"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Psalm: O Living Flame of Love

There has never been a day I didn't love You,
     Though often times the embers barely glowed;
     Nor could the heat be felt by anyone but me
          And even then only faintly.

But I have always longed for You,
     A built-in yearning not of my own;
     Often searching in the wrong places
          But longing and looking nonetheless.

Today I ask for a fresh breath of Spirit oxygen --
     "The enkindling of love, wherein the will of the soul is united,
     And it loves most deeply, being made one with that flame in love,"
          As John of the Cross so beautifully put it.

Yes, be rekindled in me first,
     O Living Flame of Love, and then
     Radiate Your love, Your peace, Your warmth
          To an ice-hardened world that so desperately needs Your heat.

Just an ordinary moment...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sacred Heart and Tattoos

I got a tattoo once. A biker's cross on my left ankle. No, it wasn't some whim when I turned 18, but a fun day at the fair with 4 girlfriends. We each got one; different designs in diverse places on the body. I finally washed mine off the day I had to play for a funeral as I figured the grieving family had enough to deal with without my tattoo blaring from the my seat of service at the front of the chapel. I'm not opposed to tattoos, though I do think I might have an aversion to the pain inflicted while getting one.

In a nearby town, there's a tattoo parlor called Sacred Heart. For years, I thought it was a poorly done billboard advertising a Catholic school. I couldn't help but laugh at myself the day I became enlightened. Coming from a Protestant background, I must admit that I've never quite understood what the Sacred Heart emblem is all about. But after a little image searching on the internet, I've discovered that many do indeed go for this particular brand on their body -- and often in some of the oddest locations.

So what it is about the Sared of Heart of Jesus that attracts so many -- to churches, to schools, to tattoo parlors? As I looked at the images on the screen, there were several things that stood out. For one, Jesus was almost always pointing to it or holding it. Secondly, it was always, except for on one occasion, on the outside of His body. And lastly, it was always burning.

So what does all that say to me? Love. Love. And more love.

In my times of (attempted) centering prayer here on my deck, I have been using the word "love" to draw me back to God's presence when my mind begins to wander to other things. I had already noticed a large opening in the oak branches above me, allowing me to see through to the blue sky. But when I opened my eyes after my quiet prayer and looked again, I noticed that the aperture was in the shape of a heart. Tears welled and my own heart swelled as I realized that God pours Himself through the heart. His Sacred Heart.

Jesus paid the price for loving, and in giving His burning heart to us, as so portrayed in all those images, He tells us to do the same. To love. But here's the catch: when we love, we, too, must pay the price for loving. We, too, have to risk the pain; to suffer for it. But to do so is to be Christ-like. I agree with Richard Rohr: "The cross is not the price that Jesus had to pay to convince God to love us. It is simply where love will lead us. ... Jesus names the agenda: If we love, if we give ourselves to feel the pain, it will crucify us." Yes, crucifixion is painful. Thus, so is love.

Are we willing to pay the price of love? A price that demands we give up our rights to have our own way; to dominate; to always be right. A price that necessitates we lay down our hurts, our feelings of rejection and injustice, our grievances, our unforgiveness. A price that leads us to lay down self-centeredness that pretends it's all about you when really it's still all about me, which just might be the most insidious one of all. In short, to love with a price means discarding any behavior that does not take us forward into the nature of God and committing to a behavior that does.

This Sacred Heart of love is risky business. Sometimes I wonder if it's even attainable. For now, I will stand in the place of grace, receiving from His hand this gift of burning fire and pray that its glow will attract others to do the same. Maybe then and only then can I truly be branded.

See you at the tattoo parlor.

Just an ordinary moment...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Morning Psalm of Lament: Madder Than a Hare in March

I'm mad.
Just pure, stinking mad.
Not the crazy kind of mad.
But the angry kind of mad.

What has brought me to this place?
What has flipped the switch to make me
          Throw the bed covers
          Be careless about doors

Could it be the constant schedule I face
          The pressures of life I combat
          The rejections I contend
          The disappointments I confront?

Or have I just given in 
          To self-pity
          To envy
          To ingratitude?

What is the answer to this foolishness?

I sit in silence ... and wait.


Rather, He sends a rabbit

Encouraging me to lay down this madness
          To retreat within
          To align myself again with the holy
          To reflect on majesty.

I bow to the Beloved
          Source of All Life
          Breath of the Merciful
          Silent Speaker
A dove perches above me in the pine.

Just an ordinary moment....

Monday, June 27, 2016

The ABC's of Prayer

When my children were very young, I began using the ABC's as a tool to guide them in Scripture memorization. For example, "A" would stand for Anger: "A wise man controls his temper" (Proverbs 14:29). "B" -- Bad Words: "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies" (Psalm 34:13). For "C" I chose the word Choosing: "Where is the man who fears the Lord? God will teach him how to choose the best" (Psalm 25:12). And on and on we'd go until we had made our way through the alphabet and then we'd begin again with new words corresponding to each letter. (I must inject here that I used money as an incentive. Back then, I think I paid them a quarter at the end of each week for the verse committed to memory. You may judge me, if you like, but, hey, it worked.)

There was a period of time where our middle child would get up in the middle of night with some type of anxiety, pacing the floor on his toes. As his mother, I would pull him into bed with me, wrap my arms around him, and say, "A." He would respond with, "A wise man controls his temper."

Then I would say, "B."

He'd reply, "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies."

And on I would go with each letter, with him responding with the corresponding verse until he finally settled down and drifted off to sleep way before we made it to "Z." And as I recall, none of those verses had anything to do with anxiety or fear. They had more to do with just life in general.

"D" - Doing: "Whatever you do, do well" (Eccl. 9:10).

"E" - Example: "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).

"F" - Friends: "Do not be mislead: bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15:33).

After several rotations of ABC character-building verses, I moved to selecting scriptures that had to do with God and His character. How many of those verses through those years took root and produced good fruit? Only God knows. But for that season of restless nights, the ABC's were less about Scripture memory and more about prayer and connecting to the true Word of God.

Many, many years have passed since those days of drawing my child close and saying the ABC's in order to calm him down. Many books have since been read on prayer, and many techniques have been employed. Does anyone truly believe they have arrived when it comes to praying? Certainly not I.  Recently I came upon a story that J. David Muyskens relates in his book, Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God. I offer it to you here.

The story is told of a Jewish peasant who became so absorbed  in his work in the field that he did not notice that the sun had gone down. It was the eve of Passover, and he was not allowed to travel after sunset. So he spent the night in the field. At sunrise his rabbi came walking through the field and said to the peasant, "Your family missed you last night." With a sigh the peasant explained what had happened. 

"Well," said the rabbi, "I hope you at least said the appointed prayers."

"No," the peasant replied, "that's the worst of it. I was so upset that I could not remember the words."

"Then how did you pass the holy evening?" asked the rabbi.

"I recited my alphabet," said the peasant, "and trusted God to form the words."

Sometimes life can get just get overwhelming. Whether it be the chaos in the world, the chaos in our own personal life, or the chaos within our heart, during those times, we can find that it's difficult to know what to pray. Or how to pray. It's times like that when we can trust God to form the words. After all, He knows the world's troubles; He knows our personal circumstances; He knows our hearts -- our desires, our needs, our sorrows, our rejections. And sometimes there just are no words. 

So should you hear me singing in the night season, listen closely, I just may be reciting my ABC's while God draws me close in His arms.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Band of Blue Jays

When I come out here to my deck in the early mornings, I truly never know what to expect. In fact, I've come to anticipate this time for just that reason. No, the scenery itself doesn't change too much -- just the normal stuff of the seasons, but what God brings to me does. This morning was like that.

At the present, I am working through a devotional book entitled, "40 Days to a Closer Walk With God" by David Muyskens. The author teaches his readers a method of silent communion with God; of being open to the gift of God's presence and just abiding in deep and intimate relationship. After reading today's short entry, I put the book aside and picked up my coffee to just spend some time with God -- as suggested. No reading. No praying. Just a time of being aware of His presence. In silence. Or so I thought. For just as I picked up my warm cup and began to meditate on the passage, "Lo, I am with you always," a blue jay in the back pine began to call. I have to admit that my first thought was, "Well, that's annoying," as I pulled myself back to center. And then there was another. And another until I could distinguish between 6 or 8 jays in a cacophony over my head. Never had I heard, or at least been aware of, such sound. I couldn't help but wonder if there were some intruder of sorts in the trees -- or yard. What would cause such alarm?

As the concert continued, I refrained from clapping my hands or rushing into the yard crazy-like to scare them away so I could return to "being in God's presence." Rather, I settled into listening to see if God was speaking to me through this. After all, there I sat TRYING to meditate upon Matthew 28:20: "I am with you always."

Because I had looked at my watch when I settled into my silence, I knew exactly how long the birds kept up their, what shall I say? Chorus. 25 full minutes. But as quickly as they began, they quieted. The odd thing is that I never saw a one of them. No flights. No swoops. Just one lonely call at the end so precise that I wondered if it might not be the pronounced "Amen" by the leader of the group.

Blue jays. It's not a bird that many like due to its aggressive behavior -- especially toward another bird's nest and babies. And their gaukiness. After all, their "song" is not particularly lovely. But they are fearless when it comes to protecting their partner (they mate for life) as well as their young and their territory. They will defend their positions against adversaries much larger and more powerful than themselves. Often to great success. And to the Native Americans, the blue jay speaks of purity of the soul, truth of the heart, and clarity of thought; a "double vision" or double clarity due to the blue on blue.

At this point, I'm not really sure what or if God was speaking to me. But I am certain of this: when all was quiet again and I took by Bible and opened it to that Matthew passage, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had just experienced something very, very holy. Tears welled up in my eyes and began to course down my cheeks. My spirit was extremely full -- like I had just eaten a gratifying Thanksgiving meal.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He said the kingdom of God is at hand. It's NOW. Maybe this is what it means to be in the present moment and experience Him NOW. After all, isn't that what the Matthew passage was saying? That He is with us, even in the midst of the disturbances, all the noise, all the upheaval going on around us? Yes, I believe it just might be. And not only today, but tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and, yes, even to the end of the age.

I think that's a word worth holding on to, even if God did use a band of bluejays to deliver it.

Just an ordinary moment...