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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Morning Walk

I went for my normal walk this morning, but before doing so, I was prompted to find our Homeowners list of residents and take it with me. So I donned my appropriate attire, which consisted of tank top, Columbia shorts, high-price walking shoes bought at a discount center and my sunglasses in hopes that no one in the neighborhood would recognize me. Oh, and yes, the homeowners list, and out the door I went.

Having lived here for almost 10 years now, one would think I would know all the residents. But people come and go, and let's me honest, do any of us truly know our neighbors anymore? We're too "hurried." But knowing people live "in" my neighborhood is different from knowing "where" they live, and so I thought I would put a place with a face. Unknowing to me, God's plan was a little more in depth.

As I rounded the first corner and looked up the name, I felt a need to pray for the single woman who lived there. I quickly made it to the second house and found the name of a lady who had shared Bible study with me several years ago until she developed cancer. Then came the home of a couple with a wayward daughter. The list continued. Another single mother. A home in foreclosure. A couple who both have lost their jobs. A wheelchair bound wife. A young couple just beginning their life together. A child with a handicap. A home that lost a child. And within a very short block, there were no less than five widows. My walk continued as did the list.

The author John Eldredge writes on prayer saying that it's not just our talking to God, but more importantly, listening to God and then responding to that word. He has learned that when he prays for someone, he begins by asking God, "What do You want me to pray for this person?" And then John spends time listening for that word. So as I began passing each home, I asked, "What do you want me to pray for this home?" And it was amazing.

"An added measure of faith for this one."
"Revelation and wisdom here."
And on a number of occasions it was just a word of praise.

But the list went on and on until my path brought me back to my own door. What had begun as a time of physical exercise and enjoyment of this beautiful weather had turned into a spiritual journey on prayer and a real connection with my neighbors.

It was really no surprise when I remembered the name of Eldredge's book. Walking With God.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hurry Up!

If there has been a catch-word lately, it has been this one: hurry. Or more specifically: hurriedness. It appears everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere else from the place they are at the moment. I really see it most often with my piano students. It seems each one is leaving their lesson, “hurrying” on to the next thing. And let’s don’t put all the guilt on the children. We adults are just as guilty. Even our pastor preached on it a couple of weeks ago.

So I wasn’t surprised when I came across a passage in Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase, which spoke directly to the issue of hurriedness. And if I may, I’d like to relay a portion of chapter 3 to you entitled “Dictatorship of the Ordinary.” (Appropriate title to go along with this blog, don’t you think?)

Batterson tells of an experiment carried out by two Princeton University psychologists based on Luke 10:25-37, the story of the good Samaritan. As you may know, it’s the story of a man attacked and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, and who is bypassed by both a priest and a Levite, religious figures of the day, before a “despised” Samaritan stops and helps.

The author writes: “John Darley and Daniel Batson decided to replicate the story of the good Samaritan with seminary students. A few variables were introduced. The seminarians were interviewed and asked why they wanted to go into ministry. There were a variety of responses, but the vast majority said they went into ministry to help people. Then they were asked to prepare a short sermon – half of them on the story of the good Samaritan and the other half on other topics. Finally they were told to go over to a building on campus to present their sermons.”

I bet you can almost guess what happened next.

“Along the way, the researchers had strategically positioned an actor in an alley to play the part of the man who was mugged in the Jesus’ story. He was slumped over and groaning loud enough for passersby to hear.

“The researchers hypothesized that those who said they went into ministry to help people and those who had just prepared the sermon on the good Samaritan would be the most likely to stop and help. But that wasn’t the case. And the reason is the final variable introduced by the researchers. Just before the seminarians left to give their sermon, the researcher looked at his watch and said one of two things. To some seminarians, the researcher said, ‘You’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. You better hurry.’ To the others, the researcher said, ‘You’re early. They aren’t expecting you for a few minutes, but why don’t you start heading over there?’”

Interested in the results?

“Only 10 percent of the seminary students who were in a hurry stopped to help, while 63 percent of those who weren’t in a hurry stopped to help. In several cases, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!

“Darley and Batson concluded that it didn’t matter whether someone wanted to help people or whether someone had just read and was preparing to preach on the parable of the good Samaritan. The only thing that mattered was whether or not they were in a hurry. They concluded, ‘The words, “You’re late,” had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering.’”

Wow. Been in a hurry lately? If so, it just might be a good time to take a compassion check.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Night at the Symphony

As a piano performance major in college, I spent a number of hours not only playing but listening to classical music, whether it was on records (if anybody remembers what those were) in the campus library or live at the functions we were required to attend. But for the last 20+ years of my life, while I have hit a few performances at The Fox in Atlanta, most of my husband and my activities have revolved around T-ball, baseball, LOTS of basketball, track, and even a season of football. So having all the children married now, we enjoyed an evening at the symphony last Thursday night – The Atlanta Symphony. And what a delight it was.

The Assistant Conductor for the evening was Mei-Ann Chen, a tiny thing that didn’t even look powerful enough to hold the reins of a docile horse, much less handle the likes of the seasoned musicians before her. However, I knew the moment she took her place and I saw the way she grounded herself to the floor, this woman was not only capable but was in complete control and charge.

The orchestra’s first work was Antonin Dvorak’s exciting showpiece, Carnival Overture, Opus 92. For the entire nine minutes of the piece, I kept telling myself, “Don’t ‘whoop’ at the end. Don’t ‘whoop.’ Whatever you do, don’t ‘whoop.’” How embarrassing that would be at the symphony where the mood is somewhat like that of the Master’s Golf Tournament! No talking; no “whooping.” And you sure better not get up and go to the bathroom until intermission! But the piece was absolutely mesmerizing to me. Dvorak said himself that the Carnival Overture was meant to portray “a lonely, contemplative wanderer reaching at twilight a city where a festival is in full swing.” As the men and women in their black dresses and tuxes played, brilliant orchestral colors abounded. There were times when I sat on the end of my seat when the clangor of instruments gave the impression of shouts of joy and unrestrained pleasure of the people as they gave way to their feelings of song and dance. At other times, huge tears spilled over my eyelids as the English horn and flute played a haunting theme that was meant to portray a pair of straying lovers. Oh, even now, be still my soul. And then the piece culminated in an exhilarating coda as the energetic and almost unruly music returned.

And what did I do?


Yes!!! Praise You, Lord!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

My Name is Mary

I love the Lenten and Easter seasons. There is just so much rich stuff that goes on in the Christian life during that time. Of course, Lent begins with the imposition of ashes on the forehead as I am told that my life is really worth nothing. I come from ashes and to ashes I will return. Always a somber thought. And so the journey to the cross begins and lasts for 40 days. Though life resumes its normalcy, there remains for me an underlying current of this journey. It's like it's present with me as there remains a different feel to my life during those days.

Though we continue to meet as a church body, the next related event doesn't happen until a number of weeks later when we celebrate Jesus' triumphant entry into the city. We call it Palm Sunday. It's always a joyful part of the journey as the children march in with their palm branches. This year I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye as a couple of the little ones passed by the piano where I sat playing. I swear I thought my little nephew wacked the head of the child in front of him with his branch. Come to find out, he did.

Later in the week, we gather for Maundy Thursday and communion, celebrating and remembering the final evening Jesus spent with His disciples, the institution of the Lord's supper, the betrayal and arrest. What a powerful imagery it is when the sanctuary is stripped of all its ornaments and adorned in nothing but black. In my oldest son's church, he said the robe was even removed from the minister which brought a greater element of imagery. Personally, the most powerful moment for me is when the candle is snuffed -- and all goes black. The Light of the World is extinquished. What darkness. What hopelessness.

There have been times I've gathered for Good Friday services when each "word" of Jesus as He hung on the cross was used as a meditation. What a meaningful time to enter into the suffering of our Lord Jesus -- and just remember the passion.

Then there's Saturday. I can remember even as a little girl that day of waiting. That day of heaviness. That day of ... expectation.

And then Resurrection morning arrives and my favorite time of all occurs. No, it's not the gathering of God's people to celebrate. It's not the new Easter clothes. It's not the shouting of "He is risen indeed" at the sunrise service (though I admit that's a close second). It's not the Easter lilies after a time of darkness. It's not even the singing of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," even though all of these bring such joy and celebration. My favorite part of the whole thing is the journey itself to the sunrise service early in the morning while it's still dark. For just a moment, I get to play Mary. But unlike that Mary, this "Mary" already knows what she'll find at the end of her dark journey.

An empty tomb.

Praise You, Lord! YOU ARE RISEN INDEED!!!!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An Eros Kind of Love

My oldest son and I had a lively conversation Saturday night over his Billy Barou and my Close Talker. (For those of you who don’t know the lingo, we were at Moe’s Southwest Grill). We were discussing the name for the newly renovated youth room at his church. He thought about “EPIC,” borrowing the idea from Dr. Leonard Sweet who believes that if any church is to survive and do ministry in a 21st century world with 22nd century kids, it must have these 4 elements: it must be “Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, and Connectional.” EPIC.

When Charles looked up the meaning of “epic,” he found the definition exhilarating – especially if it’s to be used for a youth facility. An epic pertains to “a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated…” It can also mean, “heroic; majestic; impressively great.” But what really caught his attention was the mirror image of the Latin word “epic.” To him it looked like eros the Greek word for passionate love. And so when he told me that he was considering naming the room “Eros” instead of “Epic,” I gave a quick grimace and said, “Uh, I don’t think that will fly with these teen's parents.”

For some reason, we, myself included, have restricted our understanding of eros to romantic or erotic love, limited to the physical activity between two human beings, when in truth it’s about passion. We can be passionate about a lot of stuff. Even penguins. But when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires – passions, if you will – of our heart. It’s that thing that gets implanted in our beings and conceived in our spirits that makes us want to follow dreams or do exploits that other people would think irresponsible. It's that thing that makes us leave friends and family to give medical aid in Africa. Or to give up a large 6-figure salary to go into the ministry.

No one was more passionate about life than Jesus. No one had a greater God-ordained passion. In fact, this week we commemorate the final chapter of His earthly life, and what do we call it? The Passion. You see, discovering a passion, something worth dying for, is what makes life worth the living. For Jesus, that was you.

So maybe “Eros” isn’t such a bad name for a youth room after all. But for the record, maybe he still ought to go with “Epic.” After all, my Hero exhibited great passion.

Just an ordinary moment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life in the Midst of a Graveyard

I made my fourth trip to New Bern, NC last week, and each time I go, I am intrigued by the same sight. At the corner of Pollock Street and Middle Street sits Christ’s Episcopal Church founded in 1715. From a 5th story hall window in my hotel building, I was easily able to pick out the structure from all the others by its Gothic Revival bell tower and spire which looms 150 feet above the city. And if one can’t see it, she can just listen for the carillon that rings out over downtown twice a day and find her way there.

The church yard itself, shaded by a variety of venerable trees with Spanish moss, became itself a burial ground in the 18th century in the aftermath of several yellow fever epidemics. The entire church yard, filled with graves, was finally closed by 1799 to any other burials because it held its capacity. Today, few gravestones remain, but those that do, litter the landscape with stark awareness and reminders that death had taken its toll on this small community.

Sitting directly in the corner of the property protected from the streets by a weathered wrought-iron fence is the outdoor chapel. George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the Great Awakening, preached here on Easter Day in 1765, and both Presidents George Washington and James Monroe worshiped here during their presidencies. One can feel the sacredness of it just by passing through its gates.

But what makes this place so odd is its foundation – it's a burial floor. Squares are bought by parishioners with their names etched on the cover in order that their cremated remains be buried in that “square.” The entire floor of this open-air chapel is this one big cemetery plot. One couple aimed higher and bought a good 6-foot plot for each of themselves. It’s actually part of the center aisle.

But the thing that has captured my attention over and over during my visits there is the placement of the church’s playground equipment for the children. With grounds that are salt and peppered with headstones that have stood the test of time and weather, the only place to put a playground is in the midst of the graves. How strange.

Or is it?

You tell me.

John 5:24 – “It's urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.”

Just an ordinary moment...