Sunday, February 18, 2018

Baking Bread - Ordinary Sabbath Holiness


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.

Baking Bread

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

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.

Baking

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.

Reflecting

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.

Cleaning

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

Binding and Swaddling


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

Finding Faith and God



"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."

My Thoughts

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.

Bread

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.

Cloth

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.

Nature

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.

Reflection

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.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Open My Eyes That I May See



I got out of my car with arms full of Christmas cards to mail and a package to send. I like the small post office in Nora, a small community within Indianapolis. The people are friendly and helpful and I was driving in an area where the post office is located.

As I spread out all of my cards and arranged the contents of the package on a table near the "you-do-it" section in the lobby, an elderly woman came along beside me.

Quickly clearing a space for her, I said, "I don't need to take up all of this room. I tend to spread out so I can organize my mailings."

She smiled, "I need to fill out this paper to hold my mail while I am gone. I don't see well. Can you help me?"

"Sure!" I set aside my cards and held the corners of her form to steady her writing. I checked what she had already written, but she was confused about the dates of her departure and arrival home.

Completing the Form

She was certain about when she was leaving so we entered that information. Then we counted forward until she reached the time when she was coming home. I looked over the other questions and told her she was ready to turn in the request. The form complete, she reached into her purse offering  to pay me for helping her.

"Oh, no. Helping another is part of life in God's kingdom."

"I am eighty-one years old and I am thankful to be here," she replied. "I used to be an elementary school principal and do things with ease."

"I'm glad you're here too!" I said. "Have a nice time away. I watched her walk slowly through the lobby.

Dropping my cards and package in the appropriate bins, I reflected how my vision and her lack of vision came together. Interestingly, outside the post office sat a blind man, a fixture at the corner of the building selling brooms. Today was cold and windy and he was wearing a heavy coat and hat. Two women were talking to him and I watched as he laughed and smiled.

Open My Eyes

My experience at the post office with the woman who had trouble seeing reminded me of the opening stanzas of an old hymn, "Open My Eyes, That I May See."

The first three stanzas of the hymn begin with these words:

"Open my eyes, that I may see;"

"Open my ears, that I may hear;"


"Open my mouth, and let me bear,"

That day I  was able to blend all three verses as I helped the retired principal complete her form.

How Are Your Eyes, Ears and Mouth?

I wonder how many times I miss opportunities to be in service to others because my eyes don't see or my ears don't listen carefully or my mouth remains silent or says something inappropriate. God help me be aware of those I cross paths with so that I can be aware of and present to those who may need help.

Have you been in a hurry lately and not given attention to those around you? We all have busy days with lots to do. Let your eyes be opened to see, your ears be opened to listen and your mouth be opened to speak as you move through God's kingdom and interact with God's people.

Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time - when your vision is clear and your heart is open to respond.

For Your Reflection

1. When have you paused to talk or help someone in need as you were on your way to do something else?

2. How did you feel after you completed your service?

3. What practices help you become more attentive to others?

Prayer: God, our days are busy, but our hearts truly want to extend love to those who may need attention. Keep us alert and aware of others wherever we go. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?



I had just arrived at the hospital where I'm a volunteer chaplain. I logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I'm always on the lookout for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request someone from housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those bright, yellow, plastic signs that I could set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty bottle. 

"I'll be right back." I went to the cafeteria, where I purchased two bottles of the same kind of Pepsi she spilled. 

Realizing I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bags with the two bottles of Pepsi and went on my way carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave myself fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take an extra few minutes to ask why she was at the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked past where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is a reminder for me to take the extra few minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances wherever I am. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office that would have prevented a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve, not fifty percent as I offered.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to other.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments so you can remember how God has used you.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen for those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Duke Basketball and God's Presence


One of our family's favorite activities through the years has been watching Duke University play basketball. Mike graduated from Duke Divinity School in 1976, so we have a personal interest in the team.

We watched many years of memorable games including national championships in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2011, and 2015.

After their championship in 2015, I heard an interview with Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The reporter asked the coach to compare winning this fifth title. He replied:

     "I can't compare one title with another. All of them are great. The one you're in the moment, the most current, you can feel it best. What we've tried to do all year is live in the moment.  I told the players to live in the present and not worry about external expectations."

Live in the Moment

Coach Krzysewski taught his players the value of staying in the moment - in the present - so that nothing could distract them from the game they were playing. Schoolwork, relationships, a job, difficulties with a roommate, problems at home are a few of the circumstances that could distract a player's focus.

Stay in the game and live in the moment. It's advice that worked for his team, and it's advice that works for me.

Being Present

I believe "Coach K" has good words that can be applied to those who desire to stay focused on God. Distractions are all around us. I find distractions to prayer even if I am sitting at my desk looking out the window. My mind can wander to what I need to do for the day or to a concern about another person or what happened the day before, and the list goes on.

Although I am not playing a basketball game, I am working at being present to God.

What helps me most when I find my thoughts wandering is to take a deep breath. I can then bring my focus back to God where I can hear God's voice.

Live in the moment. Live in the present. That's what "Coach K" said. It's good advice for his players and for those who desire to deepen their walk with God.

Questions for Reflection

1. What distractions come your way when you try to pray?
2. How are you inspired to stay focused on God when your mind wanders?

Prayer: We desire, God, to stay present to you and present to others in your name. Distractions swarm around us, taking our minds in many directions. Our desire is to stay in constant awareness of your presence. Guide and direct us in ways unique to each of us, that will help us stay grounded in you - and as "Coach K" says, "Live in the moment,"  Amen.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Eight Questions for the New Year


Before you put away the ornaments from the Christmas tree, file recipes of food you only prepare for holidays and organize your presents, get a sheet of paper and a pen to record a few thoughts.

Reflect on experiences during the month of December and record what came to mind. Consider these questions.

     1. Where did I see God?
     2. How did I experience God?
     3. When did I offer God's love?

Keep a copy of what you wrote where you can reference throughout 2018, perhaps in the spring after Easter, during July, and in October as preparations for next Christmas begin.

The answers that come from the questions can reveal the fullness of God's presence as well as give form to changes you might want to implement during the year or in future holiday seasons.

Additional reflections for the new year examine your life and priorities. Respond to each for a sense of cleansing and direction in 2018.

     1. For what am I longing?
     2. What themes keep recurring in my life?
     3. Where am I struggling?
     4. What is most life-giving to me?
     5. What is least life-giving?

Jesus spent time away for prayer. Although we do not know the content of his reflections, he gave us a model of the importance of being still with God. We, too, can be still before God and ask these questions, seeking wisdom and insight from above.

Prayer: God, at the beginning of a new year, help us collect our experiences with you and others from 2017. Guide us as we use these eight questions to realize your presence with us to offer new energy and focus within and guide us in service to you. Amen.