coffee house by myself away from home, feeling alone. The last couple of days have been spent with my peers and superiors, and I am feeling rather unfairly judged and misunderstood by my superiors. That makes me feel embarrassed to be with my peers. Surely they can perceive the ridicule I am getting from those who have some control over my work situation; I can tell by the way some of them avoid me or look at me with “concern.” Working relationships can be the pits, especially when the judgments of those in positions of control are ill-informed or unconsciously directed by their own baggage (at least that’s what I think in this situation). Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in positions that seem intractable and beyond our control. When I find myself in those kinds of situations, a little bit of self-pity sure feels good. And there is plenty of hurt and anger to fill the pity party guest list – and don’t forget to add a little indignation and self-righteousness. Even if I am alone, those guests bring me some shallow comfort. I’m not proud of that, but it is simply the reality of my present moment.

But then life goes on. I ask myself what’s next in this no-win situation. Self-pity may feel good for a little while, but too long in that place, and it becomes boring. One cannot stay there; it is a dead place. So I choose to get out. Here is an unlikely opportunity. Here is barren earth that needs to be planted. Here is a vacuum that cries out to be filled. A little creativity and energy can go a long way. When I simply turn in another direction, I find that the resistance that was blocking me in that institutional direction is powerless. The institution has no power outside of itself, at least not in this case. I can go around or over or away from the roadblock. I can remake myself in a place where the institution does not dictate the outcome of my life. I just go in a different direction.

I must discern the direction. Where is life? Where is the greatest energy? How can I contribute to the world? How can I use my gifts to the fullest? What gives me joy? How can I pay the bills…? There are many questions and a few worries. There is dream and there is reality and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were one-and-the-same? When they’re not, what are the things that are most important to me? Can I give up some things to satisfy the needs of the other thing? Must I do that? The fruitful thing about a roadblock is that it provides us with opportunities to look at these and many other questions once again. I have a chance to remake myself. I have another chance to discern God’s guidance and love in a new way. I can take a fresh look at life and approach once again with a new wisdom and experience that colors the new direction. I can learn from my troubles and be better for it.

I suppose this really isn’t news to any of us. We all know these things because we have been there before. From time to time, life gives us experiences that challenge and redirect us. I find that, in hindsight (sometimes far down the road), I gain an appreciation for the roadblocks and thank God that they stood in my path. With some practice, we come to this place sooner rather than later. I can already see some of that in my current situation. There are certainly things that I am thankful for as I face the current dead end.

So I slog on, enduring when I have to and making the changes that are within my power; and trust the rest to God. Where I have no control, I can grow in faith. But the truth is that there is a lot more within my power than I may think. I embrace that responsibility for myself and accept another growth experience. Then I move on in the direction that feeds and nurtures my body and soul. It really is up to me. But now and then, it just feels good to whine a bit, wallow in my self-pity, and pour out my lament. I feel better already.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Water into Wine

The last week has been filled with images of Haiti and the suffering that is taking place there. It is hard to imagine what people must be going through - those who have been trapped in darkness under the rubble for days, those who have watched their loved ones die, those who have lost limbs, those who have been hungry and thirsty, those who don't know if their loved ones have survived. I feel so helpless being far away and unable to do something with my own hands. Giving money just seems shallow and callous, even though I know it is probably the most helpful thing I can do personally. And I have been surprised that people I know are personally affected. It seems odd to be just a few connections away from people who have been personally affected; friends of friends or acquaintances who are there on mission trips. The whole thing makes the world feel so small and the connections so significant, and yet the disaster seems a world away. And what an outrage it was to hear what Pat Robertson said about this disaster being God's punishment for the Haitians for the deal they had made with the devil. What rubbish! I hope every right thinking, theologically astute Christian will stand up and shout down such bad theology! That is not the God that I know and worship, and I resent that Christianity is cast in such a light. Anyway, I diverge...

A few days ago, I was driving home coping with a disappointment that had to do with my job. I was pretty upset. In my mind, I went back and forth between my own troubles and the troubles of the people in Haiti. I felt petty in my disappointment, but still angry at what had happened for me. I thought about what the Haitians were going through and what I was going through. My troubles were really minor irritations in comparison. Even though I knew that intellectually, I was still upset for myself. So on top of all that, I felt selfish and self-centered. What a mess! When a disaster like Haiti happens, we are reminded of how fortunate we really are. I have a home and food and water. I have a family that is surviving and thriving and that I love and enjoy being with. I have everything I really need in this life, and it is all blessing. How can I complain about anything?!

On Sunday, I preached at one of the local churches. The scripture lesson was the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. Even that scripture story seemed petty in light of the events in Haiti. It almost seemed silly to be studying it. But somehow, this story was significant enough to be included in the Gospel, even when it is followed by the rest of Jesus' ministry of healing and teaching and dying. The passage ends with a note that the disciples saw the miracle that Jesus had done and believed in him. The point of the story of the water into wine is one that works in any situation. Even in small things, like a social situation where a couple runs out of wine at a wedding, God is known and seen and present. If God is present in the small things, than how much more is God present in the big things?!

So one of my resolves is to view the situation in Haiti through the lens of God's presence. In every story I hear or fresh tragedy that happens, I can ask myself to acknowledge and appreciate how God is present. I can be grateful for the efforts of all those first responders, for the willingness of those doctors and nurses to give their time and skills and place themselves in danger for the sake of those in need, for the huge sums of money that are going toward helping the Haitians survive and rebuild, for the reminder of how destructive national debt can be for a poor nation, for the recovery of another survivor from the rubble, for those amazing dogs that sniff out the living, for the peaceful singing in the streets of those who suffer so much, for the coming together of international efforts, for the food and water that is reaching those in need, the list could go on and on. With the Haitians, I proclaim "Thanks be to God!" again and again. Have you not heard them say it over and over again? I will say it with them.

And when it comes to my own little problems, I can remember the Haitians and how God was present in their tragedy, and put my life back in perspective and give thanks to God. It seems silly to do otherwise.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A World of Possibilities

My life right now is abundant with possibilities. The possibilities seemed to begin to open up when I made space for them. Several months ago, I left a job that took a lot of my time and energy. I decided it was time to leave, and fortunately for me, was in a position to be able to take some time to discern what was next. I decided right off that I wasn't going to rush things and was going to take some time to rest and make some space for whatever would develop. I had a few ideas of what might be out there, but didn't want to make any quick decisions or settle into anything too fast.

Before long, I began to feel re-energized. The creative energy that just seemed to pour out of me was a wonderful surprise! I had so many ideas it was hard to keep track of them all. I began to look at a number of different avenues that were open to me and tested several at the same time. I began to develop my own website for spiritual direction ( and to develop a retreat practice. I also looked into the job market to see what was there. With my background in general management, it seemed that I fit every place and no place all at once. I applied to a few places, but realized that if I was going to get a management job, I would have to focus my resume in a few particular areas. I figured that when those areas emerged, it would be good to go down those paths and see what was there. The risky and exciting (and scary!) rout to take was to develop my own business in spiritual direction and online retreats. I spent hours putting together another website and creating the first retreat. With the help of my tech buddy, we got it done, promoted the idea, and met our first goal for enrolment. By the end of the retreat, we felt it had all gone smoothly, and although we hadn't made any income yet, it was a great success!

So one of the big possibilities that is very exciting for me is the fruit of my own creative energy - this online retreat and spiritual direction practice. I can imagine into the future and see some wonderful possibilities for where it might go. I look forward to what might happen with this work and hope that it can be useful and appreciated in this world. How it has already been received had been overwhelming and what that might mean down the road is exciting to imagine. I am also very grateful for the time I have had to unleash my creative energies and go with the flow. It has been great fun! And it has been a wonderful experience for me to work at home. I have had more time with my family and that is a blessing as well. This space that was created when I quit my job has been abundantly filled!

Of course, when life is like that, it is not unusual for other possibilities to pop up. Another rich and exciting possibility has come my way - a job that would take me in an unexpected direction. Sometimes those things come along, and just the possibility of it changes how you look at everything else. I have no idea where this one might lead, but it makes my world rich with possibility.

Life with possibilities feels expansive and exciting. There are times in life when we may feel trapped or stifled. The possibilities seem nowhere to be found. But I think it is important to recognize that we often choose to see possibilities or not. Sending out resumes creates possibilities. Reaching out to a friend or an enemy may create possibilities. Having an argument creates possibilities. Quitting a job creates possibilities. Sometimes we have to tear things down to get to the foundations of life, and when we do, anything can be built upon that cleaned foundation. The possibilities are so many when the creative energy can go in so many different directions.

We live in a world of possibilities. Life is so much more interesting and exciting when we focus on those possibilities and work with them. Some possibilities we create for ourselves. Some possibilities just seem to come to us without us doing anything. Some possibilities are life-sucking, some are life-giving. At every twist and turn of life, we have choices to make. We have so many possibilities to choose from. May we always choose those things that are life giving!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Journey

On April 30, 1975, the city of Saigon, Vietnam was in turmoil. It was the day that Saigon fell to the Viet Cong and the Americans pulled out of the war. Everyone who could get out of the city, did. Anyone with the means to leave, left. The tension had been intense for a long time, but today, a woman who worked in a bank where information was available, could see that things were happening fast. Those who were going to survive would have to act quickly. She had eight children at home. The oldest was eighteen and the youngest was six. She knew that they had to get out.

By now, the only way for this woman and her children to leave the city was by boat. So Mom gathered up her children, packed up some documentation, a few valuables and family photographs, and loaded up the family on two Vespas - all nine of them!. They drove through the crowded, chaotic streets toward the docks. Helicopters overhead were loaded down with VIPs desperate to get out of the country. Shots fired out and bullets whizzed past. Military guards threatened to stop the family at the check points. Bribes of money were given. When the family finally arrived at the docks, the crowds were desperately pushing and shouting. Refugees were being loaded onto barges that would be towed out to sea. As the family moved closer to the barges, they clung to each other, being careful to stay together in the pressing crowds. Finally they were close enough to lift the children onto the next barge. The children were quickly transferred one by one, and just as the last child was loaded onto the barge, the crude boat began to pull away from the dock. Mom was left behind.

The barge was towed away, children and mother helplessly separated. As soon as they were out in the open sea, the tug-boat disconnected from the barge and left it. The barge drifted. The crowd of people on board had no food or water, no shade. They had no way to steer or power their craft. Their only hope was that they would be rescued by the Americans; being found by the Viet Cong would be deadly. After three days and two nights, an American battle ship was sighted. The Americans were combing the sea for these barges full of refugees and taking the people to Guam. As the eight children were hoisted onto the gigantic battle ship, they began to hope that Mom might have been rescued, too. After a few hours of searching, the family was reunited. They arrived in Guam and were placed in a refugee camp.

The stay at the camp was short for this family. They were extremely fortunate to have an aunt who lived in the Denver area. They were able to make contact and the aunt made arrangements for the family to come to the United States. Just two weeks after leaving Saigon, this family arrived in Denver to begin a new life. And two weeks after that, I met my husband, the second son. I have always been amazed and grateful that they made that perilous journey.

Life is full of journeys: some more perilous than others. We journey from peace to war to peace, from danger to safety, from oppression to freedom. Sometimes it means that we give up everything, that we leave it all behind. Sometimes we risk much. Sometimes the loss is unbearable. We journey into the unknown, where the people, the language, the food – the very way of life – is different and strange. Always, we journey toward a vision, toward hope, toward new life. The spiritual journey is like this.

We travel through the chaos of sin, where life is threatened and death is waiting. We leave things behind. We summon our courage. We seek freedom. We seek peace. We go to a new land where everything is a new creation. As we explore the depths within ourselves, we bring light to whatever darkness is there. We strive to bring order to chaos. We leave death and destruction behind. The brokenness within us is healed as we let go of those things that destroy us. As we journey toward God, we are made new. We find a new spiritual home and the life that is truly life. We could choose to stay behind – it may seem like the safe alternative, but this is the way of death. If we wish to truly live, now is the time to begin the journey, to take the risk, and discover the new life that waits for us as people of God.