Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finding Sanctuary in Target

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.

New Scripture

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

Seeking Spaciousness During Lent

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

A Broken Chalice - That's Where the Light Comes In

Pastor David arrived carrying a small loaf of bread  in one hand and a chalice in another. He was taking time on this cold winter night to serve communion to our small group.

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.