Sunday, March 18, 2018
Looking for a quiet place to reflect on a rainy, damp Ash Wednesday afternoon, I skipped the library. Instead, I chose the Starbucks tucked inside the neighborhood Target.
Would I be able to concentrate and even stay warm in the coffee area just inside the frequently opening front door? I ordered my tea and found an empty table. No one else was around and surprisingly, the longer I sat, the warmer I became. Maybe the large cup of tea I clutched sent warm waves through my hands to my body.
I began to reflect on three passages of Scripture that enveloped my heart:
- Philippians 4:12 - "I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry whether I have too much or too little."
- Matthew 28:20 - "And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."
- John 12:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
I was grateful for the ways these new verses came after enduring a period of desolation for the past several months. I gained encouragement from Mother Teresa, who, despite feeling God's absence, continued to complete each day in ministry with the poor and sick in Calcutta.
My Own Desolation
When my time of "loneliness from God" began last December, I was led to a passage in Leviticus 25:2-6. God is giving direction to Moses about the use of the land.
"When you enter the land that the Lord is giving you, you shall honor the Lord by not cultivating the land every seventh year. The seventh year is to be a year of complete rest for the land, a year dedicated to the Lord. Do not plant your fields or prune your vineyards. It is a year of complete rest for the land."
I, like the land, needed rest from a year of teaching and leading groups just about every day at my church. I was spent and like the soil, I needed time off.
However, after a few months, when I felt ready to resume my writing and art, I had no words or images. My companionship from God through writing and art had disappeared and my heart deeply felt the loss.
My spark from God was gone and I wanted it back.
A portion of each day, I asked God, "Why did you take my writing and art away?" Writing and art had always been prayer for me. When I received no answer from God, I felt frustrated, angry and disconnected from the source of everything I need in life.
Then, one day, I was reflecting on my losses and those three new scriptures came. These words from God spoke of content (even when I felt God's distance), of Jesus' constant companionship (even when I felt lonely) and offered encouragement for a troubled heart and soul longing to write and create.
A Spark Returns
I finished my tea, pushed the cart around Target to gather a few items. To kill some time, I perused the book selections. Suddenly, as I roamed up one aisle and down the next, words started to come to my heart, describing an experience a few days earlier walking through an empty field littered with clumps of dirt and dried corn shocks.
Celebrating the return of my spark from God, I paid for my items and hurried home to get my tablet of paper and pen and start writing.
For Lent this year I am reading "Forty Days With Grounded: A Devotional," the back pages of the book "Grounded" by Diana Butler Bass. On day two, I read the following words that offered encouragement and hope as I was seeking to make it through these barren days.
"Every time I have experienced new depth or new wisdom in my spiritual life, the path toward the new awareness begins with a sense of loss of God's presence. God seems absent, unavailable in the usual places, elusive. I am lost. I have learned to trust the question, 'Where is God?' as a marker along the way. No fear. Only a sign to pay attention to the ways in which the spirit is speaking."
The author offered me a new perspective about my "wasteland," a term through which I was passing and finally, slowly exiting.
God Speaks at Target
I wasn't expecting anything unusual to happen that Ash Wednesday when I entered Target, but I left feeling my spark with God was beginning to return. As words tumbled out of a weary and confused soul, I knew that God can enter our hearts anywhere - even in Target.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have you experienced God's absence? What words would you used to describe this time?
2. How are you encouraged when God seems distant?
3. What practices help you stay focused on God during days or weeks of feeling lost?
Prayer: God, sometime we feel like you are sitting right next to us, while other days we feel that you are so far away. During these moments of drought help us stay steady and firm in you because we have the assurance you are with us always. Amen.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Genesis 2:7 - "The Lord God took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it; he breathed a life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live."
Anticipating the ground would be muddy, I changed into a pair of old boots I carried in my trunk. The cleared rows were bumpy with large clumps of dirt defining the space. Dried corn shocks littered the ground, remnants from last year's harvest.
I was walking a cleared corn field belonging to a friend. I was struck by the spaciousness of the open field and yearned to find that same space in my heart. I quit teaching a few classes and leading a weekly support group both at church. I sought rest and renewal felt the stirring of my desire as I walked in the empty field.
Ash Wednesday came a few weeks later with the the reminder that humanity came from the earth and will return to the earth at the end of life.
When I received ashes on my forehead at the noon Ash Wednesday service, the pastor quoted Genesis 3:19 - "You are dust and to dust you shall return." My mind flew back to my walk in the field where I walked on dust, dirt, as I traversed the spaciousness of an open field.
Lent began with a desire for spaciousness blended with the sobering reminder that eventually I will return to the earth. Keeping spaciousness of heart will be my challenge for Lent. On that cold January day when I drove back from the field, I already felt enclosed by buildings and houses along the way. I know I'll feel the same as I move through the 40 days of Lent, soul-scrunched and longing to open wide to God, to people in my life, and in the world.
Questions for Reflection
1. What is your heart seeking this Lent?
2. How can you reach your desire?
3. What image comes as you walk these days before Easter?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for the space of forty days to go deeper with you. Guide our hearts and give form to our desires so that we may learn more about ourselves and you. Amen.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
I reached for the chalice noting that the base had a huge chip, a broken edge. Holding the cup containing the grape juice, my fingers rubbed the sharp corner and wound around the curved bottom.
David offered a few opening remarks. As he passed the bread, he said, "The body of Christ broken for you."
My heart stopped on those word as my hands rubbed along the sharp, rough chalice bottom.
Broken Chalice, Broken Hearts
There was surely a lot of brokenness in the room that night:
- a young widow
- an elderly woman whose husband lives in a memory care unit
- a lesbian student struggling with a relationship with her partner
- a middle-aged single woman grieving the lack of opportunity to find a spouse through the years
- a gay man in a confusing relationship
The broken chalice reflected the hearts of everyone in the room.
Over the past six weeks, we developed a deep bond of trust and shared openly about the struggles of our hearts and the brokenness of the past and present. We offered encouragement and hope to each other.
Oneness in Brokenness
When I noticed the chipped chalice and heard the words, "The body of Christ broken for you," I realized in those moments that Jesus' broken body became one with the brokenness each person carried. Sharing communion strengthened the connection we had with each other and brought God deeper into our lives.
I was reminded of the word of Leonard Cohen's song, "Anthem:"
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
Similar thoughts from the poet, Rumi:
The wound is the place where the light enters you.
Leonard Cohen and Rumi offer messages of hope in darkness.
Light Shines in the Darkness
Our brokenness can be hard, challenging, life-altering, but in those cracks, light flows through, to offer strength and hope, bringing ways to cope. We are also reminded that Jesus, too, was broken. The light of Resurrection came into Jesus' crucified body, just like light comes to us.
Everyone in my group welcomed the light of communion into their brokenness, carrying the assurance that they are not alone as the go through their days. Light shines in the darkness as they live the words from John 1:5 - "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it."
Questions for Reflection
1. Think about a time when you were broken. How did you see and receive light to help you get through these circumstances?
2. What ways can you help others who are going through difficult times?
Prayer: We do get overwhelmed, God, when we are broken. We don't move as quickly nor do we respond as clearly to daily events and encounters. Come into those cracks and hard places of our heart, bring your light to ground our struggles and give us ways to see through our days until wholeness comes. Amen.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
When we moved to Fishers, Indiana, back in 1996, we were delighted to find a home on a cul-de-sac. We'd lived in parsonages for twenty years and owning our own home was exciting. Our neighbors were friendly. The half circle was conducive to evening gatherings outside with parents talking and children playing.
The people next door to us, had a five-year-old daughter, Ella. Sam and Rebecca were professional musicians, Rebecca a violinist with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and Sam, a viola player, who had a shop in their home where he made violas and repaired stringed instruments.
We discovered early in our friendship that Sam and Rebecca were Jewish. We were thrilled with the opportunity to learn about their culture and traditions.
Over the years we shared their holiday celebrations with cards and small gifts. They honored our Easter and Christmas in the same way.
When Ella entered high school, Sam's behavior became erratic, with outbursts of anger. He sought help from numerous professionals, but nothing seemed to help him regain his stable, easygoing manner.
Life together was difficult and soon Sam and Rebecca divorced. She moved to an apartment and he relocated first to the small town in southern Indiana where he was from and then to Texas. Through the years following the divorce Sam and Rebecca kept in touch with each other through occasional phone calls and we stayed close to Rebecca. Ella, however, now in college, became estranged from her father.
The years passed. One day in 2015, Rebecca learned from one of Sam's friends that Sam, 52, and living in Minneapolis, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. The friend decided he was unable to care for Sam as the disease progressed and wanted to make him a ward of the state. Rebecca and Ella stepped in. They made plans to bring him back to Indiana and found an assisted living center in Westfield that would care for Sam.
Rebecca visits Sam as often as she can.
A Special Concert
Shortly after Sam's admission to the facility, Rebecca arranged a concert in Sam's honor. She invited all persons who had instruments that Sam made or repaired to perform. Ella, a third year cantorial student at Hebrew Union College in New York City, returned for the concert and sang several songs.
In July, 2017, Ella got married and Sam proudly walked her down the aisle. Rebecca and Ella are committed to loving and caring for Sam as he deals with the challenges Alzheimer's brings.
A few years ago, when Rebecca first told me about Sam's diagnosis and the care she extended, I felt deeply the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. His behaviors many years ago were signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's that no one considered.
The Story of Joseph
Joseph's jealous brothers in Genesis, chapter 37, plotted evil against him. The eleven brothers sold him to people who took him to Egypt. Many years later, Joseph is reunited with his brothers, who are fearful that he might pay them back for the harm they inflicted upon him.
Joseph, however, answers his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: "'Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good. You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.' So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts." (Good News Bible)
Joseph's generosity of heart and strength in God enabled him to forgive his brothers and begin a new life with them even after the horrible way they treated him.
When Forgiveness Doesn't Happen
My own story of forgiveness, unfortunately, doesn't have the peaceful ending Sam, Rebecca and Joseph's brothers experienced. Growing up in a home that was not nurturing, but harmful, left me with feelings of anger and resentment toward my parents.
I worked with a counselor decades later who suggested I meet with my mother and father, and tell them that I forgave them for the way they treated me. One October afternoon, with my counselor present, I met with my parents and offered them forgiveness of the evil that was part of my upbringing. They looked at me and said nothing. I hoped for acknowledgment of wrongdoings, but did not receive that response. Instead, I prayed they would accept my forgiveness and continued to hope for reconciliation.
None of that happened that day or later. Even during additional visits in the years before they died, no words of acknowledgment or apology were spoken. My hopes of reconciliation died with their passing four days apart. I was left feeling hopeless, defeated and disappointed.
Sam, Rebecca, Ella and Joseph
I was encouraged when Rebecca told me of her reconnection to Sam and forgiveness has given this family many opportunities for fullness of life together. Although Sam must continue to live in an assisted living apartment, Rebecca takes him out for concerts and dinner.
Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers opened the door to new adventures for their lives as a family.
My disappointment with the forgiveness and restoration that could have been experienced in my family often brings an ache to my heart. The finality of their passing closes any opportunities for admission or reconciliation. I am grateful, however, for the freedom I have that comes from forgiveness even though none was offered to me.
For Your Reflection
1. Ask for God's strength to examine your life and determine your relationship with others.
2. Is there a person or persons to whom you need to offer forgiveness and enjoy reconciliation? Pray now for opportunities to interact and experience that gift.
Here are two prayers that can move you toward forgiveness:
Prayer 1 - For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free.
For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free.
For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free.
Prayer 2 - I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you. I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity.
Prayer: God, circumstances happen in life that bring us to or knees with despair and desire for harmonious living.Thank you for giving us strength to walk through our days when disappointment comes and our hearts are heavy. Let us, with courage, walk through those hurtful moments and come to a place of forgiveness where we can experience freedom and fullness of life in you. Amen.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Torah) portrays the Jews as people on the move. The instability of their way of life created a thirst for God. Sabbath celebration became an intentional way for the Jews to stay grounded and at home through their relationship with God wherever they were. They came to anticipate joyfully, this day of rest, reconnection and co-creation with God, the only constant in their nomadic life.
Driving home recently, I heard a feature on National Public Radio about Sabbath. The reporter noted that allowing time for maintaining the Sabbath remains important in the life of the Jewish people.
Connecting with one's soul, either by maintaining a weekly day for Sabbath or by establishing other ways of being with God seems even more essential for life in today's fast-paced world. While the nature and content of today's routine differs from that of people in the Old Testament, Christians as well as Jews have struggled to keep the kind of intentional spirituality imperative to sustain a sense of God's presence in daily living.
One of my favorite ways to create Sabbath during an ordinary task happens when I bake bread. Praying and centering with God while baking bread adds holiness to a common task. The resulting tangible expression of Christ's body provides physical and spiritual nourishment that I often share with others.
The simplicity of ingredients for bread - milk, yeast, flour, sugar, butter - reminds believers that Jesus was a simple person, unencumbered by possessions or wealth. Jesus taught about the power of small things - yeast, seeds, a pearl and a mustard seed.
Lighting a candle before I start to bake reminds me that God is present. As I gather the ingredients in silence, I also gather the names, events or circumstances to pray about while I bake. I bless my hands before I knead the dough to acknowledge that God is in my hands. My hands are doing holy work.
Kneading he dough helps me thing of the way God kneads my soul to grow, to change and move closer to God. I pray for strength to remain open to God's kneading and leading with the constant assurance of God's presence.
As the bread bakes, I become immersed in the aroma of creation. When the bread is finished baking, I rub margarine over the top of each loaf thinking how baking bread is a tangible venture from Genesis to resurrection, as well as my spiritual journey during the creation of two loaves.
While the bread cools, I take a piece of white paper and tear into the shape of a loaf of bread. Tearing rather than cutting represents the uneven edges and the unknown of life. Sometimes I write a sentence, a prayer, a reflection or blessing that expresses how I felt during my baking retreat. If I am giving a loaf to someone else, I will include the paper to let them know that God was with me as I baked.
Gathering the pans and bowls to wash, I thank God for being with me, and speaking to me while I baked bread. This activity offered me a few hours of Sabbath rest in the midst of a busy day.
Questions for Reflection
1. Allowing a whole day for Sabbath may be difficult to arrange. Instead, choose an ordinary activity. Ask God to increase your awareness of God's presence as you complete the task.
2. Light a candle before you begin. God is with you always.
Prayer: God, Jews long ago knew that arranging time with you each week gave them strength to continue their days. Guide us in ways that allow us to bring holiness to ordinary tasks so that we too can stay close to you. Amen.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Swaddle - to bind (an infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.
Bind - to fasten or secure with a band; encircle with a band to tie anything
Looking over the shelves in my small office, I noticed two bundles: one tied with salmon-colored fabric, the other tied with bright, orange ribbon.
The fabric-bound letters are from my long-time friend, Annabel. She died December 30, 2016, but left me with a stack of love and encouragement bound carefully so I don't loose any of her thoughts. Binding the letters tightly helps me keep all of her love, wisdom, and observations about life and people at the ready whenever I need to hear her voice.
The other is a stack of birthday cards I received last year. They are bound together by an orange ribbon that was tied around a gift. I bound all of the love and good wishes for a happy day that I received into a bundle to keep always.
Binding and Swaddling in the Bible
Jewish exploration of scripture, called Midrash, often calls Abraham's sacrifice of his son, Isaac, "the binding of Isaac." Binding in this context illustrates how Abraham carried through God's command (Genesis 22:9), binding Isaac to the altar so he could not move.
In the New Testament we read how Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloth, binding him closely to feel comfort - safe and secure much like modern mothers do with their infants.
Binding God's Love
In church recently, the theme for the day was stewardship and service in the church and community. The offertory hymn, "By Our Love," by Christy Nockels contained this stanza -
The time is now,
Come church arise,
Love with his hands,
See with his eyes,
Bind it around you,
Let it never leave you,
And they will know us by your love.
This anthem emphasis shows the love of God so that "we can love with his hands" and "see with his eyes." The binding or holding together of God's love in our hearts fills us so that we are empowered to love and serve others wherever we go.
Binding and Swaddling
Binding or holding together keeps us steady in God's love. We can stay safe and secure in God's love for our own lives and for the way we "love with his hands" and "see with his eyes."
Binding my batch of Annabel's letters and my birthday cards helps me hold the sentiments of love, encouragement, thought and prayer.
Abraham bound Isaac to fulfill God's direction. His actions reflected the depth of his obedience to God. Isaac was Abraham's love bound on an altar.
Mary bound or swaddled Jesus like mothers do today. When we, too, bind or swaddle our hearts with the love of God, we can, like the anthem says, "love with his hands" and "see with his eyes."
Questions for Reflection
1. Do you have cards or momentos you have tied or bound together? What do they mean to you? Why have you bound them together?
2. Every day we have encounters, experiences or private moments with God that bind us closer in God's love. Keep a list of those times and offer gratitude.
3. Just like Mary swaddled Jesus, our hearts are swaddled when we received love from God through others or from God directly.Treasure these deep in your heart.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways to describe how, when you come to us, you leave a permanent imprint on our hearts. Bind your word, your care, your joy, your transformation around our hearts, swaddling you close to us, for all we need. Amen.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
"Is this the Target where you saw the bird?" she asked (See "Gather the Pieces" August 7, and October 16).
"Yes," I said to my friend, Linda, whom I hadn't seen for twenty-one years. We sat in Starbucks at the local Target store. "Finding God in nature added a new dimension to my faith," I added.
Grateful for the opportunity to be together, we caught up on our lives, and I was delighted to listen to someone who regularly reads my blog.
Author Diana Butler Bass
Reading in Diana Butler Bass' book, Grounded - Finding God in the World - A Spiritual Revolution, I noted her comment about living in the city.
"I grew up spending a few years in the city. The world of my childhood was paved over, save some small grass patches and a garden or two. I was a terrible klutz with nature. I constantly stumbled on rocks and slipped in mud, thus proving to my own mind at least that the earth was a threatening and inhospitable place."
She then describes how she viewed church.
"I was grateful for the church, a safe haven from the untamed world of nature. God apparently preferred the indoors too. His sacred abode was the Methodist Church in our neighborhood: four white walls, wooden pews, and colored glass windows. It never occurred to me that someone might seek God in the woods or on a mountain or at a beach, because God was so readily available in the building up the road. Church, unlike nature, was safe. When it came to it, I preferred singing hymns to digging in the dirt."
The author had a change of heart, however, when her family moved to the country and quit going to church. She continues,
"Although I had always believed God lived in that building, I unexpectedly discovered that God was also present in the woods as I followed streams through the forest. Sitting by the lake, skating on a frozen pond, riding my bike on dirt roads - it was as if I could hear God whispering to me. At the Methodist Church, I learned how to follow the rule, how to be an obedient Christian girl. But the country, the place of dirt that I previously feared became a school of wonder. Those woods and farms were a sanctuary of the sacred, a place where the Bible actually spoke."
I could identify with Diana's words when I discovered the egg outside Target (August 7), then found the mother mourning dove, her babies and the crippled bird left behind (October 16)
Growing up in the Episcopal church I had sustaining moments with the weekly liturgy and memorizing catechism for confirmation. God was limited to Sunday morning, within four walls of the church or as Diana also observed, I had no idea that there was any place else to pray or feel God's presence.
As I grew closer to God, I discovered God could be found many places even in everyday experiences. Baking bread and working with cloth nurtured my faith.
When our daughters were growing up we had homemade biscuits every night for dinner. Baking biscuits for my family brought me into God's presence as I remembered Jesus called himself the Bread of Life and then he illustrated faith by using yeast.
Even though the children are grown, I still make biscuits with deepening awareness how kneading dough is an image for the way God kneads my soul bringing me deeper into God's presence and to great awareness of others. Baking bread and prayer were woven together with each batch I made.
For a long time, I came to Jesus like the woman who touched his cloak and was healed of a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:18-26) Her faith took her to see Jesus, knowing the power he had could give her new life.
I touched Jesus for decades through handling fabric and making small quilts.The rhythmic flow of a needle through batting and two layers of fabric became meditative, pulling me closer to Jesus with each stitch and bringing light to darkness that seemed to linger in my heart. Quilting still, after nearly forty years, brings me to God, quiets my heart and keeps me close to Jesus.
The time I spent with the white egg and the mourning dove have welcomed me into a new dimension of being with God. I've always enjoyed a walk in the woods looking at the texture of tree trunks, and patterns of flowers and leaves, but the mourning dove and her babies brought me into communion with another part of God's creation leading me to deep self-discovery and transformation.
I explained to Linda that unlike baking bread and quilting leading me to prayer, observing a pregnant dove, studying the next and empathizing with the injured bird connected me to parts of my past that needed exploring. Realizing that observing a bird, her habitat, and life with babies could penetrate my emotional self, broadened the way I saw God at work in my life. I truly experienced my own trinity, God, the dove and me, exploring together.
As we finished our tea, Linda and I agreed not to let twenty-one years go by until we meet again We appreciated greatly how easy it was to talk even though so many years had passed. And I knew that connecting with Linda - a friend who reads my words each week - was another way God was meeting with me, encouraging me, and showing me my place in the world.
Questions for Reflection
1. We are uniquely made and God comes to us in different ways.
2. What has nurtured you along your path of faith development?
3. Are there objects meaningful to you as you've explored your faith?
4. Where do you find God - in the Bible, in nature, baking, taking a walk .... or many other ways?
Prayer: God, thank you for the ways you reveal yourself to us, often relfecting our interests and talents. Increase our faith in whatever way possible so we can move closer to you. Amen.
For further reading:
Communion Bread: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2016/02/communion-bread.html.
A Different Kind of Communion: http;//jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-different-type-of-communion-bread-of.html
The Rising Womb: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-rising-womb.html\\
Lament for a Fallen Bird: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2017/10/lament-for-fallen-bird.html
The White Egg on the Sidewalk: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-white-egg-on-sidewalk.html
A Reflection for Friday: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-reflection-for-friday.html
Staying Within Reach of Jesus: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2016/07/staying-within-reach-of-Jesus.html.