Ripe Fruit

By Lindsey Rowe

I stepped onto our deck and took a deep breath. The air smelled sweet, like the lilacs blooming on the side fence, and at the same time woody, like the pine bark that had spent the day basking in the sun. I noticed with delight that the fruit on our cherry tree had ripened, seemingly overnight. Part of my delight was in knowing how my 10 year old would dance for joy if she could see it. But she’s on vacation at grandmas house, so I somehow get to take on double delight – from both my perspective and hers.

What beauty is in the birds swooping down to snag a berry to take back to the nest. How refreshing it is to taste the juice of the ripe fruit in my mouth, even to feel it dribble down my fingers as I pick it but accidentally squeeze too hard. To smell it, to taste it, to hold it, to see it, to hear creation around me enjoy this ripe fruit with me — all of that is what brings the delight on in full force.

I experienced this precious moment wholeheartedly, while recognizing that there is a process that fruit must go through to ripen. It takes time – and patience – on my part. It takes resilience, nurturance, health on the part of the tree. I know if I try to pick the fruit too soon, it’ll be bitter. I know if I don’t care for the tree properly, it can’t produce the fruit I delight in. I must be patient, work hand in hand with time (and not resist it!). I cannot force the tree to ripen the fruit on demand. I cannot beg, plead, or command it. I can only bear witness to its journey, delight in it in each season.

Isn’t that such a parallel to relationships? The more I delight in each relationship in each season (even the death of fall and stillness of winter!), the more that relationship is fully able to bear the fruit its intended to bear… I cannot plead, beg, command that relationship. I must settle into it, nurture it and bear witness to its growth… patiently waiting for the fruit of that relationship to ripen. Only then will I find true delight in the one I share that relationship with, enjoying him or her as God intended.

Practicing Lament: The French Pantoum

Practicing Lament: The French Pantoum

Stanza 1:

Line 1: Who I know God to be right now:

Line 2: The cause of my lament—why I cry out:

Line 3: What the situation makes me feel about God:

Line 4: What I long to see happen in the situation:

Stanza 2:

Line 5 (repeat of line 2 in stanza 1):

Line 6 (new line):

Line 7 (repeat of line 4 in stanza 1):

Line 8 (new line):

Stanza 3

Line 9 (repeat line 6 of stanza 2):

Line 10 (repeat line 3 of the first stanza):

Line 11 (repeat line 8 of stanza 2):

Line 12 (repeat line 1 of the first stanza):

Meet Becki Parr

Becki Parr desires to help others recognize God’s image in them, God’s love for them, and God’s work through them. Lingering with God and people are two of her favorite things. Becki enjoys sitting with people from a variety of streams of Christian faith. Whether a person is exploring a relationship with God, wrestling through questions or doubt, seeking to deepen their experience with God, or serving in ministerial leadership, Becki hopes to create safe places for others to be their authentic selves and be seen in their belovedness. She delights in fashioning space for people to recognize and experience God’s presence. One of her greatest passions is leading intimate retreats.

Becki provides spiritual direction for individuals, facilitates Lectio Divina ,and offers group spiritual direction. She has 20+ years of experience working with ministries for teenagers, young adults, women, and children, as well as engaging with people who have diverse cognitive and/or physical abilities, and serving those who love them. Becki lives in Arvada with her husband, three boys, and dog. She loves coffee, unstructured time with her boys, playing outside (but using the bathroom inside), hiking (but not camping), and the beach. As an apprentice with Anam Cara Ministries, Becki is taking limited new directees in person and at a distance. You may contact her by text or phone at 925-708-1012.

A WORD ABOUT WEEKS: THE VALLEY OF GOLD

A couple of years ago, I had the gift of walking through the Valley of Elah. If you’re not familiar with that name, don’t worry—I wasn’t able to place it in the story of God until I planted my feet on it.

In 1 Samuel 17, Israel’s armies are encamped on one side of this valley. On the other, the vastly superior Philistine forces are aligned, ready to decimate the primitive tribe below them. Instead of costly bloodshed, they send out their champion to mock their opponents. And if you’ve guessed that champion is named Goliath, you know where that story goes.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot about that valley since I took the picture of it that’s at bottom left. I’ve been thinking about it enough, that when a friend who was in Israel a few weeks ago sent me the picture at bottom right, standing roughly where I’d been standing, my breath caught in my throat. Because the valley that had been only haunted by spring green when I saw it was ready for harvest. And I suddenly understood Pentecost on a deeper level than I ever had before.

For some of us, Pentecost brings up images of tongues of fire and a specific day in the Church calendar, if it brings up anything at all. (For me, it brings up this kitschy song, but that’s another story for another day.) However, Pentecost was a major Jewish festival, one of the moadim or sacred times. Also called the Festival of Weeks, or Shavout (which begins the evening of May 28, 2020), Pentecost is a harvest festival where the first fruits of the wheat harvest are to be brought to the Temple as a sacrifice to God.

The visual of the ripening harvest and the awareness of all that had been weathered by the people before they made their pilgrimage from their homes up to Jerusalem for this sacred festival makes me even more awake to the fact that God’s heart for us deep and wide.

Imagine for a moment the disciples gathered, waiting as Jesus commanded them, in Jerusalem. They don’t know what is to come. They’ve just been told that the Spirit will be poured forth. They don’t have any idea what that will look like, and, shaken by 40 days of Jesus’s frankly squirrelly resurrection appearances, they almost seem to be hiding.

And yet, there’s this festival that most of them know they need to be participating in. The firstfruits of the wheat harvest to be brought to the Temple comes most typically in the form of bread. The baking of which would have been happening all around them, filling Jerusalem with the pungent, yeasty smell of loaves and loaves of freshly made sacrifices.

Wouldn’t they been remembering all the times Jesus broke bread for them? Wouldn’t they have been thinking about the times that they walked through the fields of gold in their three years of following this wandering rabbi, plucking grain from the stalks, hungry not only for food but for more of what this iconoclastic man seemed to offer? Wouldn’t they be wondering about the harvest that Jesus had promised?

It’s on this festival that God chooses to pour out the Spirit. It’s in the midst of a city filled with the scent of baking that the Spirit enables these frightened women and men to become bread for others, the bread of Heaven.

They’ve walked through the valleys together, including the valley of the shadow of death—and giants much bigger than Goliath have been slain by Christ. Death is no longer. Sin has no grip. The valley that was a place of battle has become a valley of provision.

In this way, these disciples, these men and women waiting for what Jesus had promised, are themselves the firstfruits of His harvest. They are the grain that has been milled and crushed, leavened with the yeast of Christ’s resurrected presence. The waiting between Jesus’s ascension and this moment when the Spirit comes in tongues of fire has been a kind of proofing, a time when God has commanded them to rest quietly and let grace rise.

It strikes me that the tongues of fire were the kind of spiritual heat that was necessary for this full offering of themselves as food for the people. At Pentecost, they knew that the firstfruits, the wave offering that was to be given in order to sustain the people, were actually themselves. That the story that they were trusting in was coming forth in their very lives and faithfulness.

Pentecost is about the Spirit, yes. But it is also about all the valleys of darkness that God sows with good seed. In time, these valleys are filled with gold—sheaves of wheat that become the bread of our lives. And the bread of our lives that becomes sustenance for all people.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Catch Me In My Scurrying: A Prayer for Lent by Ted Loder

Catch me in my scurrying

Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and with my neighbours on this earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams,
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be;
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.

Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared to your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smouldering resentments of exploited third-world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;

and somehow

during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something …

something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a saviour followed.

Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
grant me enough peace to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you …
only you!

Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me torment,
storm enough to make within myself
and from myself,
something …
something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, Augsburg Books, 1981, 123-125.

Four Meaningful Gifts for the Season

I admit it. I’m a sucker for the “suggested for you” and the Christmas gift lists sent out by my favorite writers (and retailers) around this time of year. If you put any stock in the 5 love languages, one of mine is definitely gifts, and I love scouring websites and catalogs for something both beautiful and meaningful for those I love during this time of year.

But, rather than suggest something for your spouse or best friend, or that special something for someone who has everything or wants nothing (two different states, mind you), I thought that this year I’d share just four gifts that might make for a more meaningful season—one more connected to the sacred and sacramental, to God and to one another.

So, in no particular order they are:

Every Moment Holy

This beautiful book of liturgies became my favorite book of 2017 as soon as I got it into my hands. Leather bound, full of original handcut prints, Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s book is both practical and sacred. In these pages you’ll find liturgies for changing diapers, liturgies for the death of a pet, liturgies before medical procedures, liturgies for feasting with friends, and more. They are meant to be used both communally and personally, and I believe that they’ll change the way you experience your every day life. Plus, it’s published by The Rabbit Room, which is a publishing house worth supporting. You can purchase yours here.

And if you’d like to experience one of McKelvey’s liturgies, you can download A Liturgy For A Husband & Wife At Close of Day.

A Christian Calendar

I’ve anticipated the release of the Christian Season calendar every year for the past five years. This calendar is full of original contemporary artwork, which is enough of a reason to purchase it in and of itself. But, more than that, this calendar is not shaped around the January to December year. It begins with the start of the Christian year, the first day of Advent, and traces the seasons instead of the world’s boxes of weeks and months. For example, one of the spreads is Holy Week, which includes Scriptures for reading on each day, and shapes the focus and importance of the week in the flow of the whole year.

 

You can get your copy of the calendar here.

 

Examen Dolls

Sacred Ordinary Days publishes a daily planner that includes the practice of Examen, developing a Rule of Life, and other wonderful resources for engaging God in your day-to-day life. However, since I’m the mom of a young child, I’m actually going to focus on one of their not-so-well-known resources, the Examen dolls.

There are two versions of these hand-stitched dolls (and, if you’re a sewer, you could probably replicate them yourself, but I’m not), which are inspired by the Ignatian Prayer of Examen. They can definitely be used as an adult, but they are intended as a tool for engaging a younger child in exploring where God has been in their experience of their day. The dolls provide a tactile way of talking through feelings, the nearness of God, and how your child has heard from God in their day.

You can buy one for your child or a friend here.

Sisterhood Soap: Preemptive Love Coalition

The Preemptive Love Coalition does incredible work around the world with those in war torn or at risk situations. You can purchase a variety of gifts from their shop that help those in need and support the work of Preemptive Love Coalition, but I love Sisterhood Soap in particular because of the person-to-person connection of the necessity and beauty of soap. As their website says, each item in this gift set is hand-crafted by a different refugee. Each one displaced by violence, each one rebuilding their lives. Every bar of soap, every washcloth, and every hand-crafted soap dish helps create a new future full of hope and possibility—for not one but three families.

Help three families by purchasing Sisterhood Soap here.

 

And, of course, if you’re looking for a way of entering into the seasons of Advent, Christmas & Epiphany in a more communal, slow, and sacred way, you can join me for When The Heart Waits: Accepting the Invitations of Advent, Christmas & Epiphany:

13 Things To Give Up For Lent

Today is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras (translated as Fat Tuesday). Generally, today is the day where Christians are meant to consider their lives prayerfully and decide on what the shape of their Lenten fast will be—whether it’s a giving up of a vice or addiction, or taking up of a devotional activity. Lent is the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, when the Passion of Christ is remembered. Depending on the tradition, fasting takes place Monday through Friday (Orthodox) or Monday through Saturday (Catholic and other Protestant denominations), with Sunday being a feast day.

While I’ve been thinking about what God is calling me to this Lenten season for at least a month, my heart hasn’t quite landed on anything particular yet. The penintenial time of Lent is meant to be a response to God’s longing call in Joel 2, “Return to me with your whole heart!”

In those words, I hear the ache of a father whose son has rejected him (Luke 15:11-32), the cry of a lover who longs for the beloved (Song of Songs 2), the agony of Christ on the Cross (Mark 15:25-37).

In those words, I hear the invitation of God to look at my own heart, and consider the things that keep me from deeper intimacy with a God who loves me beyond anything I could ask or imagine. Why do I choose Facebook over time communing with Him? What is it about food that I go to the pantry to numb myself instead of the comfort of His arms? How is it that my heart would rather repeat nasty things about myself than choose to engage in the very practices of writing and speaking that He has annointed me for? He calls me His beloved, do I believe it?

Contrary to popular culture, Lent isn’t about giving something up just to prove that you have control of your addictions, or that you’re better than the chocoholic next door. Instead, it’s about making space to receive more of God’s love, His tenderness and your true identity in Him.

I’m still not sure what Lenten practices God is calling me into this season but if, like me, you’re still considering, here are a few ideas that might spark something for you:

1. Facebook

In our world of social connectedness, Facebook is the new chocolate for the season of Lent. There have been studies done and articles written about the fact that our interactions on social networks like Facebook produce in our brains the same chemical reactions as when we are hugged or touched. Much like the phenylethylamine in chocolate, time on Facebook spikes our “feel good” hormones with a rush of oxytocin. This, in turn, fuels our desire to get another “hit” of the chemical, and we find ourselves refreshing our News Feed every 30 seconds instead of tending to our crying child. While I don’t think Facebook addiction is going to cause the kind of dystopian social meltdowns that some doomsdayers say, it might be worth your while to see how much control you have over your social network use—or how much control it has over you. If you find yourself checking Facebook before you get out of bed in the morning, it might be time to call it quits for 40 days. If that makes you feel panicky, don’t worry, Sundays are feast days.

2. Saying “Yes”

Ever find yourself committed to something that you didn’t really want to do? Like bringing over that casserole to a new mom you hardly know, or getting that extra project done at work despite the fact that you’re going to have to miss your daughter’s soccer game—again?

Some of us say “yes” so often that we don’t even realize that it’s our addiction to being “useful” or “necessary” that is driving us to overcommit, which leads to being completely overwhelmed.

Lentiswhen
Perhaps this Lenten season you might be led to a season of hiddenness and humility, where instead of saying “yes” to babysitting your friend’s children one more time, you make room for yourself, your family and your heart by saying “no” to every extra request that comes your way. This may be a tough one for those of us who get our self-worth from how much we can do, instead of how beloved of God we are. It may be tougher for those who have great opportunities come their way during this season (and, believe me, if you’re led to take up this fast, they probably will), but saying “no” can produce the kind of incredible freedom that says that your reputation, career, self-worth are determined not by how much you do for others, but by a God who will care for you, if you only give Him the chance.

3. Reading

In her book, Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner talks about giving up reading for Lent. While this may not seem like much to you, for this self-avowed bibliophile, giving up books was like giving up eating for 40 days. Books soothed her, told her she wasn’t alone, and kept her occupied in a way that allowed her to avoid her feelings.

While you may not be led to give up reading for Lent, is there an activity that you go to when you’re sad, alone, or scared? Something that you do that allows you to numb out or avoid sitting with what’s going on in your own soul?

If so, consider stepping away from that practice for the duration of Lent. Invite God into those lonely, sad, frightened places. You may find He fills them with something you would have otherwise missed.

4. Eating Out

It’s late, and you’re hungry. What could be easier than picking up some Chick-Fil-A on the way home, or driving through Sonic to get some tots?

Sometimes the conveniences of Western living leave us blind and insensitive to the economic realities of the majority of the world’s population. For a lot of people, there’s not such thing as fast food, and convenience eating is a thing of day dreams. When others live on one meal or less a day, choosing to let go of eating out (in restaurants, fast food chains or even your work cafeteria) can begin the process of opening your heart not just to your own needs, but the needs and sufferings of those around the world. It helps you remember that you’re not the center of the universe, and that God suffers for and with those in poverty—His heart breaks for them.

If simply giving up eating out doesn’t feel like it will soften your heart, perhaps consider eating only rice, beans and water for this season. In your body’s needs, you’ll be feeling the needs of the world. And that is guaranteed to change you, to open you, and to allow God’s compassion to flow through you.

5. Chocolate

While we’re on the subject of food, you could consider giving up chocolate for Lent. This is a slightly different form of fasting than the food fast mentioned in #4. Giving up chocolate, or those foods that offer you comfort, you’re choosing to turn to God when your psyche and your stomach would rather you turn to Lindt Truffles. While this seems a simple fast, it usually reveals how quickly and how often we use another source to offer us life (Scripture calls this idolatry). If chocolate isn’t your go-to, consider coffee, or something else that offers comfort and distraction, whether that’s carbs, meat or anything else.

6. Sarcasm

Sarcasm, judgement, criticism. More often than not, I use these tools to defend myself against other people, to categorize them rather than really listen to them. The root of the word sarcasm derives from a Greek word that literally means to rend flesh. Giving up sarcasm for Lent means that I choose to look at people through God’s eyes, and to spend energy noticing when I’m choosing my own interpretation of their actions or words instead. Some people call this fasting from critical words. I just call it choosing to love.

7. Anxiety

At the risk of quoting too many of Lauren Winner’s books in one blog post, I’m nonetheless going to share what Winner describe giving up for Lent in her most recent book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. This time, instead of reading, she was charged with giving up her addiction to anxious thoughts (which manifested themselves in obsessing about whether or not she’d turned off the tea kettle to checking her bank account multiple times a day). Instead, when wracked with anxious thoughts, Winner took a few deep breaths, and allowed God to hold her still for 15 minutes. During that Lenten season, she admitted to living by those 15 minute incriments.

You may not struggle with anxiety over your bank account, but what about your kids? Do you choose to indulge in worry rather than trust on a regular basis? Instead of resting in the provision of God, are you thinking about how to control your 401(k), your retirement, your future?

What mental habit might God be inviting Himself into, asking you to let Him handle that part of your soul for the next 40 days? Can you screw up your courage and say ‘yes’ to life lived without obsessing over what tomorrow may bring?

8. Television

With a full seasons of my favorite shows on Netflix to catch up on, this might be a tough one for me. But how often do I chose television as a way of numbing out instead of interacting with my husband at the end of the day? As someone who works at home, I sometimes turn the TV on just to have voices in the house. What would it be like if I asked God to speak instead?

What might you do with 40 TV-less days? Perhaps you might take more walks, and discover a coffee shop in your neighborhood that you never knew existed. Perhaps you might read more, immersing yourself in stories that catch your imagination on fire. Maybe you’ll take up a new hobby, or choose to read through the Gospels (a traditional Lenten undertaking) instead of catching up on Cupcake Wars. And maybe, just maybe, God will sneak up on you and transform your relationship with Him into something way more interesting than reality TV.

9. Cruelty

Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Giving up on being cruel probably appears, on the face of it, to be a sacrifice already accomplished. You don’t kick your dog or hit your spouse. You’re not apt to road rage or deliberately sabotaging your coworkers.

But how about how cruel you are to yourself? What is it that you tell yourself when you’ve failed, missed a deadline, broken a glass? What names do you call yourself by? What kinds of things do you say to yourself? Stupid idiot! What a failure! You’re worth less than nothing!

These words we would never say to our child or our friend, but we say them to ourselves, often hundreds of times a day.

What if, during Lent, you began to let God speak in those times of self-cruelty, instead of berating yourself. What might you be surprised to find He says over you?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])

10. Busyness

How are you doing?, we ask one another. Oh, fine, we laugh breezily. Busy!

Busyness is the plague of our time. It is so easy to be busy, so easy to be full of things to do, people to see, work to accomplish. What if Lent this year is an invitation to spaciousness? What if it is a call to let go of social obligation and a schedule full of activities and instead choose for leisure, rest, renewal? Lent doesn’t have to be a muscular grasping for spiritual strength. What if, instead, it is a relaxation into the arms of the One who holds us all.

What if you gave up being busy for Lent? What if at Easter someone asked you how you are doing, and you were able to answer, Not busy at all!

11. Avoiding

I suspect I’m not the only one among us who has a junk drawer in her kitchen. It’s the drawer where all the odds and ends go, the place where loose paper clips, dead batteries and bits of ribbon end up. It’s full of things that I’m going to organize one day. But you know and I know that I’m avoiding looking at the things that I don’t know what to do with—I’m tucking them away so that I don’t have to deal with my own helpless questions about whether or not I actually need that third tube of super glue, or whether I’m ever going to become the kind of woman that sews lost buttons onto shirts.

What if, for Lent, we gave up avoiding those questions? What if together, God and I tackled some of those places of clutter and avoidance—in my kitchen drawer, or in my own heart? What if I gave up avoiding having that hard conversation with my friend, or avoiding the fact that I’m not going to ever be the type of person who knits? What if, instead, I called her up and told her what was going on, what if I just threw away that unused ball of yarn and gave up the pretense of being anything other than who I am?

What kind of Lenten freedom might that be?

12. Prayerlessness

Perhaps this is a bit more of a taking up than a putting down. Or perhaps you are putting down the habit of relying on yourself and your own strengths.

Giving up prayerlessness for Lent could involve picking up a practice of prayer that brings joy or expectation to your day. What if that’s praying by doodling? (See Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color.) Or maybe it’s praying a fixed hour prayer, using a psalter or prayer book (I recommend The Paraclete Psalter or Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours Pocket Edition or J. Philip Newell’s Celtic Prayers from Iona.) Or maybe it’s picking up a practice of journaling, dialoguing with God about your day, inviting Him into all of its nooks and crannies. Or maybe it’s walking prayer, letting your steps be the imprecation that brings you deeper into His heart. Or maybe it’s song, or silence, or lighting a candle. Maybe it’s praying the Psalms.

Whatever it is, let it be joy. Which isn’t to say that each moment of prayer will be divine bliss—or any moment for that matter. What it is to say is that prayer doesn’t need to be a grinding, painful process. Giving up prayerlessness means showing up to a relationship.

I promise that God will show up, too.

13. Self-Righteousness

And here’s the last suggestion. It may be the hardest. Give up yourself. For Lent, let go of wanting to be right, needing to be right, believing that you are right. For 40 days (you can be right again after that!), give up winning arguments by running over top of people (heck, give up arguing). Give up needing to be noticing when you walk into a room, or needing other people to agree with your . In an election year, that could be giving up needing people to agree with your position on an economic policy, or (*braces for the angry emails*) your position on abortion.

Letting go of self-righteousness means giving up the burden of having to be holy. It means accepting the free gift that God gives us in Christ, and choosing instead to turn toward the holiness that He gives us. It means letting go of striving and rule-keeping, abandoning our ability to define ourselves by what group we belong to or accolades that we’ve earned. You could even give up needing to pick the right practice for Lent.

Giving up self-righteouness means giving up being right, and picking up being God’s.

So, what about you? Have you decided on a Lenten practice that brings light and whole-heartenedness? Where are you in the journey?

 

Recovering from Soul Sag

No matter how open-handed we were, no matter how still we became, no matter how we tempered our expectations into expectancy, a majority of us have been feeling (or will feel) a let down after December 25. Our longings have been whetted by Advent, our desires help openly before God, and whatever of those were met in Him on Christmas, there are some longings still there, some aches still present.

Before you begin (or for most of us, continue) berating yourself for how you should have experienced December 25, I encourage you to remember we all—you, me, our children and grandchildren—are soaked in an atmosphere contrary to the Kingdom. On December 26 the radio station our family has listened to since early December switched abruptly from constant Christmas tunes back to “regularly scheduled programming.” Christmas trees have already made their migration curbside in our neighborhood, and people arch a puzzled eyebrow at me when I wish them a “merry Christmastide”. No matter how well-prepared, how “holy” we feel our Christmas Day may have been, the world we live in still refuses to take the long journey to the manger, preferring instead the quick fixes of glitter and gifts, buying our way into what we hope is acceptance, what we want to be love.

The longing and letdown are part of the Christmas story, believe it or not.

Think about it.

The shepherds in the fields were told in a display of great glory so overwhelming that they were terrified. A host of angels sang the good news of Messiah over them, and they were told that they would find a baby in a manger as “a sign to you”. Although it’s wild speculation, some of those shepherds might not even be expecting this baby to be anything more than a sign—maybe Messiah was here in more glory and pomp than that, and they only had to see this sign-child to be let in on the secret. For them, Messiah meant physical and political liberation from their oppressors (exile in general, Rome in particular). Messiah meant real, immediate deliverance, unquestionable victory, all hopes fulfilled. Sounds a little like our expectations of a perfect family Christmas, in a way.

To those still hoping in the promises of the Old Testament, rescue was assumed to look a certain way. And this over-the-top explosion of angel-glory might just have reinforced that assumption.

It would be easy for them to be let down by a regular baby in a regular manger.

It’s easy enough for us, thousands of years later and much more in the know, to feel that same sort of spiritual disappointment.

We’re leaning toward the Second Coming, the fulfillment of all promises, all longings, all hopes of the kingdom to come. And, really, God? It’s a baby? In a manger? Again?

It’s why we miss it so easily, the stunning reality of the rescue in front of us. We’re waiting for the fireworks—or at least for Uncle John to not show up drunk to the family Christmas celebration, or even for your mother to remember that you really don’t like the cookies she makes every year. Into our imperfect celebrations, our broken hallelujahs, our fumbling attempts at adoration slips the infant Christ.

This is the upside down kingdom, the Messiah as a helpless child, redemption not as a single point in time but a journey. What would it take to believe that the Messiah is really here, in this small boy nursing at His mother’s breast? What would the shepherds have to let go of in order for their entire experience of the redemption of all mankind not to feel like a let down?

That’s part of what this journey to the manger—the one that lasts all of Christmastide—is and does for us. It helps us learn to see what we know we cannot see. Messiah as child. God as man. The cross as victory.

I would hazard a guess that we don’t live into the fullness of the Christmas season for lots of reasons, but chief among them would be the fact that there are not enough teachers who help us know what it is to live in the Promised Land, to truly enter into the journey of fulfillment of God’s Word to us.

Sure, we have a lot of teachers who tell us to hope in the future kingdom (a good and valuable discipline), and a lot of teachers who help us live into the holiness of the sacrifice and discipline of the With God life. We even have some leaders who insist that God’s promise for us is material prosperity in the here and now (something Scripture contradicts). We don’t have a lot of people who are willing to lead us courageously, whole-heartedly, into the Promised Land, even if it is full of giants.

Why bring up the Promised Land when there’s a child in a manger? We’re close enough to the Advent readings that you might have an inkling of why, John the Baptist’s exhortations still echoing behind us. Although it will be years before either John or Jesus arrive at that point in the story, John’s choice of the Jordan River wasn’t just that it was a convenient body of water. The Jordan was the exact river that the people of Israel had to cross over in order to enter into the Promised Land. And John stood baptizing there as a message to the people that another crossing over was about to happen—that the days of wilderness living were about to end, that One was coming who would lead not just Israel but us all into a place of milk and honey (provision and sweetness), where we can live out the words that God has spoken to us.

Which brings us all the way back to the book of Joshua, and a mixed multitude of people perplexedly entering into a space that they’d never been before—a space where manna didn’t appear every day, but provision came from a different source. Things were changing, and God wasn’t providing in the ways that they had come to expect. No more manna could possibly feel like abandonment, when in fact it was God moving into the neighborhood. A crying infant might feel like a cruel joke, when in fact it was God made flesh.

(As a small aside, it’s helpful to know that the Greek translation of Joshua is Yeshua which, yes, is the same word as Jesus. And do you know what Jesus—and Yeshua and Joshua—means? It means salvation. So the Book of Joshua could also be translated as the Book of Salvation.)

What does it take to enter into the Promised Land in fullness, when all that you’ve experienced is the wilderness? What does it take to begin to see the smallness of the Kingdom of God as rescue and beauty, when the world around us screams for bigger, newer, better, more?

If we look at Joshua 5, what happens right before the manna stops and they begin to eat off of the provision of the land that they have been given (inhabiting the Promise) is sacrifice. The people celebrate the Passover, but not only in remembrance of God’s liberation of them from Egypt. This time, the Passover represents a celebration of God’s faithful work of bringing them out of the wilderness and into the promise that had been given to Abraham.

The sacrifice the people make here is not just a lamb, but a sacrifice of the ways of the wilderness. It’s a letting go of all that has been, in order to make space for what will be.

It’s something that we all have to do, at some point, in order to begin to actually inhabit the Promised Land, to inhabit the Kingdom of God here and now. We have to let go of those things (often good things) that have sustained us in the wilderness. We have to let them go, because if we don’t, we’ll go straight back into those places of deprivation and longing, and not realize that we’re actually standing on the very ground of fulfillment that we’ve been longing for (sadly, this is Judas’s very story, and why Christ aches so much over him).

So, beloveds, here are my Christmastide questions for you:

What is the way of the wilderness that you need to lay down (and let burn, to use the imagery of Monday’s video) in order to be ready to enter the Promise?

What has your manna been, the gift from God that sustained you, that needs to be let go of in order to see the abundance of the land you’re standing on?

What does it mean to let go of the let down of Christmas and instead see and learn something altogether new?

What does the child in the manger really mean to you—can you see Him as fulfillment, even when there’s more journey ahead?

Can you begin to believe that you’ve crossed over into God’s Kingdom, even when the world still seems so broken?

Sometimes, dear ones, let down is a good thing. Sometimes it’s a release of all that was so that a new, more glorious future can unfold.

Merry Christmastide. Christ is born!

Grace & peace,
Tara

Exile

richardson-exile-from-iran-on-the-beaches-of-australia

 

Exile
 On reading 1 & 2 Kings

Like the ancients, we know about ashes,
and smoldering ruins,
and collapse of dreams,
and loss of treasure,
and failed faith,
and dislocation,
and anxiety, and anger, and self-pity.
For we have watched the certitudes and
entitlements
of our world evaporate.

Like the ancients, we are a
mix of perpetrators,
knowing that we have brought this on
ourselves, and a
mix of victims,
assaulted by others who rage against us.

Like the ancients, we weep in honesty
at a world lost
and the dread silence of your absence.
We know and keep busy in denial,
but we know.

Like the ancients, we refuse the ashes,
and watch for newness.
Like them, we ask,
“Can these bones live?”

Like the ancients, we ask,
“Is the hand of the Lord shortened,
that the Lord cannot save?”

Like the ancients, we ask,
“Will you at this time restore what was?”

And then we wait:
We wait through the crackling of fire,
and the smash of buildings,
and the mounting body count,
and the failed fabrice of
medicine and justice and education.
We wait in a land of strangeness,
but there we sing, songs of sadness,
songs of absence,
belatedly songs of praise,
acts of hope,
gestures of Easter,
gifts you have yet to give.

by Walter Brueggemann
from Prayers for a Privileged People, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008.

Pandemic Soul Care

Note: This blog on soul care was originally written by Tara in post election 2016. We all could surely use a reminder of how to care for ourselves in a deep and true way, once again. In difficult times, remember – be be gentle with you and with those around you. Error on the side of kindness. And if you need someone to walk with you – reach out to us. Any one of us would be honored to sit with you and hear your story.
– The Anam Cara Spiritual Directors

 

This morning, whether you are sitting in front of your computer waiting for that next Zoom meeting, trying wrangle three kiddos while making breakfast, or just simply lonely and alone, there are some practices, reminders, and gentle exhortations that are important to soul health after what I have sometimes termed as the “collective trauma” of this past year.

Get Outside

We have, in general, indoor minds. We lives inside of boxes, eat inside of boxes, and find our entertainment inside of boxes. Much of this past year was dominated by screens. Getting outside in God’s creation not only reminds us of cycles and seasons, but it removes the walls and ceilings around our souls, leading to a more expansive experience of the world, our God, and the Good News. It helps us gain God’s perspective and bring rest.

Getting outside brings our noisy, busy selves to a place of silence. Spend time in that silence and see how nature continues to sing to God. If you can, leave your technology and social media behind. Having an unmediated experience of the book of creation brings us back to God’s heart. It helps us to develop outdoor minds.

Lament (or Celebrate)

Lament is a legitimate response to world events, national events, local events, or personal events. Weeping and mourning, ashes and sackcloth, are Scriptural ways to react. Lament doesn’t begin with pointing the finger or denigration of the other, however, it starts with personal responsibility and sorrow. It starts with repentance, and it moves toward an understanding of larger themes and needs. Lament moves toward an understanding of God’s movement, care, and goodness in the world, most often through our own actions of care.

Celebration is a legitimate response to world events, national events, local events, or personal events. Singing and dancing, waving the flag of victory, and generally finding gladness in a hoped for result is a Scriptural way to react. Christian celebration, however, doesn’t involved denigration of those who are not celebrating, or stating superiority because of your glad news. Christian celebration invites all into the party—and acknowledges the pain, fear, and sadness of those who don’t want to respond.

Find Yourself In The Word

God’s story is always our story. If you feel disoriented, afraid, or unsure of what is to come, turn to the Word. In it,  you will find hope, guidance, and a sense of the future. In it, you will find conviction, questions, and an understanding of what your particular role and call is in bringing God’s light into the world. Read the story with fresh eyes. Ask questions of the text you never dared ask before—the Word is asking questions of you.

Spend Time With A Child

Spending time with a child is spending time with the future. Laugh and play. Cry when things are disappointing. Don’t hold grudges. Remember we are taken care of in the same way that children are (or should be) and that our God is a kind and responsible parent. We can ask for what we want without fear, just as a child is unashamedly needy. We can be afraid. We can be happy. We can be sad. Spending time with children isn’t about forgetting everything, but remembering that we, too, are dependent, needy, and loved.

Read Poetry

Poetry doesn’t lecture. It helps us to see, to question, and to awaken to beauty. As predictions are made, as dire things are said, as rhetoric is simplified into marketing, choose to read poetry (or listen to great music or view beautiful art). Let yourself be awakened to perspectives that aren’t your own, to see things you never saw before, and to be comforted by the reality that there are poets and prophets in the world who help us to see more clearly, to see as God sees, and to respond accordingly.

Do Something Creative

Create something—a cake, a painting, an essay, a lesson plan. Bring beauty into the world. This season has been divisive and, at times, downright nasty. Bring redemption into the world by creating something that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t have to be happy or sad or anything you feel it “should” be. Just create. Your soul will necessarily be turned toward the One who created you.

Speak The Psalms Aloud

The psalms are an important prayer book, not just something to be studied. Whether your soul needs reassurance, wrath, repentance, solace, or celebration, the psalms can be your prayers. The psalms give permission for a wide range of emotion and experience, and reading them aloud helps you to hear them twice—inside yourself and outside yourself as they are spoken into the world as living, active words. Not only that, but reading the psalms aloud changes and forms us, bringing us more fully into the heart of God and moving us toward the suffering and saving Christ. The psalms were His prayer book, too, and your voice and His will be in concert as you read them out loud.

Love Your Neighbor

There are people who are scared, angry, and upset. There are people who are hopeful, celebratory, and content. There are people with every emotion in between. Choose humility and engage in acts of love with your neighbor—literally first, with those who live on your street, on the same hall in your apartment building, in your dorms. If there are those who are hurting, bandage their wounds. If there are those who feel you inflicted the pain, listen to their hurt without defending yourself. Serve one another in ways larger and small. Bake cakes, rake lawns, start fundraising campaigns, help teach ESL classes, plant community gardens, play with children in the street, let other people go first in line, drive the speed limit, look at your servers (grocery stores, coffee shops, etc.) in the eyes. Give people dignity. The person looking at you—whoever they are—bears the image of God.

Remember That Good Takes a Long Time To Appear

In Genesis, the word for “good” is the Hebrew word tov. A dear rabbi friend of mine defines tov as the actualization of the potential for life embedded in the creation by God, when the creation brings it forth with the seeds of future life already in it. Good is when the fruit of a tree produces seeds that are planted in the ground and brings forth another tree with fruit and seeds in that fruit.

This means “good” in the Hebrew sense takes a long time to appear. Good may come of apparently bad circumstances. Bad can come of apparently good circumstances. We are the living tov of our grandparents. Our responsibility is to bring forth what God has placed inside of us, and to wait with God for that potential to produce the life that God has intended. This may take a very long time.

Run To Meet The Father Who Is Running To Meet You (Or Join The Party)

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father runs across the field to embrace his son. This is our God. He is running to meet you, He is running to meet me. He loves us wildly and scandalously. This is deeply true. Meditate on this parable. Spend time with our God. We may be the prodigal son or we may be the older brother, refusing to join the party. In Luke 15:31, the Father says something surprising, something that I pray reassures and brings life to all of our souls today: “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” We are always with God. Always.

I pray today for you, and for me, and for us all:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:9-13, NIV)

And, if you want to talk, if spiritual direction would be helpful, please feel free to reach out to Tara, here.