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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Making Room

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." Those were the solemn words spoken over me and others last week at the Ash Wednesday service as gray ashes were applied in cross form to each one's forehead. How somber. How bleak. How depressive to be reminded of one's mortality. But as I shared with the women in Bible study this week, we cannot fully experience the power and hope of Resurrection morning without first entering into the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ash Wednesday, which can be traced back to the 3rd Century, is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) that lead up to Easter. When I was younger, I remember those days as a time for spring cleaning -- or at least the time when I could look forward to throwing off my shoes and going barefoot. And for my grandfather, Gra, it signaled the time for preparing the soil for his huge and yielding garden. But as I've grown older and more in tune with the cycle of life, I've come to realize that Lent is more than just a house cleaning or a preparation of soil, it's more about a spiritual spring-cleaning and the preparation of a different kind of soil; that of the heart. Oh, yes, I've been told, "Well, we ought to be doing that every day." And I couldn't agree more. But I also admit, that while I do a daily house cleaning, more often known as keeping things "picked up," there are those "seasons" when I really get in those closets and drawers and do a thorough purging and reorganization. When those baseboards and floors get a heavy duty mopping and not just a sweeping. So I look at Lent like that. A time for "intentionality." A time for renewal and recommitment; for throwing out the old which needs to be discarded, and for growing in new directions.

And so each morning, during these days, often before the sun comes up, I'm finding my way in the dark -- with a cup of coffee in my hand, of course -- to the back bedroom of the house to a very old rocking chair. I switch on the little lamp on the side table and there I enter into a time of prayer and devotion and silence with the One who entered into a time of passion for me. It's an uncommon practice for me because not only is the place of meeting new, but because, and I'm ashamed to say this, the computer was my normal routine for the morning. So I guess one could say I'm fasting the computer and all those "important" emails that surely came in while I was sleeping.

But here's the truth. This "fasting" has opened a new space for God in me. Yes, for the first few days, I was distracted by my hunger pains. And why shouldn't I have been? I was so very accustomed to satisfying that craving first thing each morning. But what I'm finding out is that it was a false appetite and the Lord's sweetness and presence is what truly brings fulfillment.

O God, create in me more room for Thee.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Holy Heartbeat

I have a particular music student who has a little trouble with rhythm. She knows in her mind there's a difference between an eighth note and a quarter note, but she's had difficulty working that out on the keys. I always explain to my students that the beat of music is likened to a steady heart beat. If we're sitting and reading a book, the beat might be slow; if we're jogging around the block, then the beat will be fast. But either way, it will be consistent. There's no irregularity to the beat, or else there's a serious problem.

Well, Katie just couldn't seem to get it. Not that there's no rhythm within her, it's just she hadn't been able to tap into it. And so I set my metronome (the little instrument that keeps a beat) and had her try to follow along with that. No good. Still didn't work. I tapped the piano and counted out loud myself along with the metronome. Still no results. So I asked her to count along with the metronome. Well, in her mind, she was. But still no luck. Until I asked her to count OUT LOUD with the metronome. And somehow, almost without fail, when her own voice began penetrating her own ears, she was able to respond to the correct beat and rhythm. And now, after some time, the rhythm that is naturally in her has begun to respond to the beat of the music.

As I was thinking earlier about the upcoming worship service, I was dwelling on some of the congregational responses we will be using this morning. I've heard people say on occasions that they don't care for such because people just say them and really don't mean it. Take the Apostle's Creed or Lord's Prayer for examples. Have both not the potential for such? That we can so easily let both roll off our tongues and never mean a word of it? Sure they can. But at the same time, it is a scientific fact that when we hear the sound of our own voice, a biological occurrence takes place within us that responds to that voice. And things within us change. Just like Katie's counting out loud to find the rhythm within herself, something happens when we hear ourselves say, "I believe in the God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ His only Son..."

Yes, there are times I pray prayers where the words have not yet come from my heart. Words as simple as, "Not my will, but Yours." But it's also my prayer, like Katy, that what I understand with my mind will descend one day into my heart and give me a beat that is in rhythm with my Father's.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pure Opulence

"Lord, in case You can't find me, I'm at The Cloister on Sea Island."

Yes, that's correct; I felt the need to clue the Maker of the universe in as to my whereabouts. Never have I experienced such opulence in my life. Never have I felt so out of place. Completely out of my league! Totally out of my element. I could not have been more bug-eyed if I had been on the Titanic. But I wasn't about to waste this opportunity; so while my husband was in his meeting, I decided to take a self-guided tour. I opened doors and walked in empty rooms begging for occupancy. I took pictures of the chair in which Pres. George W. Bush sat as he gathered with other world leaders around the round table at the G-8 Summit in 2004. I touched the maple doors and marvelled at the oil paintings and gorgeous draperies. I imagined playing the grand piano on the stage in the small ballroom, and I envisioned dancing under the gigantic crystal chandelier in the larger one. I lingered in the library and fingered more than one of the books. And the business center was more like a bank president's office complete with leather chairs! And I thought I had quite literally died and gone to heaven when I entered the lobby.

At first, I kept my camera hidden and just brought it out for quick moments to snap a shot. But then I lost all sense of propriety and wrapped the strap around my wrist and became a tourist. (At least at this point, I didn't have my nametag hanging around my neck!) I finally settled on the soft couch in the large solarium with a huge arrangment of numerous orchids behind me. And to the sound of water spilling in the fountain and the live colorful birds in their cages chattering, I pulled out my book and read this: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."

Yep, folks. As grand as all this is, it will not last. It will all pass away. But in its place will be something far more grand: a city whose foundation will be adorned with all kinds of precious stones. Jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst. The doors will be made of pearl, and the streets will be pure gold. And in the middle will sit One whose robe is dipped in blood and whose name is called the Word of God -- and He will never pass away.

Now that, my friends, will not be an ordinary moment. Hallelujah, praise the Lamb!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Little Discipline

So Bud, my weight trainer, said to me last week, "I've got a little book I want to give you." Great! I love books!!! And then he proceeded to say, "It's an exercise book." Well, I thought that was cool. I was sure it would show me different techniques to strength training -- probably some I could do at home with my free weights. But then he said, "It's a journal for recording your weight, your cardio workout, and your strength training. And there's a place to write down everything you eat as well as your water intake and any vitamins or supplements."

What I wanted to say was, "Wait a minute! Isn't it enough that I pay you to put my body through all kinds of stresses while it screams its objections? Now you're going to get into my personal business as well?" So I reluctantly took the book and the first thing I noticed was a "Comments" section at the bottom of each day's log. Oh, you can bet I'll fill up that section!

Please note the "overall mood."

And then I asked my first question: "Would it be okay if I start next week?" After all, I heard long ago that you shouldn't start anything on a Friday that you couldn't finish. Bud agreed and off I went, thinking, "Okay, baby, eat all you want this weekend, because come Monday morning, you've got to start writing it down, recording every morsel that goes in your mouth." (Please refer back to "overall mood.")

And so here I am. It's Monday and the discipline has started. I grabbed my "BodyMinder" Workout and Exercise Journal along with my tank of water and off I went to the gym -- and Bud.

Cardio: Treadmill (20 minutes)
Abs: Crunches X2, Knee Ups X2, Back Extentions, Roman chair, sit ups
Shoulders: front, side, rear
Chest: flies, presses
Back: pull downs (over/under)
Legs: press down, abductor
Calves: (darn, missed that one)

Vitamin: check
Water: swimming
Trainer: Bud
Dietary notes: banana
handful of almonds
chocolate icing beaters
dipped almonds in left over chocolate icing
Comments: *#&$)=#@*#%!!!!

So, as you can see, except for the little mishap with the beaters and "dipping," I'm off to a pretty good start. And if I'm to be honest, this little discipline of keeping records really is beneficial and will no doubt pay off in the long run. It's certainly making me more conscious of my activity, my water intake, as well as my eating habits.

But those are my physical disciplines. What about those disciplines that are just if not more important -- those personal disciplines that promote my spiritual growth? Disciplines such a Bible intake, prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, and journaling.

The apostle Paul wrote to a very young lad named Timothy and encouraged him to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7). Interestingly enough, that word translated "discipline" is the Greek word gumnasia from which we get our English word "gymnasium," and which means "to exercise or discipline" -- which is why the King James Version renders it "Exercise thyself rather unto godliness." So when I go to that quiet place each morning for my Bible reading and prayer, it's like going to the gym and Bud putting me through a series of weight training and exercises. But whereas the latter produces physical strength and a more fit body, so the goal of the former is to produce godliness -- and relationship.

Yeah, when Paul encouraged Timothy to "gumnasia" himself, somehow I don't think he we talking about crunches or knee lifts.

Just an ordinary moment...