Preparing for my own Camino

This past week, I had some unexpected time to rest as I had a reaction to a new medication and spent 2 ½ days in a horizontal position, too dizzy to be upright. It ended up being a time for God to remind me of a rhythm of prayer I have encountered before: “The Divine Hours,” seven periods of prayer observed by Christ followers since the 6th century. Practiced faithfully by Benedictine monks as close to us as the Mt. Angel abbey, these prayers are made very accessible in a book written by Macrina Wiederkehr called sevensacredpauses. This book is meant to be a guide for those who would like to move through their day with greater mindfulness. The author writes, “The daily and nightly dance of the hours is a universal way of honoring the earth’s turning as well as the sacred mysteries that flow out of our Christian heritage. This ancient tradition of inviting people to move through the day remembering that their Source of Life is not a practice that has died. It is alive and well in many traditions.”[1]

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Dawn at Mt. Angel Abbey, on the way to Lauds.

The seven periods of prayer are set aside in the day as follows:

Matins or Vigils-the pre dawn prayer, a prayer for vigilance. “The Night Watch”

Lauds or Morning Prayer-ideally at sunrise, a prayer of praise celebrating the resurrection. “The Awakening Hour”

Terce or the Third Hour of the Day – midmorning pause to turn our heart briefly back to God and to the present moment. “The Blessing Hour”

Sext or the Sixth Hour-the hour of light, courage, recommitment, and passion. “The Hour of Illumination.”

None or the Ninth Hour-the hour to reflect on impermanence, aging, death and transition. “The Wisdom Hour”

Vespers or Evensong-time to move from the tumult of the day into the quiet of the evening. “The Twilight Hour”

Compline or Night Prayer– the last hour of the day, the hour of intimacy and trusting in God for life. We are robed in love as we enter “The Great Silence.”[2]

The wisdom of pausing at these sacred times is a treasure that ought not to be lost, Weiderkehr says.

God has put a longing for this deeper treasure in my heart. When I lose the vision for it, He brings it back again and again. Even as I rest on my bed unexpectedly, I feel this longing to try to pray these hours. Perhaps while my husband walks his Camino, I will walk a journey of Praying the Hours. And just as he gathers his pack and clothing and socks and passport, I am gathering the things I need to make the journey God has for me.

Each person walks his or her own camino. Praying the hours seems to be my next one. How is God calling you? What is your next journey?

[1] Wiederkehr, Macrina. Sevensacredpauses (NotreDame, IN: Sorin Books, 2008) 3-4.

[2] Wiederkehr, 6-7.

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Freeway Jaywalkers

Geese_JoshuaBrangenberg05One day this past week I was driving to Canby and as I was about to merge onto I-5, I saw a mama goose and her three goslings making their way across the three lanes of the entrance ramp. My natural inclination was to stop, but the flow of traffic prevented that. But they certainly created a space for thought.

How often do I take the hardest road, the one with the least forgiving surface and barriers on either side? When do I become exhausted from dodging traffic and frantically scramble for safety on the “other side” just to find a cement barrier and a dropoff that ends in another busy freeway?

What were Mama Goose’s options? Not being a goose, I can’t think of a goose’s options, but it seems like flying would have been a good idea. Except that her babies weren’t ready to fly yet. Hmm, then choosing a different route would have been safer. Or staying put until night when the traffic died down. Or simply staying put.

Several questions unfolded in my mind as I continued the drive to Canby:
• When do I live as the goslings – needing protection, guidance, someone to choose the way for me?
• Have I experienced a “way” that is hard and seems unsafe, unaware of God’s protection around me?
• When do I live as the mama, doing what I know is important, helping others find a safe place to be? Sometimes that involves risks that threaten current existence.
• Is that kind of threat always bad or are there times when it is good to question my life practices, my direction, my goal?
• Will she make it safely to the other side? Where was she going? Where I am going? Will I make it safely to my destination?

A line from Psalm 31 comes to mind as I ponder these questions:
“I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.”
(Psalm 31:14)
Yes. I trust in you, O Lord, even as I walk in challenging places.

A Different Cadence

Jill, the instructor for my deep water aerobics class, likes to push the class to work hard. She uses clear instructions, strong counting, and lots of encouragement to help people understand what each exercise is and how to get the most out of it for one’s own body and health. I like to work hard when I exercise and that’s why I appreciate her leadership in this particular class. Her energy and enthusiasm motivate me to work my best and to work hard.

She says several times during the workout, if this makes some part of your body hurt, if you’ve had a knee or shoulder or hip problem, modify it for your body. Don’t hurt yourself or cause further injury.

I had a conversation with Jill a week ago when I was still needing to be very careful about my recently injured lower back. I was nearly ready to be in the water for the length of the class, but I knew I wouldn’t yet be able to keep up with her pace. We talked about what it’s like when the voice you hear urges you to go faster and faster and your body is telling you to slow down. The voice on the inside is marking a cadence based on limitations in the muscles and joints and energy level.

It was just a brief conversation but enough to think about when I joined the class this week. Several times I had to slow down or modify or simply rest while the others in the class continued and more importantly while the cadence of Jill’s voice pressed me to move faster. It was good that we had talked about it earlier in the week; then I was more aware of the battle I was encountering.

As I listened to my body on Thursday and worked at times against the strong cadence Jill was creating, I thought about the Easter story. The whole story goes against what we expect and it takes a great deal of effort at times to listen to the song Jesus is singing, when the song of the world is so much louder and the beat seems much more powerful.

The gospel of Mark records the story of the three women who came to the tomb expecting to find a dead body. They knew what to do to care for it. It was part of the cadence of life they were used to. They had brought spices to anoint the body, they were discussing the logistics of moving the large stone out of the way. They were expecting a bloody burial shroud and a putrid tomb. They were accustomed to dealing with death.

What they found was a young man, presumably an angel, waiting for them with a message about life. “Jesus has been raised. He is not here.” They heard his message, went out of the tomb and fled, filled with both fear and amazement.

We come to Easter expecting a certain story. For many, the story is so familiar that it no longer touches our hearts or our lives. But when we encounter the unexpected, when we find life instead of death, we are invited to tune out the unrelenting cadence of our busy lives and listen for the message of life that is sung by the Risen Savior in the beating of our hearts and the longing of our souls.

women leave tomb

The women are invited to go to Galilee, to the place where they interacted with Jesus on a daily basis. It was a familiar place, a place where they had heard him teach, seen him heal and perform miracles. With these women, listening to the cadence of new life, we go. Go to the places of the daily in our lives and tell the story of resurrection; sing the song of new life.

 

 

 

(Thank you to Joanna Harader and her post on Mark 16:1-8, who prompted my thoughts for this post. http://spaciousfaith.com/sermons-etc/new-testament-texts/mark-161-8-easter/.)

Therefore…Steep Yourselves…

tea2I am grateful for an insight that I think will come to be one of those classified as “life-changing.” Through the observations of another writer, whose information I cannot now locate, I became deeply aware of the “therefore” at the beginning of Matthew 6:25. Where do we look to understand Jesus’ reference?

We must look all the way back to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the mountain beginning at Matthew 5:1. First he told his followers how to live in the reality of blessing. Part of that message was that the blessings don’t always look like what a person might expect as blessings, “Blessed are you when you’re at the end of your rope, for then there is more room for God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you (Matthew 5:3-4, The Message).” Because we are blessed people, with all these ways of living provided by God, we are invited to not worry and not judge. In other words, don’t fret about your life and don’t fret about the lives of others.

That’s a great thought, but the challenge comes in living there. How do I stay in the realm of “don’t worry” and “don’t judge?” Think on this: “Steep yourselves in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provision (Mt 6:330.” Like floating a tea bag in a cup of boiling water and watching the tea slowly release flavor and odor and color, we immerse ourselves in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provision; living into that releases our flavor and aroma and strength.

It’s simple but not easy. It takes intentional presence every moment. The kind that might make you concentrate so hard you find your fists clenching or your tongue pressed against the back of your front teeth. And then gradually you find yourself breathing into it and you realize you are sinking into the cup, relaxing into God-reality, God-initiative, God-provision.

It seems I get plenty of practice at this. But these past two weeks have brought an intensive course as I dealt with physical pain in my abdomen and back. There are many amazing gifts that came along the way, but here I just want to share how being steeped in God-reality helped me reframe it as blessing.

  • You’re blessed when your back hurts for only then will you recognize the invitation to pay attention to all the incredible details God is weaving in your life.
  • You’re blessed when you slow down for it is then that you are still enough to hear God’s whispers of love.
  • You’re blessed when you can’t do enough, for then you’ll find that God is pleased with just who you are.
  • You’re blessed when you let God touch your pain, for only then will you truly begin to heal.
  • You’re blessed when you realize God’s time is not our time. Only then will you begin to accept God’s timing for the present and the future.
  • You’re blessed when you discover you can’t control circumstances or people—it is then that you begin to welcome whatever comes as a gift from God.

How much of the efforts of my life are driven by being anxious about myself or others, compared to dwelling on the truth that God is willing to bless us and the people we are worried about. Can I catch myself in the act of worry or judging and reroute those thoughts by steeping them in God-reality? It’s simple but not easy. We have to reroute thought patterns that have taken years to form and perfect.

And sometimes we are invited to sit out on the sidelines and let Jesus really show up in all the ways He loves to care for us. And miraculously, those around us get cared for too. We are blessed when we come to the end of our rope. With less of us, there is much more room for God. Amen.

Patterns of Love

I haven’t written a blog entry in a long time. It’s not that my fingers have been still or away from the keyboard. No. It’s more that the dance of life and work tires them and though I compose many beginnings, middles, and even endings, in my head I often cannot face the thought of sitting at the computer one more moment to get them out.

Last night I read the thoughts of someone who encouraged me to keep trying and today I have the space to try anyway to give shape to my bubbling thoughts.

Thoughts from Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking have stayed with me this week, as he asks in chapter 3 about the patterns we see in life and how we might make sense of them. Or where we might find God in them. When we see suffering and natural disaster and war and hunger and we try to make sense of a God who somehow is involved with a world where that kind of thing happens, McLaren puts words to questions people have asked me and I have wondered about myself: “Do violence and chaos rule? Is the Creator capricious, heartless, and evil? If we had only our worst experiences in life to guide us, that might be our conclusion” (12).

So my own spiritual practice of “seeing Jesus at work” in everyday things ends up being a search for the patterns of God’s goodness. I want to inform my heart and my mind of the Truth about God.

Last Friday I had about an hour to wait between medical appointments. I heard an invitation from God to visit the local Goodwill store. While I like bargains, I don’t have much patience for looking through the volume of things I don’t want, to find the one thing I do. This definitely was the voice of God, not my own desire.

I headed there and got distracted in the book aisles. I thought I was going for clothing—a new skirt for work perhaps. Several books caught me and I walked away with four of them. After 25 minutes, I forced myself to look at the clothes—the real reason I entered the store in the first place, I thought. I found three things that I loved. Then suddenly or finally overwhelmed by the garish, ghoulish plastic skulls and the loud, bad music, I was forced to leave. Quickly. With my treasures.

I’ve worn two of the three items and gotten compliments. Last night I opened one of the books and found the sentence that sent me, with willing, longing fingers, to my computer to begin again to write.

“Long distance runners prepare for marathons with a lot of shorter runs, increasing their length and speed as they become stronger. In order to hear your calling and answer it, you must generously give yourself the gift of time. Certainly, no one else in the world will do it….The bottom line is not how fast you make your dream come true, but how steadily you pursue it.”
Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance (New York: Time Warner Books, 1995) September 10 entry.

Yesterday I visited with a woman I know who was just diagnosed with pancreatic and colon cancers and has elected to do some chemo to hopefully slow the growth of the cancers. She has to take public transport to the doctor at times and this past week she was riding home the bus home. The driver took a back roads route and the woman was confused about where she was. She asked the driver what road they were on.

The driver named the road. The woman exclaimed, “For years, I’ve asked my husband to drive on that road because I just wanted to see it. He always refused because it was too windy and he didn’t feel comfortable driving it.” This past week, after many years, this woman got to see this particular road. Without even asking.

Also yesterday, I was in the home of a dear friend who is also been walking a cancer journey. The past three months have been riddled with questions and aching and waiting and surgery and healing and praying. Everything has seemed different and she and those around her have longed for at least bits of normalcy. They have been few and far between.

But yesterday as I looked in the refrigerator for something else, I saw a cantaloupe waiting, still in its plastic grocery bag. Waiting to be cut and put in the glass bowl where the cantaloupe usually goes. I started to cry. It was a moment of normal—in the middle of the journey of Unsettledness and Uncertainty. Usually the table is never without cantaloupe in the summer and this is only the first or second one this summer.Cantaloupes_Market_1_1

These little things work deep into my life to inform the questions Brian McLaren voices, that others have asked, that I have wondered and spoken. Does God really know what’s going on when I hurt? When hard or bad or scary things seem to be happening and He doesn’t appear to be doing anything to help?

But then these beautiful, simple love post-its find me at every turn and my understanding of God grows and, yes, the mystery deepens.

A invitation to Goodwill, where I don’t usually shop, to find two books that brought encouragement for my calling as a writer (and three new pieces of clothing as a bonus—I love that about God).

A celebration of a simple desire to travel a new road—orchestrated by God for someone He loves very much.

A small round cantaloupe, still in the rustling grocery sack, sitting expectantly in the fridge—a moment of normal that brought deep hope for the coming tomorrows.

Those are only three of the too-many-to-count ways I’ve seen God love. We can’t comprehend all of what goes on in the world, but we certainly have evidence of love in the midst of it all.

The Lord is kind and merciful…full of unfailing love…the Lord is close to all who call upon Him…He hears the cries of those calling for help and He rescues them. Psalm 145

Saying Yes

So many moments each day, I succumb to self-evaluation and I often land on the “no” side. I think of things I did not do or have not done and that thinking makes me forget. The things I have done or more importantly, the being I am.

I said “yes” to reading Scripture at an event yesterday. I read well and it was a blessing for me and those listening.

I say “yes” to listening. That happens several times every day.

I say “yes” to taking care of my body as best I can. That involves swimming or walking or going to the doctor; icing my eye, taking naps, eating chocolate…that list seems full.

 I say “yes” to making beautiful things. Drawings, tangles, quilts, paintings, strings of prayer beads, table settings, altar arrangements, worship services.

ImageI say “yes” to living life from a child-like point of view: playing games, reading stories, making smiley faces with my food.

I say “yes” to being a great wife. My husband says so. And he’s the expert and the one that counts.

I say “yes” to family relationships, staying connected to my children and granddaughter as best I can. I say “yes” to movie parties and inviting people over and buying new dishes at Ikea.

I say “yes” to being a thoughtful, sweet friend. Again, my friends are the experts on that one and they say my life makes a difference for them.

I say “yes” to the calling of pastor every day. And every day I try to roll with the punches of that calling. Some days I roll precariously close to one edge or another and always God is there to meet me. (I do think He has gone to the edge before us.)

I say “yes” to prayer. In my car, for you in your car. In my walking, the flowers and the traffic lights and the rocks and the dogs remind me of people in my life who need to be lifted to God’s throne room. So I do. Sometimes even my breathing is praying.

I say “yes” to writing. See, here it is.

So with all that saying yes, realistically I don’t really have that much time or energy to say “no.” Except where it helps me to say “yes.” Like saying “no” to comparing myself with other people and what they do and how they say “yes.” The more I say “no” at that level, the more space I will have to say “yes.”

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well. He saw her clearly for who she was. And he continued the conversation anyway. He said it was important to know that God was not so interested in her showing up at a certain place, worshiping a certain way, as he was longing for relationship with her, with all people, in spirit and truth. John 4.

I say “yes” to this God, too. Amen.

Redemption

I walk into the drafty, smelly, concrete room dragging my black plastic bag full of bottles and cans. I hear echoes of the laughter at the birthday party where my daughter’s guests and our family consumed the liquid in these brown bottles and happily colored cans as I open the bag to begin sorting. Glass here, aluminum there. The mix of smells is sickening. What was sweet and good and satisfying to begin with has become stale and sticky sweet. I take a deep breath, glad for the cold sharp air of the outside room and I begin to redeem my old, used bottles and cans for something of value.

Once I have become accustomed to the smell, I must contend with the noise. The bottles land with a deep  “thonk” and I wait for the unsettling burst of glass breaking in the machine. Thankfully the pieces don’t fly out at me; they are contained within the crash site and their pieces mingle with other broken pieces. The containers are unrecognizable.

The cans crumple and shrink under the pressure of the big machine. They lose their shape and ability to hold anything. They become small and useless. Squashed flat.

I take a deep breath. The smell is getting to me. The noise is unbearable until I can tune it out with my thoughts. Still feeding the containers in one by one, I think of redemption. Five cents per bottle. Five cents per can. Not much, but it adds up.

When I come before you in the quiet of my praying and my journaling, God, I begin to look around for the empties. Thoughts gather and I place them in the bag of my journal. I hear the laughter in my memories, I feel again the hot, salty tears on my face when I think of the agony of holding unanswered questions.

How do you look at my life, God? How do you see my sin? What of repentance–the act of agreeing with you that something needs to be done and You are the one to do it? If I repent every time I breathe, will that take care of every broken shard in me that needs Your grace? Oh, and one more question: grace–just how much can I depend on Your grace without taking advantage of it? Of you?

The noise of the questions grows unbearable and I find that I have stopped breathing for a moment in the clamoring, crashing brokenness. The smell of old doubts and the sticky, familiar stale sweet feeling of fear takes the upper hand in my awareness.

The large bag is limp now. The machines have consumed all the bottles, all the cans. I see a place to wash my hands and dry them with a paper towel. I hold the paper receipt describing the details of redemption between my teeth, away from the soap and water that will wash away the truth of what I have earned for my empties.

I have brought my questions, my emptiness, my doubt, my fear to a place of redemption. My hands are sticky and smelly with touching these very human parts of me. I cannot quite get the smell to go away. But I have surrendered them to a power that is able to refashion them into something new, with a new purpose. Redeemed. Bought back for a price, for a reason. Because Someone wants to use me.

I have not been unaware that there are others around me experiencing the same thing. Each one with his or her bag of empties, standing in front of other machines, experiencing a similar sensation of breaking, reforming, washing, redeeming. It’s like a community of faith, a church, this drafty, concrete outside room. We all come knowing we need, and want, redemption.

The chilly night air feels good as I walk toward my car. I have some crisp bills tucked away in my wallet–the fruit of the exchange of my printed evidence of redemption. I am richer. In more ways than money can bring. I am at peace with the questions. I have agreed with God that I need Him. I am balanced in His grace. I am–redeemed.

So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood on the cross. You yourselves are a case study of what he does.

Colossians 1:18-19, The Message